The nature within the city

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My first contact with the traditional Czech Christmas took place quite early, during the last weekend of November. It was not the opening of the typical Christmas market that you can find in every main square in every city, town or village in Czech Republic but a special and traditional Christmas fair in Toulcův Dvůr, a Centre for Environmental Education in the surroundings of Prague.

When you are already inside the complex, the first question that comes to your mind is, Am I really in Prague? Different habitats -forest, meadows, wetlands and orchards- shape approximately 8.5 hectares of natural grounds. A gratifying piece of nature within the city. Because in the end, if you look at the horizon, the Paneláks are still there, defiant, looking more grey than ever although they are not grey anymore, as if they were the first line of the enemy’s army of a never-ending war. The silent war between “progress” and nature, between the city and the countryside…

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But today, in the other “army” is a day of celebration.  Toulcův Dvůr is welcoming Mikuláš (St. Nicholas), so it is a good opportunity for everybody to visit the place, know their values and of course, get more in touch with Czech traditions. My guide through this special natural “rear” in the city is Jess, an EVS from Cambridge, England. She is 24 years old and works in Youth and Environment Europe, one of the NGOs that are established in the landmarks of Toulcův Dvůr. The aim of her organization is to promote environmental protection and raise awareness among young people. Actually, it is a network with more than 40 member organizations in 25 different countries. Through several platforms –youth exchanges, international trainings, youth in action programs, online networks…- young people from different places and organisations can share their ideas, collaborate together and communicate in a daily basis.

For example, Jess is now in charge of The Right to Bee, an awareness campaign to support the survival of bees. She set up and promoted an online place where everybody could add their ideas for workshops. Then, the campaign team voted for the five best ones, which will be realized during next spring with the help of some interactive step-by-step guides created by her.

Since she was 17, Jess has been passionate about two different topics that have been in her life together since then: Environmental protection and Eastern Europe. Before coming here, she was working in different NGOs and environmental campaigns in Armenia and Ukraine, and also travelling all around the continent. Now she is writing a blog (tygerbeat.wordpress.com) where she collects the news about environmental needs in Eastern and central Europe. “Western Media is not interested at all, if they are writing about these countries is only about economics or corruption. But I am, so I try really hard to find these stories and if I find something which I can support in the future, I will definitely do…”.

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Jess talks really enthusiastically about all her work and her aspirations. She is the kind person you can trust to work with, always ready to start something, always motivated, with a smile in her face. She is talking with me while we are visiting the Christmas festival and the fields of Toulcův Dvůr – the horses, the farm, the wooden structures where children play and learn, the bees, the fire, the offices, the permaculture garden, the kindergarten, the  nature itself… -.

It is indeed a really cold day but we stay outside most of the time, as well as all the Czech families that have come to celebrate Saint Nicholas Day. It is not 5th of December but, as we are at the weekend, Mikuláš has come early this year at Toulcův Dvůr. To warm up ourselves a little bit, we decided to try some Svařák (hot wine typical from Czech Republic) and eat a Bramboračka. Soon, the children will run into the angels, devils or Mikuláš. He looks a little bit like Santa Claus –nice old man, big white bear…- but more religious – he wears a red cape with golden motifs and a classic tall walking stick. The origin of Santa Claus was indeed inspired by St. Nicholas.  If the children were good this year, they will be rewarded with sweets, if not, they can be put into the Devil´s sack and be taken to hell…

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But before that, all of them have the opportunity to show their skills to their parents. In the outside stage, different groups of them sing typical Czech songs, perform a play about nativity, or show old Czech dances. There are also some folk bands and a lot of stands where you can buy typical Christmas and craft products, homemade dolls, old Czech food, drinks…

Most of the children come from the Kindergarten Semínko (Seed), also located inside Toulcův Dvůr. They believe in the need for children to have daily contact with nature, ensuring their healthy and harmonious development and enriching the lessons by the fact that they are there, looking, touching, smelling and feeling all they learn. They spend as much time as possible outside, no matter the weather conditions as long as the children can adapt to them… The learning, therefore, is something real in all senses, not only something that they have to believe it is real.

