Sunday Morning ~ The Partridge and the Lion

Sunday Morning~ The Partridge and the Lion

Pa thindi nkhwali, mkango uli pomwepo. ~ The partridge is in the tall grass, and so is the lion.

~ Chewa proverb

July 24, 2022

Hi everyone,

I was six years old when the Cuban Missile Crisis happened. I have no recollection of my parents being worried about our fate or being glued to the news. I wish I could ask them what they were thinking at the time. I was nine when I first remember hearing about it. My third grade teacher said something about how close we came to being in a war and I had no idea what she meant. Kennedy was assassinated when I was seven. That’s a lot of scary shit within a couple of years yet, those events don’t evoke memories in me of fear for our future. Life went on as usual. I remember my parents and their friends talking about it. I remember watching the funeral on television. I remember watching Oswald get shot on TV, my mother gasping, my father saying something like, “Well I’ll be god damned.” Having just gotten through World War II I’m curious what they were thinking. Were they truly not worried about the fate of our country? Or was I not sensitive to their fears? 

I doubt I could have hidden my fears on January 6th had I small children in the house. I wonder what impressions my reaction would have left on them. I took a shot of whiskey at noon trying to calm my breathing. I was in a panic. This past week as I watched the hearings and saw the raw footage of the inside of the capitol, I don’t think I was overreacting. 

I’m trying to remember times when I had to be very brave. Was there a time when I had a choice between right and wrong and stepped forward to stand up for justice? Although I’ve had moments in my life requiring courage, I can’t find anything in my brain even closely comparable to putting my career and long term security at risk. As I watch the young women testify in the January 6 hearings–––republican women with a lot to lose, I stand in respect and gratitude. Coming from a party and culture with rampant misogyny, I am grateful for their courage. I have been overwhelmed by the composure and clarity they are demonstrating. I want them all to know that. I wonder what kind of threats they endure? And yes, the guys have been stellar witnesses, too, but the women stand out to me. I guess because the loss of our civil rights is a bit raw right now. There aren’t enough men speaking out about it. Why not? It bothers me. I was clapping while listening to Liz Cheney in her closing statement. I’m enjoying watching her lay shame on the men claiming privilege behind some stupid excuse. I’ve gotta admit, she’s doing a great job. She described brave young women coming forward and being a role model for younger women everywhere. I agree. I wonder what security they have been given? Do the men running from responsibility understand what fools they look like? Do they care? How will they spin this? If they had come forward during the second impeachment our country might look differently now. But that’s not what happened. This is where we are and this is what we have to work with, so I’ll take it and be grateful for now. I’m praying this will have a just result.

I’m thinking of how I can be most helpful in the November election, wondering at my age what will push us toward the results we need for democracy to survive. Two more senators and keep the house. It is all I can think about. I’m trying to figure out how to voice my opinion in a meaningful and productive way. Is this the bravest thing I can be doing? The flack I get from my blogs is nothing compared with what the witnesses face. Where should I focus a fraction of the courage the women testifying have shown? This will be a lifelong threat for them unless we radically change the power structure. A dream I doubt will be realized in my lifetime, but I’d like to contribute to that evolutionary progress. 

Courage: Finding the partridge without getting eaten by the lion.   

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Women’s Voices

Sunday Morning ~ Women’s Voices

Palima n’pa mimba, khasu la Cidambo. ~ The power to cultivate comes from eating, the hoe of Cidambo gets strength from eating.

~ Chewa proverb

July 17, 2022

Hi Everyone,

I’ve been thinking about what feeds us. In a literal sense the war in Ukraine demonstrates the ramifications of disrupting global food supplies, Climate change is doing the same. Today, I am thinking of what feeds our souls and how stories can be that nourishment. Often powerful, they can be a catalyst for change. 

When teaching, I begin class with a writing exercise. Each student writes a short story about themselves relating to the topic we are about to discuss. This is a quick exercise, usually five or six minutes, and I write as well. When the timer goes off we read these stories aloud. The stories are not critiqued or graded, there are no rules to comply with except to write. I use this exercise to have students practice telling their stories, and give everyone else practice listening to them without judgement. It also gives some context to the topic we are about to discuss. Many don’t learn to tell of their lives or experiences. Shame, unworthiness, futility are all barriers for people, especially women, to tell their stories in their own voices. So, women’s lives have been framed by the men surrounding them. I think of how this has evolved and how it led to the country we now inhabit.

Jesus was surrounded by strong women throughout his short life. Yet, Catholicism is an outlier in organized religion idolizing Mary. I would so love to know her story through her voice. What would we understand about how women of that era viewed their lives? What if Mary had twelve female apostles to write her gospels? Did they think being stoned was a little unfair? Did they gather to talk about how to change the system? Did they imagined a world two thousand years hence interested in them, their lives, their stories? I imagine how their stories would have changed the course of history. Instead, men told women’s stories through men’s eyes, giving themselves starring roles and relegating women to supporting actress at best. This eternal stage was set.

When stories are told from the female experience, let’s take for example…Cassidy Hutchinson, men tend to spin these stories when they don’t come off looking so great. There seems to be no end to the air time given their rebuttal. When that doesn’t work in their favor they begin discrediting her. It’s almost as if men think they can behave however they wish, with deceit, violence, or immaturity, then rewrite the story to make themselves look good. Same old, same old.

The Weinsteins and Trumps of the world have been able to kill women’s stories describing the monsters they are. If that doesn’t work they kill the women themselves. Eventually though, a woman finds the strength, support, and opportunity to kick the bottom card in the house. Other women find their voices. They feed each other. They grow stronger. They build each other up. They knock down walls. Women bring the monster down. 

I watched Cassidy Hutchinson, threatened by angry powerful men, stand up for truth, showing all of us what courage and integrity looks like. Of course, she probably has twenty-four hour protection now, which most women with abusive partners aren’t likely to get anytime soon, but we saw; we heard. We can build on that. Women will not go back. Black lives will never not matter again. Women will not go back to living compromised lives endangered for the pleasure of men. This will not happen.

There are men in my life who’ve thanked me for making them think about how they have benefited from our system and how unfair it is to women. And there are men in my life who are threatened by what I write and assign blame. I’m not surprised. It’s not easy to share the power and advantage they’ve enjoyed for so long. But, like I told my kids growing up, if you can’t learn to share, you will lose it.

