Home Away from Home

“Wystarcz, Wystarcz,” all five of us cried out in unison and pointed to our stomachs trying to show how full we were.

“Dobry! Dobry!” responded by a motherly figure with a powerful voice and uninhibited laughs.

Maria kept bringing us more food as we feast in her home.
Maria kept bringing us more food as we feast in her home.

“Wystarcz” is the Polish word meaning “enough” which we got the chance to practice the most due to the obvious circumstances we found ourselves at every meal.  “Dobry” is the Polish word meaning “Good”.

We were sitting around the dining table in a brick house more than 100 years old in a small town called Lag in northern Poland. At the head of the table was Maria, a 60-year old stocky Polish mother, busily bringing dish after dish of traditional Polish delicacies such as the white sausages, pan-fried breaded chicken fillet, pork salami, chicken noodle soup, pea & carrot salad, boiled potatoes, rice with raisin white cream, apple soda, apple juice, and cheese cake with sour cherries. There was a lot of gesturing and facial expressions from both sides because we couldn’t speak Polish and she couldn’t speak English. Many times we had to resort to using Google translate that took more than 15 minutes just to get a sentence across. At one time, the Google translated a sentence to “Vodka makes you fart”! Fortunately, most of the time, Agnieszka helped to translate for us. She is the sister-in-law of Szymon and Ania the Polish world cyclists who welcomed us to his mother’s home.

We had a feast every meal over the dining table with Szymon's mother, youngest brother, and sister in law.
We had a feast every meal over the dining table with Szymon’s mother, youngest brother, and sister in law.
When we arrived at noon, we were overwhelmed by all the food Maria had prepared.
When we arrived at noon, we were overwhelmed by all the food Maria had prepared.
Szymon's mom cooked us big meals of traditional Polish dishes every day.
Szymon’s mom cooked us big meals of traditional Polish dishes every day.
Szymon's mom cooked us big meals of traditional Polish dishes every day.
Szymon’s mom cooked us big meals of traditional Polish dishes every day.

“It is not good,” translated Agnieszka for Maria, who shook her head and shrugged her shoulders to communicate her feeling about the rice dish. “Szymon told me you would like rice, but I don’t know how to cook rice.”

Szymon and Anya, whom we hosted in China when they biked through Kunming, were two amazing world cyclists whom we got to know and love. By coincidence we also met them in Vietnam, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan while we backpacked. We arrived at Syzmon’s family home to meet his mother and to pick up a station wagon that they were so kind to lend us for us to drive in Europe since they were still on their epic biking journey. This gift was way beyond all that we had hoped for or imagined.

Szymon and Ania, whom we hosted in Kunming, had the mots interesting cycling themed wedding.
Szymon and Ania, whom we hosted in Kunming, had the mots interesting cycling themed wedding.

Beforehand, Szymon cautioned us that his mother has difficulty walking so she would not be able to be so hospitable to us when we arrived. I thought that she would be lying in bed while we helped to bring tea or food to her during our stay there. Little did I expect to see her standing in front of the house beckoning us to come in when we arrived on the first day. She showed us to our room and immediately brought us coffee, tea, and cakes to welcome us. For the next three days, we were pampered and loved by Maria, Agnieszka, and Robert, her youngest son that just came back from England for a short visit.

Szymon's mother, Maria, was up early every morning to cook us a big breakfast.
Szymon’s mother, Maria, was up early every morning to cook us a big breakfast.

“I never thought that staying in Poland would be like staying in our own parent’s home,” Annie shared afterwards with joy and happiness. “It’s so nice to be treated like her own children and to have home cooked meals.”

“Polish food is very comforting for the Chinese pallet which craves for pork. I like the way they season their pork and they are actually world famous for their sausages,” Annie concluded.

“Those sausages were incredible,” Nathan added with a big smile as he recalled the taste.

“Now we know they deserve it!” Joani agreed.

“It was really nice to see Ania’s twin sister. It was so cool because it feels Iike Ania was there,” Joani said excitedly. “She’s so smiley and always laughing. And the mother was just so passionate! It was nice with Robert because he can speak English really well. He was so hospitable. He bought so much!”

Although Szymon and Ania weren't able to be in Poland when we arrived, we saw their latest photo on Agnieska's smartphone.
Although Szymon and Ania weren’t able to be in Poland when we arrived, we saw their latest photo on Agnieska’s smartphone.

“He bought twenty beers! Four of each type for us to try,” Olivia recalled. “Afterwards, dad just said, ‘I got to go to bed’. I would love to see him in London.”

