Thursday, 28 October 2004

The Children of Chudobczyce

Last Monday I travelled backwards in time.

I slipped through a crevice in the space-time continuum and found myself in a long forgotten place inhabited by long forgotten people.

A place called Chudobczyce...

On Saturday I left behind the comfort of Nathan's Villa and the hustle and bustle of Warsaw and travelled to a small city called Poznan.

Poznan is a beautiful city. My guide for the two days I was there was a Polish girl called Dominika. On Monday I left Poznan and boarded my time-machine - in this case a small Polish bus - and began to make my way through the villages and countryside of Poland.

Civilisation fell watch began spinning wildly in the wrong direction...the crows feet around these blue eyes began to fade...memories cartwheeled through my mind and a multitude of faces danced their way across my brain as the bus wound its way down winding roads and past wizened trees.

Eventually the bus came to a stop and I got off, backpack in tow. A German girl came bounding up to me. "Are you Andrew?" she enquired. I replied that I was, because anything else would have been a lie. My journey was at an end. I had arrived in Chudobczyce...

Chudobczyce is a small village with a population of about 170. Life has changed little since the collapse of Communism, or indeed since the collapse of the Roman Empire. Cars and mobile phones, and indeed Englishmen, are not a common sight here.

Chudobczyce is home to a project called Barka, which helps recovering alcoholics and homeless people. It's also home to a Spanish girl called Berta, her boyfriend Mariusz (who I like immensely) and Linda, the German girl who met me at the bus stop.

Berta has dedicated the last year and a half of her life to helping the children of Chudobczyce...a noble task, giving up all of the luxuries that we take for granted to help the children of a forgotten village.

I like these kids. They're sweet. I've spent the last days playing and chasing them - or being chased by them - and I think (or hope) I've managed to connect with many of the youngsters.

Shortly after my arrival on Monday I went to explore a nearby forest, where I promptly got lost. I had visions of being eaten by a bear (a rabid bear recently attacked and killed two people in Romania) and it was up to the children and Linda and Berta to come to my rescue.

But that and one other incident aside, I've really enjoyed my three days in this funny little place.

I came here to meet the children, and Linda and Berta, and to decide if I want to return here early next year. But as much as I've enjoyed these last three days, there's one thing that I hate about Chudobczyce, one thing that I truly despise: the flies.

Chudobczyce is home to millions, possibly billions, of these big, black, buzzing creatures. And they're adventurous little things - they like to explore your soup, your hair, the odd nostril and one or two other orifices - but we won't go into that (or them) here.

On my first night I discovered dozens of the little monsters living around the window in my room so I decided to zap them with a can of Raid. Big mistake.

It was like something out of a Stephen King novel. They started attacking me and dive bombing everything in sight, including my head, so I got out of there pretty sharpish, taking my mattress with me, and set up camp in the kitchen.

But the flies followed me and were soon dive bombing me in the kitchen. Enough was enough, I was not lord of the flies. I retreated outside of the my room and slept in the hallway, where I was awoken some hours later by a drunk man who was kicking me in the head.

But as I wrote, imaginery bears and flies aside, I have really enjoyed my time in this long forgotten place and I hope one day to return. I'll just remember to bring a bigger can of Raid...

And now it's time to board my time machine and head back to civilisation. My bus leaves in an hour from now. It will take me back to Poznan where I will board a train for Warsaw. Once I'm in Warsaw I will catch a train that will again take me backwards in time to the long forgotten country of Belarus.

Until my next entry, from within the USSR, it's time for me to say goodbye to Dominika, Berta, Mariusz, the children and the flies, and time for me to prepare for the long journey ahead.

Goodbye from Chudobczyce...

Back to Civilisation.

From the memory box of a Professional Englishman.

Friday, 22 October 2004

The Westernisation of Warsaw

This must surely be the place that hostels go to when they die.

This entry comes to you from Nathan's Villa in Warsaw, the best hostel I have ever stayed in.

It's simply perfect - more like a hotel than a hostel. It's extremely modern and well designed with three floors, numerous common rooms, a great spacious kitchen and private bathrooms with showers.

There is no check-out time, a free laundry service, free Internet, free lockers and even a free breakfast. The staff are young and friendly and it's very central; the main railway station is just a stone's throw away.

I arrived in Poland on Tuesday after a two hour flight from London. It's nice to be back in Eastern Europe and to be greeted by friendly smiles. Poland is very westernised now and completely different from its neighbour, Belarus.

