Monday, May 30, 2011

End of Summer Adventure #1

My last teaching day for this Global Volunteers trip was Friday, May 27. We went again to the Special Needs School. In the first hour I basically taught the whole class with translation help from a wonderful young woman studying to be an English teacher for special needs students. At the end of the class she told translated a statement from one of the students: "It's a pity you are leaving." That is the type of pay that volunteers receive that keeps one going!

After we returned to Reymontowka we spent time packing, returning teaching supplies to the work room, and cleaning the work room.

At 6:30 we gathered in the skansen (museum) for an evening meal with teachers and staff from the three schools at which we had taught.

There was much happy conversation and exchange of e-mail addresses. The teachers were aware that we had to depart the next morning at 6:30 AM so they said their good-byes by 8:30.

We went rather quickly to our rooms for sleep.

The area was nice and quiet.

Don't know if I slept as well as this angel (one of the many wood carvings around Reymontowka) but I was able to get up at 5:15 this next morning and put the final things into the suitcase. We were done with breakfast and in the van on the way to Warsaw by 6:15.

We got into the major city area of Warsaw about 7:30 and could immediately see police stationed to block exits from the highway into the business district of the city. This was all due to the G8 Summit taking place there that included many heads of state, including President Obama. We had no trouble getting into the airport. Our team leader quickly went into the airport with us to make sure we knew how to check in for our flights and then left to take the third team member to his hotel where he was staying one more night.

On the way to my plane I saw Air Force One parked on the tarmac. Below is the best picture I could get from the plane where I had an aisle seat-- not the best choice for a photo:
The trip across the Atlantic was uneventful. I didn't get much sleep though, maybe 45 minutes only. I had just fallen to sleep when someone tried to get something from an overhead compartment and a packaged blanket fell down into my face. That was the end of sleeping.

At O'Hare we must have have gotten the gate absolutely the furthermost from passport control. The path was down three sloping ramps at least one hundred feet long each, then down two long, long hallways, each so long it was hard to see to the other end when starting, then a couple more winding short hallways, and finally passport control. That went rather quickly. Then to getting my bag and moving it on for the domestic flight. I had less than 90 minutes between landing from Europe to departure for Minnesota, so I was very glad when someone at the bag check said, "Terminal 1" without my having to inquire or search for more information about where my next flight was. I went to the train, got to Terminal One, found the gate and had about 2 minutes to catch my breath before boarding the next flight.

Found my luggage didn't make it though. I recognized others whose bags were also missing from being passport control with me in Chicago. People may be able to move in a short time from the International Terminal to the domestic terminals, but apparently the baggage can't.

Got a taxi home. Summary, I got up at 5 AM Saturday morning Europe time and got home at 1 AM Sunday morning Europe time. It was a long day,

My bag got delivered the next day. At first I thought it had been left in the rain somewhere as it was a bit wet on one side. However, after opening the bag, I discovered that a bottle of vodka given me as a gift didn't make it. Everything was nicely soaked in Chopin Vodka. I'm so glad, now, I didn't try to bring home a jar of pickled mushrooms that were given me as a gift!

So now dealing with a bit of jet lag before departing again for Europe in mid -June. I'll probably never again do this much traveling in an 18 month period.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Celebrating Mother's Day and other Happenings

Today, May 26 is Mother's Day in Poland. It is always this date without regard for what day of the week this is. Thus, Mother's Day is different here than in the States (and I saw the same thing earlier this month in Hungary when that country celebrated Mother's Day on a different date) for the celebration always includes a school celebration.

Today was our last day at the Cisie School.

 Above is an outside view of this school. I believe this building is now at least 50 years old.

We enter the school through a very small kitchen area. Then one comes into the first floor hallway. This school is built with classrooms only on one side of a very wide hall. The wide hall becomes a place for recreation and other activities. A ping-pong table is obviously a feature here. This style of building is not unique to Poland. I saw the same building style during my visits to schools last year while living in Hungary.

I did a class with my 4th graders and then we took photos.

At the right I am with the boys. One of the girls took this photo and caught me at a moment with clearly I was distracted by one of the boys. These are really great kids. They really worked hard.
And here are the girls. We had a great background for these photos because we used the room set aside for teaching Polish language and culture classes.

