By ANNA FAY
Originally published on https://spectator.sme.sk/c/22224667/blog-a-page-out-of-the-foreigners-storybook.html, Date: 30. Sep 2019 at 10:58
At the Bratislava True Stories event on September 20, “Odkiaľ si” became the Slovak version of “Once Upon a Time”.
What a wonderful and oh so complicated phrase. It’s the first string of words I learned in my beginner Slovak course and the question foreigners are most frequently asked in Slovakia.
“Som z USA”/ “I am from the USA” has always been my short and sweet response, as automatic as breathing. But, my identity catchphrase is followed by a pang of guilt, because a big chunk of who I am is left buried inside each time I answer.
I was born in Milton Keynes, UK, to which I owe 50 percent of my blood. My early childhood years were spent right here, in the Koliba neighbourhood of Bratislava, where I learned to speak Slovak better than English. When I moved to Singapore at the age of four, I spent the first year in ESL class, the next four among 40 other nationalities celebrating every holiday you can imagine in the most diverse school setting a parent could hope for.
After my mum left the British Foreign Office in pursuit of a more stable life for my brother and I, we moved to beautiful and not-so-diverse New Hampshire, where I discovered for the first time what the Pledge of Allegiance was. “You didn’t tell me Amercians talk to their flag!” I remember asking my dad after my first day at an American school. It wasn’t until high school that I felt I had earned the right to call myself American.
So yeah, it’s complicated, and I haven’t a clue how to say all of that in Slovak because that year of ESL in Singapore was really effective and it’s just as complicated a tale in English.
But it’s only one of many here in Slovakia, and if like me, you had the pleasure of attending the [fjúžn] edition of Bratislava True Stories on September 20, you know we have some remarkable storytellers among us here in Slovakia.
10 countries, 11 storytellers, 1 host
“Deep down, we still have a need to connect. Storytelling has always been our nature,” said Hon Chong, creator of Bratislava True Stories and the evening’s host. A Malaysian at the forefront of the growing storytelling scene in “exotic” Bratislava, Chong has a story or two of his own to share.
At Satori Stage, where the informal setting and beer a plenty made for a jovial and inclusive atmosphere, 11 storytellers from ten different countries shared their experiences of motherhood, unexpected love, and the perils and rewards of working behind-the-scenes in the porn industry.
These stories were wildly different and closely related, spotlighting a vital population of Slovakia that sometimes feels invisible.
For comedian, student and barista extraordinaire Nastaran (Nasi) A Morlagh, who, like British singer Adele, is known throughout Bratislava by her first name only, the term “third-culture kid” came to mind as she talked about moving from her native Iran to Bratislava nine years ago. Although neither place will ever 100 percent feel like home, Nasi will always come to Bratislava’s defense because this city made her the “Bad a** b***h” that she is.
Fellow New Englander Mitch Leffler taught us that when you strive for nothing, you live a much more fulfilling life. When Leffler moved to Switzerland for his girlfriend, who never showed up, he spent the following months hanging out with homeless people, hopping on and off trains, and discovering the sweet-tasting freedom of solo-travel. The beer was expensive in Switzerland, though, hence the move to central Europe. I think we can all admire that line of thought.
From Bogdan Diaconu, the self-proclaimed future president of Moldova, I learned that you can meet loyalty and love, universal emotions that manifest themselves in the people we choose to surround ourselves with. You have my vote, Bogdan!
On the topic of love, Veronika Blum, a German who met her son’s father on an outdoor excursion, told an amused audience that sometimes that special someone you end up falling in love with will annoy you endlessly at first encounter.
In Patricia Munteanu, also a Moldovan and a first-time storyteller on stage, I saw courage and resilience in its most eloquent light as she told the story of how she lost her mum to cancer while she was here in Slovakia studying medicine. I couldn’t think of a better example of a brave person here in Slovakia.
Few things rival medicine and science-related fields in terms of difficulty, but Sofia Amorortu, the hip nomad from the outskirts of Buenos Aires, Argentina, reminded the audience that potty training your own child and getting them to eat broccoli is near-impossible, like neuroscience, and mothers deserve much more credit, or at the very least, a compassionate ear.
Shimpy Kumari, who hails from Bihar, India, discussed how she struggled to embrace who she really is in a place that seemed slow to accept her. She dyed her hair red, drank and smoke in an effort to fit in, but it wasn’t until a taxi driver offered to help her on a particularly rough night that she started to feel at home here.
“Next time you see someone who doesn’t look exactly like you, ask them how they are really doing. It could mean the world to them,” she said.
Foreigners like these admirable individuals have and always will play a big part in writing and promoting Slovakia’s story, a story I am fortunate to contribute to as an adult. Most of us foreigners may not have roots here, but we have found a way to blossom nonetheless because, despite what surveys or certain politicians may imply, everyone loves a good story, and if you stick around long enough, “Odkiaľ si? becomes the Slovak version of “Once Upon a Time…”
About the ISAC: International Society for Arts and Culture (ISAC) is a nonprofit civil association whose mission is to create a creative, progressive, inspiring, enriching and empowering society through arts and culture.