Thursday, 30 April 2009

Poles in Australia - Post 23


‘Witamy w Australii’ (Welcome to Australia), Kacper was greeted by an Immigration Officer at the Brisbane International Airport, after he had looked at his passport. ‘Wow… I didn’t expect to be using Polish on arrival here, however it is a very nice surprise…’ answered Kacper in his native language and smiled. ‘What will you be doing in Australia?’ the man switched into English. ‘I am on holidays…’ Kacper informed the guy, and explained that he worked in Indonesia on the tsunami project, and decided to visit the country for his break. He also told the officer, his friends – he wanted to visit, lived in Whitsundays. ‘You are really lucky to know people there’ noticed the guy - semi jealous, and wished Kacper a wonderful time in Queensland.

He left his hotel, and started walking towards the city centre… the further he walked, the happier he felt. He was in Australia, and was to see Brisbane, then Whitsundays, and his friends: Pat and Christian, whom he met years before in Sudan, and later Angola. Life was just great!

Kacper did not plan to do anything in particular while in Brisbane. He just wanted to take things as they came. He would probably see the sights, but really did not have intention of having any specific plans. He needed to be lazy!

Days passed, and Kacper enjoyed his holiday freedom, and doing what people do, when they are on vacations. He went to cinemas, shopping, ate good food and had lots of nice Australian wine.

The Botanic Garden and the river’s bank with restaurants and cafes were Kacper’s favourites. He also enjoyed driving up to the Kangaroo Point from where he admired a splendid panoramic view of Brisbane.

One of his afternoons, he spent in the China Town. On the way back to his hotel, he jumped into a taxi. The taxi driver seemed very chatty, and since Kacper wasn’t exactly someone who didn’t like talking, they had a nice conversation. Of course, the question of Kacper’s origin had to come at one point. The driver noticed right away, he was giving a lift to a foreigner. ‘I come from a small town in southern Poland’ answered Kacper. ‘Is your town called Zakopane by any chance?’ asked the cab driver with hope in his voice!

The guy’s name turned out to be a familiar sounding Zdzisek. When he was 10, together with his parents, he arrived to Australia from Zakopane. His Polish was still quite good. He was married to a Polish woman, who also came over to Australia when she was a little child.

Needless to say that Zdzisek was very excited to have met someone, who perhaps was not from his favourite town in Poland, but near enough to feel the connection. He insisted Kacper visiting his family for dinner. Initially Kacper wanted to refuse, it was already 7 in the evening, and he wanted to have an early night. ‘What the hell…’ he thought after thinking for a while, it could be fun to meet Polish immigrants in Australia. ‘I will be happy to come, thank you for your invitation’ he said politely.

Zdzisek’s house was quite far from the centre. To Kacper it looked like he was in some typical, quiet neighbourhood of Brisbane. His host’s house was strange. It looked nice and clean, but there was this strange feeling, the feeling that Kacper couldn’t describe… ‘A sad and nostalgic immigrant feeling’, appeared to Kacper after a while. Everything in a house was about Poland: the pictures, decorations, music played from the CD, even newspapers and magazines of Polish Diaspora Associations of Brisbane.

Poland that Kacper found in Zdzisek’s home was somehow familiar, but it was also unfamiliar in the same time. It seemed like time for Zdzisek’s family stopped nearly centuries ago – at least as far as Poland was concerned. They listened to songs, no one would ever listen to in Poland anymore. They displayed flags, national emblems, again something that wouldn’t cross anybody’s mind at home, they also manifested with exaggeration (as Kacper perceived it) their attachment to Polish Catholic Church. He did not like this overwhelming display of pictures of saints, Holy Mary, and the Pope John Paul II’s on Polish flags...

Zdzisek’s family was extremely friendly, but Kacper’s lifestyle on one side, and their imagination of what ‘a good Pole’ should be like on the other spectrum didn’t fit. Their perceptions and opinions clashed. First of all, Zdzisek found it very worrying that Kacper stayed in a fairly pricy hotel in Brisbane. ‘You will go bankrupt staying there’ he noticed with concern. ‘Perhaps, you should stay with us, so you can save money’ he declared. Kacper’s polite rejection of the offer didn’t go very well. Zdzisek just couldn’t understand, Kacper wanted to stay in the hotel, and didn’t mind spending his money there.

Another big issue came up, when they asked whether Kacper was planning to settle in Australia. It seemed difficult for Zdzisek to accept that he wasn’t going to, and although he enjoyed visiting Australia, Poland was Kacper’s home. ‘I have a great life in Nowy Sacz, and besides I move around the world all the time... I just think that having a base in Poland is my best option – this is where I want to call home’. He felt a bit sorry for Zdzisek. For some reason, Kacper felt that with his visit, he questioned Zdzisek’s reasons why his family had moved to Australia in a first place. He felt that Zdzisek was a bit jealous that Kacper is able to fulfil his ambitions, and dreams without needing to emigrate from Poland. It is just like if he – Zdzisek was making all his efforts of travelling across the world, struggling with being an immigrants far from their own people nearly senseless. What they came here for; a stable and wealthy life was available in the place they had decided to leave years ago…

Kacper was surprised to experience such sentiments. ‘It is odd that people wouldn’t be glad that things were going for better, in any place in the world, especially in the place, they originally come from’ he thought to himself. He knew that sometimes things are not that simple, and therefore tried to not judge Zdzisek’s reactions, but be grateful for an interesting evening.

‘Kacper!’ shouted Pat, when in front of the airport terminal in Whitsundays. She jumped on him, and hugged him fondly. ‘Finally, you made it… Welcome to Whitsundays…’ she exclaimed. It was such a great reunion. They had not seen each other for many years… there will be so much catching up to do!

Pat drove Kacper home slowly, so she could explain to him about the attractions on the way. Pat and Christian lived in Airlie Beach, and it took around 40 minutes to get to their house. Kacper loved the place. Everything was green and simply beautiful. ‘I am in real Australia, with real Australians now’ thought Kacper, and allowed Pat decide whatever she thought was best that they do. He just wanted to spend time with her, and see, how Australians live their daily lives.

They got home, and had lunch. Christian, Pat’s Dutch husband was returning from his work in a few hours. ‘He is taking some days off, as of tomorrow, so we will have lots of time together’ informed Pat. ‘We are going to have so much fun’ she added, obviously still very excited.

Pat and Christian actually met in Wau in Sudan. They both worked for the same organisation. It was not obvious, they would become a couple. They gave impressions of being very different people, and Kacper couldn’t imagine them forming a relationship. Something did spark between those two however, and today, Kacper thought they were created for each other.

They both knew of Kacper’s physical limitations, so they made sure that whatever activities they were planning involved little of walking and lots of opportunities to sit. Kacper loved it, as in this way, they had a chance to talk about all good times, and catch up with their lives. Kacper was glad to hear that Pat enjoyed her work as a nurse in the medical centre of Proserpine, while Christian seemed to be doing really well working as the Queensland Government’s health standards official – checking whether businesses around complied with health and safety standards. Really good news was that they were waiting for their first child!

Towards the end of Kacper’s stay, they decided it would be a shame had Kacper missed visiting one of the resort islands. ‘We will not be able to go with you, but you will just love it’, they concluded and booked a package for Kacper to go to Long Island. He was leaving the next day.

