Saturday, June 11, 2011

Dlaczego nie Polska?

I was sitting in the office drawing up some proposals on networking for my host organization, the Torun Ecological Association ‘Tilia’, where I am an intern for close to 15 weeks now. Suddenly the Prezes (President) of the Association and the Dyrektor (Director) of the Szkola Lesna na Barbarce (Forest School in Barbarka), appeared. One of my colleagues was getting ready to go out on an ornithological field study with a group of about 25, fifteen year old lads and lasses.
In the spur of the moment the Dyrektor suggested I join my colleague and teach something about Kenya’s environment when a theory class on Natura 2000, a European wide environmental protection program, got underway later on, which I gladly did to a seemingly interested audience. At the end of the presentation, one teacher accompanying the kids walked up to my colleague and I as we disconnected the laptop and other electronic equipment from the power plugs. After an exchange of pleasantries she sought to find out what my mission in Poland was, at the end of which, with a perplexed look on her face, she asked, “…but why Poland?!”
I have lost count of the number of times this question has been addressed to me. All in different contexts. 
Presentation at a school in Ciechocinek, where the question 'Why Poland?' popped up.
From school children, teachers, colleagues, friends of colleagues…even complete strangers! Once I was relaxing on the grounds of the Szkola Lesna which extends out into the greater Barbarka forest, and therefore serves as a recreation area for the residents of the city of Torun and tourists alike. A group on a family outing sat close by and after about ten minutes or so, one of them said hello and started making conversation…albeit in Polish. I understood enough of what he was saying, and again the question “Dlaczego Polska?” was asked. My attempts at explaining how beautiful the Polish countryside and nature is and therefore attractive especially for a young Environmental Planning and Management professional, seemed unconvincing and probably even confusing. Actually the more I continued to wax lyrical about how warm, friendly and kind Polish people are, the more his face twisted into little shapes that spelt one word in capital letters…UNBELIEVABLE!! He protested in Polish, “…but you’ve got elephants, and lions and mountains in your country!!” I couldn’t find a response to that…even in English.
I suppose the reason I get surprised every time this question is asked, is because I see many positive things about this country. When complaints abound about ‘roads’ and ‘trains’ I remark that some countries like the one I am from, has fewer kilometers of tarmacked roads, let alone ‘bad roads’ and close to non-existent railway network in comparison to what is available here. Besides, it doesn’t seem to me that people in Kenya get so surprised as to ask foreigners “why Kenya?”.
I really have no problem with the fact that the question is posed to me here. In fact, in a way, I enjoy it and have learnt to anticipate the question. Its just that in my mind, I keep thinking, ‘why not Poland?’.
Perhaps next time someone asks the question, I will fire back (friendly fire) and ask, “Dlaczego nie Polska?!”