One morning I head to the grocery store on a hunting and gathering trip for supplies. I eke down the steep, curvy road/path and park at the other tiny grocery store in town. After my typical pointing and gesticulating I decide to ask about coffee, or café or whatever works in Polish. Coffee so far, has been understood just about everywhere. In Polish, it’s kawa (“kah-vah”). The store staff quickly grasped my impressively pathetic Polish skills and pointed me out to the youngest employee. I tried to speak a little English with her and at least she understood “coffee”. She understandably directed me to the coffee row in the store. I made the international sign of “drinking a cup of coffee” with my arm and my hand grasping an imaginary cup of joe. I know, I know, those are some powerful communication skills…. Then she understood and took me out of the store to point at a cafe across the street. I thanked her and she seemed glad I didn’t perform an encore of the “drinking a cup of coffee” sign.
The place across the street had a few tables outside with large umbrellas shouting the names of a local beer brand. Hmmm. I walked into the dimly lit, wooden bar and there were two tables full of locals drinking beer. It must have been 5 o-clock somewhere on the Kamchatka peninsula but here it was about 9 in the morning. The lady proprietor got up and stepped behind the bar. I repeated my lackluster performance requesting coffee that I’d premiered across the road at the grocery store. She turned and bent and began to set out a saucer and cup. I told her “no, thank you” which really didn’t slow her down much as she reached for a coffee maker. I was trying to get across that I wanted a takeaway coffee. I didn’t turn around but could sense that this strange American was providing some great morning entertainment for the tables behind me. I finally put up my hands, gently shook off her kind efforts and walked out.
I learned later that the word “no” can actually mean a kind of affirmative answer in Polish. So that made more sense why she didn’t really slow down when I told her no. If anyone knows this not to be true, please just laugh at me since I rather enjoy that version of the story. I do know that “yes” is “tak” in Polish.
At one point in Poland, Lisa actually mooed to explain she wanted to buy “beef”! I love it, and it worked.
One night in our Ekocentrum place I was startled awake in my hemp pajamas.
Okay, not really, but the Ekocentrum just seemed so deliciously granola crunchy. Camille was sitting on the foot of my single bed and Lisa was sitting up in her narrow bed. Both had wide eyes. Camille said, “Daddy, there’s a mouse.”
Now, we’d discovered a few telltale droppings and nibbled food corners on the food on our little counter a few days before. We’d done the normal cleanup and moved all the food into the cabinet above that counter and closed the cabinet door. I wondered if we’d left food out on the counter again. I snuck in to the kitchen like a ninja who’s just woken up and really isn’t that quiet. I might have been tiptoeing but I’m sure I must have looked ferocious at one in the morning. I was trailed by Lisa and Camille. I didn’t need to try and be quiet because our visitor was loud. He was certainly up in the cabinet alright and was having a ball with our brand-new spaghetti.
I slowly moved other food items out of the way until I glimpsed his pink tail. I grabbed a glass and was actually able to trap him in it. Ah ha, I was like a great white hunter after all! I decided to be smarter than the mouse and just slide something narrow under the glass and his little mouse feet so I could get him outside. I was going to be the trapper and the humane “letter-goer” all in one fell swoop! But without any strong, flat material at my disposal I resorted to a saucer plate. I slid the glass slowly off the shelf and tried to slide the saucer under him. For some reason my wily friend decided he wasn’t really on board with my plan and dropped his tail and half his body through the tiny gap between the shelf and the rounded saucer. I had him caught but didn’t really want to crush him so I had to let him drop onto the counter.
Now we were into a hasty cat-and-mouse game (I know, that was a bad one) behind and around a basket on the counter. The girls screeched and ran back for the beds. He thought better of it and skittered down off the counter and into the tiny gap between the cabinet and the wall. I could not get him out of there, try as I might.
I shined my iPhone flashlight and could see him in that narrow gap grinning at me. I think my hunter credentials were just about gone at this point. I couldn’t really reach him in the deep, narrow crevice and he wouldn’t listen to logic. It seemed we were at an impasse. Is there an app for mouse fighting?
Camille woke up Ana to tell her about the mouse. I could hear Ana sleepily respond, “Is he cute?” And then she fell right back asleep before Camille could answer.
But I couldn’t really leave him there since he would just east our food and wake us all up again. Unfortunately for him tI found a long, narrow piece of molding board. I could reach him and it was over quickly. I even put him on the ladies’ rigid, pink cardboard bag from the tasty Demel bakery in Vienna so I could carry him out. I don’t think the ladies were overly impressed by that one either. But they did seem quite relieved he was gone and I was ready to get back to sleep.
On Sunday morning from our open window we could hear church bells and voices lifted in praise.