“He’s very unique. He won trophies in chess and dancing, studied linguistics, and working in a sushi restaurant in London. Those are very different,” I shared.

Robert, Szymon's talented brother, bought five types of Polish beer for us to sample.
Robert, Szymon’s talented brother, bought five types of Polish beer for us to sample.
We picked up the car at Szymon's home and filled it with all our backpacks with no space to spare!
We picked up the car at Szymon’s home and filled it with all our backpacks with no space to spare!

If the first place was like our parents’ home, our next destination in Poland, Warsaw, was like coming back to our own home.

After driving on the newly borrowed car, we arrived and stayed with my MBA classmate, the Meyer Family, who has four children, Alexandra, Severn, Karina, and Max, ages 18, 16, 13, and 9 respectively, almost identical ages as our children. They were similar to us as TCKs (Third Cultural Kids) who had lived around half of their lives in California and half now in Poland. Our families had not met in more than 16 years so it was a blessing to catch up on our lives and to spend time together. Chris and his wife Agnieszka both took time off from their work to show us their town and Warsaw, where we visited the Polish Jew Historical Museum, Chopin Museum, and Ujazdow Park and joined a free walking tour of the old town Warsaw. At the Polish Jew Historical Museum, we finally got to fill in the gap from our visit in Israel about the history of Jews between 1st and 19th century. It was there that we happened to have a photo next to the new Polish president who was also touring the museum!

After 16 years, we saw our good MBA friends again with their grown up children.
After 16 years, we saw our good MBA friends again with their grown up children.
The children were sitting in front of the president of Poland who was visiting the Polish Jews Museum.
The children were sitting in front of the president of Poland who was visiting the Polish Jews Museum.

“When I was with their family, I really miss home. I actually cried,” Joani shared. “The dynamics and what they do everyday is just so similar to our lives. It was interesting to see the dynamics between the parents and the kids because they are all pretty near our ages.”

“It’s kind of like they have an ‘on’ and ‘off’ button for being American,” Nathan analyzed. “When they talk about certain things, they sounded very American. When they talked about Polish things, they are very Polish.”
“Now I know I don’t really listen to that loud of a music,” Joani said happily as she thought about how Severn was blasting the music so loud that you can hear it through his earphones. “I was listening to his music and thought, ‘Ha, ha’. Now you know how easy you have it, dad.”
Alexandra whom we saw while in MBA school is the oldest daughter.
Alexandra whom we saw while in MBA school is the oldest daughter.
Max is the fun, outgoing, youngest son of the Meyers.
Max is the fun, outgoing, youngest son of the Meyers.
Having fun conversations with the Meyers in Warsaw. (Karina is the one in the middle)
Having fun conversations with the Meyers in Warsaw. (Karina is the one in the middle)

“When Agnieszka told us that each of her kid is different, I didn’t believe her. After I saw their rooms, I believe her!” Olivia recalled. “It was like a movie scene.”

“You have a dad that flies home on weekends and a mom that stays home but tutors everyday,” Nathan set up the scene for the movie.
“You have the talkative, happy, peppy young son, the teenage’ish’ shy daughter who’s going to be so popular in America because she is sporty, pretty, and has a Polish accent, the typical punk, rock brother who likes metal, and the stressed out but friendly older sister who is getting ready for college life who feels more comfortable talking with adults than peers. Each of them are so different from each of us, yet also same.” said Joani.
“So do you think we are normal or abnormal?” Joani asked.
“Seeing that Joani is picking dad’s ear wax while asking the question, I think the answer is clear!” Olivia laughed and we all joined her in a long chorus.
Having preserved fruit that they made with the Andrzej, Ewa, and Matthew. In their basement there are more than 300 jars!
Having preserved fruit that they made with the Andrzej, Ewa, and Matthew. In their basement there are more than 300 jars!

After Warsaw, we drove excitedly to Katowice, where we stayed with an amazing cyclist family whom we hosted in Kunming exactly three years ago. Andrz & Ewa cycled 5000 kilometers from China back to Poland with their 3-year old daughter Marta. Now, they are a family of four with their one year old son Mateusz, who was the cutest and smiley toddler we have ever met!

This was the bike they bought from our place in China which they rode for 5000 kilometers back to Poland!
This was the bike they bought from our place in China which they rode for 5000 kilometers back to Poland!

