Language, culture, and floods

We had taken a language learning course before going to the Czech Republic. In the course the challenge was: “to learn a new language like a child”. This was not entirely possible, like we learned our native language, but in the adult world, language is taught like a subject together with science, math and history. Our teachers disagreed with that concept. You learn a language to communicate the same thing in a different way than your native tongue. It is not strictly language. You have to learn the cultural setting in which the language is used, as well.

With this knowledge we went to Pisek, Czech Republic. Of course, Czech is all we heard around us, most of which we could not understand. Most of the people we came there to serve, were at English camp that first week, so we were pretty well on our own. The second week we would get to visit the camp for a day.  

It had been raining a lot, which is common in July and August. We also had some nice days, so we had no concept of how much rain had already fallen. Pisek lays on the Otava River. The north shore rises pretty steep above the river, while the south shore is just flat land. One afternoon  it started to rain pretty heavy, into the evening. We went to town, shopping as best we could and were exhausted by evening hearing Czech all day. We went to bed, but around 2 am, heard people go by under our window at a steady stream. We also heard loudspeakers, but could not understand it. We lived in the center of town, on the main square with a lot of activity during the day, but at 2 am was unusual. It had pretty well stopped raining. We decided to get dressed and follow the crowd, gravitating across the square down to the river. There we found a pretty large crowd watching as the water rose. At several places, openings along the levy were boarded up, in case the water got that high. Well, it did get that high! We stood by the oldest stone bridge of Eastern Europe from the 1340’s, connecting the southern side with the entry gate on the north side, into the old town. Heavy tree limbs were caught on the bridge pilers, creating a dam-like construction. Helicopters were flying over and loudspeakers were used to warn the people on the south-side of the river to leave their houses and apartments, as we later learned. 

Along the south side just behind the levy, was a block of apartments built by the city. It was pretty modern with shops on the ground level and an underground parking garage. The roof line was rounded on both ends which made it look like an upside-down ship. It became known as the “Titanic”. This night, that was very appropriate as the water kept rising. Then it happened; it went over the bridge and over the levee on the south side of the river. Everybody was silent, watching from “our” side, the north, as the water was flooding the homes and stores across the river. Gradually people went back home again, wondering what the next day would bring. We also went back to bed.

The next day we watched some Czech TV which showed the extend of the flooding. It was pretty far-reaching. Helicopters were back, flying over the Titanic, where people were lifted out. Those people did not believe it would be that bad and that sooner or later they could get out. They forgot that even though they were on the second and third floors, power had to be disconnected, and though the water was receding, it took several days before they had access to their apartments. It was called a “400 year flood”. Due to the extend, this kind of flood was to occur about every 400 years. The roads into town were pretty well all blocked off, so we could not get our container until two weeks later because Prague was also affected by this flood. We were urged to buy bottled water since the water supply system was contaminated due to the flood. We only found out, because we saw people coming out of the grocery store across the street, with many bottles of water. 

The English camp we were to visit that week was also on a small river, which exceeded its boarders. Fortunately the building remained dry, but the campers could not leave there for several days. Thus we never made it to visit the camp.