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From Poland to Russia. That’s a domestic flight.

9 Sep

And, lift off! LOT – Polish Airlines – is in the air in route to Warsaw with final destination — land of Peter the Great – St. Petersburg, Russia.

Excitement. Apprehension. Wonderment. Those are the feelings right about now. I’m just relieved I made my flight because we’re off to a rocky start. I hate typing those words since my travel day has just begun. It’s 6:28 AM my time or 12:28 AM (EST).

My head hit the pillow around 1 AM and I woke around 3:30 AM. Taxi – Audi station wagon – wisked me to Krakow airport around 4:30 am. My taxi drivers is the same dude I bribed to drive me to DHL only weeks ago. It was nice to see his face. Safe hands… At least for the next 29 minutes or so.

Ok. So, my final destination is St. Petersburg, Russia so one would safely assume that I would be departing at Krakow’s international terminal. Makes sense. Right? I need to learn whenever I “assume,” I’ll wind up lost or screwed.

Taxi man drops me off. We wish each other “good life” and my feet briskly carry me to the international terminal It’s cool out. I have 2 t-shirts, jacket and scarf. Try to wear as much clothes as possible so they won’t charge me extra for baggage weight. Every ounce counts here.

It’s 5:05 am and the the place is DEAD. My flight is to take off in an hour. The only airline operating is Lufthansa – those folks are going to Munich. Hmmm… I don’t understand. I don’t even see a LOT kiosk or LOT gate. There’s no LOT.

I stand in the mini-airport and just look around. I inhale. OK. What am I missing here. I’m tired. Unlike Beirut, signs are in English. No LOT. There are a few stragglers hanging around – think homeless or old men up all night – and a few stragglers in line for Munich. I walk outside. Does LOT have their own terminal and in my haste of wishing Taxi man “good life” I walked in the wrong door?

Nope. No LOT terminal. I walk back in. This time my breathing starts to get heavier. I look at the time. My flight leaves in 50 mins. I spy some security dudes, lazily strolling around, heads down, in deep conversation. I walk behind them. The rollers on my bag echo off the walls.  They take no notice of the frantic hysteria on their tails…

“Oh, excuse me… English… do you speak English?”  They keep walking. I say it again, “only louder with a higher pitched tone.” They turn. “English?”

The taller, darker one says, “Yes.” I show him my flight itinerary.  He just stares and smiles at me. It dawns me he can’t read.  “Can you tell me where I check in for LOT? It’s going to Warsaw at 6 am. My final destination is Russia. Can you help me?”

He pointed to an office door with a LOT sign. I smiled. Good. Can’t imagine checking in at an office, but at least I know LOT exists. The sign said it does not open until 5:30 am. It’s 5:11 am. I’m clearly in the wrong place. I get in line at Lufthansa.  Airport people know each other. They know the system. Security – another story. Plus, they have to speak basic English.

I wait. Wait. And, wait.  People in front of me are going to the States and something is wrong with their VISA. Shit. It’s VISA again… I wait. Stare at the time. My eyes scan for LOT people. LOT badges. LOT anything. It’s 5:16 am. What happens if I miss my flight to Warsaw and then to St. Petersburg. I know what happens – but I’m still have time to fix this.

My hands start to swell. Mouth turning dry. These men line up behind me with 7 or 8 foot tools. Looks like they are carrying canoe paddles. Their loud. Polish. Speaking in constants. I can’t hear them. My eyes pour in the back of the family in front of me. Come on lady, le’ts move it. Do you have a VISA or not?

It’s now 5:20 am and the LOT door is still closed. The women moves. I smile. The Lufthansa kid smiles back. Thank you lord! I tell him my situation. Annoyance emerges. He said, “you are at the wrong terminal. Warsaw is domestic. It’s 500 meters.”

Flashback to High School crew days. Is 500 meters the entire race or the sprint? I asked, “can I walk?” He repeats, “it’s 500 meters.” Looks like I’m sprinting. The clock now says 5:26 am.

I inhale. Clasp by bags. And, haul ass through the vacant terminal. Out the door. Run into another security teen. I ask him, “Domestic?” And point. He nods. Smiles. Nods. Damn, he doesn’t speak English. He has that look.

Down the sidewalk. Keeping my head down, I start to pace my breathing.  I tell myself — no pain in shoulder or hand…there’s no pain… I notice the sidewalk is made out of the same bricks I used to pave the shed floor at Habitat.  I feel comforted by the bricks.

Stay focus. Around the corner, there’s a building. Is it? Nope. Cargo. I trot by. Next building is big. It has to be it. Nope. It’s security. The sidewalk is dark. No lights. No cars. I keep trotting. You have GOOOOT to be kidding me. Am I going to get friggin lost trying to find the domestic terminal in airport the size of Burger King. Prespiration. My stomach growls. Legs are tired. Heart moving to fast. Break it down to the obnoxious fast walk thing where the hips are bouncing back and forth. I’m willing my backpack rollers to turn faster and faster. I round the corner. There’s light. Stairs. And, the red lights “domestic.” Made it! Now, let’s hope the gate is not closed.

I see LOT. LOT exists. There are 2 people left in line to check in. I exhale. My throat is so dry that I begin to cough. Now dry heave. I’m dry heaving. Fab. The nuns look at me.  My eyes are watering.  I’m doing the controlled dry heave.  Where is my gum. I have no liquids for I’m about the go through security. Gum. Grab the gum. I pawn through my backpack, trying to control the urge to  barf. Clearly, I’m not in shape. Gum inserted in mouth and throat goes from sand paper to soft scrub. I step into line acting like everything is “cool.” Of course I didn’t just trot 500 meters to catch a domestic flight to Russia.  Who does such things….

I’m checked in. Gate guy wishes me a “good life.” Second time I heard it this AM, and it’s only 5:48 AM. The line for radiation is 20 feet. (Don’t know meters). I line up behind a nun. I look at the sign of “what not to carry on.”  They’ve listed kayaks,canoes and martial art weapons like brass knuckles,  nun-chucks and bayonets.  I sooo wanted to whip out my camera.  I mean a Kayak?  Did someone try to convince them that it would fit in the overhead space?   What is a nunchuck?  Of course, I read numb-nuts.  I could not stop laughing.  I mean out loud giggling.  I pictured the whole numb-nut and kayak scene.  Thank you God. My anxiety level is slowly resuming normalcy. Throat is secreting moisture on its own.

It’s 5:55 AM and my flight leaves in 5 mins. I’m next through the strip search of security. Two pilots and four flight attendants que in behind me. I make it through the pat down. It’s 5:57 am and I jump on the bus to take me to the LOT plane. I sit. It’s quite. One other late comer is on the bus. The bus does not move. Seriously. Am I on the wrong bus now?

