I not only see the reflection: I also see behind it

Location: Stories Exchange Project 2000 Workshop #2
EastWest Institute
Stories Exchange Project 2000Workshop IIEastWest InstitutePragueJanuary 2000
Martin ZaplatilekBrno
I think the mirror is a nice symbol of the unity among the people. On the other hand maybe I’m a little skeptical. It seems to me a little naive that in the future it can be good as it used to be before the mirror got broken. It’s nice that it tells you that as soon as you have a piece of the mirror you may feel better, but on the other hand it sounds too ideal to be true.
Zuzana GaborovaLocal Coordinator Brno
In order to put the mirror together, people have to meet: they have to bring their pieces of the puzzle together. And the story says that a lot of water passed by and the Roma are still waiting. It’s not happening; they’re not putting the puzzle together.
Ivana SimikovaBrno
I would agree with what Zuzka and Martin have said. The mirror got broken. It got broken into a zillion pieces, and when you put the pieces together it will never be the original mirror. The mirror will show a different picture, the reflection of wisdom will be different once it is put together than it was when the mirror was original.
The story says the Roma are still waiting. That describes the mentality of the Roma very well. They’re waiting.
Honza VeselyBrno
When I was a kid I was brought up in a world of fairy tales, and I like this one. Look in the mirror and it will tell you who you are and what your culture is. I think this is the right story for the Stories Exchange Project: it’s about striving for culture and roots.
Helena JavurkovaNational Project CoordinatorPrague
Some people have pieces of the mirror; some people do not. But it’s important to put the mirror together. We run around, we show each other pieces of the mirror, and some don’t have anything. It’s a little idealistic for me too to hope that we’ll be able to put the mirror together. If we do, it will be randomly.
Marketa VaculovaOstrava
I’m an optimist. Hurry up and bring even the smallest pieces to put the mirror together. I think it’s like us: we’re collecting stories from the Romany people all over the Czech Republic and we’re helping them put together the mirror of their history. It will be a little shifted, but it will be a kind of mirror.
Vera Dudi-KotoOstrava
I think so too. If we collect stories from both the Romany population and the majority population, we’ll be able to put the mirror together.
Tana HlavataProgram CoordinatorVia FoundationPrague
This reminds me of a Jewish story.
A king has land and his people are living there and his people are living there and they leave the kingdom and they travel all over the world and they are looking for a place to live and to continue in their tradition.
I remember in first grade my teacher wrote in my little notebook that human life is a mosaic which is put together from many pieces, and I think it is true not only for the Romany population but also for the majority population.
I read the book from which this story comes and I read stories of Mr. Cervanak for instance, who also tells this story and from the book I got the understanding that some people have little pieces of the mirror and when they meet they not only put the pieces together, but they also exchange them: they exchange their backgrounds and they speak about their culture and this way they can put the mirror together.
Vitek KuceraUsti nad Labem
And I’m thinking of a Czech story. There was a king and he had three pieces of weeping willow, and he gave it to his sons and said: " if you keep these three branches of the weeping willow, you will stay together, because three branches of the willow cannot be broken. But if you separate, each and every one of you will break the branch and it’s over.” I think that it’s sad that the Romany people broke the mirror and had to spread over the world. It’s like breaking the weeping willow branches.
Honza CernyUsti nad Labem
For me it’s very important to realize that sometimes my life goes by without me really being part of it. I just get up, go to work, and sometimes I don’t really take in my own history, my own life. Two years passed by and I realize I don’t even know what happened during those two years. And that’s why I started to think about my childhood, my parents, my roots, and it gives me some pleasure to understand where I’m coming from and that also allows me to understand where I’m headed. It’s important for me to realize what there is the past, the past of my family, of my nation, something that happened two years ago, six years ago and so forth.
John ErwinProject DirectorNew York
Sure, whatever is put together is different from what was supposedly there in the beginning. But I’m not sure the mirror was ever whole.
Anyway, let’s shift right over to your experience and the stories that you’re getting. In the past month you’ve begun to talk with people to get stories, could you apply that experience to this fable?
What about your concrete experiences of getting stories? Put one against the other and see what happens; put your experience up against this fable.
Zuzana Gaborova
For me the connecting point between the story of the broken mirror and the stories I have collected is a certain encouragement, a certain strength that you have to summon in order to cope with situations. For instance, I did an interview with a journalist, and we came to talk about his relationship with the Romany community. He told me about his prejudices about Roms, but in the course of his studies he met Jarka Ballarova – she was a schoolmate – and she introduced him to her family and he changed his views and he even wanted to marry. But even though he changed his opinions and became very much involved, he even introduced his bride-to-be to his family, eventually he did not do it: he got scared and ran away. There was a certain encouragement and consolation, but in this case the encouragement did not last until the very end.
Honza Vesely
Maybe the connection I’m going to make is a little crazy. I collected my story at the housing department of the local government. I will speak about that piece of mirror. Even though you may have two pieces of mirror, it seems to me that somebody may save his piece of mirror, keep it wrapped in a scarf and keep it as a part of the tradition of his culture, while somebody else may even sharpen his piece of glass and use it as a weapon, so that each particular piece of glass may have a very different use.
Katerina HolubovaBrno
They’re totally different. What we read is a fable. The story I collected is reality: hard reality.
John Erwin
Right. But some people have said things about how the fable can perhaps let you see the concrete story a little bit differently. For example, the story that you’ve collected, Katka, is it a piece of anything? Is it a piece of a mirror in some way?
Katerina Holubova
I think a little bit, yes. Here the mirror is broken and there is an attempt to put it together. The girl in my story couldn’t accept one sentence, a curse against Roms, and her father explained to her that she shouldn’t be ashamed, so that her father helped her, and so she found the root. And I think that the fact that he helped her was like finding a piece of that mirror because he was her family, her background, her root.
Vera Dudi-Koto
My story is very similar to this one – because everyone has the experience of the mirror and the fact that this mirror was broken . The reason was that every Rom wanted to live independently, to live his or her own life. In this country every Rom has a very bad, very brutal childhood and a very bad old age. I think that the mirror itself in this fable is a true expression of the Rom experience, and all the stories have very much in common with this.
I have a Christmas story from my parents, about how they experienced Christmas. And this is what they were telling: there was that mirror. We have a different view of religion, we have our own different God , even though we had to go along with the Christian religion. So I believe a piece of the mirror is in every single Rom, and I think every story you will hear has a piece of mirror in it.
With my parents, my father and my mother, we were making Christmas cookies, and my father began to tell a story, “Oh, my mother did it differently” and “my grandmother did it differently.” So I put on the tape and they started to tell me how the Romany Christmas used to be. Today it is very much adapted to Christian Christmas, but there was no Rom Christmas before: that was not the kind of holiday they would celebrate. They had a hard life, and they lived in the day. There was no past and no future. The past was already gone, and you had to keep living. So people left the past behind. The future was there every day, because once you lived through it, you forgot it – whether it was bad or good. There were white people who were throwing Roms out, expelling them, shooting at them but we always immediately forgot that.
John Erwin
You said “we forget,” Verka. And of course “The Broken Mirror” is all about forgetting. It’s about the need to remember, but it knows that we forget.
All of us. We forget what we can’t bear to remember. We protect ourselves. Culture is based on memory. But isn’t it made up as much of stories about how we haven’t been able to deal with terrible situations as much as it is of stories about how we’ve succeeded?
The mirror that we’re putting together: isn’t it made up of difficulty, of breakage, of violence? Aren’t all the stories we’re hearing and telling about remembering how difficult it is, and how much we want to forget?
And as you said, Verka, maybe Romany culture has something to do with not having a continuous story that just goes on, not having an unbroken mirror. Maybe its about having to live in the present.
There isn’t a Book in Romany culture as there is in Jewish culture: there isn’t one continuous story. But there are a lot of individual stories, and concrete experiences, and they make up a mirror. For all of us, I think. A mirror of what we all have to go on doing all our lives: facing up to what we want to forget and admitting to ourselves and other people just how difficult it can be, and, so, coming to know and to accept ourselves and each other.
Lucie ConkovaUsti nad Labem
A few days ago I interviewed a disabled boy who was speaking about how other children at school are treating him. In the first grade he had a brain operation. He is neither physically or mentally disabled, but he is depressed. He would like to work but nobody is willing to help him start working and he has nowhere to turn.
But he told me he loved music. When he hears music he starts dancing immediately, regardless of where he is or what time it is. He’s a very straightforward person. But when he was telling me his story, he was telling it as if it were a fairy tale. I don’t think there would be many people capable of doing that: when you start running the tape he starts telling you a fairy tale, all put together.
John Erwin
So maybe there are some crossovers between real-life stories and fairy tales?
Honza Cerny
I’m working on citizen participation. We’re trying to help people who are not that well off, who are illiterate or in debt and don’t know what their place in this new Czech set-up after the Revolution. It’s important for me to help these people, and to help them I need to get to know them. So listening to their stories – every other day I record someone’s story.
We went for lunch with Eva Bajgerova, our local coordinator in the Project, and she started telling me about her family, about their traditions, and about other Roms who did magic. It was important for me to learn these things I had never known – for my work, so once I know these things I won’t make mistakes. And I’m happy that these people opened the doors to their lives, because they are different from most of the people I know. It seems to me that this is like a two-way mirror. I see behind the mirror. I not only see the reflection: I also see behind it. I think that’s what’s very helpful about the Stories Exchange Project.

