Mrs. Katerina Čumba was born in the city of Brno, which is believed to be the second largest, most-populated city in the Czech Republic. Brno is named to be an important place to offer professional training and higher education. Since early teenage days up to now, she has been interested in sports and music, and she got married to Mr .Svatopluk Čumba in a rather romantic manner. Despite her diplomatic postings before, she preferred to leave her job and spend her time raising and educating her children. We had the chance to know her as a professional horse rider and the spouse of the Czech Ambassador to Iran to have a friendly conversation which you may find below.
AVA Diplomatic’s Exclusive Interview with
Mrs. Katerina Čumba, Spouse of the Czech Ambassador to Iran
At the beginning of the interview and to our readers’ further familiarity, please explain where you were born and where and how you spent your youth.
Well, I was born in south east part of Czech Republic called Moravia, in a city named Brno which is the second biggest city of Czech republic. My youth was very happy. Our family was very pro sport. So I spent all the weekends of my youth near the water practicing all the water sports in summer and skating on the ice and skiing in winter.
What was your father? How many siblings did you have?
My father was an engineer. He worked in Tesla Brno electronic company and he headed the team who developed the very first computation center in Czech Republic – in a basement of the company and it was a huge machine. My mother was a teacher. I have one older brother.
What were your local games you used to play back then?
We have nice and big parks in Brno and everywhere are open play grounds. So we used to play football, basketball and all ball games. So, I spent my childhood outdoor, unlike many children today.
Did you use to play boys’ games mostly?
Boys often used to ask me to join them to play football. So, I must have been very good.
Did you own any special skill in soccer?
No, my real passion was acrobatic gymnastics – I was competing at national level. At the same time, I used to be a skiing racer, the super slalom being my favorite discipline.
What are your region´s most renowned handicrafts?
Moravia is a region of colorful ceramics, fine wines and folklore with beautiful traditional costumes and dynamic and passionate dances and music. And folk songs and dances, both from Moravia and neighboring Slovakia have become my main passion since my teen years.
Please tell us a bit about your college time and higher education.
The city of Brno has many schools of higher and high education, so, during my high school and university studies I could have stayed at home. I graduated at French high school and then I continued my studies at the Faculty of Pedagogy of the University of Masaryk. I became teacher for secondary and high school, specializing on sports and geography. But instead of starting teaching, I continued studies at Language School and got my diploma of French and Spanish languages.
What modifications has the Czech educational system undergone over the past years?
We believe that traditionally our system of education had always been a one of very high standards. So, I would like to believe not too much has changed since the time of my studies. But obviously, some details have changed. Nowadays, there is more stress on foreign languages, English being the preferred one, followed by German, French and Spanish. In my times, the university studies used to be commonly for five years, while today in many schools you can study three years and get your Bachelor degree or continue, if you decide so for another two years and get the Master’s. Also the universities had to adapt themselves to the system common in the European Union that the Czech Republic joined in 2004.
Another big difference is that I was mostly educated in the Czechoslovak education system. But Czechoslovakia does not exist anymore, as we peacefully divorced with our Slovak brothers in 1993.
Is there any mentality now in the Czechia that the old system was better than the present one?
Maybe among that the older generation who always says (in any epoch) that “ our times were better…” But I do not see it this way, everything around us is changing, the world has become smaller, distances shorter, the innovations are speeding our lives more and more… So, we must adapt ourselves in order to “survive”. And that brings also changes in the system of education.
When and where did you meet Mr. Ambassador for the first time?
It was quite a time ago. At that time, I was dancing in ensemble of traditional folk music and dances of the Czech Armed Forces called JANOSIK (ONDRAS today); the girls were civilians/semi-professional dancers (mostly students) and all the boys were serving their obligatory military service there (today both the ensemble and the whole Czech army are professional). It used to be and still is the best folk ensemble in my country and it was a “dream-come-true” for any folk musician or dancer to get there. We used to have trainings almost every evening, every second weekend from morning to night. Many public concerts – mostly twenty or even more per month, each performance was two and a half hour. And my husband who was an engineer graduate and very good musician as well (playing clarinet and bagpipes), joined the ensemble to spend his military service there. We fell in love just few days later.
What year did that happen?
In 1991, one and a half year after the democratic changes in our country in November 1989, known as the Velvet Revolution.
Did Mr. Ambassador play the clarinet back then professionally?
Yes, after the military service and before entering the Ministry of Foreign Affairs he played professionally for some time.
Does he still play the clarinet?
These days unfortunately no. But back then he recorded several CDs of folk music. Until now, in any country we have been serving, we always invite our friends from youth to perform during the national day. The same we did here in Iran last November when we brought Czech folk music to the Iranian audience.
I guess it has been a really long time since you quit singing.
In fact no, I keep singing but mostly just at home.
What rituals do wedding ceremonies follow in the Czech Republic?
Wedding is a very special event, in Czechia, Iran or anywhere. Everyone has its own traditions. In our country, the men have to come to visit the parents and ask for the bride´s hand with a bouquet of flowers for the mother and for the future wife. After the parents´ approval they prepare the wedding. There are many traditions, even inside the Czech Republic each region has its own. In Moravia, most people get married in Christian church (the marriage is the registered with the state institutions). Coming out from the church, for example, the one who first steps on the tiptoe of the other one will be the boss of the new matrimony – I definitely did not do it (laughing). We also put horse-collar around the neck of the new husband, symbolizing that now he is the one who has to pull the matrimony. And when we sit around the table during the wedding lunch, the couple sits together and feeds each other from one plate. There is also “breaking-a-plate” tradition, for good luck. The friends of the groom also try to steal the bride and hide with her somewhere (commonly in some expensive restaurant) and then the groom has to find them (and pay the bill).
