Monday, January 17, 2011

Nearly ten days ago, I updated this blog with some thoughts on my church here in Prague. Since then, my Czech adventure continues: I have been wrangling with my apartment landlord, experimenting with the local cuisine, and writing exams for my 9th and 10th grade class.

Among the many cultural lessons I've learned has been "Apartment Landlord 101". I always disliked having to deal with the rental agencies in the States. For two years I used a stove with only one working burner, just because I did not want people dragging heavy equipment in and out of my apartment while I was trying to write a paper and plan lessons. Here in the Czech Republic, the tenant-landlord relationship is even crazier. Ten days ago, I moved into my new apartment in the castle district. Nine days ago, I discovered that apparently neither dishwasher nor the washing machine worked, and the door opened only after a good thirty seconds of sustained pulling and jiggling. I emailed the landlord, and three days ago, he came.

Meeting with the landlord is a challenging process, because the tenant is usually required to be there, and so I juggled my school schedule and arrived home about 11 A.M. on a Friday. The landlord arrived at 11:10, and with him came another fellow that he introduced as a "friend", who spoke no English and zipped into the living room and began installing light bulbs in the fixtures there. Meanwhile, the landlord tackled larger projects: he confirmed that the washing machine was in fact broken, demonstrated how to work the dishwasher, brought in a grungy toaster oven the size of a large cat carrier, brought it right back out again when I asked for a larger one, and promised to call on the Internet. By the time he left, the door was fixed, the living room was shining brightly, and we faced a new challenge: connecting to the Internet. On Wednesday, I will juggle school schedules again to meet with the Internet company that morning; if they are as efficient as the landlord, I will be Skyping my parents within ninety minutes.

Perhaps the most lighthearted of my cultural adventures has been the food. Czechs do not eat what we Americans call a "balanced diet"; their favourite national foods include meat, cheese, potatoes, and bread - very heavy on the carbs, and very light on the green stuff. A typical Czech supper might be one that I enjoyed Friday night, relaxing with a couple of teachers. First, the waiter brought out an appetizer: a basket filled with three different kinds of bread and a pork spread with onions. As always in Europe, the bread was delicious, and we dug in before the main meal came. Next, the waiter brought out the dishes we'd ordered: for me, onion soup, and shared between three of us, fried cheese - yes, fried cheese. Imagine a giant-sized mozzarella stick: a block of white cheese (about twice the size of an ordinary Stateside block of Cheddar) is dipped in batter and deep-fried, giving it a crusty coating similar to fried chicken. Alongside the plate was a pile of creamy-white boiled potatoes, and in a small tribute to healthy eating, a few translucent strips of carrot and sprigs of onion. Lest my next FB profile picture show extra weight along the jowls, I went light on the fried cheese; the onion soup was delicious. Perhaps next for my Czech food experience, I will try the duck or the pancakes on the dessert menu.

As I bring this post to an end, I want to focus on the central thread to all my adventures - all the teaching done since I've been here. I won't actually share with you about writing the exams, lest a student discover the blog and, with it, an exam key. But I do want to share with you a funny story from the 10th grade, about the perils of reading Shakespeare. Shakespeare is a classic, right? His tragedies something every student should read? My 10th graders are discovering the Bard's comic side, right in the middle of the deeply tragic Romeo and Juliet. A few days ago, the 16th century language in characters' mouths sounded, to 21st century ears, as though one character called another 'hot', and so the class dissolved into laughter. Today my students pointed out how many inanimate objects these 16th century characters talked to - to a bottle of potion, of poison, and to a tomb. As a graduated graduate student, I could perhaps wish we were talking about the idea of Fate in Shakespeare and the medieval Fortunes, but I am discovering that high school students do not operate on the same plane as graduate students do, nor should they. At this point, in fact, to observe how often characters address inanimate object demonstrates attention to detail and patterns that will serve them well as we move into later weeks.

Along this line, I want to ask for prayer specifically for each of my classes over the next few weeks. First, pray for me that I will consistently and effectively integrate biblical truth into each lesson. Primarily because of the two years spent at a secular university, my ability to weave biblical truth into every lesson plan, every handout, and every activity is a tad rusty. And yet, it is the kernel of truth in each lesson that makes it worthwhile; if we do not learn truth (and all truth is God's truth), then there is no point to learning about the Romantic poets or about dystopian novels or about classical Greek drama. Within the next few weeks, the 10th graders will begin their study of Romanticism, the 9th graders a study of Lord of the Flies, and the 12th graders a study of Oedipus Rex, and in each of these I pray for skill not only in presenting the material but also teaching the students the truth about Christ.

Pray too that the apartment will come together. I am very thankful for a working door and a working stove (it's a hand-light gas stove, by the way, which is always an adventure), but there are still a few things lacking. I am still lacking Internet, which makes it difficult to communicate with friends and family back home. Also, we are lacking an oven and a working washing machine. Please pray that all of these will come in over the next few days. I will keep you posted, literally, on each of these requests through the blog, over the next few days and weeks.

Still no pictures under 10 MP, but you should be able to access a Facebook album here.

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