I have been thinking about this since the court majority awakened several million sleeping dragons. Current injustices perpetuated by men must be attended to. Knowing a woman was among them makes me wonder what she might write of her own story should she escape her cult of men. Compliance can mean survival. I want women to tell their stories and open a path for other women to tell theirs. What is done to us without our consent, rewards others reap from our efforts, consequences we bear alone, it’s all a story with value and meaning. It will shape the next two thousand years. It nourishes others and makes them strong. What if every woman wrote about abuse she has suffered by some prominent man? I wonder what that would do to solve this little problem of DENYING BASIC HUMAN RIGHTS TO WOMEN!

I saw a meme that said: Write like the ghosts of all the women in history who weren’t allowed to write are standing next to you wondering what a laptop is and why you’re still in your pajamas. I love this. I wonder if Cassidy Hutchinson was channeling Ann Hutchinson, a midwife, who had a little problem with male authority in the1600’s. She was banished for overstepping her place as a woman. It was feared she’d inspire other women to speak out. Let’s be like Ann Hutchinson, with a laptop.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Removing Them

Sunday Morning ~ Removing Them

Cikuni ca utsi koma kufumula. ~ The firewood that smokes too much remove it.

~ Chewa proverb

July 3, 2022

Hi Everyone,

Current events rendered me unable to write for the past couple of weeks. Well, I did write; I just didn’t post the rambling litany of angry outburst that I couldn’t wrangle into anything coherent. No amount of editing worked; nothing meaningful could be sculpted. All my frustration, the unfairness of it all, the blaming, raging, name calling was a childhood temper tantrum on a page that did nothing but exhaust me.  

I’m applying for a position in Malawi to work again on the midwifery ward project. I have this terrible association with my work there and the abrupt dark turn in our democracy. When I started working there in 2016 I thought the country would evoke memories of our emergence to a new era with our first woman president. I imagined celebrating there with other American expats. I knew she’d have a hard road to hoe, but she was capable of it. I was sure she’d endure the attempts to discrediting her successes. She knew what she was getting into. Her predecessor, I’d thought, survived more than his fair share of attacks and I had faith she would as well. No one could run for that office and expect an easy time of it.

Malawi is six hours ahead of eastern time, so we planned a breakfast party to celebrate the historic event expecting to watch the results steer us into a better future. I imagined bouncing off to teach with a spring in my step, excited about the possibilities for women’s health. Instead, we watched what could very possibly be the beginning of the end of our democracy. Foreign interference, misogyny, racism, and hatred was about to usher in a period I honestly could not believe would happen. 

I walked to work that morning filled with a darkness and dread similar to what I experienced when my husband left our family twenty years ago. My horror, shame, and despair for the future was similar. But when it was only my personal life falling apart I had control of how I handled the situation. I grieved, railed, and cried endlessly to friends and (horrifyingly) strangers. I sought advice, got therapy, accepted help, and steered the train of my life onto a different track. In November 2016, I thought, this is not just me and my children, it’s the world. The foreboding was terrifying. That terrible morning I foresaw the world turning dark. I foresaw war, and suffering. Women’s lives, already more difficult than men’s, were about to get much worse. I saw it. I felt it in my bones. Many women did. 

Following the stages of grief, I went from shock into a depression. I knew from experience with loss that the next stage, anger, felt better to me. Anger meant action and movement. The man in my life at the time infuriated me by telling me I was overreacting. A white privileged older man, who I thought had a shred of sensitivity to women’s issues, overtly dismissed the possibility that the calamity of that election would somehow be worse for women. He even made some stupid jokes about women that sent me into a rage. He didn’t get it. He didn’t understand how I could be so furious at his insensitivity. Having shared with him all my issues with my father, the Freudian in him blamed that. It was a convenient and perennial way of relinquishing all responsibility for perpetuating the misogyny and patriarchy. He refused to see how much he benefitted from it. He saw none of it as having to do with him.

As bad as I felt, I couldn’t even fathom what Hillary Clinton was feeling. It’s like when your friend loses a child. You grieve for her, grieve for what the future could have been, imagine yourself in her shoes, feel guilty your children are still alive, wonder if you could have done something, and still, you never know what it is like. You can only imagine. 

Imagining the world and country we could have had, imagining the supreme court we could have had, I grieve. I guess I’m glad we finally know what we’re dealing with. I pray this motivates a generation who has so much to lose to vote in outrageous numbers. It’s our only hope. I pray people smarter than me can figure out how to firewall this disinformation targeted to specific groups causing them to vote against their own best interest. I hope the dragon has been awakened. 

In 2016 I took much heart in the organizing and action groups that formed. If not for that activism I imagine how much worse this could be now. I wasn’t surprised when the verdict was announced. I knew this was coming. I saw the dismantling of our rights as soon as the election was decided in 2016. I spent my anger then raging against greedy republicans, racists, misogynists, and those who bought into the propaganda that Hillary Clinton was somehow evil or dishonest. I mourn the future we could have had with her. She was so right about everything. She warned us of this in 1995. She warned us of Russian interference with the election. She was so right. And we suffer her loss. 

So, as many of us are now looking deeply at ways we contribute to the institutionalized racism in this country, I desperately hope men look at how they contribute to the misogyny. I hope they work just as hard for our rights as theirs. I hope every man who refuses to wear a condom goes straight to hell. 

Obviously, I’m still angry.

But the smoking logs can be removed! We CAN vote out the criminals who brought us to this brink. While I am not a proponent of fear mongering, I have no problem instilling the fear of losing our human rights as women, losing our children to school shootings, and losing our health care. I will repeat this over and over and over: republicans have taken your right to choose; republicans don’t care if your kids die in school; republicans will take away your already meager health care. These smutty, stinking, smoking logs have got to go. It’s our only hope.

Two more senators and keep the house!

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Seeing the Hearing

Sunday Morning ~ Seeing the Hearing

Kanthu ndi Khama ~ You only achieve by persevering.

~ Chewa proverb

June 12, 2022

Hi Everyone,

I am investigating my feelings about Liz Cheney. I embarrassingly admit I mostly know about her from the movie Vice. A good movie, but hardly a peer-reviewed resource or biography. I have not admired her in the past but what did I really know of her? I don’t agree with her conservative views. She voted against equal rights for her gay sister; I held that against her. I have a vague understanding of her views on women’s rights and social justice, but nothing academic. I’ve heard sound bites where she disagreed with someone I admired. I hate her father for his war mongering. What else did I know? Not much. When she initially agreed to be on the January 6 committee, I thought: She sees it. She knows this tide will turn and she will be on the right side of it. Whatever her motivation at that time, I could see she was smarter, more courageous, had more self respect and vision than the others. I’m feeling haughtily right about that.