Did you like to have a different, modern marriage as an energetic girl that age?
Both me and my husband loved folk music and traditions, as did our families. And that was reflected on our wedding ceremony: there were several hundred people, many of them dressed in traditional costumes, three groups of folk musicians changing the stage all the night, singing and dancing till the morning.
Did he propose to you first?
Of course it was my husband who was supposed to first show that interest. Actually, he had to try very hard because at that time there were two other rivals for him (laughing). But he won the competition and later, in 1994 he became my husband.
Then it’s clear that he is a determined man who tried so hard to have you.
Yes, let him know. I think he is congratulating himself for all these years with me.
Does naming the children have any particular set of traditions? When was your first child born?
I got married when I finished the university. My husband entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and he moved from Moravia to start his career in Prague. First two years of our marriage he was in Prague and I was continuing my foreign language studies for another two years. So, we were having the “weekend marriage”. Then I also managed to enter the Czech foreign service – young people with Spanish and French were demanded. So, I was hired and sent as a consular attaché to Paris. And when my husband came to visit me there, he was happy as I was digging in the office, while he got his pocket money every morning and went out to enjoy his days in Paris.
What was your diplomatic posting after Paris? What activities did you have?
For the first posting together we were sent to Caracas, Venezuela. He was the political and economic Secretary of the Embassy and I worked as the consular Attaché. We spent there four fantastic years.
When were you in Venezuela?
Between 1996 and 2000, last two years of President Rafael Caldera and first two years of the mandate of Hugo Chavez.
After Venezuela we moved to Beijing China for another four years. And there two of our children were born. And then back to Prague, later Nigeria and Spain.
Did you like to pursue your diplomatic path?
Yes, I did, but with the children it became difficult and I decided to let my career go and dedicate myself to the family. Now we have three children and one dog (laugh).
Things went quite dangerous when you and your husband were in Lebanon as diplomats. How did you manage the situation?
I got used. But maybe Nigeria was a little more complicated than Lebanon. Anyway, diplomats must we be fast to get used to a new country. You have to learn how to live and enjoy while, at the same time you should make your life safe, both for you and the children. And this is also my job, to create new home, new social life in every new country for us and our children, to make them feel comfortable.
How did you adjust to the existing circumstances in those hard days? What was the most difficult experience you went through?
Any country is special, has its own dangers and particularities. But honestly, I cannot say which one was the most difficult.
You did charity, volunteer work in Lebanon. Do you have any plan to do in Tehran what you did in Beirut?
Yes. In Lebanon it was maybe easier. We had a very active Diplomatic Spouses Association that cooperated with many civil and non-profit organizations. Here in Tehran this seems to be for a little more difficult, but this is also for family reasons – Beirut was very easy to move, comparing to Tehran and taking the children to and from school was a matter of ten minutes. Here in Tehran we have our three children in two different schools, sometimes it takes one hour and half to reach the first school only. Though also here I am a member of Diplomatic Spouses Association, my contribution, unfortunately is not as big as it used to be in Lebanon.
Could you children study at the German School here in Tehran?
No, our two older children are British educated and the youngest is in French school.
Do these schools have any bus or cabs to ease the coming and going of your children in order to save you its trouble?
No school bus. So I am a cook and a driver actually here in Tehran. The French school at least they provide lunch for the children but the Pakistani school don not. Actually for the foreigners, schooling is the biggest problem here in Tehran, especially with teenagers
What do you mostly do in your leisure time in Tehran?
We try to enjoy our life in this great and beautiful country as much as possible. Apart of discovering Iran, we love sport. During the winter season, we go skiing every weekend. We are also very enthusiastic about horseback riding. In Lebanon, we were competing almost every Sunday. Unfortunately, as foreigners we cannot compete in Iran, but we are happy at least to be able to continue riding; the club, the horses and the trainer are excellent, the only problem is again the time to get there and back during the week as the club is next to Azadi Olympic Stadium.
What Iranian dishes do you find closer in taste to the Czech cuisine?
Your cuisine is very different. Of course we use meat and rice but the spices are different. But we like Iranian dishes a lot.
How different was your initial mental image of Iranian women from what you have seen of them for yourself now?
The picture of Iran and Iranian society is twisted by mainstream media in the West, unfortunately. I believed the society was closed and everybody very conservative. But we have learned that many Iranians, while respecting traditions, are open-minded, generous, educated and warm-hearted. For me it was a very pleasant surprise.
It is interesting for me to know how contributive the DLSG has been to your social life and personal skills. Please explain to us about it from a member’s point of view.
The meetings with DLSG helped me a lot to meet the diplomatic society here.
At the end, who of the diplomatic spouses would you care to name as someone that has managed to be a good friend to you and help you a lot over this short period of time? Here can be somewhere to express your appreciation.
There are so many of them, especially from the Latin American Embassies. But if I have to name only one, than maybe it would be the spouse of the Hungarian ambassador, Madam Negar, current president of DLSG. She is Iranian and with her efforts the DLSG has been able to do even more than before. She doesn’t have this language barrier which is limiting many of us which sometimes who need the translators. And she is always kind and friendly.
Right here, right now; we ask Ms. Negar to ascribe some time so we would have a thorough interview with her in the future. Thank you so much.
Thank you very much.