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I think I’ve decided I want to stay in Europe. Just thoughts I’ve been having lately, it’s hard to sum up. I love the town I grew up in, I love what Canada has to offer, and I think it is a great place to raise a family or to settle down in. It’s peaceful and beautiful and different. And I know people born and raised in Terrace, BC, I know people who want to spend their entire life there, and that is fantastic. But it’s not for me.

But I also feel that a big portion of the youth in my town are wasting their lives[1], and when I’m there, I sometimes include myself in that. When I’m “home” (Terrace), I feel like I forget about my ambitions and dreams, or just feel that they’re so far in the future. But they’re not. They’re now. I want to be living my dreams now. And I don’t think I can do that there. Camping and late nights and partying—I do always have fun back home. But I feel like I’m just going in circles, nowhere. I want that to stop. I want to be focused and, as I said, I want to go after my dreams.

So, back to thought number one, I think I want to stay in Europe. This isn’t a plan, this is just the outcome of a combination of thoughts I’ve been having lately. I know I change my mind a lot, a lot, so a year from today, I might be set on who knows what. But right now this is it.

Travelling. That’s what I want to do. That’s all I want to do. I don’t know how it’s going to be possible yet, but I think I have better opportunities here, in Europe. Where the countries and continents that I want to travel to are closer, where there are cheaper airlines, where there are many languages, where there are people from everywhere—this is where I feel I need to be.

If I could stay here in Krakow this summer, I would. But I’ve done the calculations and if I want to make enough money to travel Europe with Paige next year, February 2014, then I have to go back to Canada to get a higher paying job. Staying here, I would make about 1/3 of what I need and I’d be paying rent somewhere. In Canada, I would make more than enough, the cost of flight tickets included, and I’d be living at home with my family. But that’s okay. I’ll go back to Terrace, for 6 months, work, save enough money, travel Europe for 6 months[2], and then stay. I think. And maybe have a bit more of a plan by the time I get there.

I’ve met some really amazing people here, I think I’ve mentioned before, from all over the world. And everyone has amazing stories. Everyone has dreams that they are pursuing, or are on an unknown journey. I want my life to become that, too. Staying in Terrace, going to UNBC or a nearby university in British Columbia, I don’t think that’s ever been my dream. And it definitely isn’t right now. I’ve been inspired by the people that I’ve met. I want to find my passions, pursue them, and be happy here. The people I’ve met and spent time with—are alive. Whether or not they had a plan when they set out on their journeys, I think they’ve all ended up where they’ve needed to be.

Some people are on my back for not wanting to go to school. Right now, I am clueless as to what I want to pursue in the future, in terms of career. But when I figure that out, if there is schooling required, then that’s what I’ll do. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve met people between the ages of 25-30 that are still travelling and unsure of their future, or that have only began university to lead them to what they want to do—which they discovered on their adventures abroad.

So far, I’ve been doing what I’ve wanted.  I’ve regained what Polish I knew (which was a lot less than I thought it was), learned some new things, gotten to know my family, history, culture, everything I wanted. And I want to continue that. My 6-month Europe trip with my best friend has been in the books for a while. Now, the question is, where to next? I want to keep making choices I’ll be happy with.

Me, being a person of lists, has started to build one for this summer when I return. Things I’ve wanted to do in Terrace the past few years but haven’t gotten around to doing. Considering that it may be my last chance in a while, I am going to give it my best shot, and really try not to waste a single day. There are places I’ve wanted to hike, there are still local sites I want to see, there are languages I want to start learning (meaning I might find time to once I’m back), and there are people I want to spend more time with. I have a lot to do when I get home, and six months to do it in. Two trips I’ve really wanted to do are a Victoria trip and an Alaska trip, but as I’ll be working full time, I’m not sure about those two. But it’s going on the list!

