Uninvited: Me Too

This started as an audio recording I made after being sexually harassed on the street in Tacoma, Washington in March of this year. It is representative of all of my experiences of sexual harassment over the years, starting right here in Portland when I was 13 and followed by a junkie (but that’s a story for another time). I wasn’t ready to share this story then but I found the forgotten recording today and have decided to join the “Me Too” movement. This is almost an exact transcript so please forgive the grammar. 

It started out as a compliment on my outfit. “Damn girl! You got a great outfit! Look at that!” I smiled shyly, receiving the compliment and thinking to myself for the briefest moment, that that’s all it was, a compliment on my outfit. Nothing about my body, just about my clothes. Even the way he said it was fine. It seemed genuine.

But then as I passed him, he kept talking… and as he kept talking, he started propositioning me. I didn’t have to hear every word he said to understand his intent. I think he said something about going back to his place. The last words I remember him saying were about how sexy I was too.

Suddenly, I felt very different. I even felt myself readjusting my walk, my gait, in case the way my hips moved was too feminine, too attractive, too sexy, that he might say something again before I got to my car. As I got to my car, I looked ahead and saw he was still wandering back and forth on the street where I had passed him. Part of me thought, “I need to drive the other direction, I don’t want any chance of him looking at me. Of any kind of encounter.” I worried he might walk up to my car, tap on the window, and try to start again. Then another thought crossed my mind, a darker thought, “I could go the way that he was, I could go back down that road and hit him with my car.” But I quickly dismissed that as too violent. I turned on my GPS, I thanked the Lord (that I don’t believe in) for rerouting me the opposite direction of the man I had passed on the street.

No, he did not touch me. But his words caressed my arm. His words whispered in my ear, uninvited, even though he was standing several feet from me. That sliminess that can only be felt from interactions like these is becoming all too familiar. I’ve felt it in every city I’ve ever been in, in every town. Sometimes it comes out and speaks and every once in awhile it just crosses my mind and its there lurking. I’m always optimistic about humanity and I think, “No, this won’t happen to me here, not here! No, it will be a compliment he’ll say! It will end with a compliment, a really nice compliment that doesn’t have anything to do with my sexual appeal.” But oh so many times I am wrong whether it is words or noises.

When I was in Prague, I was cat-called by a man who called me beautiful (one of the few Czech words I knew at the time), as I walked home with my groceries. But I had picked the wrong alleyway! Just like I did today. I had picked the wrong alleyway. I had miscalculated the chances of me walking two blocks (in both cases) to get to my destination without running into someone who felt the need to tell me just how they felt about my body in that moment. It is always uninvited and covered in slime.

 

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10 Weird Things About Prague

15578375_10208264337951730_1567890289058496376_oCulture Shock. We all experience it when we go to a new country to some degree. Hell, I experience culture shock when I visit a new city within my country. When I went to Prague for a semester abroad at the end of last summer, I thought I didn’t really experience unanticipated culture shock. I did my research. I went not knowing the language and that it would be hard. I knew what the city looked like and behaved like from talking to someone who had gone and from intense Googling. I wasn’t overly cocky but I was less shocked than people who didn’t do their research (I love research). By the end of my trip, I asked myself if there wasn’t anything I found weird and confusing that I had no idea about. Some of the following things I did know about but was still shocked by. Some things were delightful, some offputting, and other just weird. Below are my 10 things I found to be weird in Prague while living there.

#1- Drinking beer with lunch

I grew up drinking water (sometimes milk) with every meal. As an adult, sometimes I’ll treat myself to a glass of wine or beer at dinner. In Prague drinking beer with your lunch was the regular thing to do and then again at dinner. Of course, once I went out that night (see #9) I would have a few more beers. It’s still a miracle that I didn’t gain weight on that trip. I highly recommend a cerny beer with svíčková for lunch in the colder months and a pilsner with chlebíčky for a summer picnic at Vyšehrad.

#2- Smoking is legal in bars

If smoke really irritates you, your options for Prague nightlife are limiting. Smoking is still legal in bars and clubs and certain ones are rife with it. It didn’t bother me after the first few weekends but it took a while to adjust. If you’re traveling there and want to avoid the smoke, bars are often less smokey (some smoke-free!) than clubs.

#3- Cars parked on the sidewalk

I wish I had a photo of this. As far as I know, it’s legal and sometimes encouraged for cars to park on what we would call the sidewalk on a regular basis. You find yourself walking down a cobblestone street, turn the corner, and suddenly, there it is: a car in your path and your brain struggles to comprehend the madness. Like everything on this list, you get used to it and if you stay long enough, these irritations become quaint and the things you miss.

#4- Quiet Metro stations

Let me start by saying I have not been in many metro stations but I discussed this with many friends who have while I was in Prague and we all agreed: the stations are strangely quiet. With the exception of school groups or loud, drunk tourists, each busy station was a place where you talk at a normal volume or keep to yourself. Also, they are really clean and efficient.