It’s 5:59 am. I’m about to stand up, then the flight crew boards the bus. Please don’t tell me that’s our pilot. The bus lurches forward. We round the corner. I look out the window, searching for a LOT plane. We pass the security building, cargo building – the buildings I just trotted by moments ago. We head to the international terminal. Yep. You guessed it. Bus stops at international terminal only 60 or so feet from my launching pad only 30 minutes ago.   I knew from Poland to Russia was international.  Well, I got a quick jog on the way to the flight.   That’s all I can ask for.

I board the plane with 10 windows along with the flight crew. It’s not our pilots, just stewardess.  The ride along pilots butt in front of me and grab all the first class seats. I make my way to the back of the plane tuck my knees in. We lift off – the world is slowly waking up. I think about today – the people that will leave this world. The people that will come into this world. The people getting a promotion or the ones getting  terminated. The people who will go hungry another day and those who will embrace gluttony.  The people who want to be heard and those who are silenced.

Today is a beautiful day. Full of hopes. Full of fears. Full of life. I’m so blessed to be flying thousands of meters, feet and inches above watching God unfold this day to me. I’m gearing up for Peter the Great and Putin.

The cabin is quiet. The flight attendant hands me a 6:39 AM snack. Princess cookies! Love them. Today is going to be a good day.

I landed in Warsaw. We were welcome with another dose of radiation and a pat down.   I found a cafe that served hot sandwiches, across from my gate and started humming “Last Christmas” by George Michael.  I ordered a latte and a sandwich which I prayed was not drenched in mayo. I realized Warsaw muzak is playing an eight-track of GM for the next song is Careless Whispers. I smile.

As I sipped my coffee and stared, I tuned into the sophisticated ladies sitting next to me.  One woman is from Bulgaria woman looks like Olivia Bensen from Law & Order SVU. The other two are older – blonds – and are Lebanese. I believe they live in Beirut. A Bulgarian woman is asking them about Beirut. My ears perk up.

Bulgaria woman asks, “I haven’t been to Beirut. They wear regular western clothes, right?” They respond, “Why of course!” She goes on, “Well, I went to this party in Bulgaria. These Lebanese women were there. They had scarfs. But, then they were dancing on the tables. I was like, WOW!  WOW!  This was a Lebanese woman. When they moved fast the the scarfs came undone.”

Beirut lady, “The West side of Beirut is more progressive. You know in France they are doing a lot of questions about this. They are not letting people cover their face. And, the Muslims are upset.”   Bulgaria woman is silent. She is not going there – not giving her opinion. Conversation changes to weather.  I applaud her.

Bulgaria woman continues on…”They are educated in Lebanon, no? Women are educated. I met women in Kuwait.  They are not educated. They are covered but can’t read. In Lebanon, the woman are safe. They can work. It’s comfortable. They are safe. They have more freedoms than in other countries. Men don’t bother them.  They are safe.”

Bulgaria woman, “I did not like LA. I like San Diego. I like tan. It’s not good for the skin. But, in moderation. It’s good.”

Bulgaria woman, “Your husband is tall? That’s good. It’s nice to be tall. Tall is good.”

Beirut woman, “I was model. They come to my house to ask if I could model. I was tall. They come to my house to ask my father.”

Bulgaria woman, “ I was 16. This man comes to my house. I look Arabic you know.  He was Arabic.  Older.  I have curly hair, dark and the Arab uni-brow.  You know, the Arabic look…. He brings my father rice. He says he wants to marry me. My father got angry. Very angry. He angry with me. 16. Not married at 16. Nooooooooo…  I’m not married now. I’m 38. Yes, I look young. It’s because I’m not married, no?”

Bulgaria woman, “I have a cousin who is married to a rich Lebanese man. Very rich. Yes, she’s still married. Doctor of a very rich woman. My cousin, very beautiful woman. She has no choice. She has to be beautiful or husband gets mad.”

Bulgaria woman, “I want to have kids. But, it’s not so easy. When you’re older. But whatever the God Will. Whatever the God will. I need to find a prince… But, there are no prince. I look, but no prince. Maybe I don’t need a prince.  Maybe I just need a baby.  I’m a nurse.” Lebanese women agree.

Bulgaria woman, “I like different things. I communicate very easy with people. I like travel.”

I like traveling too. Listening. Asking questions. Curious…. So, curious…. Another George Michael song – You’ve Got to Have Faith. They’re about to call for my flight to St. Pete. Need to brush the tooth, apply lip gloss, touch the VISA and “load’em up.” We’re off. Next blog will about landing and getting to the hotel.  Wish me luck!

What did you REALLY do for Habitat? Gliwice, Poland.

8 Sep

I’ve gotten some emails – mostly questions from my sister – about what did I actually DO for habitat.  Was crack filling a joke?  Did I really use a pick-ax?  Who told you what to do? And, did I wear lipstick and gain weight?  So below, I hope to answer all those looming questions… especially from my sister….and mom too..

Why volunteer while you travel?

You know the cliches about volunteering — to give back, to add meaning to your life, to make a difference, etc. All of those things are true for me.  So, no need to go into detail. Box checked.

Volunteering overseas – or while you travel – adds another dimension to your in country or travel experience.  You work along side and meet the “real” people living in the country… Listening to their stories, seeing their world and experiencing their day to day life gives you a deeper respect, compassion and understanding of  – well – people.  And a DEEPER appreciation and gratitude for the country we live in… I can go super esoteric on you but will save it.

What going local does for me is reaffirms and also questions how we are all connected.  Our souls know no geographic boundaries.  No accents.  No politics.  No color.  When you get to the core of us, we are all the same.  Yearning for the same basic needs and wants.   To feel safe.  Feel full. Be clothed. Feel joyful. And, just smile… You see this when you volunteer.  At least, I see this.  And they — the country, the people, and their smiles — leave an imprint on your life — forever.

Why Habitat for Humanity?

Habitat found me.  When I asked the Big Man upstairs what’s in store for this gig around the world, volunteering popped to the top.  The question was when, where, who, who, what…we got the why covered.

There’s a Habitat project – or build – up the street from my parent’s house.  I drove by it – never saw it – until I started planning this trip.

Then, there it was.  I finally went online to check it out and BAM…there it was… they have a Global Village program where they build homes for the destitute and working poor  all around the world.We’re talking Mongolia… Vietnam…Nepal… Poland…  BINGO.

Plus is a legit organization.  If the French decided to invade Poland, I had utmost confidence Habitat could get me out, safe and sound.

