Caffeine commemorations

Oh, sweet caffeine. Right as I’m writing this, my cup of coffee is standing next to me. Almost empty, unfortunately. Though I always like a good cappuccino in the afternoon, I must say that today I needed it. Let me tell you one thing: waking up at 3:45 am every weekday is quite a thing to do.

Quite exhausting, to be precise. I remember that once I wrote a friend about what hell was for me. I wrote that it meant waking up at 4 am every day, eating cat food and doing useless things all day. Except for the cat food, I’m living that hell. I wake up so early to go cleaning, that’s my job for a month, but in fact dust always returns. But of this is hell, well, it could be worse. I didn’t know it would pay so well here…!

Luckily, we take coffee breaks while cleaning, which are the moments I look forward to just a little too much. They have good coffee there, I have to say. Twice every morning, I have my cup of caffeine, and that makes me happy. I’m not even sure whether it wakes me up or not, but at least it gives me a break and liquid. It doesn’t matter whether the caffeine wakes me up, or the action of drinking something, as long as it does something. Needless to ay I’ve come to appreciate a good cup of coffee. I’m no longer stating that it tastes like plants (which I did when I was about 6 years old).

I’ve only recently discovered that I do have some coffee moments that I will never forget. Not only all these coffees at work will be whirling around in my memory forever. Coffee moments can be very intertwined with a wide range of emotions. Who knew!? The coffees at work remind me of the fact that I’m actually able to get up and work at 3:45 am every day, which is a very comforting thought.

Equally as comforting was the coffee moment on my last travel in Poland. It was a part-time solo trip, which I enjoyed more than I could have foreseen. Unfortunately I shared a hostel with very young and very loud people (I would have gladly thrown them into a well). So on the second day, I was very tired and I decided to go have a coffee. I ended up in a brown sofa in a cosy cafe, with barely any people, very good coffee, and my Polish book. It felt good. I was walking around all alone, sat there on my own, and I liked it. This trip made me realize that I’m okay with going to a cafe on my own. That feeling is worth a lot.
Also: very good coffee for not that much money!

Somewhat more sad was the coffee moment the day before leaving Poland. I had high hopes that I could go for a long walk past all the most important places that day, but unfortunately it was drizzling and raining all day. After having packed almost everything, the apartment felt too sad and empty to stay, so I went to our nearby coffee bar and had a very good and big cappuccino. Sadness was inevitable, as the weather was gruesome and the apartment too empty, but having that big, good coffee there was surely a good decision. A decent goodbye where all others failed because of the rain.

Last week I finally finished my bachelor paper and turned it in on the hottest day of the week. I wore my very much adored long black dress, put the thing where it belonged (far, far away from me!) and went for a coffee. By accident I was served by someone I vaguely know, who started speaking Russian with me (how painfully hard that was for me…!) and paid my coffee. It baffled me in the best possible way. Some people are so kind, I love it. While I was drinking this coffee and reading a bad book, someone I adore quite much showed up and we spent a good (warm) afternoon together. The free coffee and pleasant talk in Russian was a good start for this all.

On a related coffee moment, when my parents visited me in Poland, we had a coffee in a place where you had to order at the bar. So I stood there translating from Dutch to Polish. Apparently this caught the attention of the barista, who started asking me how I knew Polish, what and where I was studying and so on. It was hard to understand him, because he was making our coffee with loud machines, but we talked nevertheless. When the coffee was ready and paid, he shook my hand and said: “It was nice meeting you.”
I think I needed more than an hour to grab myself together. How often do baristas tell you “it was nice meeting you?”. How often do they shake your hand? I was genuinely overwhelmed. My parents started planning our wedding immediately. I honestly don’t even remember whether the cappuccino was good or not, but I think it was. At least it was the most memorable barista ever.

Very subtly coffee fought its way into my life and managed to be a part of some memorable moments. Who knew that the drink that tastes like plants would become a source of inspiration for a blog post? (This goes both for the coffee and the blog, actually.) Above all these moments remind me of the fact that actually, I can do a lot more than I thought. I can travel alone, live abroad, get up at 3:45 am, it’s all possible. All you need is good quality coffee. Isn’t that wonderful?