Right. So this is my informal announcement and uncertain plan: I think I might stay in Europe after travelling it next year. Not necessarily Poland; if I want to learn French and Spanish, I think the best way to do that is to immerse myself in the right country. I know I will come back to visit Poland, though, I’m just not sure for how long. Ladeeda!

 

Joanna

P.S. Title refers to the song by Switchfoot, one of the songs I listened to while writing this, look it up!


[1] No, I do not mean you guys, the friends back home that are reading this. But you know who I mean, I think.

[2] The rough country-list-plan right now is: Greece, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, France, England, Scotland, Ireland.

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Lately, I’ve been having this overwhelming feeling that I love life, and not just here in Krakow, but my life as a whole; and that I’m going to always feel this alive[1]. And I like that, because it means that it doesn’t matter where I am and how far away I am from the familiar,  I can always find that feeling. Simply glancing back at old photographs brings joy to my heart. Maybe tears to my eyes, too (rarely). I just feel so lucky to have lived the life I have and so blessed with all the amazing people in it. But it’s not just remembering the past and being thankful for it. It’s living in the present, enjoying where I am, who I’m meeting, what I’m doing, and not worrying about the past or future.

I’ve been finding less and less time to blog. I had an urge to write a week and a half ago, I remember, right after the start of the second semester. But by the time I got home (I went and had coffee with new friends), did some chores, did my homework, and sat down by my laptop to write, my exhaustion was worthy of passing out—and I did.

I do feel a lot more exhausted lately, though. I think it’s just because it’s the start of the new semester. I remember when last semester started, and I was a fresh fish in the sea of Poland (haha), and how exhausting it was beginning to relearn this crazy language. Now, after a much needed three week semester break, mind utterly relaxed, I think starting the process all over again did the same thing. Semester 2 is more difficult. I moved up from a B1 level to B2. Theoretically, when we’re done B2 we’re supposed to be at the speaking level of a born and raised Pole. I don’t think that’ll come to happen, but I think (hope!) I’ll be a lot closer. Grammar just got a lot more complicated (and I was already having difficulties before), we’re increasing are vocabulary at a much faster pace than before (there’s so much more memorization than last semester[2]), reading much harder texts, and writing longer lengths. But, I am enjoying it, despite the work. I just love learning, yep.

Also, to my great satisfaction, I am doing a Literature course this semester! I’ve always been interested in Literature, but I’ve never had an opportunity to really study it yet—it was canceled in highschool because there wasn’t enough interest (just me and 5 other kids in a school of 500!) and this is my first year in uni[3], so! The literature is obviously Polish literature. The first class was incredibly intimidating, half of the students were C1s! ß Real Poles. :O It was really intimidating being in a class with them, and I’m not trying to make it sound like they’re another species. But when we did a writing response to a satire piece we read—I just felt like their creative writing is probably as good in Polish as mine is in English. And my Polish writing is pathetic—I’m still missing too many descriptive words not used in everyday speech, but used in writing. These things come with time, I think. Either way, I still really enjoyed the reading, the metaphors, the exercises, and this new way of thinking. I haven’t had any creative-language classes here yet, just straight-forward, analytical stuff.

The next class we started poetry! Was the Polish language made for poetry? Because I love it. I’ve never been a big fan of poetry, I’ve always had a hard time understanding it, and never very good at writing it. But I think I’m falling in love. Maybe doing poetry in another language is more constructive for me? Or maybe I’ve just been missing out on a creative-thinking class and my mind is revived from whatever I get. I’m not sure what it is. But I delved into some English poems today (of my own will!), and I feel like I’m seeing poetry with a whole new eye. (This is after one poetry class. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.)

So that’s the small update on school. We’re only a week and a half into the new semester, so I don’t have too much to say as of yet. Just an optimistic outlook that usually accompanies the start of something new with me. Before the semester started, I was definitely not looking forward to it: going through the same process, all over again!? It was terrible enough as it was. (I was not a fan of my teacher last semester). But this semester—I love all my teachers and every new student (mostly Americans this semester!) is delightful. I’ve met so many new people and have manage to have an excellent conversation with almost all of them. So this semester is looking up.

