Sunday, March 16, 2014


Polish Flag by Dorota Quiroz
Of all my travels in my life, this one was the most exciting and disturbing journey I have ever experienced. March 15th, 1988 was the date of our great escape from communist Poland.

Leaving one place for another is a double edge sword. Sharp, dangerous and possibly lethal.

The upcoming venture might be something you have waited for a long time or it could be a last minute arrangement. You can be depressed and happy at the same time, terrified and courageous, bored and excited - you pick your list of antonyms.

The great escape plan involved securing 3 tourist visas for my mother, my 15 years old brother Lukasz and myself, finding a ride to take us across two borders, crossing safely the East/West Germany border and finally finding a way to live on the other side. My father was to stay behind to take care of our apartment and everything in it and leave later for America to try his luck there through his sister in Miami.

It was a major trip bound to be dangerous and adventurous and I was … crushed.
The knowledge of upcoming life-changing departure put me in a twilight zone.  It dawned on me that everything I knew would be turned up side down and things would never be the same. The time was merciless.

Gloom took over first. When attending traditional senior ball ("Studniowka"), which usually takes place about 100 days before the final written exit exams ("Matura") in high school,  I was tearing up all evening long. I was at the party, but there was nothing to celebrate.

Senior year class picture IV LO in Gdynia
(I'm in the middle row, 3rd from left)
Disdain moved in next. I knew that I wouldn't be able to graduate with my classmates and leave without a diploma or record of my education. While my classmates were planning for the upcoming entry exams to universities or deciding on trade schools I was wondering if I would be able to get my high school diploma abroad. The future was unclear and I totally lost any interest in up keeping my grades. I began to dislocate myself from everything and everyone. Nothing really mattered anymore and investment in effort of any kind was pointless. My grades went down and so did my spirit.

The fear of unknown appeared gently and lingered till the departure day. This was my Poland, my home, familiar and friendly, despite of crumbled condition, poverty and tyranny. We had our family and friends here, language and culture, faith and traditions, education and jobs. We were leaving all that behind, for something new, unforeseen and foreign. We were going to be among strangers, in a foreign culture, without language except my broken English, without education or possibility to work despite of advanced medical training and experience of my mother. Why in the world would anyone take such risk?
Yet, despite of all these negative emotions, I was hopeful, invincible and curious, as all 18 years olds are…  The idea of being free, to be able to live your life as you wished, work and enjoy the fruits of your labor was enticing and novel. I didn't weep on the day we left. I was energized and anxious. I was ready for whatever was thrown my way. I knew there was no way of losing this battle. The battle was lost if I stayed. I believed that I could make it anywhere and that one day I would be back. I made it and I am back!

Reunion with my classmates after 25 years!

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