#5- Scented toilet paper

You’ve looked up the Czech word for toilet paper (toaletní papír) and you know you don’t have to spend much because of the great exchange rate for crowns. You manage to find the right aisle all on your own without asking a store assistant (not that you’d know how or that they’d offer). You are staring down the toilet paper and realize you don’t know the words for soft or strong so you go with the best photo: this one has daisies on it. Cool. You buy it and get home to find out that those aren’t daisies, they’re chamomile and although (you later discover) most toilet paper pictures match their scent, this toilet paper smells nothing like chamomile. You eventually run out and return to the store hoping to fix your simple mistake. Just buy unscented! Joke’s on you! Unscented toilet paper is really hard to find and I do not know why but this was one of the strangest pet peeves of mine (and culture shocks) while in Prague.

#6- Public urination

Drunk people like to pee where they shouldn’t. No, it’s not legal. In fact, one of my friends got a ticket for it. Luckily it’s not everywhere and you learn to avoid the places where it never seems to go away (rain and street cleaners help). Oh, Piss Alley! How I don’t miss you! To avoid making this life mistake, go into a nearby bar or restaurant and use their facilities. Unlike in Portland and Seattle, it is really easy to use a public toilet and you don’t need a key or code. Just say “Toilet?” or “Toaleta?” and look desperate.

#7- Separate rooms for the toilet and shower

I’m not sure if this is the case in the hotels, but in Prague apartments toilets and showers can be separate. They also put the washer in the shower room (no dryer but I knew that before I left). The shower room had a sink. The toilet room had a sink too. They weren’t even next to each other! The architect put a bedroom between them. It actually turned out to be really convenient when you live with four other women (until someone needs the washer and you’re in the shower).

#8- Monthly alarm tests

I watch a lot of period-piece films and TV shows, especially ones that are set in the U.K. or European countries. So I’ve been trained to be afraid of air-raid sirens even though I’ve never lived in a time or place that has used them. Until Prague. Prague has a lovely air siren testing that they do once a month. I don’t know how I didn’t learn this until after a test (or two). I guess I just didn’t ask and assumed because there wasn’t chaos in the streets that everything was ok. I think I even told myself the first time that it might be for a film but nothing can replace that fear I felt the first time I heard it and the confusion that came with it.

#9- 19th century buildings as a standard

I grew up, and currently, live, on the West coast of the United States. The oldest building here are wooden churches that have miraculously held themselves together since the late 18th century. They are a marvel because they are still standing but architectural beauties they are not. I had been to Europe before my trip to Prague so I had seen beautiful old buildings but living in an old city was something else.

Prague’s ‘New Town’ was built in the 14th century, nothing got wiped out in any wars, and the historic preservation is top notch. If you like history, if you like pretty buildings, if you like old buildings as well as modern ones, Prague is great. I never got used to walking next to these places. My childhood home was built in the 1980s but my apartment in Prague was built in the 1880s.

#10- Every night nightlife

If you couldn’t already tell, I am a woman in my early 20s and I like alcohol. Moreso, I like dancing. Sometimes, I like them at the same time. I didn’t realize just how much I loved this combination until I went to Prague. A friend of mine who has traveled a great deal moved to Prague after living for a time in Budapest. He said he thought Budapest’s nightlife was crazy until he went to Prague. By ‘crazy’ he meant the phenomenon of partying every night in a tourist city. Every night. Monday through Sunday any place in Old Town, New Town, those crazy places across the river farther away from the tourist center will have something going on. I personally have a theory that Wednesday’s and Sunday’s are the hardest nights to go out because fewer people are visiting and more places are empty. Locals who like to party go out on weird nights too, day jobs be damned.

Living Abroad Without a Phone

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About two and a half weeks ago my phone screen shattered. No, I do not have an iPhone (reasons I don’t own an iPhone). This was my two year old Sony I dropped for the millionth time but this time it decided to shatter. I finally found a repair place last Monday and now i’m just waiting. Beyond the loss of a map, notepad, alarm clock, calculator, translator, or social media, I was devastated at the loss of my camera. In fact, I did not see my broken phone as a problem until I realized that it meant I was without a camera. I had no way to document my new adventures in, and outside of Prague. More importantly, I had no way to flex my creative skills. I didn’t understand my love for photography until my phone broke. In the past I used family cameras and I once had my own digital camera. I took a class in middle school. But I always thought it was just another random artist hobby of mine. Tomorrow I’m going to buy a cheap Nikon because I can’t go another day without a camera. When I return to the states I might even play with film because that sounds like something I could devote my free time to and cultivate a skill with.