Long Island is one of these ‘postcard type of places’ with views and landscape that are nothing less but breathtaking. Kacper stayed in a nice resort with his room overlooking an enchanting bay, swimming pool, great beach, and everything one could ever dream of during a lazy holiday’. So it became – a lazy holiday! Kacper walked, admired landscapes, swam, talked to other tourist, and observed animals, especially colourful and exotic birds. Nice and easy.

On a following day, he was sunbathing a bit at the swimming pool area. A handsome guy, about his own age attracted his attention. ‘There was something Slavic in his face’ thought Kacper, when he passed. The guy sat at the bar, and reached for a magazine, which was hidden in his bag, where he kept swimming towels. Somehow, Kacper was not surprised to see, what he took out was a Polish weekly called Wprost. It seemed like, Australia was full of Poles, after all. He approached the guy, and addressed him in Polish. ‘Excuse me, I can see that you are a Pole, are you a visitor to Australia, or live here?’ asked Kacper curiously. The guy removed his sunglasses and smiled. ‘This is a good start of a holiday…’ he stated and invited Kacper to join him for a glass of white wine.

Dominik just arrived to Long Island, after having spent two weeks in Brisbane. He was from Krakow’s Jagiellonian University, where he taught Flemish language and Flemish literature. As a humanist, he was interested in literature in general, and therefore, the University of Queensland invited him over to deliver some lectures on Slavic Middle Ages writings. He just finished the job in Brisbane, and was chilling out in Long Island, before returning to Poland.

They engaged with really interesting conversations. Kacper found it very fascinating to learn about Dominik’s work, and his career of a translator, and a writer. Dominik obviously was extremely academic, but in the same time, appreciated a dose of realism, and earthy life. He therefore found Kacper’s work and stories from around the world the most amusing.

Kacper caught himself, he really liked Dominik, and definitely felt very comfortable around him. He loved looking at his face expression, when he talked. There was something really attractive about it.

In the evening, when he returned to his bedroom, without any reason he felt really happy, simply happy inside. His thoughts were around Dominik. He analysed every bit of their conversation, remembered every move Dominik made. He felt warmth around his heart. Kacper had a good night of sleep…


PS. Swine flu is making headlines in all news… Kacper wondered whether Abeche was too hot for the virus to survive in the desert?

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Kacper is going to Nairobi - Post 22


He unlocked his office’s door, opened it and looked at the floor. It looked strange; like… if it was moving. It was already dark, so Kacper couldn’t see very well. He turned the lights on. ‘Oh my goodness, what are these ants doing here?’ he exclaimed, though there was no one around to listen. The floor of his office was literally covered with millions of ants – all moving orderly in several different directions. ‘What is it that they want in here?’ he wondered.

He went to look for his Chadian colleague, who is responsible for maintenance work. He wanted to ask him to come over, so that they could decide what to do about the ants. His colleague was nowhere to be seen and it took Kacper over 45 minutes to find him. ‘I have millions of ants invading my office!’ he reported, when they finally encountered. As Kacper was talking in English, and his colleague’s English was as bad as Kacper’s French was, their conversation was not going very far. ‘Formigas, formigas…’ tried Kacper desperately in Portuguese, hoping it will clarify something. As formigas didn’t seem to work, Kacper grabbed his arm and pulled him to his office. ‘Look…’ said Kacper pointing at the floor. He did not believe… all of the ants – 1 million of them were gone! There was nothing on the floor! ‘Floor dirty?’ struggled Kacper’s colleague, still confused and surely wondering, what the silly foreigner might have wanted from him.

Kacper sat behind his desk looking around and wondering whether the ants would return. The enemy seemed to have departed for good though, so he tried to concentrate on his work. He still needed to finish some documents related to the Scenario Planning Exercise that he had led with his colleagues a day before.

He opened his email inbox. ‘Great…’ he thought, when he noticed an e-ticket for his trip to Nairobi that he had received from N’Djamena. ‘Now, I can book my hotels’, he decided excitedly. Kacper was to travel to Kenya, where he will be interviewed for a job. Some weeks ago, he applied for a secondment opportunity to his present organisation. If successful, he would work for seven months in the Regional Centre for East Africa, when he completes his present mission in Chad.

Great news was that on his way to Nairobi, Kacper was going to stop over for a night in Addis Ababa, where he would be able to meet his friends! ‘This is fantastic!’ he couldn’t help smiling. ‘Paz, Taamir, Kate, Robert, Amare… here I come!’ he thought to himself. This was definitely a wonderful bonus that he didn’t expect. He missed his Ethiopian buddies, and it was just a wonderful thought to be able to eat out with them again!

Kacper first arrived to Ethiopia around a year ago. He was sent there to help setting up a response programme to the droughts in the Somali Region, in the areas along the border with Djibouti.

He loved his Ethiopia experience. First of all, he found the country fascinating. The people were friendly, tones of history, and the landscapes… He spent lots of time travelling in a car, and he never got bored. Ethiopia was simply stunningly beautiful. ‘I wish, I could bring my mother here…’ he dreamt once, when their car was trying to make its way through curvy, mountainous roads, just after leaving Dire Dawa towards Addis Ababa. He was convinced that she would have loved it there.

But, it was mainly the people he worked with that made all the difference, and why he enjoyed being in Ethiopia so much. They somehow managed to create something that Kacper liked to refer to as ‘the Dream Team’. Yes, as sometimes happens, there was some mistrust in the beginning, but they managed to go through it all and build the team that worked.

He still remembers his conversation with Amare, his Ethiopian colleague that he – Kacper was to manage and to work with. ‘You Globals from Oxford, you are always so arrogant and unfriendly’ started Amare, when they had a chance to talk for a first time. ‘You just come to places, set up things, according to what you believe is right, but without any consideration of people that have worked in Ethiopia before, and then you leave!’, continued Amare in a slightly bitter way. ‘At the end, we – the Locals, are the ones, who clean the mess that you have created!’ he concluded. ‘Wow…’ this was going to be a difficult deployment, he thought.

The conversation with Amare just confirmed to Kacper, how negative feelings many people have in regards to the Globals working for his agency. Sadly, he needed to agree with much of the criticism! Many of his colleagues were precisely what Amare had described. Of course, there was no point trying convincing him that, Kacper was going to try to do things differently, no point in promising he would be inclusive, and sensitive. Kacper just needed to prove himself, and try doing whatever he could to win Amare over.

Ethiopia programme was blessed with a wonderful country director, who had just arrived to take his job, two weeks before Kacper did. Taamir, a Canadian of Pakistani and Dutch origins was probably one of the best bosses Kacper had a chance to work in his entire career. He was bright, witty, hard working, great sense of humour, confident, fair, yet very compassionate too. Taamir was able to listento people, and he did not do it just to show off that he cared; he actually seriously took people’s opinions into consideration, when taking decisions.

Taamir lived with his British wife Kate, who although didn’t work for their organisation felt like an integral part of the Dream Team. Kate, like Taamir was extremely bright, and knowledgeable, but what Kacper loved most about her was her sensitivity. She just knew what to say when to make people feel well. ‘Wonderful human beings’, Kacper recalled them both.

Then, there were Paz – the business support manager from the Philippines, an Australian Jane, who was in charge of donor relations, a German Anita – an advocacy manager, a Norwegian Pernille – in charge of food security, and two Bangladeshi boys: George the accountant, and Sadhan in charge of media work. Later, towards Kacper’s end of stay, Robert – a friendly chap from the UK came to take over Anita’s responsibilities, as she needed to urgently go to Afghanistan for another mission.

