“Why?” is not just a great song by the indomitable Annie Lennox. “WHY?” is also the question I often find myself asking about what I am doing here in AryanLandia, aka Prague.
In my second expat+HAREM guest post I discuss Prague’s dark legacies of Communism, Neo-Nazism and discrimination against the Romani peoples. I also discuss how I deal with being a visible minority in the city and the ways I have found to cope.
The day after the piece went live I was again hit in the face with the reality of how uncomfortable it can be for a person of color in Prague:
I was waiting for my tram, one stop away from home, the only brown person as per usual. I purposefully got on last since I would only be going one stop, which is the correct tram etiquette. An old woman was standing right in the doorway and wouldn’t move. I, and many others, bumped into her because of her awkward position, but instead of saying something to all of us she started screaming at me. I told her to relax and that I was getting off at the next stop. She yelled at me even louder.
Adrenaline started coursing through my body with such force my hands began to shake. She kept yelling. Since I didn’t understand what she was saying there was no way to respond. Laughter bubbled out. There was nothing else I could do. She kept yelling. Her face a mask of disgust and hatred. I looked at her contorted visage and laughed more, even though what I really wanted to do was spit rage.
The tram arrived at my stop. As I was leaving I said, “Have a nice day!” in a very bubbly and friendly California voice. Her mouth dropped to the floor in mortification, and I heard a ripple of chuckles from the people around me who understood what I’d said in English. It was hours before I stopped shaking, and then I had a tummyache from the adrenaline overdose, something that’s not happened to me in years, bringing back the trauma of Wendy’s murder. I called my husband, told him what happened. The Czechs he was with said if it happened again to loudly call the person, “bigot”, which means “racist” in Czech. Good to know, but sad that I have to know.
I came home and wept, the only release I could find for the utter humiliation I had just experienced.
So I started asking myself again, “WHY?” Why are you here, Sezin? Since I will not let a racist old bitch get the best of me, here’s what I’ve come up with:
I have two really good jobs, one at a renowned university and the other at a fantastic international school. My husband also has a great job which helps afford me time to write.
The creative energy in Prague is magnificent. Since I have lived here I have written a play, a full-length screenplay, been published in numerous newspapers, magazines and websites, placed as a runner-up winner in an expat writing competition, published my first novel, and I’m working on the sequel and a third novel already.
I will not get arrested or harassed for my criticisms of Prague, like I might if I lived in the USA or Turkey or Sri Lanka.
I do not get sexually harassed in public like living in Spain or Pakistan.
I know an amazing tattoo artist whose art is phenomenal and who charges Czech rates for her work. If she worked in Switzerland, France or the USA she would be able to charge four times what she does here. A woman tattoo artist makes all the difference.
We have a beautiful flat right in the centre of town that overlooks the university botanical garden as well as my favorite spot in Prague: Vysehrad, the original 6th Century settlement of this crazy city.
There is no need for a car, useful since I still have not learned how to drive.
Since I’ve been here I’ve randomly met the entire Newcastle rugby team, a man who did the lighting for “AMERICAN BEAUTY” and “Flags of Our Fathers”, and Olympics silver medalists from the American volleyball team to Beijing.
I’ve managed to make friends with the notoriously closed-off Prague expat old-timers, the ones who’ve been here since the 1990s and who usually don’t bother talking with newcomers, a feat in and of itself.
I’ve overcome a portion of my fear of going out at nighttime alone.
For now Prague is home, I have made a great home for myself here, even though it is one that is separate from the lives of Czech natives. Yes, the world outside Sezin’s Prague tends to be a hostile environment, but I have the power to write about it and purge it so my life isn’t ruled by fear.
When it comes to the grain of it, my husband and I would have to deal with racism anywhere we went, whether directed towards me for being brown or towards him for being white. If, for example, we moved back to the USA I would fit right in to a black or Hispanic neighborhood and he would become the visible target.
I’m stubborn and been through worse in my life. I will stay in Prague until the city is done with me, and that’s final.
Do you ever find yourself asking “Why?” about the place you’ve chosen to live?
© Sezin Koehler 2010. Reprinting in any form requires permission from the author.