Vera’s kitchen became my sanctuary in a city that was at one and the same time home and completely alien and foreign to me. Waking in the morning I would wander out of my bed and through the door to the kitchen to put on my pot of coffee. Sitting on the red chair at the table, I would count the speckles in the blue linoleum under my feet, as a sort of waking meditation to start my day. Out the window I would watch the man leaning on the rail of his balcony across the street going through the same process with his cigarette, staring blankly at what I do not know down on the street, flicking an ash into the air every now and then. I would watch the sun rise higher in the morning sky and gauge the weather by the view over the park. I should wear a sweater, I thought. I would do my dishes. My laundry hung from the clothes rack by the doors to the living room, hung there by Vera before I woke that morning.
Later in the evening, after a day of walking and exploring, discovering and making photographs, I would arrive back at the house to find Vera in the kitchen, making her dinner. She would ask about my day and laugh along with me at my admitted stupidity or explain the culturally inexplicable to me. Oh, forgive them, she would say as I told her of a horribly wretched experience at the train station. Communism was so hard for them. One evening she kindly told me that I was mixing up the numbers 2 and 9 when I was trading English and Czech lessons with her grandson. She would ask me questions about my Czech family as she washed her dishes. Vera would listen to my stories and then cut me off abruptly with a smile when it was time for her evening soap opera to begin.
In Vera’s kitchen I felt grounded. I felt normal. I wasn’t burdened with the discomfort of not having the ability to communicate. I wasn’t alone. In Vera’s kitchen I felt like I was at home.