Inspired by Top 5 Coffee Moments (with some tm thing that I cannot reproduce) by Nicholas Conley.

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Once upon a time in a coffee bar

Once upon a time, when I still lived in Poland, I was working in a very atmospheric little coffee bar close to my home. The coffee was very good and very cheap as well, in comparison to my country and other cities. Of course I didn’t live in Warsaw. There were bikes hanging at the wall, even better, bikes cut in half. The menu was taped on vinyl plates. It was a great and quiet place, perfect for work.

So I sat there, trying to do something useful though I couldn’t focus – nothing new. Then I noticed that the music was getting quite 80s. There is some special beat about this music, which makes it easy for me to put songs into categories. It’s such a “danceable” beat, you know. Take any 80s song and you’ll know what I mean.

So they put on this cd with the unmistakable 80s beat, and modern as I am, I shazamed it. (For those who are like I once was: shazam is an application that recognises music. Sometimes. Anything but classical in my experience.) It turned out to be SoKo.

SoKo? I’ll kill her SoKo?

Exactly. Apparently she has this 80s inspired cd now, which was just perfect to put on when I was packing all my things on the rainy last day in Poland. The catchiest (apparently this is not a word, but I’m keeping it anyway) songs are Who wears the pants? , My Precious and Temporary Mood Swings. Then I stumbled upon the white raven, as we say here. One of the songs on the cd wasn’t like the others. It was a quiet, sad break up song. I played it almost on repeat.

From then on, I have been stumbling on more songs of her, which without exception were played almost on repeat. I don’t know what it is, but something about those songs catches my eye, or rather, my ear, and makes me addicted. After Keaton’s song, as described above, there was Don’t you touch me, which has this beautiful sad anger about it. It beautifully builds up to a climax. Great song when you are struggling with liking someone who doesn’t like you back.

On a quiet, not peaceful evening before the exam I still had to take here, I put on I’ve been alone too long, and immediately had a new target to play on repeat. It fitted the situation a bit. I was almost all alone in the city of my university, where I dramatically didn’t want to be. As soon as I arrived in that city, I felt everything overwhelming me. Everything I had been through there flushed over me and fucked my mind up. I was happy to stay over at my brother’s place there, so I wouldn’t be confronted with more memories. While revising, I put the song on repeat. It has this calmness that I need when I revise.

The exam went well, and I spent a great day there, with friends, beer and sun. I crawled out of the wave of memories, luckily.

I’m still not free, because I have to finish my bachelorpaper. Since I write on a computer, modern as I am, I play music all the time. It’s extremely boring when you work without music, isn’t it? So I clicked on yet another SoKo song, Why do you treat me like you do? , which is a cover. It has a sort of country thing to it, although it’s not country. Lovely to sing along, I can tell you that. Catchy, but in a very different way than the 80s style songs. But catchy still!

Right now, my latest crush is Treat your woman right, which is an equally sad song about loving someone who doesn’t like you back. (Okay, I may have issues, what about it?) Above all the haunting humming makes this so very touching for me. It’s hard to explain what it is, but it has this feeling to it, this atmospheric sad feeling. I try not to kill it by playing it too much, but that’s hard. I could hear it all day. And I am hearing it all day. I can’t stop it.

This is a serious music crush, as you can see. I like the way this music is intertwined with my life though. It’s not important whether I relate to the lyrics or not, although I do for a part of course, because the music in itself is enough to make its way into my head and heart. Next to that it reminds me of the time spent in the coffee bar, of the rainy day I spent packing, the strange evening spent in the city of my university, and everything that came after. Life is unexplainable and unpredictable. And life needs a soundtrack. For the moment, mine is SoKo.

Home is where the heart is, they say

Life just keeps going.

In about two weeks I moved my life back from Poland to Belgium, and I’ve done my last exam here. For this year, at least. As soon as I settled down a little here, I had to start studying again. Let’s just say I jump from one thing into the other without catching a break. Right now, I’m working on my bachelor thesis as well – because that thing has to be finished as soon as possible, before I start working.