Then we all went to small gym in this building for the Mother's Day presentation.

Here are some videos of the program. First is some of the program presented by the 2nd graders. I worked with these students twice when the 3rd graders were busy with other activities.

 The above video are some of my third grade students.
And who has a heart that would not melt when seeing these students from Grade 0, which is what kindergarten is called in Poland.
Following the program I was called back to classroom where I was joined by all the 3rd and 4th graders who sang Sto Lat to me and gave me a gift -- a CD entitled, "A Foreigner's Guide to Learning Polish."

I had my last tutoring session with my university student this afternoon and she surprised me with a bottle of Chopin Vodka. Now I'll have to figure out how to pack very carefully, so it actually makes the trip all the way back to Minnesota.

A Tour of Reymontowka

I have written much about being at Reymontowka, but have not well explained what this means. Reymontowka is one of the old Polish manor houses. It has a great history, the last chapter being it was taken from its owner by the socialist government that succeeded after World War II. When it was returned 30 years later to the owner, he no longer had the financial resources to renovate and repair the house. He gave it to the County of Siedlce which now operates this as what we in the United States would call a conference center.

Many events happen here. Reymontowka hosts the Global Volunteers. We stay here, have work space here, eat our meals here, and as I say, "I come to Reymontowka and Poland comes to me." I reported recently about Majowka, we've seen huge wedding receptions, many First Communion family dinners, heard concerts, and are sharing the space with German students on an exchange program with a nearby Polish vocational culinary school. Today the grounds are covered by art students, too, sketching.

I'm sharing some pictures of the house and area, all taken in the early morning. This isn't always the best for light, but was the time I had to take the photos.
Here is the front of the manor house, as I see it three mornings per week while waiting for the ride to the nearby Cisie School. We are at school to teach by  8 AM, so this is truly early morning light!

If we walk through the front door, we enter the foyer.

To the left is the room now called the Red Room, but I persist is calling it the library. That is what is was during my early stays at Reymontowka. This area functioned then as the work room where we planned the classes and stored all the teaching materials.

Now we have a dedicated work room on the second floor. It is full of teaching materials that have been carried to Poland or created in Poland by the Global Volunteers. There is a TV that receives English International CNN and BBC. On the left you may see the glow of the computer on which I'm writing this blog.

Straight ahead from the foyer is a room that for lack of anything better I'll call the Great Room.
On the morning that I took this photo, it was being prepared for the annual poetry recitation contest that features elementary age students. It can be prepared for a large dinner seating 30 some people for an event such as a family's First Communion dinner. Because this room holds a grand piano, it the place for musical events. And during the summer we may put 60 kids on the floor and show a movie.

We eat our meals in the informal dining room. Viewers can see the sun streaming through the east facing window in the middle. The door on the left leads outside to the patio area. The dark door is the one that goes to the kitchen where the staff produce amazing meals.

There is a formal dining room as well. The photo below shows it in a rare moment of not being used or being prepared for any event.
Sometimes during the summer, the table is removed and bunk beds brought it and it becomes a bedroom for 4-6 kids during summer language camp.

Behind the manor house now is a large tent.

During the summer we hold 4 classes within the tent, while other classes find spaces elsewhere on the manor house grounds. The Majowka performances were all held in the tent; it is often the location as well for a wesele.

There is a second house on the grounds, called the Annex.
During this stay, I'm living at the Annex in a very large room, which in the summer would be space for at least 4 students for summer camp.

I'll come back this summer to space such as this in the manor house. The room is small, but quite adequate, and all rooms have a en-suite bathroom!!!

And finally the patio.

One can see this is a pleasant place and a place of lot of informal activities, although the other day I sat there and did a radio interview with the Catholic Radio Station that is located in Siedlce.

Note bar: In the summer the bar becomes a dining hall, too, for campers. Beer is gone and replaced by ice cream!

