Nine months ago I arrived in Poland not knowing what to expect. I arrived exhausted and overdressed for the surprisingly beautiful Polish climate (remember, this statement is coming from a Northern Canadian). I was warmly welcomed by the Ernis and the students alike. Unsurprisingly, there was a steep learning curve to both life in Poland and the new job, but I can say truthfully that I got through it without once regretting my decision to come here.
These last nine months have been filled with new experiences and new sights. In the beginning everything from travelling to teaching was a bit intimidating. But, I warmed up to the area and I definitely think Gdansk is the most beautiful city in Poland. And I love taking the trains. And as far as teaching goes one thing that I have found interesting is how truly unpredictable the students are, both children and adults. You think a topic will be good, and it flops. Think a topic is awful and it's a hit. Students who were difficult to talk to in the beginning, are actually the most open and articulate. And now I have trouble getting them to stop talking. I will never forget when I asked one student, a quiet middle aged man, how his day was, and he responded, “good, but what the f***.” I had never heard that word in this sense before, but I wholeheartedly think it should be a thing. But, my pride aside, I think my favourite memory will always be that time I fell off a bike heading to the dunes.
One thing this nine months has granted me was the opportunity to see Poland beyond the eyes of a tourist, through both my own experiences but, also through the many, many conversations I have had with my students. While my experience in Poland is limited to Pomeriania, Warsaw and Krakow, I hope to see more before I leave the country. One of my dreams has always been to see Europe. While I have only seen a tiny part of the continent, I am very happy with what I have seen in Poland over these last months. And my opinion of Poland will probably forever remain terribly biased as a result of my time spent here. When I return to Canada and think of Europe, it will not be the streets of Paris or the beaches of the Mediterrean I think about, but the many beautiful places in which I spent my time here in Poland.
Although, I have to admit the last few months in lockdown has put a strange spin on my experience. And it is of course because of the worldwide situation we are all in that I do not have a definite answer as to “what’s next?” My immediate response is travel. But I am unsure of how far I will be able to go due to both restrictions and border closures. And the ever looming threat of a second wave. For now the plan is travel around Poland for the month of June. I would like to see as much of the country as I can before I head back to Canada. And after that, Asia? Maybe? Who knows.
With the spring season officially beginning on Friday, March 20th, I am reminded of how I am definitely not in Canada. March and April in my hometown is not a good place to be. The weather changes drastically from one day to the next. One day could be a beautiful 10 or even 15 degrees but on these days all the snow and ice melts leaving water and mud from one end of the city to the other. If the nice weather continued there would be no issues: just a few days of mud and water but then everything would soon dry out. The problem is one beautiful day is followed by cold days. It can be as cold as 20 below and accompanied with lots of snow. With the cold temperature the water, the slush and the mud freezes leaving ice everywhere. And even worse, this very slick ice can be covered in snow. You know the ice is there, but you don’t know exactly where. Walking and driving anywhere feels like trying to move across a minefield. Can I step here? Is this intersection icy? Will I slip? Will I be able to stop my car?
Spring starts so late in Grande Prairie, I was not prepared for green grass and the beginning of blooms so early in the year. For me it seems the weather has been put on hold since October. The nights can be cold and the days are mostly temperate. Nothing like the winters I know, it has been more of an extended fall. I have been waiting for winter, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to come. But I am completely okay with this.
Walking through town, the parks are beginning to show their green colors and even the gardens have the first blooms of the year. It seems strange to me, it isn’t even April and there are flowers. A common spring rhyme you hear with children is “April showers bring May flowers.” This rhyme reflects two things about life in Northern Canada. The first is April has bad weather. It is usually wet, as both snow and rain are common. The grass may turn green, but you won’t see flowers until May.
(Written on March 10, 2020) On Tuesday with the developments of the Coronavirus, Adam and I had a brief discussion of “what ifs.” Neither of us were too worried about the situation in Poland as the confirmed cases were still low. And if worse comes to worst the solution for us is easy: if schools get closed down, we go online. Two days ago this situation seemed to be very “what if,” and if it did happen, it would happen after things got out of control. Yesterday, soon after arriving at work, Adam gave me the news that all public schools in Poland are to be closed for two weeks. I got a crash course on how to run an online class as I had never done it before. My online experience is limited to a few Skype calls and they were not smooth sailing. Technology is not my friend. But my first online class seemed to be fine, albeit awkward.
