Even with all the problems with participants missing flights and all, the organisers (Maria and her sister Eva) appeared to be in chirpy mood when they picked us up from the lakeside. It probably had something to do with the fact that the final batch of participants from Ireland had arrived safely in Poznan. On our way to the airport, we asked the sisters about the organisation and what they have planned for the fortnight. One thing is for sure; we’ll be doing a fair bit of travelling.
Barka was established in Poland in 1989 with the aim of helping vulnerable and homeless Polish citizens. Their work has since moved from helping the poor to being a key player in legislation change in Poland. Barka has grown and has been internationally recognised. Our trip was to mainly observe how the organisation works and also partake in discussions in the Social Economy Sector.
So we finally get to meet the rest of the gang whom I’ll be spending the next 2 weeks with. So there we were, in two vans; heading to Chudobczyce, where we will be primarily based for the duration of the stay.
There is an air of excitement and anticipation in our van as we all get conversant with each other. So on we drove, only ever making two stops; first for some food (Chicken wings for me please) and at service station. The cork gang decided to go buy a few provisions from the service station; provisions that included a dozen bottles of Cava. The whole incident was a bit troubling to Eva, who she explained, that many of the inhabitants in Chudobczyce are actually recovering alcoholics.
So after an hour or so on the road, we finally reached our destination – which was in the middle of nowhere. The camp was next to the woods which made it a tad unnerving but it seemed like a cool place to live. We were then directed to our wooden chalets where we will be sleeping for the night. However, there happen to be a heat wave in the room and we couldn’t open the windows as the place was by a lake and there were a lot of mosquitoes flying about. Thankfully I had my mosquito repellent spray with me. Moreover, I don’t think European mosquitoes spread Malaria. So I took my chances and allowed some breeze in.
There were 10 of us in total: Enoch and myself (from Liverpool); Fiona, Erin, Brian (from Cork); Marie and Cathy (from Dublin. Finally there were 3 Polish participants; Anya, who had also flown in from Ireland; and Katia and Krystina, who were Barka workers based in Holland.
Despite setting up 5 alarms, I still woke up an hour late. I initially assumed we were going to have breakfast at camp so I thought I could have an hour extra sleep. As it turned out, we were meant to be visiting a nearby farm for that. The Irish group had already set off, deciding it would be a good idea to walk to the farm, which incidentally was just a 10 minute walk away from the camp. Except they had only gone and gotten themselves lost.
Apparently they were given the direction “walk till you reach the cross, and then turn right”. So they turned right on the first crossroad and continued walking towards no-where. Meanwhile what they were supposed to do was walk till they reached the junction with the cross (a crucifix) then turn right. Something definitely got lost in translation there. We ended up picking them up in the van before driving to the farm. In the end, we were not the only ones late for breakfast. Else it would have looked like ‘how stereotypical, the Africans showed up late’.
Breakfast was OK. It was all very traditional though with the usual bread and tea. We listened to Tomasz tell his life story. It was a sad story about how he’s had to live in orphanages and homeless shelters throughout his life. It was definitely too melancholic for breakfast. Yet still, all the while he was talking, I was tucking into some sausages.
However, it wasn’t all bad news. He had managed to turn his life around (with bit of help from Barka), and was now the manager of the farm, gotten engaged and had a family. It was very inspiring but with every sentence having to be translated, it became a bit tedious in the end. We finally had a look around the farm and on-site hostel, and met former homeless guys and addicts who were in the process of recovery.
We then moved on to visit another community in Marszewo, which was about 20 minutes away from Chudobczyce. The rhetoric was the same however: recovering drug and alcohol addicts living off the ‘fatta the lan’. This group, led by Zbigniew showed us around their organic farm and then gave us some food to eat on the round table. We heard his life story and also about the other guys in the house. Some of them had mental illness issues which made them unsuitable for the workplace. What surprised me most was that we had driven to the middle of nowhere – and some; and this house was the only one in existence within miles. Yet they still had double glazed windows and a computer upstairs.
We returned back to camp later in the evening and paid visit to the clubhouse. There was some billiards, table tennis and the girls brought their spirits out. We chatted for a bit and got to know more of each other. After some hours, it was time to head to our chalets for a well-earned good night. It had been an eye-opening day on the farms but we could all sleep well knowing that we’ll be heading back to modern civilization tomorrow.
After being stuck on farms for the whole day, some of the group members could not wait to go back to the city. Their experience of Poland so far had been limited to the countryside. We have also been told to pack an overnight bag which means we will be spending a minimum of two days in Poznan. At least that’s what we thought.