I leave in little more than 36 hours. It can't come fast enough. The more I've reminded myself about the luxuries of home, the more I've longed for it. That's not what this is about though.
* * *
The other day I caught myself crossing a one-way street. And I immediately knew I was familiar in my surroundings. I've always nurtured the idea that one-way streets are a barometer of sorts. Gauging how acclimatized one is to the particular locale. It's like this: If you watch someone cross a one-way street and they look both ways, they're not that comfortable in their surroundings. It's when your strides have become precipitous, when the sleet and wind inflame your desire to get home and your foot boldly leaves the curb, as you glance to the right, and only to the right, that you know you're at home in the neighborhood. My shoulders shrugged, as I tried my hardest to make my pea coat hide the exposed skin on my cheeks. I strode brazenly into the roadway without a thought of turning to the left. It was a one-way street and I knew it, I didn't consciously think about looking both ways, I just wanted to get home as fast as possible and I knew it. The moment of self-realization came a few steps into the road.
In the 8 months that I've been here, a lot has changed and a lot has remained the same. It has been a lot of fun, and a lot of things I can best describe as the exact opposite of fun. To say I’m more able to get around than when I first arrived is an under statement of the highest order. Upon my delivery to this backwards-ass land some 32 weeks ago I was paraplegic-style immobile. I couldn’t get anywhere without all kinds of help. If I did arrive somewhere, I didn’t know how to get what I wanted. Now I’m a ninja of the public transport system and have explored the city in its near entirety on foot. I have always liked walking and exploring and I think that will remain constant wherever I end up.
I was naïve and optimistic, in the extreme. I was giving out benefit of the doubt like it was candy and I was Willy Wonka himself, on Halloween, no less. I’ve since learned that not everyone in the world deserves my immediate trust. There are a lot of blatant imbeciles, or gypsies, as the case may be, who are ready to take advantage of anyone at the next turn. I look over my shoulder now more than ever, even though this city seems incredibly safe.
The lesson has been cemented that people are products of their environment. Nobody smiles here, but when I read about the history and culture I begin to understand why. It’s not up to me to judge anyone; I should be more understanding of where they have come from and what they have gone through.
I started a job at which I had no clue. I was afraid to talk on the phone, I would pray for voicemails to pick up, and when I did talk to someone my voice shook and stuttered in embarrassing ways. Now I’m willing to talk to anyone about anything any where in the world. And I’m getting pretty good at it. Good enough in fact that I left the job I came here for and started my own company.
I couldn’t ask people for anything. I was afraid to speak out for fear of sounding stupid. Then I got hungry and needed to order food. It was one small failure after another but I made progress and tried to keep smiling throughout. One day I went to McDonalds and managed to complete the whole transaction in one smooth exchange of Slovak phrases. Victory. At last.
I’m not sure what the next 8 months will hold. Probably more of the same risk taking. My role can only be to calculate the odds as best as possible. I’m pumped about work. I want it to succeed like any other project I’ve undertaken. I reject the notion of failure and embrace the challenge. Victory earned is the only kind worthy of celebration, if you ask me. I’ve thought a lot about priorities and hopefully I can continue to apply that knowledge. I want to do more traveling in 2010, although I’ve been lucky enough to explore Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and Austria already. I am remiss I haven’t yet made it to the Eastern mystery that is Ukraine. I'm excited for Western Europe, the Balkans and Turkey.
At the end of it all, no matter what happens, and regardless of what has already happened, this whole stupid foray into Eastern Europe has been an incredible learning experience. For that reason I’m happy to say that I would be stupid to
regret any of it. I’m glad I wasn’t sitting at home doing the same thing. I really am giving it a shot, so to speak.
In the immediate future, which I'm currently enamored with, I excitedly await the amenities of the developed world, not to mention my family and friends, both of which are amazing and whom I struggle on the daily, to get by without.
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