It's going okay. When I was about 13 or 14 years old we met a Polish couple who lived in Scotland for work. They were expecting their first child and they lived in a small flat in the nearest town. We met them through my brother, who worked at a hotel with the soon-to-be mother. My parents were fast friends with them; and remained friends as they raised their first boy, and then their second child, a girl. We've known them for 7 years. When their first child was 6 and their second child was about 3, they decided to move back to Poland. They stayed with us for two weeks while they readied themselves for the journey back home.
That was last year. This year I and my parents have come to visit them, in their two-room house in the country 3 hours south-ish of Warsaw. The first two thunderstorms of the year occurred on the first two days we were here. The time at the house I've spent reading or talking to the older 7 year old boy, who is insistent on playing LEGO, and built me an army for which he hasn't stated a purpose. He just likes putting together different people I suppose.
Back at home in the UK, bigots complain about the Polish taking their jobs, while scratching their asses and playing candy crush. In Poland the economy is such that it's four times more difficult to pay for anything, and if that was the case where I lived, I'd give a go at making money abroad as well, even if it did mean moving to a country where I didn't speak the language and couldn't locate a pharmacy.
However, despite the economic troubles, it doesn't appear to be as poor as it is. Driving through the countryside the roads are lined with new-looking houses of eclectic variety. Houses of varying colour and size sitting comfortably next to one another. This old two-room house doesn't seem so out of place across from a large two-storey house built orange and white with balconies and elaborate iron fence. Each house is different, and so none are out of place.
The thing is, in Scotland we have a wealth of council housing estates. Large areas occupied by identical houses attached to one another to fit as many people as humanly possible. Grey houses with grey roofs with small corner shops dispersed throughout to keep people from starving to death or running out of cigarettes. Whereas in Poland it's all private property, which has it's downfalls too, despite how much more interesting it is to look at.
The family we stay with have two children, and they don't expect to have any more. There is some kind of population problem in Poland, and the government insists on families having more children without actively encouraging them. Financial assistance for families raising children can be about the equivalent of £50 a month, and that doesn't make much difference for the raising of a child. People just can't justify many children.
There's a heavy religious presence here, and shrines for prayer are built what seems like every mile or so through small villages along single-track roads in the country. I can see one from the house. Abortion isn't legal here, yet when we stopped at a gas station on the way from the airport, I noticed they sell condoms at the counter where in Scotland they would probably have chewing gum or chocolate.
The countryside is mostly forest, with wild berries and such like. There are plenty flies and mosquitos, but nothing worse that I've encountered yet. Curiously, the mosquitos don't even bite me. Plenty days out without any kind of repellent and I'm unscathed while others swell up from minor allergies and scratch legs dotted with bite marks. Maybe I'm too sweet.
The family we're staying with keep chickens, ducks, a dog, and two alpacas. Alpacas are pretty gentle creatures that shy away from most contact with people or other animals, besides each other. They don't spit like llamas or camels are said to. They're incredibly gentle, timid animals. Good to have around.
Over the past couple days before now, the chickens' eggs have been hatching. So far there are three chicks hatched, and they're being kept in a box in the house where they're being fed, to save the mother the dilemma of whether to feed her chicks or keep warming her eggs. They were quite alright in their shallow cardboard box for the first few days, but the largest one with black feathers took to hopping up and out of the box. Thanks to him, all of them have been put in stricter confinement to keep them from running off. If a chicken can jump twice it's height at 3 days old, I shudder to think what incredible power a chicken of 100 years would possess.
Out here in the country most people make their own food and fields are divided into strips for individual people. People sell berries and local produce out of wooden boxes, sitting in overtaking lanes on the main road. For all the talk of crops without pesticides and chemical enhancers, it all tastes about the same, including the meat. Some things are the same though, like the presence of Tesco and Lidl stores. Lidl is much the same here as anywhere else; cheap, cold, uninviting. If the signage wasn't in another language, I wouldn't know the difference from Lidl in Scotland.
On the first day, before the thunder started, we escaped out for a drive around the nearby countryside with the kids, to escape the neighbour who didn't warn that he was planning to kill a pig very noisily that day. Besides that, nothing particularly shocking has happened, though I wouldn't call the pig slaughter particularly shocking either, unless you're 7 years old. We relaxed a few days and lost track of time, as you should when you're on holiday. It could be 2pm or 6pm and it would make no difference to how we spent the day.
So far we've visited Warsaw, Radom, and a small town dedicated to art galleries and medieval-themed touristry. We went for the art galleries. Warsaw was a nice enough city. We visited the Copernicus Science Centre, which was so much better than any science event or centre I've ever been to before, full of interactive exhibits. If only it was in Scotland so I could visit it again. Radom was just a smaller city, barely a city when compared with Warsaw or Krakow, but it was nice to visit and walk around in. We met the family of our friends there, and while I kept quiet and didn't make myself much for conversation, I memorised all the names I could. There were a lot of them, and most of them knew a little English to either understand or speak it.
Interestingly, when going over the many names of the family, I noticed that all the women had names ending in the letter A. Dominica, Veronika, Victoria, Asha, Basha, Anna, Paulina, Maya. I brought up the observation to Veronika; the one we met in Scotland all those years ago, and she told us that this was in fact a general rule. I'm not sure if it's heavily enforced, but she also told us that, when they have children, they must chose names from within a range of generally accepted names, You couldn't just pick up any old noun like Raindrop or Helicopter and give it to your child. I'm not sure how great a custom this is, but it's interesting. I can't imagine it being any real problem. There is no such naming rule for men as there is with the A ending of womens' names, unless perhaps mens' names never end in A, but I've never asked about that.
The 7 year old boy, Macek, who periodically pursues my attention, is a nice sort. As he grew to the age of 6 in Scotland, he learned English as well as any Scottish child might have. He lost some of it over the year living back in Poland, but he can still communicate with me well enough, and served as translator briefly when I met his friends from the village. One, a stocky lad who stood grinning with a large snail he found, proudly told me in full English "My name is David!", though I'm sure that's all he knew, and he had to ask Macek how to say it first. The second was Kuba, crouching and quietly watching as he was introduced, his left arm in a sling from some accident. I didn't ask about it. The more time I spent with Macek, the less English I spoke out loud. I found my internal monologue changing to the same subtly fragmented English spoken around me by our Polish friends. Of course they spoke it well, but there were some grammatical slips which, while noticeable, were hardly noteworthy.
There's plenty to be learned from the conversations of others. On long drives between destinations I've learned plenty about Poland and the people here. Most of what I've learned and presented here was gleaned from the discussions had by my mother and Veronika. With all that Veronika chats and translates, you'd think she spoke the most English out of the two of us, as I stand in the background smiling sympathetically at everybody and everything, pretending I'm not foreign.
Despite all the romantic hopes and dreams I have for my future self, on this holiday I find a reminder of my lack of confidence. I worry terribly about how to communicate with people in shops or on the street, and instead take a back seat while others guide the tour of my day. Though it's not so bad and powerless as that.
I'm sure there are other observations and whatnot I could bring up, but this is all there is for now. It's another week until I arrive home on the 28th, in the comfort of a country which shares my language. I'm killing flies in one of two rooms in this two-room house, while my mum sleeps with a book on her chest; and my dad walks through the village taking pictures of the houses and their many colours. The alpacas are grazing in the back garden with Nero, the 14 year old dog, looking on from the shade, his lead fastened to a tree. It might rain later, it might not. I think it's Monday, but I'm not sure.