Friday, 29 May 2009

Loved ones dealing with your work - Post 39

‘Bombs are exploding all over Pakistan… Do your parents know? Have you told them that you will be going to Islamabad yet?’ asked Anita (Kacper’s very good friend from Germany) in her email. Kacper was indeed worried about how he was going to tell his family about spending 6 months in the country. They already know Kacper would be going there, and it was hard enough… Adding that Kacper would spend in Pakistan SIX MONTHS seemed like a very difficult thing to accept for people around him, so Kacper is still contemplating, when and how to reveal this information…

Kacper is quite excited about working in Pakistan again, but he does understand why his parents are worried. The media do not portrait the situation in the country very favourably, and then, it was in Pakistan that Kacper was once kidnapped (Post 19). Then, if it was not enough, his family keeps on talking about the case of a Polish engineer, who had been beheaded by the Talebans in Pakistan, just a few months ago. He realises it is difficult, and tries dealing with it too. He therefore is explaining that Islamabad is much safer than the rest of the country, that most of people are actually extremely friendly and helpful, that the security regulations of his organisations are very strict and that there is generally little likelihood that things would go wrong. These awareness campaigns usually help for some time… at least until next piece of news from the media.

Dealing with parents, friends, and people that you love is not easy, when you are far away, especially in places, where communication is not readily available. As Kacper’s mother became computer and Internet literate, it is more and more challenging explaining to her about wars, and insecurities in places where he works. She just opens online news services and finds out that there was a fighting in such and such place, and that possibly her son might have been there. As Kacper sometimes doesn’t have the same information that media in Poland broadcast, it happens that his reactions to reassure his family come too late…

‘Kacper, I think that you need to call your mother as soon as you can. I think she is worried of you…’ asked his boss in Khartoum on the radio. Kacper was in Wau, in southwestern part of Sudan. ‘Great’ he thought. ‘How am I going to do that…’ he answered. ‘The telephone here has not been working for last 10 days, and there is no way that I can get in touch with anyone overseas at the moment’ he added. ‘Can’t I call your parents and tell them that you were okey? The telephones in Khartoum work well, and I can happily do that…’ offered Pierre. ‘That would be great, except that they will not understand a word of what you say’ explained Kacper. ‘Here is what we can do though’ – an idea came to his mind. He asked Pierre to get in touch with his Polish friend, who lived in Khartoum, and give her his parents’ phone number, so that she could call and leave a message in Polish that he was fine and there was nothing to worry about.

The plan nearly worked. Magda, his Polish friend, managed to call Kacper’s mother, as instructed, but slightly too late… Worried of some fighting that erupted in southern Sudan (information acquired via Polish news), and not having news from her son, mum called the Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Warsaw demanding to find out what was happening to her son, and pressing for an evacuation for him. It was then the Polish MOFA that got in touch with Kacper’s organisation’s headquarters in Paris just to find out that he was sound and fine and that the fighting was actually quite far from where Kacper was.

The Sudan drama was long time ago, and his parents have become more experienced in dealing with their own stress since then. Also, the communication these days is much better, and it is usually possible for Kacper to maintain contacts with his loved ones even in the remotest places on earth (through satellite based systems), so things are a bit easier. This doesn’t mean that Kacper doesn’t have strategies on how to communicate and deal with his parents and family, while travelling. They vary depending on countries he is in, and on available resources around (for example people who can communicate Polish – so that they can call home, if for whatever reason Kacper is not able to do so). Also, as Kacper’s brother speaks decent English these days, things get slightly less stressful for everyone.

Travelling around to remote places has other personal consequences on lives of Kacper’s friends and on his own. He still is extremely sorry to think about his relationship that finished barely a year ago. Although, Kacper is and will be a very good friend with Dominik, who lives in Krakow, and whom he had met in Australia some years ago, their relationship just didn’t make any sense. Dominik is very domestic, and loves his lifestyle in Krakow, while Kacper simply was not ready to settle down in the city, where he thought he wouldn’t be able to find work that would interest him. Both men seemed extremely fond of one another, however thought that long-distance relationship wouldn’t work for them, and therefore decided to end it and become good friends instead.

Kacper certainly loved his job, and enjoyed challenges and lifestyle it involves. It was clear however that the older and more experienced he becomes, the more desire and need for some sort of stability he seemed to require. The day of changes in Kacper’s professional life seems to be inevitable. An unanswered question remains when and what Kacper would need to adjust in his life. Before that happens, Kacper is preparing for his trip to Islamabad!

PS. Kacper is looking out for a DHL parcel from London.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Home Sweet Home - Post 38

‘Everything is looking so green and fresh’ – Kacper was extremely excited to finally have reached Warsaw, after a long journey from N’Djamena. He was in a taxi from the Fryderyk Chopin Airport to the Central Train Station, where he was going to catch an intercity train to Krakow. He was already tired, and a bit sleepy. ‘I will have a nap in the train’ he decided and just a thought of it made him feel better.

Kacper was coming to Poland for around 10 days. He has just completed his humanitarian deployment in Chad, where he worked for people that needed to flee their homes from the areas of eastern Chad and western Sudan, due to local conflicts and wars. He was now preparing, at least mentally, for his next task that he was going to undertake in Pakistan. A massive movement of around one million people in northern part of the country, following the fighting between Taleban militia and the Government of Pakistan caused a humanitarian crisis. Kacper’s organisation along with many other ones are trying to provide to the displaced people with essential services like water, sanitation, health, or food until they are able to return to their towns and villages from where they had fled.

‘This is going to be tough work there’ considered Kacper already in his train. ‘Before the work starts, I will have 10 days of holidays though’ he carried on. ‘I will need to make sure that I will enjoy my time with family and friends to the fullest’ he thought reasonably.

Kacper was going to be quite busy, when he was in Poland this time. He needed to visit a few doctors to check on how his body coped with his last deployment and check his vaccinations. He planned to meet with some people from the University of Warsaw, with whom he is now writing a book on international aid, and the are planning to publish some time in spring 2010. Of course, he was planning to meet with some of his friends from Nowy Sacz, and from Slovakia. At last, Kacper would be busy arranging his trip to Pakistan. Visas, getting tickets, sorting hotels out, shopping – all will take time.

Kacper looked at beautiful old houses of Krakow. His train was approaching the main city’s station. ‘I am so much looking forward to holidays’ he smiled… ‘I definitely need some rest, before Pakistan’ he picked his suitcase, and waited until the train would stop at the station. Kacper was home!

PS. Kacper was pleased with his trip to Slovakia that he had today.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Pleasures of flying - Post 37

‘I really have chosen a wrong job! I hate flying so much, and I am on a plane at least twice a month…’ Kacper wrote to Franek, who is a pilot in LOT Polish Airlines. ‘Please suggest something… What can I read or do so it can help me stop being that scared each time that I enter planes?’ he begged in his email.

Kacper tries to make jokes out of his fear of flying, and this often helps, but as soon as there are some bigger turbulences out there in the air, he gets pale, sweats, and in extreme situations, he even grabs other passengers’ hands unconsciously. Luckily no one ever got upset with him, when he does that, on a contrary, he even made friends with some of his air victims. The fact remains: KACPER IS SCARED OF FLYING!