In the different classes and programs they have there are not only qualified teachers but also foreigners assistants. Penélope, an EVS from Málaga, Spain, arrived here last winter, when a thin layer of snow covered the whole area. She has been working with the children since then, overcoming the barriers of language. For me, it is still amazing to see how easy is for them to have a good relation with the children, to communicate with them, to understand and help all of them in different situations. In the end what counts more is the affection, the empathy, the motivation, the gestures…

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Penélope is one of the most cheerful people I have met. During the mid-term, we had the opportunity to see how she teaches flamenco to the children with a really nice short story to make all the movements. Today, we also met her during the festival. She is not the only one who works in Semínko. Three more Spanish girls are currently working there, with EVS or Erasmus programs, and Jess also helped them once a week.

The night was coming but we kept looking at some performances with the help of more Svařák. We wanted to stay until the end, not to see Mikuláš, as all the children, but one of the devils. The reason was that we knew him very well. And not because we have behaved badly during this year but because he is also an EVS… Today, Txus, a 25-year-old guy from Madrid, Spain, is dressed up as a devil to frighten all the bad children in Toulcův Dvůr. He also works in Youth and Environment Europe and helps with the horses and in other events which take place in Toulcův Dvůr as well.

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One of the projects he has been in charge of since the beginning is the urban gardening for small spaces. Every moment is a good moment to make people aware of the many benefits of it (for the environment, for the human health, for food conservation, for economic and sustainable development, etc.). In the mid-term, for instance, the other EVS could share their ideas and learn more about it.

Txus has been always involved in social movements fighting for social justice and equality in Spain, a country which everyday lacks more and more of it. He has a really outgoing personality and he seems to have the things clear. For him, the war is waging everyday. A very difficult war, as many people are still not aware of it. But as an old African proverb says, “Many small people, who in many small places, do many small things, can alter the face of the world”.

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My Czech playlist vol.2 Music for life

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I have been wondering for a long time how to introduce this post. It has nothing to do with the blog thematic. Or maybe it has. At least a little bit. I want to think that music is an important part of my life (of everybody life). As well as Czech Republic now. So I want to keep recommending some of the bands that have been accompanying me during this amazing year. I admit that last time I found a better excuse to write about it. But I had promised to continue. So here it is. Remind festival, Živá ulice in Plzeň or Video mapping festival in Olomouc are some of the events that gave me the opportunity to see some of these bands. I will probably never see all of them but it doesn’t matter. They will always be there, in my daily life, in the sad moments, in the nostalgic times, when I am angry or happy, when I am especially motivated or just fine… Some bands are more international, others really Czechs in all senses. Anyway, almost none of them are commercial. Open your mind and feel it. Not all the music comes from USA and UK…

If you want to read the first part, click here:

https://aczechstory.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/my-czech-playlist-vol-1-united-islands/

If you want to read about Remind festival, click here:

https://aczechstory.wordpress.com/2013/10/10/the-last-days-of-summer/

Please the trees: One of the most famous indie Czech bands. A coming back to the 70s with the influence of the newest indie scene.  Experimental and atmospheric folk.

DVA: “Pop for non-existing radios” or “folklore of non-existing nations”, as they say. This international Czech duo has created its own language for an indescribable music (from tango or cabaret to electronic or traditional instrumentation). In any case, music for open-minded people.

Ohm Square: A little bit of Drum and Bass and Breakbeat is always welcome. Famous since the nineties, their music has appeared in many Czech films. If you are in need of some good vibrations, this is your band. Electronic music for all tastes.

Piano: Mikoláš Růžička is one half of the guitar pop duo Republic of Two but I would like to recommend his new project, Piano. Still pop, but full of energy.  This song writer and singer gives more emphasis to the instruments and express all his most intimate emotions in his new album.

Nierika: A trip-hop project from 2001. Chillout music for relaxing times. Her nice voice will haunt you and her new rock but lounge style will keep you dreaming…

Obří broskev: Classic alternative rock in Czech. Sadly, they are in a “hibernation” period, but you can always wake up with their energetic music style.

