If you’ve talked to me in the last year, it probably became obvious that, while I like Germany, I.Love.Poland. Poland holds my utmost love and respect. Poland was tough. A lot harder than Germany for a number of reasons. But I found strength I never knew there. I discovered a beauty that runs deep. I found balance in the organized chaos of life in Poland. I felt at home. I’ve lived enough places now that I don’t often feel homesick, but I miss Poland.
The number of things I love about Poland is endless. The food, and the smells that go with it. Smokey sausages cooking over campfires started in a park at 11 a.m. The homey scent of neighbors’ Sunday dinners wafting from screenless windows. The fishy stink of the Christmas carp that smacks your nostrils upon entering a grocery store the week before the holiday. Streetside grilled sandwiches and the sharp scent of kapusta and mushroom-filled pierogies. I want to always hold the memory of smells like acrid coal smoke heating homes and sweet, sweet linden trees. To me, these will always speak of Poland.
I love the sounds of Poland. Trams clattering down tracks in the city. The neighborhood dogs barking 24/7. The stubbornly difficult, awesome Polish language. The noisiest birds ever singing a chorus as the summer sun rises at 4 a.m. Neighbors blasting “Sto Lat!” (Happy Birthday/may you live 100 years) over speakers at parties down the street. The wail of emergency sirens all over the country on August 1, followed by the collective nation-wide moment of silence, in remembrance of the start of the Warsaw Uprising in WW2.
I love the unpolished look of the place. Often not outright visually appealing. Unkempt scenery you learn to love, because the beauty of this country runs far deeper than its skin. Coal soot-stained facades on gorgeous old buildings. Mountain-sized ruts in roads that have never been built or, in desperate need of repair (one can’t always be sure) lining the most glorious tree tunnels in the countryside. Vinyl ad signs that pop up on everything as soon as you cross the border. Stork nests on barns. The most colorful old town squares.
I love the way Poland touched my heart. I’ll never forget the triumphant pride that went along with accomplishing the simplest task communicated through the stubborn language barrier. Feeling simultaneous amusement, and frustration when someone flatly told me something I would normally deem possible, was impossible. Poland has a depth of history that was new to me, and the more I dove into it, the more I came to understand and respect the people of the country. The more I stepped back and looked at home from afar, the more I was able to see and understand why and how my own country has grown to become what it is today.
Are we starting to get it? I’ll go on.
I love Poland like I love the Chicago Cubs. The two have much in common. They are both long-established institutions, who lost for a reeeeeally long time. But you’d never pity them, and you’d never call them the underdog. Because in the midst of- and despite- their losing streak, they held onto their unfailing sense of self through their culture, language, and traditions. No matter what, they carried themselves with a humble pride that would never demand respect, but which you willingly give. Once they won, they were able to carry on as they had been for hundred(s) of years, because they had never really “lost it”. Wrigley field might be old, you might have a seat with a partial view of the field and a partial view of the back of an I-beam, it has seen a hundred changes in the neighborhood around it, but if it weren’t for Wrigley field, the neighborhood wouldn’t be the neighborhood. Ya know?
Poland is like your favorite grandmother. She’s been through a lot and has the wrinkles to show it. She’s slow to smile, but when she does her warmth is infectious. She is magic in her kitchen. She will whip up something delicious out of the humblest ingredients. Her home is old, and unfashionable. Renovations are well past-due. But you marvel at her priceless treasures from ages long gone. She is slow and stuck in her ways. She knows what’s important, and doesn’t sweat the rest. Grandmother Poland isn’t afraid to walk through the forest, play loud music, wear the bikini, eat the cake, go to church, drink the vodka, smoke the cigarette, and bend the rules just a little, or a lot.
In conversation with Europeans, it often seems to me that they look down on Poland. My Polish doctor warned me when I moved to Germany the doctor here would want to repeat tests because “they were done in Poland”. Sure enough, I politely refused the repeat testing, pointing out the results that even I, an American RN could clearly interpret. When discussing our time living in Europe with an Italian woman, she wrinkled her nose and said, “Poland is just kind-of there in the middle”. As if its existence was simply maintaining space. Even my Polish neighbor in Poland was convinced I would like Germany more. Like I said, I like Germany. But I love Poland.