Friday, August 3, 2007

Don't Cry For Me, Wroclawskie

This is officially, officially my last post from Poland. After a week of goodbye parties and reflection, I think I'm ready to blow this popcicle stand. My flight leaves in four hours.

Tuesday night was my official goodbye party, held at Strefa 0 (where else?) followed by dancing at Manana. At Strefa 0, I was presented with scarves and gifts and a Polish flag that all of the interns had signed. As they handed me the Polish flag, Red Hot Chili Peppers "Under the Bridge Downtown" started playing. It was incredibly perfect, I actually thought they had orchestrated it. This song has been our theme song of the summer and it's been coincidentally playing at every important juncture of my journey - on my first night at Strefa 0, in one of the cars we hitchhiked to Krakow in, constantly in the dormitory, and finally, at my goodbye party. It was pretty much perfect.

Wednesday night, my last night with Jackie and Aydan (they left for a two-week trip to Scandenavia yesterday), we stayed awake until dawn packing and listening to music and giving each other Henna tattoos. Again, a perfect way to end this adventure.

As Marcin and Aydan and Jackie left the dormitory yesterday morning, I kept a stiff upper lip and we said goodbye in the best way possible. We all knew at the beginning that this wouldn't last forever, and it's necessary (in many ways) for it to end now. I might come back to Wroclaw someday, but I'll never be able to relive this summer. Of course, I'll miss my friends here and I'll miss this city, but more than anything, saying goodbye to this is a reminder that . . . you know, life goes on, we go through lots of things with lots of people, and if we stayed in one place forever, we'd miss out on a lot of other good things.

And now I'm on to other good things. From this point on, consider the title of this blog "The Falafel Diaries." See you in the holy land.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

DreadSong

Aydan went to Prague this weekend. I did not. Perhaps I should have gone on one last adventure, but I spent the time with Jackie and our new friend Marcin (the boy who picked us up in Zielona Gora) mentally preparing myself for my departure.

Saturday afternoon, I went out with some women from DUK. We just hung out and went for coffee, then lunch, then beers, and they insisted on paying for everything.

On Saturday night, I did laundry, and we stayed in my room working on Jackie's dreadlocks (yes, dreadlocks!) and eating pierogi. Sunday, we woke up and made lunch and didn't leave the dormitory until 4pm to meet Marcin's friends downtown. We went for coffee, then dinner, then beers. It was basically a perfect, lazy weekend in Poland.


Now I have three more days in Wroclaw before my flight to Tel Aviv. Tonight is our goodbye party (Jackie and Aydan are traveling on to Scandenavia for two weeks), but other than that, I plan to just walk around and do some last minute gift-buying and sight-seeing.

Winding down and reflection. Yes.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Kobiety!

Let me begin like this: You know how most offices might have a little kitchen area stocked with a few plates, coffee mugs, tea cups? Well, the Democratic Union of Women has a kitchen with plates, mugs, and cups -- in addition to a collection of about 20 shot glasses.

The women in the office surprised us yesterday with a traditional Polish lunch and with a 500-zloty stipend that we hadn't planned on receiving. (Guess who's buying gourmet pierogi for dinner!) I realize how lucky I was to have found this internship. It was absolutely perfect (despite my early doubts) and the organization was mostly concerned with teaching us about Polish hospitality. After lunch today, and after our final class, and after receiving our surprise stipend, the chairwoman of the organization (who I now realize is a semi-─▒mportant player in Polish politics) made us "taste" some Polish honey vodka. Everytime my shot glass was empty (it's a sipping vodka) the chairwoman would refill it and instruct me to drink. After 6 or 7 glasses, Aydan and I said our goodbyes, and stumbled out of work.

I feel like I've been saying goodbye to Wroclaw for the last two weeks, but I still have six more days until my flight actually leaves. Everyday is filled with foreshadowing of my departure. I don't have anything to do for the next week, and though I was originally planning on traveling during this time, I think I need to stay here and absorb a bit more. And attend the various goodbye parties planned for the summer interns. Though I haven't done much since I've been back from Warsaw, everything I do feels filled with signifigance.

