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Czech Diary, April 2004

The lowdown on mission life in the Czech Republic
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Thursday 29 April 2004, Ceske Budejovice (Steve)

Tonight we had Milan, a Czech member of our team, around for dinner of smaženy sýr (fried cheese), a Czech speciality that Varya has become very good at. We offered him a glass of beer (as one does), and he checked whether we were all having one.

• "Just me and Varya, not Benjamin".

• "Why not? Is he driving tonight?" !!!

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Wednesday 28 April 2004, Ceske Budejovice (Steve)

Tonight Varya and I went out to the movies together for the first time in the Czech Republic. There’s a small art-house cinema down the road and they are showing a series of documentaries from around the world. Tonight’s film was a doco set in Israel, in spoken Hebrew with Czech subtitles. A little hard to understand...

I’m not showing you the before shot!
Daddy (photo by Benji)

Tuesday 27 April 2004, Ceske Budejovice (Steve)

Haircuts. Everyone’s gotta have ’em, and they’re always tricky in another language! Last Friday’s Czech lesson concentrated on haircuts—where to go, how to make an appointment, the words for short, back, sides, top, "a bit longer on top", and the all-important difference between "take a little bit off" and "leave a little bit on" [the latter took me back to a very bad mistake I made in Japan once...].

Today was the day, and I managed to find a barber who gave me a short back’n’sides for 90 crowns (£1.80). As usual, sign language played more of a part than Czech, but the results were a success. Phew.

unpacking boxes
unpacking boxes

Sunday 25 April 2004, Ceske Budejovice (Steve)

Sorry it’s been so long since our last update! It’s not that nothing has happened, but because we’ve had some computer problems. Instead of the usual daily listings I’ll just put in the main points of the last 2 weeks...

Our stuff has arrived! Last Friday (16th), 3.5 tonnes of boxes arrived in the back of a truck, and we were grateful of help from Elaine from OM in unloading it and getting it inside. Arms and bodies ached for a couple of days afterwards. Most things arrived intact, but a mirror and several large photo "clip" frames didn’t.

We had been starting to think that we were coping perfectly well without all our stuff, and that it was actually a shame to be receiving everything. Most of that feeling has now evaporated as treasured possessions, books and music have appeared.

Steve’s synthesizer (keyboard) and PA system have now been moved to OM, and oh, what a blessing! The KS church that we go to, which is also held at the OM base, have invited Steve to play keyboards with their worship team. First practise was on Monday, and today he played in his first service. It went really well, though the songs are quite hard to play by ear when you don’t understand all the words (yet...). The rest of the worship team are excellent musicians, and play to a high standard. OM’s other sound system was stolen some months ago from the back of the van, so this replacement has been a god-send for them.

The Laptop developed a fault a couple of weeks ago, where the screen suddenly goes dim after a few seconds. It was possible to still work with it, but only in certain lighting, and with a great deal of eye strain! A trip to Prague ensued to a service centre (2 1/2 hours trip, £UK5 return), but they are going to have to send to the USA for parts which will take weeks. Borrowed a monitor and plugged it into the laptop so I am back up and running again.

Beer: (sorry to go on about this, but it’s one of those cultural differences that we still find fascinating...) A new record: last week we saw Eggenberg for 1.9 crowns per 500ml bottle (3.8 pence!). Even with the 3 crown bottle deposit, that’s less than 10p per bottle... crazy.

Bikes: Varya’s mountain bike arrived. We had been given it a couple of years ago, but it languished in our garden shed in Neilston. We weren’t even sure if we would bring it with us. But now we know why God gave it to us in the first place: it’s perfect here! The ride into the OM base takes 15 minutes along beautiful cycle paths by the river, and it saves bus money. Steve is really keen on getting a bike too, but we have to weigh up the price a bit.

Benji is still doing pretty well at Jesle. Though he often says he doesn’t want to go, he always seems to have a good time, and talks about "my favourite teacher with the red jacket", and "a little girl called Anichka". Benji’s English vocab is continuing to grow, and he comes out with some amazing sentences, often stolen from "Finding Nemo" or "The Lion King", his favourite videos.

We still know more Czech than Benji.

 

Good Friday, 9 April 2004

Strangely, today is not a public holiday, and it’s surprisingly hard to feel like it’s really Easter.

We go in to OM this afternoon and have a Czech lesson. Our Friday lessons are more Christian-based, and today we look at a role-play in which we meet someone who has been to "The Passion", ask them questions, and discuss the film with them. To do this we’re starting to learn the basic Gospel message in Czech; daunting considering how little time we have been learning Czech! But it’s a buzz.

Getting late, and Benji is tired, we decide to go for a pizza in town. We find this cool tiny place, where the (3!) tables are all old singer-type treadle sewing machines! Guy making the pizzas is friendly and talks to us in English. He’s a Buddhist but has just been to see The Passion... we talk about it (albeit in English) while he serves other customers and makes our pizza. We think we might start to frequent this place, finances permitting :-)

cathedral in Brno
cathedral in Brno

Thursday 8 April 2004, to Bratislava and back (Steve)

Arrived in Bratislava, Slovakia, after 8 hours in trains. Hadn’t slept much. Nervous. It’s chilly. Headed down to the square where the embassy is, and find that there is already a group of 15 Bulgarians waiting outside the doors for 9AM opening. It’s not a nice orderly queue, and over the next 2 hours the clump in front of me grows to 30, as friends and family join them and I am pushed outwards. 9AM arrives, consular official appears at the door and hands out 15 numbered tickets, but I don’t get one. Those with tickets are in the door, those without are to come back at 11.

