Sunday, September 20, 2009

It was a gray August day

It seems like a lifetime ago, that gray August day I arrived in Poland for the first time. The whole long plane ride from New York or was it Newark, I can’t even remember now, I kept thinking What am I doing? This is crazy. I looked over for reassurance at the three other American folks I met at the airport but they looked as unsure as I did. The plane was also pretty under-booked. This doesn’t bode well, I thought, nobody wants to go there, so why am I going there? I was really tired from the two domestic flights it took me to get to NY. No one in my family would drive me to the airport :( Fortunately, I had two seats to myself to spread out, but I was still uncomfortable. A reason for my discomfort may have been my shoes, cowboy boots! Yes, I was wearing cowboy boots, but not the fashion kind, the real ride- on-a-horse kind. I must have looked like such an arse, a totally conspicuous American out and about in the world.

After about 9 or so hours, we reached our 1st destination, Warsaw, and collected in our new survival group - 2 sisters destined for the City (Curly and Red), me destined for a small town and the Man of our group destined for a town about half-way between the City girls and me. We began searching for the domestic terminal. We looked all around the ground floor of the airport and couldn’t find it. We packed all of us and our luggage for one year into the elevator and went upstairs hoping it was up there, but it wasn’t. We packed ourselves and our stuff all back inside the elevator and went down to the information desk. Unfortunately, no one working on that shift could speak English and we were not adept enough at foreign language charades to get our message across. Finally Red wanted to have a cigarette. I stepped outside with her. We both leaned our backs against the building in silence but surely thinking the same thought - what are we doing here? I turned to look at her and say something when I saw it - DOMESTIC TERMINAL. I forgot what I was going to say and cheered triumphantly that we had found it, accidentally but who’s counting? To get from the main airport to the domestic terminal (which is all located in the same building) you had to go outside and come back in another door. Triumphant I was, but I felt a little like Mr. Bean.

Our next challenge was to get on the right plane. The domestic terminal had one waiting room which all flights boarded from. At that time, they did not give you a boarding pass and there was no sign to indicate which flight was boarding. The only way of knowing that your flight was boarding was to listen to the loud-speaker announcement. Imagine the Charlie Brown teacher wah, wah, wah-wah-wah waaaah but now in Polish. We couldn’t understand anything. We devised a plan. Most people had their tickets out. We decided to split up and sidle up to different passengers until we found one going to the same place we were going. When the Man finally found somebody, he gave the thumbs up and we diligently watched that passenger’s every move until we were safely on the plane. You may think that this is very funny or even sad but a teacher from the same program who was headed to Wrocław (which used to be Breslau) got off the train in Breclav in the Czech Republic and almost didn’t make it for the first day of school.

With all that activity, I had almost not even noticed that it was cold, gray and raining in the middle of August. On the short flight, I stared out the window wondering if the weather was always like that, what my town would be like, if I would make any friends, if I would do a good job teaching English at high school, if I would be able to learn Polish, where I would live, if I could survive on a teacher’s salary, etc. I also wondered why I had not thought about any of that prior to coming to Poland. There is such a thing as selective memory. Is there selective worrying? The plane landed, and we anxiously collected our carry-on bags. We got off the plane to the still cold and gray day and found that we were on the tarmac with, as far as I could tell, no airport in sight. We (I mean the whole plane of passengers) stood around unsure of what to do when the flight attendant shouted something at us from the door of the plane and pointed in the direction of 2 buildings which I will call barracks to be polite. There was a bigger one and a smaller one. We headed off in the direction of the bigger one which we figured had to be the airport. That caused the flight attendant to start screaming again pointing to the smaller building. (She probably wasn’t actually screaming but when you don’t understand a language you get the impression that everyone is screaming or fighting.) We headed in that direction and it was quite a way away.

We finally made it and each of us found our contact teachers right away because then there was no barrier between arrival/baggage claim and the waiting room. An English/German teacher and her husband were waiting for me. After some time, our baggage arrived but there was no carousel so it was a free for all of people tearing the bags off of the trailers. I got my things as did my new friends and we departed as if we had known each other for years and we may never see each other again. We gave heartfelt promises that we would find each other again somehow. Sounds dramatic but give me a break. I was really tired and I was wearing cowboy boots. We packed into the car and I began the journey to my new life for the next year.

I had no idea what to expect.

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