Classes with children and large adult classes are going online as a precaution for us and for them. Also, small groups and individuals currently have online classes. The situation is still changing drastically day to day so we must be flexible.
Coming into work today felt very strange knowing that I would only be meeting one student face to face, and even now, I’m not entirely sure if that class will go forward. Knowing this, getting ready this morning, the thought did cross my mind, that maybe I wouldn’t even need to get dressed today. I only need a nice-ish shirt and I’m good to go. Sweatpants all the way. We have talked about potentially not coming into the school, as we could work from home now. But, for me personally with all the chaos, the routine of getting ready and going to work may save my sanity. While working at home does sound attractive on one hand, on the other self imposed “quarantine” would probably make me go stir crazy.
When people talk about Canada, people often talk as though Canada is an oasis: a big beautiful multicultural country. Here, your neighbours belong to many different races, pray to different gods and speak different languages. Unlike our southern neighbours who are well known for their near constant racial confrontations, Canada has loudly preached acceptance and tolerance since the 70’s (when multiculturalism became part of the constitution). But as Canadians will know, the truth is that Canada does have a dirty secret: that racial tensions are alive and well.
After years of waiting for the oil pipeline across northern BC, it was recently announced that the project got the ‘go ahead’ and construction was to begin. However, things didn't go as planned. When it was revealed that the elected officials of the Wet’suwet’en agreed to the pipeline but the hereditary chiefs were strongly against it, protests against the pipeline erupted across the country in support of the Wet’suwet’en peoples solidarity. These protests have involved blockades of railway tracks across the country. They have interrupted freight service, passenger trains. Blockades have been blamed for hurting the economy, causing shortages, and (temporary?) job loss in Via Rail and CP Rail companies.
Many Canadians are angry and requesting that the blockades be removed by force no matter the cost, many even threatening to take matters into their own hands. Counter Protesters are circulating violent images of Indigenous protesters being run down by trains. Beyond the internet, impatient counter protesters have faced the protesters on their own and taken down the barricades. The government is doing its best to be patient with the protests to avoid an escalation. This decision has been praised by many, but others have understood this patience to be a weakness in the leadership of the Trudeau government. In the 90’s there was a similar situation in Ontario, however the Indigenous protesters were not met with patience but with force. In the end there was one death and the Canadian army was called in. And this is only one example of many violent outcomes when the First Nations of Canada and the authorities (even vigilantes) clash.
After a month of increasing tensions, the Wet’suwet’en Crisis across Canada seems to be settling down. But, this clash between Indigenious Nations and the government is not over yet. At the heart of this crisis is not the question of who owns the land, because according to agreements between Indigenous Nations and the Canadian government, this land does belong to the First Nations. The question is how much control do Indigenous people have over their land, which is not only ancestrally theirs but as stated, it is contractually theirs as well. Do big oil companies have the right to dig for oil on the lands of the Indigenous people? Do they have the right to place a 400km pipeline through the territory? Are the Indigenous Nations allowed to refuse them?
A popular topic the last few months has been the Coronavirus. In the last week the threat of this sickness has reached closer to home. There has been an outbreak in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy. On February 27, 2020 at 3:45 pm there were 650 confirmed cases and 17 people had died. The total number of cases doubled in only 24 hours. Italy is one of the hardest hit regions outside of China, where the virus was first seen in December. While talks of the Coronavirus were beginning to die down in my area, the close proximity of the most recent outbreak has revitalized the fears of many.
Many students are quick to share their fear of the most recent news articles, others are more vague. One student simply said he joked about the Coronavirus yesterday, but he won’t be joking anymore. Another student, her husband is currently skiing in this area of Italy. She is planning to stay in a hotel when he arrives home until she is sure he doesn’t have the virus. Many others, including myself have made plans to travel into other areas of Europe for the Easter holidays. But because of how quickly the situation changes everyday, we are stuck not knowing if we should keep our plans or change them now. In five weeks the virus may no longer be in Europe or it could have spread across the greater part of Europe.