Now directly in front of the door I decide to stay put. I am not going home empty handed. It’s getting colder, and by the time 11AM arrives I have been standing here for 5 hours. The door opens again and a handful more are let in. I’m not. Consular guy is dismissive of questions but says that there’s at least some chance of more being let in. I’m now panicing and praying like mad. Phone Varya for prayer reinforcements. A few minutes later door opens again; guy points "you, you, you and YOU come in", pointing at me! With considerable relief I make my way inside, start to thaw, fill out some final forms, and submit everything. All is in order. There’s still a queue outside the door, but I’m not in it... I rush back up the hill to the train station and just make the train. Back here again in 4 weeks to pick up the visa in person, all going well...

Train back is in daylight and it’s nice to see countryside. 1 hr between trains in Brno, and I pop up the hill to pray and give thanks in the Cathedral. Good Friday tomorrow, and I am conscious of why I am here, and how little my own suffering counts. Praise the Lord for getting the Visa application submitted though... now we can get our household stuff customs cleared in Prague, and might actually receive everything next week!

 

Wednesday 7 April 2004, Ceske Budejovice

Tonight Steve left on a night train to Bratislava, armed with all visa documents to arrive there around 6AM tomorrow. As far as we know all the documents are correct, but it’s a nervous time.

 

Monday 5 April 2004, Ceske Budejovice

At long last, today we received the last of the documents required for our visa applications from the UK. A few of them have to be translated into Czech, but that’s no problem.

Bright idea for the day: From May 1, when the Czech Republic enters the EU, Varya and Benji will not need to have visas since they are on UK[/EU] passports. Since Steve’s visa will take at least 4 weeks to come through anyway, there’s no point in Varya and Benji going to Bratislava for visas. Hooray—makes the trip a lot easier, and it’s a lot cheaper too. So our pile of 21 documents is going to be reduced to just 7.

footballSK Slavia, from our window

Saturday 3 April 2004, Ceské Budějovice

What a beautiful day today. Warm sunshine, and it seems that every resident of the city is out on a bike, on rollerblades, in a canoe, or walking beside one of the rivers. The SK Slavia football ground that our flat overlooks was in use for the first time this year, with several hard-fought matches being played. We popped down with Benji for a closer look, and enjoyed a drink from the open-air pub whilst watching the game. [500ml of beer: 28 pence, 300ml of orange juice, 36 pence]

Friday 2 April 2004

Czech Trivia: in Czech, the word "Skoda" actually means "a shame". As in "To je skoda..." means "it’s a shame".

Sorry, Skoda owners.

documents
just some of the documents

Thursday 1 April 2004, Ceske Budejovice

This morning Varya led devotions and prayer at Operation Mobilisation. It was a good opportunity to pray for friends and supporters back home in our various countries. We know the enormous value of people’s prayers for us—here was an opportunity to reverse the roles.

This afternoon Stephen again tackled the paperwork for our visa applications. After yet another phone call to Bratislava (we apply in person in Slovakia) it turns out there’s yet another notarised document required ("I am not a criminal - signed Stephen Brandon", signed in front of a Notary). And we’re still waiting for our apostilled police certificates to come through from the UK. The number of papers we now have for our applications has reached 21, many of them having required notarisation, apostille certificates, lengthy delays, extensive checking, multiple stamps from various agencies in various countries, and authorised translations into Czech. Aaaaaargh! And when we get it all together, we have to do a 3AM trip to Slovakia as a family to queue from 8AM in front of the embassy to hopefully see a visa official before 11AM closing.

We must write a web page on this.


Wednesday 31 March 2004, Ceské Budějovice

Practices for the drama on Friday night are going really well, reports Varya. After a few tweaks to Stephen’s soundtrack it’s just about perfect, and features the vocal talents of Pavel, the OM CZ leader, narrating over a Linkin Park and Iona mix. Nice.

czech study
czech study

Monday 29 March 2004, Ceske Budejovice

This morning we took Benjamin to Jesle, a sort of kindergarten. The OM leader was going to accompany us in on the 1st morning, but he didn’t turn up so we just headed in ourselves (no-one there speaks any English...). First step was to put him in "jesle clothes"—they provide a complete change of outfit as well as providing all meals. All we had to provide was slippers (bačkori) and nappies.

Benji survived! Though his wee face crumpled up as we left him, by the time Va picked him up he was playing happily, and on the way home was asking her "what’s the Czech word for ...?" over and over. He even wants to go back on Wednesday. Phew.

We still know more Czech words than Benjamin.

We had our first language lesson this morning. Fantastic! We were far further ahead than Petra our teacher had anticipated. Petra doesn’t speak any English, but teaches French as well as Czech, so Varya and I found ourselves conversing with her in school-day French as well as Czech. How cool is that? We are still buzzing with excitement about our lessons. We’re sure we’re going to make rapid progress—it’s an answer to much prayer. [NB: Steve only slipped into Japanese once...]

Loads more interesting news with pictures - read our older diary pages: September 2003 - January 2004
February - March 2004

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