The Warsaw Barbican is an integral part of the look of the Old Town, red brick walls,
If anyone asks, I don’t understand or speak Polish – not because I am paranoid and want to hear them talk about me, but because my Polish is so weak, that it is mostly true.
Now I have been comfortable with not speaking Polish too well while living here – sometimes I am lucky and understand all or just enough, sometimes the person I am speaking to is really eager to speak English, or when all else fails, you say ‘przepraszam’ (excuse me) and smile apologetically and it is all over.
I was so comfortable that I even decided that if I had a kid, it would just live in a bi-lingual home, and if its grandmother was complaining that the food was too spicy, like now, I would be non-the-wiser 😉
However, recent ambitions and events have thrown a spanner in the works. As I grow older, I want to give back to this world, I want to be able to teach kids crafts, using professional methods and tools, and make it affordable, fun. This is something I wish I had as a child. I decided I could do it with a script – and yes, I can transcribe and read it very well…but what happens when I have something unscripted happen? More and more I feel that it would be detriemental to the person I teach and no matter which way I try to spin it : “Arts and Crafts Lesson – in English”, it doesn’t sit well with this new-agey part of me.
I have always felt that my level was good enough to understand the basic things kids say, but the last basic interactions have left me thinking that I am still at the babbling level.
Kids are so different, one wants to shout ‘dzień dobry’ (good day) to you, while the other swallows the words while it speaks. The fact that I appear different also hinders some children, which is funny as to me kids in South Africa are used to all races, but here, the child is mostly afraid or curious. The fact of the matter is, I understand some kids, but don’t understand most – how can I teach them, or have them be comfortable if I have not made an effort.
Anyway all my explanations aside, I have decided to start learning a little bit more actively again. In Africa I learnt way more Polish than when here – so similar dedication this time, with the added benefit of hearing the langauage spoken everywhere.
So this is my formal communication that I am starting to learn Polish (just the basics) – and hopefully speaking it into the bottomless pit of the internet will help me get on with it!
Felix my Furry Companion!
Life in Poland was becoming pretty lonely, I physically interact with one person a day, and when said person leaves boxers lying next to the bed or seems oblivious to dishes – the day can seem lonelier! Add to that the aging of my womb and the thinly veiled reminders that I am nearing my 30’s childless, and life can seem even lonelier.
I was no belle of the ball in South Africa, however I had tons of family, and a good set of friends which I enjoyed spending balmy evenings with. I also have a strong conviction (or is it a limiting belief) – that people in S.A are way friendlier than the average Pole.
It just all left me feeling rather lonely and with an ache to nurture.
So I did what any normal person would do, I made a 13 year commitment and got a dog!
Dog hunting was excruciating, it seemed to me like Poland is the puppy mill centre of Europe!* Add to that many dishonest sellers and over the top prices from kennels (well to me it seemed over the top), and I felt that I may never ever get my dog.
Finally I found a breeder that was approved by the correct kennel places in Europe, the price was high, but the interactions with the buyer and guarantee that the puppy would be healthy outweighed the ‘cost. We found our boy in October and had to wait till December to get him, it was a long wait indeed.
In the meantime we prepared all the necessities for him and counted down the days to go.
What followed when he came home was one of the most trying days (or should I say nights) of my life, and god-dammit I come from Africa! However we made it through, and a few months later (though it feels like forever), I have a new best friend (sometimes he feels like my child…eek, I am now a ‘cat lady with a dog’), he keeps me company, he makes sure I move, and he has changed the way I live for the better. I needed him more than he needed me.
If you live in Poland and are interested in getting a dog here are some helpful tips…well, I am not sure if they’re helpful…so here are some tips I wrote and labelled as helpful:
- This will come off as hypocritical and preachy, but try to adopt a dog first – there are many dogs in kennels and many people giving away their dogs. There was a Cocker Spaniel called Oskar that I was sure I was in love with, but he was too far away from us.
- You can use sites like: Allegro, OLX and Gumtree however:
- Look for a tag on the advert saying that the kennel is FCI or ZKWP approved,
- Ensure that the number is a Polish one (with the EU nonborders the breeder pool is much larger, it will be harder to verify non- Polish breeders)
- Take the kennel name and look it up on the FCI and ZKWP website – they have a list of the approved Kennels. Don’t bother e-mailing ZKWP they are as responsive as a dead fish.
