Sunday, June 29, 2008

I Will, At Least, Begin

However, I don't know whether I should synopsize or just share a bit. We'll see where it takes me.

So, I arrived in Poland eight days ago this afternoon, and it has been a very full eight days, though I think my legs will be much more defined when I get home. Heavens above, these Europeans do a lot of walking.

I was quite relieved to make it to the airport with all my baggage, even if we were 30 minutes late. The flight was uneventful, besides the blinding knife-pain in my sinuses during the pressure changes: I caught a cold earlier this week, and it left me with a friendly infection to travel with.

I also sat next to some friendly foreigners—I was excited to sit by four different people from four different countries. My first rowmates were a nice, pleasantly sunbaked Dutch couple (“We are joining you here then, yes?”) returning from vacation in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. It was their second trip to Utah and the west and they plan to come again, so we talked about National Parks and what there is to see in Colorado.

On the Atlantic crossing I enjoyed the company of a German-sized German (if I may so boldly stereotype) returning home from a business trip. Oddly enough, his wife is Polish, and he’s lived in Lublin (where I’m going to study). We tried to speak Polish for about a sentence, but with my English accent and his German accent, things quickly fell apart, so we switched back to English, where his German accent made things difficult enough.

My stopover in Frankfurt was about two kilometers long—I walked so far. The airport was terrifyingly large, like a small city, and it took about an hour of solid walking (even with the help of the ubiquitous moving walkways) from arrival gate to departure gate. I was so glad to get there. What excited me even more was hearing Polish everywhere while I sat at the gate! Granted, I started to get scared because I understood so little, but I was never good at eavesdropping, anyway.

The last leg of my trip was quiet. I sat next to an angst-filled Canadian girl on her way to meet her Polish-Canadian boyfriend whom she hadn’t seen for four months. On my other side was a very Polish and very sleepy Pole who spoke excellent English. We got on well enough, but the half hour delay at the gate taxed our conversation topics—two passengers didn’t show up, so they had to search through the baggage to get their bags off the plane in case they were intended to blow us up.

Looking at Poland from the air was about the smileyest thing I’ve done recently. All the apartment blocks and sensible European cars—I was just overjoyed, bouncing up and down like a toddler (on the inside).

I was met promptly at the airport by my friend Joanna and her husband Tomek, who very efficiently drove me to my hotel and helped me carry in my bags. After I checked in we drove down to their apartment in a neighborhood towards the south of Warsaw, and (I apologize for this hackneyed phrase) it was surreal to be back in my old area. Of course, it was weirder to be in my old area in a car, but I just couldn’t believe I was back!

I confess, I broke my terrified-of-trichinosis diet within my first three hours in the country. Tomek’s parents were in town visiting, and Joanna or Tomek’s mom (I never caught exactly which one, I think it was Joanna, though they said Tomek’s mom also cooked very well) had made gałąbki. Now, I love gałąbki, but I never got to eat real Polish gałąbki on my mission, so that was tempting, then Joanna and Tomek thought my hesitation was unfounded because they’ve never gotten sick from the meat. So I gave in. But Sunday, at breakfast, I did refrain from ham, so I’m not entirely unprincipled.

I hung around at Joanna’s and Tomek’s for a couple hours. Tomek practiced his English with me, which is quite good, and Joanna and I talked a lot about English verbs and their conjugations. Joanna was fascinated by my vowels ("Reng, reng, reng?" "No. Ring, rang, rung."). It was wonderful to talk to her without worrying about her progress as an investigator or about keeping the appointment under an hour. We talked honestly about religion, a little bit, like we did when I was a missionary, but now just as friends. It was wonderful.

The next day at church, I got to see several of the missionaries who taught me when I volunteered in the MTC, and there was one missionary I knew from when I was in Warsaw. He’s a great kid. It was really weird to see him so fluent in Polish, because he hadn’t been here long when I was here. And he’s a zone leader now. I almost felt like someone who reaches old age and begins to revert to childhood. I’m so much older than him, as a missionary, but also younger, in a way, because my mission stopped short.

That afternoon I went back to Joanna’s, and they cooked chicken so I wouldn’t have to eat the gałąbki. All seven of us ate dinner in that tiny kitchen, and I sat next to Tomek’s parents and tried to describe to them taco soup. We also talked about green and yellow beans. My vocabulary makes for riveting dialogue.

That afternoon, I went with Joanna to Mass, and I'm really glad I did. Granted, the only words I understood were "announcement" and "God" (it was echoey!), but we got to sit in the organ loft because Joanna is friends with the Nun-organist. Joanna and another woman sang a little bit, and it was eerie and beautiful, with their high clear voices echoing around the stone-and-concrete church.

I also think it helped me understand Joanna, to see her participating. I think if I had gone to Mass with her as a missionary, it would have totally changed my ideas about how to talk with her. At any rate, now I feel like we're better friends, and I'm happy for it.

And that brings us to the end of my first weekend. The next morning, I flew to Norway, but I think I'll leave that for another post. I've probably drowned you in details already.