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?

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