Mig 21: Pop rock in a Czech way. Their curious lyrics, the strong personality of the famous singer and actor Jiří Macháček, their strange videos and the stage design create a funny and unique atmosphere. The more you know Czech, the more you can enjoy them.

My dead cat: Post-hardcore band with some 90s American punk influence. Their quick strong songs do not leave you indifferent. There is no moment for rest in their shows.

Kvetoslav Dolejší: Incredible musician full of creativity. His wild and original music, called mess rock by himself, is always unpredictable.  If you want to explore the limits of rock, just listen to one of his songs…

Bear Love (UK), Ondřej Smeykal and Pavel Plánka: Touring together through all Czech Republic, their minimal atmospheric music will transport you to a spiritual world.  Gongs, didgeridoo and drums… always in contact with the nature, always in contact with life…

Lealoo: Post rock, trip-hop, electronica… Dreamy atmospheres with a hypnotic voice to make you quiver…

The “Iceberg” story

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I meet with Marion in Košutka, the north border of Plzeň, at the end of the tram line 4. It is close to the longest natural area in the city. During summer, everybody who stays in Plzeň goes there to have a bath in the lakes. Later, in September, walking through the trees, it is common to see some people looking for mushrooms, constituting one of the most characteristic stamps in Czech Republic.

But we are not going to stay in Košutka. It is 7:50 in the morning and some of her coworkers are waiting for us in the car. I must recognize I feel quite sleepy at first, not used to get up so early, but Marion, as always, is already full of energy. We leave Plzeň and took a single-lane road through the forest. After almost one year living here, it keeps surprising me how easy is to get inside the nature and how nice it looks even now, when the beauty of autumn has already gone. Our destination is Ledce, a small village of 600 inhabitants, only 10 minutes far from Košutka. There, next to the church, there is a charming rural house and a small farm, which are the main center of Ledovec, the organization where Marion is doing her EVS.

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She is 23 years old and comes from Pontrieux, a small village in Bretagne (France). After studying social work, and given the lack of opportunities in her field at her hometown, she decided to start a new life in Plzeň, where she arrived last May. Although she has worked in other places before, it is her first experience with people with mental health problems. Ledovec, which means “Iceberg” in English, is an NGO that offers psychosocial support to people with mental disabilities under the concept of mutual social rehabilitation. The name couldn’t appeals more to their philosophy. Normally, only one-ninth of the volume of an iceberg is above water. Regarding to people is pretty the same: “We often stay in the surface, when we see someone of them we ask: What’s the problem? But we don’t look more deeply, we don’t realize it doesn’t matter… there are a lot of things “under the sea” and there, is where we have to look at”, says Marion.

The morning starts early in Ledovec. At half past eight, I can meet for the first time some of the clients: Petr, Lukáš, Eliška, Jirka… Some of them remind me Marion a lot, always talking and laughin for something, as if there is nothing on earth which can annoy them. It is not strange that they really get on well… After the meeting, the domestic activities have been assigned: making the bread, making the laundry, cooking the lunch, taking care of the animals, washing the cars…  It is different everyday. The key is working together, no matter who is who and their handicaps. “We all have handicaps, you and I, for example, can’t speak Czech but it doesn’t prevent us from doing our things, we all just have to gain confidence…”, remarks Marion.

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In the farm you can bump into ships, chickens, cats, a really calm dog…  But what attracted me more were all the traditional instruments you can find there to do handcrafted work. For example, there is a room in the attic where people with psychiatric problems can learn to sew and create handmade jewelry. At three o’clock, after having an exquisite lunch all together and spending one hour drawing, playing games or just reflecting on the work done, the clients leave.

But the “farm” is just one part of Ledovec, an NGO which has been running already for 14 years.They offer counseling, therapeutic work, educational courses, employment support… Tuesday, for example, is the day for social activities and there is always some excursion to do. During the last month they have been in an ecofarm making juice, in an exhibition about “the twelve senses” in Prague, in a trip in Rabštejn nad Střelou…

And Thursday is the day of creativity (ceramic, drawing, painting…), which takes place inside a school in Plzeň. They also organize different craft events, a summer workcamp, cultural festivals and a very special project, “Cirkus Paciento”. The team spends around one week in one psychiatric hospital doing different activities dressed as clowns, a therapy which makes patients more active and sociable. The program finishes with a common circus for the entire hospital and the general public.

