From the Weeklies

Simona Rendlova chose her third child from a catalogue. A photograph and a few elementary data were enough for her to make the choice and adopt, over a considerable geographical distance, a dark-eyed little girl from India. DNES magazine reports that the Indian girl was four years old, just like Simona's biological son Honzik.

Little Manish is one of over a thousand poor Indian children adopted over a distance by parents here in the Czech Republic. Long distance adoption, writes DNES, is the achievement of Sister Goretti, a Roman Catholic nun active in India. She said during her recent visit to the Czech Republic that many peasant families in rural India found it difficult to feed their offspring and would send children as young as five years off to work in the city, where they invariably fell victim to child prostitution.

Some years ago, Sister Goretti's Karvar Diocese, which serves 600 villages, began looking for sponsor parents all around the world. Those who undertake to sponsor distant adoptive children from India are requested to pay them through their primary school years. The Czech connection is the Prague Archdiocese Charity Group. They asked Simona Rendlova if she preferred to support a child from India or the Baltic Republics. She said India, as they're much worse off out there, and it should be a girl, because girls are even worse off.

Every year, Simona, a single mother of two, signs a cheque for over 4,000 crowns--or half her monthly wage--enough to pay for school fees and a year's supply of textbooks, uniforms and food for little Manish of India. If it were not for Simona's modest offer, Manish would not be able to go to kindergarten, much less school, and probably would have to leave her parents and be a housemaid in the city. "It's a rat race here," says Simona Rendlova, clutching a cheap sheet of stationery on which Sister Goretti reports on the progress of Manish, now attending an upper kindergarten.

"What we've got to do is take this planet as one big place filled with poverty," she told DNES. "My children are much better off than Manish, only because they were born here, and not in India." And, from letters written in broken English on behalf of Manish by her older brother Mandeep, Simona's children in Prague learn useful things. Not only how Manish is doing at school and what her family can buy her with the money from her adoptive mother, but also about the hidden face of the world, about which the affluent have never heard or simply do not want to hear. "Children are the ray of hope," Sister Goretti wrote Simona in a letter from India. "You have promised to make this world a better place for Manish. I'm certain she will grow up a bright young woman and will find faith in the love of God. Thank you."

Robert Kypena, PRAVO magazine writes, is an easygoing, 34-year-old man with a broad smile, broad chest and strong, muscular arms. He's keenly interested in everything around him. He is a bit of a philosopher, romanticist, technician and astronomer, all rolled into one. You'd almost overlook the fact that he exists only from his waistline upwards. His body ends just below the navel, a single colostomy bag being an estuary for his urine bladder and colon. He is only the 42nd patient in the world, and first in the former Eastern Bloc, to have undergone and survived such a dramatic amputation.

Professor Frantisek Antos, head of the Surgical Department of Prague's Bulovka Hospital and Clinic, met Robert ten years ago when the patient was delivered to his ward with widespread bedsores. Since that time, Robert has spent several months a year in the hospital. He and Professor Antos call each other by their first names. Robert was born with a serious spinal defect, probably due to German measles his mother contracted during pregnancy, his surgeon explains. Robert's mother died shortly after he was born and he was confined to a wheelchair, paralysed from the waist down.

About ten years ago, his condition began to worsen rapidly. Robert was desperate and contemplated suicide two years ago. Last November, the patient slipped into a coma. If the surgeon wanted Robert to live, he had to act quickly. Nothing save amputation of half the patient's body would have saved his life. Robert's grandmother, his sole provider, thought he would be better off dead under anaesthesia than if he continued to suffer.

The unique surgery took ten hours to complete. Doctors removed everything below the waistline, severing Robert's spine between the fourth and fifth lower vertebrae, and fixing the spinal chord. Luckily, his urine duct and large intestine had been sewn together into a single colostomy during an earlier operation. The next problem was to adjust Robert's blood circulation to the new conditions, because his heart kept on pumping as if it had to serve his whole body and not just one half. The patient's post-surgery treatment was complicated by cerebral swelling and paralysis of the left arm.

But today, after many months of rehabilitation, Robert can use his left arm normally. He can eat unassisted, can wash and clean his teeth. Robert, his grandmother says, is a born survivor. He has a girlfriend in the sanatorium where he is currently undergoing further rehabilitation. She's also confined to a wheelchair. Together they explore the night skies with a telescope. Wide, deep, endless firmament. What are our problems compared to the vastness of the universe? Robert and his girlfriend Jolana ask.

