ten days after

I don’t know if I can keep you interested in my blog after New Zealand and I don’t think my life will be as exciting as it used to be when I was travelling down under. But some of you has asked me if I’m going to keep on blogging and encouraged to do so and since I’m in London and intent to stay here for a while, I think there will be always something to write about.

I’ll also try to upload some photos on my photoblog now I’ve finally caught up with posts here.

It took me a while to get over the jet lag. For the first couple days I was ready to go to bed in the afternoon and was waking up in the middle of the night or early morning. After two days mostly staying in bed, I finally went outside on Wednesday and took a walk to the nearest park. The sun is really tricky here, because when you’re inside, you think it’s nice and warm outside, but when you leave your house, this is when it gets worse.

Nevertheless, it was great to go out, even though I felt a bit dizzy and enjoy English autumn.

On Friday afternoon, I went to the city centre. I saw an exhibition of Edgar Degas at the Royal Academy of Arts and portraits of comedians and actesses at the National Portrait Gallery.

But the main reason why I left home was to see my friends’ from Porirua youngest son performing in a play “Teechers“. He was great and after the show I talked to him and passed him the greetings from his parents. I also met coincidentally some more members of his family. It was lovely to connect with someone from “out-there”, because my memory of New Zealand has already started fading and the feeling that the trip has never happened started to creep in.

Probably that’s why it’s taken me so long to write those posts about the last days in NZ, because I wanted the memories to last as long as possible. But it’s time to move on. In NZ every day was important and different, and now they sometimes blur into one. I need to face reality and look for a job, get into routine and start earning and hopefully saving some money to go back. I’ve done the first step: opened a bank account this week.

Not that I’m not going to enjoy living in London! I already am and really getting into the mood of Christmas, because I can feel the cold. On the way to the theatre, I passed London Christmas Market on the South Bank and wandered around the stalls sipping mulled wine.


MONDAY, 21st November

“Sto lat! Sto lat! Niech żyje, żyje nam!…” This is what I heard waking up on my birthday in New Zealand. D&De came into my bedroom singing Polish “Happy Birthday” and holding a birthday card and beautiful roses from D’s garden. After wishing me all the best, De. went to work and D. brought me breakfast to bed. It was really unexpected.

The weather wasn’t any better outside than I usually have on my birthday in Poland. It was cold, rainy and of course windy. But it got rapidly better early afternoon and for the rest of the day it was hot and sunny. Crazy weather.

For lunch D. took me to the centre of Porirua town, which was like a big shopping centre, but there was also Pataka Museum of Arts and Culture. We had lunch there first and then went to see the exhibitions.

I couldn’t take photos in the rest of the rooms, but my favourite exhibition was with Grahame Sydney‘s landscape paintings.

After the visit at the Museum we went shopping. I was trying to get used to seeing a Christmas tree and beautful sun outside.

Then we went back home and I made ‘pierogi ruskie’ – potato-cheese pierogi, but because I couldn’t find ricotta cheese with Polish white cheese consistency, I used feta and it worked really well! For dessert, I made chocolate cake. When De. came back from work, while waiting for dinner to be ready, he played me some vinyls he had bought from a music store which was getting rid of all the older records and they were selling them very cheap. One of the songs he played for me was Dr. Hook’s “Sylvia’s Mother”. I remembered then Luke’s singing to me and his suggestion to look for songs with my name. I’ve found Eurythmics; “Sylvia” so far. Anyone else knows a song with my name? Are there any songs with your name?

I spent a great evening with my friends. That was all I had wished for and I got even more. And I made so many pierogis that we were eating them for the next two days.

Time Cinema

SUNDAY, 20th November

I had let my friends from Porirua, D&De know that I was back in Wellington and they were happy to invite me again to their home. I stayed at their place till Wednesday.

Before they picked me up in the afternoon, I had some time for myself, so I went to the Museum of Wellington City & Sea. On the way there, I passed Civic Square with The Occupy Wellington camp.

De. had told me they would take me to a place that tourists usually don’t visit, because they simply don’t know of that place. When their friend bought a house, there was a big shed in the garden. He thought it would be a good place for a theatre, so he created Time Cinema about 30 years ago. It’s somewhere in Lyall Bay in Wellington.

There was a pianola

A huge roll of “LOTR: Return Of The King”

There was an anusual collection of everything

I used to have some of those models

A whale bone

The name of some place in New Zealand, on the North Island, I think.

