Monday, May 29, 2006


Like most people I've ever heard of, I've never met my great-great-great grandmother. I'm not very disappointed by this, and I'm sure she would have felt the same way, really. But when I first came to the Czech Republic, my great grandmother (we call her Granny) reminded me that we had relatives from Bohemia---my great grandfather's grandmother came from a small village in what is now central Czech called Velvary.

I remember seeing a picture of her once---when I was building a family tree in the 3rd grade. I only remember her last name---Kerr, which sounds more German than Czech to me, but even now it's not uncommon for Czechs to have German names, and before fifty years ago Bohemia was home to a large German community. Granny tells me that the Kerr family left Velvary and Bohemia to come to the United States to be missionaries. It's an interesting turn of the story that I should return to their home as a Christian-in-another-place just as they left it.

I have no idea at all where they might have lived or what work they did, but here are some pictures I took this weekend when Chrissy and I went to Velvary for an afternoon.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

hello american boy!

Some lowerclassmen apprenticeship students working hard during ISŠTE maturitas.

Monday, May 22, 2006

may photo album

The Czech language is rich, deep and beautiful in its own right. But just like English, Czech has borrowed lots of words from other languages, one of them being English. So, oftentimes when I ask how to say such-and-such, it turns out the Czech word sounds practically the same. And as untinteresting as it sounds, this has been happening a lot lately. Yep.

All this is to say: the Czech word for "photograph" is fotka, the word for "camera" is fotoaparát, and the word for "to take a photograph" is fotografovat.

Tak. Tady jsou fotky:

Early this month Petr and Jirka challenged me to a bike ride through the mighty hill country that surrounds Sokolov. The way included "only" three large hills and a fair sampling of the tiny villages that pepper the Czech countryside, topping off at a hunter's pub on the shores of a beautiful mountain lake still ringed by patches of snow. Props to Petr, who had no idea why I kept telling him to lean forward.

Ivana, Ivana, Pepa, Eva and myself---the crowd formerly known as the Club Actus Club, also known as the White Elephant crew---here enjoying a little přestávka before continuing our little nature hike.

This is the administrator team Chrissy and I serve on this year. From the left, that's Beth (another Sokolover!), Aaron (our intrepid Country Director), Mike, me and Chrissy (who is quite lovely, no?). We had a meeting at the end of April outside on Prauge's Petřin Hill. Just being outside after the long winter was delicious.

Some boys from 4TL (Petr, Vašek and Jirka) take aim during last bell ringing. Wet English teacher was the result.

The crew from 4PE (Shed'a, Sobi, Lukaš, Vlád'a, Pipa, Peši, Mr. M, Bajci and Jindra---and that's me in the mirror) stops by for a visit to my office to say goodbye on last bell ringing day.

And here's Zach (far right) and me right after crossing the starting line at the Prague International Marathon a week or so ago. Check out my little running shorts, sported with an authentic Delivery Boys T-shirt.

And this is me after finishing! I didn't feel nearly as good as I look in this picture.

A group of us teachers out in the western part of the Czech---we call ourselves the West Bohemia Social Club---put on a fancy-dress dinner party for whoever wanted to come visit this weekend. Part of the deal was that anybody who came had to come up with a little skit to perform in the middle of the evening. This is the crew from Prague, who, mindful of tasty local treats, threw together an oplatky-eating race. Sam, third from the left, was the decisive (and dry-mouthed) victor.

reflecting, on last bell ringing

So I first wrote this last year for the old blog I use to keep in touch with friends from Vanguard. I opted to post it again for two reasons. One is to tell about "last bell ringing," the ceremony that each graduating class in Czech high schools stages on their last day of classes before they start maturitas---without me having to write about it again. The other is to look back on what was going through my head a year ago at this time.

May 6, 2005 - 6. května 2005

The first phone call this morning said: "Bring your camera."

The second said: "Hurry."

Fridays are my light day. I teach one class in the afternoon and my mornings are free. I usually take advantage of this by allowing myself the now lavish luxury of sleeping in until 7:00, 7:30 or---alas!---8:00. Last night was a late night---Brian's been packing for a trip home to Canada for a wedding and leaves today---so I opted for 7:30, needing to prepare for a meeting this morning.

I was well on my way to hitting school cozy and quiet after the first bell of the day when I the phone calls struck in quick succession. And so my steps came in a quick clip-clip-splash-clip over pavement and through puddles.

And I was greeted at the gate by 25 wild-eyed boys dressed in bath robes and holding high-caliber squirt guns, who insisted that I pay a toll. Knuckles and wide-eyes went white along the plastic barrels as I paused, thinking what to do. I was the first to shoot.