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In the future, Marion wants to keep working in the same field and improve her knowledge about it. When I asked her why is she doing it, she answers naturally: “I could tell you that I am here to have more experience, to gain more confidence… and this is true, of course, but the main reason is because I like it. I have fun everyday”.

The same feeling appears when she is asked about her life in the city. She looks at me strange, she smiles and just says: “I don’t know. I never thought about it. Plzeň is now my city. When I am coming back from a trip, I feel I am coming back home. Plzeň is my home”.

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A tourist story

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The well-known French author, Albert Camus, wrote once that “what gives value to travel is fear. It is the fact that, at a certain moment, when we are so far from our own country…we are seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back to the protection of old habits. This is the most obvious benefit of travel. At that moment we are feverish but also porous, so that the slightest touch makes us quiver to the depths of our being…”.

It would probably be a mistake to bring these thoughts to nowadays. When you are walking around the Staroměstské náměstí or crossing the Karlův most over the Vltava and give a look at these big groups of tourist focused on following the guides with the umbrellas, you realize that fear or any other deep feeling are not part of what they are experimenting. Now, everything is so organized that there is no time to be spontaneous, all is arranged in advance in order to not have any worries or inconveniences. Experiences are prefabricated in packages so everybody could see, think and feel absolutely the same about the places they are visiting. No more cultural shock, no more individual challenges, no more surprises…

Fortunately, there are still some ways to get closer to what Camus says. For example, if you are an EVS in a little village in Czech Republic, where nobody speaks English, you will definitely feel it more than once –no matter how helpful your mentor is or how much your organization prepare your arrival…-. In general, when you are having a long stay abroad, everything can affects you more, the good and the bad things, so your mood can easily change from ecstasy to melancholy and the experiences you live are undoubtedly more intense and deeper in some way.

But regarding to travelling there are two possibilities if you don’t want to be part of the pack. You can go to unknown places far from the tourist map, or you can travel to the most common cities but in a different way. For example, by hitchhiking or coachsurfing, two familiar words for every EVS as the budgets are not always high enough for a more common way.

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Margo, from Georgia, and Mariia, from Ukraine, can talk a lot about it. They are probably the ones who have travelled more during their EVS. In only six months, they have already been in ten different countries: Austria, Hungary, Germany, Poland, Switzerland, France… “We can be talking like this and decide to go to Italy tomorrow by hitchhiking.  We don’t need to have anything prepared”, says Maria, who highlights that the only support she needs is Margo, her best friend here.

They both arrived at Czech Republic last May. Margo is 25 years old and was born in Tkibuli, a town in the west-central part of Georgia, but lives in the capital, Tbilisi. She studied History and specialized in European Medieval Age. In two years she will be a doctor of Cultural Studies but before she wanted to see “the reality” in Europe. “I was always reading books and studying theory about Europe but now I have gained a lot of experience, a lot of informal education”.

Both Margo and Mariia are considered Europeans but at the same time they can explore the continent from a foreigner point of view. “In Ukraine it is not easy to get a Visa and travel for a long time, and this project lasts one year, so I asked myself, why not? I love travelling and I wanted to see how people are living in Europe”, says Mariia.

She is 21 years old and comes from a little village called Pidberiztsi. She left her work at a bank in Ternopil -a city of more than 200.000 inhabitants in the west part of Ukraine-, and her studies in International Marketing and Education to become an EVS. “This project has completely changed my life. I am happy here but you are always wondering if you chose correctly… I left a lot of things in Ukraine and I don’t know how it will be when I come back…”.

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Their new life takes place in a very special place. Not in a big city, as they used to, neither a town nor a village. It is in the middle of the nature. In Švýcárna, an ecological leisure center located in the breathtaking Moravian Karst, about half an hour far from Brno and close to the industrial town of Adamov, in South Moravia. The yellow, brown and orange of the fallen leaves shapes now all the slopes and hide somehow the amazing deep and long caves which are on the way.  The complex, formed by three main rural houses located in the lower side of the mountain, with a stream flowing next to it, looks as if it were painted for an old beautiful postcard.

