I too had walls in my head

Author: Honza Cerny/Iveta Foniokova
Location: Usti nad Labem
I first met Iveta last December: Martin Cichy introduced her to me at a Romani party in Trmice. Iveta is a student at the Lovosice High School. She lives alone with her mother in Usti and travels to the school every morning. She is about seventeen.
At first she was diffident. Kids her age are; there was nothing strange about that. She had chosen what turnedout to be a difficult topic for her seminar paper and asked me for help. We met several times, and I was pleased to see the changes she was going through.
She told me her story in a cozy restaurant called U Statneho Vlka in the center of Usti.
" When I chose the topic of my paper, the media were focused on Maticni Street, after Czechs had put up a wall to separate themselves from Roms. I chose the Maticni problem becuase it was such an obvious case of racism and discrimination. I thought that would save me work. Clear case, easy work.
So I went to the city archives in Usti and spoke to Mr. Kaiser. He sent me to Martin Cichy. I was nervous during the meeting with Martin. I stuttered, and didn’t know what to ask. I kept apologizing; I was afraid of offending him with my questions about Roms.
And then Martin invited me to a Christmas party given by the group Romana Jasnica where his mother worked.
At the party I felt very strange. There were just three other white people there: you and Vitek and Stana. It was the first time I was in such a large Romani group, the first time I was a minority.
I had always thought of myself as a very tolerant person. But suddenly with so many gypsies around me, prejudices and fears surfaced that I thought I didn’t have. I discovered that I too had walls in my head.
But when I started to talk with Roms and got to know them better, things changed. And I realized that the real issues don’t fit into newspaper articles.
This is an open-ended story. It will all depend upon what I do with the experience I’ve gained. When I present my seminar paper, I’d like to share with my classmates what I’ve discovered about myself. But I’m afraid they won’t understand. Neither my teacher nor my classmates have had similar experiences. They come from a small town; they’re the same as I used to be, a month ago.
I am a bit worried about whether I can handle it.”

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