Wednesday night, we made pasta at the dormitory and talked about our life plans. Thursday night, right after work, we went to another intern's apartment to make French Toast and drink apple beer. We invited Marcin, the student who gave Jackie and me a ride from Zielona Gora when we were hitchhiking back from Berlin. After French Toast, we went to the main square for a free outdoor film sponsored by Era New Horizons - an intnernational film festival happening now in Wroclaw. After the film, Marcin took Jackie and I to a few clubs and I finally made it home around 7:30 am. Yesterday, after the party at DUK, Aydan and I met some other interns to watch another free movie in the town square, followed by sandwiches at my favorite restaurant and beer at my favorite bar.

I was the one leading the other interns around Wroclaw, I was the one suggesting a good restaurant and a good bar. How weird is that?

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Warszawa

I'm travel weary and drinking diet coke at the office.

After Jackie and I got home from Berlin, I had six hours before my train to Warsaw with Aydan and Krisia from the DUK. The DUK decided to send us to the capitol city for three days so we could learn about Polish history and visit the regional office of DUK there.

My legs were numb from getting lost in Berlin, and then I was shuttled off to Warsaw to visit the parliament and various palaces. Let me tell you this: Warsaw has nothing on Berlin. Most of the Poles we talked to said Warsaw wasn't really worth seeing, but we went because DUK paid for everything.

We stayed in this terrible little place called a Botel - a dirty hostel that was "unique" in that it actually a boat and utilized the polluted, undeveloped Warsaw riverside as a dock. We had to climb to the top of a bridge to get a bus into the city proper every morning.

Warsaw was completely destroyed by the war, so there's nothing particularly beautiful or interesting about the architecture, and the rich history of the city doesn't make up for this. We walked around the former Warsaw Ghetto area, which is now a park with a bronze monument and unkept grass surrounded by soviet-style apartment buildings. There were a few quaint streets and it was generically European-looking, but nothing very interesting.

On Saturday morning, Aydan wants to hitchhike to Prague. I need a vacation from this vacation. It's not that I don't want to see Prague, I really do, but I also want to spend my last weekend in Wroclaw, hanging out with my friends here and making sure I appreciate this city before I leave it.

I can't believe that I only have about a week left here. I can't belive that for most people, a week is a very long trip. I can't believe that I thought two months was such a long time. I'm homesick in a very strange way. I miss English, I miss being able to ask for directions, I miss my friends and family, of course, but coming back from my weekend trips, as I walk down the street to my dormitory here, I can't believe how much it feels like home here too.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Auchtung!


Friday: Jackie and I woke up and left Pszegobowiecs around 7:30. We took a bus to the edge of town and stood by the highway. Three rides and a 2-Euro regional train later, we were in Berlin trying to find the apartment of the girl who agreed to host us for the weekend. We finally found her, in the middle of lovely Turkish neighborhood, and we dropped our stuff and went to explore Berlin.

Saturday: More exploring. First a very long stretch of the Berlin wall, then walking around some cool neighborhoods as advised by Mr. Stoler. We saw Tacheles, this bombed out shopping center that's been completely taken over by artists. Then back to our host's place to freshen up, then some parties. We were invited to a house party at a co-op. We walked there with some CouchSurfers we picked up at a previous party. We drank and shared travel stories until the sun started to rise. We walked back to our host's apartment and slept for a few hours.

Sunday: We woke up, had brunch with our host, and headed out. We got hopelessly, hopelessly lost trying to get out of Berlin. And then again in Zielona Gora, the town we ended up getting a lift to in Poland. Our last lift, though, was from a student who lives in Wroclaw and he gave us tons of advice about the town and Jackie and I assured him that if he's ever in the US, he would have a place to stay.

We were only in Berlin for 2 days, but after the first 5 minutes, I fell in love with it. We spent most of our time getting lost in the transit system, but it was still lovely. I didn't go on any tours or explore any museums, but I peeked around and took note of all the things I want to do when I can make it back some day. I could imagine transplanting myself there for a while. Maybe I'm inspired to start studying German?

