"are you ever going to come back so we can be girlfriends?"
"She should just come back to America."
"Alright. Jokes over. I cant keep up the "i dont miss u" act anymore. U wore me down. Please come home. If u pull a 'im visiting europe...actually I think I'll just stay for good!' I'll be livid. This isnt about ur happiness kasia. its about mine. Think about me. Me. Me. Me."
My leaving America caused a veritable Facebook sensation.
Okay, so my friends' various responses to my spontaneous European move was no real backlash compared to, let's say, Egypt, or the VMAs (I can't believe whatever on earth happened this year, either), but, as Facebook provides a soapbox for people to opine on any and everything, and as news spread that I wasn't coming back anytime soon, so did the commentaries.
"Add 'friend permanently moves to another continent' to the growing list of Important Things You Unexpectedly Learn Through Facebook."
"Wow! When did you move to Poland? We'll have to email and catch up, I've obviously missed a lot!"
"what the f are you doing"
"Dear Expat, Amy Winehouse is dead; Mom and Dad will probably ask if you've heard. Love, America."
That last one threw me for a loop.
I wasn't sure how to handle this. I mean, I loved Amy Winehouse. (Now that I've beaten that horse to death and realized I hate that metaphor...) How, exactly, does one sound the alarm that one has made an extraordinarily significant life decision? I mentioned before that nobody was more surprised than I at my decision to stay in Europe; the best word for it was, indeed, spontaneous. For reference, and definitely not to fluff up this column, I've included the Merriam-Webster definitions below:
spon·ta·ne·ous adj \spän-ˈtā-nē-əs\
1: proceeding from natural feeling or native tendency without external constraint
2: arising from a momentary impulse
3: controlled and directed internally : self-acting<spontaneous movement characteristic of living things>
4: produced without being planted or without human labor :indigenous
5: developing or occurring without apparent external influence, force, cause, or treatment
6: not apparently contrived or manipulated : natural
That last one stuck with me. Natural. Despite my reservations, this felt natural. How to convey this to my friends and family? Well, my family was the easy part: "Mom, Dad, I'd like to stay, indefinitely, and maybe work and/or study, in your home country and brush up on your native tongue and live for free with your kin. Cool? Cool." My boyfriend, I regret to shamefully say, I broke up with via e-mail. (Long story short: I don't recommend it.) But some of my friends surprised me.
"WTF. You didn't say goodbye to me at middle east and now you're staying in Europe til the end of the year?! Saara is not happy about this."
I had no idea my move would be so offensive. I experienced chat after chat on the world wide Interwebs, about what I was doing and why, trying to explain that I was trying to go wherever life took me. This, at the time, happened to be Europe. Was I supposed to create a Facebook event and invite all my contacts? "Kasia's Imaginary Going-Away-For-Maybe-Forever Bash"? "Subtext: Have a beer or twelve and think about how much you miss me!"? I'd had a going-away party when I left for Atlanta and it was great -- all my friends came and I got drunk and got presents and made stupid decisions -- but this time it was too late, and I didn't really need one. Not everyone was offended, of course.
"im just really jealous of all your travels. thought i'd inform you."
"i am. so happy. for you."
A lot of the conversations I'd had were encouraging: so many people my age, twentysomethings with a degree (or two) from reputable universities, had no idea what to do next with their lives. As a result, they wander and drift from place to place like the men in the Valley of Ashes under the eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg: Boston to New York, vice-versa, Boston to Paris, Kiev to D.C.: everyone's just trying it out and seeing what works. Because I guess that's what life is, right? Trial and error? Regardless of the meaning of life, I had some money saved and I was ready to see the world! Or, you know, Europe. Whatever.
But then I needed stuff. Ah, stuff. It is necessary, it is annoying, and by golly do we all have way too much of it. My friend Perrine, who'd moved to Paris, spent some time giving away the majority of her stuff so that she'd have only what she needed in Paris. I, unfortunately enough, have piles of this wretched stuff sitting in my room at home, and I'd meant to get rid of it all or at least hide it under my bed when I got back to Boston.
