With the whole Ala situation, I was cool as a cucumber yesterday. But as soon as the lights went out and I was alone in my bed, I found myself confronted with anxiety. This happens to me sometimes, especially if something especially stressful happens to me. I feel very nervous as if I am about to give a presentation or something and I am hyper aware of the rhythm of my heartbeat. Irrational thoughts flood my brain. I know that it is just nervous energy manifesting in my body, and I calmed myself down with deep breaths until I fell asleep.
I woke up this morning to find that I was not the only one who was nervous. Tomek did not sleep all night. Even though I did not feel scared at the moment, the anxiety made me realize how the whole incident shook me up.
But as we were dealing with the aftershock, Ala said she felt like nothing happened and she said she was feeling just fine. Her daughter Luzia and her son Marciek came to visit. Six-year-old Marciek just wanted to watch cartoons, but he took a liking to me, and I enjoyed when he tried speaking to me and called me ciocia in such a serious voice.
Luzia, Marciek and me.
To give you an idea of how small a town Kikol is, where Tomek and Ala live, when Tomek, Luzia and I walked to the bus station (that is right, walked), they said hello to everyone who passed us by not because they were being nice, but because they knew everyone. I thought that was neat.
From there, I took the two hour trip to Bydgoszcz to visit Tomek's sister, Hania, her husband Wojtek and son Michal. Hania and Wojtek are the nicest people, and they are obsessed with their dog. This dog is king of the apartment and he knows it. He will not stop barking at me, but his owners ohh and ahh over every movement he makes.
I was not the least bit hungry when I arrived (Ala had packed me lunch for the bus), but I sat down for the obligatory big Polish lunch. There were only three people there, but there was enough food for ten, including chicken, pork, a multitude of salads and cake. I was requested to try everything at the table, sometimes twice. By the end of the meal, I had in front of me a water, a glass of wine, and a beer.
Every time Wojtek or Hania would address me, they would say my name. Wojtek, especially, started every sentence with, "Ivona, please tell me this one thing..." and he would ask a question like, "In New York City, what is the difference between uptown and downtown?" I would do my best to answer the questions in Polish. While most people praised my Polish, and these two did as well, sometimes Wojtek could not help but burst into laughter by my response. He spoke a little English himself and I told him that I would start laughing at him when he made a mistake. I didn't.
We looked through piles and piles of old family photographs, most of them Hania would flick aside and say, "I don't know who these people are..." I did collect a nice one of me, my grandma, my brother, my Uncle Kaz and Aunt Yvonne in front of my house in New Jersey. Then they gave me a book of Polish scenic pictures (these relatives keep giving me presents and I have no idea how I will carry them all home!)
Wojtek then took me on a tour of Bydgoszcz. There was not much to see, but it was okay. He lamented, as everyone else I have met has lamented in the last two months, "Why did you come now? Come in the summer! There is more to see." But with my nervous energy, the walk in the evening felt very nice, and then we stopped for drinks where he invited me to eat some more, but I just had a drink. I knew his wife was at home cooking up something and I was completely full already.
I asked him to explain Polish hospitality and why there is so much food.
"In Poland," he said, "the guest is everything. It's tradition. And I really like it." And when we went home to have supper, he purposely made me try every single thing at the table once again. Everything is special, he explained, from the special ham to the special egg salad to the special pickles. I think he was being funny. He has a good sense of humor.
They asked me how often I see my mom, and I said I visited her a lot, like once a month. They were shocked. Something I noticed about this family is that they talk to each other constantly. Hania and Tomek are on the phone every minute, and if they are not talking to each other, they are on Skype, speaking with Tomek's daughter in Canada or someone else. We even had our own little Skype session with Uncle Kaz and Chris in California. It made me wonder if I should be in better touch with my family.
With that thought, I go to sleep now, content but a little nervous still, and with a belly full of Polish food--and I am sure, more where that came from tomorrow.
Hania with her true love.
Wojtek and his son Michal.
Me with a statue in a Santa Hat, in Bydgoszcz.