Disputes in many parts of the world erupt into war, but not in Czechoslovakia-at least not in Martina Jambrichova's lifetime. In fact, when the country separated into two, there was no dispute as far as Martina could tell-no prejudice or clashing beliefs. "There was nothing to fight about," she says.
In 1918, at the end of World War I, the closely related Czechs and Slovaks of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire merged to form Czechoslovakia. After World War II, the land fell within the Soviet sphere of influence and became a Communist nation, along with many other Eastern European countries.
Soviet authority finally collapsed in 1989, and Czechoslovakia regained its freedom through a peaceful "Velvet Revolution." On Jan. 1, 1993, the country separated, again peacefully, into the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Martina (whose last name is pronounced yam-bri-hova, with a hard H) was born in what was then Czechoslovakia, in the town of Liptovsky Hradok, on Aug. 11, 1974. She grew up in the nearby tiny village of Závazná Poruba, in what is now north-central Slovakia, in a valley between the Low Tatry and High Tatry mountains.
The first 15 years of Martina's life were spent under Communism, but she didn't feel particularly oppressed. Her own father was, and still is, a Communist. "The principles and ideas of Communism were good," she says, "however many people misused them." Some good things about it were no unemployment or homelessness, and free education and health care for all.
Martina grew up picking flowers in the meadows, picking mushrooms in the forests and hiking in the peaks. "I had a normal childhood," she says. On Sundays, families took long walks behind the village, a cluster of red roofs, stopping afterward at a small inn where the adults drank beer and wine and the children, if they had behaved well, drank Coke - a rare treat. In winter, Martina skied on those same trails, now covered with snow.
Potatoes and cabbage are grown throughout the region, and agricultural companies are among its largest employers. Martina explains that when the Communists took over, all the farms surrounding a village were consolidated into one large commune. After Communism, some land was returned to its original owners, but not all. Several capitalist companies remain.
Martina's father builds infrastructure for various agricultural companies. Her mother has worked for one agricultural company, Agropodnik, her entire career, as an accountant and human resources director.
When Martina was 12, her parents divorced. She moved to Liptovsky Hradok with her mother, but often visited her father back in the village. Eventually he remarried; Martina now has a stepsister and stepbrother, both in their teens.
Growing up, Martina idolized her grandfather, her father's father. "Everybody respected him," she says. "He was lovely to be around. He didn't judge people." Plus, he often brought her bouquets of konvalinka, or lily of the valley.
Coming to America
In Europe, many high schools have specialties. Martina graduated from one that specializes in computer science. After high school, like her mother, she worked for several years as a human resources manager for an agricultural company.
During that time, Martina's country became Slovakia. "I didn't think Czechoslovakia needed to separate," she says. "I couldn't see the reason for it. But I wasn't upset, either. It didn't really matter to me." She celebrated the New Year, partying like the 19-year-old she was, but not the separation.
Besides her native tongue of Slovak, Martina is also fluent in Czech, which is different (and a much older language), and she studied Russian in school. But she did not speak English, the language she thought would mobilize her life.
When she was 23, in 1997, she went to London to study English for six months. She returned home to work for two years as an assistant in a small law firm, but she had been bitten by the travel bug. She felt she needed to improve her English to get better jobs and to travel more easily. She decided to come to the United States because, as a large country, it offers more travel opportunities, as well as good exchange programs. Accepted by an au pair program, she combined work and travel.
In January 1999, Martina took a train to the capital Bratislava, where she spent the night with a friend. The next morning, her friend drove her to the airport in Vienna, Austria, just 30 minutes away, where she took a flight to Amsterdam.
Martina had never changed planes by herself before. "I was really afraid I would miss my connection," she says. But she didn't, and flew on to New York City, where she spent three days in nanny training. Then she flew on to Seattle, where she was greeted by her host family, the Russells of Bainbridge Island.
It rained for 99 days after Martina's arrival. She couldn't ski at Mount Baker because the chair lifts were buried in snow. She didn't see Mount Rainier until May.
Wide open spaces
Martina spent a year as nanny for Mary Kay and Chris Russell's two young sons. She had intended to go home at the end of that time, but instead she continued living with the Russells for 18 months more while she attended Edmonds Community College. "The Russells supported me so much," she says. "They are still a big part of my life." The two boys, Billy and Brad, are now teenagers.
The long daily commute, which included a ferry ride from and to Kingston, finally wore on Martina, and she moved to Lynnwood. Six months later, she earned her associate arts degree in business with a travel specialization.
It was just after Sept. 11, 2001, a hard time to find a job as a travel agent, but finally Martina was hired at Rainier World Travel in Issaquah. She liked the job, but was only able to work there a year because of the limitations of her visa. She needed a four-year degree to extend it.
So she enrolled at City University in Bellevue. She studied hard, listening to Mozart to help her concentrate, and graduated this June with a bachelor's degree in business marketing. She was granted a three-year working visa and soon found a job downtown as a marketing and financial analyst for Great Northern Land Company.
During her interview, Martina mentioned that she was looking for a new place to live. Coincidentally, GNL owned an empty house on Queen Anne. It was hers to rent, they said, until they developed the property.
She moved in July. "Queen Anne is very nice," she says. "You can walk everywhere." She bikes downtown to work and back, and she can make it all the way uphill without stopping.
Martina loves the outdoors and gets all her exercise there. Besides biking to work, she is gone most weekends hiking in summer, climbing glaciers and skiing in winter, both downhill (often in the backcountry) and cross-country. She teaches cross-country at Snoqualmie Summit.
Martina has visited many parts of America, especially in the West. This summer she and three friends went kayaking in Alaska's Glacier Bay. "We didn't see another person for a week," she says, "but we saw a lot of wildlife."
"America is really nice," she continues. "I like the beautiful landscapes and the open spaces; Europe is more crowded." The Americans she knows are open-minded and accepting of others, qualities she appreciates.
Of all the places she has seen in America, she likes this area best. If she were to become a U.S. citizen - a decision she does not need to make just yet-she would settle here.
Martina has not visited her family back in Slovakia since coming here almost seven years ago. She finally will visit them over Christmas.
Meanwhile, Martina has found konvalinka in her Queen Anne yard, a reminder of home. Its tiny white, aromatic flowers might just make her feel more at home here.
Teru Lundsten is a freelance writer living in Queen Anne. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.[[In-content Ad]]