The objectives of the Dream Team were to set up the humanitarian programmes, shape them, and then hand them over to existing structures of the country programme. They needed to do things quickly and efficiently, so they could leave the country as soon as possible – after all, having all these foreigners working in one place was expensive. It was not necessary to have them there for a long time, especially in a country like Ethiopia, where there are many well-educated and capable citizens.

They all worked hard, but they also had fun doing so. Kacper went to work with enthusiasm and pleasure. He liked the way they were dealing with challenges and problems, he loved their discussions on difficult humanitarian dilemmas that they needed to face. However, what made Kacper especially happy was a fact that Amere seemed to feel good in the team!

They all soon became friends, not just colleagues. They talked about silly and not-so-silly stuff. They knew about their partners, love affairs, hobbies, ambitions, and dreams. They spent lots of time together. Kacper even convinced Paz to come over and visit him in Poland for her New Year break! Jane, who was a freak of healthy living, on the other hand convinced Kacper to start looking after himself.

‘Honey-bunny’ she told him once. ‘We are going to work out a healthy eating plan for you, and you will start swimming, as of tomorrow’ she decided rather than suggested once, when Kacper again complained about his aching back, and muscles. ‘But, but…’ Kacper wanted to resist. ‘There is no buts, you will just do it, and you will love it!’ So they did! Kacper swam 3 times a week, and changed the way he nourished his body. Thank to Jane, he lost 10 kg within 8 weeks – something he thought he would never be able to do (Kacper still is leading his ‘healthy plan’ even now, when he was without Jane in Chad).

‘Amere, you need to apply for my job’ Kacper tried again to talk him into it. ‘I will be leaving soon, and you are the one, who will do the job best!’ he carried on. ‘I do not think, I am ready Kacper’ kept on answering Amere. This made Kacper crossed a bit. ‘Stop talking crap, and just do it!’ exclaimed Kacper impatiently. Amere just smiled.

The interviews to choose a successor of Kacper were long. Finally, after days, the recruitment panel took the decision. It was Amere, who was considered to be the best candidate!

Amere was taking over a job of being a big boss of humanitarian department for Ethiopia, and Kacper was preparing for his departure. The organisation’s decision to send Kacper to Chad just speeded things up. Once again, as it happened so many times in the past, it was time to say goodbye to his friends, to the country and its people. As always, Kacper was looking forward to new challenges that his exciting life might bring. A part of him was also very sad. ‘I wish, I could keep all these people with me somehow’ he dreamt, when they all waived at him, as Kacper was approaching the security gates of the airport of Addis Ababa.

PS. Kacper is pleased to learn his dad is feeling better!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Austrian connection - Post 21


Kacper just got off his phone. He finished talking with his mother, who had given him updates of his father and news on his chemotherapy. It was still difficult to conclude whether the treatment was fighting the tumour in his lungs. Dad just received his second dose of the medicines, and there were still more to go. Only after some additional series of drips, his father would undergo additional tests determining how successful the chemo has been.

Kacper felt worried. ‘He is not responding to the treatment that well’ his mother reported. ‘The blood results are quite bad, and he feels quite sick’ she continued. She also mentioned to him that despite all of this news, the doctor asked not to panic, and to give the treatment a chance. The doctor reassured that many patients did not feel well in initial stages, but eventually got better. ‘Optimism is the best thing that he needs now’, she concluded.

He felt so guilty! Here he was far away, somewhere in Chad, when his father, and his mother would have preferred him to be home with them. ‘There are no easy choices’ thought Kacper sadly. On one side, he wanted to support them morally – be there for them, on the other hand, Kacper realised that he needed to work, and it was not only for sake of his career. It was a prosaic reason of not being able to afford not to work. Some consolation was that his older brother and his family lived in Nowy Sacz, and they looked after their parents on daily basis. Kacper knew his sibbling would do a great job… he just wished he could be there now.

Kacper loved his father. He loved him, the way sons love their parents, and parents love their children – unconditionally. His love to him never got shaken, despite many tests that life put their relationship through.

His father was an alcoholic. Around 20 years ago, he stopped drinking, following a treatment that he had eventually agreed to undergo. The treatment, which became a fight for his life that he managed to win for himself, as well as for his family.

There had been many painful memories, before he enrolled to the programme. There were tears, beatings, and fear of not knowing what might happen next – what might happen to the family, but also to dad himself… Mum’s beatings were the most painful memories of all. Kacper would never forget them, but he forgave, as did his brother, and mum herself. They all knew, that after all, dad had a heart of gold, and it was just his disease that was destroying him…

Dad had a great sense of humour, and people loved him for it. Then, he had this great ability of fixing everything. He was very creative too. He would produce the most magical toys for Kacper and his brother. Lots of them were wooden. He was very good with wood, which was his favourite material to work with.

His father was a very simple man. He never finished his primary school. His own father had passed away, before he could remember him. It was his wonderful mother, who was then bringing him up on her own… ‘Babcia’, Kacper used to address her grandma sweetly. They never had an easy life, and faced existential problems on daily basis… There was simply no good environment for dad to attend schools. Things were different and tough those days.

Quite strangely, Kacper’s father had a dual nationality. He was both a Polish and an Austrian citizen. In fact he was born in Neunkirchen, a small town outside of Vienna, in 1947.

Soon after the World War 2 had broken out, Kacper’s Babcia, and her older sister were arrested, and deported to the III Reich to work as slave labourers. They both ended up working in one of the farms near Vienna. Compared to other people, they were lucky. They were never treated with cruelty, separated, and worked with one family, throughout the war. Their lives were obviously difficult, but not unbearably so.

A year after their arrival to Neunkirchen, Babcia seemed to have managed to charm a young and handsome Hans, an Austrian guy, from a middle class family. They first met during a service at the local church. During following masses, they kept on looking at each other shyly and whether they liked it, or not, their hearts were beating a little bit faster, each time they looked. Shortly after, they started talking to each other too – obviously very discreetly – after all Babcia was a prisoner from Poland, and it was too dangerous for both of them to do it openly.

The adoration that Hans had for her kept on growing… Babcia proudly told Kacper, how Hans had risked his life, and reputation for looking after the two Polish sisters. He used to bring them extra food, chocolate, basic goods they might have needed. Sometimes, he even succeeded bringing along some wine, and they all celebrated late at nights in stables, when everyone else was asleep.

The war finished, and the dramatic political changes took place all over Europe. Austria was now free, but half of Europe towards the eastern side unwillingly became a part of the Soviet Union’s influence.

Babcia and her sister decided against going to Poland. They were scared returning to their Communist ruled homeland.

Eventually, some time later, Babcia’s sister got married to a Polish chap from Warsaw, who had worked in a neighbouring farm. Babcia got married too; of course, it was Hans, who became her husband! Getting married was a difficult decision, for both of them. Hans’ family disapproved the idea fiercely, and threatened that he would not be able to associate with them, should he decide to spend his life with ‘that Polish worker’.

Kacper’s father was born in the town of Neunkirchen. He was baptised in the same local church, where Babcia and Hans used to look at one another with admiration. They then moved to Vienna. Living in a big city was easier for the Austrian-Polish family. The big city did not stop Babcia miss her home, her people, her mountains though. ‘Listen Hans, I love you more that anything, but I am not able to stay in Austria anymore. I want to return to Poland!’ she announced one day. ‘My place is where you are’ he answered without a second of hesitation…

They settled in southern Poland, in the town where Babcia came from. Hans learnt Polish very quickly, and got accepted by the community without any reservation. ‘You are one of us’, some of his new Polish friends would tell him. ‘You were helping our people’ added the others.