Cost is minimal — all things considering – and part of it goes to helping buy supplies, equipment and sand.  You should check it out – http://www.habitat.org/cd/gv/schedule.aspx

Why Poland?  Isn’t that random?

Poland was perfect.  Timing was perfect.  Location was perfect.  Everything was perfect.  When I inquired about space, there was one left — for me!

Not happy with that answer.  Fine.  It also had to do with timing.  I kicked started with the big islands – England, Scotland and Ireland – in July.  Leaped over the Lebanon in August and did a jaunt in Jordan and Israel.  The next big date was September 10th – St. Petersburg – where I’m to jump on the Trans Siberian Train to China.  I had a few weeks “to figure it out.”  When I perused the schedule, I saw a Poland build would fit perfectly between the Middle East and Russia.  God is good.  Plus, I wanted to make sure I OD’ed on WWII and the Holocaust before heading north to Russia.

So, who was on your team?  I mean, where were they from?  What”s their stories?

The team kicked-butt.  All different ages, sizes, shapes, backgrounds, religions – the works.  I believe there were 14 of us, including Boots and Ramsey Walker our team leaders.  The majority were women.  Majority were retired.  Majority have done a build before.  There were two married couples – including Boots & Ramsey – and the rest either left their significant others at home, were related or were poisoned.

We had a brother sister team — where the brother is at university and the sister graduated and was coerced to come and make sure little brother behaved himself.  We had a 10 month from 20 year old punk gal – my roomie! – whose taking the semester off and enjoys playing in the marching band, Japanese cartoons and CPR.

The most inspiring was our 85 year old who walked faster, carried more bricks and scrapped more plaster off of floors – more so than anyone of us.  Never been married.  Retired doctor – internist.  Lives in Chicago area.  Plays tennis.  And, rocks!

I remember one day — one of the first weeks — we were walking back to Zero star hotel.  I asked her how’s she doing…”I mean, do you ache?  Are you sore?  How’s your joints?”  Her response, “I’m just tired.”  My word.  I ache.  I’m sore.  My joints bite.  I’m pushing the IB profin, and she’s just tired.  Damn, I want what she has…  Truly remarkable.

Majority on this build were from the states and a few from Canada.  I believe other build projects attract people from all over the world.  Not Poland.

Did you choose your roomie?

No, Boots assigned us prior. I believe it was done by age and not interest. At least, I hope.

What did you wear?

First week.  I tried to do the “looking cute” thing by trading off with two pairs of pants and a different t-shirt each day.  Yes, I packed five t-shirts, don’t tell.

Week two.  I wore the same blue pants, socks, and brown long sleeve T with an undershirt every single day.  I repeat mom, EVERY SINGLE day.  I washed the undies at night.

Lipstick was banned from the work site.

What did you build?  I mean, what was the project?

BEFORE (TODAY):

Habitat Poland in Gliwice is in its final stages of building an apartment complex for many, many families.  It started — years ago (I should know when, but don’t..).  This is the last of the apartments.  They are very nice.  I will show you some before and after pictures.  So, I was not building a house, per se, but putting the finishing touches on apartments.

AFTER (GOAL):

What do the rooms look like?

Below are some pics of some unfinished rooms.  Check out the insulation and sky lights.  Major insulation.  Walls are THICK. This place is here to stay — I mean, in the family for 100+ years.  Built to last, baby.


What was your day like — schedule – like what did you do?

I woke early.  Showered, blew dried my hair, flat ironed it, applied my eyes and lips, applied another coat to my toes… HA!

Joke.  I rolled out of bed, reached for the same dusty, dirty clothes piled at the foot of my bed made for small people.  Brushed the teeth and headed down to inhale the Zero star breakfast.  Headed down via stairs for Zero star hotel forgot the elevator.

We did a morning devotion and then sprinted to the work site around 8:17 AM.  We arrived 10 mins later.

We were greeted by Damien in his green jumper who pointed, grunted and smiled as he gave us orders in Polish.

We sat — looked confused — and started to pick up and move rocks.  If all else fails, go to prison work.  Rock moving and plaster removing.

We worked from 9ish until noonish.  Then, it was lunch time.  I usually hit the Shell station prior because I refused to use the Toi Toi and needed my daily Coke Zero.

After lunch, it was back to moving rocks, shoveling rocks or replacing rocks.  We worked until 4:00ish, then headed back to Zero Star.  Washed.

Loaded the bus made for midgets and consumed mounds of Polish cream, lard, sugar, flour, poppyseeds and meats for dinner. Food coma set in.  We’re all in bed around 9 pm.

See foot room below. Bus must have been made is Asia..

What did you do?

Well, I became quickly known as Queen Crack Filler.  Warren, Ramsey and I were somehow responsible for the water run-off/latrine system for the last apartment complex.  I don’t recall how I got the gig, but I’m happy I did.  It was fun.  Seriously.

It took us 3 days but we dug a ditch with broken shovels.  Picked-ax cement.  Blew-torched metal.  Mixed cement by shovel.  And, seriously, built a water run off system that worked. It surprised us all — Well, it surprised me.  Damien would pop by and tell us it was 1 cm off or 5 cm off or .8 mm off — So, Warren and  I would grab the pix-ax that sorely needed some super gluing and start over again and again and again.  They called it job security.  I called frustrating.  But, by day 2 or 3, your American “I can fix everything fast and efficiently” leaves the body and you just do what you are told — no questions asked.  When it rained at the end of the week, we were doing hurkes.

What type of tools do they have there?

See picture below…Stone age.  I think they were used to carve out Petra in Jordan.

Did you use power tools?

YES!  Apparently, since I rocked as crack filling, Damien let me loose on a screw driver that cracks walls and blows up cement.  They needed to put in a door frame.  A metal door frame.  Cement was on the floor and walls.  They needed someone to drill out the cement to place the frame.  Damien picked me, TallGirl.

Good part is the first door rocked.  Bad part is the second door was a “big problem.”  I assumed — and you don’t assume anything – that he wanted the same blow out technique on door two.  Nope.  So, I cracked the cement floor and busted up the walls.  He comes back a few hours and says ”Uh, Oh.  Big Problem.”  Then spats out consonants.  I asked, “how can we make big problem go to small problem to no problem.”  He points to plaster and cement.  So, I spent the afternoon re-plastering the entire wall.  Job security, right?

Other fun things were moving dirt.  Filling in ditches.  And, taking hard plaster off the concert floors with a mini-hammer.  Oh, plastering walls was a favorite as well.  The plaster removal process was deemed “prison work” but we enjoyed becuase — it needed to be done and it was warm inside.

So, what did you accomplish?