Margo and Mariia live and work there together with other three volunteers: Francesco, from Italy, Mylene, from France, and Artyom, from Armenia. They all help in the cleaning of the area, organize projects with kids (handcraft activities, environmental education…) and participate in weekends or long term events (summer camps, volunteer weekends, etc.). “It is a different kind of work, a different kind of life, a challenge at first, but I like it. And it is healthier for sure”, says Margo.

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As her personal project, she decided to organize a weekend about her country. Me and other 14 people (some EVS, Erasmus, and other ones) went there and could taste “Khinkali” and “Lobio” or dance “Acharuli” and “Rachuli” for the first time in our lives. Her aim was to encourage people to visit their country in the same way she is visiting the other ones: getting to know their people, their traditions, their culture, their music…

Mariia is also planning an intercultural event: a youth exchange between Caucasus and Central Europe with people from Georgia, Slovakia, Ukraine and Czech Republic. The topic will be Intercultural Dialogue and they will be able to see and understand better their differences and similarities in education, religion, culture… As Margo says, “Czech Republic and Georgia are really different, the people attitude, the behavior, the culture, the human relations… but in the end, we are all humans, we all have the same feelings, we love, we hate… and this is common for everyone in the world”.

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Both Margo and Mariia surely have missed their home more than once during this year but despite their desires to come back, they couldn’t help keep travelling everywhere. “A new country is a new book, to read something in internet is not meaningful, if you just see it for once, you will understand it”, affirms Mariia, who admits that hitchhiking or coachsurfing can sometimes be a risky experience: “It is really great because we meet different people who told us many interesting things about their places which we couldn’t know otherwise, but you must know that you can also have a bad experience, not everybody is honest and you must be ready for that”.

What is sure is that if any of us decide to visit Georgia, Margo will help us to have an experience full of knowledge and emotions. For the time being, we can at least be satisfied with her dance lessons or her exquisite cuisine. And now we know we must go there. And learn about it. And feel it. And experience it. And get lost among its amazing mountains. And be “seized by a vague fear, and an instinctive desire to go back…”. And let ourselves be surprised and touched. And “quiver to the depths of our being…”.P1030983

The house of all volunteers

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The other day I was talking with another volunteer about how strange is to feel more like “at home” in a friend’s house where you spend one or two nights than in your own place. For different reasons we both agreed that our places are far from this “feeling”. In my case, I won´t definitely miss my dormitory. May be some people I met here or the amazing park which is close to it but not the different rooms where I had to spend so many nights this year.

Fortunately, in some sense it encouraged me to be always outside, to enjoy the “city life” when I am here in Plzeň and to travel whenever it is possible. For the first time in my life I feel like a nomad, and I love it. Meanwhile, this old dormitory, ugly, harsh and unpleasant, is just the necessary place where I sleep.

Amara –the other volunteer- and I were talking about it because we have already been in a very different place. A warm, comfortable and friendly house where you can feel “at home”. It is a flat in an old grey fourth-floors building in Kafkova ulice (Prague 6), not so far from main Prague spots like the Castle and Letenské sady but far enough to feel that you are in a common Czech neighborhood and not in the middle of this tourist massive attraction which is the center of Prague.

It is actually the flat of Adna and Nora, two volunteers from Bosnia and Herzegovina and Spain who are doing their EVS in the Association for Voluntary Activities INEX-SDA. I don´t know if it is because of the comfortable rooms, their decoration, their close and open-minded character or their relaxing way of life, but I am sure Amara and I are not the only ones who feel it. Many EVS, workcampers, coachsurfers, friends and friends of friends from all over the world have had the opportunity to stay there and enjoy a quiet, friendly and free stay before the rush which can be visiting Prague.

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Last week I was there again because I wanted to see Adna´s presentation about her country, where I could spend some days this summer in an unforgettable trip. She is from a small town called Visoko but studied Psychology in the capital, Sarajevo. After volunteering for some years in an NGO there, she decided to have some experience abroad and came to Czech Republic.