As I watched and listened to her in the first hearing this week, I thought a deep integrity was clearly visible. I’d initially thought it may be a pathway for her future advancement in government, but I was convinced otherwise as I sat riveted. She was not putting on a show. Although the ultimate outcome of this may be shining stardom for her, it could also be obliteration. She sees this all for what it is, knows her colleagues on the right do as well, and she is standing up for justice. I give her tons of credit for that.  She’s younger than I thought. She’s more attractive than I thought. She gave me hope for the kind of civilization and society I want: one where I can disagree with her views but co-exist with some modicum of respect.

She spoke like an attorney and I learned she is one. She is the mother of five children. She has only been in Congress since the terrible election of 2016. For some reason I thought she’d been there much longer. I also didn’t know Wyoming only has one representative. Ah, the civics lessons around every turn.

I wonder what her relationship is with her sister? I wonder what influence her children have on her? Does she possess her father’s skill in profiting from war? I don’t know these things but I’m suddenly curious.

I get that these hearings are not a trial. I know their power is limited and they can not prosecute. I understand the frustration when I hear that “nothing will come of it”, even though we are learning, with more and more shocking testimony, how premeditated it all was. I am grateful for this committee. I am glad that Benny Thompson is the chair. As I listened to his opening remarks, I was grateful for the progress we’ve made just by the position he holds. It’s not enough, but it is progress. It felt good to be proud of them. And I am thrilled that other republicans refused to take part. It was so refreshing to listen to intelligent and thoughtful presenters. It was a relief to be spared the theatrics of imbeciles like Jim Jordan. The miscalculations of the cornered are interesting to observe from an anthropological perspective. 

I guess what I am most concerned about now is the election this November. We must keep the house and gain two senate seats. That’s all there is to it. It’s what we must do. Imagine a world without the filibuster. Imagine a better world without the electoral college. These are within our power. They are not pipe dreams. With two more senators (Pennsylvania and Florida, I’m talking to you) we never have to hear the names Manchin and Sinema again. 

As I sit on my porch watching the phoebes flitting in and out of their nest, it’s easy to feel optimistic. The leaves are fully spread, and though the lilacs are passing, the iris are singing their brief song and the peonies are nearing their moment to show off.  In my little paradise here all is as it should be. The phoebes have plenty of mosquitoes to eat and last evening at dusk I saw bats swooping around looking for protein, too. I realize how lucky I am to live here and have this life. It wasn’t always this way, but it was what I envisioned.

None of us know the future, but we can envision one where there is justice. Even just that, envisioning a just outcome, will be a service to those who are putting so much on the line to investigate the insurrection and present the facts. We owe it to them to give them that much. And while we’re at it, imagine a senate without a filibuster! What fun! 

Let’s move methodically, toward the goal with the understanding that the only option is to arrive. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Pentecostal Thoughts

Sunday Morning ~ Pentecostal Thoughts

Mphawi ndiye mzimu; musamnyoze. ~ The poor man is a spirit; do not despise him.

~ Chewa proverb

June 5, 2022

Hi Everyone,

Pentecost comes from the Greek word pentecoste, meaning fifty. Fifty days after Easter. Fifty years since Shirley Chisholm ran for president. Fifty years since the ERA went to the senate. Fifty days since Ukraine took back Chernobyl. Fifty years since Israeli athletes were massacred at the Olympics. Fifty days since Staten Island Amazon workers voted to unionize. Fifty years since Watergate started. In the church, it’s a birthday these fifty days after Easter. It’s all about spirit. Things changed. 

A visiting priest celebrated mass last evening at our little church on the ocean. He wore his holiness all over his sleeve as he described Pope John Paul’s visit to Poland in 1979 during the feast of Pentecost. His sermon last evening was very moving for me in both content and delivery. When I got home, I looked up the New York Times article about John Paul’s visit to Poland, his homeland. Poland was under communist regime then and the visit was a negotiation between the communist government and the Vatican. He was the first pope allowed to visit Poland; being a native Pole made it hard for the communists to forbid his visit. The formal reason for the Pope’s visit was to celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Stanislaus, the bishop of Krakow, who in 1072 was murdered when he spoke out against the unjust wars and immoral behavior of King Boleslaus II. The New York Times reports the visit had to be delayed from the Saint’s feast day in April as the communist regime did not want to highlight a celebration of someone known for opposing government. So he went on Pentecost instead, a celebration of the birth of the church and the raining down of the holy spirit.

The article describes the crowds that overtook Warsaw. Hundreds of thousands were present for the Pope’s mass in Victory Square, a place where I stood just a few weeks ago. Last evening our visiting priest described the crowds and the significance of John Paul’s presence there. He talked of the Pope’s acknowledgment of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and his  references to communist oppression. He told us of John Paul telling the crowd they were of the land, they were worthy, they were free in their hearts.

I found the transcript of the Pope’s homily. His reference to St. Stanislaw as someone “who purchased his mission at the see of Krakow with his blood nine hundred years ago.” was bold. I am only now understanding how carefully he crafted his words and what affect they had on the citizens of that country. He said, “a nation is understood though the lives of each of its persons.”

As I struggle to comprehend the times we face and how important the stakes, these words touched me. I’m trying to balance being informed with being sane, so am limiting how much news I listen to. I believe in my bones we are capable of coming through this with our democracy and integrity intact, but it is not going to be easy. I am looking for inspiration. I needed something to cling to, a message that would keep me going and not give up. 

John Paul said in reference to Poland’s history that “Rooted in Christ as an old oak is rooted in the soil, the nation was able to withstand the strong winds that history inflicted upon it.” He related the teachings of Jesus: humanity, dignity, human rights, to the dignity and rights of individual nations. As I read this, I thought about John Paul’s singularity of mind and purpose. He must have truly felt the holy spirit consume him considering the times and situation he inhabited. 

According to reports I read, there were 300,000 people present at this mass. Some sources say the authorities kept it to that number even though over a million tried to come. At the end of his homily, John Paul walked back and forth across the huge altar and with his arms outstretched reciting words from scripture as if it were a rallying call:

Let your Spirit come down!

Let your Spirit come down!

And renew the face of the earth. 

Of this land.

He repeated this over and over, the Responsorial Psalm we say on Pentecost, adding the phrase, “of this land”. 

At our mass last evening, as I listened to the priest tell this story, it was clear the message was more complex. He described John Paul as calling everyone to find their spirit within and renew what was their homeland. In reading about it afterward, I learned that in Polish, the word for “earth” and “land” is the same, so emphasis on that word at the end was what the communist authorities considered a political message. 

