It’s L’s first day at a Polish school, picking up with the kindergarten kids for their final two weeks of school. She was upset the night before: “I don’t want to go!” was a common tearful refrain. “I don’t want to go” are the first words out of her mouth this morning. But a little bribery works wonders: “After school, we’ll stop in at Steskal’s for an ice cream cone, and later today, we’ll go visit a toy store.”
And so off we go, heading through the fields to school — another “only in rural Poland” moment.
We meet with the director (not, it turns out, my former student, which is odd: I had two students with the exact same name, and now this makes the third female in this small area with the same first and last name), and she leads us to L’s teacher. Each class is given a name like “Bumble Bees” and “Dragons” and this and that: a real mix of names. L has joined the “Forget-Me-Nots”.
It’s a colorful room with an original bit of decoration in the middle.
The first few minutes she’s very clingy. She doesn’t want to participate; she doesn’t want to speak; she doesn’t even want to show her face, literally. I coax her to a table of girls, and I begin chatting with them, hoping L will join in. They all introduce themselves, we talk a bit, and slowly L begins to come out of her shell. She eventually asks for a copy of the work the children are completing.
Before long, the kids circle up, sitting “Turkish style” (a direct translation of the Polish equivalent of criss-cross-applesauce). Then there are games, marching, chanting, singing, generally silliness. L takes part, somewhat reluctantly.
Soon it’s time for the “second breakfast” (i.e., snack), and as the children are washing up, the teacher tells me that after snack, they’re going to be the next in line to go out and look at the firetruck that has been sitting in front of the school most of the morning — sort of a guided tour of a firefighter’s world.
As we head out, another “rural Polska” moment, for we have to wait as an elderly dziadek drives his equally old tractor down the street, a tractor so old with such a weak engine that it has difficulty going over the speed bump. The driver has to throw it in reverse, getting up a little more momentum the second time, to roll over the bump.
We cross the street and the presentation begins. The firefighters show the kids their oxygen masks, their aspirators, their hoses, their helmets — in a word, everything.
Afterward, we all head back inside for the latest installment of Cała Polska Czyta Dzieciom — All of Poland Reads to Its Children, roughly translated. Representatives of various professions have been coming to the school to read to the children, and today, it was a police officer’s turn.
Of course all the children are interested in one thing, and one thing only: the officer’s pistol. The officer take the clip from the gun, gives it a tug to release any shell that might already be chambered, then holds it up for everyone to see. Since Poland, like most of Europe, has very strict limits on citizens’ gun ownership rights (in short, there are none), most of these children have never seen a pistol in person (except on the belt of a police officer). It’s a nine millimeter with a six-bullet magazine, the officer explains, and there’s significant “Ooo’ing” and “Ahh’ing.” I find myself thinking that had this happened in the States, some kid in the group would have raised his hand to explain that someone in his family has a nine millimeter with a seventeen-bullet magazine.
But we’re not in the States, and the gun produces the intended reaction, and as the children exit the room, the story has disappeared into a fog of chatting about the pistol, especially among the boys.
But L has other things on her mind: there’s a picture that’s still only partially colored.
After school, as we walk with ice cream cones to the roar of tractor trailer trucks heading to Slovakia (“This is an international throughway now,” Babcia has explained more than once), we talk about the day. L decides tomorrow she can stay a little longer, then Wednesday, the whole day. Provided we go to the flea market first.
She’s turning Polish faster than I thought possible.