Besides eating three solid meals a day, we built a water system, moved and rebuilt a shed (they call it a garage), prepared a road for pavers, prepped mini-gardens, plastered a few apartments, scrapped plaster off floors, moved bricks back and forth, and built a more substantial rock pile.  We did more — but all in all – we did a lot.  It felt good.  It still has a ways to go — but we moved the project forward a few inches.

Did you meet or work with any of the families?

Yes. I would like to share more about this — but not sure if I will have the time on a blog.  One family invited three of us to dinner to their 2 bedroom apartment in the city.  Sounds normal, right?  Well, try a 500+ sq foot apartment, one bathroom, six children, one single mom and a random dad who sometimes shows up.  Try six of those children are girls, ranging in age from 18 to 10.  Try scary, dangerous neighborhood and all the girls are STUNNERS.  Now, let’s go back and think about sleeping arrangements and bathroom time. Who gets first dibs on the toilet in the AM?  And, what about the poor 17 year old brother?  I’m overwhelmed even thinking about it.

We brought along a translator – thank goodness – for I had to get to the bottom of the bathroom situation.  When school starts – the oldest who is 18 – gets first dibs.  Then, it goes in order down to the 10 year old.  I believe they have an allotted amount of time.  The bathroom not only houses the toilet and sink but also the washer machine.  It’s the size of a very small closet.  I could not spy a full length mirror, but I’m confident one is lurking somewhere.

They told me about the sleeping arrangements, but I was still confused.  The brother has a girlfriend and I’m hoping he shacks up with her.  Oh, the kitchen and TV room is all the same.  The couch and coffee table were converted to a dining table for guests.  Just a FYI.

I’ll get to Dad in a minute.  Mom holds two jobs – as a nurse and caregiver.  She works nights, days and then some.  Never sleeps.  When you are brought into the Habitat family — or chosen – you are required to put in hundreds of volunteer hours to help build your apartment.  So, besides earning money, she is over at her soon to be 3 bedroom apartment plastering, moving sand and decorating.

The father has fear and loathing caked in his eyes. Not someone you would want to meet in a dark ally.  He looked drunk — though I think he’s eyes were so glassy from anger, that he always looks this way.  When he walked in the room, the girls energy level went south…fast.  Eyes darted.  One bolted up.  Tried to distract him.  You know this drill too.  He just stared at us with contempt.

Dad can’t hold a job.  His wife – or mother of his many kids – does it all.  He’s mad.  Again, not much more to say on this one. He left.  And, the vivacious, child-like energy reemerged.

We ate and ate and ate.  Our translator said after our FIRST meal — aka as supper.  Super is before dinner only an hour or so later.

“You might be feeling full, but this is not correct.”

Full.  Not correct.  Got it.  After our meats, potatoes, veggies, salads, soups, we were graced with pirogi, bread, butter and more salads.  Oh, dessert too.  The girls were all thin — and they inhaled faster than me.  That says a lot. In between meals, they reached for potato chips and anything in sight.  Her food bill must be through the roof.

The eldest daughter had just got back from Holland.  She worked in a tulip factory over the summer earning money for her family.  She told us about a Portuguese name Diego that hit on her.  She did NOT like Diego.  I told our translator that ” I speak girl” and “get it.” No need to translate this one.

One positive about the EU is that Poles and others from less economically developed countries can go and work in other EU countries.  Salaries are less in Poland so for her to work in a factory over the summer, she was able to earn four times as much as she would have if she worked at Mc Ds.  If you could see this girl — BEAUTIFUL.  I can’t imagine a US high school girl working in a tulip factory… But, this is not the US either.

Besides that experience, we worked alongside other Habitat residents and legitimate, paid Polish workers with real, live construction experience.  All good..

Did you gain weight?

OK.  There is a scale in the bathroom.  IF you think I’m stepping foot on that thing, you’re smoking a boat full of crack.  My jeans fit — though I have not washed them since July.  So, if they become tight, then I know I have a problem.

I’m going to Russia next. Calories will be all liquid sooooo acne will be cleared up and carb bloated-ness will disappear.  That’s the goal girls.

Do you want to do this again?

Most definitely!  I want go wherever Boots and Ramsey Walker – our team leaders – go.  Boots kicks-ass.  They do three trips a year.  I believe they’re going to Thailand soon…Nepal… Can’t remember.  When Boots told me the story about their experience in the Istanbul airport in route to Tajikistan, I knew in my heart I would follow her anywhere.

Her bus driver “accidentally” picked up a wrong bag at the front desk hotel in Turkey. They get to the airport.  Realize this.  Open it.  And, low and behold there was medication, an ID and a GUN.  Hello.  Let’s just say, they did not go to prison and made it to Tajikistan in one piece.  Go Girl!

Land of Fat Free & Stars. Gliwice, Poland.

8 Sep

I think this what your “travel” bloggers are suppose to do, right?  Write about food and hotels.  Well, I’m going to take a stab at it…. 

For full disclosure, I’m happy eating rice, beans, popcorn, ice cream and diet coke for the rest of my life.   I love food.  But, I’m no foodie.   That changed when I arrived to Gliwice, Poland.  Take notice of the Piergo picture above… YUM!

I can sum up my Polish consumption and gluttony this way… Bear with me here …. Do you know those days where you “accidentally” eat too much breakfast. You feel full and decide a jolt of caffeine would snap you out of breakfast coma. You do the drive by at Dunkin or S’Bucks.  That little voice insides whispers “screw it,” you smile and ask the lady to throw in some bite size donuts in a to go bag – “it’s a gift for the office.”  Donuts disappear before you can get your keys out of your purse.

You arrive at work, utter another “fu–  it,” and click the heals to HR.  Smile at the ladies. Make small talk as you swipe a bag of M&Ms, candy corns and sweet tarts. It’s not even 10 AM and you’re tipping the 1,934 calorie mark. Before lunch, you hit 2,472 because you need to “walk it off” on your way to the restroom. You happen by an empty kitchen, spy the three-day old birthday cake from Costco and swipe the icing off two pieces and take another to the bathroom stall.

By this time, you realize the rest of the day is “shot.” So, for dinner instead of just water or one glass of wine, you drink the bottle, paw out some Blue Bell and convince yourself that it needs fudge and colored sprinkles. You lie in bed thinking – tomorrow I will do better.

Do you know what I’m talking about it here?  That feeling — try it for two weeks.  It’s called Poland.  I just went Muslim and doing the Ramadan thing now as I prepare for vodka-enriched meals in Russia in three days.

All I can say is thank GOD for Habitat. If this body was sedentary these last two weeks, we are talking about some major poundage. All cream. All butter. All flour. All sugar. On All meals. All the time. No Polish processed foods here, baby. It’s the real deal.

BREAKFAST.

