It was supposed to be temporary.
That was what we were told before we even left the U.S. In fact, that was what we were promised. I am not sure I would have accepted the assignment otherwise. Although, I am so glad I did.
We arrived at Václav Havel Airport and were met by the Headmaster and his friend. The car we climbed into was very old and had the boot in the front, where to our surprise and awe, fit two Westerners’ luggage just very nearly as it clicked shut.
Both my Canadian colleague and I were exhausted from the flight and the nine hour time difference, but that did not come into account as the Headmaster took us from the airport to the town of Kutná Hora (where we would live for the next ten months) and gave us an enthusiastic two hour tour plus a heavy meal, accompanied by the best beer in the world, before dropping us off at what was allegedly to be our temporary home.
We arrived at a construction company’s office building.
At first, I thought this was just another part of the city tour. I was quite deliriously tired at this point, so I had sort of tuned out the running monologue of the Headmaster.
All of the sudden, the admin. assistant was leading us down a hallway.
She opened one door in the hallway.
Inside, there were two twin beds, each along the sides of the wall of this tiny room.
At the opposite end of the room from the door was a small desk with a chair facing a window that looked out over a field.
This was our bedroom.
That my colleague and I would have to share.
We had been told we would be living in temporary housing until the flat for foreign teachers was completed, but we had made the assumption that it would be another flat.
She gave us one key to this room after locking the door, and then we followed her down the hallway to a second door.
As she put the key in the lock to open the door, two men in boxer shorts stepped into the door frame of the room across the hall from this one.
The Headmaster explained that two men who worked for the construction company lived there. The men greeted us in a language we could not quite place at the time but would later come to know as Ukrainian. One of the two men would only grunt at us. The other, however, we got to know through broken conversations in English and German. He was a young married man with a daughter on the way who was trying to earn enough money to be able to bring his pregnant wife to live with him in the Czech Republic. He was able to do so and we celebrated the arrival of his wife and the start of their life together as a family.
We entered this second room. It was twice the size of the former room. In it, was a couch, a television that broadcasted one channel, a dorm-sized fridge, a hot plate, and the left corner of the room was a door that led to a drain with a hose attached up the wall that acted as a makeshift shower and a toilet.
These were also the days before cell phones. So, the nearest phone was located in the town square which was about a 10 minute walk. And there was no computer access, although we were told we could ask the admin. assistant if we wanted to email someone as her office was across from our bedroom, and that she did not speak English so we learned to point and nod at one another.
I clearly remember the first morning of teaching. I woke up and opened the door of the bedroom in order to walk down the hall to take a makeshift shower. Imagine my surprise when I discovered a row of men leaning against the hallway wall watching me walk from one room to the next, snickering and commenting as I went by. This became an almost daily occurrence. These men were waiting for their daily work assignment.
We would come to find out in those early weeks of teaching at the Gymnázium that the two bedroom flat for foreign teachers that was promised to us was not only not ready yet, it was still merely an allotted space on a blueprint for the future Gymnázium that the Headmaster hoped to build. And it just so happens that the construction firm, whose office building graciously offered two rooms to the Headmaster for his foreign teachers rent free, had the contract to build that new school.
Thus began an adventurous year of teaching in the Czech Republic.
Don’t tell my Mom.
She’ll worry about me.
It was supposed to be temporary.