A black hole marked with an identification panel, that's what Sipka Cave on Kotouc Hill in Stramberk, near to the North Moravian district town of Novy Jicin, looked like until recently, reports this week's RESPEKT. Sipka Cave is famous for the skeletal remains of a Neanderthal man, the precursor of Homo Sapiens, discovered there in the last century. An estimated 20,000 years later, Sipka Cave was resettled by Mr Pavel Knebl and Miss Martina Kopackova, both hailing from a nearby village. Early in July, they lined the space outside the cave itself with straw and furs, and lit a fire over which they would bake unleavened bread made with potatoes or coarsely ground grain. To add variety to their daily menu they picked mushrooms or used some dried peas and beans. Whatever organic waste there remained after the feast was carefully buried underground.

For the night they would retire to a valley nearby. This all began after an argument between Pavel and his brother. Pavel has definitive views on environmental problems. His brother heartily disagreed with him and then said, alright, move to a cave. So they did. Thirty-year-old Pavel had been to India several times on a bicycle and had learned a lot about life in harmony with Mother Nature without being wasteful. We are a wasteful society, he says, garbage containers at every hypermarket are full of fresh food every day.

He and Martina had formulated what they call the principles of primitive ecology, based on the tenet that a plum in the hand is worth two bananas in the bush, and followed by the rules of survival in a global world: a certified eco-terrorist doesn't break windows at the local friendly McDonald's. He doesn't subsidise them by eating Big Macs but joyfully relieves himself at their scrupulously clean toilets, as this activity is free.

The two cavemen initially had to fight prejudice and official red tape, being looked down upon as homeless vagabonds. Untrained people, they explain, would find it difficult to survive in the Sipka Cave, as the conditions there are pretty hard. One month later they packed their bags and invited friends to carry the torch. However, the authorities stepped in ruthlessly, ordering the cave to be vacated at short notice as nobody had issued relevant housing permits. For the time being, the case is in limbo. One party to the dispute, the cave people, are perfectly willing to talk to the Ministry of the Environment, but bureaucrats, of course, would not enter into any meaningful debate with self-styled environmentalists...

The Seven Wonders of the Czech Land, that's how PATEK magazine headlined its story about perhaps the most significant sights the weary traveller is likely to encounter in this country. Conventionally, and comparisons are very lame in this case, historians compare Prague Castle to the Pyramids of Egypt; Prague's Charles Bridge to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; Prague's St. Nicholas Church in the Lesser Town to the Pharaoh's Lighthouse of Alexandria; Karlstejn Castle west of Prague to the Colossus of Rhodes; The Hradec Kralove City Museum to the Temple of Diana at Euphesus; the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, where the division of Czechoslovakia was completed in the autumn of 1992, to the Mausoleum of Helicarnassus; and the Saint Barbara Church in Kutna Hora east of Prague to the Statue of Jupiter at Olympia.

Lame though these comparisons may be, PATEK's reporters were out recently in search of the unconventional, and bring back reports of wonders of the world that might have been. Thus, they report, their manners were rude, they'd greet guests with the severed heads of enemies stuck on piles and bury newborn babies in the foundations of their settlements. They were the Celts, one of the most dynamic nations that ever set foot on the territory of today's Czech Republic some 2,000 years ago.

Just south of Prague, on the opposite bank of the Vltava to Zbraslav, there used to be a fortified settlement, a Celtic oppidum sprawling over almost 200 hectares of steep slope overlooking the river. Armour would rattle, kids would cry, sheep would bleat, business thrived and the Slavs were nowhere in sight. A settlement of six thousand Celts in palisade homes shaped the history of the Vltava River Basin at that time. Consider this one of the seven wonders of the Czech Lands.

A second scene: Leafy Charles Square in central Prague is alive with pram-pushing mums and relaxing old folks today. Few of them know they are relaxing on the site of a long-gone chapel which could fit in the ideal City of Jerusalem plan outlined in the 12th century. King Charles IV would later use the empty edifice as the foundation of his Prague New Town--perhaps the architectural gem of medieval Central Europe. Another of the seven wonders, PATEK suggests.

The story about the remaining five wonders of the Czech Land defines the outcomes of this feature programme. But Radio Prague will return to them in due course. For the time being, suffice it to recall that the magazine will run a series on all those seven wonders that make Czech history. We'll keep you posted!

Author: Libor Kubík
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