Zero star hotel provided zero star breakfast. Worst meal of the day by Polish standards. That being said, we inhaled. Our Nescafe coffee spouted bubbles. We thought the container was broken by Zero star waitress convinced us it was foamed coffee. Nothing what a little cream and sugar can’t fix.

The Zero spread consisted of ink stained hot dogs (aka sausages), scrambled eggs on even number days, cheap yogurt, hard cheeses, assortment of random meats, crusty bread, fizzy water, whole milk, butter floating in water, and a choice of wann-a-be coco-puffs, corn flakes and granola cereals.  I gobbled, gorged and guzzled. I mean, I needed enough energy for the long 9 minute stroll to the work site.

For the first few hours, our team of 14 shoveled…moved bricks…shoveled…

splattered plaster… shoveled…

picked at plaster…shoveled…walked to Shell station….shoveled…

moved dirt… shoveled…moved dust… shoveled…stomped on dirt… shoveled… looked at rotten wood…shoveled…

squatted on the Toi Toi ..shoveled…stared at hot tattoo, shirtless Polish man….shoveled…

filled cracks…shoveled…

picked-ax cement… shoveled…

dug up rocks…shoveled…moved rocks…. shoveled.. moved rocks again….shoveled… move rocks in wheel barrel…. shoveled…put rocks back…

This was our morning. So, by 12:17 pm, the Habitat team was famished. We pounded on our chest – WE NEED FOOD NOW! Thank GOD for the lunch ladies. That’s what I’m calling them because they are true LUNCH goddesses.  Boots – our team leader – Leslie, Joy and a tag along, would go to the market everyday and surprise us with fresh vegetables, fresh meat (YES, meat can be fresh), fresh cheeses, fresh bread, fresh veggie soup…

Let’s just sum it up. If it was NOT processed, we ate it. No food additives here, baby. Who knew food can taste so good?

Warren – our resident college boy – would pound 4+ sandwiches. I would only “do” two, needing to watch my girlish figure. I went head to head with Warren at night – for dinner is MY meal.

We grabbed our grub in our fancy, dirt floored, bacteria filled, open aired shack with garbage bags, plastic tarps and rocks as a roof. When you are this hungry and the food is this good, you don’t care if a little dust, dirt and mites are part of the meal.

Our last day at the site, Boots arranged for Kibosh sausage celebration. I’ve never been high on sausages, let alone smashed in between white bread and forced as an afternoon snack.

This day – our last day on site – we were to consume 4 meals, like the Polish. And, two of the meals – sausage snacks and 2 course dinner – were only 72 minutes apart. Cake was included at both meals. No matter. By the end of the week, my stomach had expanded, I was positive that I could handle more Polish food.

My stepfather does not call me condor because it is cute, sexy and “gets the guys.”  I can put away food.

On to DINNER.

Now, it’s the dinners that rocked your world. Leave to our leader, Boots, to find the best Polish cook in Gliwice.

Exactly 6:03 pm every night, the mini-van for midgets would drop off the group at the Lutheran church. Waiting for us was a three course meal.

Let me just say, I would have never believed I would heart cauliflower or beet root (barszcz) soup, fermented cabbage, minced meat goulash, potato pancakes, cucumber sour cream salad, sauerkraut with lard and smoke sausages. And, add to it, would salivate on poppy seed filled sponge cake.

By 6:28 pm, the team went into food coma. Conversation changed from nouns and verbs, to grunts and glassy stares. Polish food knocks you out. I did read later that the Polish kick-back a shot of vodka after for it aids in the digestion process. No vodka at Habitat.

Instead, we all crawled back to our dorm rooms at the Zero star hotel, curled up with the bed mites and slept for a good eight hours.

ZERO STAR HOTEL

Which brings me to Hotel Lesny.

I did not coin the phrase “Zero” star. The Polish country manger greeted our team by welcoming us to the “Hotel Lesny, The Zero Star Hotel.” Sad to say. He’s serious.

I really can’t do it justice except by visual representation.   But, let me try to “t” up for you.

If you are allergic to mold, not for you. If you expect the restaurant to be open during food hours, your mistaken. If you use shampoo, seek water pressure elsewhere. If you want hot water on September 1st, take a train to Warsaw. If you want beer on tap, go buy your own keg.

If you want your room key to be attached to a bottle opener, check-in now. If you want your housekeepers to smoke cigs in your room, check-in now. If you want your sheets too short for your bed, check-in now. If like the peeled paint, window fungus look, check in now. If you want lake water substituted as pool water substituted as a skate board park, check in now. If you want a rabid dog to bark and charge every time you walk outside, check in now.

Hotel Lensa – View from the Pool

Pool Area.  With Slide.  No Water.

Water drained.  Future skate board park?

Heading out to our build.

Dorm dwelling below.

I know I’m making fun of it. But, I actually enjoyed my stay. It was perfect setting for volunteers. If we were to stay in a place with water pressure, beer and a pool, then I would assume Habitat is wasting my money. The more they can save on volunteer overhead, the more money goes to buying sand for cement and super glue to fix the pick axes. I would go back to the Hotel Lesny any day. And, I’m serious too. They get a .08 STAR in my book. Given my next habitat is sharing bunk bed compartment with no door with 4 other randoms on a train to China, I will soon be pining for those Zero star days…

Hair Cut in Poland…NUBS

8 Sep

Israel left me irritated.  My quest for tranquility roosts in Krakow, Poland. Two days to R&R me.

Hotel Wenzl www.wentzl.pl is my new favorite place – fluffy pillows, down comforters and a TV hoisted high above the bed, playing Polish only programs – all consonants all the time.

Besides getting the VISA thing straightened out, my second priority involved beauty.  What we refer to as a hair cut.

The sweet Wenzl receptionist was little help for her sister cut her hair and she’s never been to a hair salon before.  She recalled passing a few salons on the way to work that treat hair.  She whipped out the map, scribbled this “fry” word next to a street and off I went in search of treatment.

I spied a salon selling L’Oreal products. Must be legit. I walked in. Imagine the scene… Been up since 2 AM from Tel-Aviv. Black stretch pants. Pink hiking boots standing over 6 feet tall. White socks. Two t-shirts. Blood shot eyes. Lips coated with Vaseline. Purple rain check. Matted hair in pony tail. I was in need of a good disinfecting.

 

A young Polish girl all of 14 greeted me. When I stared at her with expressionless eyes, she went in search for a random who spoke English.

An older lady appeared from a closet. I relayed to closet lady I just needed my hair trimmed about an inch. My hair was long, too thick and needed a little oomph. I thought I was being cute. I mean, look at me. Plus, the ticked-off Tel-Aviv airport teens were holding my luggage for reasons attributed to security.

