Milena Pechoušová

* 1945

  • Author. Did you visit each other, or were there places where you organised?" Milena: "Sokol, in those days, because the children were, we were all young, so most of us had young children. And a Sokol organisation was established, and Sokol was functioning well. And with that Sokol, for example, they used to go to children's camps, and they used to organise different dances and dances like that. Today - first of all, we are old..." Jiří: "Second, we are old, and third, too." Author. Were you somehow present at the beginning, or did you join afterwards?" Milena: "No. We weren't. The Sokol was formed in Johannesburg. So we were kind of outside. There was also an engineer here who wrote “Broucci (Fireflies)”. He did a musical called Broucci (Fireflies). A very nice musical. Broucci after twenty or thirty years." Author: "Who sang the musical?" Milena: "All Czechs." Author. Where did it..." Milena: "It was a couple of performances." Author: "Like amateur theatre?" Milena: "Yeah." Author: "And was that also done within the Sokol, or did you do that here on the side?" Milena: "This was perhaps not within the framework of Sokol either. I have the impression that Peska sang in that too." Jiří: "Yeah." Milena: "Right?" Author: "And were you in touch with those Czechs in Johannesburg, or were those communities more separate? That maybe the Johannesburg ones kept together?" Milena: "Oh yes. Like that, when you went out, it got the word out, who came, came, didn't come, didn't come. Or they organised something over there, so they went to the ball." George: "It wasn't somehow divided. Of course, the 70 kilometres to Joburg plays a role. For example, if you went for a beer after work on a weekday, it was mostly Pretoria here and Joburg there. But on the weekend, for example, if you went, whoever wanted to go, went." Author's note: "But you would describe it as Czechs sticking together? That this way when you were somewhere, you stuck together?" Milena: "Hm."

  • Milena: "Look, they put a lot of people in Pretoria because they thought they would learn Afrikaans. The Czechs refused... The Czechs said, 'We need to learn English first because we know one language you can only speak in the Czech Republic and those Slavonic countries.' So we weren't much for learning Afrikaans. They tried to drag us into the church, but they didn't succeed either." Author: Who tried to drag you there? Milena: "Well, those friends of ours, for example. So when they saw that... they didn't try. We had this family that we socialised with quite a bit. But we had some friends, but in South Africa, they never let you know you were an expatriate. Because there were so many emigrants here. And people spoke badly, and they still speak badly today, that they didn't notice. They never laughed that maybe you'd say it wrong." George: "Even though you could see their corners curling up slightly. How many times did you say such an outrageous thing that you didn't figure out until later after you'd learned a little bit? 'Jesus Christ, what did I say!' And they usually didn't laugh, or we didn't experience anything; they would sneer at us." Author's note: "And the friends you had, were there people who weren't Czech? Or did you hang out with Czechs enough?" Milena: "The Czechs stuck together." Author: "And what do you think was that?" Milena: "I think it's because you can't speak properly." Jiří: "Also, when you went out into the countryside, the Burs were not really interested in that." Author: "Like some tramping or camping?" George: "Sort of... So when we wanted to go with some people, it was again Czechs or Slovaks. We lived here in peace and harmony then. We used to tease each other a bit other too, but only for fun. Not that there was any chauvinistic..." Author. Because you guys came in on one plane, you got separated into these different hotels." Milena: "Hey, so, for example, on those maps, there were about 25 Czech women. There were a lot of them who started at Siemens. Siemens, they liked Czechs there. Czechoslovaks."

  • Milena: "We only spent a week at this hotel they put us in because it was expensive." Author: They did not pay the hotel for you? Milena: "They paid us a week after they found a job, and then we had to take care about ourselves. However, the job- you started at 90 cents an hour, right? 70 cents? Something like that. It was about 70 cents an hour in that glass factory." George: "I first worked on those air conditioners for a week." Milena: "Well, I don't know. We wouldn't have been able to afford the hotel. Now I couldn't eat the food, so we moved to a cheap hotel, and there I couldn’t eat the food at all. We lasted about a week there, too." Jiri: "No way. One day." Milena: "Well, we said, 'We have to go to an apartment.' So we went to an apartment, two Czech families, one apartment. Because we didn't have anything for that apartment. So we rented an apartment together with two other Czech families. It was one bedroom, big living room, kitchen, and bathroom. They also had two children, and we had one child. So they were sleeping in the living room, and we had this small bedroom. We slept the first week before he got his pay; we slept on the floor in this sleeping bag covered with coats. And for the windows, so people wouldn't look in our windows, because there was one tenement over here, and there was another tenement over five yards on the other side, so we bought a couple of sheets, and we put those sheets in place of curtains. That's how we started. And on the emigration department, the Africans made all kinds of collections. If you didn't need something, they'd bring it there... We took three spoons, three forks, three knives, and some pots. Well, that's how we started. And so every time he got his first paycheck, we'd go and buy two mattresses, the foam ones, that's what we slept on the floor. Then you bought a drill and made a bed, rollaway beds. That's how we did something every week." Author: "There was a paycheck every week?" Milena: "Yeah." Author: "And how long did you live with the other family? That must have been a little nerve-wracking, too." Milena: "That was nerve-wracking, too. That didn't work out too well. We were there with them for about two months, and then we found... we went to a smaller apartment, an older building." George: "We left on bad terms." Milena: "Because of it... They then went to Canada eventually anyway." Jiri: "He was the other father, slurping while eating. And little Jirka used to tell him, 'You don't slurp when you eat,' and it pissed him off. I'm sorry. I forgot that we're on a tape recorder here." Author. It is ok, you can speak in a way which is “normal” for you. Milena: "Well, it was all these kinds of: 'You have a different taste than I have.' Maybe not? Cooking together, that didn't work. Well, but for the beginning, until we found another apartment still."

  • Milena: "The atmosphere on the train was incredible. The train was full to the border. It was as if people couldn't speak, as if they completely..." Jiri: "Everybody was sitting gloomy, nobody was doing anything... And the moment we crossed the border, it was..." Milena: "Where are you going? Where are you going?" Author: And was there any harsh control at the border? What was the process?" Milena: "They checked, but they didn't check that you had to do everything... we brought our high school diploma, and we managed to take that. The atmosphere was terrible because you didn't know who was sitting on that train."

  • Full recordings
  • 1

    Pretorie, 18.05.2021

    duration: 02:50:17
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

We are not coming back here

Milena Pechoušová on horseback, 1970s
Milena Pechoušová on horseback, 1970s
photo: Milena Pechoušová

Milena Pechoušová, birth name Fialová, was born on August 10, 1945 in Stara Boleslav. Shortly after the war, the family moved to Karlovy Vary. Milena graduated from secondary pedagogical school and worked as a teacher in a kindergarten. In the late 1960s, she and her husband began to build their dream house in the Karlovy Vary region. After August 1968, however, they decided to emigrate. Their original plan to go to Canada did not work out, so in the winter of 1969, in Vienna, they decided to go to South Africa (SA), a country they knew almost nothing about. Milena’s family overcame the difficult beginnings on the new continent thanks to the helpful attitude of the immigration office, which took care of the incoming Czechoslovaks, and the warmth of the South Africans. Although they initially faced a strong language barrier and lack of money. Fortunately, her husband Jiří soon found a job. Milena later made a living drawing maps or sketches of components to produce transformers. As a result, their standard of living began to rise, and the Pechous soon managed to afford their own house in Pretoria. A key role in their lives was played by the community of compatriots sustained around Sokol, which was formed in Johannesburg in 1972. The family spoke only Czech at home and still maintains Czech customs. Milena Pechoušová had lived in Pretoria for more than half a century during the interview (2021).