28 sty 2011

New political movement

Usually I don’t write here about politics. The everyday live show in the parliament and media makes me feel sick. Media give too much space to mediocre people and their fruitless talks. After the plane crash in Smoleńsk day by day we observe political fights. Many Poles are tired of the constant funeral, confrontations with Russians and right-wing conspiracy theories.

Voting in the presidential and parliamentary elections was always rather an inconvenient duty for me. There was no real power which responded to my expectations. It’s quite popular in Poland to vote against, not in favour. But I really would like to see a change and at least try to trust somebody. So I cheer on the new association created by the former PO* member and a very interesting person Janusz Palikot. He was born in 1964 in small Biłgoraj, studied philosophy in Warsaw, was a very successful businessman and a generous patron. In PO he was always different, daring and brutal for stupidity, hypocrisy and incuriosity. Sometimes his remarks were offhand but in general I tolerate him because he’s very smart. His association is called Ruch Poparcia Palikota (the Palikot’s Support Movement) and he’s planning to establish a party. Now he looks for support and sponsorship all around the country. Formal structures already exist and I joined the association.

The next parliamentary elections will be held in October so the new political party might have chances. If PO doesn’t do any significant reforms, people will be very disappointed. Of course many people hate Palikot for many different reasons but I believe he can convince those who never vote.

Now the main slogan is “Gospodarka jest najważniejsza” (“the economy is the most important”). What exactly does Palikot want to change? He’s programme is very liberal regarding the Polish state: he wants to see secular Poland and cut down privileges of the church (financial and in the process of decision making). For Poles it means a lot: restore the right to have legal abortion, introduce a real sex education at schools, create civil partnerships for every sexual orientation. He’s fought for the reduction of bureaucracy in the parliamentary “Friendly State” Committee and wants to strengthen the citizens. He’s against the Polish military mission in Afghanistan and would like to locate the money for the army in culture.

More about his programme you will find here.

Even if he doesn’t succeed, I want you to know that this kind of movement in Poland exists.

* Platforma Obywatelska, the ruling party

17 sty 2011

Africa in Warsaw

For the last 60 years Poles haven’t been used to see people of colour and to have foreign neighbours. Democratic changes in 1989 opened the borders and since that time more and more people come to Poland. For many foreigners Poland is a transfer country on the way to the Western Europe but also starts to be more attractive. The Polish law is not inviting for foreigners but probably it’s because Poles make it complicated also for themselves. If you feel discouraged by the amount of papers you need to sign, bring and give to the authorities, I assure – we also have got to do this.

In Warsaw we are used to eat in Vietnamese, Chinese, Turkish and Arabic bars or buy on multiethnic bazaars. Still we need to be more welcoming for people from Africa. You won’t see many of them on the streets but they start to come more often. I would like to know more about how they feel in Warsaw. When I spoke to my students from Nigeria, they said they didn’t feel accepted in the public space. Of course it’s easier to describe negative experiences. When people are neutral and treat you normally, you don’t think about it. If you can write me something about it, please comment!

You can eat African food in a few places in Warsaw, I recommend Senegalese Cafe Baobab. Hmmm veal in peanut sauce was perfect... I must also visit Home Africa Bar. There is also a lot of multicultural events promoting African cultures. I was happy to see an interesting book about the lives of Africans in Warsaw “Afryka w Warszawie. Dzieje afrykańskiej diaspory nad Wisłą”. You will find there fascinating stories of unusual people. The whole book is available for free in pdf here and you can also buy a printed version.

Now for the first time we have a member of parliament from Africa. John Godson is a pastor from Nigeria, has been living in Poland since 1993 and was a radny (alderman) in Łódź. People chose him for the second term because he did a lot for his community. Now he is in Sejm! I hope more foreigners will influence the Polish law. I think he won’t be angry if I put his video here. His Polish is great and kids are lovely.

How to describe Africans in Polish?

Afrykańczyk/Afrykanka – African
Murzyn/Murzynka (from Latin "maurus" = black) – black person. Many people find this word offensive, probably because in Polish we have a few sayings with it to describe hard thankless work. I don’t agree. There are other offensive words.
czarny/czarna - black
czarnoskóry/czarnoskóra – of black skin

10 sty 2011

Bieszczady – my first trip this year

For a few days I went to the end of Poland – the part of the Carpathians near the border with Slovakia and Ukraine. Bieszczady is a picturesque land with beautiful views and still wild nature. Only in the forests of Baligród where I stayed there are 30 bears, 90 wolves and 118 bisons (żubr – check the picture on Żubrówka;). They are fully protected and live freely. So good I haven’t met any representative;)

In the winter the landscapes are more severe and it’s more difficult to reach the mountains but you can also ski. Don’t expect the Western style infrastructure but the slopes and chairlifts are ok.

