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A Bruin Abroad: Reading week reflections

When a friend invited me to go to Prague, Czech Republic with her for Reading Week (spring break), I immediately said yes. Now, to be honest, I had no idea what was even in Prague. But it was cheap, someplace new, and sure to be an adventure.

So early one Sunday morning – like 4 o’clock early – we left our dorm and headed towards the unknown. After a bus and a train to the airport in London, a two-hour flight to Prague, and then another bus, train, and tram ride, we reached our hotel. We left our stuff and headed back out.

I knew Prague would be different than any other place that I’ve been, but I didn’t know how so initially.

As we wandered around the Old Square and the Charles Bridge, I noticed several people on their hands and knees on sidewalks, or in corners between buildings. My initial thought was that these people were doing one of the five daily prayers that practicing Muslims do. I’ve walked past people in larger cities doing that, so I just quietly walked past and kept on my journey.

But as the days past, I began noticing more and more people on their hands and knees at all hours of the day. Then I noticed that each of these people had a hat or a bucket next to them, with just a few coins in the bottom. It hit me that all of these people that I had seen were beggars.

I was instantly struck by this. After all, in Nashville, most people just pull out their guitar and place the case open and strum away for a few dollars. But for someone to be on their hands and knees, physically submitting themselves in hopes to be given a few cents – that was completely foreign.

After I returned home to London, I still couldn’t shake these images from my mind. I kept thinking why these people would be on their hands and knees. I concluded that perhaps this position was just a cultural thing.

About a week after I got back to London, I was on Skype with a friend from Nashville, telling her the story. She was quiet for a moment. “Do you think it is a pride thing?” she said. “Like, maybe they are so ashamed of having to beg, that they hide their faces away from people.”

After we finished our conversation, I could not stop thinking about what she said. Was it related to pride? Are people so ashamed of having to ask for help that they’ll do anything to not be recognized?

I tried to place myself in that situation. If I found myself with no money and no legal way to get it, would I be able to go out and ask for it? My conclusion, it takes an awful lot of courage to ask for help from random strangers who would sooner keep walking and save their five dollars for a venti-triple-shot-macchiato-latte-thing.

So maybe they hide their faces because they’re ashamed. But I think they could still be some of the most courageous people of all.

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