It is not always that he was afraid of planes. As a kid, he always dreamt of flying, and thought it was such a fantastic way of travelling. It is his later experiences that made him dislike aircrafts.

Flying around places like rural Angola, South Sudan, Chad, or Afghanistan always involves elements of surprises and adventure. Villages and towns in South Sudan actually don’t have proper airstrips (not mentioning airports). Planes land and take off from fields that are adapted to be airstrips. This adaptation usually means that one just makes sure that there are not too many big wholes in the ground… Someone on the ground usually checks this each time before arrival and departure of planes. Kacper still remembers working in Upper Nile of South Sudan. It was his responsibility, to walk around the filed (airstrip) twice a week (plane was coming twice a week) and make sure that there were no new wholes in the ground, just before planes arrived. He would then need to report his findings via radio to the United Nations base in a neighbouring town. Only, when they received his confirmation, the plane would be allowed to fly in. On top of this, Kacper also needed to report weather conditions in his village. He truly hated doing it. He felt that he had too much responsibility… indeed he was never trained to work for air industry business, and he didn’t think he would like to. 

Arrival of planes always attracted attention in the village, where he lived. It was a social event. Planes came with interesting people, brought colourful boxes, supplies of medicines… People loved it, and always found it interesting to come and observe offloading and loading of aircrafts. The interest actually created serious dangers to safety of people. People simply didn’t realise of how powerful aircrafts could be, and instead of running out to give space to landing planes, they would chase them with excitement. Kacper and his colleagues tried to teach the residents to be careful. They did many awareness campaigns, during masses in churches, or services in mosques. They helped to some extend, but there were always some more adventures people, who thought it was fun to chase planes!

Kacper admired pilots of these small aircrafts. As far as he was concerned, they just managed to do impossible work every day – and successfully.  He still remembers his first time, when he was arriving to his Upper Nile village. They were in their tiny Cessna plane, approaching to land. The plane started descending steeply. There was a river on one side, and swamp on the other side. In the middle a bit of dry land with cows and goats on it! ‘This is where we are going to land…’ announced the pilot. Kacper obviously thought, he was joking, just to realise seconds later that in fact he wasn’t. They were about to touch down in the middle of herds of cows!  The plane was already around 20 meters above the ground. It looked like they were going land soon… For some reason, this never happened… At some point the pilot pulled some levers and their plane steeply gained height again. ‘We were chasing all animals away’, one of the passengers informed worried Kacper. ‘Now, as we cleared the land, we will turn around and descent for final landing’ he stated reassuringly. Kacper’s face must have said it all.  ‘This is a normal procedure… Nothing to worry about’ he added to calm him down. Whey they eventually reached their destination, Kacper learnt that the pilot was also assessing how wet the ground was. Had it be too muddy, they would have never landed, because the plane would have difficulties to take off again. ‘Fantastic’ thought Kacper with sarcasm… ‘I am at the end of the world’ he concluded.

Food drops were other operations that engraved themselves in his memory. The famine in Bahr el Ghazal State in Sudan some years ago, prompted the World Food Programme to drop food, which Kacper and his team would later distribute to local inhabitants. They chose the dropping spot far from buildings, and in a place that looked safe. Local police and army secured the place, and the villagers were advised to stay away from the location, so that no one is injured.

Obviously, the news spread fast, and some curious Janjaweed militiamen decided to visit the place, hoping that they could steal a sack or two of grain for themselves. The arrival of 5 men on horses worried Kacper, but he couldn’t do anything. He just hoped that the governmental officials would make sure all went as per plan, and that Janjaweed wouldn’t be of nuisance.

Finally they heard the plane coming. Soon after that they saw it on a horizon. It approached the site, and the pilot started circulating, assessing the safety for the drop. Until then, the Janjaweed seemed to have shown patience. They were just observing what was happening patiently. Kacper thought, the police had convinced them not to make any trouble. As the plane was making its final approach to open its back part and eject pallets with food, one of the militiamen kicked his horse’s belly, and… off he went… chasing the plane! Kacper looked with amazement in his face. ‘What the hell is he thinking…’ he thought. Everyone started shouting, hoping he would abandon his idea. Everything happened very quickly. Kacper just turned around… He didn’t want to see what was going to happen. Later he was told that one of the pallets with a few hundreds kilos of grain on it landed on a poor man and a horse… Needless to say that no one could save neither of them… Both were killed instantly.

Another time, Kacper travelled with TAAG Angolan Airline plane from the town of Lubango to the country’s capital Luanda. They were in a descent looking Boeing 737. Everything looked okey, and the flight was actually quite pleasant. They were approaching the airstrip of the Luanda airport. They were touching the ground, and Kacper started relaxing a bit. Seconds after, something was going wrong… They were on the ground, but the plane didn’t seem to be stopping. All of the sudden, everyone around started realising that things were not right. Some people started shouting. Kacper grabbed a seat in front of him and held it tight, waiting nervously what was going to happen. He looked out of the window, and noticed that the airstrip was about to finish… With full speed, their plane overshot the paved runway… There was some noise in the front of the plane, and in the same time, slowly they started loosing some of their speed. More suspicious noise of things being broken and things falling could be heard. Few more shakes, and the plane stopped. No one said a word for a few seconds. Then pe0ple started clapping. As they found out later, something was wrong with the aircraft’s brakes, and plane couldn’t stop. What saved them was a fact that there was enough space behind the airstrip for the plane to loose its speed. They also found out how extremely lucky they were. Their plane apparently ended up in a mine-infested area… (meant to protect the airstrip from attacks of rebels). It took soldiers 5 hours to evacuate the plane. They needed to de-mine the area, before allowing the passengers out. Within these five hours, one of the Angolan ladies gave birth to a premature son… Happily, both mother and son survived and were well!

There were many, many other scary, and funny plane stories in Kacper’s career. One of those, was particularly special. Kacper and 5 other passengers were waiting for cargo to be loaded onto their small aircraft. It was their last stop on their way to Lokkichoggio in Kenya. They were in a small village of Akobo in south-eastern Sudan, literally on the border with Ethiopia. ‘Okey, you can board the plane’ announced the pilot. Kacper was pleased; they were finally going to travel. It was a long and tiring day. He just wanted to reach Kenya, so that he could catch a plane to Nairobi, and then off to Zanzibar for his one weeklong holiday.

The engine started and the plane slowly made its way to the beginning of their dirt airstrip. The noise intensified and their aircraft started gaining speed. It smoothly started making its way up. They were not very high yet, perhaps on the height comparable to 5th or 6th floor. Suddenly a black smoke appeared somewhere in the front of the craft. The engine started making strange noises, and soon after died… ‘God, we are crashing’ must have come through everyone’s minds. Their plane glided for a few meters, and then started loosing its height dramatically quickly. ‘Brace, brace, brace’ heard Kacper. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do… He just realised that they were in trouble. Kacper saw water… they were about to hit a nearby swamp, just outside of the village.