Hans, or Janek, as the locals started calling him, became a bus driver. He serviced a long distance routes between Nowy Targ, and cities like Katowice, or Wroclaw. One night, he did not return, his bus collided with another vehicle. Both drivers died instantly.

Technically, Kacper was a quarter Austrian. His parents never applied for his citizenship, before he was 18, and therefore he lost his right to do so afterwards. Once, just before the Marital Law was introduced in Poland in 1981, Kacper’s parents nearly decided to move to Vienna. The Austrian Consulate in Krakow encouraged, Kacper’s father, the citizen of Austria, to move back. They deemed it was too dangerous to live in Poland, and could not offer protection for their citizens. They even offered the repatriation for the whole family of their Austrian citizen, and promised social help on arrival.

Kacper and his older were excited, they were going to live in the WEST, just to learn with disappointment that their parents refused going. ‘We have managed to live here all these years, we will manage some more’ decided his father with strong approval of mum. At that time, Kacper and his brother did not understand… they were just kids… It took years, before they finally comprehended their parents’ decision to stay.

Kacper has tears in his eyes thinking of his dad. He wished so much, he got better, he got strength to fight again, the way he did so many times in the past, the way that he taught his own son, Kacper…

PS. Kacper has put a fan in his bedroom on. It is time to go to sleep!

Monday, 27 April 2009

A day in Warsaw - Post 20


The organisation’s decision of transferring Kacper from Ethiopia to Chad was prompt, and caused many things move in Kacper’s life quickly, in fact too quickly. He needed to arrange his Chadian visa, pack, and say good-bye to many of his friends in Addis Ababa within hours. He would be travelling to Poland for 5 days, where he needed to re-pack, meet with many people, and above all make sure that his parents were coping well with a medical treatment, which his father was undergoing for his lung cancer that had been accidentally diagnosed during his last medical check-up.

Kacper was sitting in a comfortable coach of the intercity train, somewhere between Krakow and Warsaw. He was going to stay for a day in the Poland’s capital, before boarding his Air France flight to Paris and then from there to N’Djamena. He was glad he had a chance to stay in Warsaw for the whole afternoon and evening. He was going to meet with… Krzysztof!

Kacper was very fond of Krzysztof. They first ‘met’ via the Internet, around two years ago, and their relation grew to something very special, something that Kacper did not expect.

Krzysztof was a kid of 15 years of age. Together with his parents, he lived in Warsaw. This is where he went to school and where most of his friends were.

Krzysztof, or Krzysiek, as Kacper mainly referred to him suffered with Spinal Muscular Dystrophy, the condition that he – Kacper also had. Krzysiek’s medical prospects were far worse than those of Kacper. He was permanently attached to his wheel chair, and there was no hope that he would ever walk.  He was badly curved, and he started developing problems with breathing. He needed lots of care and attention, which his parents tirelessly provided to him.

It was Krzysiek’s mother, a brave woman, who was not much older that Kacper himself that he started corresponding with two years earlier. Kacper browsed into website on Krzysiek, which she administered.

Kacper knew that he needed to be in touch with the family, the moment he discovered Krzysiek’s website. He enjoyed reading about his stories, and hobbies, as well as daily struggles that Krzysiek and his parents needed to go through to make sure that he did not miss out things that his peers were involved with, and that he managed to find something that would make him happy, and fulfilled now, and later in the future.

It took over a year, before Kacper actually met Krzysiek, and his mother. Until then, they had been exchanging emails. Justyna – Krzysiek’s mother, wrote to Kacper about her son’s developments, but also seemed to want to hear from Kacper – nearly desperately that people with MD can live happily, and lead lives, which are interesting! She treated Kacper as some kind of hope proving, it did not matter that her beloved Krzysiek couldn’t move much and that he was disabled. She wanted to hear that her son could have passions, and live these passions, the way Kacper did. This is at least what she believed that he had done… ‘God, Kacper… you seem to live your life, the way you want it, and I admire you for this… and I would love so much that my dear Krzysiek does the same’ she would write to him.

Kacper was very puzzled with all these admiration, but wanted to help Krzysiek in all ways he could. He therefore kept on sending to the kid pictures from places, where he worked, he discussed with him over the Internet about his homework, or challenged his views on his own disability. ‘No Krzysiek, this is not true… you can do lot more than that… and stop using your wheel chair, as an excuse…’ sometimes he would tell him off, whenever Krzysiek started moaning that he for example, wouldn’t go to a party, as everyone would only see a cripple in him.

His mother was very appreciative of Kacper’s emails, and chats. Once, she wrote to him that she noticed so much positive change in her son, since he started interacting with his older friend – Kacper. She noticed that Krzysiek opened up a lot, and was much more confident about himself. ‘All of the sudden, he could offer something unusual to his friends… He could impress the other kids with his knowledge of Africa, or tell them jokes that he had learnt from you Kacper’, she described her son’s progress. ‘Once, he even organised a slide show for his class, with your pictures… the kids loved it, and they all clapped… you can’t imagine Kacper, how proud Krzysiek was…’ she carried on emotionally.

Kacper always wanted to tell Justyna that it is her Krzysiek, which makes Kacper’s experiences even more exciting. ‘You can’t imagine, how much fun I have sharing my adventures, with someone like your son… so please, please stop thanking me… I should thank you!’ he tried to convince her.

Kacper just got to his hotel room. He called Justyna, and spoke to Krzysiek. They would meet in two hours, have a snack together, and then visit the last floor of Warsaw’s Palace of Science and Culture – so that they could together admire the panorama of the city! ‘That should be lots of fun!’ thought Kacper, wrapping up Krzysiek’s present that he had brought for him… a copy of the National Geographic’s DVD on Masai Mara National Park.

  

PS. Kacper is arranging travel details for his unexpected trip to Nairobi. 

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Kacper is stoned - Post 19


After travelling extensively around India, Kacper and his 10 fellow college students, were in Amritsar, eastern part of the country, near the border with Pakistan. All still excited after visiting the magnificent Golden Temple, the holiest shrine of the Sikhs... They were now finishing their last preparations for entering Pakistan - the next country, which they were visiting on their way to Europe. They travelled in THEIR OWN BUS. The vehicle, which, not only became their means of transport, but also their home for next 6 months...

Crossing the border between the two countries was probably the most colourful experience of its kind. The relations between India and Pakistan still under strain; caused the two nations, to compete and rival with each other, sometimes, in most unexpected ways and places. The frontier-crossing on the road from Amritsar to Lahore was a good example of it.

Both sides tried ensuring, it was their border post, and not the other one, which looked more glamorous and spectacular. The guards of both countries were dressed in extremely colourful uniforms; their hats with lavish decorations were the most effective of their overall appearance. The entry/exit gates were richly painted with national colours, and emblems. Huge flags of Pakistan and India informed each visitor, in which country they currently were. When leaving India, the guards saluted their bus in a very pompous way, just to see the Pakistani soldiers repeating a similar show, on arrival to their country.

