My life has always been very on-the-go — going between my divorced parent’s houses, going to classes and club meetings all across my college campus, and now, going to work and then out and about in NYC. Unintentionally, I was brought up to understand that living meant doing as much as possible. Then, upon graduating and accepting a Fulbright grant to teach English abroad for one year, I left that bubble and discovered another kind of living. Due to its unique history, language, traditions, and holidays, the Czech Republic has a very different culture than that of my upbringing in the Northeastern United States. But one aspect stood out to me as being both fascinating and impossible to grasp: pohoda.
Pohoda is an untranslatable word. A word that exists and is understood in its native tongue, but that can never be fully understood in another language. According to Google Translate, pohoda means “contentment” or “peace,” and according to a Czech translation service, it means “well-being” or “ease.” These translations are valid, yet I have understood pohoda to mean much more.
The word surely represents a state of utter contentment, and this state allows a person to be entirely calm, relaxed, and present. This moment is pohoda. Having pohoda does not mean that everything in life is perfect. Rather, pohoda is the ability to find a time and place that is perfect amidst the larger mess that life can be.
Pohoda is different for every person. I first learned what pohoda could be from observing my good Czech friends. For my host mom, it was her afternoon espresso at the kitchen table. For my best friend, it was a lazy morning lying in bed watching fairy tales. Together, for us, it was going to a quiet pub for a beer and catching up on our week apart. There are a million things in the world to do, yet with pohoda, you can forget about them for a short while and truly enjoy the moment you are living in. Interestingly, it is linguistically impossible to be doing an action of pohoda—there is no verb form of the word.
Maybe expectedly, I had trouble understanding the concept of pohoda at first. It was and still is hard for me to sit still, to not think of the million things I could be doing instead, to stop thinking about my next plan, to push out the paranoia of others thinking I am doing nothing of value. However, I have come to realize that my moments of pohoda are the ones where I appreciate life to the fullest.
It is a sunny, spring day in February and I am in Provence. I am sitting at a table bathed in sun to the point where it is so hot that I take off my jacket. I haven’t been home to the United States since August, and I order a cobb salad and Coca-Cola. The flavors dance on my tongue and the combination of savory and sweet are incredibly fresh. The Coke seems to sparkle in the sunlight. Pohoda.
I start running to train for a half marathon that I’m not sure I can do in just four months. Each time, I run downhill to avoid the big hill that is my town, but at the end, I still have to walk up one big hill to get home. I lose my breath all over again getting to the top, yet when I arrive, there is the most spectacular view. I pause for a few minutes just to lean over the ledge and watch as the river flows, some roosters crow, the people move around their yards, and maybe a train goes by to Vienna. My breath is back. Pohoda.
I go to a vineyard as part of a girls’ reunion weekend with two great friends to sample some wines. The tour is shorter than expected, but the wine tastes great, and then it is still only mid-afternoon. We wander over to a grassy area under a tree and lie down to chat. We stay and laugh and lose track of time and space. The wind blows across the nearby field and washes over us. I close my eyes for a moment, but the smile stays on my face. Pohoda.
I get out of work on Friday and follow my normal path around the corner and into the subway. I start to hear the sound of a large band playing upbeat jazz music; next, I hear the people around them cheering, laughing, and moving their feet. Normally, I would just walk by to get on my train and go home, but this time, I stop. The band is reveling in their opportunity to play—there is a group of friends that start dancing, and I am a bit envious. I look around to see the glow radiating through the subway station. Thank goodness it’s Friday. Pohoda.
While some of these memories are from years ago, I can remember them with perfect clarity. I remember feeling all those feelings of contentment, peace, well-being, and ease. Most of all, I remember being totally and fully present in life. Life may be made up of all the things we do, but the time to think in-between gives those actions their meaning. My continuous challenge is to keep finding pohoda and making time for pohoda amidst the pressures of my schedule. Maybe though, it is this challenge that has clarified what pohoda is for me. And when I find it, even just for a short time, there is nowhere else to be and nothing else I would rather do.
Photo used with copyright permission.
Mariel is a native to the NYC-area with current plans to travel South America and return to her second home in the Czech Republic. Mariel is passionate about promoting international exchange, whether by advising students on study abroad, learning/teaching languages or sharing her personal travel stories on her blog: www.mstavakoli.com