I happened to meet yet another sweet person through this blog
. Her name is Alenka
and she and her parents immigrated to the US in 1985 – only 5 years before the Velvet Revolution.
Her story is truly amazing. I woudn’t be surprised if they made a movie out of it one day! Here it is:
CZ: Tak se mi skrze Czechmate Diary postestilo poznat dalsi velmi prijemnou a zajimavou osobu. Jmenuje se Alenka a s rodici imigrovala do USA v roce 1985 – pouhych 5 let pred Sametovou revoluci. Jeji pribeh se jednou objevi na filmovem platnu- o tom jsem presvedcena. Presvecte se sami:
‘In 1985 I was just 5 years old and my father was planning the escape for over a year. They didn’t tell anyone. They obtained a visa to former Yugoslavia to go on a camping trip, My father welded a secret hiding spot for about $300 in the frame underneath the car. We were stopped at the border and my parents were interrogated, I was told to sleep and not to move, and I did pretend to sleep but felt how terrified my parents were.
They let us go and we made it to our camping spot. There we set up a tent for a few days and camped. Then one day we just left and crossed over to Italy through the mountains with some books, my dads chess set and a good bottle of wine. The wine was for bartering with any spys we may have encountered. Apparently a family was gunned down a couple of months before we left taking a similar route. My Dad found some fresh dog sh*t on a trail and my parents freaked!
We made it to Italy and my mom was a little drunk because they saved the little water they had for me and they started to drink the wine. I remember the moment my parents crossed into Italy. They just knelt down and began to sob. I didn’t know what was happening and that is when they told me that we were probably not going to see my grandparents and other family for a very long time, maybe never.
We stayed in Rome for about 9 months in a hotel for political refugees with other Czechs who also defected, waiting for a plane to the States or Australia. Some Czechs were waiting for almost 2 years. My mom says this was probably the best time in her life. Rome was very beautiful I remember. I also remember the hotel was next to a vineyard and working farm so in the middle of the night, all the Czech families would go out and steal grapes, watermelons, and peppers. Must have been an adventure for my parents.
In my opinion my parents pretty much isolated themselves here and it was tough for me growing up. My Dad’s a nuclear physicist and we were dirt poor and moved around alot for a few years before my Dad found a good job on Long Island in NY. My brother and sister were born here and pretty much grew up in the same house their whole lives so they obviously had an easier time.
All my family is in the Czech Republic. Unfortunately I don’t have much contact with them. I can understand Czech and read it a little but cannot write it. I used to speak it fluently but we began mixing it at home and my brother was having a tough time at school mixing it so we transitioned to mostly English. I still mixed it with English until I moved out at 24 and then I just stopped. I did go back when I was 16 and was able to pick it up with no problem so I know it’s still in me. I contact Roseta Stone just about every year to ask them to provide Czech as a language to learn. Anyway, I have been trying to reconnect with my Czech roots through cooking and baking. It has been great and I am so happy when I make something that my husband and 3 year old baby boy like. My son helps me grind those poppy’s so I am glad I am passing some traditions along to him. I think I will also try to plant some currants in my yard this year.
When I asked Alenka what she remembered from the Czech Republic while she still lived there as a little girl, this is what she said:
‘My most vivid memories from Czech are of my grandparents, my cousins and playing with the two little boys that lived in the same building we did. I remember going to my grandparents summer house and eating currents and raspberries from the infinite amount of bushes bearing these fruits. I also have very distinct memories of the food, especially the kolacky and dorticky and anything with dumplings. Oh and Christmas was the best with buying live carp and keeping them in the bathtub. I would sit there for hours watching them swim. Also Ježíšek instead of Santa Claus brought me my presents.
When I went back in ’96 I was very excited to see my family. I was mixing Czech and English at the time and picked up the language almost immediately. But I noticed I could not carry a long conversation and I had no knowledge of any czech slang so as a 16 year old girl it was difficult speaking with other teenagers. We visited the mountains and so many beautiful castles. We stayed in my grandparents house in Prague and it was the most beautiful city I had ever seen. I also went to my first Discoteque in a small village called Smidary which was definitely an experience.’
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