Righto! So, I have officially avoided homework for four hours. Time to really get to work now. Good day to you!

Joanna

Ah, also it’s my younger sister’s birthday today! Shout out to Nell, happy birthday! 16! Can’t believe it!


[1] Old age isn’t gonna hold me back!

[2] I felt like last semester was more of a review for me, whereas in this semester I will actually be learning a lot more.

[3] Uni—a shortcut for university. I’ve gotten used to saying it because my friend Jessica from England does, apparently they always say uni rather than university, which I always said.

One of the reasons I love being in Krakow is because of the ethnicities you meet. Don’t get me wrong, Poland is about a 97% all Polish people. But Krakow is one of the tourist capitals of… Poland? Europe? Let’s say about 90% of people you meet in the Stare Miasto (Old Town) are foreigners, tourists, travelers, etcetera. It’s great.

I come from a country known for its multiculturalism, and that’s true. Canada is incredibly diverse; so diverse, it lacks its own “Canadian” traditions, culture, songs—things that most other countries have. When I’m in Canada, I see a range of racial ethnicities: dark, black, brown, pale, white ~ Russian, East-Indian, Native, Chinese, Filipino—on a daily basis. But a lot of these people with this range of backgrounds have lost what traditions were upheld by their parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents. People say they’re, for example, Irish. Or Dutch. Or Filipino[1]. But for the most part, that’s just telling people why they have pale skin, or freckles, or blond hair, or beautiful brown skin. (I’m not aiming to be stereotypical here.) For the most part, if there’s any tradition upheld, it’s a bit of the food. A few words of the language. Maybe your uncle knows a song. It’s great, being in Canada, and getting to see a racial mix upon faces but for me, what’s lacking, is the culture. A lot of it gets lost through the generations.
On the other hand, we’ve all met people who live in Canada and despite being a second or third generation away from the “homeland”, English may not be their first language, they know their dances, their songs, their holidays. (As always, I’m speaking from my own observations, nothing that is fact.) When we have community potlucks, they own the floor, they are proud of where they were born, or where grew up, or which nationality they were raised with. People like that do exist.

I saw a really cool post the other day, about what it means to be Canadian.

A Canadian can be English, or French, or Italian, Irish, German, Spanish, Polish,  Russian, or Greek. A Canadian can be Mexican, African, Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Australian, Iranian, Arabian, Pakistani or Afghan.  A Canadian may also be a Cree, Metis, Mohawk, Blackfoot, Sioux, or one of the many other tribes known as Native Canadians. 

A Canadian’s religious beliefs range from Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islamism, Hinduism, or none. The key difference is that in Canada they are free to worship as each of them chooses.  Whether they have a religion or no religion.

A Canadian lives in one of the most prosperous lands in the history of the world. The root of that prosperity can be found in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which recognize the right of each person to the pursuit of freedom and happiness.

A Canadian is generous and Canadians have helped out just about every other nation in the world in their time of need, never asking a thing in return. 

Canadians welcome the best of everything, the best products, the best books, the best music, the best food, the best services and the best minds. But they also welcome the least – the oppressed, the outcast and the rejected. These are the people who built Canada . 

Canadians are not a particular people from a particular place. They are the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom. Everyone who holds to that spirit, everywhere, can be a Canadian.

I really like the last line. Most things you come across on the internet about Canada, will tell you that the meaning of a being a Canadian is: loving your hockey, drinking your Timmies, slapping that maple syrup onto your pancakes, and saying “Eh.” Though that does quite well describes Canada in a nutshell, I really like how someone took a moment to seriously answer the question. We are not one race, we are not one culture, we are not of the same background, but we are “the embodiment of the human spirit of freedom”. Epic.