Let’s call my L’Oreal-loving stylist, Evelyn.  She needs a name.  Evelyn appeared to “get” what closet lady was saying. She smiled, wiggled her head and touched my hair with earnest.

She washed the locks and pressed her fingers into the sides of my head in what she believed was a massage. She coated on some products and draped me an over-sized paper towel when finished.

Time to trim. Instead of reaching for the scissors, our Evelyn reached for an machine that buzzes. You know, those mechanical devices used on balding men or women with shaved heads. Yea. One of those. I believe they are called electric razors.

I thought she was kidding. So, I smiled big.  Started the laughing thing.  Nope. No, joke here.  She powered up this baby and started buzzing the long locks. I froze. What the fu–? My eyes darted around for closet lady. How do you translate – Scissors por favor?

I went from panic to high anxiety to disbelief. Is she really using an electric razor on my long hair?  I slowly calmed myself down with words like – “you don’t know anyone here…electric razor cutting of long hair just hasn’t caught on yet in the States…how many bad hair cuts have you seen in Poland…focus on the pony tail…just make sure I can get it in a pony tail…”

She first zapped an inch off the back. Cool. We are done. This was fast. Then, she grabbed a lock from the top of my head, turned it sideways and started angle cutting the hair down to the scalp.

I exhaled. Fine.  Short spikes with long hair are in fashion. I believe they are called mullets. I’m seriously looking uglier and uglier by the minute. I didn’t think it was possible.

I convinced myself that Evelyn does not like English speaking people. She must be an angry person inside…Abused. Hate blonds. Something…. I need something here.

Wait. Commercial break. As I write this blog, we are heading to Auschwitz concentration camp. We’re stuck in traffic. Traffic to a concentration camp. Should I laugh, cry or walk. I soooo don’t want to be here.

OK. Back to my hair.

You get the picture. Chunks fell. Eyes closed. Mind is validating the new mullet and thin pony tail look. Here it goes… Mullets are better for travel. Water pressure exists in star hotels, if you are lucky. And, besides the Hotel Wentzl and Days Inn in Amman, Jordan – Stars aren’t in my future. Mullets are cost savings – no longer need to buy shampoo and now I can wait until South Africa in December for a mullet trim. Ok.  I’m good.

Evelyn snaps the thing off.  Dead silence. Eyes slowly open.  How long have I been holding my breath.  She reached for the 150 voltage hair dryer.  Mullet or no mullet, drying will take a while.  Her hands force my head down so she can properly apply more products..

My eyes are open, scanning the floor.  The F bomb drifts soundlessly from my lips once, twice, five times… Mini-mounds of my $$$ highlights are piled around the chair. I stare in horror.   Ariz – my stylist back home – is going to shit a brick.  Evelyn forced my head up.  I looked in the mirror and welcomed an unexpected hair color – dish water delight – bringing out the paste in my skin and gray in my eyes. Gosh, I’m really feeling it.

For reasons I don’t understand, Evelyn continues to massage more and more products into my thinning hair. I focus in on the bangs. It’s always about the bangs.

She dries them. Tousles them.  Electrocutes them.  Tousles them.  With each zap they’re getting shorter and shorter and shorter.

I close my eyes. Why is this happening?  On the flight over from the US to Ireland, some rowdy youngsters sat behind me. When I arrived to Dublin, I noticed a patch of my hair is missing on the top of my head.   Cut down to the nub.  I don’t recall my hair getting caught in a turbine or a conveyor belt at airport security. I attributed to the bald patch to the teens behind me. Possibly, I was snoring and they thought it would be hil-ar-ious to cut loud snorer’s hair? I can’t offer any other explanation.  The nubs must have inspired Evelyn.

She wrapped up the blow dry. Fumigated the nubs.  They’re not moving anytime soon.  Evelyn appeared so pleased with herself.  And, here I was just hoping and praying the Tel-Aviv teen army would not swipe my baseball cap in the name of security.  I thanked her and walked out – feeling high – off the fumes.  Seriously, what was I going to do about it.

Nothing.

My hair is noticeable shorter but it will grow. It is noticeable dirtier looking, but rumor has it there are legit salons in South Africa or Australia.  It’s winter anyway – drab, pasty and mute is in. I still can get it in a solid, well bound, mullet-pony tail, so we are good to go there.  And,I’m happy to report the Israeli teens did not swipe my Habitat hat.  The latest is the nubs have sprouted new growth. It’s those little things in life that brings such joy.

Gettin’ plaster off the floor in an apartment in Gliwice, Poland. No stray hairs here…

Dorm Dwelling. Gliwice, Poland

29 Aug

God is funny.

I mean, really “laugh out loud” hysterical.

I’ve joined a habitat project in Poland for 2 weeks where I’ve fast become Queen Crack Filler.  No joke.  I’m good at mixing cement with a shovel and finding those little cracks in sewage/drainage systems.   In two weeks, my back will be ripped with muscles and buns of Steele will be mine.

But, that is not the funny part.  The hysterical, laugh out loud part is that my roomie for these next 2 weeks is a sophomore at University of Washington, St. Louis.

She’s just “10 months away from turning 20.”  When she told me that, I stopped, looked at her funny and shook my head mumbling – “Ahhhh, that means you just turned 19.”  And, “how are you are you,” she asked?  I respond “14 months away from turning 40.”

Within the first 12 mins of meeting, she proceeds to tell me she is….a chemistry major, minor in criminal justice, took college classes in high school, got a big number on an AP entrance exam, taking the semester off, took 22 credits last semester, worked as a lifeguard and knows CPR,  is dyslexic and a kinesthetic where she must knit in class to learn (sure that goes over well in college), gets dressed up and goes to Anime conferences (think Japanese cartoons and Speed Racer),her longest BFFer just hit the four year mark and she got drunk for the first time when she was 18, all supervised by her EMT boyfriend who then cheated on her…

Wow, this is going to be an interesting two weeks. Can you please put me down for a nap?

She is asleep right now – sleeping off her hang-over.  She consumed a 1/2 litter of beer in less than 25 minute.  It’s hailing — friggin freezing – My pants are air drying and I’m wanting to walk up to the TESCO grocery store for food.  It’s Sunday and we have the AM off.

The hail is causing me to forget the mile walk and opt for eating M&Ms and washing in down with diet coke for lunch. I hope this ties me over, for we are going to a family’s home tonight to consume more sausages.

I’m going to be posting random quotes and stories about my roomie.  She has such a generous heart but the social filter needs some fine tuning.