- DO NOT even bother to e-mail/contact people who offer puppies for free! Za darmo (for free), is a big con! In S.A. this would not be an issue, but here, there are just really weird people and I assume puppy mill people.
- Take the e-mail address of the person selling the dog and look it up on the internet – this will bring up any other adverts that this ‘breeder’ is listed on, you will find things like:
- The person has multiple ads at different prices for the same litter,
- The person has multiple ads for different breeds of dogs all with the same bullshit lines they pawned off other breeders,
- The person will have other ad’s listed for marujuana best quality and sports supplements (what a guy)!
- You can also try contacting kennels (Hodowli) that you find on the ZKWP website, or some on the Royal Canin Website
- When you contact the breeder, ask to see the website, ask when you can see the dog/where they are located, some suspicious behaviour that we encountered:
- You need to come and see the puppy now!
- The puppy is not here, we need to bring it on x date, or we would need to ship it from x, y, z
- ‘Villages’ seem to use the same dogs and interbreed them, either sharing the male or female around.
- Once you have found your puppy make sure you visit the breeder and see the mum and dad together with the puppies!
- Look at the environment, does it look like the dogs live there or have been brought there,
- How do the sellers interact with the puppies,
- Trust your instincts!
What I can say from my experience with the kennel I got my pup from:
• The breeder did not care about what we wanted, but what was best for the pup. We wanted to pick him up a week earlier, to us, it was ‘just a week’. She told us that he needs this week with his mother, end of story. Now that I have read more, seen more and spent time with him, I realise how important the extra time with his mother was, in fact I wish that I left him there longer.
• She sent us pictures of the pup while we waited for him.
• When we went to the kennel, the dogs were all in the house, the mother and father roamed freely, the entire family interacted with the dogs.
• They provided us a ‘tutorial’ of how the puppy should be handled. She cleaned him in front of us and he was calm in her hands, lots of hugs and kisses – the entire affair looked genuine.
• They told us about his personality, which made me feel like they paid attention to him while he was with them,
• They provided us with enough food for a while, a blanket with his mums scent and a toy he had been playing with,
• When we had him (for about a week), the kennel owner found out that one of her pups still with her had a worm. She called us frantically and urgently to take our pup to the vet (which we were already doing) – it made me feel that she really did care what happened to Felix.
So those are my tips on getting a furry friend in Poland – if you have any questions or need some assistance with your own hunt, let me know, I will be happy to help,
*I have not done research on it
I have never been ice skating, and I have always wanted to go.
There’s just something awfully off about indoor skating in South Africa. Surrounded by sweaty people, skating in short rugby shorts while the sun beams outside…o yeah, it feels artificial!
As my posterior grew and my courage diminished I relegated the dream of skating to my ‘Fantasy Files’, you know the type of fantasy, where you skate in a crowded yet empty skating rink, with the Christmas tree outside, some handsome guy coming towards you with hot chocolate, you fall down on your butt and he laughs at how cute you are…snow starts falling and your curls are now dusted with angelic snowflakes.
Well I did do some ‘skating’ recently, while walking my dog amongst the landmines of dog poos and pees strewn across the ice, I slipped and fell, fell on my arse, twice, and I can say that fantasy from the fantasy file, has been taken from my head, shredded and burnt. Then I took the ashes and ate them.
I fell on my arse and it was sore, and now it is sore!
As I scroll the internet looking up “I think I broke my arse bone”, “My arse is broken”, “How to fix a broken arse”, I feel less and less confident that my arse is ok. I saw some wicked scary pictures of butt/arse surgery, not to be confused with butt/arsehole surgery, which I am sure my boss is in dire need of.
Looking at these images, I can’t help but wonder what a polish arse bone surgery would look like. For one, to get to the arse bone (or coccyx if you want to be fancy), they would need to cut through the top of my butt, just at the start of my crack. This is where my body type most shines through, I mean, my arse is not proportional, inversely proportional or any proportional to my body, it is where most of my fat is stored, and I have been storing well…
I can imagine the press being invited and iconic pictures being taken…
“23 hours, 23 hours it took me to get to the arse bone”…
When the doctor is done with what would be a mammoth task will people start clapping (like they do when the plane has landed).
