My arrival to Poland was a big deal for me. It was the start of a new chapter in my life. My grown-up chapter. Not that I hadn’t been living as an adult already, but it seemed more real than before. Maybe because if I screwed up there was no one to bail me out, not that I couldn’t ask my parents to bail me out of a sticky situation, but it’d be pretty difficult with the ocean and all between us.
My parents spent most of my childhood teaching me (and my sister) how to be independent and self-reliant. They had always taught me that I could do anything I wanted to do and be anybody I wanted to be and that everything I needed to achieve my goals, I had inside me. They had also always told me that I had to go to college and I had to get a job. And I did just that after graduating from high school. (My sister did the same and left home for good at 20.) So when university graduation rolled around, I couldn’t bear the thought that I’d soon be a cliché - a college graduate working at the mall and living at home with her parents. Also my manager didn’t take too kindly to my farewell statement to our customers, “Thank you for shopping with us and please come again. I’m 22 years old, have a 3.9 GPA and need a real job. Call me.” I was also pretty sure that my parents didn’t want me sponging off of them either. I mean they had been pushing me out for so long, I thought I had to go somewhere, anywhere.
I didn’t expect to make a big splash in the small town in Poland where I had been sent to teach, but I thought that at least maybe somebody might notice that I had arrived. An English/German teacher from the school had been sent to the airport to pick me up and deliver me to my apartment (ha, ha, ha) and show me around. Except she didn’t. I mean she picked me up and delivered me to my apartment (ha, ha, ha). Then she took me to a shop where I bought a few things. She brought me back to my new home and pointed to the school which could be seen through the window a block or two away and told me that I should show up there for the first day of school which was in about 2 weeks. She commented on how dirty my apartment (ha, ha, ha) was running her finger along the top of my dirty fridge, gave me a cup, plate, spoon, fork and pot from her home (that was very nice of her) and left. I was alone and pretty scared.
I mean being alone wasn’t scary. I like myself and I enjoy my own company but being in this apartment (ha, ha, ha) in a foreign country where I didn’t know a soul, I had never felt more alone in my life. I decided to try to unpack and go straight to sleep. I mean, everything looks better in the morning, doesn’t it? I looked at the piece of furniture in my room which I supposed was to be my sofa/bed for the next year. I had been provided with a comforter, pillow and bed sheets which seemed to be hermetically sealed together and quite possibly starched. I somehow unsealed them and got the pillow inside the pillow case and the comforter inside the cover. Then I looked again at my sofa/bed. How to get it to the flat position? I tried everything I could think of to get this thing in the flat position and finally gave up, sleeping on it as a sofa. I was just too tired. Later, I was quite amused to find out that this kind of sofa bed is called an Amerykanka (an American). I was also amused to find out that the local pizzeria’s “American” pizza had hard-boiled eggs and corn as toppings. I only confirmed for them that this was the right direction by ordering it every time I went there.
Anyhow, the next morning I decided to hit the town. I was terribly afraid of getting lost. Now that I know this small town very well, it is kind of funny to remember my fear, but I really was scared. I lived near an old church with a tall steeple and I used it as my point of reference. I walked 15 minutes in one direction and then walked directly back to the church. From the church, I walked 15 minutes in the other direction and then straight back to the church. After a couple of hours of that game, I was right bored and tired. I went home think what I was going to do with myself for the next 2 weeks.
As I left my apartment (ha, ha, ha) that morning, I did find it strange that I only had a key to lock my room, not the main door to my apartment (ha, ha, ha). My apartment (in my view) consisted of a room, a kitchen, a bathroom and a hallway/foyer. So to be clear, I could lock the door to my room but not the door from my foyer to the main hallway. When I got back from my excursion, I learned why.
I lived in an office building, PZU to be exact. (PZU is one of the largest Polish insurance providers) Are you jealous? “My” kitchen wasn’t mine. It was for everyone working at PZU. “My” bathroom wasn’t mine, either. It was the bathroom for all of PZU. But as I said above, the floor plan was like that of a small apartment so it was strange to find people congregating in what was for me my foyer, right outside my living room/bedroom door. There was nothing I could do about it, so I decided to suck it up. I went to my door, unlocked it with my skeleton key went inside and waited for everyone to go home. Luckily for me, Polish people who work at PZU like to go home from work on time, so I didn’t have any problems with stragglers in the evening. I did learn that right below me, the building’s maintenance man and his family lived, so I was not completely alone (except when they went on holiday for Christmas and left the building with no heat - Merry Christmas!).
That evening I decided to explore the building. I left my room with a flashlight and a dictionary. I didn’t even lock my door or turn off the light in my room. Who was going to go in there? I wandered the halls of PZU translating what I could find written on the doors. I found the conference room, the president’s office, and the accounting department. Later, I would discover that some people don’t lock their office doors at night and also that my skeleton key fit all the rooms on the top floor. As I wandered back to my room (downgraded from apartment, ha, ha, ha) I decided to check for sure what it said on the doors there. Sure enough on the kitchen, it said kuchnia and on the bathroom it said łazienka. On my room, it said archiwum. Archiwum? What’s that? It can’t be? No, it couldn’t be. It was. My room was the Archives room. They simple moved out the archives and moved in the American girl. That would explain later why PZU employees often burst into my room carrying some binders to be filed and left surprised to find me there.
PS What can you fit in an archives room? Well, I don’t know about your archives room but mine had a sofa/bed, a wardrobe, a table and two chairs, a night table, a small lamp and an old radio. All the luxury you could want in 9 square meters.