Yesterday, Kacper was enjoying two bottles of Castle Beer with his new colleague and friend from Italy – Marco. Perhaps, it was the excess of alcohol, or perhaps, both of the boys felt quite sentimental, as they kept on talking about their childhood, and how things were in their families, communities and countries when they were young.
Kacper was fascinated to hear Marco’s account, who seemed to have such a different life from the one of Kacper. Marco comes from an aristocratic and wealthy Italian family, engaged in running businesses on the scale that Kacper probably will never comprehend. Kacper loved hearing about ‘worldly live’ of Marco, about his parents’ lives, about how things worked for wealthy kids in a wealthy western country. Kacper was also quite impressed that Marco, obviously being very well to do, decided for a career of an aid worker and live a very modest life, compared to, what he could be having back in northern Italy. Even, if Marco was not going to be involved in his humanitarian career forever, Kacper admired him for his choice.
Marco showed a great deal of curiosity in Kacper’s childhood. He wanted to know how things were in the communist country, where he – Kacper lived until he became 19. In some respect, Kacper was used to similar questions. Many of his friends and colleagues often considered Kacper to come from ‘space’, and some even felt sorry for Kacper, as he came from a society, whose members surely must have, and still suffer a great deal of misery and depravation. Many years ago, Kacper was annoyed with those assumptions, but quickly learnt to understand them, especially when he realised that the Cold War propaganda was as strong in the West as it was in the East.
Kacper would tell Marco that he never felt particularly unhappy at home. He received education, he was lucky to be looked after, when he was ill and unwell, he had many wonderful friends, he experienced his first love, he went to school parties – just like youngsters in many other parts of the world – not a big deal. Kacper however realised that to some extend, his childhood was different from this of Marco, and many other colleagues, who he had an opportunity to interact with. In the same time, Kacper thought, to some extend, his childhood experiences were similar to some of his friends from certain African, Southern American, or Asian countries.
Kacper came from a poor family. His father hardly finished his primary school, and his mother worked in an office of a local factory producing carbon electrodes. Kacper did not really understand that his family was poor for a long time. He never experienced hunger; he went to school, or was given medical care, when he needed to. Kacper thought that perhaps, he did not feel ‘poor’ for a long time, as most of the families around lived similarly. He also knew that it was his Mum’s sacrifice and perfect household management skills (yes, mums seem to be best logisticians in the world) that made things function great! Kacper’s mother managed to create things out of nothing, and had this amazing ability to make things look amazingly tidy and cosy.
Kacper also loved that ‘community spirit’ that was felt around in the town where he came from. When his father was once arrested for ‘collaborating with the enemies of the system’, the neighbours would come and make sure that he, his brother and Mum were okey. Neighbours were always ready to come over and chat, or just be together. ‘Things are not just the same today’ – evaluated Kacper to Marco.
There were things that Kacper would prefer not to have happened in the past. The mentioned arrest of his father, or constant hurdles and humiliation by the Milicja (police) forces that his family was subjected to, were just some examples.
He remembers he once stayed in a hospital that was just 100 km from his hometown. He lived there for around 12 months, and his parents would come visiting Kacper at least once a week throughout the whole period. For them, these weekly trips meant constant humiliation, nearly torture. First of all, they needed a travel permit, for which they needed to apply days in advance, and which was very difficult to obtain. On average, it took them around 8 hours to cover a distance of 100 km, and it is because of the military checkpoints that they needed to pass on the way. Each checkpoint meant getting out of a bus (or a car), answering questions related to purpose of their travel, explaining that their son was sick, etc, etc. They would reach Kacper in the hospital, just to say hello, kiss him to rush back immediately after, so that they could spend another 8 hours travelling home and reach it before the curfew…
He also hated to remember ‘an ambulance incident’ – as he liked referring to it. It took place in Zakopane – a small town on the border with Slovakia (Czechoslovakia in those days). Kacper just had an exhausting and fairly difficult back surgery. Medically, the things got a bit complicated, and therefore the doctors decided that Kacper would need to be transferred to another specialised hospital, which was just 8 km away. It was December, and quite cold. Kacper, under supervision of a driver, paramedics, and nurses was taken to an ambulance. Suddenly, just after leaving the hospital, the car was stopped by armed soldiers, who demanded that the ambulance turns back. The driver explained that they had a very sick patient and needed to proceed immediately. This made the soldiers very angry, and made them suspect that perhaps the ambulance was carrying ‘illegal leaflets’ and ‘printing matters’ for the opposition movement. They ordered the ambulance to be searched, and already opened the back doors to take Kacper’s stretches outside. At that point, the driver (bless him) got out of the car, and started shouting at the soldiers. He accused them of being ‘heartless monsters’ and told them that they were risking a life of a little boy. This is only when, they decided to let the ambulance go…
Well, there were some amusing stories too. Kacper remembered the celebrations in the family, had his brother managed accidentally buying some toilet paper in a local shop on the way back from his school. Then once, Kacper’s father needed to register in a queue, just to register the family’s name in THE official queue to buy a refrigerator (which the family finally received 3 years later…).
As many of us, Kacper has a lot of wonderful memories from his childhood, and even the horrors of the system he lived in will never change it.
PS. Kacper watched a piece of news on the Asian leaders being airlifted from their hotel in Thailand.