Will I ask ‘Was it successful?’ and will the doctor say “Tak jak…”(which to me means yes how?)
Will my wheelchair be covered in Legia paraphernalia, like the taxis in Warsaw?
If my arse bone is broken will I still need to bend and take off my shoes wherever I go? I mean surely I get some ‘she can’t bend at the arse sympathy’?
I know that the ice is no ones fault, and that after 20+ years walking in the sunshine of Africa ice walking will take some getting used to, but I am butt hurt and miserable – and I am ranting because that is what potential arse-break sufferers do.
When I say arse, I always do so in a Scottish accent – it makes it all sound so much funnier and then I am not such a grumpy arse anymore.
PS:The doctor in the picture is Zbigniew Religa, the 1st doctor to do a heart transplant. It took 23 hours and was a journey of note. If you’re looking for a nice cinematic on the story try Bogowie.
PS2: My arse.
Remember how proud I was of myself when I learnt the ‘hack’ to pronouncing Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz?
Well that was a short lived folly!
People are no longer impressed that I can say ‘Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz‘, it’s been met with ‘Oh! but can you say…’ Or ‘Yes but you will never be able to say…’ and so forth.
Polish people are so adamant that their language is the hardest or one of the hardest. They take so much pride in that ‘fact’, in spreading that limiting belief, and I don’t think it works in their favour.
“The more people understand of your language, the better they can interpret your culture, history etc. and the more likely they are to convey it correctly to the rest of the world.” The great Tamka AD60
The thing with trying to prove everyone wrong by learning how to pronounce things, is that there will always be something else to pronounce, and what always seems to escape these challengers is that they phrases they ask you to repeat aren’t just pronunciation tests, they’re actually tongue twisters.
Imagine going around to people who are learning English and asking them to repeat: “Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. How many pickled peppers did Peter Piper pick?”. That would be a pretty prickish thing to do, but that is what most polish people I meet do to me, and I know they aren’t being dickish, but it sure does make me feel like a bit of a show monkey.
So if you’re in a similar position as I am, here is probably the first tongue twister that you are asked to say : W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie.
Which means: In Szczebrzeszyn a beetle sounds in the reeds.
It is from a famous poem written by Jan Brzechwa, and what Poles will not tell you is that they themselves have trouble saying it and it is known as one of the hardest phrases to pronounce.
The one thing that always makes me smile is thinking that there is the wonderful song sang by Mama Afrika (Miriam Makeba) called Qongqothwane, which was so difficult that Europeans named it ‘The Click Song’. Like the Polish poem it also speaks about a beetle. Whenever I reach this conclusion in my head, I think actually maybe beetles are the real problem here?!
Anyway back to the struggle of tongue twisters, if you’re asked to say this phrase ” W Szczebrzeszynie chrząszcz brzmi w trzcinie.” you can try some of the following tactics:
- Getting on the moral high ground and asking how many poles can actually say it?
- Say ‘Sure, right after you say a tongue twister in one of my home languages?” (Next time I am giving them this : “Igqira lendlela nguqo ngqothwane. Sebeqabele gqi thapha bathi nguqo ngqothwane!”
- OR try and pronounce it with my below best effort below:
“v sh-tche bz-he shyy-nyeah hshon-sh-tch bzh-mee v tzhcheenyeah “…mmm yeah…what was option 2 again?
If all this fails, do what I often dream of doing, get halfway in and suddenly stick out your tongue letting a dense stream of drool fall from your lips. While Poles will be concerned for you, they will also be immensely happy, because their language is so hard it caused you to have a brain malfunction, and that is what they have been trying to tell you all along!
Are there any tongue twisters you need my non-existent help saying or want to know the origins off? What are the challenges most often given to you?
Let me know,
PS: I cannot possible mention the great Miriam Makeba and leave you with no chance to discover her, or rediscover her, or just listen once again to one of the most beautiful songs that exist…
About a year ago Allegro embarked on making a series covering Polish Legends/Polish Stories. They’ve covered a few so far, but the most recent one, is their take on the story of Baba Jaga.
