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28 zari (sept)
I remember savoring the feeling of returning to Guatemala after my first year. I already had an apartment, knew my way around, was comfortable with the job and determined to be better at it this year, had a few friends and a lifestyle I had forged with trepidation and enthusiasm months ago. Easing into my world in Prague was equally comfortable and revitalizing. A welcome back party at the school hosted 200 teachers, including only about a dozen familiar faces from the spring.

I have 22 teaching hours a week through the language school, plus a private lesson one evening. My schedule is ideal – I have no classes on Monday mornings or Friday afternoons, so I can easily take an overnight train somewhere for the weekend now and then. Most classes are 90 minutes in length, and range from intermediate to advanced learners, some small groups of four to six, one a larger conversation class of nine, and the rest individual tutorials. The first week I printed out street maps showing the location of my new classes and figured out routes. I have become an expert on mass transit in this city, above and below ground. It can be intimidating to go into a company and find a meeting room full of adults, but as we begin introducing ourselves, I find that they are somewhat shy and hesitant about speaking English and as apprehensive as I am. A few fun activities the first class gets them to relax and talk, and we’re off and running.

It was a delight to reconnect with my continuing students. I had to wade through wedding photos from two different students who got married over the summer, narrated in English of course (this was an English lesson after all!). They taught me about Czech wedding customs: upon arriving at the reception hall or pub, a dish is broken and the couple must clean it up to show how well they can work together to keep up their home. They spoon feed each other a traditional liver soup. The man is blindfolded and has to recognize by touch his bride’s leg, among many legs presented. In turn, she, when blindfolded, just has to recognize his ear. And at one wedding, the happy couple danced while balancing a lemon between their foreheads, giggling and kissing as they rounded the dance floor.

A fall harvest festival filled the square near my flat last weekend, with craft and food booths and music – medieval during the day, rock at night. An elegantly gowned king and queen entered by horse procession, flanked by knights with colorful flags. The main feature of the festival, and several others around town like it, was burcak (accent marks not shown, pronounced boorchahk), an early wine like apple cider but made from grapes, light tasting and sweet, not too strong.

One morning, my Czech friend and I went mushrooming, an activity that many describe as a Czech hobby. We shuffled through the falling leaves at Barrandov, a thick forest, and gathered the abundant little plants in a paper shopping bag. I learned to recognize one puffy white mushroom with a textured top, but my friend could spot many more edible types. A few other mushroomers shuffled by now and then, inspecting the ground and carrying little bags. Later, we breaded and fried them at her house for lunch. They were fresh and delicious.

Yesterday it was pouring rain when I started the day, and I forgot my little black folding umbrella from Guatemala at my first teaching site that morning. It hadn’t been raining when I left the building, so I didn’t notice for a while. Dismayed, I stopped at a bus station along my route and found one of the ever-present outdoor Vietnamese vendors. I found a little flowered one and, to my surprise, it brightened my day to have a canopy of color shielding me from the dreary gray skies.


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