Introduction

I have been out of line, over the line or at least drawing outside the lines, ever since I could hold a crayon. My mama says I was a terror to raise. Since then I have been breaking one taboo or another, crossing lines, doing what you’re not expected to.

I was almost always the first disabled person in the schools I attended and the jobs I’ve held. My first journalism job was with the local paper and I had to ride my bike to cover stories, so mama put a sign on my handlebars that said, “Caution: Visually Impaired Rider”. It caused traffic chaos. Cars would come to a screeching halt and have no idea what they were supposed to do. I had to get rid of the sign in the interests of public safety and just not get run over.

I wrote a book, that I’m trying to find a publisher for, about my pattern of crossing lines – breaking out of my insulated rural childhood at 16, integrating into cultures from Eastern Europe and Bangladesh to Zimbabwe and Siberia, and making it as a legally blind journalist. The working title is “Border Crossing Lessons” but when it gets published, it may have a different title.

So, “Outside the Lines” is about after all that. It is my life, or more realistically my family’s life, outside those lines that I crossed so irrevocably that we can’t seem to get back. It isn’t just that we grow our own organic vegetables and we blew up our TV. Well, more like dismantled it, but it’s the same idea. We aren’t “off the grid”, just out of touch with consumerism, or so our neighbor with the huge swimming pool alleges. Even so, that isn’t so far outside the lines anymore.

We live in a country where 95 percent of the population is one color, one culture, one language, one way of being. And we are not only not that. Our family has completely shattered the boundaries. Dušan is Czech, the majority, the normal guy, but normal only on the surface. He eats Vietnamese spring rolls, for crying out loud, though only in private, as I recently found out in a little embarrassing incident. The rest of us belong to what one Prague mayor some years ago termed “the two problem minorities” in the Czech Republic. That is I’m American and our adopted daughter is Romani. That means Gypsy, for the unenlightened, and she doesn’t know it yet but that is beyond controversial in this place and time. Americans made the mayor’s list of troublesome minority groups only because at the time there were around 20,000 American 20-somethings living illegally in Prague. But for the Roma, these are the civil-rights years. In 2008, we just saw the European Court hand down a decision against the segregation of Romani children into substandard schools. It was the Czech equivalent of Brown v. the Board of Education. The backlash has been vicious with neo-Nazi groups marching in the streets and tossing explosives through the windows of Romani homes. A petition against school integration gained 60,000 signatures virtually over night in a country of only 10 million.

Doesn’t sound like a life outside the lines? Follow this story and you’ll see. I don’t know what will happen next but things have never been boring around here.

-Arie Farnam

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