And so there you have it, a small tour of Reymontowka. Recently at a school, the students asked me about the places I had visited in Poland. After I did my list, one looked at me very puzzled and said,"Where do you live in Poland?" So I answered, "Reymontowka. "

Monday, May 23, 2011


Majowka is an annual celebration held at Reymontowka. We volunteers spent the morning at leisure -- reading, doing laundry, or getting ready for our classes during the coming week. Meanwhile the staff from Reymontowka was transforming the area for the celebration. After obiad the first guests and performers began to arrive. Many came by bus, a fairly common way to travel, at least in this part of Poland.

A few minutes after 2:00, the welcoming speeches began. 
On the right is Marek, the director of Reymontowka. On the left is Miss Siedlce, received here with great pride because her home is Kotun, the town just up the road from Reymontowka. Part of the speeches were recognizing we Americans. I learned the next day that the County Governor referred to us, jokingly of course, as repeat criminals, because we keep coming back to Poland. All of us on this team are repeat volunteers for the Global Volunteers' May program.

Part of this time too included the presentation of some awards. I was thrilled to see Pani Ula receive an award for her work as director of summer language camps for 20 years. I have worked with her on numerous occasions and she is truly an excellent camp director.

 What joy, too, to have relationships here for so long that in May 2011 I can see appreciation for the work of a person I've known since 2007during summer language camps!

Then we were treated to an amazing dance performance by a group from Siedlce. They performed for nearly 90 minutes. All the pictures and video below are from this group.

This dance group performed various dances over a 90 minute period. They are simply terrific. 

Two other dance groups followed. And there was not a polka to be seen. Many Americans, including Polish-Americans, somehow believe the polka is a Polish dance, but it is not danced at all in Poland. 
I enjoyed a musical group that followed. These people looked like they have a good time singing. 
I tried to add a video of this group, but blogger kept refusing it. Sorry you all can't hear this group.

At this point I began to wander around the grounds, greeting people I knew and just generally seeing what all was happening. 

Activities for children had a good crowd.

Performances continued until nearly 8 PM. 

I wandered back to the tent and saw two women dressed as if they were a doctor and a nurse. I sat down to see what would happen. A woman came from back stage, bent over and walking as if she was 90 years old. The doctor and nurse seated her and began to take off her clothing -- first her coat, then her sweater, then her blouse and then her skirt. There she was in her underwear -- a fine pair of pantaloons which I didn't even know any one could purchase these days. When they pulled down her underwear, there was another skirt. This went on for at least six sets of clothing. Finally the woman complained she was cold and grabbed a bottle of vodka from the table. We were really laughing!
One thing that really surprised me was target shooting.

This morning all was quiet at Reymontowka, one would never know a big celebration happened here yesterday.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Playing with a Baby

We are sharing Reymontowka with a group of vocational school students from Germany. With them is a Polish-German translator. She has a small baby. Today I saw them playing with a cute toy, a donkey that sings opera.Or perhaps it's a hippo. Anyway, it's both cute and funny.
We have been enjoyed Majowka all day, but I'm tired and have to teach at 8 AM tomorrow morning. Check back sometime tomorrow for the pictures and video from Majowka.

Chopin Adventure

On Saturday, two of us took the train to Warsaw. Our goal was to visit to newly renovated Chopin Museum. We got off the train at the Powisle station and walked to a nearby Coffee Heaven where we enjoyed a refreshment break. We walked up Nowy Swiat and found the American Bookstore. We each made purchases. From there we walked to Holy Cross Church, the church that hold Chopin's heart.

Then it was just a short walk to the Chopin Museum. There has been a museum at this site for many years, but new audiovisual effects have been added. We had purchased our tickets online for only a certain number of visitors are admitted per hour because the exhibit spaces are quite small. We were given an RFID card to wear. When we got to exhibits we put the card next to a symbol and then produced English language for us, sometimes narrated and sometimes subtitled. In addition all the exhibits were labeled in Polish and English, but having the additional language was very helpful.

While preparing for this visit, I found on a web site that visitors would not believe what had been done to Ogranski Palace. Here is one photo showing the new addition to the palace.

This whole area of the museum was quite acrylic! It also had some very unique exhibits. I really enjoyed the one shown in the video below.

What appears to be a vertical line in the video is the crack between two acrylic panels, something that I couldn't control.

As we proceeded through the levels of the museum, we discovered the new part was built under the courtyard of the palace.
This is indeed a very informative museum and I'm glad I got to visit it.

