Act 1. Figuring It Out
After almost a full 24 hours of flights, connections and layovers Jeremy and I landed in Katowice, Poland. We walked out of the airport and the sun was abnormally bright – kind of like when you walk out of a dark movie theater in the middle of the afternoon. And we had no idea what to do next. So we walked back in to the airport – and while I was starving I was too embarrassed to buy anything and becoming increasingly self-conscious about my limited Polish vocabulary (at this point I knew how to say “hello”, “good evening”, “thank you” and “happy”.) Finally we asked a couple of really nice women at the information desk how to get to the city center and they told us to take the bus, which leaves in an hour. So we waited an hour, hopped on the bus and took it about an hour into the city. Except I have no idea how long it actually took because I basically passed out from exhaustion until we hit our destination.
Act 2. A Nap
From there we walked to our hotel and I became overwhelmed with gratitude for Jeremy’s sense of direction. We checked in and the girls at the counter giggled at our attempts to thank them in Polish. We showered, brushed our teeth, stripped off our clothes and slept for a solid 2 hours. Our alarm went off at 6PM and we both felt disoriented and drugged but forced ourselves to get out of bed and go out to dinner.
Now, I’m sharing all of the boring details of getting from the airport to our hotel to a restaurant because this kind of sets the stage for the theme of our entire trip: “figuring it out”. Seemingly simple tasks would take forever because A) we’re in a new place and B) we don’t speak the language.
Act 3. Dinner
And that leads us to dinner. We checked out a place around the corner from our restaurant. We sat down to a menu in Polish (no English available) with a waitress who spoke very little English. She barely understood the word “vegetarian” enough to tell us we were shit out of luck. So for maybe the first time ever, we walked out of a restaurant.
Fortunately, around another corner there were lots of restaurants on a strip with patio seating and menus posted outside. We settled on one that had a few items we could eat. We ordered a couple of beers, fried Camembert with jam and pierogies (a dumpling stuffed with potatoes and cottage cheese). We were dead tired but happy to be there. That’s when a prison-tattooed man sitting at a large table for 8, by himself, catches our eye. He lifts his glass to cheers and begins talking to us in Polish. We tell him we don’t understand but we smile, lift our glasses and move on with our own conversation. But then homeboy won’t stop talking to us – in a language we clearly do not understand. Jeremy tells me he has to pee and I tell him not to leave me at that table by myself. I might get on a boat with a stranger but this incident made it clear that I still have some sort of instinctual judge of character going on. So that’s when I get up to go the bathroom. I take my time to wash my hands and stare at my bloodshot eyes in the mirror.
When I return I ask Jeremy if anything interesting happened. Apparently, homeboy gets up to sit right next to Jeremy. He puts his hand on his leg and proceeds to have a heart-to-heart with Jeremy. In Polish. Jeremy kept replying “Nie rozumiem.” which translates to “I don’t understand.” The host steps in and tells the guy to leave Jeremy alone – he goes back to his table and that’s when I return. I see two girls are now enjoying dessert and wine at a table nearby. When ol’ boy starts chatting them up they completely ignore him – and that’s when I decide I will to when he directs his energy back towards us. He starts getting louder and angrier – and that’s when the host tells him to leave. I understood a stern “Do widzenia proszę” – “Goodbye, please.” At that time dude stands up and shoves the big umbrella over our table as hard as possible, gets up in the host’s face and finally saunters off. A waiter from a sushi place across the street comes over and shakes our host’s hand. They laugh it off as do Jeremy and I.
Act 3. Continued with A Life Lesson
The scenario itself wasn’t really that dramatic and if something like this happened at home I wouldn’t really think twice about it. I certainly wouldn’t blog about it. But what was so rad about it was that this dude could have been saying the most vulgar and crass things – and all we could do was shrug and laugh it off. Not only did I not understand what this guy was saying – I didn’t care. The power of language became so clear – but so did our ability to choose a response. It was a fairly deep lesson to learn over a jet-lagged dinner.
After only a few hours of sleep over the past 36 hours we make our way back to our hotel and crash hard.
Tomorrow we go to Auschwitz.