Lech Walensa, a person I followed obsessively in 1980, was present at that mass. I found  reports saying it inspired him to stand up for workers rights. I found a quote by Walensa when he was president of Poland: “John Paul’s pilgrimage awakened in us, the Poles, the hope for change….I have no doubt that without the pope’s words, without his presence, the birth of Solidarity would not have been possible.” It took ten years, but that movement led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, which, most of the world saw as a good thing. Clearly Putin wasn’t in that group.

I guess I was so moved, and I chose to write about this, because I’m trying to feel hope that we can stand up to this evil machine that is consuming our country. The republicans in our country are murdering more of our citizens daily than Ukrainian soldiers are dying in their war. And our outrage is festering. I want to believe we can direct a peaceful movement toward justice and environmental responsibility without violence. We need to believe we have that power, that spirit.

Love to all,

Linda

 The Pope in Poland: The Pilgrimages of John Paul II, 1979-1991, James Ramon Felak, 2020.

A Pope and a President, Paul Kengor, 2017.

Pope Gets Big Welcome in Poland, Offers Challenge to the Authorities, David A. Andelman Special to The New York Times, June 3, 1979

Reason, Free Minds and Free Markets, The Pope Who Helped Bring Down Communism, Stephanie Slade, December 2021

Sunday Morning ~ Coming Home

Sunday Morning ~ Coming Home

Kungapande tambala kudzaca. ~ Even if there were no cock, daybreak would come.

~ Chewa proverb

May 29, 2022

Hi Everyone,

It’s always strange coming home from an intense experience. Sometimes it’s a huge relief and I sink into my house like it’s part of me. Other times I go into a funk for awhile feeling like there’s no place here for me. The adjustment timeframe varies between a minute and a month. I guess the longer I’m away the more difficult the re-entry.

I listened to very little news while I was gone and it was an incredible relief. It also gave me some perspective on how the bombardment of information shapes our sense of well being. Even though I was hearing difficult personal stories and seeing traumatized families, I was less anxious. I felt more positive about our future. The strength and resolve of others was infectious and it seemed all difficulties could be overcome. I was in a constant state of awe that life could go on so normally when there was an active war with bombs dropping so nearby. Bakeries still made gorgeous pastries. Families still strolled through the parks. Markets still sold fruit and vegetables. All this was in vibrant color to me. I wondered how it was being reported back home. 

I was only gone for six weeks, which, is not very long so I was a little blindsided by this feeling of…despair is too strong a word…maybe despondency is more like it. I left a place where people are fleeing a war to return to a country where kids are massacred in school, people die while grocery shopping, and women are being stripped of their basic human rights. It all makes me question where the war is. 

What often makes returning difficult is the way I imagine home life to be while living in another culture. No one is invading my home or dropping bombs on our houses. I can travel freely. I can say what I want. It makes me incredibly grateful to have been born into this life in this place. But that’s all a romanticized version of home. That’s what happens while I’m witnessing suffering far from home. Upon return I am reminded of how imperfect and flawed our society is and how the outward appearance is only the reality for a privileged class. I got home, caught up on events and though, Ugh, this is where I live. In a country where politicians allow this to happen. In Maine, our beautiful state, farmers are fleeing their poisoned land, not sure what damage has already been done to their health. Our senior senator continually votes to perpetuate the atrocities inflicted on women, children, and minorities. I feel cynical and duped. We’ve done a good job of making sure there’s an enemy for everyone. How did it get to this point?

I’ve heard criticism about how this country isn’t taking in as many refugees as it should. I stop and think who would want to come here anyway? I had the opportunity to observe the Polish medical system, and though not perfect, people are able to access care in a timely way, are treated respectfully,  and are not worried about how to pay for it. I was flabbergasted at how efficient it was. This illusion we are fed in the U.S. about having the best medical care in the world refers only to those who are privileged and white. Otherwise, it is a disgrace. An expensive, inefficient, inequitable disgrace. 

Whew! Debbie Downer today. Until Tuesday I felt like the war republicans have launched on women would be the tipping point. I thought this fury they’ve unleashed will overpower them at the polls and the pendulum will finally start swinging back. But It’s not that simple. It’s all been strategic and now I’m wondering how much worse it has to get before things turn around.

My consolation is still knowing we can vote our way out of this. I’m grateful for those who stay positive and see a solution. I’m more and more alarmed when I hear others despair. Giving up, I remind myself, is only for those who have nothing to lose. I look at my grandchildren and shudder at what others have lost. I don’t know how they bear it or how anger and despair doesn’t consume their spirit. For their sake alone we can’t give up.

I walk by and get a whiff of the lilac blossoms. Their scent is like a drug, and I think those lilacs will blossom whether I appreciate them or not. So why not embrace all that is good, and somehow, without surrendering ourselves to anger and frustration, plod forward. I feel like we owe it to everyone suffering right now.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Budapest

Sunday Morning ~ Budapest

May 15, 2022

Hi Everyone,

I’d been to Budapest in December of 2012 when traveling from Warsaw to Zagreb. I’d taken an overnight train to Budapest then another to Zagreb which left from a station on the other side of the city. I shared the sleeping berth with an older woman from Romania who spoke not a word of English and I spoke no Romanian. Somehow we communicated, though, I can’t pinpoint how. She shared a thermos of warm chocolate with me in the morning. I carried her bag to her connecting train to Bucharest. We hugged goodbye. My train to Croatia left five hours later so I decided to walk from one station to the other a few miles away. That was my only experience of Budapest: an early morning, deserted, cold, and mysterious walk through a strange city. I gaped in awe of the architecture and planned to go back someday and really see the place.

My friend Matt is a geneticist who teaches at a college in Rochester, New York. He’s also a priest and helps out in our parishes in the summer months on MDI. He was doing a Fulbright scholarship in Ukraine, working on agricultural ethics, and last summer we talked about what he hoped to accomplish and I thought I might visit him in Uzhhorod, figuring it would be a great chance to see some of Ukraine. When the war broke out he evacuated to Budapest so a Ukrainian visit will be delayed a bit. Shifting travel plans I boarded an overnight train from Warsaw to Budapest on Tuesday and visited him there. This time I was alone in the berth and though I missed an opportunity to meet someone interesting, I loved the privacy (my own bathroom!) and good night’s sleep. I barely noticed the stop in Prague. An hour before arriving in Budapest, the porter brought breakfast. I didn’t even know that was done anymore. I arrived in Budapest well rested to bright warm sunshine into a gorgeous train station designed by the Gustave Eiffel company. Matt was there waiting with a map marking my guesthouse and other points of interest as well as a public transit pass. A perfect welcome. 