Swallowing my pride, I asked my family if they would be so kind as to send me some of that stuff, like additional necessary clothing items (crucial especially now that the colder months are fast approaching); my laptop, which I had very regrettably left behind; some books and movies, because, though good practice, Eat, Pray, Love just is not the same translated into Polish. (And before you hate on that book I would just like to say that it is peppered with fun facts and it bizarrely parallels my life. Like, did you know that the phrase "running amok" originated from the Malaysian term that refers to a killing spree instigated by some perceived mistreatment? Yeah. So stick that in your hat... and.... Where was I?)
Anyway, I needed stuff. Luckily I have a loving, supportive family who, though more or less unable to determine why I haven't found gainful employment yet, was willing to help me out. For the record, though, living abroad in another country involves a lot of considerations I quite simply hadn't thought of. Like insurance, for example. What happens when you get sick (foreshadowing), and what happens when you have zero friends in a new city. Some of these issues, luckily, can be remedied with some paperwork. Others, like the friend thing, take a little more work. Which is why, when traveling or living in a new location for an extended period of time, it's a great idea to ask around if friends have friends in said locations. That's how, as I mentioned before, I met my Prague Tourguide-du-jour, Andrew.
Prague was love at first sight. Traveling by train there from Poland, there's a point where, right before arriving at the central station, you pass through graffiti-covered barriers and into a dark tunnel, where the landscape cuts away. When you leave the tunnel, directly to your right, there she is: Praha, laid out in all her glory. Cascading red-tiled roofs waterfall down hilly land. Minarets and pointed towers with sea foam green accents jut out and reach for the heavens. Green trees pepper the view, and there, in the distance, is the Charles Bridge, unmistakable and ancient.
Going along with this theme of spontaneity that I'd recently adopted, I decided not to research too much before visiting for the first time. When I got to the train station a nice girl gave me a map and circled some important things on it. I then proceeded to wander through a walkway lined with dirty-looking people and soliciting prostitutes from the metro station to the tram station and back. Within minutes, I was completely lost and slightly fearful for my safety. Somehow, though, I realized I should be taking the metro and, after some more minutes of struggling with the ticket dispenser ("A HUNDRED CROWNS FOR A DAY PASS?!?" ended up being about 6 bucks) I was on my way to my hotel.
I waited for Andrew at another train station, ego bloated because by now I had that tricky transportation thing down, and watched as person after person passed. "Not him, not him, not him," I'd beg internally. Or, "Well, that guy wearing the kilt might be interesting." But then a tall, lanky guy with a closely shaved head backed up and cocked his head at me. "Jste polské?" he asked. At least, that's what I think he asked. I hadn't brushed up on my Czech prior to leaving -- you know, spontaneity and all -- and I stared back at this stranger while fighting for the right response. "Uhh... What?" is all that came out.
A short trip across some uneven cobblestones later and we were at a bar enjoying traditional Czech pilsner and traditional Czech... Uh, tofu stir-fry. I don't understand my eating habits either and I won't attempt to explain them here. It turned out that the affable bald head that stopped me in the subway was, indeed, Farah's friend Andrew. I'm always a little hesitant when first meeting friends-of-friends, but somehow we talked later and later into the night, from that bar to another bar, where we discussed death for what seemed like hours and where there was a code to get into the bathrooms. This wasn't for safety or anything; every bar just needs some kind of shtick. Several, several delicious (and cheap!) beers later found us wandering out of the bar at closing time -- 3 A.M. or so -- and into a discotheque down the street.
Europeans are crazy about their techno-blaring discotheques, so this was an inescapable pit stop for a visiting Polish-American. Andrew, true to form, used that affability he so nonchalantly owns to get us in for free, and we stood on the balcony looking down at the scattered inhabitants of a late-night disco on a Wednesday. It was loud, and I watched the fluorescent-neon lighting make patterns across Andrew’s face as we shouted commentary over the bone-rattling beat. Then there was less and less talking (read: near-screaming) and before I knew it my lips were on his. We pulled apart. "We should go dance," he suggested. I agreed. I love dancing.
The sun was making its creeping, gold hazy entrance into Prague by the time we got to my hotel. After a few more hours of – ahem -- talking, we fell asleep side by side. The last thing I remember thinking about as I drifted into sleep was the single, solitary day I had devoted to sight-seeing in Prague, and how it had already begun.
Next Time: A Look Back: Paris, Amsterdam, Poland.
(Image courtesy of the author)