...with my camera. Then I paid. Then they posed for another. Then I passed quickly through, lest they change their mind.

It was all part of last bell ringing, the last official day of normal classes for student preparing for their school-leaving exams. Other groups collected money in umbrellas, passing through the hallways, bowing graciously to teachers, poking a bright camcorder into everyone's face.

Sentiment runs high. Everbody is happy to celebrate, but good-byes are deeply felt, but nobody's quite sure how to feel. This year, most of my 4th years and I aren't close, but Brian, who's saying goodbye both to students he's taught for three years as well as to the Czech Republic at the end of this June, is in the thick of it. He's saying goodbye to a whole life.

And so the end of my first year in the Czech Republic is dawning (sic). I'm working hard not to count the days until my flight home for the summer (as of Wednesday it'll be 50). I'm also trying to pass on the temptation to push relationship growth with friends and students back until next year. The inclination is to coast. The need is to live the next 50 days fully—and fully present.

The past 8 ½ months, God has brought me (thrashing at times) closer to that place I so joyfully (definitely naively) proclaimed I was looking forward to last summer---where I have to depend on Him more completely than ever. Oh, the view is terrific, but the way is steep and rocky.

To those of you weak from climbing: come on up higher. It's worth the strain, the bruises—the frontier surgery. "He who promised is faithful."

To you established climbers: feel free to drop me a rope.

Monday, May 15, 2006

auburn's favorite son (abroad)

So a lot has happened to the fair city of Auburn, my hometown in the Sierra Nevada foothills, in the six years since I moved away to go to college. Commerce has boomed, the experiment of a town without Burger Kings went bust, and Placer High School gave in and paved that dust field where everybody parked anyway. And, not least of all, Auburn went and got itself officially titled the Endurance Capital of the World.

At second glance, perhaps this is not such a flattering title. Without any context, one could reasonably think Auburnites are proud that they have managed to stick it out here for so long. Goodness knows my Placer classmates thought of their 18-ish year terms in "the A-hole" (please pardon their Czech) as something to be endured (although probably half of them have moved back by now to raise their kids---and who knows? maybe I'll soon be among them). But in the big picture, 160-or-so years is hardly a stretch next to every little similar town in the Czech Republic---Sokolov "endured" the Black Plague, for one.

But when you take it with all the new murals that have gone up in the past two years, then you know that Auburn means endurance sports. And with that in mind I suppose they have a case. After all, if Mercer, Wisconsin can be Loon Capital of the World, then why can't Auburn, with its full, annual slate of world-class long distance races be the head city of those who just won't quit?

I suppose all of this is just a round-about way of annoucing that yesterday I became an international citizen of the town that raised me up when I fulfilled my goal to run in the Prague International Marathon. If you've been reading this blog over at least the past two months, then you know that this was a crazy idea from the beginning, especially to me. Well, it never felt crazier than when I was doing it, and I almost cried for joy when I saw the sign that signaled the last kilometer, but now it's over: 4 hours, 38 minutes from start to finish, 2,443rd place.

Today it will take me at least that long to walk to the grocery store around the block.

Thank you, family and friends---Beth, Christie and Chrissy, Mom & Dad, Sam & Nick, Zach (who showed his studliness and also finished the race---well done, sir), and everybody who showed up to cheer us on---for helping out, running with, and just being interested. You need to convince yourself that you want to run a marathon, but you can't get to it, let alone do it, without good friends. Thanks, guys.

I'll post pictures when I have 'em :-)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

maturitas, for example

So over here at ISŠTE we're in the thick of maturita season. The written parts happened over the past three weeks, and the practical/mechanical parts start today. But the pudding to be proven starts in exactly 13 days when the oral examinations begin. Ideally speaking, these oral exams are a grand culmination of four years of study, a highwater mark for my students. In actuality, I think it's one of the scariest things I've ever seen, and selfishly I'm grateful I didn't have to take something like maturitas to graduate from high school.

Let's have my friend Jana Napříkladová walk us through a typical maturita exam:

Ahoj! Jana here, and today is my maturita exam! Please pray to the God for me!

For the past year, we have been learning (present perfect continuous) hardly (she means hard) in all our classes, preparing for maturity. Today I must make maturity for Czech language, mathematics, physics and English language. Everybody students must make maturity for Czech language and some foreign language. I chose English, but most of my friends at ISŠTE chose Germany language.

I go with Tomáš, Honza and Lenka (from her class) today. Our class teacher and the deputies made us a group together for this day a month ago. We must go with nice clothes, and we make all maturity today.

