Saturday, September 1, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Mule

I woke up early on the 31st of August without an alarm clock; my body has become great at waking up when it needs to, but I’m not sure if it is just from anxiety and a fear of being late or a true skill... maybe a mixture of both. After I made sure all my bags were packed, I took a taxi to the bus stop, managed to get all my baggage on the bus, and set of for the 22 hour bus-ride back to Prague. Only after leaving the city limits did I remember that I hadn’t written down the place of my residence in Prague or how to get there, but no matter. I was on the way back to the most beautiful city I have ever visited.
I’m really surprised at how I have not lost anything during my month of travel. I have traveled through six countries, stayed in four hostels, and still have all my important electronic appliances (iPod, computer, and camera). The only thing that I left behind was a book and a towel in Veliko Tarnovo. The towel was on purpose, but the book was my one companion at the time, and I was quite upset when I realized it was missing. Luckily, it is a popular book and I was able to secure another copy of Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall in Sofia. I am now near the finish, and, although I like the book, and especially its progressive stance on female rights during the early 19th century, its focus on the aristocracy bugs me. The characters all have these huge dilemmas and drama, but the life of the servants who have to live under them is barely mentioned. The protagonist constantly lounges about all day, and complains about not having anything to do. Where the money comes from is not explicitly stated, but it seems preposterous that they have the leisure time to gamble and drink, go hunting, throw massive parties, when their servants are the only people actually doing any work. I think that is my major problem with 19th century literature; although the stories can be fascinating, and you can read into a perspective of life in the period, it is a very small sliver of the population.
Anyways, as I was delving into the novel at the border between Bulgaria and Serbia, the woman in charge of the bus was walking around handing out cartons of cigarettes to passengers. I wanted to refuse because I absolutely abhor smoking (too much Bronte, huh?), but I didn’t know how to say abhor in Bulgarian, so when she came up to me, I figured that I would just follow the mold. I had heard of this happening before; passengers smuggling in items bought at duty-free zones and then giving them back to the person who had bought it. It was being performed at a massive scale, and the operation seemed to go quite smoothly. The carton stayed in my backpack until we crossed the Slovakia-Czech Republic border when the woman collected all the cigarettes. The whole time, I was joking with my neighbor, in broken Bulgarian, about us carrying contraband across the continent. It was my first experience as a mule, albeit not nearly as dangerous as those who smuggle cocaine to the States from Colombia. It was a rather exciting experience, and one I couldn’t see happening in the United States. We would ask questions like why am I doing this for you, and what do I get out of this deal. Perhaps illegal trading of cigarettes acts as a way to finance these expeditions across the continent, and people let it happen so their bus rides can continue to be cheap.
My neighbors were very kind and talkative. On my leftt there was a Bulgarian and on my right two Czechs. My Bulgarian has exceeded my Czech, however, so Bulgarian was the language of choice. I’m going to miss Bulgarian, but hopefully I can continue to take classes at the University...
I was perusing (another Bronte word of the day) my book when I suddenly looked up and realized that we were well into Prague. It was shocking to suddenly see the National Museum. It wasn’t long before I picked up my extra luggage and took a cab to the student dorms. My location is idyllic; right behind Prague castle, our dorms are spacious and include a mini-kitchen. The walk to classes is somewhat long, but public transportation is easily accessible. After settling in, three of my suite mates and two girls in another suite went out to explore the city. I hope I was helpful with my prior knowledge, and I brought them to Tesco to pick up some appliances as well as showed them a few sights. It is great to be back in a city with which I am becoming quite familiar.

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