It was May 1st, 2011.
Neonazis, student riots, police barricade; the rest of the city goes quiet, waiting.
Boisterous American jumps off the bus in the small city of Brno in the Czech Republic. Strange looks? Normal. Strange language? Normal. No phone? Normal. No map? Normal. Ghost town and closed shops? Something is amiss…
I scribbled the name of my American friends’ dorm and address down to show the bus driver and gestured to my Euro coins so that he might sell me bus ticket. He discouragingly shook his finger and tapped his wrinkled finger on the scratched face of his watch. Midday; what’s the problem? He communicated using enunciated yet indecipherable Czech:
Do not go into the city center today.
Charades to seek out the lady who worked the tailor shop on the corner. “English,” he murmured and gestured toward his watch again. The broken English of the seamstress proved to be slightly more help, though no less disconcerting, as she provided me with an address and one important fact:
You cannot go there. Riots, neonazis, marches, the police! Not safe. Student dorm in lockdown.
The words May Day now take on an air of irony; the term is derived from the French language used in times of military crisis. “M’aidez.” “Help me.” May Day. 1st of May.
The address led me down three winding streets past countless, dark, store windows to a studio flat in the attic of an old apartment building that was used for cheap, student hostel rooms on occasion. I tucked myself away with three Polish travelers and an Italian, one bottle of homemade wine vodka and very little mutual vocabulary.
At 16:40, a skirmish broke out between police and promoters of the DSSS, the Dělnická strana sociální spravedlnosti, which is Worker’s Social Justice Party. 8 extremists were arrested. By 17:05, the marches began to disperse. That night, gunshots were heard and it is rumored that two students were killed but allegations of party association have not been clear. They were locals and nowhere near the student dormitory of my American friend.
The protesters gathered, thousands strong, at the intersection of Koliště and Cejl, a mere 240 meters from where I had jumped off the bus just hours before.
Many themes can be traced throughout the journeys of 2011 during the first 7 months that I spent abroad; these them reappeared at the surface again in 2012 when I was sent to Germany for another 15 month stint.
Enjoying every adventure, no matter how wrong everything seems to go.
Travel keeps us on our toes. It pulls away every cultural anchor we may have had until it’s just us and the elements, foreign languages, places, cultures and people. Travel helps define us. It helps us define our capabilities. Travel strengthens us inside and out. Travel will inspire us, break us and build us. It can, and will, change our lives.
Just avoid downtown on the first of May.
More adventures at bethanywanders.com