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Dupa Biskupa

We were in Wroclaw for two days after the conference in Mazury before we headed out for another wild and crazy weekend. Our Aiesecer friend Jacek picked us up at 7:45pm on Friday. Two hours and a 120 zl trip to Auchan (another French-based Walmart-type megamart) later, we were at some lake outside of Wroclaw with Jacek and about 12 of his friends, stocked with provisions for the weekend: kielbasa, bread, beer, wine, vodka, and ramen noodles.

Friday night passed in a virtual haze of straight-from-the bottle drinking and learning dirty words in Polish. I was one of the last to go to sleep, and again found myself with 4 Polish guys who were more than happy to practice their English. Before I went to bed, they told me that I was a really tough girl. My dream of dreams. I spent the night in a slightly-larger-than-twin-sized bed with Jacek, who looks like a NASA scientist from the 50s.

Saturday was spent recouperating from the previous night. We played cards and layed by the lake all day. We got to know most of Jacek's friends, including Piotr. After I explained to Piotr that I was studying Women's Studies at my university, and gave him a brief introduction to what, exactly, that meant, he said something along the lines of: "I think it's really bad when people have so much confidence in their point of view that they think they can change the way other people act." To which I said something placating and sweet, of course, but I was actually kind of taken aback. That's how all of human history has progressed, isn't it? But this altercation didn't end in blows, and Piotr still called me a tough girl.


Sunday, we yawned and stretched and said goodbye to the lake before returning to Wroclaw around noon.

It was another amazing weekend in Poland, and I can't believe that it's one of my last. It was almost painful to meet all of Jacek's friends, knowing that I'll probably never see any of them again. There's an Aiesec phenomenon where, very rarely, interns fall in love with the places they visit, and end up extending their internship indefinately. I don't think I've come down with this bug, but I can easily imagine it.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Where Is This Train Headed?

There's not much journaling to do. We got back late last night from our Mazury vacation. I gave my presentation about women in the US and all of the committee members came up and kissed me afterwards and told me, in broken English or half-Polish, that I was a very good young woman. There was a poetry reading on the final evening (it was nice to listen to, even if I couldn't understand it), followed by a wine-tasting. The whole conference was lovely and chilly and I ate a lot of Polish food. On the train back, all of the women from the conference were in the same car. We filled four compartments. These women, all 30-60, brought provisions of beer and vodka, sandwiches stolen from the hotel buffet, and seemingly bottomless bags of peanuts. Half of our car was actually a freight room, which eventually turned into a dance hall. As we lost passangers at each small town between Mazury and Wroclaw, the women joined in singing some old Polish song about riding the rails. It was quaint and incredible and even though I didn't understand most of what was going on around me, it may have been a necessary experience.

So maybe now I can transition into something more abstract. I found myself at the conference, as I find myself in most places, looking very closely at the women around me. I felt silly, at first, coming to Poland for an internship. From all outward appearances, it seems like I'm trying to find myself, or something else equally silly. And maybe I am, but the fact that it's Poland, that it's the land of pierogis and kielbasa and my grandparents' parents, is actually much less imprortant than the fact that I'm just very far away from everything familiar. But this certainly doesn't stop me from really staring at the noses and lips and cheekbones of everybody around me, maybe trying to find a little bit of myself in them. So I spent a lot of the conference doing this, and thinking about how I ended up where I am.

Today, when I returned from this conference, Ben had sent me this link to a recent Times article. The article is about the Jewish culture festival that I accidentally happened upon in Krakow, the very evening after I visited Auschwitz. So I'm in Poland, exploring my roots, visiting Auschwitz and Jewish culture festivals, and very soon, I will be in Jerusalem. May I quote a bit of Plath without sounding desperate? . . . "I may be a bit of a Jew." But what does this mean for me? For a shiksa who didn't know any Jews until highschool? Do I suffer from the same potentially commercial philia that the city of Krakow suffers from? Or (this is the option I've been taking more seriously lately), is there something drawing (or pushing) me towards this end? Maybe I've just had too much free time in Europe and it's making me crazy, but I can't help feeling that there is some imminent revelation about to unfold itself to me.