This Saturday I woke up at a bright and early 7AM and rode a bus an hour and a half outside of a Prague to the small city of Vlašim. Karolina, a slightly harried mom, picked me up at the station with a box of veggies and her daughter in the backseat and we drove to NaÄeradec.
I thought I was going to a small business to volunteer for the day—they called it an “experimental” garden.
Ten minutes later, I found myself sitting at a dining room table in a rural Czech house surrounded by jars of homegrown herbs, children’s toys, hanging laundry, and terarriums filled with animals of all sorts.
Karolina’s daughter comes up to me with a drawing she had done in crayon. Her son plays some kind of accordion for me. Karolina serves me homegrown tea with honey from her hives and starts to bake a pizza for us. I was just another child at her table. I felt like I was in the thick of this family’s daily life, nevermind a volunteer trip.
My first job was to help spread hay around newly planted trees to help them throughout the winter: plums, apricots, and apples. Then it was on to laying soil on top of a fenced herb patch for Spring. I remembering lifting my head and looking around to see Karolina’s son digging with a shovel next to me, his father instructing him, her daughter sliding down the pile of soil, and Karolina herself sifting rocks out of the soil patch—a kind of surreal, strange stereotype out of the unwritten film “Nick Goes to the Czech Republic” during the scene which Nick bonds with this Czech family in the countryside.
At one point, Karolina called to me and said “watch this” referring to the group of sheep who had wandered farther down the field. Karolina whistles, says something in Czech to her enormous Czech wolfhound and points at the sheep. The dog goes tearing across the field, rounds the sheep up, and brings them straight back to Karolina. On the way back to the house, Karolina’s daughter climbed into the wheelbarrow and I “vroomed” and “beep beeped” our way home.
One part of me wanted to laugh, cheer and cry at how cool this was, but then I thought, this is just these people’s lives. For them, this is their daily life. For me, it seemed like I’d been transported into one of the Surrealist films I’ve been watching all semester.
I respected this family so much. Karolina and her family were trying their best to create a living for themselves that was environmentally conscious and self-reliant. They were showing their their kids how important it is to work hard and live a life connected to nature and animals. The create all of their own meat and seek out vegetables that come from smaller farms.
But it was hard work. I could see that easily.
Karolina worked almost entirely alone, as her husband had recently gone through treatment for cancer (he got sick a lot) and her kids weren’t quite old enough. She was some kind of super woman.
I’ve done the city dorm life thing, but I think that if I were to study abroad again, I would want to live way out in the middle of nowhere with a local family like this one.
This experience was so significant to me, it required its own post.
Happy Thanksgiving from Prague!
I’m thankful for the chance to meet brave, interesting people on a weekly basis.