Adna is working now in the educational department of INEX. One of her main projects has been “Football for development”, a one-month campaign about global education which tries to raise awareness about racism and discrimination connecting Czechs and Kenyans through football. She spent one month in different regions in Czech Republic giving workshops, drama performances and organizing football tournaments with people from Kenya and Czech Republic. What is interesting about these competitions is that the final winner is not the team with the highest score but the one that all mediators agree that has been playing the fairest football.

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During this year Adna and Nora have been always in contact with people from all over the world. As INEX is the organization in charge of coordinating all the international summer workcamps in Czech Republic, they have had the opportunity to become leaders and deal with some of them. For example, Adna was recently in Chříč, a very small village near Plzeň, restoring an ancient brewery; while Nora was cleaning in an organic farm which had been highly damaged after June floods – but in the end they managed to plant some tomatoes and cucumbers-.

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The aim of INEX is to carry out, support and promote international voluntary work and intercultural education. They are not only focused on bringing foreigners to Czech Republic but also arrange voluntary placements abroad for Czech volunteers in workcamps, EVS organizations and other specific projects (for instance, there are some people working in India right now). Nora leads the campaign “Your Experience Counts”, in which they ask for some feedback to all the Czechs who are currently abroad. As she is working in the volunteering department of INEX, she is monitoring all of them and also writing the evaluation of the foreigners who came here for the summer workcamps (statistics, motivations, things to improve…).

Nora is 24 years old and comes from Zaragoza, a big city in the north of Spain between Madrid and Barcelona. After finishing her studies in Law, she wanted to live abroad for some time. She spent already some months in Ireland and chose this project in Czech Republic because she wanted to see how an NGO works from inside as she pictures herself in the future working for non-profit projects.

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Both Nora and Adna miss a little bit the warmth and good cheer of their hometowns but, although the adaptation was difficult, they are glad they are living here. They think their EVS has changed them somehow, they have now more experience, more knowledge and have met many people from different cultures and backgrounds. They enjoy more the relaxing times and how close they are to nature here, but also the opportunities of living in a big city like Prague (exhibitions, concerts, cinema, hanging out with friends to different places everyday…).

Now, they are working in their personal project, a sharing guide for EVS where you can find ideas and support for workshops and other activities. For me, they are already the support I need every time I go to Prague. Their kindness, their consideration, their generosity… As I see, the house of Adna and Nora is the perfect metaphor for INEX. A place where everybody is more than welcome…

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The language of sport

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I thought I already knew everything about Czech trains until I wanted to arrive to Ivančice, a small town of 10.000 inhabitants, close to Brno, in the region of South Moravia. It seemed easy at first: one train, final destination…  But there I discovered that although this year I have taken a lot of trains around the whole country, I can still get lost. The truth is that I arrived on time at Brno main station to make the change and I went directly to the correct platform. But there, there were two trains, one with the name of Ivančice written on it, and other one with the name of other village I can’t remember now. What I didn’t know was that this other train was going also to Ivančice and, what is more important, at the time I was supposed to take it, while the other one was not departing until more than one hour later…

So I arrived later than expected to Ivančice, the town where Mario, from my on arrival, and other five volunteers are doing their EVS. As he was in the middle of his Czech classes, Daniela came to pick me up. She is from Ravensburg, Germany –a famous city for its puzzles-and was spending her last week in the town after one long year as a volunteer.  She is only 18 years old and soon she will start to study Physics in her hometown, a big change from the social work she’s been doing here.

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In our way to the “Středisko Volného Času Ivančice” (centre for leisure time activities), she started to tell me about the organization and their work there.  One of the most interesting things is that they are not just a youth centre to visit but also they are everywhere in the town promoting an active life: schools, squares, parks… every space is suitable. Every week they are in two or three different places with children of all ages playing a wide range of sports or games such as football, tennis, basket, jumpers or floorball, a type of hockey really popular here.

During the summer, they have been moving to a new big building in the surroundings, 10 minutes walking from the city center. It has been a hard work and there are still some things to do (moving more furniture, some painting…) but the center is perfectly working. Now the volunteers can live in the same building they work. They have a spacious and luminous room for each one and share the showers and the kitchen in one whole aisle in the third floor, separated from the working offices.