And the screen room

He doesn’t play contemporary blockbusters, but old black and white movies supported with some commercials from the 50’s or 60’s and short films with Charlie Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy. That time after a tea and biscuit break, we watched “A Night At The Races” with Marx Brothers. My favourite scene. Classic! 😀

If I had a big house, I’d do a similar thing with one of my big rooms.


WEEKEND, 30th Sept. – 2nd Oct.

Just when I started adapting myself to New Zealand (I even bought NZ Listener, because there was a really good article “Face Off” about selling out Maori cultural heritage), I met my countrymen. Maybe you remember that I had met some Poles a few times in Australia and it wasn’t a big deal to be Polish there. Here, on the other hand, about 2-3 hour flight further south being a Polish visitor is quite unusual. Makes me feel special, but little lonely at the same time. I also feel very responsible for representing my country well, because some people might never meet Polish again and their opinion about my country is based on meeting me. Wow, I feel heavy just thinking about it!

Anyway, my friend from Levin had given me contact details to a Polish lady, who actually was a New Zealander but her mum was born in Poland. I didn’t know how old D. could be, but after her voice on the phone, I was guessing she could be in my mum’s age i.e. 60ish, which made me curious about her mum and how she got to New Zealand. I was about to learn some amazing story about Polish children, mostly orphans and the generous new land.

But let’s keep the facts in the chronological order.

On Friday, I checked out from the YHA hostel before 10 a.m., but I stayed inside, had late breakfast and waited for D. to pick me up at 1:30 p.m. As I guessed, D. was in her 60s and very happy to see me and to speak some Polish. We didn’t go straight to her home. First we went to a private Anglican primary school, where her son-in-law was a head-master in acting. She had to pick something up from the school, but because it was the end of term, we stayed for the end of term chapel service (kids here have 2 week holiday now and I feel sorry for them, because the weather has been awful since Monday). It was my first New Zealand school and I had a really good impression. The school choir was amazing!

On the way to D.’s home, we visited her daughter in Johnsonville and I met her two little children. They were playing outside, getting wet and dirty in two small pools and I was thinking that they have the best childhood you can ever get.

D. and her husband De. live on the outskirts of Porirua, a small town, like Johnsohnville, north of Wellington. When we arrived, De. just got back from work and he welcomed me with a big smile and said he knew three sentences in Polish, “Jesteś moja kochana żona” (You’re my beloved wife), “Ja ciebie mocno kocham” (I love you very much) and “Co będziemy dzisiaj jedli na obiad?” (What are we having for dinner today?). I told him it was the right order to learn them.

We dropped off my bags in my room, De. got changed and took me on a ride through a narrow valley up the hill to Paekakariki. From there, looking north I saw Kapiti Island, where a bird sanctuary is.

Yes, it was that beautiful and sunny a couple of days ago. On south I saw the South Island for the first time.

It seems to be like another country I need to go to. I got comfortable on the North Island. I have spent so much time here, made friends, got to know the roads and now there’s another land with no friends… yet.

We were back in an hour, picked D. up and went to Topór, a Polish restaurant in Plimmerton! Tasting sausage made me feel homesick so hard that I got tears in my eyes. I recognized Polish bands playing from the speakers, mostly classics from the 60s and 70s: Skaldowie, Czerwone Gitary (their leader, Krzysztof Klenczon was born in my home town!) and even Karel Gott from Czechoslovakia. You could order Polish beer, Żywiec or vodka, Luksusowa. It was so weird. The owner of the restaurant had Polish roots, but he didn’t speak Polish apart from some essential phrases, like “Na Zdrowie!” (Cheers!) It was so freaky to hear him explaining to his customers some Polish customs.

But not all dishes were strictly Polish (there was bigos, of course!). There were some Italian or Kiwi additions and cheesecake wasn’t very Polish (yep, there’s a shortage of the proper cottage cheese) and ice cream had interesting flavours, like dill or pepper, but as long as there was some vodka in them, they were all right.

After dinner we went on the hill in Plimmerton. It was too late for the sunset, but the sky was still beautiful and the colours from deep blue to fire red were like from a children’s book, so intense and unreal. I could see flat like a table Mana Island very close and very distant picks of the South Island, from Marlborough Sounds Maritime Park up to Haymer Forest Park on Kaikoura peninsula hundreds kilometers away. You have to believe my word, because I didn’t have my camera with me.