So when I say I like Krakow because of the ethnicity you meet; I mean that a little differently than when I say I love Canada because of the range of ethnicity. In Krakow, you mostly meet other travelers. And mostly from other countries in Europe. Some from Asia, a few North-Americans, but mostly Europe. But what I love is how alive these people are. You can truly see that they’re British or Italian or Russian.

The other night, upon finishing our exams, my roommate and I went out for the night. From 8pm to 6am, we went from a cafe to a house party to a bar to roaming the rynek to going back to the first bar to a restaurant to home. In between that time, in one night, I met people from Spain, Italy, Britain, Mexico, China, Russia, Norway, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Lithuania, America, and Canada. I actually spent about 75% of the night with 3 Spanish girls and 1 Spanish guy! I learned some dance moves to traditional Spanish songs, took a shot of rum with a Lithuanian, rejected a dance to a Norwegian, disagreed on terms of nationality with a British guy, and was hugged and kissed by a bunch of Belgians[2].

Granted, part of that was because I spent the beginning part of my night at a Couchsurfer’s meet-up, but honestly, more than half of those ethnicities I listed were people I met in the rynek.

So Cheers to Krakow! This is what has made living here a fun time. I’m meeting people from everywhere, having memorable nights with strangers that feel like friends by the time the night is over, embracing the ethnicity, and feel like I am enjoying life.

Today marks the halfway point. Exactly five months ago, I left Canada—and finally Krakow is starting to feel like home. However, in another five months, I will be on a plane back to Canada, my homeland. I have no idea how I’ll feel then.

Joanna


[1] Okay, for the reference, all Filipino people I’ve met DO uphold their traditions. Go Fili! <– I do not know if that’s a thing… probably not.

[2] No joke on that one! They adored me like I was Mary.

A few weeks ago I did something really stupid/terrible/wrong/against instinct, however you want to say it. I didn’t tell anyone because I was really ashamed. It made me feel awful. Not just feel awful but like the awful was me, too.

Mistakes are a human quality. I remember when I used to say I didn’t regret my mistakes because they made me into the person I am today. But the thing is, I just make the same mistake over and over again. And I do regret it.

Anyway, a few weeks past and I moved on fast from this biggest-to-date mistake, really fast. Like I easily adjusted. But I feel better now. Not just feel better but like the better is in me, too. Because I feel a change in my mind, psychologically, like I’ve never been more sure of what I want, never been more sure of myself. I think I tweeted and/or tumbled this, but I’m saying it again: Sometimes you find out what it is you want by doing the exact opposite.

I saw a quote the other day I really liked. “I never change, I simply become more myself.” I do think people are constantly trying to better themselves, maybe not literally every second of the day, but on a whole, we are always striving to be that better person, that person we want to be. Ourselves. But now I realize that person we were five years ago, that person a few weeks ago, is always us, just on the journey. It is a constant. So is change.

We shouldn’t be ashamed of our past because at one point in time, that was us, that was a state of mind, unclear thoughts, delusion, confusion, but whatever it was, it made sense at the time. I came across another quote today (good ol’ Tumblr!) that I also think has some truth in it: “Often it’s the deepest pain which empowers you to grow into your highest self.”

My mind feels so opened right now. I’ve been having creative ideas nonstop the past couple weeks. They are literally keeping me from sleeping, coming to me in my most tired moments. But I have learned over the years that you do not ignore that urge to write. You turn on your bedside lamp and scribble down everything on your notepad, then try to decode the scrawling in the morning. The other week, I wrote my first short story in over a year. And I know that sounds like a small accomplishment, but I feel really good about it. I really miss writing. As soon as exams are over, I have two more ideas I would like to get down.

I’m going to make mistakes again. I can hope it’s nothing more than a tragic spelling mistake[1], but life isn’t that easy. I know there will be more. But I am positive it is not going to be a repeat.