It’s a video I strongly suggest watching, but before you watch it, I think you may need to know a little bit about Baba Jaga to undertsand why I find their take on the story a great one.
So what or who is Baba Jaga?
Baba Jaga is a woman, a witch.
Wikimedia – Commons
Baba Jaga is not just your typical crone, according to the legends, she sports iron teeth, bony legs and often some other additional grotesque feature such as a huge nose, or huge breasts (hmm), she is also often blind or visually impaired. She has some enviable real estate; a house that is supported up by a chicken leg (or legs), a fence topped with skulls in which the eyes glow. If this was not enough, she has a top of the range witch broom and mostly travels in a pestle and mortar (talk about grinding gears). Baba Jaga is said to kidnap children and devour them, and she is sometimes an ambiguous figure, who might either harm or help (take the story of Vasilisa). In most of the stories I have read she doesn’t seem to like good in general. Like most witches who come from the forest, she has good knowledge of the plants and herbs around her, which she manipulates with great effects.
It also seems that the legend of Baba Jaga is spread (like most things) across most Slavic nations and has influenced similar stories in other cultures.
Allegro weaves a pretty nice story between all the short films they have released, and here is what I was drawn to/noted about the Baba Jaga story.
Legendy polskie – „Jaga”
First their depiction of Baba Jaga. She was not an old hideous crone, but rather a maiden; with flowing red hair, a green wreath upon her head, fiery green eyes to match and a dress that looked ethereal, something you’d expect a woodland elf to wear. She looks nothing like the crone we are told about in the stories.
As a character she has an unnerving calm while fighting (against humans). She clearly has a very deep connection to nature; the forest. She has a strong desire to return to her grove and her desire to return is fueled by the irreverence of nature & the hope that people still wonder about the old days (Slavic Paganism is strongly tied to the primeval forests). After getting injured in the EPIC fight scene, she takes some herbs growing on the bark of the barn and heals her wounds, which shows us to the ‘healer’ aspect of Baba Jaga. I do think Baba Jaga in the stories has the same connection to nature that the one depicted in Allegro’s film had. As for the awesome fight scene, I am not so sure that the Baba Jaga I read about could even fight (or would need to), but I really enjoyed Allegro’s depiction of her fighting in this manner.
I did not get much of her ambiguity in the short film, as she seemed more a good ‘being’ (caring about nature, about the lost ‘old ways’). Perhaps the face of Baba Jaga was ambigious (?), I think the actress did a good job in keeping her face relatively emotionless, or showed subtle hints of emotion, but there was always a fire conveyed through the eyes. The only thing which alluded to her being a source of bad/evil (or maybe unchristian), was the Boruta (devils) reference to keeping her locked up under what seemed the command of the angels. He says, ‘what will heaven say when they know that Slavic Demons are running loose’. Indeed Boruta, indeed.
After watching the Baba Jaga short story released by Allegro , I wondered; why are witches mostly old and purposefully grotesque looking women?
I thought back about the movies with witches I did remember: Disney’s Snow White, Hocus Pocus, The Wizard of Oz, The Witches, and general stories about witches who always seemed to follow the same formula.
Now I don’t have a firm answer backed up by research, but I wondered if it was because older women (back then) held vast knowledge when it came to cures, herbal medicines, stories and advice. In my own culture I know that the grannies have all the best cures for a sickness and all the lessons from the past! Well that might explain the old part.
What about the ugly part? Well perhaps this was for the scare factor? Scaring kids with abnormal features. Scaring them into behaving? Maybe it was because back then aging was very different from what it is now. 50 is the new 40 which is the new 30 which is as good as 20 say all the magazines…
Then I wondered about Baba Jaga specifically (as we don’t have many witches in my culture to start with). I thought about the Allegro version, I know that they must have done extensive research and must have chosen a reason for their interpretation of Baba Jaga. Tomasz Bagiński is a part of the Allegro project and he is a genius, so I don’t think it is solely some artistic fancy to show this version of Baba Jaga. I wondered if Baba Jaga was at one time a good witch, a protector of people and the forest, then with Christianity replacing Slavic Paganism, certain aspects had to be changed or demonised? It has happened before, where Christianity either absorbed pagan festivals/stories/holidays or made the current gods gruesome. There are examples around the world where other legends and gods were changed to make them more unattractive, scary and unpleasant.
