I first came to Poland in June 1996. I arrived, in fact, on 3 June 1996. I can remember the exact day though I have trouble remember the exact date of my parents’ wedding anniversary (theÂ seventh of June, not the ninth) because it was the beginning of a “grand adventure,” so to say: three years in the Peace Corps.
(That still doesn’t explain why I can’t remember my folks’ anniversary until it’s too late, but never mind.)
>How did it come about that I was sent toÂ Polandin the Peace Corps? It is strange to realize that now – Poland is a member of NATO and the EU. But in 1996, I arrived with about seventy other Peace Corps Volunteers to “change the world.” Or at least Poland.Poland invited the Peace Corps sometime in the early nineties. Most of the volunteers were “Small Business” volunteers (i.e., intended to help foster capitalism), environmental volunteers, and English teaching volunteers (who made up thevast majority).
My group was the twelfth in Poland. I believe there were two more groups after mine, then the Polish branch was closed down.
So much for the history of the Peace Corps in Poland. How did I originally get there?
When I first started thinking about joining the Peace Corps (remember those spots on TV: “The toughest job you’ll ever love.”), I wanted to go to Central America. “No can do,” they told me during the interview. “How about Africa?” They suggested Africa because I’d studied a little French in college. (When I say “I studied French,” I mean that in the loosest sense – I took the two years of required foreign language study at King College, and now I would be hard pressed to say, “Can I have some milk, please?”) “Africa it is,” I replied, only to get more information later: “We actually need people in Eastern Europe. Are you willing?”
I’d been preparing myself mentally for two years of heat; suddenly, I had to prepare myself for two years of cold.
I was given the choice between Bulgaria, Moldova, Kazakstan (“Eastern Europe?” I thought. I suppose they counted the former Soviet Union as one big Eastern European blob.), Poland, and another one.
I chose Poland because of the music ofÂ Henryk Góreck.
To say that Poland is special to me is an understatement. For more than six years it’s been my home, and I’ve traveled through quite a lot of it, though I would hesitate to say “extensively.”
My first stay in Poland lasted three years. I came back in 2001 with the intention of staying a year.
I stayed a bit longer.
I write this while still in Poland, but tend to write as if I’ve already returned to the States.
I lived in Lipnica Wielka, which means “Great Lipnica.” Lipnica is situated at the bottom of Babia Góra.
The nearest neighboring village wasÂ Jabłonka(pronounced “Ya-bwan-ka”). My wife grew up there.
Jabłonka is a bit larger population than Lipnica, but don’t let anyone tell you it’s a “town” will Lipnica is a backwater village. (There’s a bit of rivalry between the villages, as one might expect.)
Whenever I needed a bit of “culture” (i.e., a decent meal at a good restaurant or a outing to the cinema) I went toÂ Nowy Targ. It doesn’t look like it from the first impression I’ve presented here at right, but it is a genuine “town.” You might even call it a “city” if you’re feeling frisky.
Zakopane (“buried”) was for nature (i.e., long walks in the valleys, hikes in the mountains). It’s sort of like the American Gatlenburg.
Kraków was for city life (i.e., symphony, theater, etc.). It’s unlike any city in the States, so what’s the point of comparing. LikeÂ Prague, Kraków was one of the cities Hitler so graciously “spared” from destruction.
Both of course were for tourists. There are probably no other more tourist-infested cities in Poland, but there are reasons for that.
When I leave, I usually go throughWarsaw – “Warszawa” in Polish, pronounced “Var-shav-a.” There are often tourists there, but it’s certainlyÂ nottouristy. The Germans took care of that in the Second World War, and the Soviets during the Cold War with their lovely Stalinist architecture. “Social Realism” it was called. I can think of a few other terms.
And speaking of Germans, I would be remiss not to mention the city where the Second World War all started – sort of. The Poles call itÂ GdaÅ„sk. The Germans insisted on calling it “Danzig” and went to war over it.