I’m one busy creature. Maybe it’s for the better, so I don’t get all too nostalgic to Poland. During the last weeks, I felt as if my life there had finally become the life I wanted to have there. Leaving that country was not something I was looking forward to. Things were going well, my Polish was improving, life looked good, but then I had to return home.

Which of course isn’t so bad either. I’m happy to see my family again, that’s for sure! And when I was at a cafe with friends, I had to admit that life in Belgium has its very, very good sides. The biggest downside is that everyone speaks Dutch. What am I doing here if I can’t improve my other languages? I’ve never felt so sure that I want to go to Russia. Despite all the effort and stress and waiting, I have to go to Russia. I want my Russian to become even more fluent than my Polish, and I know that it’s possible. Also, I know that after two months here, I will be longing to something different again.

I can notice that I have changed these past months. (Luckily – what is the point of doing something like this if you don’t notice any difference?) In short, I think it is independency. I don’t need people to feel at ease, I don’t need people to cook for me. It’s very much appreciated if I have them around, and having my parents helping me out is great, it’s awesome! But my point is, if they wouldn’t cook and wash and do stuff for me, I would be able to do it for myself. That is a great feeling. Also, try to impress me – I speak Polish and Russian and traveled on my own with two heavy suitcases to Poland. You won’t knock me off my feet all that easily!

If home is where your heart is, then I will have many homes. I think my heart will be shattered all over the world. I went to Poland and made it mine. A little piece of my heart is still there.

And that’s how I like it. These five months have made me more independent and more fluent in Polish, and at the same time they made Poland like a second home for me. It’s not always been easy and fun, but in the end it was worth the effort. This is an experience I will always carry with me.

Now who wants some pierogi!

Tindering

Everything for the sake of speaking Polish fluently.

That is my motto. And I’m working really hard to live by it. So hard even that I did what I shouldn’t have done…

… I went on Tinder.

I sacrificed my reputation and privacy, but it’s all for the sake of talking Polish more often. Nevertheless this turned out to be a good social experiment as well. Find a place where people can show themselves, and you find the true nature of human kind. I promise you. This Tinder thing has been an adventure, but at least a funny one, so I decided to share it with you.

First of all, if you’re not familiar with Tinder, let me explain. It’s an app, connected to your facebook, where you can display yourself by pictures and if wanted a few words about yourself (with a limit, of course). The app will show other people your first picture, your name and your age, and they can swipe. Left means ‘no’, right means ‘yes’. You get to swipe pictures as well, within a chosen age category and distance. If you both swipe right, you have a match and you can talk.

In short, smartphone speed dating.

I put on three pictures, one of which not even showing my face (but with some lovely mountains in the background, that’s why I love the picture) and a caption stating I have to speak Polish fluently by the end of June. And there we went. Swipe swipe swipe. You have no idea how addicting it is to judge people by their pictures! Also, at first I had a lot of guys of course. So I kept on swiping and swiping and had a good laugh.

My experiment led to this model of the Average Polish Guy. His name is Michal, Mateusz, Kuba or something along those lines. He loves fitness and he likes to show off his six pack. If he doesn’t have a six pack, he will show off his car/motor bike. Those are loved immensely as well. Selfies are not a problem here, not even for guys. It’s okay if you take a picture in the mirror, with your phone clearly visible and you staring at your screen. He takes himself very seriously.

You can imagine what I’m talking about. This app is not only for speed dating, it’s also to brag with how strong you are or how fancy your car is, and that’s a very serious matter for some. This also shows in the “moments” – you can take a picture with a caption, and all of your matches will be able to see it for 24 hours. Again, you can swipe left or right. There’s a lot of attnetion whoring going on with those moments. Sometimes just a plain selfie, sometimes withh a caption that barely hides how it’s all about showing off.
Sometimes it goes even further. Then you have a match, so you think he’s somewhat interested (even if it’s just trying to get laid!), so you say something (for the sake of talking Polish) and then… he doesn’t answer. Oh well, it’s okay, I understand that you needed the match to boost up your self-esteem! It’s better not to start talking to anyone. Yesterday I couldn’t sleep, so I said to my latest match ‘Hey :)’. He actually answered (‘Hallo’), which shocked me.