The second floor is designed for the accommodation and meeting rooms for all the big events that take place here. When we arrived, many people were coming from their bedrooms or just lying in some sofas in front of the main meeting room. The floor was completely full as it was the last day of a one-week Youth Exchange. It was organized by Nadiya, one worker from Ukraine (she was EVS some years ago), and Tigranuhi, a 24 years old Armenian EVS. 36 young people from six different countries took part in it: Ukraine, Latvia, Georgia, Armenia, Turkey and Czech Republic. They have been showing their culture and their way of life through different games and activities made under the topic: Do sport-be active. I had the opportunity to assist to the very last activity (before the final party), the evaluation meeting, where they shared all the ideas, stories and experiences that had achieved during this short but intense period of time.

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There I could also meet the other EVS: Ana, from Portugal; and Davide, from Italy, have just arrived during the last weeks; while Giorgi, from Georgia, is actually finishing his volunteering this weekend. He has been working the whole year in the sports department, the same one which Mario joined when he arrived last May.

Before the party, I have some time with him to see all parts of the new building. Downstairs we can find the Youth Club. The youngers from Ivančice can come there and spend their free time: there is a computers room, a tv room, places for listening to music, reading books, magazines… and a big games room with board games, pools, table football and Ping-Pong.

“Středisko Volného Času Ivančice” works in a regional environment and has for different sections: the already mentioned Youth club; the familiar centre, where they organize activities for children and take care of them; the creative activities, where they give cultural workshops for youth such as ceramics, painting or dancing; and the sporting activities, where Mario has been working since his arrival together with the other volunteer, Giorgi, and two young Czech friendly employees, Ondra and Irka.

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Given the lack of opportunities in Spain, Mario decided to start a new experience far from home. He is from Cádiz, a coast city of 130.000 inhabitants in the south of Spain, where the young unemployment has reached the 70 %. Despite the difficulties, it is still a very lively city. Coming from that youthful and friendly atmosphere to a small town in an unknown country with an unknown language could certainly be a big shock but all the worries Mario had before the arrival turned out to be wrong.

Although in the town, many people can’t speak English, almost everyone in his organization does so the adaptation was really quick. When he just arrived, he met some young Czech friends of other volunteer and started to play football in the team of Budkovice, a village close to Ivančice. The language of sports is universal so when someone can’t speak English there is no problem at all. That works both with children at his job and with his team mates in his free time. So now, he is also practicing in the Ivančice football team, in a five a side team and in a volleyball one. During weekends, as a good Spanish, he usually goes out at night –normally finishing in the disco of a closing village- and when he finds time between one sport and another he just watches a film or talks with his friends.

Floorball and handball are now the main sports in which he is working. He assists in the trainings three days a week, he also organizes the ‘sports zones’ around the town and help in the “school trips” : they go with some school class to a small village or the countryside close to Ivančice and spend there some days to improve the relations between the children by playing games, sports and other outdoor activities.

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Undoubtedly, there is always something to do in Ivančice but it was the summer when there was no day to rest. They organized many summer camps for children and youth outside the town (about sports, cultural ones, for the whole family…). Mario had the opportunity to participate in three: one with a children handball team, one more general about outdoor sports with strategy games, tournaments, bicycle routes, swimming… and the most special: not about sports but about The Lord of the Rings. During 10 days, 50 children from eight until 17 took part in many different activities around this well-known literary and movie trilogy.  Among other things they could enjoy Mario and Giorgi skills for theater, dressed as some of the famous characters. May be was not much true to the original books but was surely more funny…

After five months living here Mario is clear about how he feels “It is being a wonderful experience. I never feel the need of coming back”. Now he is waiting for some new EVS to come: one girl from Russia and another one from Armenia. I can imagine how worry they are at home now, as Mario was, thinking why they are so crazy to come to this small town so far from home. But there is always something to do, something to enjoy here. For example, the last party of a Youth Exchange. The night will be long and we don´t even have to go out from home…

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And then…?