The contrast between Warsaw and Budapest is striking. It’s interesting how these two cities, both devastated by war and communism, emerged so differently. I’m wondering how Budapest got such a party vibe? I saw scads of young people bar hopping, moving in groups as if it were a handsome/beautiful competition. I felt dowdy, like I should go get a nice pair of shoes and a better bra. I don’t know if it was graduation or international bachelor/bachelorette week, but there was some serious fun happening in multiple languages. You’d never know there was a war going on next door.

Hungary was always a mystery to me. As a kid I heard the term “Iron Curtain” and thought of it literally. All that transpired behind that drape was none of my business. I daydreamed in history class so don’t even know if Hungary was mentioned much there, not that I would have remembered anything if it were. I knew Zsa Zsa Gabor was Hungarian and that’s about it. So, I learned a lot this week.

I like to start a stay in a new city by just wandering around and getting my bearings. I had a luxurious five days, a nice amount of time to explore, so wasn’t in a rush to tick off the list I’d made of things to see. The scale! Everything is huge as if they built this city for giants. And I wondered why I always had such a romantic notion of the Danube? Must be from some song somewhere. The second longest river in Europe doesn’t sound particularly romantic, and it’s not  wide or remarkable aside from splitting this city into Buda and Pest. Hills on one side, flatlands on the other. The first afternoon here Matt and I walked along the river bank on the Pest side and came upon the iron-sculpted shoes. It is a haunting memorial to the people persecuted and shot on the banks of this river after being forced to remove their shoes, a valuable commodity. Twenty thousand people. 

It was the last year of the war, 1944, when Hungary fell to the nazis so they worked hard to do as much damage as they could in one year. Horrifying what desperation reaps. I could see so many correlations to current events it’s hard to take it all in. There is a museum I visited called the Terror House on Andrassy Ut, the huge main boulevard here. It is the building where interrogations and executions were held in 1944 and then again during the 1956 revolution. The museum is well done and indeed terrifying and sickening. I felt it was similar to visiting Auschwitz or the Equal Justice Institute which was once a slave market. It’s important to stand on that ground and pay respect to the people who suffered and died. As hard as it is to be present and learn what happened on those premises, I saw how important it is to acknowledge the past crimes against humanity and honor those victims. Whew. It was painful.

The city is full of the most amazing contrasts. The architecture is jaw dropping. Some of it was destroyed in the war but it wasn’t eradicated like Warsaw. Soviet influence is detectable here but it’s obscured by the grandeur. In Warsaw the architecture makes it very clear who occupied whom; here not so much. On Saturday, Matt and I took the metro to the end of the line, then a local bus to Memento Park, an open air museum in the countryside where the statues that were removed from the city after the fall of communism are displayed. It’s a fascinating and well-done display about dictatorship as a means of understanding democracy. The whole thing has a cemetery feel to it and the plaques have the location of the city where they once stood. Stalin’s boots, left from the toppling of his statue in 1956, are there. The grandstand on which they perch, looks obscene. We were the only ones there for a long while. We walked around, read the plaques, then sat and talked about where our lives were in 1989 when so much changed in this country. We talked about how events of such magnitude could occur while so much of the world remains clueless. What was happening back home then? Stock market instability? Kids’ concerts? Little league games?

I am now on my way back to Warsaw where I’ll have a few days of family time before flying back to the states. I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus from my constant news consumption but get the drift of the perils women now face in my own country. This has got to end. As if it weren’t hard enough already for women to get health care. It’s clear what we need to do and I believe it’s possible. Only two more senators and maintain the house. Then we can clean up this shit and put these misogynistic mementos in a park somewhere. Deep breath and onward. They will not win this. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Gdansk

Sunday Morning ~ Gdansk

May 8, 2022

Hi Everyone,

After two weeks in the border town of Ustrzyki Dolne in the Bieszczady Mountains I headed back to Warsaw by local bus to Krakow then train to Warsaw. I loved the landscape in those mountains. They were not massive or steep. They were soft and old, rounded and rolling; perhaps worn down over millennia. The highest of the peaks is in Ukraine. I found them welcoming. I knew nothing about that part of Poland before going there. I didn’t know how many times the borders changed and inhabitants were suddenly of a different county: Poland, Austro-Hungary, Poland, Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Russia, Poland––strangely, like a bargaining chip or piece of clothing being passed around, as if no one lived there. The region is so rich in oil they used buckets to draw it up out of the ground. It bubbled out of the surface. Almost all the jews who did not flee in the 1930’s were exterminated. The camps weren’t far away. Their train ride was short. The whole area is dotted with old wooden orthodox churches sitting singularly in beautiful mountain settings. I wondered why a church would be set in such an isolated place, then learned there were villages surrounding them at one time, all destroyed. The churches were rebuilt. The whole region is now the wildest in Poland. As the forests grew back so did the wildlife. One of the sisters told us of coming face to face with a bear as she walked in the foothills. I’m hoping my next visit there will be as a tourist and the heaviness of the current situation lifted, though the generational trauma is palpable. 

I’m grateful for the wonderful people I met there, giving their time to volunteer in many different capacities. Local restaurant owners routinely brought soup for the volunteers working at the border. College students took shifts covering 24 hours in the fireman’s tent. The firemen transported Ukrainians to the refugee center, and the people at Caritas provided supplies and support. It was a privilege to work with them for this short time. 

Since I arrived in Poland I have been working on ways to get money directly to some who need it and I want to let you all know how that money has been used so far. Many of you gave generously and it has been enormously appreciated. A woman just south of Kyiv organized a system to get food, goods, and support to women who are not able or willing to leave the country; a chunk of money went to her. Some has paid for fuel a man needed to transport people safely to border crossings when trains were full. Some went to a man who lost three limbs in an explosion; he survived and the money will help him and his family. Some went to a woman with young children and no friends or family to rely on in Poland. Some has gone to a woman transporting people into Poland where she buys specifically needed supplies then transports them back into Ukraine. All of them are incredibly grateful and gracious, not only for the financial support, which is a godsend, but for the spirit and solidarity in which it was given. I believe it is making a difference. I stand in awe of the efforts and strength I’ve seen. I wish I could have done more. 

The bus ride to Krakow was long and uncomfortable, and that was with little luggage and a home to return to. I constantly imagined myself fleeing and what that would be like. I was happy to hold my granddaughter again. We took a family trip up to Gdansk for the weekend and here I sit listening to church bells ringing waiting for everyone to get up. Gdansk is a city I’ve wanted to see for a long time.  My interest started in1980 when there was a new Polish pope and a shipyard electrician in this city who inspired me. I had a new baby at the time and was a Peace Corps volunteer living in a remote Malawian village. Time magazines came weekly via diplomatic pouch and, being our only news source, I devoured every story of the solidarity movement. Being a new mother made me look at the world in a different way. Every world event was highlighted as a life or death possibility. Every action we each took could be significant. 

