You know that part of the movie Apollo 11 when the space craft goes behind the moon and all communication is cut off? Both the astronauts and Houston know that chances are excellent that they’ll be back in touch again soon, but for a while it’s eerily silent because there’s simply no way to communicate.
That’s what it felt like to me (an obviously over-involved mother, it seems!) between the time when Aleks went through security here at the airport and when I saw his first Facebook posting from Prague…
…which included this:
“I realized very quickly coming into Prague that English is mostly a written language here, but few people speak it proficiently. This made finding my unmarked apartment extremely difficult. The city is nice and very culturally rich but there are tons of left-over elements from the Soviet days. My apartment included. Also not helping the matter was the fact that, once I had positively confirmed exactly which unmarked door in the building was my apartment through less than successful random interviews with the locals, my room mate inside was so passed out that my pounding on the door would not wake her. So I sat outside the door for an hour or so waiting for something to happen. Luckily, something did happen, and the rest of my room mates came back from the market and let me in.”
In a personal message to me, he described that scene further:
“Getting into the apartment, though... yes, extremely stressful. My phone didn't work at all so there was literally nothing I could do. I had no one’s number, didn't know where anything was, etc. I stood on the street for a good fifteen minutes, close to breaking down but eventually argued myself into growing some balls and just sitting in this old post-Soviet apartment building for an hour until SOMETHING happened. Which it did. Thank god. I had never felt more unable or weak in my life.”
To which I answered:
“See, that's the thing about travel! In those 15 minutes that you stood on the street feeling vulnerable and scared and weak, you were actually maturing and getting strong at what was probably the most accelerated rate of your entire lifetime so far -- and from now on every time you feel unsure about something you will (consciously or subconsciously) remind yourself that if you could stand so alone on a street in a Prague, you can certainly do THIS... whatever “THIS” is.
It's maturity invading you and you are forever changed now because of those 15 minutes!
And in some small way they changed me too, because the thought of you alone in a foreign country in exactly that scenario has terrified me as a mother, too, and reading those words actually gave me a sick pit in my stomach that I'm sure is very primaly maternal... but I came out on the other end too, realizing that you made exactly the right decision and did exactly the right thing. “
I think feeling momentarily totally helpless in a foreign country is a right of passage of sorts.
I remember traveling alone in Germany when I was about Aleks’ age, long before cell phones and e-mail and Skype and Facebook, knowing that it was up to me to buy the right ticket, to board the right train, and to then find the right subway train to get to my destination. I remember the same pit in my stomach and the feeling of being completely alone and vulnerable in a foreign country. (And at least I spoke the language; Aleks doesn’t speak Czech -- yet!) Coming out successful on the other end almost had a euphoria to it because I had seen a new side of myself and I knew for the first time beyond a doubt that I could be completely independent.
In the days since he arrived in Prague, Aleks has settled into the apartment he shares with seven other UW students, he’s attended his first day of classes, and has enjoyed his first evening visiting the local pubs (the drinking age in Prague is, like, 16). He’s fully “wired” now, with Skype and Facebook up and running and a the purchase of a cell phone on today’s to-do list, so he’s fully emerged from behind the moon!
I’ve begged him to take pictures and to blog, but alas, we can only hope.
Maybe if you urge him as well…