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Last week I pronounced my first words in Catalan after more than one year. It was just a formal farewell. Adeu, bonna nit… – I said to one of the guests who had come to the International Week of Culture Factories here in Plzeň. It was nothing, just two words… but it brought me back all the memories of the days I was living in Barcelona. The places that were once a part of my life, the friends that were once really close and not anymore, the smell of the Mediterranean Sea, the language, the work, the strolls around the city drunk and not drunk, the awfully hot days of summer and the quite cold nights of winter, the pa amb tomàquet, the cava, the village of Sitges, the amazing events in which I could take part, the bad experiences, the Catalan music, the plans that were never realized, the first meetings, the last farewells, the feelings and emotions that will never come back…

One day you wake up and you also realize that your EVS is coming to an end.  It is only one year and the time passes so quickly that you can’t even take your time to think about it. But suddenly, one day you open your milk brick for breakfast and pay attention to the expiration date: 14th January 2014.  A day that doesn’t belong to your EVS life. To your Czech life. And you can’t help but thinking about what will you be doing that day, thousands of kilometers away from Plzeň. And what will the people you are looking right now, in the office, in the train, through the window of your room… will be doing that day, at the same time, in the same places you are still visiting now but you won’t anymore, feeling them further and further every day…

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So one day although you are still here, walking through the same old street you’ve been walking for the last nine months in your way to work, looking again at the same old man who stands firm and calm in front of the city hall door –as if the time wasn’t an issue for him-; you start to feel that they might disappear at any time, and you imagine yourself wandering around other streets, the ones from your childhood, that maybe –and only maybe- will be the ones from your future… And there, one year later, suddenly, you meet one person from Czech Republic, why not,  and although your conversation is in English or Spanish, you pronounce your first words in Czech after a long, long time… and you feel weird, and nostalgic, and sad, really sad… because you are not there anymore, and you know that if you come back, nothing will be the same. Maybe the city will stay there as it was, maybe you will even meet some people you met before –many other will have left…-, but they will have changed, they will have other responsibilities, other friends, other lives… as well as you, and you don’t know anymore if you are now a tourist, a foreigner, a citizen or just a guy lost in time and space, wondering why everything nowadays must go by so quickly…

To be honest, there are still more than two months until I finish my EVS here but I can already feel the anguish of the end. Many questions to answer that will never be answered, many plans to do that will never be done and many people to meet more deeply that will never be as close as I would have wanted. Now, it doesn’t matter where I am, I can’t run away from the frightening question: What will you do after the EVS? May be is my mother by phone, the friend I just congratulated for his birthday by Facebook, some guy from my organisation or a person I have just met for the first time a few minutes ago…  And although I can change my answer, I am always saying the same… Well… Let’s see, I don’t know… Maybe I stay here, maybe I come back, maybe, maybe…

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The truth is that I am afraid. Afraid of the real world.  Afraid of saying something that I can’t fulfill. Afraid of saying something strongly and definitive.  Something like… Yes, I will stay here and look for a job after my EVS. Because not all depends on me. And I’ve never been much determined and secure. I am more the kind of person who use “If I…” sentences. If I could find something, If I had more time, If I was younger…  I feel comfortable in the “If I”, where everything is still possible and I don’t have to say no, to say good bye…

So the only thing I know for sure, the only answer I can give right now,  is that If I (always “If I”…) come back to Gran Canaria, I will miss Czech Republic more than I could have imagined before. I will miss the nefiltrované pivo, the trips around and outside the country, the snow, the ice hockey  team Škoda Plzeň, the ovocné knedlíky, the awfully cold days of winter and the not so hot days of summer, the EVS trainings and all my friends, the Czech music and the summer festivals, the summer workcamp, the Plzeň 2015 events and the places where they took place, the office, the Bory Park -so close to my dormitory…-, the strolls around the city drunk and not drunk, the mushrooming –although I only did it twice-, the Thursdays football, the lakes and the rivers, the days and nights in Prague and the friend houses where I could stay, the amazing nature, the Czech movies, the trains (which can talk so much about this country), the plans and the things that will probably happen in the next two months, the first meetings, the last farewells, the feelings and emotions that will never come back… And her. I will miss her so much.