Margaret Swink

Margaret Swink (Dzeno Association, Czech Republic): Originally from Michigan, Margaret received her B.A. in international relations from Michigan State in 2000. Seeking a warmer climate, she joined the Peace Corps and spent the next two years teaching English and building a library in Cameroon. At the time of her fellowship, Margaret was finishing her first year of her Master’s program in International Relations at Yale University with a concentration in comparative foreign policy and human rights.

Finding Gypsies

10 Jun

I was in Prague around 5 years ago. While I knew that some things would have changed, it’s surprising to me how differently I see the city this time around. I’m no longer looking at the tourist Prague; nor have I done many tourist things. Living temporarily in a hostel, however, the contrasts between the two worlds, the American and the Czech, is striking. The feeling of living in a place is completely different than just passing through.

Among tourists, Prague has a reputation as a great place to visit. Tourists in Prague, in my hostel, mostly college undergraduates from a variety of nations around the world, tend to rate Prague well for cheap beer, gorgeous buildings and inexpensive entertainment. Perhaps slightly older travelers look more at the incredible museums, or the amazing history of Prague. Living here, however, I am more interesting in finding a nice neighborhood, with good access to public transportation and a gym. Tourists tend to see the city as an exotic destination, residents tend to see it as a potential home. Even more unlike tourists, who are mostly unaware that Gypsies exist outside of Broadway musicals, I am constantly on the lookout for Roma as I walk around Prague.

Working at Dzeno has made me incredibly curious about them. My childhood stereotypes resurface. Supposedly, Roma will be darker skinned, with more colorful clothes, and perhaps a wild or sad look in their eyes. The many pictures around the office reinforce my stereotypes…dancing women with dangling earings, captured in time wearing peasant skirts and spotless white blouses. Beautiful. Timeless. Exotic. But just like beer isn’t the whole story in Prague, the stereotypes of Gypsies aren’t the whole picture either. Roma in Prague have unique culture, folklore and traditions; but they also have everyday lives.

Working at Dzeno advocating for Roma, I will almost certainly get to see the exotic side of Roma, and probably of Prague. But I will also see the everyday nuts and bolts that go into making a small human rights NGO successful. Those nuts and bolts: the thousand phone calls, emails, articles, and ideas that go into a day at Dzeno are just as important as the more flashy side of Roma culture. In some ways, it’s more exciting to me to see these small things behind the curtain. It makes my experience here more real, and more inspiring. Anyone can drink the beer in Prague. But not everyone gets to work here.

Posted By Margaret Swink

Posted Jun 10th, 2005

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