The unknown future of the virus is putting the 2020 Olympics into question. Everyday the news is reporting contradictory information about whether or not it will go forward. But on February 27, the Japanese government has asked that all of the elementary, middle and high schools close for a month in an effort to eliminate the virus and to ease the growing fears of a large outbreak within the country. As of February 28, there have been 83 876 cases worldwide.
It is absolutely no secret that Canada has terrible weather during the winter months. In the dead of winter, January and February, temperatures have fallen as low as -40℃, and that is not accounting for windchill. As someone who has spent many years enduring the brutal cold, I can tell you that the worst part is not the cold itself, the worst is that it is business as usual. Meaning that even though it is so cold you could suffer frostbite in seconds or if your car dies on the highway you could actually freeze to death, you still have to be at work on time. Regular errands like buying groceries or putting gas in your vehicle must also be done no matter how cold it is. But even during this time of year there is a glimmer of hope for many Canadian: Mexico.
Mexico is one of the most popular destinations for Canadians during the winter months. Spring break in Cancun, Mexico has become one of the most infamous holidays across Canada and the United States for young people ready to party. But, over the last two decades the appeal of Mexico has turned to the older generations looking to escape the cold. These older generations are not about partying but about getting away from the brutal cold. The people who leave the country during the winter and return in the spring or summer are called snowbirds. These snowbirds can be in the country for a week or two, or even up to six months of the year.
There are many different opinions on Mexico. Many people adore everything the country has to offer. And many find the poverty to be disheartening. Safety is also an issue. Some say that because of the drug cartels it is not safe under any circumstances. Others say that because of corruption, cartels make money off of tourists and therefore would not intentionally harm anyone. However, stories break every year of foreigners getting caught in the crossfire.
The massive influx of tourists to Mexico has had some bad impacts on the country. While millions of dollars are put into the Mexican economy, many of these resorts, restaurants and hotels are foreign owned and the Mexican economy sees very little benefit. The presence of foreigners does encourage bilingualism, but it also encourages children and teenagers to stop going to school and sell trinkets to the tourists. Teenagers and young adults in tourist dense areas would rather make easy money off the foreigners than invest in their own futures.
In January I visited the Chernobyl exclusion zone. While I was initially unsure about visiting the area, I ultimately decided to because if I did not, I knew I would regret it. In a brief summary it was cold and it was quiet. This made for a very eerie experience. When you walk through the exclusion zone you are going through an area which has been abandoned to time. The greenery is overgrown. The paint is peeling. The buildings are crumbling. Throughout the tour, the guide kept explaining the zone as frozen in time. But, after my visit, I have to disagree. The exclusion zone and especially Pripyat has suffered at the hands of time, rather than having been stuck in it. While the bones of these places are of course the same, almost everything else is different.
To say that the Chernobyl exclusion zone stands as it did in 1986 when the evacuation happened is a gross overstatement. The towns within the zone have largely been impacted by looters and vandals. If it could be sold, it has been taken. And if it could be damaged, it has been broken. Buildings have been cleared of valuables and furniture, pages have been ripped out of books, windows have been smashed and even sinks torn from the walls. Oddly enough, there is plenty of street art within Pripyat. Personally, I adored this discovery. Plenty of this “vandalism” was images of deer and bears. Which fit right in with how nature was beginning to reclaim the abandoned city. But not all of the art fit in with the way the city looks today. Some of the art was a dark reminder of the people who had to leave their homes - shadowy figures walking along buildings, or children reaching for light switches. But regardless of the vandalism and how things have changed, if you want to find ghosts in Chernobyl, I’m sure you can find them lurking around every corner and not just the graffiti kind.
Chernobyl is a tourist location within the realm of “dark tourism.” While I would call myself a dark tourist, I have to admit that I have issues with this kind of travel. At the moment Chernobyl is one of the most popular dark tourism destinations but it is far from the darkest one. So yes, I struggled a bit with my decision to go. But it was still an easy decision to make because Chernobyl was an accident. Many other dark tourism locations are not accidents, but mark the spots of human atrocity. Beyond the emotional cost of visiting places like Auschwitz or the Killing Fields in Cambodia, visiting can be voyeuristic - meaning looking at something I should not be looking at and getting some sort of enjoyment out of it. I believe that human tragedy should not serve as our entertainment, but as something to learn from. And where to draw the line between entertainment and education can be difficult, especially when talking about travel and tourism. But opening these locations as tourism sites will hopefully spread awareness and keep important conversation going with the ultimate goal of preventing history from repeating itself.