It is half past eight in the morning, and I am not so lucky, so I must be first. First is Czech language, and I am nervous because this is most difficult. The test is for 15 minutes, and we must to have memorized many informations about the Czech literature and many important dates and names and parts of the Czech grammar, which is difficult. We must tell it to our Czech language teacer and to the other judges. I think, that Czech language maturita is most difficult. I hope I will not have 5 (five is the worst grade in the Czech system, sort of like an American "F"---Jana and her classmates hope for a "1").

When I will be finished with this test, after me will be Tomáš, and he will make maturita in Czech language, and then Honza, and then Lenka. When Lenka will be finished, I must make my maturita for mathematics. Then will be Tomáš and Honza and Lenka again for mathematics, and then I must go in once more for physics maturita, and like this again Tomáš, Honza and Lenka after I. I think, that we will be very tired.

At the finish I must go in for English language. We have been learning (Jana knows her p.p.c.) many topics in English class this year, for example, United States, Canada, Shakespeare, foods, travelling, and the post office. So, I must first take from hat a number from Mr. Šmejkal, and then I must prepare (for) 15 minutes. (Note: we've studied a list of 25 different topics this year, like Jana mentioned, and each has a matching English grammar point. Jana will only discuss one of these topics with us---the one that matches the number she drew.)

When my 15 minutes are "up," I must to go to the table where is Mr. Agee and Mr. Šmejkal, and I must to speak about my topic and English grammar, and too, about transaltion (from English into Czech). Too, when begins my English examination, Tomáš will to enter and take a number from hat from Mr. Šmejkal and he must to prepare when I am making mz (on Czech keyboards, "y" and "z" switch places) English maturita.

When Lenka will be finished with her English maturita, we all must go together into the testing room, and all our teachers and the judges and a people from Ministry of Education will tell us our marks and we will be finished with maturitas! I hope I will be lucky!

Thank you! Jana :-)

Saturday, May 06, 2006

live in prayer at the place where the world is in pain

On the recommendation of a few friends, I've been reading and listening to N.T. Wright sermons and articles quite a bit these days. It's all pretty fascinating stuff about who Jesus is and was, and what that can mean for us, his present-day followers. This is a quote that particularly grabbed my attention today:

Read the Scriptures on your knees
with your discipline and its problems on your heart.

Come to the Eucharist and see in the breaking of the bread
the broken body of Christ, given for the healing of the world
with your discipline on your heart.

Learn new ways of praying in and with and from the pain,
the weight, the brokenness of the crucial bit of the world where God has placed you,

and out of that prayer, discover new ways forward,
ways of peacemaking,
ways of taking the risk of hearing both sides,
and therefore, running of the risk of being shot at by both sides.

Are you or are you not a follower of the crucified Messiah?

Currently I would assume this posture as a teacher, but also as a son, a brother, a foreigner and a future husband. And certainly, there is pain at each of these places. God, help me.

Monday, May 01, 2006

labor day weekend

Czechs celebrate Labor Day on May 1st, but except for having fewer barbecues and not imposing a ban on white shoes, it's pretty much the same idea as America's September model, although sort of combined with Valentine's Day in a kiss-your-someone-under-the-cherry-blossoms-today kind of way.

English teachers use this rare extended weekend to travel, and I was no exception. So my friend Mike and I embarked on a tour of Czech Cities We Haven't Been To Before, and now I'm proud to say that we could never go back to any other these least, not under a tour with the same name...

Our first stop was Plzeň, known in German as Pilsen, and most widely heard of as the birthplace of the original pilsner beer. Czechs tend to be quite enthusiastic about their beer, and many would agree that it is, in fact, the best in the world, and of their many tasty brews, the stuff they make in this town is held up to be the best. Thus, a trip to the Pilsner Urquell brewery is one of those key cultural experiences that anybody visiting here for an extended time should seek out.

Our next and longest stop was Telč ("telch"), a small southern Bohemian village adopted as a World Heritage site, mostly (perhaps) for the quaint look of the houses that line the main square. Unfortunately for our hopes of experiencing such quaintness, the cobblestone square is currently being reconstructed, filling most views of the square with piles of rubble.

Mike and I, however, decided to make the best of the unsightly site, and after a late dinner set out to build a castle from the stones on piled all over the square. When Telč gives you lemons...

In the meantime, that morning we walked around the city, which really was a postcard factory to be sure, as some of these pictures may show.

That afternoon we hopped on a train to Jihlava, another jewel in the Czech crown, where we took yet more pictures of other European buildings, toured some catacombs, and watched some kid throwing rocks at anything that would make a noise (thankfully he didn't think of us).