If you stay in Warsaw for long enough you can almost see the Westernisation (which, let's face it, is mostly Americanisation) taking place. Poland is embracing capitalism, and has been colonised by McDonalds, KFC, Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Britney Spears.

This is a more than a shame, as I see Westernisation as a kind of evil, and I can only hope that the Polish people don't ever become like the British. If you've never been out this way, I would recommend that you visit Eastern Europe now, while it's full of decent and genuinely friendly people, before capitalism truly sets in and eats away at their souls!

On Wednesday I got to know two young travellers, Sharon from Australia and Chieko from Japan. I usually find Australians to be loud, brash, indifferent and unlikeable, but Sharon was completely different and I enjoyed the time that I spent with her and Chieko.

We visited the Palace of Science and Culture together (a large tower in the centre of Warsaw presented as a gift to the Polish people by Stalin - it's both loved and hated by the people) and for the first time since the summer of 2000 I made my way to the viewing point near the top and looked upon this fine city.

Later we made our way to the Old City, which I didn't even know existed. It's beautiful and well worth a visit. As we explored the churches and cobbled streets, I was accosted by a man carrying an axe who insisted that I either pose with him for a photo or let him bury his blade into my neck.

He's supposed to be a 'tourist attraction', but the axe man was just a little too persuasive, and his grip just a little too strong, and it was up to Sharon to come to my rescue. It's a good thing she did, I may have lost my head, and decapitated men generally don't write good blog entries.

Later we went for a meal and were approached by a boy who tried to sell us flowers. When we left the restaurant we were approached by a man who tried to sell us cabbages. Then a little later we were accosted by an old man who kept us talking for a while, which could have been nice, had he known more English than just three words, which, oddly enough, turned out to be 'Hitler,' 'fascist' and 'Liverpool.'

But it was all good and I enjoyed the company of Sharon and Chieko.

I find it difficult to approach people and often end up wandering around alone, so it was nice to meet some new people. Sharon and Chieko left Warsaw today and are probably in Krakow now. I will never see them again, so I will end this paragraph by wishing them well.

A week before arriving in Warsaw I said farewell to Exeter.

Exeter, in Devon, was my on-off home for two years, almost to the day, in between visits to Warsaw, Minsk, Riga, Miami, Detroit, New York, Nassau, Douglas in the Isle of Man, Paris, Cheshire and York.

Leaving was sad. I made some friends and met some good people in those two years.

On my final night in Exeter I visited the cinema with my friend Craig where we watched Code 46, a pointless film. At one point in the film there's a gratuitous, unnecessary lingering shot of a woman's vagina.

On the way home Craig and I had a lengthy conversation about whether the vagina belonged to Samantha Morton, the lead actress in the film, or whether it was in fact a "stunt vagina," employed by directors for times when the action becomes a little racey.

Only the vagina knows for sure.

My last week in England was spent mostly on my Mum's settee. It was nice to see my Mum and my brother Mark, after not having visited them for three months. We enjoyed some days out, visiting a nuclear bunker in Nantwich in Cheshire, built during the Cold War to accommodate local VIPs in the event of a Soviet attack.

Tomorrow I catch a train that will take me to the city of Poznan. I'll be staying for two days in Poznan, and sleeping on a stranger's floor, before heading to a little village nearby.

I'm thinking about doing a two month SCI project in the village in January of next year and this will be a chance for me to meet the kids and the other volunteers and get lost in the fields of Poland. After that I'm not sure. I got a one month visa for Belarus today - my tenth - and I will probably head to Minsk next week but nothing is set in stone.

The world is my oyster now, with roads going in all directions, all of them leading into the unknown, and all of them leading to a place that I will, for a short time, call home.

Some of the roads I am taking will lead me to many of the people reading this entry, and I hope that we will have the chance to meet again, somewhere on this crazy planet that is home to all of us.

Until then, this is me, making the most of the free Internet in Nathan's Villa in Warsaw, saying goodbye and wishing you well.

Let's see which way the wind is blowing.

Skyler Black

P.S. Hi Mum and Mark xxx.

About Me

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London, ENGLAND, United Kingdom
This is me. Read a few entries and they will tell you more about me than I can fit into these few paragraphs. Many of these entries started their lives as mass emails. That was before I discovered blogs. Thanks for stopping by and thanks for visiting my blog and reading about my life. Both a work in progress.