In Lahore, the group decided to split for a week. The idea was that in couples, they visited different villages around the country. Seven days later, they would meet in the City of Quetta on the border with Afghanistan. They were supposed to reach Beluchistani capital by train, or public buses. In the meanwhile, two other colleagues would drive the bus to the city, and wait for everyone’s arrival there. From Quetta, they would together drive further, through the deserts of Beluchistan, towards Taftan, the Pakistani town on the border with Iran.

Kacper was to visit villages, with the Finnish friend of his – Mariukka. She was of his age, and had a typical Nordic look. She was tall, and thin, and her hair was so blond that nearly white, which in Pakistan attracted lots of attention, especially coming from men.

They happened to be travelling, during the Holy Month of Ramadan, when all self respecting Muslim fasted during daylight. The fact that people do not eat, or drink in very high temperatures, makes them very tired. This disrupts normal businesses too. Shops, restaurants, or transport companies would be either closed, or would offer a limited service.

Mariukka and Kacper soon found out that their plan of visiting rural areas outside of Lahore was not going be easy. A mini-bus that they had hoped to take them to their destination was not going anywhere that day. They therefore, ended up wandering pointlessly around Lahore’s shuk (market), thinking how to adjust their plans. It was hot, and they were already quite thirsty and hungry. They decided, finding some upmarket restaurant, or hotel, which could serve them drinks and food, despite the Ramadan’s fasting.

‘Excuse me, sir…’ Kacper approached a friendly looking middle-aged man on one of the streets. ‘Do you speak English?’ he asked. ‘How can I help you?’ answered the man encouragingly. ‘We are looking for a place, where we could eat. Do you know anywhere, which is open at this time of the day?’ Kacper kept on asking. The man explained that because of the Ramadan, it was going to be difficult to eat anything now. He however mentioned that there was an international hotel the neighbourhood, but it was surely quite expensive.

Mariukka and Kacper thanked the man, and walked off. They did not intend to eat anywhere pricy, they were students, travelling on budget, and needed to save. They continued walking hoping that something would come up sooner or later. They also decided that they would take a night train to Quetta, and try visiting villages around there, rather than Lahore.

Kacper had a strange feeling; they were being followed. He looked back, but saw nothing unusual. ‘I am imagining things’ he thought to himself. Five minutes later, someone grabbed his arm firmly. The man, who had just talked to them, reappeared. ‘I would like to invite you to my family’ he proposed. ‘We will be very proud to host you’ he added. Mariukka and Kacper did not need much convincing. They had experienced many families treating them in their homes in India. ‘Now it was happening again in Pakistan’ they assumed. ‘We will be privileged!’ decided Mariukka without hesitation…

The man brought them to a parking space near one of the shops. ‘This is my car…’ he opened the back door, and invited them inside a nice, modern looking 4x4. There was another man sitting behind the steering wheel. ‘That’s Ahmed, my driver’ he introduced him. ‘We will now go to my family’s house, it is not very far from here.’ Ahmed switched the engine on, and they started moving around busy streets of the city.

In the car, Mariukka and Kacper told their host that they were students, and travelled around Asia. They told him about their countries, and families. Of course, they assured him how much they loved Pakistan, each time, the man asked them for their impressions of his country.

Kacper noticed that they were leaving the city. This was slightly unexpected, as he believed that the man’s family lived in Lahore. ‘Don’t worry, this is not very far from here, it is just 20 more minutes’ reassured the man. They kept on driving through small villages, and something told Kacper, things were not right.

After half an hour, he asked the man to stop. ‘Sir, we do not want to inconvenience you… you must be busy, and we imposed ourselves. Please do let us out in this village, and we will manage on our own’ suggested Kacper. ‘We are nearly home!’ he exclaimed back, making sure Kacper understood, they would continue. Some time later, at distance, they noticed some decent nice looking buildings. ‘We are going to that blue house that you can see on the horizon… this is where my family lives…’

They moment they left the car, the door of the house opened, and many people walked outside. The host introduced his visitors to people that Kacper believed were inhabitants of the place. To Kacper’s surprise, they also met a Pakistani woman dressed in western clothes. She spoke spotless English with an American accent. ‘This is my wife… she will make sure, you will be fine in here’ the man announced proudly. Everyone was friendly and kind to the two visitors. This made Kacper feel more relaxed again, despite his surprise of meeting people, who did not seem to behave like he had imagined a typical Pakistani family would.

They all enjoyed the dinner. Mariukka and Kacper entertained their hosts with stories from their countries, which everyone seemed to have liked. It was late, and they wanted to rest. Mariukka and Kacper were offered one of the modest looking bedrooms, with two separate beds inside.

‘This is where you will sleep’ explained the host and passed them glasses with milky tea.

Mariukka seemed very tired and informed Kacper, she was hitting her bed immediately. Kacper also felt it was time to sleep, in fact, this was the only thing he could imagine doing at that point.

He opened his eyes, and looked around. He had a scrutinising headache. In fact, Kacper’s head seemed to be spinning mercilessly, making him feel sick. There were many trees around him, for some reason. He tried to lift his body from the ground. It ached! He noticed, he was dressed in a jalaba (a Pakistani dress), and not his usual clothes. Kacper looked around, and here she was – Mariukka, sleeping on the ground. Her body was curled, and she looked a bit like a sleeping cat.

‘What was going on?’ he tried his best to remember. ‘We must have had a car crash’ a strange thought crossed his mind, without any reason, and he decided that he needed to look for a telephone booth, to call for help. He passed out again.

…There were some people around them, perhaps five. They looked worried and curious, but concentrated their attention on Mariukka rather than Kacper. She vomited, and Kacper thought it was funny. ‘Mariukka is sick, she must have been drinking’ he thought to himself, and turned around. All what he wanted was sleep now…

He opened his eyes. He inspected the room he was in… Mariukka slept on a bed that looked very comfortable. There was a big crucifix on a white wall, which he faced. He did not know where he was, and what he was doing there. He did not seem to care though.

Kacper decided to get out of his bed, and moved towards a big brown door. He opened it and walked out on something that resembled a terrace. He was on a first floor. Everything around seemed very quiet. Kacper looked at a beautiful garden that appeared to his eyes. ‘Am I in Heaven?’ he asked himself.

He found stairs leading to the garden. He decided to walk down them. As he was approaching the ground floor, he noticed… a monk planting a rose carefully and with adoration. He looked at Kacper, and smiled gently. The man’s face was very friendly. His white and beautiful teeth contrasted pleasantly with his dark skin.

‘How are you… I hope you are feeling better?’ he addressed Kacper. ‘Thank you, sir! I am well indeed’ he answered and paused. ‘But… but who are you, and where am I?’ asked Kacper.

‘God…’ thought Kacper after he had talked to the monk. ‘We are really lucky to be alive’ he evaluated… The monk had explained that local peasants, who were on the way to cultivate the fields, found Mariukka and Kacper in the woods. They brought, the unconscious Europeans, to one of a local car garages. From there, the owner called the Catholic Missionary Centre in Lahore, and explained what had happened. He was asked to look after them until the Missionary Centre would pick the foreigners up.

Mariukka and Kacper apparently slept for over 24 hours. Sometimes they would wake up, and talk to the priests, but Kacper could not recall any of it. No one in the monastery knew, who the guests were. They were found with no documents, no money… NOTHING! They reported to the Police of Lahore of the two foreigners, but it seemed the police were not interested in finding out, who Mariukka and Kacper might have been!