Our little town of Stryszow is not far from the slightly larger, but-still-small town of Wadowice. This is the hometown of Pope John Paul II. And he is loved here. I always felt he was loved in America but he is the hometown hero here. He not only rose to be Pope but did so via the bishop position at nearby Krakow. He was also instrumental in fighting communism. John Paul II gently prodded governments to speak and act against tyranny. He encouraged Poles to stick together and to not be afraid. His moral leadership in the Roman Catholic Church lent strong support for Lech Walesa’s—and the Gdansk shipbuilders trade union—Solidarity movement of the 1980s. Imagine what its must have been like to be a Pole in the time of Soviet domination and see this man from your country, uncowed, standing on the world stage as a force against those who kept your nation down. There is a museum about Karol Wojtyla (his pre-papal name) in Wadowice and another in Krakow. You can see his primary school backpack and some of the clothes he wore. His statues and likeness are all over this part of Poland, such as the one in the Wieliczka Salt Mine.
During our late honeymoon to Italy we visited Rome. On the day, we visited the Vatican we stood beneath the papal apartment—with thousands of others—as he pronounced a blessing. And shortly after, Lisa became pregnant with triplets! So we love him too.
Driving through these rural roads to get from Stryszow to Wadowice and Krakow and other places we keep coming by the same billboard. An enormous cake of some type filled with cream that makes our mouths water as we drive by fumbling with our GPS. The sign has the name Piekarnia on it and some other Polish words we don’t recognize.
One evening after a long day of sightseeing, we search for the store called Piekarnia to get that yummy dessert. Finally, after driving all around Waldawice without seeing it, Lisa runs in to a grocery store hoping to find directions. Here’s what happened in her own words:
“At this point, I had learned to say hello and thank you, in Polish. I browsed the store to find an employee who didn’t look too occupied with other people. With a map in my hand, I immediately employed “hello!” and then, said “pie carnia?” and shoved the map in front of her. She looked at me and walked me to the fresh bread section of the grocery store.
“No, no!” I said “Pie carnia” and then, I drew a picture of the dessert (that unfortunately looked a bit like a rectangle) on the map and wrote out pie carnia. She realized an English speaker would contribute to our interchange and signals that she is going to get someone else. She goes in the back and comes back out and signals me to wait. I wait and wait. I ask another employee who doesn’t know. Finally an employee comes out from the back. “The English speaker!” I think. However, this woman also doesn’t speak English, the other employee just thought that the other employee might be more help. She offers nothing. We are at a standstill. We had kind of promised the kids dessert. What now? Finally, a young couple who had entered the store to shop overhears my persistent questions while they are checking out. The wife elbows the husband and he comes over to help me. Even though I had misspelled Piekarnia on my map, he explains that “they” are all closed at this hour. He then gives me detailed directions to the closest one. I’m starting to understand that the word means bakery. I feign interest in the directions since we are thirty minutes from home, but appreciate the new understanding and employ my Polish “thank you.” I was basically asking someone from Seattle where “the” coffee shop was, or someone from New Jersey where “the” Dunkin Donuts was or someone from Vegas where “the” casino was. Oops. I head over to the frozen section to find a dessert for the kids waiting in the car.”
We learn to love our town’s little piekarnia and can hardly say the word enough (“PEE-kar-nee-uh”. I tend to visit it in the morning to pick up bread and few small pastries to sample. Of course, I can’t even get close to pronouncing their names but they are a few cheap bites of heaven. The locals don’t even bother to actually pull into parking places, they just pull their cars alongside and run in.
[this is where they keep the deliciousness]
[chilling in the Piekarnia parking lot]
Our Eastern Europe podcast also introduced us to the Polish love of a minuscule car called the Fiat Polska. They were made during the old Soviet days. There was no competition from Western cars back then. The cars were tiny and inefficient but they were about the only show in town. People would order these little cars and would wait years for theirs to be delivered.
One day, after saving up for years a man goes to the Fiat place and places his order for his Polska. He is told to not be hasty, that it would show up in about 4 years.
The man asks, “When in four years?”.
The salesman puts him off, “Sometime in the fall.”
“But when in the fall? What month?” prods the man.
“I’m not sure, should be October,” blithely answers the salesman.
“Yes, but can you tell me what week in October?” asks the man growing anxious.
“I don’t know, probably the third week,” says the salesman.
“Okay, but when in that week?” says the man who will not go away.
“Ah, let’s say on Thursday,” remarks the salesman.
“Whew, good,” sighs the man, “the plumber’s coming earlier that week.”
We heard this joke as a panel of Easter Europeans attempted to explain the communist days to an American audience.
And then, our next-door neighbor has one parked outside his house.
It’s been three months since my last checkup. I’ve just completed my bloodwork and the results will be sent to my specialist in the US. I’ll admit to feeling a bit unsettled as the day approaches. It is not a conscious feeling but almost a subtle dissonant tone in my mind and in my heart. It must be the war between fear and faith. Calling it by name and facing it head-on always seems to clarify the situation and drives me quickly to prayer.
The needle in the vein has become almost a friend. When I felt like a pin cushion a year ago, I decided that I would forever think of each needle as just one more way that I am fighting the myeloma. I try to hold that thought in my mind. I am quite the connoisseur of phlebotomist skill and am quick to point out “nice stick!” after the metal is in. I am grateful for modern medicine and all that it has done for me, and more importantly, for my family. Bits of me are off at some lab right now. I ask for your prayers for a continued clean bill of health. Come what may, I know we rest in God’s hands.