Although, if they start talking, you’re in for a nice conversation for a while. Mostly it will end soon, but hey, at least you’ve talked Polish for a while! Not telling where I am from seemed to be a good idea, because I’ve had a few people asking me that. They all guessed wrong, one by one. And I had a good time not telling them of course. Who would ever guess you’re from Belgium? My name isn’t very Belgian either, which made it hard for them. I’m merciless, you know. Some managed me to flatter though, by saying I have a beautiful name. I’ve also had people ask me why I had to speak Polish fluently at the end of June. But the majority didn’t seem to notice that it’s somewhat strange how a foreigner can talk Polish quite well. (Quite well because of dictionaries.) That’s something that keeps surprising me: some people don’t seem to be wondering at all why someone, clearly not Polish, speaks some Polish.

o-TINDER-APP-facebook

I’ve met one interesting guy, who was also into languages. We had a good, long conversation and we even met. In my beloved park. It was nice talking to him, because I could understand him, and that’s always a pleasure. Also, talking to people who learn languages themselves is often better, because they understand how difficult it can be sometimes. Unfortunately we never managed to meet again, which also seems to be a sign that he might not be so eager to. It’s a pity, but I’m not the one to beg for attention.

I also had another ‘date’ (I call everything a date) with another foreign student. As it turned out, it’s easier to talk Polish with a native speaker than to speak English with a foreign student. Pity. He was a nice guy, but I don’t want to feel like I have to keep the conversation going all the time. He did remember my birthday though, which was very kind.

By far the most hilarious thing I had, was when my parents were visiting me and we went to Warsaw. A certain evening we were at a restaurant when suddenly a few Italian guys came in, sat down, and took their phones before even watching the menu. Get your priorities straight, people. You’re so close to food! They also managed to complain to the waiter that it took too long to prepare the food. In Italian. As if that would work. One of the guys was clearly on Tinder, swiping everyone right. Pathetic. At a certain moment he suddenly started staring at me, so I thought ‘oh dear, maybe he saw me there…’. I acted natural. (Haha. Sure.) That evening I went on Tinder and started swiping.

I found him.

We had a match. He then said ‘hey, we ate in the same restaurant yesterday!’, but in bad English. I said something along the lines of ‘haha, I already thought so!’. His next message was literally: ‘Tonight fuck?’ I almost laughed out loud, then said ‘Are you serious? Because no.’ He still tried, saying I was beautiful, that I could ditch my parents and go to a restaurant with him, that it was his last night there. I politely explained that I didn’t want to. Politely, because after all it’s Tinder.

He wasn’t even that good-looking, actually.

I’ve come to the point where there are barely new people to swipe, so it’s getting boring. There’s not interesting going on at the moment, no conversations (unless some of them will still answer), so we’re through it. If you were thinking of trying it, I can recommend it for being very funny and interesting form an antropologic point of view. But just yesterday I read an article about a women who tried dating via Tinder for a year, she went on a date fifty times, and yet no man found. I’m not looking for a boyfriend there, at all, but if you would think of using Tinder for that purpose, I will have to disappoint you. They’re just too busy admiring their six pack to actually talk to you…

A cool housewive to be

Let me tell you something: the smell of mint tea can be one of the best things ever. Whatever the hour is, or wherever you are – mint tea never gets old. It smells like peace and quiet. We used to have our own mint in the garden, and then we would have real fresh mint tea. That was great.

Good, so far the philosophical rant on tea. You know, time really flies when you are trying to make your life work out. I’ve been here for two weeks now, which is not all that long. The past week I finally bought myself a desk lamp, for when I will actually start to do homework. So far I haven’t had too many classes yet, so not so much homework. So far, that is. I also bought coat hangers. These details, as it seems, can make your life be more like your life, and not like some kind of temporarily state. Because it is for four months. Everything here should feel like it belongs to me when I leave. The city as well. But for someone with my sense of orientation I’m doing a good job, I think! Maybe this is just an easy city or something.