Besides the camera I’m buying tomorrow, I went to the stores a few days after the accident and bought a notepad, pencil, and watch. These are the basics I need to get by. I write down directions before I leave the house (does anyone else remember the days of printing off directions from MapQuest?) and if I get lost I just figure it out or stay lost. I could also practice my Czech and ask for directions but I don’t even like doing that in English (it’s a pride thing I’m working on). I also take notes on what I’m spending for the times I don’t get a receipt, which is often (Prague is a cash-reliant city). I write down funny things my friends say or recommendations for restaurants. I also write down new Czech words I might need to say to someone like the word for camera case (pouzdro). These are all things I did before on my phone but now I’m completely comfortable doing on a paper notepad.

The upsides to not having a phone? I pay more attention to the world around me. I am less nervous and I can stand waiting for the metro and just stand there. However, I have turned into that person who checks their watch often which I’m trying to stop doing. I also appreciate things alone and in the moment. I don’t need to share everything constantly (although when I get home I’m on Facebook, etc. a lot). My social life has not suffered because I make appointments to hang out or do things with people. Do I want to continue without a phone when it’s fixed? No. But my phone here already lacks data so I am limited to areas with wifi or non-data apps like the translator. From now on I will always be more confident with my decisions. Left or right? Does that look like cake flour or bread flour? What’s that price in dollars? Let’s try it and find out. I don’t want to use a phone as a crutch for my insecurities. You shouldn’t either.

Find me on Instagram: crazyloverblue

First Days in Prague

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My first few days in Prague were very interesting. I flew independent of the arranged group flight suggested by USAC and a few days before most of the other students. I arrived at my apartment after successfully navigating public transportation from the airport (I had help). Then I had to talk to a bartender in the establishment next door to my place to get my key. My building was empty for the next three days except for myself. Luckily my place came fully furnished but I still went to Ikea for towels.

Despite my lack of sleep I had an amazing amount of energy when I arrived. I spent those first four days familiarizing myself with my neighborhood. Tourist attractions could wait: I was living in Prague. One of the first things I found that brought me instant happiness was the park two blocks from my home. It’s nothing spectacular but it has a nice fountain at the center, many benches, and it sits opposite a beautiful church. This became an important part of my home like my backyard. I ate baguette sandwiches (very popular here) and drank lattes while people watching. The park continues to be a source of comfort, happiness, and inspiration.

In those first few days I learned to accept the fact that I didn’t know the language. I couldn’t read the signs but I memorized the routes I took. Unfortunately the closest McDonald’s became a landmark that reminded me I’m close to home (I don’t eat there though).  The only Czech I knew before I left home was ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘please’, and ‘thank you’. The latter two were particularly difficult for me. I also took a look at the alphabet through YouTube videos but I still couldn’t form words. Now, after taking my two-week language intensive course life is a bit easier.

I didn’t want to celebrate my first night alone so I searched the program for other early arrivals. Sure enough, there was a couple, Sammy and Gabe, who had also flown in on Wednesday. I emailed them and next thing you know we were sharing our stories over beer in the bar beneath my apartment.

By Friday night I was ready to experience the Prague nightlife I’d heard so much about. Sammy and Gabe weren’t available so I tapped into the local Couchsurfing network through their Hang Out feature. This app  and what I call a sub-app, connects travelers who want to share beers, go do tourist activities together, or simply walk around. There I found a group of people looking to go out and within the group was an Austrian who I’d given directions to in the metro the night before.

I met so many amazing people that night and the next. There is a large expat population here as well as a constant stream of tourists from around the world. I met Daniel from Cuba who grew up in Italy learning Russian from his mother. He also spoke Czech and English. He knew several other Italians living in Prague, some of which I met. In another post I’ll discuss the international food here. I met a stag party from England and a citizen from Hong Kong who learned his English in Australia. I spent most of my evening meeting people from several different countries. Then there was the nightlife!

I think on Friday we must have gone to four different clubs. Popo’s is where we started which is a great underground bar to hang out in groups and drink cheap beer in the heart of the city (Old Town). Then we went dancing at Hangar, a PanAm themed club where even the waitresses are in costume. The last place I remember the name of was called Fancy, also a great hip hop club. Saturday I discovered La Bodeguita, Lucerna, and James Dean Club. The first is a Cuban dance spot. The second has a huge dance floor and plays throwbacks but sometimes charges a cover at the door. The last bar, James Dean, looks exactly like it sounds but they play modern dance tunes downstairs.

Those first few days were thrilling and I had the chance to get to know a very interesting city. Prague is full of winding roads that lead you to hidden places of interest, you just have to be willing to look. It has been fun finding something new every day and meeting other travelers. Do you want to know about the places I went? What the food is really like? Cultural differences from the U.S.? Ask me anything in the comments below or simply tell me what you thought!

From Portland to Prague

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Ahoj!

