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.