Living here is not bad at all. It already feels quite comfortable. I don’t mind doing things on my own, I don’t even mind not becoming friends with all of my classmates immediately. Maybe that’s because I think it’s very cool that I do this, living abroad like this. It gives me some sort of strong feeling. I’m really doing this! I’m really cooking for myself everyday, I’m doing the dishes, the laundry, I even sewed the broken pocket of my winter coat. All of this sounds like I’m turning into a housewive, but somehow I find myself really cool for just doing it. And for talking Polish and Russian! However slowly it happens to be, I can talk to the people here, I can order food and drinks and I can aks for information. I even follow courses in Polish. Which is very hard and sometimes overwhelming, but still, I’m really doing it. Which is cool.

I start to take great pride in the fact that I speak six languages. Well, that’s exaggerated, because I’m not fluent in six language, but if I have to, I can talk in six languages. And however stupid and discouraging it can be, it proves itself worth it completely.

So me is doing well here 🙂 How are you guys?

Worry not…

… I haven’t decided to go living under a rock! However appealing that may be sometimes, I still prefer a duvet. My absence here is actually not because I’ve been hiding from life, but because I’ve been living very much. The past week I went on a skiing holiday, which was so awesome. We were part of a group, though we didn’t know a lot of people of this very group. But it’s entertaining to have all these new and kind people around you. It gives some variety, you know. Next to that, the snow was brilliant. Amazing. Perfect! I can’t remember ever having had suchgood conditions. Temperatures slightly below zero, ‘fresh’ snow, sunlight – it was almost too good to be true.

Well, actually, some people had bad luck, but overall I think for me this holiday was very, very good. It made all my worries about going to Poland and about my grades disappear like snow in the sun, as we say it here. (See what I did there?) As soon as I got home, it started again though.

snow

SNOOOOW source

 

On Monday I traveled to Poland, on my own. I’ve never traveled alone before. And it wasn’t just taking a plane, it was also taking a taxi and a train, with two heavy cases, and all in Polish. Huzzah! But with the help of the very kind and helpful Polish man, and people in general, all went well. Also, on the plane I had a very kind neighbour girl. We talked in Polish for the full two hours. She was so very kind, a lot of good karma must come her way!

So all went well, and now I’m not scared of anything anymore. (In theory, at least. But still. I feel a little badass.)

I got my grades on that very same Monday, but needless to say I thought all the travel stress was enough for one day. The next day though I couldn’t escape anymore. There are some reasons as to why I couldn’t postpone anymore, and there are some reasons why a failed class would be a giant problem. You see, I don’t have a room in the city of my university anymore, because I rented one of another girl who was gone for the semester. So technically the room was always hers. But when you fail a class, you have to retake the exam, so you have to be in the city of the university.
Which only adds to the joy of looking at yout grades, am I right?

But no stress was need, ’cause I passed them all! And some with flying colours. Especially my languages, which are very important to me, were very good. Oh the happiness, the relief! My friend and now flatmate and I opened a bottle of ‘something’ to celebrate. She got the bottle from another friend and didn’t know what it was. It turned out to be a sort of sweet bubbly wine thing. Lemonade with alcohol basically. But hey, it was good to celebrate!

So that’s what I have been doing for the last week(s). Also, I started a new blog, in my own native language this time, to keep my family and friends updated on what’s going on in my life. (For privacy reasons I’m not sharing the link.) This means though that all my wild adventures (that are hopefully yet to come!) will be posted there and not here. You will get to hear some things about Poland, but mainly this blog is going to be the same as it was. I don’t know if that’s good or bad news to you, but hey, I hope you’re at least happy that I’m still gonna be here 😉

Update: the not really news

My mind is occupied by Russia, Poland and visa right now. It has been the entire holiday already… ANd now we’ve got some more news. Well, “news”. To be honest, it’s not even really news. It’s guessing.

You know, the 7th of August I send an e-mail to the university in Russia I want to go to in two weeks. They answered saying they didn’t have information about us.
The 11th of August, the day our coordinator returned, I called him and explained the situation. He said he thought everything was okay and said he’d take care of it.
A few days later, I called him to ask how things were going. There was still no news.
Yesterday, the friend who would go to the same university went to see our coordinator. He said that he still hadn’t got an answer from Russia. Apparently, making the invitation we need in order to get the visa, takes a month. So we won’t be going to Russia until half September. And that’s the optimistic take. It’s more likely that we miss at least an entire month.

