Zen Recreations

It sure didn’t look like it in the beginning. I arrived at the address with my colleague, he buzzed her address, and before I knew it, a ring full of keys came flying from seven floors above, smashing into the dirt next to the pavement. That was apparently how you let visitors into the building. The apartment itself was nice, with a large living room, single bedroom and kitchen, much nicer digs than the dormitory, but the furniture was really old. Perhaps rather rudely, I was moved to observe that the place reminded me of a museum.

   This young lady noted the comment. She would in fact note it several dozen times over the next few years. Nevertheless, she felt we could do business. This called for me to pay her rent of $25 a month, which sounds like a steal until you realize that the school only paid me $100 a month.

 

 

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I resolved before going back to come back. It was no pull of heritage or anything like that, a “being among my true people.” After all, I only had the name to go on. Rather, it seemed as if the whole country had woken up to the fact that in the post-communist world they needed English to get by. They never really had any use for the Russian they had to learn all their lives, now they really had no use for it. So desperate had the search become for English teachers that in some cases Russian teachers were told they had a week, maybe a month, to learn English if they wanted to keep their jobs.

   Given the typical American pushiness for every opportunity that arises, it was no surprise that thousands met this call, lured by the opportunity of getting a paid holiday abroad, with plenty of beer and getting laid, and all they had to do was talk to some high school students. No grammar, no homework, just come in and talk about everything Americana, whether food, sports, music, TV. Hell, even prostitution and homelessness if you wanted.

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American historian Darren Baker settled down in the Czech Republic more than twenty years ago. His new novel Czech the Children takes in many of his experiences in that time along with what it is like to bring up children in a bilingual family set between two cultures. Zen Recreations is happy to serialize it for the first time here on our pages!

There’s parenting and then there’s parenting between two cultures, and Darren Baker makes it a fun read.

Return to the ancestral home

For the sake of clarity, I should start by saying yes and no. I am Czech, but not really. You see, my parents were born and raised in Moravia, which sits smack in the middle of what was then Czechoslovakia. It was a country well entrenched behind the Iron Curtain, where life chugged along at what was officially dubbed a “normal” rate. The only real downside to it, according to them, was the travel restrictions to the West. So when they were eased up as part of the Prague spring of 1968, they decided to go abroad.

 

 

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