I had the best of intentions to write a brilliant, pre-flight blog post, detailing my excitement and conveying my great expectations for the summer. Alas, here I sit, in Poland, showing you just how completely I failed with those intentions. Given that I only just finished finals a few days before flying to Poland, let's take an exam-style look at my possible excuses:
a. I was too busy
b. I forgot
c. I forgot because I was too busy
d. All of the above
Hmm, so none of those options look too good. I'll come back to this one before time is up...
Since a pre-trip blog post is a moot point, I can really only give you the aftershow version. In short, I'm here, and I'm psyched. Before I get ahead of myself too much, however, I think a few elements of my flights to Poland are worth noting:
I flew with a certain Russian airline that won't be named (**cough**Aeroflot**cough**). This may give you a good idea of what I was working with: after boarding and taking my seat, I looked at the back of the seat in front of me and realized that this won't-be-named Russian airline, believe it or not, still has a hammer and sickle, Commie-style, in their logo. Should I have asked to be exused right then? Er ... I made it in one piece, but it was a doozy. Bad airline food and turbulence, those I understand. But seats quite literally duct-taped together? Faulty hinges on half of the overhead compartments, dropping open and expelling their contents at the slightest bump in the flight, of which there were many and worse? And I can't be sure, but I thought I heard a chicken bock-bocking in some rear compartment during the flight.
Suffice it to say, I didn't sleep a wink the whole nine hours from Dulles to Moscow, despite the lovely, brisk breeze on board. Fortunately, my lack of sleep allowed me to catch the seventh-hour showing of a Russian Bible cartoon on the scratchy in-flight TVs. It was a dramatic interpretation, and by that I mean that Joseph brought Mary to a castle, drawbridge and all, to give birth, and Jesus fought the Snake with a giant, double-ended sword. You can't make this stuff up!
After two, hour-long delays - maybe the source of the breeze? - and fourteen long, sleepless hours, I arrived in Frederic Chopin International in Warsaw. For me, coming to Poland is a bit of a homecoming. Going on eight years ago, I lived in Poland for a while, picking up a good bit of the language while I was here and falling in love with this unique chunk of Europe. Stepping out of the Warsaw airport was like a time-warp; the overcast, freezing weather a welcome home hug. No, it's not Spring here yet. Which is just fine, for now - reminds me that I'm in Poland. When Spring does come, it will be warm, sunny and fun.
The weather included, Poland is much as I remember, though much has changed. As an early 20-something, I spent a lot of time in Internet cafes, keeping in touch with friends and family back home. Today, there's not an Internet cafe to be found! I didn't realize the last time I was here was during the dreaded pre-iPhone era. In the mid 2000s, there were two McDonalds in all of Warsaw, serving 1.7 million people. Today, you can't throw a rock without hitting a "Royal with Cheese." It's the little things, as Vincent Vega said, like the Royal instead of Quarter Pounder (the metric system!), that make the difference. For example, traffic lights turn yellow before back to green again, there are no public restrooms or waterfountains to be found anywhere, and all sandwiches are served open-face. Oh yeah, and it's like Mad Men over here, with a cigarette in every hand, everywhere, all the time.
It's a fascinating country. Old Communist blok-style apartment complexes still dominate the cityscape- my generation was born behind the Iron Curtain, so it's still a pretty fresh democracy. And that's where the excitement comes in. Because Poland is still finding its own way as a post-communism democracy, even a few decades later, it's still learning a lot about how to govern. My employer this summer is the Center for Women's Rights in Warsaw. Not the women's rights we're used to hearing about in our relatively old democracy, but the more fundamental rights like freedom from being abused or treated like a lower class of citizen. It's not "how do we deal with Roe?" here - much more about "how do we ensure judges don't let domestic abusers off the hook with little more than a warning?" and "how can we encourage police officers to actually respond to emergency domestic abuse calls?"
It's exicting, because the work at the Center for Women's Rights in Poland is on the cutting edge of these issues, first among its other post-communist counterparts. It's really exciting, like I said, but I really can't express any excitement without also expressing gratitude. First, to William & Mary Law alumnus John Scanelli and his wife Brenda for their extreme generosity and sincere goodwill in international issues. I was at a lunch they put on where the duo shared their experiences in St. Kitts, creating homes for kids. It was genuinely inspiring. Until recently, I had no idea their commitment to service extended around the whole world. Truly, it does. And second, I have to express gratitude to W&M Law. I don't know if I would ever stretch so far as to call any law school "cool," but surely W&M comes dangerously close. Without the Scanellis and William & Mary Law, no way would I be in Poland right now.
I'll keep you posted on my work this summer, and I promse pictures in the next post (hold me to it!). I would have posted one or two today, but, um, let's get back to that exam question ...