Needless to say I wasn’t happy to hear this. It isn’t even real news. It’s half news. It’s guessing. Now the questions rise as well. Is missing a month very bad? Can I still go to Poland for a year? Does the university in Russia really know we are coming now?

Today I sent a mail to Russia asking if they were really making our invitations, and one to our coordinator, asking if going to Poland for a year is still an option. And now I’m waiting again. At least I am sending mails around. I do what I can to get answers and to arrange this all. No one can ever say I didn’t try. I have sent mails to Russia in Russian, I have called our coordinator as soon as he returned, three times that day, until he answered the phone. I called him again though he had said he would e-mail us if he got more news. I have sent two more e-mails today.

And now we’ll wait again. At least I have done something again. It takes away a little part of the powerless feeling I got.

I WANT TO GO TO RUSSIA. How hard can it be?

 

Just to clarify: I also really want to go to Poland, but since I just have to send some documents for that, the desire is calm and peaceful. But since going to Russia is so hard, I want it more and more.

Why my holiday sucks…

– I don’t have a job for this summer.

– So I feel like I can’t do anything fun because everything costs money.

– But everyone is doing fun stuff like festivals and trips abroad.

– My friends go to Poland. POLAND. And I can’t come with them because I have no job. And I’m the one studying Polish. Irony.

– Because I got the mail saying I don’t have a job while I was studying for an exam, I failed it.

– And I have to do it again, but it will take some weeks to find out when exactly.

– Talking to my friends would mean listening to their descriptions of the nice stuff they’ve done and the work they’re doing (which I understand, but it’s too painful to listen to).

– So basically my holiday looks like this: sitting at home and thinking of what a goddamn shitty holiday this is.

Fuck my life.

The Blind Spots in History # 2: Hidden Holocaust Numbers

“The Holocaust(…) was the mass murder or genocide of approximately six million Jews during World War II, a programme of systematic state-sponsored murder by Nazi Germany, led by Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, throughout German-occupied territory.”
That’s the definition Wikipedia gives. A few sentences later on, this is said: “Some scholars argue that the mass murder of the Romani and people with disabilities should be included in the definition, and some use the common noun “holocaust” to describe other Nazi mass murders, including those of Soviet prisoners of war, Polish and Soviet civilians, and homosexuals.”

During this post, I’ll use the term ‘Holocaust’ seeing it as the whole extermination of Jews, people with disabilities, gays, etc. Mostly (at least over here) the term is used in that way. People seem to define this often as the extermination of Jews ‘and gypsies, gays and so on’. But right here, we’re touching on the raw. It is most certainly true that many Jews were killed (the numbers are terrifying). But only a small amount of people seem to know all the numbers and all the facts.

You may have heard of the Polish citizens who put crosses in Auschwitz (I think it was over there). The world was somewhat shocked – they were putting crosses on a place where millions of Jews had died! Did no one wonder why they did so? There are reasons behind everything. These crosses were put there because the Polish people want the world to acknowledge the truth, the whole truth, and not just the truth we get to hear in history class.

This is the truth.
Six million Jews died.
Six million Polish citizens died.
Three million Polish Jews died. That’s nearly all of the Jews living in Poland at that point.
But there were also three million not-jewish Polish citizens who died. Which means that this isn’t just a jewish tragedy. But who knows about this numbers? I never heard of this before I went to university and had a class on Polish history. It’s like the world has buried this part. At some point people must have closed their eyes to this, so they only saw the jewish side of this story.

It was a tragedy as well for the Jews, of course. That’s pretty obvious. But after all, we shouldn’t keep our eyes closed because we pity them. Finkelstein, a Jew, wrote a book criticizing the exploitation of the Holocaust. He says it’s pretty impossible to say anything bad about the jewish faith or the Jews, because of what happened to them. But let us not forget that the entire Holocaust situation is too often used for jewish concerns. Who dares to say the Jews have no right to be in Israel? No one. I’m not saying they don’t have the right to live there, but they’re building a wall over there.