The impact didn’t hurt. Kacper thought it would be very painful, and imagined the worst. In fact he didn’t have time to think of pain… Kacper looked at other passengers. They were all shocked, but it seemed like everyone was making some physical movements. They were all alive! ‘Everyone ok?’ shouted distressed pilot. His chin was bleeding, and his shirt was torn. ‘Yeah…’ came from everyone’s mouths. Kacper was worried that their plane would start drowning, but none of this seemed to have been happening. It was not going down at all. He felt severe pain in his elbow, and around his waist – where the seatbelt was. He unfastened himself and waited. Very soon after, they noticed canoes that must have come from the village to rescue. The people outside helped one of the passengers open the emergency door. One by one, they were pulled out. The three canoes took them to the village. They were saved!

Kacper had his elbow broken, and had some bleeding wounds all over the body. He was more shocked rather than injured. The other passengers and their pilot also seemed distressed, but besides minor injuries, they all appeared fine.

It was the International Red Cross that came to their rescue. They sent to light aircrafts with doctors to pick them up. ‘We are taking you to safety’ announced the South African pilot, before they took off. ‘We will just wait until the medicines that I injected in you will make you sleep’ added a friendly Swiss doctor. Kacper and his travel companions were to finish their trip asleep…


PS. Kacper is wondering whom he should vote for in the European Parliament elections. 

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Jurassic Park - Post 36

Kacper has received a ticket for his Air France flight to Warsaw. He has just two days left in N’Djamena. The remaining time will be busy, as he will be finalising his last report from his deployment in the country. The paper will include guidance on how his organisation might want to prepare itself for possible movement of war refugees from Sudan. Good news is that the rainy season is just around the corner, and the rain is likely easing on military operations both in Sudan and Chad – it is simply too difficult for military equipment to be carried through mud, and seasonal rivers that will soon appear in deserts between the two countries. Less fighting will obviously translate into more stability for civilians. Having said that, all horrors of wars might return in October, when it will become dry again. This is when Kacper’s organisation will need to be prepared for stepping up its efforts in helping people, who might need it.

His deployment in Chad forced Kacper to think about conflicts and wars frequently. Like many humanitarian workers, sometimes he looks at conflicts in a very rational and pragmatic way. He tries to predict what might happen – to ensure safety of personnel, or to design good quality, comprehensive programmes for victims of fighting. The pragmatic take of wars dehumanises them a bit, and this actually, to some extend, helps Kacper dealing with war horrors. Kacper wouldn’t be doing his job though, if he didn’t realise what wars mean to people on personal and human level. Stories that he sometimes hear are painful and tragic, and they shake Kacper’s conviction in goodness that he wants to believe is engraved in each and every person walking on this planet…

George screamed in front of a television. He picked a remote controller and changed the channel. He looked very distressed. His Indonesian colleagues started laughing at his reaction. ‘Come on George… We want to finish watching the Jurassic Park!’ one of them demanded, and took the controller from George’s hands, just to change the channel back to the movie. At that point George left the living room. He run out to the garden outside of their house. Except Kacper, no one seemed to have noticed how distressed he was. Kacper didn’t understand what upset George so much, but it was obvious something was not right. He slowly got up from his sofa, and went out following his colleague.

George sat on a chair under a huge tree in their beautiful garden. He still appeared to be disturbed. ‘George, you are alright?’ asked Kacper carefully. ‘Wanna come over for Ulei Kareng (type of Indonesian coffee)?’ he offered. ‘I know this quiet cafeteria in the centre of Banda Aceh’ explained Kacper. ‘We will be there in no time’ he encouraged. George liked the idea and agreed quickly. ‘It will be really nice’ he answered.

They were sitting in the café, and Kacper ordered two coffees. He didn’t want to rush any conversation, so waited a bit and looked at his African friend. George was his colleague from Sierra Leone. He arrived to Indonesia just a few months earlier to help Kacper’s team to monitor progress and quality of programmes they implemented for victims of the tsunami.

‘What was it that freaked you out about the movie?’ finally asked Kacper. ‘The monster… I mean the dinosaurs… they were awful…’ explained George. Kacper raised his eyebrows. ‘But George, you just saw an animation. They were not real… You must know that!’ stated Kacper. ‘I was scared of them… I don’t know why, but they reminded me war, they reminded me of all these horrible things that happened to me’ he told Kacper. He looked at George’s eyes. They seemed to have expressed some unspeakable and incomprehensible sadness. Kacper would never forget them… ‘They showed all pain of the world’ later he recalled.

‘Look at this…’ George rolled his sleeves up, until Kacper could see four big scars on his upper arm. ‘See… they were taking my flesh out from here with metal hooks’ he went on. ‘They did it, so that I could remember that I was controlled by them… that I remember that I should be scared of them’ – George took coffee to his hands. ‘Before that happened, I had been running from Freetown for a week or so’ he restarted his story. Kacper just listened. He didn’t dare asking any questions. ‘I was there with my older brother. There were also two other boys, and three girls… They were our neighbours from Freetown. My brother was 19 years old, and my father had requested him to look after all of us, and take us to safety. We tried to reach Liberia. We were told there were refugee camps there, and that we would be safe in that country…’

‘…After perhaps 7 days, we stopped to rest. We were still in Sierra Leone. We were tired, and we hadn’t eaten for hours. My brother told us to hide in bushes, while he wanted to go to a village to get some food for us. He wanted to see whether it was possible to steal a chicken or two. Just moments after he left us, I heard shots, and my brother scream. I run, run towards him… After a few meters, someone hit me at my head. I fell…’ George was all in tears. ‘They took us both. My brother couldn’t walk; they shot him in his leg. I tried to help him, but I was just a little boy. The rebels got very upset with him… He couldn’t walk, and he slowed them down. One of the guys separated us, and the other one put his gun to his head… He pulled the trigger… I had blood on my face, my brother’s blood…’ George stopped for a while, and sipped his coffee.

‘I don’t know what has happened to the other kids in the bush. I have never heard from them, ever – even when I eventually returned to Freetown years later. They are missing and no one knows what fate might have met them…’ George stopped for a while, and reminded silent for around 5 minuets. Then he continued again: ‘I couldn’t cry much. They gave me a heavy sack and told me to carry it, and follow them. We walked for 4 hours, until we reached the camp. They forced me to drink alcohol. I tried to refuse, I told them that I was Christian and I couldn’t drink. They hit me… they didn’t like me. I was just a kid, Kacper. I was just a kid…’ George didn’t cry anymore, but his eyes again became very sad though.

‘…I was in the rebel group for 3 months. They tortured me every day. They tried to teach me, how to shoot, how to kill, how to drink and take drugs. Slowly I started to give in to these lessons. I was just a kid… I didn’t want to die! I was lucky though… One day, they were all stoned and they fell asleep. So I just run… I managed to be saved by some other Sierra Leonean refugees. They were going to Liberia, and I joined them…’

George asked for some orange juice, and then carried on his tale: ‘Years after, I returned to Freetown. I found my mother. She was the only person that survived from our family. They raped my sister, her daughter in front of her. They beat my mother until she fell unconscious. When she woke up, my sister was dead, and all my mother could do was just bury her body. My father had been killed before that, in the streets of Freetown. Kacper… it is just my mother and I who survived… My mother stopped talking. She doesn’t talk to anyone… there is too much pain in her. She is a bit like a plant… She lives, but she is not with me anymore.’

