I studied with them like any white Czech woman

Zdenka SimovaNymburkSeptember 2000
[NOTE: In the Czech Republic a "special school” is a school for children with learning difficulties. Romany (Gypsy) children are assigned to special schools if they fail an examination stressing skills in Czech language and culture.]
The following story draws upon the experiences of Mrs. Bila, whom we visited in her house in the Nymburk colony, a part of town mainly inhabited by Roma.
“When we arrived here from Slovakia, our children spoke Ukrainian and Slovak. They didn’t know any Czech. At home we spoke Romany.
Here in Nymburk I was a complete stranger. I couldn’t even find my way to the shop to get food.
I looked at all the other Roma and saw that their children went to a special school. I had no idea what that meant or what this special school was like. Back at home we didn’t have one.
My younger daughter was due to go to the second grade and the older one to the third. I wanted to send them to that special school: all the other Romany kids, including the children of our relatives, went there.
But both girls had brought very good school reports from Slovakia. And when the teachers at the special school saw the girls’ school reports, they wouldn’t take them. They said the girls were too good for them, and sent us for a psychological consultation.
During the consultation they noticed that my children spoke perfect Slovak. They gave them a Slovak book and asked them to read something. Well, my children read all they wanted. So then these people said to me: ‘Mrs, Bila, your daughters deserve to go to a normal school, not to a special school.’
The girls spent their first month at the new school crying. They didn’t want to go there: all the other Romany kids in Nymburk went to the special school, and the girls felt alone among all the white children.
Especially my younger girl: she didn’t stop crying for a long time. The other children called her ‘nigger.”
Still, with time the girls got used to their new school, and never had any problems there.
I also wanted to know what this new school was like. The day my girls started their classes I began working there as a cleaning woman. The girls’ teacher always told me what was to be done. I knew what their class was studying and when my children found it difficult, we went through it again at home. The headmistress of that school still greets me whenever she passes me on the street.
Sometimes my children would come home in tears, complaining that they didn’t understand something. But then I would go to their teacher during my afternon shift and say, ‘Teacher, please explain it to me. How can I help my girls understand it better?’ That always worked.
Sometimes I even went to the teacher’s flat to find out what my girls had to learn.
At home I studied with them like any white Czech woman.
There are some Romany mothers here who don’t care about these things. Their kids come home from school, throw their school bags on the floor and run out to play. How can those parents expect their kids to learn anything if they don’t care themselves?
As for me, I wouldn’t have any of that! My children would get home from school, have lunch, take off their school clothes and sit down to study for the next day before I let them go anywhere. Even then they were in for a thrashing if they weren’t back by six.
I treated my kids the same way the white neighbors did. At that time we still lived in one of those high-rise blocks of flats. There weren’t any other Roma, just us. When our children went out they always ran here – to the Colony – to play with other Romany kids.
Mind you, they always had to be back by six in the evening. And every evening I checked their homework. Thanks to my work at their shool, I always knew what their homework for the next day was.
The girls’ teachers have remained my friends to this day.”

No Responses to “I studied with them like any white Czech woman”

  1. I love this story. she is a good mom with good kids during a hard time
    I applied for a teaching position in nymburk and this gives me a good insight to how the town people are thanks Oh I`m a afrcan american male who lives in Ls Angeles have a nice new year caio

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