Kimberly Birdsall

Kimberly Birdsall (The Dzeno Association): At the time of her fellowship, Kimberly was pursuing her Master’s degree in Foreign Service from Georgetown University, with a concentration in U.S. Foreign Policy.

Day to Day in Prague

18 Jun

Drinking a Pepsi Light, snacking on a Kinderbueno chocolate bar, wearing light clothing, sandals, and my flowered headscarf. The computer next to me is playing Romani guitar music and there is a faint whiff of cigerettes from the next room. Stacks of papers, conference brochures, posters of Roma artists, and Czech guide books that everyone and their mother has brought for me to borrow while I am here. The fabulous generosity of my hosts.

Today I am busy researching organizations in Europe that deal with human rights and may have programs that Dzeno could collaborate on. As the websites of large international organizations are all in English, my coworkers have a hard time finding the information quickly, or interpreting it correctly.

However, most of the younger Czech generation can speak or understand at least a smattering of English. This was shocking to me at first, but not after I remembered that English is the language of the deluge of movies, tourists, consumer and computer products that flood this nation. The Coca-Cola phenomenon, delayed by decades of Communist repression.

After work, I will go with friends to the pub, and then for dinner. Everyone has been fantastic about my aversion to eating meat, cheese or fried foods, and they help me seek out vegetarian restaurants. These places are few and far between, but worth it, because if you tell the waiter in a regular restaurant that you don’t eat meat, they give you … fried cheese. Perfect.

Later we may take a rowboat out on the Voltava river. The launch is in the center of town, and you get a fantastic view of the city and the swarms of tourists teeming across the famous Charles Bridge. Actually, “fantastic views” would make a great subtitle for Prague, as I can´t decide which castle, bridge, church, cubist structure, stone arch, or tower I love the most. Sunset is the most magical time here, transporting you to the medieval cities of the past.

Speaking of which, I was sitting in the public library the other day, and through the window came the sound of the clap-clap of horse hooves on cobblestones. Not one person looked up. It was startling to me, such an odd sound, but to the varied students and children absorbed in their books, totally normal. For me, like being whisked back to the olden days. And I smiled…

…because it is another example of the power of perception. How we perceive things is our truth, and determines our reactions to everyday events. My second day here, on a tram ride, my friend whispered to me, “That man there, he is Roma.” I looked around and whispered back, “Where? I don´t see him.”

As I looked around again and realized whom he was talking about, I wasn´t surprised that I hadn´t notice him at first, since his skin color and features would not have stood out at all in the U.S. My perception comes from years of living in a country with a multitude of ethnicities, cultures, and half-this, half-that peoples.

Imagining that a skinhead can target a Roma by this slight difference in skin color is still difficult for me to get my head around. But the trouble with perception is that it is impossible to argue with someone else´s reality.

Posted By Kimberly Birdsall

Posted Jun 18th, 2003

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