My name is Tara and I am a twenty-three year old studying abroad in Prague. Every day I ask myself in awe, how did I get here? Today I want to share that story.

“Follow your dreams”, “Do what you love”, “Listen to your inner child.”

This is the advice I received. I was told, by individuals and my community, to find the one thing I’ve always been interested in and run with it. That’s easier said than done. As far back as I can remember, I wanted to follow a different career path every couple months. The earliest career goal I remember was to be a singer or actress, or both. Then I wanted to be a dancer, painter, writer, president, fashion designer, musician, graphic designer, librarian, bookstore owner, knick-knack shop owner, bakery owner, teacher, journalist, photographer, lingerie designer, publicist, magazine editor, public speaker, matchmaker, director and the list goes on. So deciding on one thing that always spoke to me was a difficult task. But I spent some time on it and thought about all the things I loved over the years despite my changing heart. My answer was, and is, travel.

There are three things I’m very sure of at this time in my life: I love to talk, I love people, and I love to travel. My parents took me to so many places in my childhood and I am so grateful for those experiences. My first trip abroad was at the age of three when I attended my aunt’s wedding in Ireland. This is how the travel bug got me. I was only three years old and I remember this beautiful foreign country and wonderful times with my family. The next trip was about two years later and we went to Amsterdam, Paris, Marbella, Gibraltar, and Tangier. I had my sixth birthday in Spain. By this point, I started falling in love with traveling and with Europe.

It took me almost fifteen years before I visited Europe again (this time solo, which will be a blog post later). But in the meantime we traveled in the states: Oregon, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, and Florida. Then there were also the trips to Canada and Mexico. There was a cruise (which I did not like but that’s a story for another time) to the Caribbean and several countries. By the time I got to be eighteen I had a complete stranger call me a “World Traveler” after hearing me list all the countries I’d been to. I liked the sound of that: “World Traveler”. That is a title I can live with, I thought to myself at the time.

A few years later, as I went back to college at Portland State University, I had to decide on a major. I had transferred in at a junior level standing so choosing my major was a serious matter. After a term as a Communications major I switched to International Studies: Europe and then took on a minor in History. This decision was made after concluding that travel would become the main motivator in my life. So I chose a degree program where I would learn about the world and Europe. Will it help me get a job? I’m not sure but I am learning about what I love.

In December 2015 I started the process of choosing a study abroad program with my school. Studying abroad or living abroad is a common thing in my extended family (whom I am close with). Out of my eight aunts and uncles, six have traveled extensively, three have lived abroad outside of any school program, and three have studied abroad. My sister also studied abroad in Oaxaca, Mexico as a college student and my brother spent time prepping for the SAT in Singapore. So my family was not entirely surprised when I announced I wanted to study abroad.

By the end of December I chose my program to travel with USAC in Prague, Czech Republic, studying Politics, Culture, and Art. I applied and was accepted by spring. I put my dreams before any potential roadblocks like the lack of funding I knew I would have to work through. I put the practical part of me aside a little bit so that the dreamer in me could take charge. That choice was for the best in the end but it scared me every step of the way to getting here (and still some days, even now). To solve part of my funding problem I started a crowdfunding page on YouCaring which is a non-profit site that only charges for credit card processing. That fundraiser was followed by another (still up at this point). Through those fundraisers I collected over two thousand dollars from seventeen different donors (both online and offline donations). I can never say thank you enough to all the people who donated to my fundraiser or have helped me out financially in some way to get me here. I could not be here without you.  

The majority of my trip is being paid for in school loans followed by private funding and grants. I finally got through to FAFSA that I am a broke college student and my school rewarded me with all they could. Unfortunately I was unable to win any of the scholarships I applied for. But I made it. I got here, to Prague, with almost no money to my name. If I had worked full time consistently since returning from Ireland I would have been able to afford this trip out of pocket. But that was not an option. Again, I am really thankful for my friends, family, school, and government for making this trip possible.

Ok, so back to my story. I bought my plane ticket to Prague in March and a return ticket from Amsterdam in May. I’ll be studying for three and a half months in Prague followed by a two week vacation visiting my family in Amsterdam and Dublin for the holidays (and my birthday). I flew out here on August 30th/31st on three different planes and with very little sleep. Then I landed and took Prague into my heart almost instantly.

I really believe this is where I am supposed to be in my life at this time. Every day, there is something that reminds me I made the right choice, even on the bad days. While I am here I will be blogging and journaling my experiences. I also love taking photos (unfortunately these days I’m limited to my cell phone) and posting them on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and of course right here on my blog. My writing will be far from perfect but I hope you get something from reading it. I am willing to talk about nearly anything on here and I want to hear what you’d like to read. What do you want to know about Prague? Do you have any questions about my trip or program? Please let me know in the comments section below or through any social media platform I am on.

Čau for now!