‘I tried to have our lives as normal as possible. It was not easy Kacper. I missed my siblings and I didn’t know how to earn our living. I went to school again, and I managed to find work in our organisation. I did my best to prove that I was a good and hard working person. They soon promoted me, and now they even sent me here to Indonesia. I am so grateful, Kacper… I can provide for my family and look after my mother!’ George finished his tragic story. They still sat there in the café for another 30 minutes. They just looked at the busy street of Banda Aceh, and watched the life go on. Their minds however for a long time remained in a small country of western Africa.

Kacper was in his bedroom. His was still thinking of his friend’s life. George’s story was so horrific that nearly unreal, and had he not seen, and known George, he would have thought that the story like that must be a result of imagination of some movie script writer… This story was real however, as real as George and his scars on his arms. ‘God…’ thought Kacper… ‘Why… why all this? Why people need to go through something that horrible?’ Unfortunately, Kacper didn’t find any answers that would bring him peace.

PS. Kacper is planning his week that he will spend in Poland.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Going out in Madrid - Post 35

Maria, Felicio’s wife was showing Kacper their apartment, where they lived in Madrid. ‘And Kacper, this is where you are going to sleep, while you are with us’, she opened the door and let him inside. It was a small, but a very beautifully decorated bedroom. Kacper loved all vivid colours of walls, and tastefully chosen furniture and decorations inside it. ‘Look, O Pensador!’ he exclaimed, when he noticed a familiar looking wooden statue of The Thinking Man, which the couple had brought from Angola. Kacper turned around, and embraced Maria, and then Felicio. ‘Guys, thank you for inviting me over to stay with you! It is wonderful to be with you again’ he said in Portuguese. ‘Kacper, feel at home… this is actually your home, you know that’ stated Felicio. ‘Frycek…you are great!’ – Kacper was genuinely moved. Felicio smiled, when he heard him being referred to as Frycek. When they worked together in Angola, Kacper for some reason decided to give him a Polish name, which grew to him so much that everyone around, including his wife and their business partners wouldn’t call him anything different but Frycek! ‘Yes, your Frycek is here for you…’ he confirmed amused and pleased.

The three met a few years before in Luanda. Frycek and Maria arrived to Angola, right after Kacper. Frycek was to become the country director of the organisation, Kacper worked for then, while Maria came to live with him, as his partner. Both Spaniards originated from very affluent and wealthy families. They decided to spend a year in Angola, in order to contribute towards, what they believed, a fairer world.

They went to Segovia. Kacper’s Spanish hosts wanted to make sure that he had a chance to visit places outside of Madrid. It was a sunny day, and they just sat at one of cosy cafes, where they decided to eat a light lunch. ‘Kacper, you really scared us, when you called from Scotland…’ started Frycek. Kacper knew that sooner or later, they would talk about his mental crisis that he had gone through some weeks before (Post 15). ‘I know Frycek, I know… if this is any consolation, I scared myself as well’ answered Kacper. ‘Why was it so difficult to tell us what was happening?’ asked Maria. ‘Do you know that if you succeeded in taking your life, you would have made so many of us suffer, suffer the way that you can not possibly imagine Kacper’ she went on. Kacper blushed. ‘Maria, I know… it is just that when you are depressed, you tend to be more egoistic than in normal circumstances, and you only concentrate on your own problems… You also think that there is no way out Maria… Really, you stop seeing solutions to even the easiest problems’, he answered. Maria hugged him. ‘And you really thought that people would stop loving you… such a nice person as you… just because you are attracted to men rather than women?’ she asked and then continued jokingly: ‘OK, it might be more challenging for me to conquer you now…’ they all laughed. ‘Then on the other hand, I will have someone to talk to about handsome men around me… I can’t do it with Frycek – you know…’ she kept on teasing. She had tears in her eyes. ‘God… Kacper, I am so glad you are still with us…’ she hugged him again. ’Promise us… when you feel unwell, you just tell us… tell us right away, and wherever you are…’ she demanded. ‘Yes Maria… I promise’ assured Kacper, believing that he would not do the same mistake again.

Kacper felt good: He felt accepted, he felt his silliness was forgiven, and above all, for a first time for many, many months, he started believing that he can lead a happy and fulfilled life. Life without lies, and life without pretending… ‘I will offer myself to people the way I am’ he thought… ‘People might want to choose to accept me or not… but I will not be taking these decisions for them’ he concluded his considerations.

‘Kacper, we have a surprise for you tonight’ suddenly announced Frycek. ‘What is it?’ he got curious. ‘I can’t tell you… it wouldn’t be a surprise anymore…’ he teased Kacper. ‘You will love it’ said Maria. ‘Come on guys… this is not fair, you need to tell me now’ demanded Kacper. The couple just shook their heads. It was obvious, they would not tell him anything, he needed to be patient.

‘Are you ready Kacper? Dressed up and all?’ Frycek looked impatient. Maria looked at Kacper, and at a shirt that she had offered to him as a present. ‘You look hot baby…’ she decided. ‘You will need to look hot tonight… I tell you Kacper, you will need to look hot’, carried on Frycek.

They were in their car. ‘We are going to a gay club’ finally revealed Maria… ‘Did I hear well… I am not going to any gay club… you are mad!’ Kacper got extremely upset. ‘I have never been in such establishments… it doesn’t feel right’ he went on resisting. ‘Kacper, our friends are already waiting for us there… we are going, and just take it easy’ decided Frycek. Kacper was overpowered, and had no choice but give in. He felt like he was going for an execution… stressed and uncomfortable. It is just because Maria and Frycek were with him made him feel a bit better. ‘If they go there… if they are with me, perhaps it is not going to be that bad…’ he tried to comfort himself.

They entered a very elegant looking bar. It was not full yet. ‘People are just gathering’ noticed Frycek. They sat at the table. Kacper looked around. The place actually looked friendly and hospitable. There were many men and women couples there, but there were groups of mixed people as well. It was all a new territory for Kacper, and despite being over 30 years old, he didn’t know what to expect from a gay bar. His uneasiness was slowly passing. A young waiter came to take their order. They all asked for a glass of wine. When the waiter left, Maria blew a kiss at Kacper. ‘He was good looking, wasn’t he?’ she asked. Kacper didn’t answer anything, just blushed.

‘Felicio… Maria!!!’ someone shouted. A couple of two men approached their table. ‘This is great you are here!’ one of them addressed them. He kissed Maria and shook Frycek’s hand firmly. The other guy followed the suit. ‘And you must be… the special friend from Poland’ he switched into English. He smiled and shook Kacper’s hand. ‘I am Mario… welcome to the dark side…’ he added. They all laughed. ‘Kacper, please do not pay any attention at him’ said the other man. ‘My boyfriend is misbehaving, as always… My name is Fernando, and I will make sure I will protect you from this weirdo…’ he introduced himself, and looked at Mario with lots of affection.