This completely rebuilt city is inspiring to me. It’s location near the Baltic is stunning. It’s blend of old and new design is beautifully done. I can see a weekend here will not be enough as I could roam these streets for hours and days. We visited the World War II museum yesterday and that was sobering, as if we needed more sobering. It is so well done and powerful. It is a lesson in facing history full on and gave me a deeper understanding of the Polish determination to protect itself and it’s neighbors. I found it hopeful, actually. Clarity of purpose and solidarity does that to me. There is always a tipping point.

On Monday night I will take an overnight train (sleeper car!) to Budapest to visit a friend who was doing a Fulbright in Ukraine and is now displaced to Hungary. When I planned this trip last summer my intent was to spend a couple of weeks in Ukraine with him. I thought it would be a great opportunity to see a part of the world I hadn’t experienced. How things change. 

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Ustrzyki Dolne

Sunday Morning ~ Ustrzyki Dolne

May 1, 2022

Hi Everyone,

When I was a child I had a recurring nightmare. A sinister man who looked like Brutus on Popeye, forced me to dance with him in my living room. I could see my family happily watching television in the den just a few feet away and I knew if I could cross over into the den I’d be ok. But I could never get there. I’d try to force him in that direction then wake up in terror before reaching the line between living room and den. I’ve thought about that dream a lot this week. I wonder if the people crossing over this imaginary line into the den of Poland finally feel safe. It’s only a few feet away. 

Some days there are hardly any Ukrainians crossing. On Monday, I think there were only three people. Tuesday maybe twelve. Then Wednesday there were large groups of all ages, lots of children, grandparents, and mothers. They waited in the cold for a couple of hours for a bus to take them to Krakow. The medics blew bubbles to entertain the children. Some of the firemen kicked a ball around with them. The older folks ate soup and nibbled on cookies, looking sad and bewildered. We passed out stuffed animals to the littlest who were smiling and laughing as if this was one big fun adventure. 

An older woman was walking around, up and down the compound. She saw me at the opening of the tent and came over, speaking animatedly, nothing I could understand. “I speak English, sorry.” I said, putting my hands together like I was praying for forgiveness for this shortcoming. She went on a long upsetting soliloquy, “Mariupol” was said many times, I did understand that word. I asked, “You are from Mariupol?” She nodded and made motions with her hands to express buildings going down. Then she covered her face crying. I said over and over, “I’m sorry, so sorry.” shaking my head, putting my hands over my heart. She pulled on the sleeve of her sweater then patted her head. I thought she was asking for a hat. I brought her over to the box of hats and held one up. She shook her head no, upset even more. Tomek came in to the tent and I told him I couldn’t understand what this woman needed. He spoke in Polish but she shook her head, like she didn’t understand Polish either. He took out his phone and put in a few of the words she was saying, then said, “Ah ha! She is asking for the pressure of her blood.” and motioned for her to follow him to the medics. Then I got it. She had a headache and wanted her blood pressure checked, which I found out, was sky high. The medics had her in an ambulance for awhile but when the bus came for her group, she exited the ambulance, boarded the bus, and went off with the others. Every time I saw a Ukrainian board transport for someplace heading away from their country, I said to myself, “God go with them.” 

On the quiet days I read. This is in spurts as it’s necessary to get up and walk around for awhile to warm up. I realized that all of the previous humanitarian work I’ve done has been in warm climates where I can sit and read, write, or paint for hours if there is nothing going on. I couldn’t possibly paint here as my fingers are too cold. I can, however, turn the pages of my book with gloves on.

Tomek and I were talking about how an organization decides when to close up. It’s hard to project the use or need for resources provided and difficult to calculate the cost/benefit. On the days when we are just sitting around it seems like the project should close, then one or two people come and share their story and it seems like just bearing witness and listening is reason enough to stay here and wait. Many of the young adult women crossing can speak English very well and I’ve been able to communicate. That feels good as most of the time I feel incredibly inadequate. I can’t translate even on my phone as I can’t read the words when they are spelled out. Polish is difficult (and by difficult I mean impossible) for me, though I can now say: milk, tea, coffee, water, good, and thank you reasonably well, but reading is out of the question. I’m telling you, I didn’t think I could admire Meryl Streep any more than I do but how she learned Polish so perfectly for Sophie’s Choice I now believe was super human. Cookies is ciasteczka in Polish and it’s not pronounced anything like it looks. Thank you is Dziekuje Ci, with a couple of accent marks in there I can’t figure out how to type, and it is pronounced something like Jenkweeay.  Ukrainian? forget it. 

So, when someone leads off in English because they don’t speak Polish, I get very excited. One young woman driving a van sat with us waiting for others to cross. She was able to transport seven people to Germany where she had family. She said her house near Kyiv was destroyed and she couldn’t stay any longer. Tomek asked if it was a small house or big building. She said, “No, not small house, big with many apartments.” Ah, so a big apartment building was destroyed. Hundreds of “houses”. She showed us photos on her phone. I saw the photos and thought it was astonishing she was as put together as she was. She spoke of fear for safety with a matter of fact tone that made me shake my head at what people endure, how they cope. She had stayed this long because her family had pets they did not want to leave. I asked if she thought she would go back when the war was over? “Yes, of course.” she said. “Everyone is saying this will last three months and we are now going into the third month. Then we can go home and start to build again.” The ones she waited for arrived, then she turned to us and said, “We always thought Russia was our brother because we used to be part of Russia. Poland was only our neighbor. But now, our neighbor is our friend and our brother is killing us.” She thanked us and ran off to her van. Tomek looked at me and said, “So you see? We are hearing straight from the people. This is not something made up like Russia says.” I said, “This made sitting here all day worth it, just to bear witness to her story.” I said “God go with her.”

On Thursday many more people were crossing. I spoke with a woman who said she was a driver, transporting  people out of the country. She wasn’t fleeing herself but transporting others then going back bringing supplies back with her. She’d already made several trips to various locations around Europe. She had lived in the states for five years and her family had active visas. When the war started she sent her teenage child to live with a friend in the US. “Now”, she told me, “I know she is safe and I can help others.” I asked if her husband was fighting? She said, “No, not fighting but protecting the city.” So, I’m not sure if he’ll be fighting if the front line gets closer or how that works, I didn’t ask. Is this like football? Defense and offense? I talked with her for a long time while she waited for others to get across the border. She drank coffee, a beautiful middle aged woman who loved her country. I asked what it was like when it all started. She said they just couldn’t believe it. They heard explosions and were all calling each other asking if it could be true? She looked at me and said, “We are not Russian. We will never be Russian. I will never carry a Russian passport.” I asked her if she needed money for petrol or supplies? She said not right now, but I gave her my contact information and told her my friends have given me money to help people like her and if she needed some to contact me. She said she would and thanked me profusely. The others arrived, she got them into her car, and they headed west. God go with her. I haven’t prayed this much in a long time. 