Jak wiemy, większość podróży to również wyzwania jakim jest przejście graniczne. Kontrole graniczne w niektórych krajach nie występują praktycznie wcale, a w innych nie ma możliwości ich obejścia. Kontrola graniczna ze strony Ukraińskich celników jest znacznie mniej rygorystyczna niż w Polsce.
Coming back to Poland after my journey through Ukraine presented me with an unexpected experience. After coming into the country, I expected leaving Ukraine to be just as painless. However, this assumption was wrong. When I left Poland, the security was lax for myself and everyone in the same car. No one asked many questions. And no bags were searched. Border patrol on both sides flipped through our passports and stamped them. I was only asked one question: “tourist?” For the entire train to go through exit and entry border control took less than an hour total.
Returning to Poland took much more time. An hour to go through Ukrainian security, followed by an hour for Polish security. Ukrainian Border Control was not intense but it was long. We had to hand our passports over and wait. We were asked about how much baggage we had, but that was it. Polish border control was not as easy. Officers checked the nooks and crannies of the compartment, and even searched everyone’s baggage. Those who were entering Poland were asked many questions, and had their paperwork inspected.
However, this particular entry process ended up being very uncomfortable because as it turns out there was “an elephant in the room.” And this elephant was me, and my Canadian-ness. When we speak of elephants in the room, these are often uncomfortable or awkward truths that no one can deny, but yet no one will acknowledge. My status as a Canadian citizen clearly put me in a position different than that of the Ukrainians I was sharing a compartment with. I can’t say that I received better or more respectful treatment due to the language barrier, but I what I can say is that I was not subjected to the searches, the questions, nor the presentation of any extra documents beyond my visa. One by one the Ukrainians followed orders, did as they were told and spoke when spoken to. And when it was my turn, none of that happened.
Entering Poland was easy for me, but I can only assume because of my Canadian passport, but not for my Ukrainian counterparts simply because of their being Ukrainian. The train ride from the entry point to Przemyśl was long, awkward and quiet. The only good thing is that it was very short.
Pusty Kraków- w ten sposób Madison spostrzegła swoje przybycie do Krakowa 23 grudnia.
W Krakowie spędziła Święta Bożonarodzeniowe i zaczerpnęła tamtejszej kultury.
Najpiękniejszą częścią Krakowa dla Madison nie było wcale Stare Miasto, a Podgórze.
Madison zwiedziła również Muzeum Sztuki Współczesnej, co wywołało w niej przeróżne emocje.
I arrived in Krakow on December 23. By the time I got checked in and settled into my first accommodation, Krakow was dark, cold and rainy. But I took to the streets and found the old town. It was amazing. The buildings, the lights, the atmosphere, everything. But there was one thing missing: the people. For such a well loved city, the people were nowhere to be found. I explored the many streets and alleys of the Old Town, expecting to find them crowded somewhere. But, there were few people around. Even the Krakow market, called one of the greatest Christmas Market in Europe, was very quiet. But this was to my advantage, as I was able to slowly make my way through without being pushed and shoved.
My favourite district in Krakow was not the Old Town, but was Podgòrze. One of my favourite places in this area was Ghetto Heroes Square. This is a very strange memorial. But it is one of the most personal and grounding memorials I have ever seen (and memorial hunting is a favourite pastime of mine). The 33 empty chairs spread around the square are quiet reminders of people who are not there. It is not a monument you look at for a moment and continue on with your day, because as you walk through or around the square you will be confronted with many more empty chairs. In Podgòrze I also had the chance to visit the Płaszow concentration camp. This area no longer exists in the same way it did in the past. It has become a memorial park. You find traces of the past hidden as you explore. I met one other man seeking out the past, but the rest were walking their dogs enjoying the mild December weather.