Last night, she went out with some folks and came racing back to our dorm room – filled with excitement and out of breath.  She says, “OMG!!!!  OMG!!! Tonight was the BEST ever.  I mean the best!”  I placed my book, Shantaram, across my chest and peered down at her.  “Well, what happened?  Tell me! I mean, did you kiss a boy? Get laid? What are we talking about here…”   She paid zero attention to me – she was prepping for her monologue

…”This would never happen in the states.  I mean you get put in prison for this…We were walking along the street and came across this jazz funk band playing Indian music on the sidewalk….They were awesome.  They were just playing…I mean right there… My brother plays in a band.  And, the campus police came to his friends house and told him if they did not stop playing, they were going to jail.  And, here, in Poland, you can play a band anywhere…So cool!

And, guess what else? I didn’t get carded. The drinking age here is 18!!!!  I have to tell my friend Allison this.  I get carded for everything, even buying Sharpie markers and glitter spray-on.”

Wait, what?  Stop the music.  Now, I’m listening.  The other stuff was just noise. Who gets carded for buying pens?  What in the hell is happening here?  I’m all ears…

Oh, yea.  Of course. You have to be 18 to buy sharpies and spray.  When I worked in theater – my friend of 3 years was the theater set manager and  I was in charge of buying wood, spray paint, sharpies — and they carded me every time. I mean I look young…. I’m small and can eat more than my brothers.  But, guess what?  I’m so happy.  I mean, I have not been this happy in soooooo long.  They did not card me Poland! This is sooooooooooooo cool! And, I know I’m not drunk.   I’m just happy….Because I can say the Spanish alphabet with the perfect pronunciation…

She stands in front of me and ticks off the the alphabet in Spanish.  I was stunned.  This was way too much information to take in on one night — was the Sharpies or the fact she is reciting the Spanish alphabet, “sober”…

I grabbed my notepad and started writing.  She makes an amazing character for a book.  I did not know this even existed…  I started dabbling in drink at four years old – by accident of course.  Mom and Dad were giving me sips of Daiquiris.  I thought they were Slurpees.  By 13, the BFFers and I were siphoning off Rum and chasing it with Milk.

Her innocence is enduring, yet frightening….  More to come.  I have to tell you about her first time drinking and how to deal with a hang over… She is a chemistry major after all and knows the periodic table.  This is a true gift.  God is so good!

Visiting Visas – Russia, China, Vietnam

29 Aug

Whether Maslow meets my traveling physiological needs – breathing, food, water, clean bathrooms and constant body temperature  — or not is really of no bother to me.  It is when I’m challenged by a high-school drop out or thug managing border security is when I become unglued.

Because of this, you would think securing a Visa prior to leaving would be a priority.  Nope.  Clothes and accessories were my only priority.

You see, I had planned to be in London for 2 weeks.  All the consulate offices are there so, the thinking goes, I’ll  just pop in and they’ll stamp my passport.  All will be good.  Easy Breezy.

On day two of my stay in London, I Googled  Russian embassy and mapped out its location on the subway (Tube).  Instead of going to the Russia Visa application center, I was knocking on the door of the Russian ambassador. First mistake.

Ironically, I walked right passed security and was only approached when I came closer to the ambassador’s front door. Some man said,  “Can I help you?”  Well, of course, “I’m from the United States of America and need a Visa to Russia.”  The man’s expression went from helpful to annoyance.  Not another one. He told me that I am in the wrong place and that was that

Several Tube stops later, I arrived at the Russian Visa application center – little KGB.  It is what you imagine.  Grey building.  No windows.  And, bad-ass blonds out of a James Bond movie working behind the desk. These women look violent.  I took a number and waited. My number was called by KGB agent 345.  She pointed in the direction of a computer. “Go fill out application.” And, boom, dismissed.

Thank GOD there was a young boy of 19 managing the computer.  I will flirt and he will help me, right?  The answer is yes.

When we got to the question of “what did you study in college,” my heart started beating faster.  Shit.  I studied politics?  The red head of anxiety raced up my neck.

I told tiny teen I studied the Science of Politics and asked if  that is “Ok.”  I tried to make it sound less threatening and more academic by placing the word science in front of politics.  He said, “why, yes.”

He asked me, “what organizations do I belong to?”  I momentary forgot.  Mead Garden gardening club?  Public Relations Society?  YMCA?   Tiny teen has a follow up question, “what does the YMCA stand for?”  UH NO.  It’s a Christian based organization, what if the rowdy Russians are anti-christian — boot me now?  I responded – “Young, Men’s Christian Association.”  I probed his eyes.  Did I notice a change in color.  Did his pupils dilate?

Tiny teen said, “oh, just curious.  I walk pass the sign everyday.”

I enthusiastically offered, “you should look into joining.  It’s a great organization.”  What the he—.  I’m schlepping YMCA memberships to a Russian in London.  Stop the madness.

Tiny teen went on to ask me about my terrorist activities and if I have enough money to get out of Russia. Passed the terrorist questions with flying colors.  Money?  Really?  Do you think taking a one-way train across your country to China is a red flag that I’m here stay?  This question made me laugh – I mean, my face muscles hurt from the Chester-cat grin.  “This TallGirl does not do cold.  And, Siberia and Mongolia is a little brisk in September.  You have nothing to worry about.  Not defecting to Russia.”  Humor does not translate.  His lips did not curl. His pupils DID dilate.

Tiny teen turned from sweet and fragile to stony and cold.  KGB  was kickin-in. “You need to show me that you have money in your account.  Bring me your bank statements.  Your bank must be in the UK.  And, then we can process your Visa. Oh, you can not use this computer or printer.”

First, pray that BOA has an office in the UK.  Second, I had to find a place to  use a computer and a printer.  This is what you have to embrace about traveling.  Nothing is easy.  And, it’s this inconvenience that makes the experience memorable, right?  Not up for a Russian Visa experience on this day…

Walked up to randoms on the street — b/c this is what dirty, smelly travelers do – and asked where to find a computer with WiFi and a WORKING  printer.  Some dude in overalls directed me to the YMCA.  The name YMCA twice in an hour — It was a sign.  And, hell, I was the advertising/ marketing muse at the Y back home so it’s time to cash in on that card.

Sauntered in with an air of arrogance and announced that I used to work for the Y in Central Florida and could I PLEASE use their computer/printer.  Petite girl with large brown eyes stared through me and smiled.  Too bad. Soo sad.  Our computers aren’t working.  Well, that had a familiar ring to it.  She said the shop with a yellow sign may help me.  She gave me the “make a left, make a right, make a right and around the corner” directions and off I went…

The shop with a yellow sign charged me $5 to download and print the bank statements.   It’s called extortion in the states, but I’m desperate.

Tiny teen reviews my statements and asks me to return in 10 days or so.  The part about “or so” got me.  I said, “well I need the passport by August 5 because I’m going to Lebanon.”  He said, “that should not be a problem.”