Our days begin at seven with mass at the uniquely designed church built after communism fell. It was designed by local architects and built with local materials. It is set into the hillside  opposite the Caritas House where we sleep. It has a long sharply sloped roof that is a combination of roof, steeple, and belfry; it is stunning. Coming from a place where weekly mass is sparsely attended in the winter, it’s noteworthy to see how many people in this town attend daily mass, which, most days, is concelebrated. For the non-catholics reading this, that means two (or more) priests celebrating mass together. At a weekday mass. I can’t imagine that happening at home unless the bishop was visiting. My first day at mass I looked around the church for the origin of the beautiful voice singing hymns, sure to see a young, gorgeous soprano standing in one of the many eves of the roof line. One of the three sisters living at Caritas House was playing the organ on the narrow balcony and as I watched her more intently I could see it was her singing. She barely opened her mouth, but from it came what sounded like the voice of angels. It’s incredible to behold. I’ve passed her briefly in the hallway at the house and, unlike the other sisters, she neither smiles nor greets me and behaves as if people in this house are a blight. She looks angry, as if her life has been difficult and cruel. To see her one would think nothing but a grunt or scowl could come from her. Yet, at mass, she is the angel singing; nothing but beauty pouring out of her. I wonder what her story is.

I will leave here on Tuesday and head back to Warsaw. I’ll take a local bus to Krakow, then a train to Warsaw. It feels like years ago I left there, though it’s been less than two weeks. I feel welcome here, love the mountain village of Ustryzki Dolne, and have gotten accustomed to the daily routine. It’s remarkable that just five miles from the border of a country at war, life goes on with remarkable normality. The biggest complaint I’ve heard is they have no visitors here now and it is crushing their tourist-based economy. There are two ski areas, empty since the end of February. I’ve hiked on a few of the many hiking trails and they are empty as well. I pray for these generous villagers who have opened their hearts and homes. Hopefully more of the world will find them when this is all over. This area has seen way more than it’s share of war and suffering.

I’m grateful for all the people I’ve met and my faith in humanity is boosted. There are so many good people in this world. It’s been an honor to work with them.

Love to all,

Linda

Sunday Morning ~ Kroscienko

Sunday Morning ~ Kroscienko

April 24, 2022

Hi Everyone,

First thing Tuesday morning I set out to find the Caritas office, about a three mile walk from my hotel through the city. It wasn’t the most beautiful walk, but interesting, and I got more confidence learning my way around the city. Thanks to Google maps I found the office without having to ask anyone. The office was part of a complex that looked to be all Caritas but not being able to read the signs, I’m not certain of that. The receptionist didn’t speak English, but she called someone who worked for Caritas International who did. I explained I was here for the next month and wanted to volunteer somehow and asked if she knew of any opportunities with the organization. She was not in charge of volunteers but gave me the number of someone who was. That was disappointing. It took me an hour and a half to walk there and I’m not good on the phone with a language barrier. I considered just walking over to the refugee center and asking if I could work there and just stay in Warsaw, but when I went back to my son’s he offered to call and speak with this person in Polish (a big help). She asked if I was willing to travel? I told her I’d go where they needed help the most, so she had a coordinator for the border sites call me, which he did about an hour later while I was out walking again. His English was iffy, and my Polish non-existent so I was unsure of the precise details. He did say the site was cold and I’d be outside all day and needed to be very strong. I got a little worried the work would be something like unloading trucks or something but then realized by “strong” he meant “hearty” and willing to be in the cold. That was not a problem I told him. He was also glad I could stay for two weeks. When I told him I didn’t have a car he sounded disappointed, saying it was difficult to get to these sites without a car. I asked if I could take a train? He said he would text me the information so I could be sure I understood it correctly; it would be possible but difficult to get there by train and bus. Back at the apartment I used my personal interpreter again to call back to confirm all the information. Tomek, the coordinator, said someone could pick me up at the bus as it did not go all the way to the border town of Kroscienko. I’d need a ride the last ten kilometers, but if I called when I arrived, someone could pick me up at the bus. I was ok with that, so got my travel tickets on line and went back to my hotel to pack a knapsack, leaving most of my things in Warsaw. Tomek said there was a place for us to sleep in the village of Ustrzysi Dolne where the bus would drop me off so I didn’t worry about finding a hotel. I had a bunch more questions but figured I’d learn when I arrived. 

While I was packing up my stuff my phone rang showing a Texas number. It was a guy named Arnie, who had just arrived in Warsaw from Florida, via Italy, and was heading to the same site the next day. Tomek had given him my number to coordinate travel as he had a rental car. He asked if I wanted to drive with him. I’d already bought my train ticket and had no idea if this guy was a wacko, but he sounded reasonable and I was leaning toward going with him but told him I’d see if I could get my tickets refunded and call him back. I also wanted to check him out on line. Turns out he’d done the same thing I had: applied on-line with this organization, heard nothing, came anyway, then just showed up at the office. After reading his linked-in profile I  decided he was legit so I called him and said I’d take the ride. It ended up being great and so much more convenient. Getting to the border at Kroscienko is a little like getting to Jackman, Maine. There is no way to do it all the way by public transportation. It’s rural and remote, beautiful, and cold.

When I say the Caritas site is at the border I mean the back of the tent is practically touching the fence. When the GPS told us we were 1.8 kilometers away we were stopped by what we thought was traffic, maybe construction or something, but after awhile it was clear this wasn’t just traffic. Arnie pulled around the line of cars and we saw they were in a cue. Then said, “Oh my God, this is the line to get through the border going back to Ukraine.” I’d heard people were going back, but this was incredible. Nose to tail for 1.8 kilometers. The cars were inhabited by only the drivers and they were either older men or women. It seemed very strange. We were stopped by several policemen as we drove past the stopped cars but they let us pass when we said we were volunteering with Caritas. When we could see the border we were stopped again and that policeman directed us to the tent. 

