No one in their right mind would call my two-room garage apartment in Pardubice, the Czech Republic, a homey place. Then again, neither was the country itself. Forget about the lace curtains that decorated each window, the stacking dolls that nested on so many shelves. Ice chips shone in the eyes of passersby. Little girls barely old enough to remember their own names looked me up and down, evaluating.
And my heater was fucking broken.
There are times and places where this is really no big deal. That’s not exactly the case in Central Europe, particularly in early February, and particularly in particular during this exact winter, which was nothing short of ass-freezingly brutal. Snow stung my face on the way to the bus stop, where I lingered in wait for my ride across town to the school where I taught hundreds – literally hundreds – of students whose names and faces were one big foreign blur. But I was the foreigner. I was the outsider. I was the one whose name, face and historical context didn’t fit here.