They all engaged themselves in conversations. Frycek explained how they had gotten to know with one another in Angola. Kacper was explaining where he was from, and what he did in life. Fernando talked about his career as a journalist, and Mario was extremely excited to tell Kacper all about his bed and breakfast that he had recently opened in Sitges, near Barcelona. ‘Honey’ he addressed Kacper ‘you will always have a room there for free, and you will love the place’, he invited Kacper. He was a bit shocked by being addressed as honey by another man, but then it was meant to be a night of surprises. ‘Perhaps I should relax a bit more’ he considered.

‘How did you enjoy the evening?’ asked Frycek the following morning during breakfast. ‘It was unusual’ answered Kacper. ‘At start, I felt uneasy, but then it went better later. Mario and Fernando are really nice people!’ reassured Kacper. ‘Why did it feel uneasy?’ asked Frycek. ‘I don’t know… I am just not used to such openness… at least not yet’ he smiled. ‘I am so glad you came over… It doesn’t matter whether you will like to hang around in such places or not, it is important that you know that they exist though, and that there are many people like you – normal persons, who happen to be homosexuals, and like Maria and me, who don’t mind, and more than that, who are friends with just about anyone… as long as they are good human beings, rather than gay or non-gay!’ he said and offered Kacper some coffee.

The last evening experience, the conversation with Frycek forced Kacper to think. He slowly started realising that focusing so much on his homosexuality was actually silly and immature. ‘People happen to be gay, straight, men, women, disabled, black, yellow, white… Some were crazy, some are quiet, some speak languages, while the others are good in singing. Finally some are more likely to be accepting than the others… All of these similarities and differences make us special and unique’ went on through his mind. Kacper realised that there was really no reason to dwell on his sexuality, and think about it so much – the quicker he gets it; the better off he was going to be.

Frycek seemed to have been reading Kacper’s mind. ‘Perhaps, you will meet people that will not accept you because you are gay, or you are disabled Kacper… and although it might hurt a bit… at the end, does it really matter?’ asked Frycek. ‘As long as it is not you hurting other people, you will be fine. You will also learn to be able to take some, what may seem to you, unfair treatment towards you’ he carried on. ‘If this happens, accept it as well. Don’t fight it Kacper… After all, it is not everyone that has been as lucky as you have, to be exposed to differences, the same way, you have been, and not everyone understands that one can enrich oneself from them rather than being threatened by them’ finished Frycek.

Kacper relaxed, and realised how lucky he was to have friends like Maria and Frycek… ‘What would I do without you guys?’ he asked. ‘Thank you for looking after me so well’ he added before going to bed. Tomorrow was another busy day. They were planning to visit Frycek’s family, outside Madrid. Kacper was told that many people were eager to meet a guest from Poland.

PS. Kacper will be flying to Warsaw this weekend.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Unfair presumptions - Post 34

Kacper walked down the stairs from the Ethiopian Airways Boeing 737 at N’Djamena airport. The heat was overwhelming. ‘Surely, I am back to Chad’, he recognised. ‘Feels like hell again’ he smiled. He looked around the small airport. There were around 5 United Nations planes, and a big cargo jumbo with a logo of some air company that he didn’t know. He was making his way to the arrival’s terminal, a small and simple looking building. A group of Chinese workers, who came on the same flight from Addis Ababa, run frantically towards the entry of the terminal, wanting to clear immigration before other passengers. Kacper made sure that he let all hurrying Asians pass in front of him… He is scarred of disorganised crowds, and he prefers taking time, rather than exposing himself to a danger of being run over by overexcited people.

The Chadian immigration officer proved to be extremely polite. He got interested in Kacper’s passport. ‘You are from Poland’, he stated. ‘You must be coming here to join the Polish military forces working for the United Nations?’ he enquired in English. ‘No sir, I am arriving here to join one of the humanitarian organisations in Abeche’ explained Kacper and added that he was going to remain in Chad just for 5 days. ‘This is a very short visit’, noticed the man. ‘Where will you be going afterwards?’ he asked. Kacper told the officer about his plans of going to Pakistan, and working for benefit of displaced Pakistanis, who flee the ongoing fighting in the Swat Valley. ‘Aren’t you scared of doing it? It seems like, it is a dangerous place these days!’ he expressed his concern. Kacper thought it was funny to hear it from the Chadian official, whose country has been more or less in civil war for years. Just before he made this remark, he bit his tongue and answered: ‘Sure sir, I am scared of insecurity, but this is a nature of my work to go to places, where people need humanitarian assistance’ he added politely instead.

Kacper remembered of his airport conversation later on, when he arrived to his house in N’Djamena. ‘It is interesting to see how relative everything is’ he thought. ‘A Chadian in his home country perceives that Pakistan is unstable, whereas all seemed to be normal for him in Chad’, Kacper went on wondering. ‘Surely, most Poles would consider Chad to be extremely unsafe, something that some Chadians might find offensive and unfair… This goes even further, many Westerners consider Poland to be underdeveloped, the opinion that infuriates most of Kacper’s countrymen’, he kept on in his mind.

One of the main lessons that Kacper had learnt while travelling around the world was not to make assumptions about unknown places and people. There were so many examples that proved him wrong about his beliefs.

Kacper still remembers his greatest lesson on humbleness that he received in Bangladesh some time ago. He is ashamed of himself when he recalls what kind of opinions he had of the country, before he went there. ‘Corrupt, messy, unsafe, inefficient, extremely poor…’ were just a few adjectives that were entering Kacper’s mind, when he thought of Bangladesh. Reality proved so different. Bangladesh and its people charmed him. He loved the country, its colours, people’s friendliness and hospitality, and their commitment to traditions. He found the place simply enchanting. Kacper met many extremely interesting and fascinating Bangladeshis, who challenged his views on his perception of the world, and simply inspired him.

Of course, Bangladesh is very poor in terms of economical values, but this is not at all how the country manifested itself to Kacper, and he will never look at it, as a depressed and hopeless place. As a truth of a matter, Bangladesh, or Bangladeshis literally saved his life – something that Kacper will never forget and will always be grateful for.

‘Sadhan, I will need to go to a toilet, please excuse me for a second’ Kacper informed his Bangladeshi colleague and friend, in a middle of their meeting. Sadhan worked in the same organisation. He was responsible for managing media relations and information management. They were having a meeting, during which they discussed a press release their organisation was going to make to the media, on situation of homeless, who had lost their houses to the cyclone that hit the country months earlier.