Bieszczady are also considered as a magic land. The population was always mixed – different nationalities and groups lived there for many centuries, had their own religions and beliefs. After the WW II the new Polish part of Bieszczady has been transformed artificially in only Polish.

If you would like to come to Bieszczady, the easiest way is to fly to Rzeszów and rent a car. I wouldn’t count on the buses if you want to venture deeper. You can also concentrate on the cities: Sanok, Krosno and Przemyśl and travel by trains. A few years ago I spent a night in a slow train from Warsaw to Sanok.

Now I’d spent two days skiing and the snow suddenly melted. So we decided to climb Połonina Wetlińska. Check the map here. I had no chance to see the great view because the fog was very dense. But climbing wasn’t meaningless! The schronisko* on the top is for sure the worst in Poland! It was colder inside than outside. The information I found there was amazing:) You have a translation below.

The only thing you can eat there is bigos domowy (home made) – quite expensive in this fancy bar – 15 PLN! You can also sleep there for as much as 18 PLN. But with your own sleeping bag (śpiwór) in the collective room. Opłata klimatyczna (“climate fee” = resort tax) is always obligatory. If you have your own mug and for example tea – 0,5 litre of boiling water (wrzątek) costs only 1 PLN. Wonderful.

“We serve cool drinks from the cellar, approx. 4 degrees Celsius. Schronisko* has no water and electricity. Don’t ask for a refrigerator”. Very nice, don’t you think? To make it more absurd, this place is called “Chatka Puchatka” which is “Winnie the Pooh’s hut”. Believe me – in Poland other schroniska have better conditions. So I drank a tea with honey and lemon, checked the toilet where the snow didn’t melt (see below) and went down.

If you want to drink or eat in a unique atmosphere I also recommend Siekierezada** in Cisna. From outside this place looks very unwelcoming but don’t be afraid. You will find there gloomy local art – many many images of the devil and literature about the life in the village and different paranormal phenomena. In the dark and pagan interior you can eat traditional pierogi or kwaśnica (sour cabbage soup). Even the barman matches perfectly this place.

For more fine art I recommend to visit the Historical Museum in Sanok with the beautiful Orthodox icons, Catholic sacral art and the paintings of Zdzisław Beksiński – a modern painter who was tragically murdered a few years ago. He had come from Sanok and donated his precious works to the museum. I really admire his works and recommend also his website.

This post is getting long but I must write also about Solina – the artificial lake and a dam created in 1968. You can swim, sail or relax in a spa. In the summer looks of course better than in the winter.

It’s not possible to describe Bieszczady in a few words, to be continued in the future...

* translated as a hostel or shelter – is something between, for tourists in the mountains
** the name refers to the title of the novel by Edward Stachura (1971). Siekiera is in Polish an axe, it's a mix with Scheherazade

2 sty 2011

Sylwester - the last party of the year

On the 31st of December in Poland we celebrate the name day of Sylwester. That’s why the New Year’s Eve is called Sylwester. We usually don’t celebrate it with families. Teenagers as soon as possible start to prepare parties on their own. All you need is some alcohol, music and friends (or maybe the other way round;). You can also add fireworks, balloons and have a party outdoor or indoor. Many cities organise concerts, so if you’re not cold you can enjoy Sylwester in the crowd. You can also go to a club or ball, that special night is always a lot more expensive than any other.

The 31st of December is a working day but usually everybody ends earlier and shops are open until 4-5 p.m. The 1st is a day off and you can cure your hangover – in Polish KAC (from German). From 2011 also the 6th of January is a day off so you can have very long holidays.

Mountains is a very popular destination for Sylwester or a period from the 24th of December. In Poland you can ski in many places, so not only Zakopane is recommendable. You should reserve your stay a lot earlier!

There are also unusual ways of spending Sylwester or the 1st of January. Some people like to take a very cold bath. We call such a person mors (walrus). Every year they like to get into the freezing water (sea or lake). Some are even quite good in it. Check this video.

We also think about the New Year’s resolutions – in Polish postanowienia noworoczne. Many people don’t like them - prefer not to plan anything or claim that every moment is good for a change. It’s funny that Poles are rather pessimists and moan on every occasion but they really believe that the next year will be better. At least it can’t be worse than the last one;) I wish you of course the same! I have a great song for you, especially for this period of the year, about our traditional dish BIGOS:)) They aren't serious, just pretend to wear golden chains;)