Kacper’s mind slowly started recovering, but it was a slow process, and for most of the time, Kacper felt like he was in between two strange realities. ‘How funny… we had been kidnapped’ he thought to himself and started laughing.

Mariukka finally woke up. Kacper explained to her in a nutshell what he had found out. She found the story as amusing, as Kacper had done. She then went for a shower, and something strange happened, when she returned. She burst into tears and started sobbing, and looked really miserable. Kacper kept on asking what was happening… and feared the worse… ‘Mariukka must have been assaulted’ he thought grimly. ‘I do not have my deodorant… they had stolen my deodorant!’ exclaimed Mariukka dramatically and fell on her pillow!

Kacper was worried. He needed to do something! He was a gentleman after all, and Mariukka needed her deodorant. He rushed to speak to the monks. ‘Do you have any women around here?’ he asked impatiently. ‘Excuse me… did I hear you right?’ responded the monk somehow shocked. ‘You have been unconscious for days, and all what you are asking for are women?’ Kacper realised that the monks misunderstood him terribly. He started explaining frantically that Mariukka was a real lady, and her deodorant had been stolen, and that he – Kacper, the gentleman, needed to do something about it! They realised that Kacper’s body must have not extracted the poison yet, and hence his strange behaviour. They just smiled, and offered to share with him remaining of their after-shave lotion instead! Kacper picked the bottle, and rather pleased with his mission run to see Mariukka. ‘All they had was this after shave, Mariukka!’ She didn't seem to mind to be using the after-shave, intstead of the favourite deodorant! She opened the bottle, and sprayed the liquid all around her in hefty amounts. She seemed happy again. Perhaps smelled slightly less conservative, but all what counted was her happiness!

Their friends in Quetta looked at Mariukka and Kacper with shock and disbelief, when they heard about their adventure. You are going to hospital now, you will need to be checked – both of you, and then we need to call your embassies…


PS. Kacper is reading the reports of pork/swine flu in Mexico.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Homo Sovieticus - Post 18


‘Am I a typical example of a Homo Sovieticus?’ wondered Kacper. ‘Was it actually a bad thing to be a Homo Sovieticus?’ he carried on? He tried to recall, which of the Polish politicians made this term to be really popular back in Poland. He knew, it was first introduced by one of the respected Catholic philosophers, a priest – Józef Tischner. Tischner, in this way, described people, who were brainwashed by the previous system, and behaved in a very opportunistic manner during the ‘new’ era. Although, Kacper did not remember exactly, how the term got politicised, and famous in the following years, he was sure, some right wing politicians picked it, and used it to offend their political opponents.

Kacper actually was fond of the term, and often considered his own definitions of, who a Homo Sovieticus was. Today, he got reminded of it, because of his Italian friend, who works with him here in Chad – Marco, who loves teasing Kacper about his ex-Soviet origin, something that Kacper is enjoying, but would never admit to him!

As for all of us, also Kacper’s childhood experiences influenced, who he became later in his live. His 18 years, in the totalitarian, communistic system, made him to be the Homo Sovieticus! Later, he would wane himself off some characteristics attributed to the term, but Kacper is aware that no matter, how hard he tried, he would always be one, and therefore, it was just better to accept, and even like this part of himself.

He often wondered what made him to be a classic product of the communist system. Kacper already speculated about it, in some of his previous stories on life in totalitarian Poland (Post 5, followed with some remarks in Post 14). He was convinced however that, what influenced him most, was the country’s educational system.

He remembers so well that during his literature, or history lessons, students were not encouraged to have their own opinions on any topic. On the contrary, having your own opinions was considered to be arrogant, and arrogance needed to be eradicated! Students had to read books, but they also needed to read additional materials accompanying these books, ‘explaining’ them values, their novels represented, and how the students should interpret them. History lessons were very similar. One could never challenge any of the messages coming from the teacher. It was just not possible, so no one even thought about it. In the same time, the system promoted science, mathematics, physics, or subjects, which were not considered to be controversial, or thought to undermine the system. Memorising things was good, your own thinking was bad. Simple as that!

In consequence, Kacper’s schools, perhaps made him to be fairly logical, organised, and able to employ figures and numbers into action, but completely undermined his confidence.

Obviously, differences in living standards between Eastern and Western Europe made many people, including Kacper; feel to be ‘somebody worse’… ‘Oh yes, I definitely suffered from the inferiority complex’ reflected Kacper. ‘Especially, when I was young, and things just started changing in Poland.’

His first painful confrontation with the post-communist reality took place in 1990. Kacper was planning to go to the United Kingdom for a short summer course of English language. He always liked learning languages, and he did exceptionally well in English in his High School of Nowy Sacz. Kacper was certainly very lucky! Once, he won a scholarship, funded by the Mayor of the Town Council, which would pay his fees and living expenses, while in London. His family however, needed to cover travel costs.

In those days, Kacper’s family was not very wealthy at all. They were not as poor, as in 80’ies, when things were really tough for them, but a bus ticket from Poland to the UK equalled around 4 monthly salaries of his mother. Taking a plane was so expensive that was simply unthinkable.

He remembers his parents discussing, whether they could afford sending him to London. Kacper had an older brother, who already studied architecture at the Polytechnic of Krakow, and supporting him was a big financial burden for the family. He therefore did not have his hopes very high, and did not want to put more pressure on his parents. He was then so surprised to hear that, they will pay for the ticket! ‘Kacper, this is a great chance for you’ said his father. ‘We will somehow manage’ confirmed his mother, and added that the bus was not so expensive after all. They were so sweet! Kacper knew that she only told him so, not to make him feel guilty. He kissed them both and was so proud, so proud to be their son.

In the beginning of 1990’ies, it was not easy for Poles to travel outside of the borders of their country. The citizens of Poland needed visas literally everywhere in the world, and it was difficult getting them. In order to make it to the UK overland, Kacper needed a transit visa for Germany, and Benelux countries. Obviously, he needed a visa to enter the UK too!

As soon as he saw masses forming an endless queue, he knew he must have arrived to the German Consulate in Warsaw. ‘Is this a queue for visas to Germany?’ he politely asked. ‘And what do you think it is… Standing here for pleasure, you think?’ an older lady with a cigarette in her lips snapped at him. ‘Dear…’ she continued. ‘We are waiting here to register in the queuing list…’ she decided to be a bit nicer to Kacper. ‘…Once we get to the building, they will take your details, give you a number, then you will be officially registered in the queue’. She then told him that, once registered, Kacper needed to come to the embassy every day to check, which numbers would be served on that particular day. It was important to do it properly, as if one missed one’s turn, the whole process needed to be repeated, and she doubted, whether Kacper wanted it. ‘Are you telling me Madam that we are now queuing, so that we are registered in another queue?’ asked Kacper somehow disbelieving, what he had just heard. ‘Yeah, tell me about it, kid’ confirmed the woman rolling her eyes impatiently. ‘Bloody bustards! Look how they treat us!’ she concluded angrily.