 

Joanna


[1] A particularly “tragic” spelling mistake, would be something like definately *cringe* or mischievious *double cringe*

I meant to do a New Years post, somewhere around the time of New Years, and although we’re still in January, it’s not very close to January 1st. I really don’t know where the days went; the whole 18 days of this month have flown by incredibly fast for me.

But it is still a new year. And that excites me. I like New Year’s because it always signifies a new beginning. Which I like. I like new things, I like change, I like new people, etcetera. And though a New Year doesn’t always signify a new start physically because we are often in the same place, working the same job, going to the same school, it is still a chance to change.

I often see New Year’s as people wanting to change for the better. I think mankind, as an individual, is always trying to better himself, to get closer to that person he wants to be. New Year’s gives people that opportunity with resolutions! It’s time to start exercising, time to start painting daily, time to start writing, being kinder to others, stop drinking, whatever that goal is. We all know many of these goals run their pace before the end of the year, but the important thing is that the idea was placed there, that there was an effort, and that it gives us something to look back on.

That being said, I don’t quite have a normal resolution this year. Two years ago, I resolved to write once a week, and I did that until April[1]. Last year I had a few points:

  • Don’t lose my understanding of the Polish language before going to Poland
  • Yoga!/Becoming flexible & fit again.
  • Figure out my life in terms of narrowing down more what dreams I want to pursue, what courses I want to take in university in September, etcetera.

Last year, I thought I wanted to go to Poland for part or most of the summer. What ended up happening, was I didn’t practice Polish once. And I decided to move there in September for ten months instead, in order to regain my second language.
Yoga! That happened! I did reach the level of fitness and flexibility I wanted to be at.
Figuring out my life… well I narrowed it down by crossing out the ideas I had for courses I wanted to take in university… I am more unsure than I was before. But now I’m okay with it. I don’t feel that pressure that everyone does to decide who they want to be for the rest of their lives. I’m nineteen. I have time. I have a lot of time, and if I don’t figure it out for another five years, I’m okay with that. I’ve met some people here that are 29, and still have no idea, but they’ve really been living their lives to the fullest in the meantime.

This year, I don’t have ‘goals’, as in more than one. I don’t have a single goal I would like to do once a week. I have a one-day-long goal, and I hope I’ll achieve sometime in the next 365 minus 18 days I have left. Unfortunately, I am not going to share it with the world until it happens, because I sometimes get this superstitious-sort-of-feeling that if I tell people things, they don’t come true. Like wishes! So we’ll see how this works out. The moment it happens, though, you will hear about it.

On to other New Year’s related thing. Every year (for the past five years) I’ve written a letter to myself on New Year’s. And I don’t get to read it till the next New Year. It always gives me something to look forward to because it’s a really great way for me to see how much I’ve changed. My letters surprise me every year, to be honest. My views, so far, have changed year to year, thoughts, feelings, friendships, dreams, accomplishments ß that’s the gist of what is in the letters. It’s like a glimpse into the old you, back when you couldn’t really see the way you were. I encourage everyone to do it. Write out what you think of yourself, write our what your ambitions are, you views on issues that are important to you, personal anecdotes, friendships that matter, advice to yourself in the future, where you see yourself next year, anything you want. It is so fulfilling writing a letter to yourself.

I took it a step up this year. This year, I wrote an additional letter to myself, for 2018, five years down the road! It’s hard to imagine a day when we will write 2018 on our essays and write-ups, but it’ll come and go like all years do. I decided to do this because, when I think about it, I can’t picture a single thing about my life in five years. I will be twenty-four. Where I will be, who I will be, what I will be doing, how much I will have changed, what will I have accomplished by then, what will my ambitions be—it’s all a complete mystery to me! So I handwrote a four page letter to myself. I am going to be incredibly excited to read it when the time comes.

