Monday, August 17, 2009

kocham cię, Jagoda.

silently i got into the car. i didn’t know where we were going, exactly, or what we would see when we got there. i didn’t know what we would do when we got there or how i would feel or what we would say. conversation was light as kasia began the drive to the cemetery: we talked about what we had done that weekend. catching up from a day of not seeing each other is a wonderful difference than trying to catch up from a year of absence. our friendship is growing.

as we drive, i think about how i am feeling at the moment: nervous and not sure what to expect. agnieszka’s words from yesterday resound in my mind: “it is good to not know what to expect. this is not natural. this is not how it should be.” the car pulls right into an alley way, near local gardens. kasia drives on the dirt road and pulls into a parking spot in front of the cemetery gate.

as we get out of the car, kasia is even quieter than i. “you don’t have to stay long, if you don’t want to,” i suggest gently. she has been here before, and i will likely need more time than her. “i know. but i need to do this too.” kasia’s determination and presence are exactly what i need in this moment: i am not alone.

before the entrance, there is a vendor selling candles and flowers. “i didn’t think about this,”i notice, “i did not ask about polish customs for this sort of thing!” luckily, kasia reads my mind and instructs me that we should buy candles. there are many beautiful ones to choose from, and kasia and i both agree on the heart-shaped red one. it’s describes our friend perfectly. for a moment, i wonder what the significance is of the candles and then i think that if it is polish tradition, nothing else matters because that is what our friend would have wanted us to do. We each buy one and the man hands us matches to go with them. i hold the blue bag with the red candles in my hand and we slowly cross the threshold into the cemetery.

as i walk past the tomb stones, candles, flowers, and other visitors, i annotate every moment in my mind, as if my mind is linked to some external computer that can record each moment, each thought for documentation. my words and my thoughts are profound, though manufactured. somehow, telling the story in my mind is helping me stay one step removed – as if i’m merely an author rather than the participant.

“i’m not exactly sure where it is…” kasia says quietly. i trust her instinct as we walk slowly on the gravel walkway. suddenly, i see it: a solitary wooden cross between engraved head stones. on the cross is a white marker, beneath a silver crucifix, saying exactly what i don’t want to see: “Jagoda Pachota.” i stop and cannot move. i look at the wooden box on which rests flowers, statues, and candles. “it’s… beautiful…” is all i can muster.

the blue bag with the red candles is still in my hand and i cannot take another step forward. kasia steps in and does what i cannot do – she takes from me the candles and matches, lights them, hands one to me, and we both place them at the foot of the wooden marker. there is a bench to sit on, but kasia and i choose to stand there, silently. words have no meaning right now, there is only the stark reality that our dear friend, our dear sister, is gone.

“seriously?! you’ve got to be kidding me. this cannot be real.” the situation seems too strange. surely, i will see my young friend this week at camp! we will share a room and reminisce about this past year and we will hike and play games and talk long into the night. her english will have improved even more and we will talk about her university exams and hopes and dreams for the future. i read the dates below her name: “22.11.1988 – 06.09.2008.” this is real. not even twenty years old and life was taken from her. not only was life taken from her, but life was burned from her. this is hard for me to grasp – as only part of the details of her death have been recently recounted to me. these details i cannot and don’t want to imagine.

“i will wait for you,” kasia’s words break my thoughts. she quietly walks away and i finally sit down on this lonely bench, conveniently placed directly in front of the grave. i wonder how many times her mother and father have sat at this same bench? i wonder who has placed these candles and flowers and statues? i am reminded: i am not alone in my grief. after months of processing the death of my dear friend from the other side of the world, i now sit before the very tomb where she is buried. i weep. i weep hard. at first i am embarrassed as people walk by on their evening stroll – for the sun is just setting and it is a lovely evening to stroll through a cemetery. then i am reminded of Jesus as he weeps for his friend lazarus. “oh, see how He loved him,” the onlookers observed. my love for Jagoda was deeper than i knew and deeper than i can ever understand.

through my tears, i thought of the lessons i have learned from such a dear young woman and i think of how i can endure the upcoming camp without her by my side. i realize that i hurt so terribly because i loved so much. this will not stop me from loving, i vow. i will love each of my campers this year, because i do not know how much time they, or i, have left on this earth.

i could not leave that bench. for once, i was near her. i was near those who loved her and near those that grieved her death more than i. the truth and the reality was before me and i did not want to leave it. not now, not for good. if i sat by her grave, sometime there would still be a connection. then i looked down at my little red heart: just as the flame would burn in that red heart, so my memories and love for Jagoda would be in my heart. the love she had, the passion she had for the world, i will take and pass on. with a sense of purpose and meaning, i stood up from the bench and knelt down before the grave marker. with my hand on the corner of the wooden platform i whispered the words, “kocham cię, Jagoda. i love you.”