No Responses to “I not only see the reflection: I also see behind it”

  1. this story to me is a great example of why so called fairy tales are so important, and in all cultures- more than purely entertainment they are a vehicle for transmitting hard earned insight and information to subsequent generations. its so much easier to remember a tale than a series of instructions, and what is more the instruction takes place on a deeper level of consciousness. to the open mind they will tell of much more than initially appears (history and philosophy are conjured by the wizard with a great puff of smoke).I was brought up in england in a fairly christian environment ( only anglophones can say this it seems – our religiosity has a unique vagueness about it), and this tale reminds me of both the tower of babel, and the expulsion from eden stories- if we hadn´t eaten the apple or built that tower,or fought over the mirror, then we wouldn´t be in such a mess right now, no?
    what is this all trying to tell us? that its too late because everything is already ruined? or that only when we desire more or beyond what we have do we lose that primal state of happiness? is it history or a codified lesson to the future? the great thing about oral history is its ability to evolve.the written tales from the bible are a little more stuck in time. what fascinates me about much of the old stories though is this very similarity(as others above have noted) – certain things about being human are fundamental – only they are expressed differently in different times and places.not that it should surprise me really, sat in an internet exchange in RomanMoorishAragoneseSpanishEuropean city of Zaragoza talking to a Czech website. there, that´s my little piece of the mirror of humanity- hope we can find the rest. bye.

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