Kacper had his interview 4 days later. ‘Why are you travelling to Germany?’ asked a rather unpleasant officer in good Polish. ‘I am actually not going to Germany, Sir; just want to transit the country… I have explained in the application that, I am transiting to the UK’ went on Kacper. ‘What will you do in the UK?’ came the next question. Kacper did not understand why the German guy would care what he was going to do in the UK, but answered as politely as he could that he was going to participate in the language course. ‘Who will pay for it…’ he went on, an kept on asking all these silly questions. For the first time in his life, Kacper understood that people actually did not like him, just because he was poor… It was not a nice thing to realise. At that point during the interview, something broke in Kacper, and tears started flowing out of his eyes to his cheeks… This must have puzzled the German official a bit. He did not really know how to handle the crying kid. ‘Wanna have some water?’ he asked giving him a glass. ‘Cheer up, young man’ he went on. ‘Come back in 2 hours, your visa will be in your passport by then.’

Getting Benelux and UK visas was nearly as dramatic, but Kacper cleared all procedures, and he was ready to travel!

He arrived to the coach station well in advance to make sure; he was not going to miss the bus. He waited, and waited, and while doing so, enjoyed watching other passengers gather. He really was excited! The hour of departure arrived, but the bus was nowhere to be seen… 30 minutes, 1 hour… still no bus!

Some 90 minutes later, a young man, dressed in a suit came and addressed the crowd of impatient people. ‘Ladies and gentleman, I would like your attention please!’ Everyone looked at him wondering what was happening. ‘I am afraid that the bus to London will not leave today’ he announced. ‘Our company has just gone bankrupt’ he added laconically, and smiled. Kacper does not remember what happened later. He just thought of his mother, and the money… ALL WASTED! He was not travelling to England, he would not be learning English this summer!

In the afternoon, he called his mother, from the flat of his uncle, with whom he stayed, while in Warsaw. He told her about his day, and informed her that he would be taking his train back to Nowy Sacz the following day. He tried to make sure that she could not detect in his voice, how disappointed he was.

Hours later, just before he was about to fall asleep, his uncle knocked at the door of his bedroom. ‘Kacper, you need to wake up at 6 in the morning, you are FLYING TO LONDON tomorrow’ he just told him, trying not to show how pleased he was. ‘What do you mean uncle?’ asked Kacper. ‘You heard me!’ he exclaimed, and hugged Kacper.

His plane was just about to start descending towards Heathrow. Kacper still could not believe, he was on his way to London. He felt happy, and moved in the same time, while looking at two notes of £50 that he found in the ENVELOPE…

Kacper only managed to be going to the UK, as his uncle decided, he would spend some of his savings on Kacper’s air ticket. ‘Make sure that your English is fluent, when you are back’ he demanded from Kacper, before he allowed him out of his car, in front of the airport. He also handed him an envelope. ‘Don’t tell your mother, you have it, understand…? And only open it in the plane!’ he instructed surprised Kacper.

19 years later, in Abeche, Kacper still smiles subconsciously, when he recalls his first trip to the West. He remembers London to overwhelm him in every way. The Homo Sovieticus part of Kacper’s character, made him feel very, very shy, and unimportant in this world of colours, full-shelves in shops (in those days, one could not buy lots of products in Poland), music and money; lots of money that Kacper did not have. That is except, the 2 notes of £50 from his generous uncle.


PS. Kacper was unimpressed with gossips that rebels were coming and he, and his colleagues might need to evacuate.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Fafa Kilo, Fafa Kilo for Fafa Fafa, Over – Post 17


The temperature must have exceeded well over 50 degrees Celsius in Abeche today. ‘This is only a start’ said Marco. ‘It will increase another 5 degrees, by the end of the month’, he added without much of encouragement. Kacper burnt his fingers, when he tried to unlock the door to his office, after returning from lunch, earlier on today. The door’s knob got so hot that it was impossible to touch it. He needed to look for a piece of cloth, wet it and only then pull the door open!

Theoretically, there is not much time left for Kacper to stay in Abeche. He got deployed to complete a very specific task of helping his organisation prepare the Contingency Plan in case of a possible influx of refugees from Sudan. It should take Kacper another month at most to finish the job. Then, he will move forward to his new deployment, wherever and whatever it might be.

Over a month ago, the Sudan’s President expelled over 10 humanitarian agencies from his country, as punishment for their alleged cooperation with the International Criminal Court, which had issued an international arrest warrant for him, for war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The expulsion of the NGOs created vacuum in humanitarian service delivery for 1,5 million of people. This vacuum, combined with insecurity, which is always present in Darfur, might cause thousands of people move westwards, to Chad in search for safety, and humanitarian assistance.

Kacper thought for a while about this troubled part of Africa. He always was puzzled, whenever Sudan was on his mind. He spent over 5 years in various parts of the country, and despite a fact that Sudan sometimes felt like hell on earth; he loved the place! Kacper remembers, when he was leaving Khartoum and Sudan years ago, on completion of his mission, he was extremely moved. ‘I will always keep Sudan in my heart, and I will always be Sudan’s ambassador’, he promised to the Sudanese personnel of his organisation.

Certainly Kacper has lots of memories from Sudan (some of them can be found in Posts 4, 6, 7 & 8). Many were wonderfully hilarious, some were moving and touching, while the others tragic. Somehow, Kacper was not sure, whether he would like to, or even if he ever was able to live in Sudan again. He remembers Sudan in his very own way, he remembers its wonders and horrors, and does not want these memories to alter. He still has many Sudanese friends, whom he would like to visit one day. So perhaps, he will return after all?

Once, for some time, Kacper worked in the areas of Rubkona and Bentiu of Unity State, the oil reach areas, west of Old Fangak. He was in charge of a project that provided treatment for severely malnourished children through its Therapeutic Feeding Centre, or TFC, as it was often referred to, and basic health services through its Mother and Child Health (MCH) clinic.

The whole area, as well as the road, and the oil pipe leading northwards to Khartoum and then Port Sudan were real security hot spots, and battle fields for various pro-governmental militias, as well as the Government of Sudan’s Army protecting them on one side, and Sudan’s People Liberation Army, and its allied militias, trying to take over control them, on the other side. Things were actually not that simple. The militias kept on changing their political alliances, depending on political favours and financial support that they were being offered at different times. Someone, who was pro-governmental, could become pro-rebel next day, to become pro-governmental again 6 months later! To make things more complicated, there were constant splits within the militias, and formation of new ones too. Adding the usual inter-tribal fighting over water, grazing land, or cows and you can easily imagine that following security and safety of patients and personnel was a daunting task and experience.

Security management fell under Kacper’s responsibility. In order to do it well, he needed to learn many unusual tricks and techniques. Probably, the most important were related to obtaining information. Kacper used to make ‘friends’ with as many individuals as possible. The more people you knew, the more informed you became. You start with the drivers, and guards of your own organisation. These people are always the best and often the first source of information. Drinking tea together, and discussing all spheres of life, not only was an interesting fun, but also provided you news that could save your life! Then, there was the local market. Talking to traders, who knew just about everyone, was simply invaluable! Just observation of the bazaar, how people behaved, what prices of fuel, or commodities were, could give you clues of what was happening.

More official techniques involved Kacper talk to his colleagues from the other two NGOs working in the area, and exchange information with them. Meetings with the officials from the Administrator’s Office, sometimes proved useful, and definitely became a ritual that Kacper could not neglect.

Finally, sometimes Kacper talked to the militia leaders! These conversations were not aimed at gathering information. Obviously none of the warlords would tell you his plans related to politics, or military manoeuvres. Kacper was there more to ensure that he explained to them as clearly as he could, what his organisation was doing, and how they were serving THEIR people. Building such acceptance of his organisation was as important as gathering information itself. As the militias kept on changing their alliances constantly, Kacper wanted the warlords to respect his organisation for its work, regardless of which side they currently decided to support.

