That night when we laid on our new mattresses on the floor, under one blanket, the suitcases open but still packed, and baby sleeping in the camping cot… that first day in Prague, was probably the worst night of my life.
Lost in an unfamiliar city
December 21st, 2016. We land at Vaclav Havel Airport in Prague, Czech Republic. Excited, tired and nervous. I had arranged everything perfectly beforehand. Our airport taxi driver is waiting for us as we come out, escorting us to the minivan – 5 people, 4 large suitcases and cabin bags (one less than it should have been, because the airline misplaced it … the one with all our winter coats). Nevertheless, we are here. We made it!
As we drive through Prague, our new host city, I am filled with awe and fear. I am lost! There is nothing I recognise, no landmarks, no words, not even billboards with brands I know. It’s really hard to explain that feeling of being lost to someone who has never been abroad. But, being there in a new city, where the cars drive on the other side of the road, the buildings are tall and different, you don’t know any names on the road signs … that is a profound feeling of being lost. I swallow hard a few times to keep the panic down (and the tears). I’m the mommy. I have to be strong for all of us.
At least we have a new home, and I feel my breathing return to normal as we walk through our front door for the first time. I have been visualising this place for months, and I am not disappointed. It’s compact, but clean and pretty, with wooden details and a lovely Poinsettia to welcome us home. Our landlady is friendly. Maybe this wasn’t a mistake.
There’s a knock at the front door. Fellow South Africans I met on Facebook have arrived to take us shopping. Our new home is comfortable. But empty. In my handbag I have a long list of items we will need to get today. So we head off. The five of us, and three of them. It is freezing outside, but my heart is beating so rapidly, that I don’t even feel it.
As we walk into the shopping mall the first thing that strikes me is the silence. Everything is so quiet, but there are people. This is not what I’m used to. The roaring noise in South African shopping malls now makes this one feel like I need to walk on my tiptoes and whisper. The kids are tired. We are tired. Focus. We need to get it done. Just basics. I abbreviate my list to beds, linen, pillows, a kettle and coffee!!
We lost our baby on the first day!
There’s an indoor playground right outside the Kika where we will get our things. The kids start playing and the adults arrange phone numbers and who will stay to watch all the children. I turn back to say good bye, and baby is gone. Missing. My body goes cold. I struggle to breathe. Where’s Kayleigh?! I shout. I run around the playground, it’s not big. She’s not here! We’ve lost our baby on the first day here! I frantically start running down the corridor, hoping she has just walked off. How will I tell these people my child is gone? I don’t speak Czech!
For a horrible 2 minutes (half my life) I run and shout for her. And there she is! Happily wandering around on her socks, looking around at everybody. Thank God! I feel faint with relief. Right. This one is going with us. I preach to the twins about not leaving the playground, and who will stay with them. We load Kayleigh in the trolley, and we’re off.
After about 2 hours of confused meandering around the unknown store with a hungry, tired and very cranky 1 year old, we have some blankets and pillows, 4 single mattresses (screw the kettle), ready for the delivery. I don’t care about anything else anymore. I just need to get back to our new home and regroup.
We’re in Prague, now what?
We made it. We’re still alive. We’re in Prague! We lost Kayleigh only for about 3 minutes (aging me 10 years). We can finally sleep now, whether we actually will is another question. The kids are all asleep already, and we get onto our brand new mattresses on the floor. It’s quiet for a few minutes, but I know he is still awake next to me. We feel overwhelmed and scared, laying on our backs, holding hands and staring up at the ceiling. What have we done? We sold everything that couldn’t fit in the suitcases, quit jobs, spent thousands of Rands to get here. And now what? We have no jobs, and only enough savings to last about 3 months.
Somehow we can do this. We have to do this. There’s no plan B.
And we did. We did do it. Not only the first day in Prague, but every day after that. Slowly at first, but we survived. And I have seen our strength, yes, we are so strong! We both wanted to cry that first night, and I cried many times after that in the first few months. But here we are, almost three years later, smiling nostalgically when we think about that first night. Laying there in the dark, wondering if we had made the worst mistake of our lives.
Spoiler alert: We didn’t. Make the worst mistake. We merely kicked off our first adventure, with many more to come!
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