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.

Oppression, scorched red

07 Aug

The heat in this country is terrible this week. Rolling, suffocating waves of heat, sucking all the breath out of my lungs and all the thoughts from my pounding head. I guess I should be pleased I am not in Western Europe, where the temperatures are reaching 108 F in Spain, and forest fires are destroying vegetation, crops, and lives in Portugal and France. Doom and gloom merchants and excitable scientists are calling the heat wave a “global warming omen.”

Thing is, air-conditioning is relatively non-existent in my life here in Prague. My apartment building doesn’t have it, our office doesn’t have it, and trams, metro and buses are not equipped with it. Come to think of it, not many fans around here either. Prague citizens are left praying for the miraculous gift of rain from the heavens, or at least for a slight breeze to flow in through the open windows. Myself, I invent reasons to run errands in the air-conditioned store up the street. And maybe take a little dip in the fountain in the square on the way back.

The lack of A/C is due to the fact that there is usually not such extreme heat in Prague, but can also be blamed on the advanced age and outdated systems of the buildings here. The city and its developers are working to change this. For many years, Prague has been in a state of constant construction, green scaffolding and wooden planks ever-present on buildings that are forever being refurbished. There’s hardly a corner you’ll turn where cobblestones haven’t been dug up or sidewalks torn out. And the jackhammers, pounding, and beeping of reversing trucks mix nicely with the whir of the trams and the chime of church bells.

Although you see the same summer construction in the United States (and you can argue that things often don’t work in Washington D.C. – in particular the Metro escalators), in Prague it has a different flavor. It seems to me that they are still catching up on infrastructure updates from the neglect of the Communist era. The constant rebuilding and developments are to me just another manifestation of the Czech Republic’s adjustment to a somewhat new and unfamiliar capitalist economy.

Much of the reconstruction involves cleaning the exteriors of buildings, painstakingly removing years of soot, grime, and pollution that cover the gorgeous facades. Tourists like to see monuments and churches that have been restored to their former glory, and much of the work seems to be for their benefit. Entrepreneurs are now trying to make back the bucks denied to them under Communism, easily witnessed by the marked-up tourist prices on everything sold around the most-visited castles and cathedrals. Vendors sell things in the main tourist areas for three to four times the regular price, and in many restaurants, prices on the English language menus are substantially higher than those on the menu printed in Czech.

Under communism, everyone who did the same job was paid the same wage, and there were no rewards for hard work or extra hours. For that reason, even though people still continue the practice of arriving to work in the wee hours of the morning, workers lack motivation and employee productivity is not always high. I do not notice this phenomenon at Dzeno, but it may be because the staff is young and dedicated. Even though I don’t feel as if I work longer or harder than in the U.S., Ivan is always commenting on how busy and productive I am, as if it is an unexpected thing.

Then again, it’s difficult to be productive in this heat.

Posted By Kimberly Birdsall

Posted Aug 7th, 2003

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