Also somewhat related with new beginnings—I switched rooms! I did this for a few reasons, but it wasn’t the easiest choice. I really like my ex-roommates, but I think we’re on good enough terms that we will be seeing each other semi-regularly whether or not I live next to them. I had six room to chose from, and in those six rooms I met quite a variety of people. The first five rooms I went to though, were very discouraging. I always thought of myself as someone that gets along with pretty much everyone. I like everyone. I can strike up conversation with everyone. I’m good with new people! But I met some striking and contradicting personalities, that surprisingly made me cross off room after room off the list. Thankfully, the last room passed the test. Super nice roommates, amiable girl-roommate, seemed promising. I moved in two days ago, and so far am liking it. I am getting more sleep, and feel more comfortable here on a whole. It feels a little weird not having known these three people for four months, like they all have four months time together on me, but I think as we get to know each other more the difference will fade away.

Anyways, cheers to new beginnings, new friends, new dreams, and to this odd-numbered[2] year! I hope it is just as fulfilling as 2012 was for me and that it does not go by as fast, though I seriously doubt it will.

Joanna


[1] Self high-five.

[2] I have a thing for odd numbers. Or rather a dislike for even numbers. It’s weird.

I meant to write about my winter vacation in northwest Poland a week ago, however the return to school issued instant concentration towards homework and whatnot. Duties aside, I just hope I remember the thoughts I was having on the eleven-hour drive back to Krakow. I’m not sure what it is, but it is always a good, long road trip that makes me want to write most. Watching the scenery change second to second just flicks off a switch in my head; new thoughts, ideas, intentions, just these muses hitting you from all directions. The road trip home fell nothing short from that either. (Home being Krakow, of course.)

After an amazing Christmas, as written about in my previous blogpost, New Years followed suit. I will be honest. At first, I wasn’t interested in spending New Years with my dad, and his 50+ aged friends, in a small town, somewhere in northwest Poland. I wanted to be in Krakow with friends, find a club worth the party, and have a memorable night.

But I take it all back. I had a superb time. I met my parents’ friends. Friends they’ve had since their own university days, since they were in their early twenties! I had heard about these people my entire life, how Betina lived in Germany with my mom for a time, how they wanted to move to Canada (unfortunately, not all papers went through at that time, and my parents’ friends had to return to Poland), all of their travels together, living in dorms together, their group’s mountain-venturing adventures, drunken moments, campfire singing, I have heard it all. Spending a week with these people put me back in time. I could picture all of them, exactly how they were thirty years ago. I could see my dad, just the way he was, and still is. Some people never change.

We spent plenty of nights drinking vodka, and singing songs from their song books like “Sokoły”. My dad and Zbyszek had guitars and songbooks, that they browsed through and they sung every song they recognized. It was really beautiful to watch them meld back into youth singing songs that still rung true to them, that reminded them of their lives back in communist times. Sometimes, they couldn’t remember the words to a song. But as a right chord was strung, as someone remembered the first few words, suddenly someone remembered the rest of the verse, and so on. They could manage to sing a whole song that no one even remembered a word of at the beginning! It was full of trial and error, of singing the wrong key, of missing a verse here and there, a wrong word, or a slip of tongue or strumming pattern. It was this unravelling, decrypting, and remembering of songs they hadn’t sung in thirty years. I was blown away by how much came back to them. On a whole, I really enjoyed listening, singing, and the storytelling that came with each song, and just being with them, even as an observer.

Watching them over the week, my dad and his closest friends, despite the time and distance spent apart, really reminded me of where I want to be in my life. I want to have friends like his, I want to be like them. So relaxed, so cheerful, understanding, loving, and constantly happy. They were like a family. And that’s how it should be. That’s where I want to be when I am fifty-three years old; surrounded by my oldest, closest friends, always finding something to laugh about, not worrying about anything. This effortless relationship, unchanged.

Another thing that made the last part of my winter break great was the sightseeing. Before then, I hadn’t really seen much of Poland, especially not up North. Driving to the sea, to the town of Kołobrzeg, was really great. It was a rainy day and, maybe more-so because of this, reminded me of Prince Rupert[1] and felt a little like home. (Home being Terrace, this time.) I only drive up to Prince Rupert a few times a year, but having Rupert there is some kind of comfort, I guess. I like being near the ocean.