He was sitting on a toilet closet and got worried. He felt a scrutinising pain in his tummy. It felt like if someone had just shot at Kacper. The pain was so severe, he thought he was going to faint. ‘Kacper, something terribly wrong is happening to you’ he thought to himself panicking. He pulled himself out of the toilet seat with a greatest difficulty. ‘At least I can stand’ he assessed the situation. Trouble was that his trousers were still down, and he needed to pull them up, before he left the toilet. The task of dressing himself seemed so difficult at the moment that nearly impossible to accomplish. ‘Now or never’ he decided and he bent over to reach for his trousers. He felt like screaming, and sweat instantly appeared on his forehead, neck and back. The pain was intolerable. Kacper slowly and gently tried to fix a belt around his waist, but just a thought of touching his tummy brought discomfort to him…

‘Kacper what is wrong with you?’ asked John, Kacper’s Indian friend, who worked as a chief accountant. He stood in front of him pale and at a point of collapsing. ‘John, I need to go to hospital immediately’ whispered Kacper. He tried to keep his voice down, so he doesn’t attract an unnecessary attention of other colleagues in the office. ‘You want to see the doctor?’ asked John seeking reassurance. ‘No… I think that it is too late for an ordinary doctor, or clinic, I don’t know what is happening, but it seems I need a hospital rather than anything else’ explained Kacper. John didn’t ask any more questions. He helped Kacper sit down, and went to arrange for a car to take him to hospital.

It was George, another accountant from Bangladesh, who escorted Kacper to hospital. ‘Kacper, hang in there’, he nearly begged him. George got worried to hear Kacper screaming loudly, whenever their car hit speed bumps, or potholes. He reached for his mobile and called the hospital, which they were approaching. Kacper, half conscious, heard him instructing the medical staff to be ready in the emergency entrance, with stretches. ‘There is something seriously wrong with him…’ he was explaining.

‘How are you feeling?’ a friendly looking doctor asked Kacper. At that point, he couldn’t answer. He had tears in his eyes, and he obviously seemed to be suffering enormously. ‘Just tell me where it hurts the most’ the doctor added and inserted his stethoscope to his ears. He delicately examined Kacper’s tummy, observing his face carefully, trying to notice, when his touching caused extra discomfort. ‘We will give you some painkillers now, they will start working soon, and you will feel a bit better soon. We will also need to take blood for examination, and we shall send you for a CAT scan immediately after.

‘Sir, you will need to hold the contrast liquid inside you for 3 more minutes’ begged him a young nurse, who helped perform the scan. ‘We really need to finish the examination’ he added. Kacper was literally screaming out of pain. Finally, the nurse detached Kacper from some pipes he was hooked up to, and helped him to a wheelchair. He covered Kacper’s legs with a blanket, and started pushing his wheelchair towards the toilet. The moment they left the examination room, Kacper screamed and that was it… all liquid he tried to hold inside his intestines made his way out of his body. It obviously was extremely messy, and very embarrassing to Kacper. The wheelchair, the floor around them, and indeed Kacper himself was all dirty and smelly… ‘I am so sorry, I am so sorry …’ Kacper kept on repeating. ‘Sir, please do not worry… just take it easy’ the nurse reassured Kacper with a smile. ‘We will take care of this… now, the most important is that you are fine’ he added and asked other colleagues for help to clean Kacper.

Kacper was in his hospital bed. His colleagues from work arrived there as well. The pain was more bearable at that point; the medicaments that he had been injected started working.

The familiar doctor entered the room. ‘Kacper, is that OK that I discuss with you the results of your examinations with your friends around?’ he asked politely. ‘Of course doctor’ Kacper confirmed. ‘They are like my family’ he added. The doctor smiled. ‘I do not have very good news, but please do not worry, you will be fine’ he started. ‘Your bowel seems to have perforated, and your body is being poisoned by what should be inside your intestines’ he continued. ‘We will need to operate you immediately’ he concluded. ‘Yes doctor’ was all what Kacper could say. He was so much in pain that he didn’t care anymore what was going to happen to him. He just wanted that someone does something to stop it. If he was to die; let it be, he wanted to die, but the quicker the better. He just couldn’t imagine suffering for an hour longer.

John enquired about possible complications of the operation, and asked the doctor whether it wasn’t better to evacuate Kacper to Thailand. ‘I understand your worries… I know that you might be concerned that we will not be up to the job to help your friend, but please believe me, we will look after him the way he would be looked after in any other place in the world. Besides, Kacper has got maximum one hour to live, if we don’t do anything now’ the doctor added firmly. ‘Doctor, please, can you please operate me here… I am more than happy that you do the surgery, and I fully trust you!’ Kacper asked with a weak voice. ‘Very well!’, the doctor said ‘We are preparing the operation theatre’ he said and disappeared.

‘You can not drink water now sir… I know you are thirsty, but you can’t drink now’ the nurse told Kacper stroking his hand. Kacper was in a sterile-clean room. There were other beds inside, and some of them were occupied by patients too. The intensive care unit seemed to be working extremely efficiently. There was always someone checking on Kacper, and none of his movements, or noises went unnoticed. ‘The operation was successful Kacper’ explained the nurse, whenever he asked. ‘It is still painful, but you will be just fine’ she went on. ‘Please try to sleep a bit and rest’ she added caringly.

A few days later, Kacper was brought to a regular ward. He was in his private and comfortable room. He seemed to be recovering very fast. One night however, Kacper had a crisis. For no apparent reason, in the middle of the night he started crying. Tears flew on his cheeks, and he sobbed quietly. He was convinced no one could hear him, and he didn’t expect anyone checking on him for another few hours. Suddenly, the door of his room opened. It was too late; Kacper couldn’t pull himself together and hide his tears… The doctor noticed him being miserable at once. Kacper tried stop sobbing, but it didn’t really work, it became even worse, in front of the doctor.

The man just pulled a chair, next to Kacper, and he took Kacper’s hand into his warm hands. He just sat there, saying nothing… It took Kacper another 3; perhaps 4 minutes, before he was ready to stop crying. ‘Is there anything, anything at all that I can do to make you feel better?’ asked the doctor. ‘You already made me feel better doctor. Thank you!’ Kacper answered. ‘Will you sleep now?’ continued the doctor. ‘I will try’ Kacper took a big breath. He felt looked after, and this felt so good. ‘The nurse will come in a moment, and will give you something to help you sleep Kacper’ the doctor smiled. ‘And make sure, you buzz me, when you need me… even if you just want me to sit here for a minute or two’ he tried to encourage him.

‘I think that it was the best medical care I have received for years’ assured Kacper his worried parents, when they collected him at the airport of Krakow. He was back home in Poland, where he was going to stay for a few weeks to recuperate. He was so happy he could enjoy views of familiar landscapes and buildings, when they drove. Kacper knew that he was able to experience seeing his parents, and his own place again only because of professionalism and devotion of his Bangladeshi doctors, nurses and friends. ‘And I thought I was going to a country, where nothing worked properly’ he recalled still slightly embarrassed of himself.

PS. Kacper is watching the news on latest developments in Sri Lanka.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Kacper is babysitting - Post 33

Kacper’s poor head was confused. Within last 4 days, he has been told 6 times that he would need to go to Pakistan nearly immediately, just to have all these decisions revoked hours later. Finally – and this time it seems that the decision will be implemented - appears that he will be soon going to Islamabad after all.

Kacper will return to Chad over the coming weekend, so he completes his duties in Abeche, packs, and then departs to Poland. He will apply for a Pakistani visa in Warsaw, visit his family in Nowy Sacz, and approximately a week later will be on his way to South Asia. Clare, Kacper’s boss told him, he would be deployed in Pakistan for 6 months.