After the museum visit we walked back to ul. Foksal and chose a restaurant for lunch. Then we wandered along the street toward the Galleria enjoying the special table exhibits provided by the Cepalia store. Cepalia sells true Polish handicrafts; one can be confident that anything purchased at the Cepalia store truly comes from Poland and not from some other country where products are made more cheaply.

We took the train back to Kotun arriving just in time for kolecja. The evening was spent in either leisure or starting preparation for next week's classes.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Field Trip Adventure

On Wednesday, May 18, two of us went on a field trip with our Cisie students. We arose at 5 AM and found our ride to the school here at 5:35. We were all on the bus by 6 AM!!! Our destination was the Bialowieza National Park in far north eastern Poland. Bialowieza is pronounced something Be ah way zha. There are some letters in the Polish alphabet that we don't have in English and so certainly this pronunciation will look funny to you. When I was here 7 years ago, there was no way I could say this word!

After about 90 minutes of driving we stopped for a toilet break. In the United States stopping at a gas station would be about the last choice, but in Poland as in other Central European countries, gas stations are required to provide clean and usually free toilet facilities. This one cam equipped with a helicopter which immediately took the children's interest.
I was amused to see the 6th grade boys gathered around a table on the porch of the building. They looked like they were practicing for a later stage of life when they will gather at the town cafe to solve all the problems of the world.

We arrived at the park about 9:30 and were met by guide.
Our first destination was the Polish Kings Oak Trail. This is a collection of oak trees between 200 - 400 years old, planted to commemorate the Polish Kings and the Lithuanian Grand Dukes. This is the last surviving medieval forest in Europe. It survived hundreds of years when it could have been turned into farm land or towns because whoever was in charge of Poland prized this area as a hunting ground.

Seeing these old trees for which there are written records as long ago as 400 years is an incredible experience. The trees, quite obviously, are older than the United States. The size is amazing too.

I also enjoyed seeing a quiet brook.

We are quite far north here and the spring flowers are just bursting from the forest floor.
After this walk, we went into the animal reserve area. This area in particularly protects bison, almost the only remaining bison in Europe. There are also special horses here that are protected.
I learned these are wilk.

I believe the fence is there to protect the wilk from the humans rather than the other way around.

Here is one of the bison, the Polish word is zubr -- I have all the keys on my keyboard for that word.

I also enjoyed seeing the wild boars, and particularly the new litter.

After obiad we walked to a nature museum in the park. The first steps were across a lovely little lake.

Then past the oldest surviving wooden house in this part of Poland.
And at last to the museum.
The museum has two levels. The first floor displays dioramas of animals in the forest. The second floor has dioramas that are enlargements of a what one might see in the forest. For example, one shows a tree hollow. A typical tree hollow might be 3-5 feet in diameter, but the display is about 12 feet in diameter. One can see how such hollows become homes to bees and bats and other animal life in the forest.

On the way back south we stopped at Grabarka.This is considered to be a very, very holy shrine by Orthodox Christians.
This video done by a TV station from a nearby city shows much about Grabarka.

We returned to Reymontowka about 8:30 PM really tired, but satisfied that we had such a great day with our Cisie students.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Krakow Life

I took this sentiment  from a larger poster. I liked the sentiment so much. On Sunday morning of the weekend, we gathered for breakfast. Then I walked with another volunteer over to the Krakow train station to scout out the location of our return train. We decided to take streets new to us on a walk to the Rynek.
I thought the blue bridge railings were spectacular and I really liked this street lamp.

At the Rynek we gathered information about the new underground tour, something I'd like to do when I return next to Poland.

Then we walked part of the way on the street that leads to Wawel Castle. It was lined with banners saluting and commemorating Pope John Paul.

Alone I walked back to the Rynek to the Empik store and found a movie DVD that I wanted. The best part of this experience was that it was on sale, too.

I sat in the Empik cafe and had a coffee. I looked over the Rynek. On a cool and rainy Sunday morning it was really empty.

We took an InterCity train back to Warsaw and again had a difficult time in the Wschodnia Station. This time a soda machine vendor rescued us and got us going towards the right peron. We returned to a delightful late supper at Reymontowka.