Thursday, November 24, 2011

(43) Our Experience in Poland I: Living There

Our family with Grandma on Christmas 2005, a few weeks before she died at the age of 97.  Jaga and I flank her with John Paul (16), Joseph (8), Stephanie (14), and Naomi (11).

After my mother died in January 2006, Jaga wanted to spend a year in Poland to take care of her ailing 83 year old father.  At the same time, this would be an opportunity for our four children to go to a Polish school and learn the language well.  They already could speak some Polish which they picked up from their mother, visits from relatives, and visits to Poland.  They left in June 2006 and I joined them in December and stumbled upon a teaching position in March 2007 for the Spring semester at a local college.  We returned to Rio Grande in August 2007.

  In 2008 John-Paul finished his senior year in high school, Stephanie 10th Grade, Naomi 7th Grade, and Joseph 5th Grade.  In March 2008 I returned to teach for a semester and the family joined me at the end of May.  We returned to the States in August 2008 and haven't been back since.  
While in Poland, I wrote about our experiences there, but did not have much chance to share it with others.  The following is what I wrote up while in Poland to share with you in a series of three articles.  Even though we're talking about Poland 2007 and 2008,  You can still get a good idea about living in Poland and its reality today. 
In future blogs, I will share by observations of different aspects of Poland:  1) The Church (Blog #46); 2) The Economy (Blog #53); 3) Tourist Attractions; 4) The People and Their Culture; 5) The Schools and the Youth; and 6) Contributions of Poland to America and Western Civilization.  If you are of Polish descent, the last one will make you really proud of your heritage.  I found the research I did on it to be fascinating.
Living There
       After a year in Poland, we came back for the last 2007-08 school year and we're back for the summer.  First let me review our year of being immersed in the culture from June 2006 to August 2007.          
       My wife, Jadwiga (Jaga) took care of my mother for five years until she died at the age of 97 in January of 2006.  Mom was a pioneer in female dentistry, having graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Dentistry in 1933.  On the Pennsylvania State Board Exam she made the top grade in her class.  She was frustrated by the fact that men as well as women would assume that male dentists did better work and she would have to fix many botched jobs.  During the Depression and the rest of the pre-dental insurance era she would charge $2.00 for a filling and wouldn't charge nuns and priests at all.   No wonder she was horrified at the prices dentists charge today.   Health care in general was very moderately priced.  She took great satisfaction in serving people and never made much money out of it.       
       At the same time her 84 year old father was ailing and senile.  Jaga then wanted to take care of him for a while in his last days.  So we thought that it would be great for our kids to learn Polish well while gaining an international experience and learning the beautiful Polish culture.  They went to a local Catholic school, Szkoła St. Stanisław for the entire 2006-2007 school year.  I had dreams of buying a used van and a tent and camp all over Europe for both tourism and pilgrimage to the holy sites the following summer.  My family had been here in Kielce, Poland since June 2006 to take care of my ailing father-in-law.  Since I had many things to take care of at home, I didn’t join them until December 19 just in time for Christmas. 
It's a good thing I did stay in the United States because I was able to see my brother Fred in August after our 50th Duquesne High School Class of 1956 Reunion.  Little did I know then that he would die in his sleep in October.  It was surprising how many people came to the wake and funeral.  In his own way he made an impact.  People raved about his generosity, his cheerfulness and sense of humor despite all of his mental and physical problems.  Fred confronted all of his handicaps and setbacks with such courage.  He was determined to make a contribution to the community and he did.  He would have given anything to have had a steady job, but instead volunteered to help the patients at the Kane Hospital for something like 20 years.  When other people had problems he would cheer them up with kind words and wisdom.      
       Things were crazy in my preparing to leave the United States for a period of 8 much to clear up.....taxes, making provisions to take care of the house, utilities, bills, packing, ticket, providing continuity with my work with the parish and the Knights of Columbus, etc., etc.  Then it was off to Poland a week before Christmas (2006) and settling in with my family.  A bit of a shock was seeing it starting to get dark at 3:30 pm because of both being at the same latitude in Canada above Maine and being in the eastern end of the European Union time zone. They had stayed with my sister-in-law's family since June, but it was very crowded for five Sebastians, let alone me as one more.  Thus we had to move with my father-in-law to his former home which was in a state of disrepair.  That involved a lot of renovation, painting, etc.  By Easter (2007), it was quite livable. 
       It took a month, along with a lot of pushing, just to obtain a telephone connection, let alone an internet connection which we obtain another week or two later.   It is broad band and we don't have to use dial-up like in Rio Grande and tie up the telephone.  It reminds me of Peru.  Things move very slowly here.  Poland is progressing rapidly with a high 6% growth rate, more industry, and greater internal & external investment after overthrowing Communism in 1989.  But it is held back by the heritage from socialism of bureaucracy and low productivity in both the public and private sectors. 
              We were roughing it a little until April (2007) with our wood/coal stoves for each room.  That means getting fuel from the wood or coal shed and starting and keeping the stoves going.  We now appreciate central heating and other conveniences we take for granted at home.  I think that the three greatest things we can give our kids are: 1) spiritual formation, i.e., the faith, 2) a work ethic, and 3) a love for learning.  Poland was part if it. Only time will tell how well we have done in those three areas. The jury is still out.
            Along those same lines, we wanted them to have a taste of farm work.  So as a family we picked strawberries for a few five hour days.  This year (2008) I tried it for the experience one day.  I picked a total of three baskets and got $3.00 for my efforts and being sore all over for a couple of days.  Now we appreciate the farmer and all of the work involved in something as simple as strawberries.....planting, cultivating, picking them, and bringing them to market.  I think that every intellectual and seminarian should have at least one day on the farm picking strawberries.  Pope John Paul II, as a young man during the German occupation, had to do backbreaking work at a stone quarry.  This gave him great insights into the tremendous dignity of the worker and his work as collaborating with God in creation which is ongoing.  From that experience came his second encyclical, 'Laborem Exjercens" was a deep spiritualization of work.  

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