Did I just hear a conditional verb, ‘should?’  No. No. No.  We need active, definite verbs here.  Can’t mess with the passport.  Then, out of no where and with no filter, I said, “Should is not a verb I like… I need my passport…. and I know where you work….”  Then I smiled my big pearly whites… Wait, did  I just threaten, unintentionally, a Russian visa agent – possibly KGB?  Nice one.  He just looked at me.  I walked off — fast.

Fast forward ten days and a trip to Scotland, I’m back at KGB central.  The Bond ladies are  there.  They look more violent than before.  On this day, I’m to meet my friend Betsy at her flat for some celebratory cocktails and dinner. I’ve given this whole Russia Visa thing about 2.5 hours round trip, including tube stops.  It is more than enough — or so I thought.

Walk in.  Security guard with a big Russian badge offers Visas aren’t given out until 4 pm.  Excuse me?  No one ever told me this.  Nor, was this on the website or posted anywhere in the building.  Maybe it is a new rule for that day. I graciously thanked him for his bad news for it was 2:30 and I have 1.5 hours until I can get in line for the Visa pick up.  I’m to be drinking cocktails at 4:30 with Betsy.

Shiny badge guy guy handed me number #862.  I flew out the door in search of WiFi.  This time, I brought my laptop.  Now, I need to let Betsy know I will be late for drinks and to get started without me….  I spied a Starbucks.  Fab.  This is going to be easy.  Starbucks must have WiFi.  I bought some of their laced coffee with extra stimulates and and inquire about WiFi.  No Wifi in this location.  Shit.  I sat.  Stared at the window.  Exhaled.  Chugged the S’bucks. And, mentally prepared for the journey to locate WiFi in London.  I have 49 minutes.  Did I mention London is one of the financial capitals of the world?

Back to the YMCA – again.  Nope, internet is down today.  Looks like all Ys across the world are the same.   Went into a few shops run by lovely Indians and asked if they have a computer, WiFi — anything.  Nope.  Then, marched over to the yellow sign shop.  Put down another $5 and used his computer for 29 seconds.  Extortion.. I told Betsy to hold the liquor — things have changed.

I go back to the windowless building.  Plopped in a plastic chair. And,  take in my surroundings.  Where am I?  Yes, the KGB Bond girls are all blond, beautiful and exude violence dressed in fitted tailored shirts, tight skirts, high heels and tan legs.  Hair is pulled tight off their necks for severity or flowing down their backs.  The all look like they would put Sean Connery to the ultimate test. Or, win an ultimate fight challenge.  Either way, they win.

To my left are four Russian men wearing black or white t-shirts speaking in low voices and ogling over these girls. I think one KGB girl started to purr at their attention.   About a half dozen “customers” are in the waiting room, yet the place is humming with energy.  My eyes set upon the Russian propaganda of “did you know” facts.  “Did you know the Russian Federation comprises of 83 federal subjects?”  Their way of communicating Russia IS democratic and not really a totalitarian-Putin regime.    “Did you know about Southeast Siberia’s Lake Baikal contains 20% of the world’s total unfrozen fresh water reserve?”  Need to remember to pack a jacket.

The  numbers are moving.  KGB girl screams, “number 672″  . I’m 862. There are 6 people in here. This is interesting. I kick my feet up and watch.

She continues to count.  No one moves.  We hit the 700’s…next is 800’s… Finally, my number.  I hand KBG girl my ticket.  She takes it without smiling or making eye contact.  She walks to the box and quickly thumbs through the envelops, not once, twice but four times.  That is when I knew we had a problem.  She walks back.  “You have a problem.”  No, I don’t think so sister.  I smiled, “No, you have a problem.  The email sent said my passport is ready.”  She starred at me — ice blue eyes rested on mine.  I’m ready for war…Lebanon is calling.  Her voiced rang out and her counterparts all stopped and looked at her.  She abruptly turned on her heel and stormed off in the back room.  Great.  I thought, “I’m stuck in London. Journey over.  I haven’t even gotten my blog up yet…”

Twenty minutes later or so, she pushed the door open, looking even angrier.  She goes through the boxes again and again.  I was not leaving.  Finally, she pulls out an envelop and smiles and even, giggles.  She hands it to me and then says, “good bye.”  I translated her gestures as the passport was filed under Ms. instead of my name.  Who cares.  I got my Visa and passport and I was off to Lebanon.

Next Visa is China and Vietnam, which will be taken care of while in Krakow, Poland.  To make a short story longer, I’m sitting under four wool blankets freezing my ass in Gliwice, Poland praying that I will have a passport upon my return to Krakow.  It’s August, and yes, I’m COLD!

I decided it is much more efficient to Fed-Ex my passport to some agency in DC who can secure my Visas in a matter of days instead of dealing with the harassment.

So, how did I get here?  I decided to stay in a nice hotel in Krakow, Poland, feeling certain that they had access or knowledge about express mail.  Ha.  Another joke in the traveling journal.  The receptionist told me that Fed Ex just entered the market, so they know nothing of Fed Ex.  They only use DHL, which is closed Friday afternoons and opens again on Monday.   I arrived on Friday afternoon.

Next day, I bribed some kid $40 to drive me to DHL terminal in the middle of some field – about 75 mins outside of Krakow – on a Saturday so my passport and Visa applications will be sent on Monday, arriving by Thursday to passport central in DC.  We got lost.  He pulled over and asked an older man riding a bike with baskets on the front and back about DHL’s location.  No clue.  The guy appeared snockered…

We knocked on someone’s home.  No clue. Never heard of DHL.   His GPS indicated DHL was in front of us — but all we saw was a green meadow with yellow flowers.  I sat back,  Smiled.  This is in God’s hands.

Don’t ask how, but we found the place.  No one spoke any English.   It is at these times where faith in God and trust in your fellow man comes into play. Really, what are my options?  I filled out some forms.  Smiled.  Handed the lady my passport and prayed.

The goal is for the passport to arrive by week’s end.  I sent my passport to DC and while I’m filling cracks and mixing cement in Gliwice, Poland for Habitat, they are working on securing Visas for China and Vietnam.  When I arrive back in Krakow next week, my passport will be at fancy hotel – Visas completed – without a problem.

Reality is — someone in DC has my passport.   If my passport goes MIA, it looks like I will be extending my trip in Poland. Or, God will just open another door.  Maybe, I’m too marry the HOT, Polish, tattooed brick layer and, together, we fill cracks with concrete, live off sauerkraut and Vodka and have magical Polish sex for the rest of my life. God has a plan…And, I need to keep my end of the bargain of having faith…