When I mentioned to one of my university professors in the US that I was considering a trip to Poland and maybe even a swim in the Baltic Sea, he recoiled in horror. “Don’t do it,” he said. “Don’t go to that contaminated country and for gawd’s sake don’t swim in the Baltic or eat any fish.” In case you didn’t know, the Baltic Sea, according to my professor, is a secret Soviet dumping ground for nuclear waste, and Poland is so contaminated by Chernobyl that we all should be glowing in the dark.
As my new friend took me for my first trip to the sea, I had that advice in mind. It was really hot out, and I was wearing a sundress which was not a good idea as it drew attention to my horribly bruised legs. I was impressed by the beautiful, fine, pale brown sand on the beach. I was also impressed by the beautiful pale brown Polish women on the beach. We had only been on the beach 10 minutes, but I was already sweating. Children were frolicking in the water, so I took off my sandals and headed towards the water to dip my toes. Now it was my chance to recoil in horror as I discovered that the water in the Baltic Sea is freezing cold. I looked more closely at the children who were begging their mom’s for just 5 more minutes in the water, and I could see that their little lips were blue and their teeth were chattering.
When I returned to my new friend he asked, “What do you think?” I replied, “There’s something seriously wrong with your ocean,” to which I got a geography lesson drawn in the sand explaining why in fact it is not an ocean and why it couldn’t possibly be anything but cold.
During the rest of my stay, I didn’t venture in the water again but I did eat some fish from the Baltic. My new friend also took me to meet his friends, to a disco, to a military museum with really light security which meant I could touch practically everything, and to his mom’s work in the local municipal government office where we looked through all the new passports (or ID’s, I don’t remember) which were waiting for the owners to come and pick them up. My new friend didn’t allow me to buy anything or pay for anything the whole time, and I now realize that this was an imposition on my part and for that, I am truly sorry.
I hope someday to go to his hometown on the Baltic again and visit his mother and thank her for her hospitality.