Of course, there were also other procedures that Kacper needed to supervise. Radio checks, follow-up of whereabouts of all personnel, or curfews were just some among many.

Not always everything went smoothly, but luckily everything always ended well.

Kacper and his team lived in a compound of mud, small, African huts, which were thatched. The compound was surrounded by a fence made of dry grass (grass was the main building material). One could enter the compound through its gate, made out of wooden boards. All was extremely basic and rough.

One evening, Paulino, their Nuer driver, just before the curfew came over to their compound for his favourite ritual of drinking tea. Like most people of his tribe, Paulino’s lower front teeth were extracted, while the upper ones were deformed. People deformed their teeth, as it was regarded to be beautiful. A perhaps unwanted side effect of this was not being able to pronounce sounds of B and P. They all sounded like F. Therefore, ‘Paulino’ became Faulino, or ‘Pepsi please’ turned into Fefsi flis.

Before his tea, Paulino decided to check, where his fellow colleagues were. Paulino was a team leader, and therefore was responsible for security of other drivers. He took his radio handset and started calling one of his colleagues, using a very specific jargon, enriched with Nuer F sounds:

- Paulino (P): Fafa Kilo, Fafa Kilo for Fafa Fafa over... (Paulino [Papa Kilo] calling his colleague [Papa Papa], please answer [over])

- Response (R): Fafa Fafa for Fafa Kilo reading you, move channel three. (Papa Papa for Papa Kilo I understand you [reading you]. Please move to frequency number three, where we will be able to talk.)

- P: Moving...

- R: Moving...

- P: Fafa Kilo, flis confirm, you are reading? (Papa Kilo, please confirm that you can understand me clearly? [you are reading])

- R: Fafa Fafa, I am reading five on five. (Papa Papa, I can understand you very well. [I am reading you five on five])

- P: Well cofid, flis confirm your fresent fosition. (I understand you very well [well copied], please tell me where you are at the moment? [please confirm your present position])

- R: Fresent fosition is the fasar near the fase, over... (I am in the bazaar near to the office, did you understand? [Present position is the bazaar near the base, over])

- P: Well cofid! What is your ETA? (I understood, when will you arrive here? [ETA – Expected Time of Arrival])

- R: Ten mike, ten mike… (Ten minutes [ten mike])

It went on, and on. Kacper just loved it. These wired radio checks without Ps and Bs were just a part of Bentiu, which he would never forget.

That evening, Paulino drank his tea, and mentioned that it was quiet in the area, and there was no major security concern. ‘Good night’ he said and left home, so he could manage to reach it before the official curfew.

After the dinner, Kacper felt like acting silly. He therefore suggested that they would all play a game with their toothpastes. With a chalk, he drew a circle on a wooden board, to which all of the team members were supposed to aim with their toothpaste tubes. The idea was to squeeze their tubes in such a way that the paste from inside was ejected towards the circle. Whoever’s paste was closest to its centre, won, and could have two pieces of chocolate, as a prize.

It seemed like everyone was up for the game, and minutes later, five grown-up, and otherwise responsible people, were squeezing their tubes, making everything around them quite messy – to much of amusement of the guard on duty. It was Kacper’s English colleague and friend Patricia that won, and was allowed to eat her extra chocolate. ‘What a shame!’ she said sadly… ‘I am on a diet’, and put her chocolate in her mouth with a big smile on her face! After fun, they dishwashed and tidied the place together, and went to their tuckles (mud huts) to sleep.

Kacper woke up nervously. Was it his dream, or did he just hear a machine gun? Pap, pap, pap, pap… that followed right after made him realise that it was not a dream. The shots seemed to be dangerously close. ‘S..t’ he swore, even if there was no one in his tuckle to hear it. He slid from his bed on the floor, and crawled towards the door. He opened it carefully, and while still on the ground looked around. It was dark, but the moon gave enough light to see that others were up, and looking out of their huts too. The machine gun shots intensified, and soon, even more guns were heard. ‘All to Patricia’s tuckle!’ ordered Kacper, and they all sprang out of their houses and run as quickly as they could towards Patricia’s. Her hut was the biggest, so they could all squeeze in.

They were on the floor, under Patricia’s bed. All half-naked, and squeezed like sardines in a tin. They were scared. Kacper was sweating and his mind was frantically thinking of possible action, which they needed to take now… He also felt very guilty. ‘Now, what did I miss? How come, I was not aware of rebels coming?’ he blamed himself. When the sound of the machine guns came even closer, they clang to one another, without thinking. Only a moment later, he realised that Patricia’s foot what on his nose, and that he was nervously squeezing Albert’s arm, each time the new shots were fired.

Patricia started sobbing, and in the same time, kept on whispering that she was sorry to cry, and she would stop in a moment. Kacper’s was convinced that were reaching the end of their existence, and it was him that should be blamed for it!

It came to the point, when the bullets started flying over their compound. There was shouting going on, and they could hear people scream. The nightmare went on, well over one hour. Suddenly more shouting, very close to their compound was heard. However, strangely, the guns went silent. It felt like a moment of relief to their ears, and stress.

Then, they heard a noise of approaching people from the direction, where the gate to their compound was. Someone started knocking at it forcefully. No one answered. The poor guards must have tried to hide themselves, and did not dare moving at all.

‘Mr. Kaaacfer… Mr. Kaaaaaaacfer’ he heard. ‘Ms. Fatriciaaaaa…’ the voice went on. ‘Hang on a second, isn’t it Paulino?’ noticed Patricia. Paulino was obviously inside the compound searching for his colleagues. He finally opened the doors of Patricia’s hut, looked at five khowadjas (foreigners) squeezed under the bed, and laughed.

‘I am sorry Mr. Kacfer, nothing to worry about, this is me Faulino!’ He did not appear to be stressed at all, on a contrary, Paulino was in a good mood. ‘What is happening’ asked Kacper with a relief in his voice. Obviously, things were not so bad. ‘We are sorry!’ – said Paulino, and explained that there was a party at one of the neighbour’s houses, the previous evening. During the party, one of the participants found out that his wife had been unfaithful with his cousin, who lived just near to their organisation’s compound. The guy, whose wife was unfaithful decided to settle the matter the same night. He called for help from his mates, and came over to ‘discuss’ things over. Of course, all arrived armed with their Kalashnikovs. Somehow, his opponent managed to find out, he was to have ‘visitors’ and prepared for a fight along with his mates, he had managed to call. This is how a mini-war broke out, just over the heads of five innocent khowadjas.

One hour into the fight, and running around, they all realised that the khowadjas were nearby, and actually thought, the foreigners may be scared. They therefore decided to stop fighting, and agreed they would only carry on next evening, in a different place. They also called for Paulino, so he could come and apologise to their village guests on their behalf. ‘They are all very sorry’ announced Paulino. ‘They will slaughter a goat and come over tomorrow with dinner’ he added. Then he advised that there were still 2, or 3 hours until the morning, so everyone could go back to their beds. ‘Ms. Fatricia, it is going to fee very quiet, flis do not worry anymore.’

Khowadjas did not feel like sleeping anymore. They returned to Patricia’s tukle and sat on her bed. Someone reached for a bar of chocolate… the new day in Bentiu was about to start. ‘What will it bring?’ they wondered.


PS. Kacper is preparing to go out for a beer with his friends.