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.


  1. I was detained for seven hours at gatwick airport the first time I came to GB. So, talk about tough immigration service. Everytime I go back to Cuba, I get hassle at the airport from either immigration or customs, or both. it's so good that you can have so many friends gather round. The hassle is but a minor inconvenience. Many thanks for this tale.

    Greetings from London.

  2. Sorry to hear that Cuban. Sadly, the arrogance of the immigration people is not something that we would like to see, when you arrive to a new place...