He watched BBC reports on Pakistan and Sri Lanka in his hotel room in Nairobi, and nearly got depressed. Once again, things were going seriously wrong. War was displacing thousands of people, hundreds are killed and injured, children are orphaned, men and women are widowed, parents burry their kids, and friends suffer the loss of those, who are special to them. ‘Typical pains of war’ – it is difficult not to think… Kacper has experienced it too many times…

As he thinks of his new challenges that his work will surely bring in Islamabad, he is also trying to work out his small strategy how he should be protecting himself from horrors of war. Many humanitarian workers develop very specific coping mechanisms that allow them working even in the most traumatic situations, where they experience nearly unspeakable human suffering. Kacper usual technique is to build some sort of emotional glass wall around him. It allows him seeing things through and understand what is happening around him, but also protects him so that his emotions do not take over his logic, which is important for effective help that people expect in humanitarian situations.

Trouble with such glass walls is that they break sooner or later. Kacper knows, it is usually, when things become less tensed, when he can allow himself being weak and vulnerable. Often, when he returns home to Nowy Sacz, he sometimes has nightmares, and is very distressed. He then calls for help from others to deal with his experiences.

He is going to Pakistan to set up programmes for thousands of people, who flee their homes in Swat Valley, as the Government of Pakistan started heavy military operations against the Taleban in the north of the country. He is not thrilled to be working in the area, where Talebans operate. He has some experience with them already (some of it described in Post 11), and not looking forward to be meeting them again…

‘We have arrived… We will be offloading our lorries’ decided Dan – Kacper’s boss, when they reached last checkpoint in the area controlled by the Talebans. They were about to cross the frontline, and carry on their travel in the Pansheer Valley in the north-eastern part of Afghanistan, where the army of Masoud was in charge. Dan, Kacper and their Afghan colleagues travelled to Pansheer to visit their Therapeutic Feeding Centres, which they run for severely malnourished children. They were carrying with them supplies of medicines, and therapeutic milk – enough to let the centres run for a month.

Crossing the frontline was an interesting, but rather fearsome experience. The humanitarian agencies working on both sides of the frontline managed to negotiate the deal with warring parties to cease fighting for two hours every Tuesday of the week (between 12.00 and 14.00), so that the humanitarian convoys could safely pass from one to the other side.

‘We are here to cross the frontline to go to Pansheer’, Dan informed one of the senior looking Taleban. As Dan had been crossing the frontline on multiple occasions before, he must have made his face familiar to many soldiers there. ‘Welcome Mr. Dan… long time!’ – Dan was greeted by a man wearing black turban, brown jalaba, and black gumboots. He had an impressive long, thick and black beard, which seemed to be quite well looked after. ‘We have just stopped the exchange of fire with the Masoud soldiers, and will be de-mining the passage that you will use’ Taleban informed Dan in fluent English. Kacper was shocked by the triviality that the soldier mentioned about STOPPING FIRE EXCHANGE, and DE-MINING THE PASSAGE… The Taleban just mentioned it like if it was the most normal and natural activity all people do every day, just like drinking tea, or eating biscuits. He didn’t have time to contemplate it for long though. While Taleban and Masoud were de-mining the passage of the frontline, he needed to ensure that the cargo is offloaded from the lorry, and loaded on donkeys, which they would use for crossing the frontline.

‘It seems like we have finished Dan’, said Kacper to his boss. ‘We are ready to cross the frontline’ he added. They had fifteen donkeys that they had rented from the local villagers, who would always gather around checkpoints on Tuesdays, knowing that NGOs would be crossing the frontline, and would need transportation. For many of the villagers, the fees that they collected from NGOs were the only sources of income for their families. Kacper had a strange impression that the donkey men were pleased with the fighting… the frontline seemed to have given them livelihood opportunities. ‘This is so sad’, Kacper remarked.

‘We need to wait, until they de-mine the road Kacper’ instructed Dan. ‘When they finish, they will tell us, and we will need to walk in line one by one, until we reach the other side’ went on Dan. He explained that everyone needed to be very cautious, as only a very narrow path was de-mined, and that no one was allowed to go off the path, no matter what, as they might risk stepping on a mine… ‘Once we will reach the Masoud side, we will offload the donkeys and load lorries, which will wait for us there’ he kept on briefing his colleagues. ‘Easy as that Kacper!’ he finished and smiled, obviously entertained by his Polish colleague’s disbelieving looking face.

They were given a sign to start walking. They had a neutral guide, whom they paid, and who knew where the path was. Kacper’s heart started pouncing more blood, and that gave him some additional energy to walk faster. He didn’t like the idea of being in the minefield, with two warring sides waiting for them to cross, so they could restart shooting at each other, as soon as the humanitarians were out of their ways.

They walked for around 15 minutes. Donkeys were following the guide, and Kacper with his team were at the end of the procession. Kacper noticed some pick-up cars and small lorries with a logo of their organisation. ‘Thank goodness, we are soon leaving this scary place’ Kacper was genuinely pleased. As they were close enough to the other side, some senior Masoud soldier waived at Dan and greeted him. ‘Welcome again! I can see you have brought a new colleague here. Did you bring any cigarettes for me?’ he asked.

They offloaded the donkeys, paid the money to the guide and a representative of animal owners, and loaded their cars with medicines and milk. ‘We need to get out of here as soon as possible’ Dan hurried everyone. ‘They will resume fighting in 20 minutes. It is already 13.40. We definitely don’t want to be here when shooting restarts’ he underlined.

They were already well on their way, when they heard some explosions. ‘Here we go… two hours of peace have finished… until next Tuesday’ Dan tapped Kacper on his shoulder. ‘Were you scarred?’ he asked. ‘A little’ answered Kacper. All Afghan colleagues burst laughing… ‘Kacper, there is nothing to be scared of’ one of them tried to make feel him better. Kacper was not convinced.

Two hours later, tired, dirty, with mud all over their bodies, they reached their first base. It was a compound, where inside were tents, and huts, where children were treated. There was also a small office there. ‘Thank goodness you made it’ they were greeted by the base manager. ‘We were about to run out of the milk for kids… I was worried that it would came too late’ he said.

Kacper entered the room, where children played. One toddler, interested in a visitor approached him and sat on his laps. He rested his little head on Kacper’s shoulder and just sat there, obviously enjoying the company of his new friend. Kacper started thinking of the life of the kid. ‘What future will he have? Is he going to have at least a fraction of normality, which kids enjoy in peaceful countries? Will he ever be able to live his dreams?’ – all these questions were storming his mind. Kacper was bothered he couldn’t find answers, he just hoped that life, with its abilities to write the most amazing stories has prepared something special and beautiful for the little boy, who was ready for his short afternoon nap.