They’re building a wall and claiming the land.

We know what walls are. They don’t mean peace or fairness. Call me old-fashioned, but I think this is a bad thing. And the Holocaust should not be used as an excuse to do whatever you want. Do not exploit tragedies this way.

But above all I want to tell you that many not-jewish Polish citizens died as well during the Holocaust, and they are too often forgotten. The Polish people aren’t anti-Semitic because they’ve been putting crosses at the extermination camps. They just want to show the truth. They want the world to know the right numbers.

So spread the word.

I’ve got these numbers from my history class. If I’m mistaken somewhere, I sincerely apologise. Our professor knows a lot of Polish history and has done a lot of research over there. He knows what he is talking about, so any mistake is mine. The information on Finkelstein’s book comes from his as well, and from Wikipedia. I haven’t read it myself. I’m no expert at the Jewish concerns and Israel. But they are for sure building a wall.

You like Polish history? Michael Cargill is writing a story on the Warsaw Ghetto – an equally interesting and tragic part in Poland’s history. Plus: he has published paperback books! Just sayin’.

The Blind Spots in History # 1

2 April 2005. My family and I are returning from a holiday we spent skiing in France. We’re at nightfall, and we’ve just crossed the Belgian border. Though we still have to ride for a few hours, it feels like coming home. We can switch to a Belgian radio station again, right when the news reader starts talking.
“Today, pope John Paul II has died.”

The pope had died. That was everything the eleven year old me thought at that moment. Little did I know he was Polish, that I’d be studying Polish 7 years later on, that I’d be discovering things I never knew anything about. There are blind spots in history that should not be there. We should know the stories behind people and actions without ignoring some parts of it. We should uncover what’s been covered up somehow and spread the word.

Many people knew John Paul || as an old man who had trouble speaking. He was a pope, yes, but there’d been many more popes – what made him special? He was against abortion and gay marriage and all that – pretty predictable as he represents the catholic faith. But he was the first non-Italian pope in many, many years. Why was this ‘tradition’ broken after so many decades?

To answer that question, let’s go back in time. All of which I’ll be talking here, happened before I was born, or before I could somehow understand what was going on in the world and why. As a great deal of you are older than me, you probably already know a lot about this. But still.
Communism is our starting point. Everyone knows communism – due to this ideology (and stubbornness and stuff) the world has been divided for many years. It was the ruling ideology in Russia, but not only there. Russia was enormously powerful (though poor and hungry as well – weapons cannot be eaten…) and forced other countries as well to have a communist government. This is somewhat easily said, but it would take too long to explain that part of history. You get my point, though. Hopefully at least…

From 1944, Poland was a client state of the Soviet Union. This meant Poland got a communist government. This wasn’t considered fun. The main idea of communism is to live side by side, everyone being equal, everyone getting treated the same way. This all sounds very good. The point is, human beings are simply not able to live this way. There’ll always be leaders and followers. In reality communism was less about equality than about the government controlling the people. They used secret services of security. Communism became paranoia. There were still leaders and followers. There wasn’t really freedom after all.

People protested against that, somehow. It must have been a tricky thing to do, but still, some people didn’t shut their mouth to comply. (These people always get my respect… Can’t help it.) And with the pope supporting them (by being a pope and saying things you could interpret in two ways), in the end the people won. In March 1989, months before the Wall fell, communists and Solidarność, the famous Polish syndicate sat around the table together, and elections were organised. they weren’t entirely free, but still it gave Solidarność the opportunity to win. So Poland sort of defeated communism before any other country could in fact free itself.

‘John Paul II has been credited with being instrumental in bringing down communism in Central and Eastern Europe, by being the spiritual inspiration behind its downfall and catalyst for “a peaceful revolution” in Poland’, says Wikipedia. He gave speeches that encouraged people, he went back to Poland to show them he supported them. Or how to bring communism down without using violence. In the end, the people won. And that’s a great thing.

There are more blind spots I will tell you about. Perhaps you already know them, perhaps not – either way, there are many things people should be aware off. I’ll do my best to tell untold stories here.