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

the kaufland adventure.

i walk slowly into the kaufland, glancing first down at my list and then at the people around me and the piles of fruit stacked in crates to my right. “i think i will need a cart afterall,” i think to myself. i walk toward the shopping carts (or, “trolleys” if you’re british) and remember – i need one złoty (a coin) to place into the „meter” in order to use the trolley. i open my change purse and pulled out a 20 cent euro piece and click it into the meter. success! the trolley comes off of the one in front of it and i am on my way to grocery shop in poland.

in the past, i’ve gone into stores to buy certain things ineeded or just to look around. but this is my first time shopping for food to cook in my flat (british for “apartment”) – food to live off of. actually, this is my first time shopping for myself to cook in a full kitchen of my own. and i’m in a foreign country. great – not only can i not understand what anything says, but i might not know how to cook it even if i did. i look down again at my list. i have written: “mleko, herbata, chleb, sok…” these words i know: “milk, tea, bread, juice…” i walk up and down the aisles looking at all that is around me. “before ileave,” i think to myself, “i want to try and cook a real polish meal.” now, that may be being too optimistic, but i relax and merely survey my surroundings for the time being.

pasta! I find pasta (“makaron”) – this doesn’t even need directions to cook. now, i just need to find the sauce (“sos”) to go with it. as i am looking at the pasta, a woman comes up to me and we joke about how many boxes of rice there are to choose from. at least, that’s what i think we were laughing about.

i find the bread and the jam (dżem), and just next to it is the tea! tea! something i can understand! i put in my cart the ol’ familiar, liptons, just for a taste of home. i admire the fact that i can get a box of tea for the equivalent of 1 dollar and then i remember that i’m working off of złoty right now, and i should stop dividing by three every number i see, it’s really giving me a headache.

next, i get a little creative. i find a packet to make chocolate pudding. “this shouldn’t be too hard,” “i think, “all i need is milk!” i throw a packet into my trolley. where to find the milk? in america, it would be on the side by the wall because it is in the refrigerator. i know enough not to look in the refrigerator, and i find boxes of milk piled near the center aisle. now i get a little overwhelmed. i realize just what people mean when they come from foreign countries into the states and are overwhelmed by the food choices – because not only are there a lot of choices, but it’s all in a different language! i locate the milk that is on sale (i can tell it is on sale because of the bright yellow tag and the word that ends in an “!” – at least, i hope that’s what it means) and i find one with 1.5 percent fat, thought it is labeled “1,5” because commas and periods are opposites here when it comes to numbers. next to the milk is polish ramen. you better believe i grabbed a pack. or two.

now you’ll really be impressed. i found a packet of spices and on the back shows a picture of the spices with thin noodles. “i’ve seen these noodles just a few aisles back!” i grab a pack of spices and a bag of noodles – only 3zł or 1$ – but i said i’d stop doing that. this should make for a good step toward making polish food.

i pushed my cart toward the cash register and greeting the attendant with a polite, “dzien dobre” as i stacked my items on the conveyor belt. i reached for the money i recently took from the atm and handed it to her as i loaded my items into my large purse (except for the milk, i carried the milk). i received the change and nodded saying, “dzenkuje, dowedzenja” (i hope i can say it better than i can spell it!). walking out of the store with my bag full of victory, i felt accomplished. all this for just 27 zł. go ahead, divide by three.

next feat? trying to get a cell phone. i am thankful for the large mall just around the corner (ah, the modern conveniences of eastern europe!) and the young workers who speak english. oh and also, I forgot to buy yogurt.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

the autobahn adventure.

my plane arrived in berlin an hour and a half early - YES, early. i waited around the airport, watching people and praying that the Lord would lead anke right too me because i forgot to set a meeting point! he answered prayer and she found me waiting outside my gate. we lugged my things to her car and began the journey home.

when we first connected, i did not feel tired! after all, it was only four in the morning - not bad for a recent college graduate. ;-) plus, i'm here in a new culture talking with a dear friend i haven't seen since may. but once we began to talk and catch up, a wave of sleepiness overwhelmed me. "lean your seat back and get some rest now," anke suggested. i did just that - put my sweatshirt behind my head as a pillow and leaned my seat back as anke put on some worship music. not five minutes after i closed my eyes, our car slowed down and started to chug along. "our gas tank says we have one quarter..." anke says softly. i sit up in my seat as anke pulls the car into the shoulder of the autobahn. "we're either out of gas or something is wrong with the engine - and i just got this car YESTERDAY!" despite the confusion, anke was very calm! we reminded ourselves that everything is an adventure. "now we get out and walk." walk?! "to the phone, just up ahead!" confused, i followed, leaving the car with it's emergency lights on, to a orange phone about 1.5 km ahead. anke stood on her tiptoes and pressed a button and a woman's voice came over an intercom! anke reported her problem and the woman gave instructions and said the "yellow angels" (german AAA) will be there soon. we walked back to the car, set the orange warning triangle .5 km behind the vehicle, and donned the orange vest, as instructed. and in true AAA fashion, we waited for the yellow angel car for about thirty minutes. our "angel" looked at our car, and postulated that it was in fact low on fuel. he attached a strong cord and towed us to the nearest shell - where we filled up (on gas and ice cream), turned the key, and the engine now worked! we began the second have of our journey on the autobahn, and as soon as my ice cream was done, i was able to take a short nap. : )

Monday, August 03, 2009

the schedule!

i'm packing again. you know how i feel about packing. ;-)

by popular demand, here is my schedule for the upcoming month:

tuesday, august 4th (7pm)
-- depart JFK for berlin!
wednesday, august 5th (10am) -- arrive in berlin! meet up with anke and stay with her in her hometown.
thursday, august 6th -- sightsee in berlin!
friday, august 7th -- train ride to wrocław.
saturday, august 8th to friday, august 14th -- camping south of kraków with agnieszka and family!
saturday, august 15th to monday, august 17th -- spend time with friends in the city!
tuesday, august 18th to wednesday, august 26th -- wrocław language school english camp!
thursday, august 27th to monday, august 31th -- spend time with friends in the city!
tuesday, september 1st to friday, september 3th -- explore berlin with rebecca and stephen!
friday, september 4th -- fly home to JFK!

don't worry, there's sleep scheduled in there somewhere. i'm excited and a little nervous for the time that things aren't exactly planned out... spontainaity is something that i always want but never have the cuts to actually do. so i planned myself some time to live spontaneously. : )

here i go!