PS. Kacper is excited to meet his Ethiopian friends a day after tomorrow.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The world has come to Nowy Sacz - Post 32

‘We will really need to know your guest’s birth of date, if we are to issue him this invitation’ a friendly clerk informed Kacper’s mother, who was in the town hall of Nowy Sacz, arranging documents allowing Kacper’s guest obtain a visa to Poland. ‘But Madam, my son told me very clearly that they do not know this birth of date… you see, Kacper, I mean my son is in Sudan now, and it is not easy to contact him, but I will try. I am quite certain though, he will tell me the same thing again… there is no birth day, his friend does not know his own birth date!’ she explained patiently. ‘How is it possible not to know when you were born?’ the clerk got suspicious. ‘You see, many people in Africa just don’t know these things, they were never registered at their birth’ instructed mum, really proud of herself, how knowledgeable she was on Africa. ‘This is unbelievable… What are we going to write in the application?’ wondered the woman, clearly wanting to help. ‘I really would like that we issue this invitation for your son’s friend’ she went on. ‘Approximately, how old is that guy?’ the clerk took an initiative. ‘I guess, around my son’s age… thirty something…’ answered mum. ‘Very well… Mr. Kariuki Masava, the citizen of Kenya, born… 1st January 1971’ she inserted in the form. ‘Here we go, we have the birth date: 1st January 1971!’ she concluded happily and pleased with herself. ‘Just make sure to tell your son that they use the same birth date, when they use this invitation, for the visa application in the embassy in Kenya’ she instructed.

Kacper’s mother surely was becoming an immigration expert. With Kacper travelling all over the world, he always invited friends he had met to visit him and his family in Nowy Sacz. Initially, getting visas was not that complicated, but when Poland joined the Schengen Treaty, getting visas for some of people coming from many African and Asian countries became annoyingly difficult. Having said that, Kacper and his mother always succeeded getting all administrative work sorted, so their guests could come over.

The visits became a small tradition of Kacper’s family. They hosted Kacper’s friends literally from all continents of the globe, coming from all sorts of backgrounds, ethnic or cultural origins. Sometimes his guests came on their own, at times there were two, or three arriving in a same time, and twice or trice there were groups of up to ten people coming visiting his hometown. It was always Kacper’s mother, who arranged most of logistical details for their visits, and she was always the one, who suggested what the visitors might like to see in southern Poland, or northern Slovakia (in Poland, Kacper and his family live in a small town, literally on the border with Slovakia). Kacper’s older brother, who lives in the same town, also got drawn into these visits. Since he had a prospering business, and liked the idea of Kacper bringing his unusual friends, he was happy to support financially some of them, who wouldn’t be able to afford visiting Poland on their own.

Kacper’s guests became famous in the whole neighbourhood, and beyond. Some of Kacper’s Polish acquaintances, who teach in local schools, always try making sure that whenever he, and his friends are around, they give students lessons and presentations on countries of their origin, or talked about their work and lives.

Some of such visits actually ended up in very interesting projects, where for example a school of Kacper’s nephew entered some kind of cooperation with one of the primary schools in Madrid, from where one of his friends came. On another occasion, the kids of a local high school arranged an exhibition of African art in Nowy Sacz, and collected money to buy a tractor to one of the rural communities in northern Kenya. They were so successful that there was enough money to buy a tractor, and a substantial amount of seeds that the Kenyan villagers wanted to plant in their fields.

‘Hungry…? Eat more…’ Kacper’s mother usually tried to ensure that her foreign guests were not hungry, while in her house. She actually had an amazing ability of communication. Although, she only knows around 20 words in English altogether, she somehow manages to communicate with everyone, and this is without any assistance on Kacper’s part. She just talks, uses her body language, or even draws pictures when necessary. His dad on the other hand always appears to be slightly overwhelmed and shy. He would not address anyone directly, and would only ask questions either through Kacper, or his wife, who didn’t mind finding out anything that he might want to know. He would however try to show his hospitability by offering everyone chocolate that he kept in his drawer in the kitchen.

‘ Mr. Kacper Szczebrzeszczyk, awaiting for a visitor from Indonesia is kindly requested to contact the police counter in the arrival’s hall’, he heard an announcement at the Krakow Airport. ‘What is happening?’ he got slightly worried, and rushed to the airport police station. ‘Good day Sir’ Kacper greeted a friendly looking policewoman. ‘I believe that you were looking for me’ he went on and explained who he was. ‘Yes, you are expecting a visitor called Cut Suriani, right?’ she asked. ‘Yes, that is correct, is there a problem?’ enquired Kacper. ‘No, she is OK, and she has just arrived on a flight from London, nothing to worry about. We were just wondering how you got to know each other, and what the purpose of her trip to Poland was… would you mind telling us’, the police officer added. ‘Not at all…’ answered Kacper and explained that he knows Cut from one of his courses, which he did when he was younger. He also mentioned that he was arranging a reunion of some of his friends in his native Nowy Sacz, and that the remaining friends were all coming from different parts of the world within next 10 hours. ‘Cut is a first of my guests’ he finished. ‘What do you mean, you are having 10 people, each coming from a different country… and all will be staying at your home in Nowy Sacz?’ asked the officer rather suspiciously. ‘Well, 5 will stay at my brother’s house…’ he tried to explain. ‘Where are the other people from?’ she demanded. ‘Britain, Switzerland, Canada, Kenya, Sri Lanka…’ Kacper went on listing.

Another officer asked Kacper precisely the same questions as the policewoman had done. ‘And what will you be doing with all of these people here?’ wanted to know the guy. ‘Where did you get to know each other?’ he went on curiously. ‘You need to understand that we find it a bit strange that someone from a small town in southern Poland arranges a reunion for friends from 3 continents that he had allegedly met, when travelling himself’ added the policeman. ‘It will just take 30 minutes, but we need to run some checks… please bear with us… and, may I have your National Identity Card, please’, he demanded politely but firmly.

‘You have got tough immigration’ smiled Cut when they finally met after another 1 hour of waiting. ‘I am so sorry…’ said Kacper and hugged his dear friend. ‘No worries Kacper, they were actually friendly, and they even offered me some tea’ she explained. ‘Gee… I hope, we will not have the same nightmare when the others arrive’ said Kacper somehow worried.

The colourful group travelled around Poland and Slovakia in a small bus that Kacper had rented for a week. They enjoyed admiring splendours of ancient Krakow, visiting funky Zakopane, Kacper hometown’s superb ethnographical museum, walking and hiking in the Tatra Mountains. They pampered themselves in the spas of Bardejov, a picturesque Slovak town, and went rafting on Dunajec River. They had fun, and being colourful, and interesting crowd, they also attracted a bit of attention from curious locals.

The guests have all left, and so did Kacper, for his next deployment to Bangladesh. He was in Dhaka, having his lunch break, when his mother called. ‘Kacper… guess what?’ she started. As Kacper couldn’t guess, she explained that last Sunday, she went to church, and the priest apparently made a remark on Kacper’s international guests. ‘We need to be open, and we need to learn from the others… Perhaps, we should all look how some members of our community do it. We all know Kacper, and we all know how much he cherishes the humanity and people he meets on his way… We even have opportunities to see it ourselves, when his guests arrive to visit our small community. Shouldn’t we all be more like Kacper in our daily lives, and open to the others, who perhaps are slightly different than us?’ the priest explained.

Kacper was puzzled, but also glad that his friends helped him to challenge his own people on how they perceived the world. As he was thinking of it, he already started preparing next visit home… his friends would come along of course!

PS. Kacper is following Indian elections.