My favourite part of Krakow was the MOCAK (Museum of Contemporary Art in Krakow). I was on my way to Oskar Schinler’s Enamel Factory, but it was very crowded. I even had to push through the sidewalks. I quickly changed my mind as to where I would spend my day when I noticed the contemporary art museum right next door. The MOCAK was very impressive and shocking. Being from Canada, the history I carry with me is relatively safe and quiet. Many would even say it is bland. There is of course a little bit of horror sprinkled through Canadian history, but not very much. The time I spent in the MOCAK reminded me of two very important things; the first is how lucky I am to have this quiet history, and the second is that the Holocaust is contemporary history rather than ancient history. In Canada we are guilty of speaking about the Holocaust as if it happened long, long ago. We used detached words and prefer to dissociate today’s world with the topic. But the truth is that it is very recent history. And the MOCAK is the best place to see and understand this. In the current exhibition titled World War II - Drama, Symbol, Trama the effects of the Holocaust can be seen in the art coming out of Poland up to today. To witness the past by seeing how people not only responded to these horrors, but how they attempted to heal from them, was an unexpected and powerful experience.
My favourite artwork was a sculpture called “Island of Shoes” by Sigalit Landou. She collected 100 pairs of shoes and sunk them in the Dead Sea. A few weeks underwater cause the shoes to become covered in a layer of salt. According to the museum this work is attempting to reference the collection of shoes in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum.
Alberta w Kanadzie jest jedynym obszarem kraju, w którym nie występuje szczur wędrowny. Obowiązuje tam zakaz posiadania owego gryzonia w domu, a wszystkie osobniki żyjące na wolności zostają od razu zabite. Wojna z gryzoniami prowadzona jest od wielu lat. Alberta stosuje wszelkie środki, aby zapobiegać przedostawaniu się tych istot gdziekolwiek.
When people talk about propaganda, politically charged images from war times come to mind. Posters pushing issues of racism, sexism and religious conflict spread around the world trying to influence the opinions of common people. My home province, Alberta was and is not immune to propaganda. But there is one vital difference between Alberta and the rest of the world, the war being fought in Alberta was not against the Nazi’s, the Communists or even the Americans but against the common brown rat. The propaganda and resulting physical war against rats in Alberta is absolutely one of the most peculiar things in Alberta’s history. But the legacy of hatred and fear towards the rat has had a lasting impact within Alberta’s borders: today Alberta is the largest rat free area in the world.
In the 1940’s and 50’s when the rat was beginning to show up on Alberta’s doorstep, the government took quick action to take control of the threatened infestation. Public education programs were started and a vicious propaganda campaign was launched. One of the most unbelievable laws put in place was the Agricultural Pests Act of Alberta in 1942. This law stated that if rats were on your property you had to destroy them and had to work to prevent further infestations. If you did not, you would be persecuted by the government and could face jail time. In the 50’s there was 600 rat infestations. By 2000 this number dropped to zero. Populations were removed by guns, explosives, bulldozers, poison, gas and even incendiary devices (fire). If a building was consistently having rat problems it was torn down and moved. Alberta has faced one or two infestations a year since 2000. A control area by the border was created and is still closely monitored throughout the year to watch for the presence of rats (Government of Alberta).
To this day, the Alberta government and its citizens take rats very seriously. If you see a rat you call the government at their special rat line 310 - RATS. Albertan’s like to joke that the government agency which will show up first isn’t the police or firefighters but the rat patrol. Finding a rat, even a dead mummified one, can put you on the front page of newspapers across the province. Alberta’s obsession with rats isn’t limited to those who lurk in the dark, but also to lovable pet rats. Keeping a domestic rat in the province is illegal. If you get caught, the rodent will be confiscated and you will be left with a fine of $5 000 CAD (15 000 zl). Even with a handful of confirmed sightings a year, Alberta maintains its rat free status because breeding pairs are very rare. But people are happy to dispute the province’s claim. Even the Wikipedia page on the brown rat can’t decide if rats live in Alberta or not. The graphic has been changed 17 times since December 12 last year.
Government of Alberta:
Ratatoullie: Alberta Blocks Rats
My name is Madison. I am from Alberta, Canada. I like to read books, go hiking and explore new cities. Even though I am Canadian, I don't watch hockey and I don't like snow. I graduated from The University of Lethbridge in 2018 after studying English Literature and Art History for six years. I have travelled to the Mexican state, Nayarit and to Tokyo, Japan. I hope to travel all over the world.