On SATURDAY morning De. made me a surprise. I had told him that my dad had a twenty year old car. Well, after breakfast De. took me for a ride with this:

I was speechless, when I saw her. Isn’t she beautiful? 1930 Ford model A. He bought her in 1970s for $1000. I was grinning all the time we were driving.

We went to a local attraction, Aotea Lagoon. It was a great park for family with playgrounds for small and bigger kids, a lake, a railway and some geese peacefully nesting their eggs under the bushes.

We went back home, had lunch. I had been craving for soup recently and D. made soup which tasted very Polish. She had some project to make till Monday, so she stayed at home. We changed cars and De. took me to show the place he grew up in, which was Taita in Lower Hutt. De. showed me the hill where Peter Jackson was shooting LOTR near his suburb (Wikipedia: Dry Creek quarry, which dominates the hills above the suburb of Taitā, became the site for a huge medieval castle built for scenes of Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith.) We also went to Plimmerton again and bought some sausages at a butcher who had been to Poland. He had bought a cook book and now makes amazing sausages according to Polish recipes. I said to the butcher that the smell at his shop was like back home. He seemed to be very honoured to hear that and proud.

In the afternoon, De. went to see a rugby match in Wellington, D. was working on her project and I spent my time sitting on veranda and reading books with testimonies of Polish people who came to New Zealand on 1st November 1944 when they were still children. In 1939, when Stalin invaded eastern Poland called Kresy, his army packed thousands of Polish families from Lvov area to trains and like animals they were transported to Siberia. D.’s mum was about 13 back then, and she and her family were one of those people. When Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Stalin made an agreement with General Sikorski and gave the amnesty to Siberian prisoners, closing the borders, though, so that people couldn’t escape from the Soviet Union. Those who survived eternal winter in Siberia, went south to Uzbekistan, but the conditions were even worse there. People were dying so fast, that no one bothered to dig graves. D.’s mum’s both parents died there within a week from typhus. Their next stop was Persia where they boarded a ship USS General Randall with Kiwi and US soldiers going home. The New Zealand government invited Polish orphans to their country to wait until the end of the war to return Poland and so on 1 November 1944 733 children and 110 caregivers arrived in Wellington. D.’s mum was one of the caregivers, because she was already 16, but her younger brothers were among those children. They stayed at a refugee camp near Pahiatua (in Maori it means “god’s resting place”). When the war was over, they couldn’t go back to Poland, though, because the country was sold out to Stalin. He asked the NZ government to give him the children back, but the Prime Minister Peter Fraser refused to do that and so they stayed. You can read about it more here and I’ve found a two part documentary The Story of Seven-Hundred Polish Children on NZ On Screen.

On Sunday afternoon, I met D.’s mum. Looking at the photos at her home, I couldn’t stop thinking how powerful saving just one life is. New Zealand to those kids was like Schindler to some Jews, although it wasn’t their enemy, while Schindler was German. But seeing now this big family born out of her womb was like seeing the whole world saved.

Here I’m with Maria and one of her great grandsons (who is a big fan of mine).

What else I did that weekend. When De. came back from the game on Saturday evening, he came with his son, who is a grand announcer at the Wellington Stadium. Funny that first I met his voice at the match I went to in September and now I met the person. A very nice voice and a very nice person.

On SUNDAY morning I went to Catholic Church with D.&De. out of curiosity. I used to be Catholic, so I wanted to see the differences between Polish and New Zealand church. I had that feeling that people were more involved in the life of the parish and it was interesting to be at a mass where English and Maori were spoken and sang interchangeably.

The sculpture of the Risen Christ with Maori influences.

In the afternoon I helped my friends babysit. De. took his grandson and me to Brooklyn to see the Wind Turbine. I liked the view from that hill best, because looking from north to south I could see the CBD of Wellington, Hutt Valley and Lower Hutt on the other side of the bay, then on the right the exit from the bay where ferries go through to Picton, the South Island, then closer to us Miramar peninsula and then back the suburbs of Wellington.

We drove through Aro Valley with very pretty old houses and very narrow Devon Street. We went to meet Maria and try her delicious ‘rogaliki’, which tasted like my grandma’s and in the evening we had dinner with D.&De. daughter and her husband in Johnsonville.

After one month in New Zealand and over two months of being away from home, I had a slice of Poland that weekend.