I tried to research this a bit, however when English sources are thin, it isn’t an easy or rewarding task.
What I did manage to find was a conclusion drawn from the book (“Od matriarchatu do patriarchatu”) written by Zygmunt Krzak (an archeologist), which mentions that Baba Jaga could have been a goddess which was made hideous to suite the new patriarchal order. It also says that the thread of Baba Jaga kidnapping children and eating them could refer to a the ritual initiation of young children. There is a group of researchers who believe that they can piece together the original Baba Jaga, the form before it was made grotesque, and that the original form was a Mother Goddess type.
Maybe they already have and I just haven’t read it in English, but I hope that they can trace the proper roots of Baba Jaga. If it really is the goddess/priestess/witch that was more beauty than blight, I think that Allegro did a very good job in showing a different side to this old legend, and is a good start of setting a story right.
Enjoy the movie and let me know your thoughts or anything you might know on Baba Jaga!
Picure: Wikimedia Commons
I never appreciated my access to spices until I left home.
The earthiness that whole jeera (cumin, kminek), manja (tumeric) and whole mustard seeds adds to my curry cannot be missed. The mix of masala that takes me back to my childhood, and my mother back to hers, and her mothers to hers and so on, is magic…and something that cannot be replicated with generic blends; some of which don’t even exist in Warsaw supermarkets.
Seems silly, that spices hold such power, but it does. Tastes which bring back memories, tastes which take the food we make to a level beyond pure sustenance.
I miss being able to get spices from the shop, the neighbour, my mother. I missed the smell of spices frying in a bed of onions. When I first moved here, I greatly underestimated the availability of what I would need, or the difference in taste of what I would obtain.
My last trip home to SA saw me bring home a bag of spices, I had become like all those Indian people on that airport security show 😀 Thankfully I did not have to trash any of my goods.
The difference it made to my curry was unmistakable, and I think we ate curries at home (Warsaw) for about two weeks before we let up. In SA, if I spilled some masala, I would curse a bit and sweep it away. Now when I drop it, I feel a pang in my heart, ‘There lies a good curry’.
My curry powder went from a large bottle to a quarter in about 3 months, and then, that quarter was ‘stretched’ out for another 3 months. My mother went out and created a stash for me once again, but I am never confident that the post office back home will send it, I am not even sure how the customs will work here, so she will keep it until I see them again.
So what to do in the unknown amount of time before I see them? I considered visiting one of the Indian restaurants and asking if i could buy their spices (but I don’t think that is wise), I met a very kind Polish lady at the ‘BioBazar‘ who offered to make it for me if I could give her a recipe (I didin’t have one), and I even considered ordering from the UK, but delivery costs make it unviable.
Getting spices from home all the time is unrealistic and I needed to find a store where I could get good spices and also have them in names that I understood. Translating from the names I learnt at home, then to English then to Polish is sometimes too difficult even for google.
I decided to look online, and I eventually found this shop here: Little India
They sell individual spices, and they taste good. Whole spices, ground spices and masala blends. I have made my own masala blend, nothing as good as what I have at home, but definitely not the fault of the spices and surely better than the nothing the shops offer.
I have gotten pickles (Patak a UK brand), pappadums, lentils, beans and dhal from them.
They also have an ‘African’ section, were I found mielie meal to make pap!
They have beauty products, none of which I have tried, EXCEPT the henna, which is good quality and did not cause any allergic reactions on my skin. I also got incense from them; smells like home 🙂
Something which I am saving towards are their copper kadais and handis…
They have an english version and a polish version of the website, they accept online payments and the courier that delivers their stuff (DPD) have a very pleasant gentleman, who speaks English too, doing their deliveries.
If you are an Indian living in Warsaw and you have sniffed all your spices up, or someone who just wants good quality spices (Indian blends specifically), then I strongly suggest Little India.
I never appreciated my access to spices until I left home, and now that I am no longer there, I fully understand the drive behind spice routes and the luxury of having them.
Little India contact details:
ul. Domaniewska 22/5
Telefon: (22) 843 67 38
ul. Mokra 13
Telefon: 22 888 64 39