Kołobrzeg

Next, we drove to Kamien Podmorski and Szczecin. We drove to Kamien Podmorski because it was where my parents wanted to move to before they decided to move to Canada. Honestly speaking, there isn’t much in Kamien Podmorski. It was sort of like a trip for Dorothy and I to walk in my parents’ footsteps. Likewise was Szczecin, though there is definitely lots there. Szczecin is where my parents and their friends all went to school, met up, basically lived a big chunk of their lives.

Unfortunately, because of hangovers and lack of sleep, we arrived in Szczecin late in the day and after visiting with a couple more of my dad’s friends, there was only an hour left of sightseeing, and half of that spent inside in my dad’s old school, looking at old photographs, walking down old hallways. The other half hour was spent driving out of the city, stopping at a couple places to see exactly what houses my parents lived in while there was still daylight, and onwards to our friend’s place where we would be spending the night. Despite the lack of city-sightseeing, there was something I really, really liked about Szczecin. But I can’t pinpoint what it was. Small things, the way the city was laid out, how it wasn’t completely flat like Krakow, the architecture of all the buildings we passed, but something else, I’m not sure, I felt very drawn to it, perhaps because it was the city my parents called home for quite a few years[2]. I was sad we didn’t have more time, but I think Dorothy felt similarly and I am almost positive we will go back to properly sightsee the beautiful city and to visit our new ‘family’, so to speak.

Lastly, we went to the Słowiński National Park. To be found there is, yet again, the Baltic Sea! Embroidered by the long-stretching grey-white beaches, towering sand dunes, and pine forest, it is a well preserved area and I really freaking loved it.

Who knew how much I was missing nature. Frolicking[3] through the forest[4], jumping over streams, crossing wild boar tracks a time too many, spotting deer, climbing giant hills of sand, walking on the edges of the shoreline where the water just reaches your feet—yeah, it really made my day. I could’ve spent hours more there, but the time always comes to leave as the sun sets.

So my winter vacation had an excellent finish. I met amazing people, new family, I went to the sea, I walked in my parent’s footprints, I saw a new city, and I got to spend almost a month with my dad. Life felt good.

I will leave you now with one last picture!

As it is getting dark, on a highpoint, in view of the forest and ocean, leaving.

Joanna


[1] Prince Rupert is a port town right on the ocean, similar in size to Terrace and one and a half hours away from Terrace.

[2] Though I definitely don’t feel that way about Surrey (the place I was born) or Vancouver, where my parents also lived a few years.

[3] Because I did frolic.

[4] Yes, it was an actual forest, a pine one at that!

Times and Places

I must say, this year’s Christmas was one of the best Christmases I’ve ever had, the best in a long time at least. And I don’t think it has differed oh so much tradition-wise from the past few Christmases, maybe my partakedness. (Wow, you know I’m forgetting my English when I start making up words. Traditionwise and partakedness? What is this Joanna!?) [1]

A big part of what made this Christmas awesome, though, was family. I may have mentioned this before, but I’ve missed out on the whole extended family thing my entire life. I’ve never spent a Christmas with any family other than my two parents and two sisters. This year, spending it with my dad (who flew in from Canada), sister (who is here with me in Krakow) my aunt, great-aunt, grandma, and two cousins was something new and it felt really special. Actually the whole week was special. I’ve learned more about my family and their history than I have in the past few months. My dad’s presence in Poland just released a string of reminiscing for my family. I endlessly heard stories about what it was like under communistic Poland, about my dad and aunt’s youth, about my grandma’s and great-aunt’s youth, about even their parents, which I really don’t know much about. I really enjoying listening to their stories, not only because it gives me a better understanding of the way my family came to be, but because it gives me more depth into Poland’s history, particularly during the Cold War period. I took a semester of History last year, focusing on the 1900’s, and thoroughly enjoyed the class. I really do love history. But what’s great is my family, my own parents, lived through those times, and were involved. I also become more insightful, though not as much at the elders of course, of how times have changed. The times are really freaking different these days.

