I miss sitting in that makeshift kitchen, cupping my hands around a hot cup of tea to keep warm. I’d sit and eat my lunch, leftovers from the night before, and plot my next move. Was I going to fuck off to Slovakia so I could squeeze in a social life in a month’s time? Or should I stay in Prague and continue my quest to conquer modern Czech fashion and uncover the psychological ties to its people?
No. The raging-party-Prague I was told I would encounter had not lived up to its expectations. Not that I was a raging partier, but I didn’t feel I knew the city like I knew London, which I knew very well. It wasn’t the language barrier either – you can communicate with people, even carry out a full-on conversation, with someone who doesn’t speak your speak.
No other American seemed to realize that however.
When I travel to a foreign country, I soak in the culture like a sponge. Even in Ghana, I attempted to blend in. The more one accepts outside customs into their own life, the more they can understand their own. “Participant observation” is an Anthropological field technique I fully abide by. How else can one truly make a cultural judgment call otherwise?
But I had few Czech friends, outside of Petr and Štěpán. I had no one to speak Czech with, save my host mother. I even practiced my homework on my three-year old host brother, but it always ended in him giving me a dirty look.
I couldn’t leave this country without having a reason to bring me back. That special cafe where I read Kafka and sat for hours nursing one cup of tea is not enough. You need a person to rehash old memories with. You need a person.
That’s why I went to Žilina.
I was drawn to the EVS volunteers on our previous visit to Stanica. Three were French, one was Latvian, and Dušan was a Slovakian youth. They were gregarious, joked around, and lived on pizza (it also helped that Sarah picked up the tab at the restaurant we met them at). I was magnetized to their camaraderie and couldn’t help but notice the lack of conversation going on with the Americans at my end of the table.
So I got up. I walked over.
“Can I share a seat with you?”
The tall, gangly, pock-marked boy with the large DSLR camera hanging around his neck accepted my advance, and made room.
I sat next to Dušan.
“Are you trying to learn French?” I asked the Latvian.
“Yes,” he replies. He had a tongue piercing, ear piercings, and a piercing on the dimple of his chin. “I am going to Paris soon. I am trying to learn some curse words.”
“We are teaching him all of the good ones,” Helene, I would later come to know, is more petite than me, but nearly twice my age.
“Do you speak French at all?” Audrey looked straight out of a Judy Blume novel – round-framed glasses, curly, bushy hair, a gap between her teeth.
“I like to think I do,” I reply. “Is that an egg?” I point at Dušan’s pizza. It is riddled with green peppers, red onions, olives, greasy cheese, black beans and sausage. In the center was an egg, sunny-side up.
“Why, yes, it is,” he grins. “Would you like to try some?”
“No, that’s okay. You enjoy it.”
Dušan always ate pizza with fried eggs on it. “Mexican pizza” is what he called it.
I always got the margarita pizza from Pizzeria Don Giovanni. It was the cheapest and the best. And it always tasted better cold the day after.