“I am so impressed with you,” said Andrz after he welcomed me to his apartment. “Your email three years ago said that you are planning to come to Poland in March 2016. Here you are in March 2016! Do you have any suggestion about buying stocks?”

Soon as we sat around the dining table, Ewa brought out a special Polish dish of beef roll stuffed with pickled vegetable that they only eat twice a year on special occasions. Then she brought out another Polish dish of chewy white potato ball mixed with flour. Then she brought out pickled radish and also pickled beets.  After the main meal, she brought out two jars of preserved strawberries and cherries for dessert that they prepared during the summer months last year. On top of these, she brought out coffee and tea with apple cake that she baked.

Ewa cooked us traditional Polish dishes (wrapped beef roll & flour potato balls) that they only cook twice a year!
Ewa cooked us traditional Polish dishes (wrapped beef roll & flour potato balls) that they only cook twice a year!
Ewa brought us exotic Polish food for our late supper.
Ewa brought us exotic Polish food for our late supper.

“Ewa and Andrze are so thoughtful,” I shared with the family afterwards. “They thought ahead of time what Polish dishes that we would enjoy for each of the meal and prepared them ahead of time for us to enjoy during each meal. They even thought about how we would miss Chinese food and treated us to a wonderful Chinese meal where we got to use chopsticks and eat rice out of the bowl!”

Andrzej and Ewa treated us to Chinese to help with our homesickness!
Andrzej and Ewa treated us to Chinese to help with our homesickness!

“I think we definitely got fat,” Olivia concluded. “Let me tell you how the Polish eating schedule works: Breakfast, tea time, second breakfast, tea time, rest, dinner (Polish late lunch around 5PM), supper (Polish late dinner around 8PM), and sometimes you have some beer party or chip party or some tea again! It was everyday and everyone was so nice and gave us so much food.”

“Same with Szymon’s mom. So much food!” Nathan agreed.

“In Poland, we actually really had a food tour, Joani reflected.

“But it was a nice part of Polish culture that we got to experience. If we didn’t stay with our friends, I don’t think we would have realized the way they eat. We would just have two meals like we always do,” Olivia laughed.

The first day we arrived, they showed us the highlights of their city, while we showed them about the fun of geocaching (see geocaching.org). The second day, we visited the Auschwitz Concentration Camp that we had learned so much about from the Holocaust Museum in Israel and the old town of Krakow which was untouched from WWII. Later we went on the Old Town tour of Krakow and had just enough time to watch the 2nd half of an ice hockey game to expose  Olivia to Canadian culture before she goes to Canada for university. And on the third day, Ewa took the day off so that their whole family can take us skiing at their favorite ski resort. The children were so excited to ski, especially Joani, that they couldn’t stop talking about it either beforehand or afterwards.
Touring Katowice with our good cyclist friends. This is an old mining village.
Touring Katowice with our good cyclist friends. This is an old mining village.
We enjoyed the free city walk at Krakow.
We enjoyed the free city walk at Krakow.
We walked through the infamous concentration camp of Auschwitz on a gloomy day.
We walked through the infamous concentration camp of Auschwitz on a gloomy day.
Seeing these items taken from the victims in Auschwitz was sobering.
Seeing these items taken from the victims in Auschwitz was sobering.
The children looked forward and had a great first day of skiing while in Poland.
The children looked forward and had a great first day of skiing while in Poland.

“Skiing was AWESOME and GREAT and FIN NA (Polish word for awesome),” exclaimed Joani.

Afterwards Andrz shared, “We also know what it was like to travel for a year. So we wanted to make you feel at home.”

For the first time on our one year trip, we stayed with old friends in three different cities while we were in Poland.

“In Poland, our time were split. Half with friends and half with touring,” Olivia reflected. “We spent as much time with our friends as touring.”
“Syzmon and Ania’s place was more laughty, funny. Meyer’s was more a relaxed while going out time. And the Andrz was remembering old times and making new times,” Joani summarized adeptly.
Matthew and Marta were the cutest.
Matthew and Marta were the cutest.

Before Poland, it never crossed our mind that Poland would be remembered as a ‘home away from home’. We really saw in action the proverb of ‘you reap what you sow’. We hosted Syzmon & Ania and Andrz & Eva in China, and we built relationship with the Meyers at MBA school. Now in Poland, we were so loved and cared for. Not only did we reaped what we sow, what we sowed multiplied many times over!

Home, sweet home.
Annie drew this painting of Matthew and Marta while we were skiing.
Annie drew this painting of Matthew and Marta while we were skiing.