Back to Christmas! And back to the beginning. Christmas already started to feel different months ago. By that, I mean, it didn’t feel like Christmas yet at all. In Canada, you will start seeing ads for Christmas, commercials, products, chocolates, decorations in October. I swear I see my first Christmas commercial every year in September. It’s ridiculous! Christmas is so commercialised, so advertised, so… fake. Movies paint the scene, Santa Claus holds up his Good and Naughty Lists, presents and decorations explode everywhere you look, and Christmas-stress beats down on you. Yes, that is a thing. The shops are filled with people searching for present after present, for months. But particularly dozens of presents for kids.

I’m not saying Poland is an exception to that, but I can attest that it is significantly less. Mountains less. Continents less. Sorry, I do think it is a difference of continents though. North America vs. Europe. And there are some amazing traditions that Poland upholds. I love how filled with tradition Poland is. Granted, my family celebrated Christmas the same way back home, but the atmosphere is different when it’s the whole of the country doing it with you.

I think the whole of Christmas unravels the week before Christmas. You set up your Christmas tree a week earlier at the earliest. We set ours up a day before Christmas. Family starts arriving. We spend time together. And the cooking begins. Cooking, at least by my observation, is the focus. And I enjoyed every part of it. Traditionally, there are 12 courses on Christmas. Granted, there are many to chose from and the number starts to vary towards people’s preferences. And this isn’t your every Sunday kind of dinner, these are your once-a-year meals. On Christmas. So the process takes days to cook everything, to prepare everything. And it’s a time for the whole family to work together, back to back, all day, kneading out that dough for perogies, making those ears for barszcz, baking pies (we brought in some Canadian desserts to the delight of our family), etcetera. It is backbreaking, time consuming, frustrating work, enjoyable, yet stressful. Can we prepare all this food before 5pm? Christmas day (that is, the twenty-fourth, when the big Christmas dinner is held) was insane. Everyone got up hours earlier, and hauled away. I ate breakfast at ten, and I swear I didn’t sit down or eat again till dinner time. We were all so consumed with cooking that I didn’t even notice I was so hungry until we sat down. And that is how it should be. The satisfaction you feel sitting down, to this amazing dinner, that everyone worked towards, was immeasurable.

Except, as soon as we all sat down, we stood up. Because, one of my favourite things about Christmas, it’s time for skladania zycenia! What this basically means is the exchange of wishes between one another. Everyone has a piece of bread (ceremonial bread, alike to the kind a priest breaks over the alter) and one-on-one exchanges greetings. It’s really special. This isn’t your casual, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year, this is saying all the things you always wanted to or wished you could say to the person. Your thoughts and feelings tie in to it, and you heartily wish people the best. I came close to tears a few times, and was really moved by some of the things said to me.

Afterwards, we eat this 12-course dinner. Bloated, there is barely energy for dealing with dessert, let alone opening presents. (Unlike the ritual of North America, presents are opened traditionally after dinner on the twenty-fourth.) But we somehow managed. Kolendy, that is, Christmastime carols are sung; and Poland has some really great songs. Old, traditional, religious, and beautiful. Presents are opened z przyjemnoscia. We thank each other (though when I was a child, I believed the Star brought presents), and get back to the singing, talking, laughing, spending time with each other, and celebrating of Christmas.

I really truly felt happy this Christmas. Previous Christmases were spent stressed out and among a family that wasn’t really together a family. This year it felt real, complete, and joyful and, well, like a Christmas I never really knew.

Joanna


[1] *thinks a while* partakedness = participation. Traditionwise……..traditionally? Facepalm.