At the Caritas tent we were greeted by Ilona, a Polish women who’d been working here for her second stint. The tent is a grey structure about 100 feet long, lit with a few dangling bulbs, dank and cold inside, but out of the wind and rain. She oriented us to all the supplies in the tent available for those in need: diapers, infant formula, female hygiene products, toothpaste and toothbrushes, soap, creams, hats, mittens, stuffed animals, toys, hot water bottles, pet food, information printed in Ukrainian, Polish, and English. There was a big urn for hot water and we could prepare tea, coffee, hot chocolate, or instant soup. There were crackers, biscuits, cereal bars, chocolate bars, and some chips we could give as snacks. There were long wooden tables set up the whole length of the tent, the one closest to the food had paper and crayons for kids to draw. The next one down was covered with toys. After that was a charging station for cell phones with several different sized cables. At the end of the tent were three padded lounge chairs and blankets in case someone needed to lie down.

When we arrived no one was in the tent except Ilona. She said it had been very quiet that day. We asked about all the cars going back to Ukraine and she said she thought maybe it was because of the Easter holiday. Today is Orthodox Easter and a big holiday in Ukraine. I was astonished! People would wait in that line to go home during a war for the Easter Holiday? Are you kidding me? She said she wasn’t sure but she thought that was it (her English is really good). 

Our jobs, we learned, would mostly be serving tea and coffee and offering some emotional support. I was a little nervous about that since I wasn’t going to be able to communicate very well. Or at all. Turns out Arnie, with a car, was very useful at transporting people who had come through on foot to the refugee center 10 kilometers away. Once people cross (and it is all women, children, and a few older men) they get taken to a school where they can stay for up to 48 hours. There they have people to help them find a place to stay and arrange transportation. It is magnificently organized. Our tent is only the greeting station and they don’t stay very long. Only to get a warm drink and wait for a ride. There is a mini bus that they use for transport but it takes time for them to go back and forth and Arnie was eager to expedite their process. 

It took us six hours to get here from Warsaw so the first day we only worked from 1 in the afternoon until 7:15 pm when the last people left the tent. Ilona did all the talking but she couldn’t understand a lot of the Ukrainian either. Across from the Caritas tent is another tent set up by Polish firemen and it is manned for 24 hours. Initially the Caritas tent was as well but now there are fewer people crossing to Poland and there aren’t enough volunteers to keep it open all night so we closed it up at 7:15 and drove back to Ustrzyki Dolne to the Caritas house where we would sleep. I was dying to get someplace warm. My feet were frozen. I wish I’d brought my Uggs. I can’t believe how cold it is here but realize we are way further north than I imagined (about the same latitude as northern Quebec) and we are in the mountains. It must have been absolute hell two months ago. By the time we drove away from the tent the line of cars was another kilometer long and it was clear they would be in those cars for days. It just didn’t seem possible they were doing this for Easter.

The Caritas house is a convent where they provide the volunteers a place to sleep and eat. It is very basic, but warm (ish), and there is a hot shower. It is in a gorgeous location on a hill in the mountain village. The sisters are on the third floor and we all share two connected rooms and a small bathroom on the ground floor. I think it’s a library and office. The other rooms on this floor are used for a day care center for seniors. Downstairs is a small kitchen and dining room for us to use. I’m not sure if the sisters use it as well; I’ve not seen any of them there. Four of us are sleeping on a pull-out sofa, chair, and mattress on the floor. Two of the four snore but otherwise I have no complaints about the accommodation. It’s way better than sleeping in that tent. Or in the thousands of cars lining the road.

The following morning the line of cars was even longer–––three kilometers. Some of the drivers of those cars came into the tent for coffee and we learned they are not going back for Easter. They are Ukrainian volunteers, women and men over 60, who are going into Poland to buy cars and bring them back to Ukraine for the military to use, replacing ones that the Russians have destroyed. One woman told us they do this repeatedly; this is her third trip. Going through customs takes time and she said they prepare to wait at least fifty hours in line to cross. Another driver, who spoke excellent English asked where we were from. When we told him the US he said he was so grateful for all the people who come to help. He said knowing the world is supporting them gives them encouragement and strength. I was practically in tears as he spoke. I told him the Ukrainians are inspiring us with their bravery and strength and everyone I know wants to do what they can to help.

Ilona (who left on Friday) had explained to us that a woman would be coming to collect two boxes and one bag full of bandages. It was all in a pile in one corner of the tent. Saturday morning in the rain, I was standing at the opening of the tent and saw a young, beautiful woman approach on foot and ask a policeman where the Caritas tent was. He pointed to us and she came in and asked for the boxes. Wioletta, another volunteer who came when Ilona left, pointed to them. The woman’s face seemed to fall when she saw them and went over to try to pick them up. She was speaking Ukrainian and even Wioletta, who speaks Polish, couldn’t understand her. I asked, “English?” She said, “Little bit.” I said I could help carry them to her car and she said, “No car.” and looked about to cry. We tried to pick them up and, though not very big, they weighed a ton. She opened the bottom box and inside was a military vest and my God, how do they wear these? It had to weigh 40 pounds! We packed it back up and put the box in a bag with handles so it would be easier to carry. I carried the second box with her over to the border where she wanted to walk into Ukraine. I don’t know what was said, but the border guard wouldn’t let her walk through. She put her hands over her face crying. I said, “You need a car to pass? No walking?” She nodded. I pointed to the line of cars waiting to go in and said, “Maybe ask if you can go in one of those cars?” She looked pretty fragile. We walked over to the first car and the guy got out and a policeman came over. There was a lot of talking back and forth and the guy in the front car said to me, “These cars not good. Police will get her car.” What I finally learned via Wioletta translating was she needed to find a car not carrying goods they were importing. Those bringing in cars and supplies took a long time to process. She needed to go with just passengers crossing over. I saw a press car pass through rather quickly but she couldn’t go with them. So she stood on the road and waited, wiping her face, and taking deep breaths. I went to get her a coffee and a granola bar, handed them to her, and she smiled and thanked me. About an hour later I looked out of the tent and saw her getting into a car and going through. God bless her.

The people coming over from Ukraine to Poland are mostly walking across having been dropped off on the Ukrainian side by husbands turning around to go back to fight. I don’t know why they wouldn’t let someone walk the other way. It’s very hard to see people coming this way. The women are carrying small children and older children are dragging small suitcases. The women are usually crying. They look healthy physically and so far the children seem to be holding it together for their mothers. On Friday, while waiting in the tent, one of the small boys, maybe 7 or 8 years old, sat down at the table with the paper and crayons and drew a picture of a tank with a Ukrainian flag flying from it. On the side were the words: “We are strong. We will be victorious”. This was written in Ukrainian but someone here translated it. When the car came to transport them to the refugee center, the child got up from the table and left the drawing. It broke my heart. May his words be the truth.

Ok, I’m going to try to post this, but I want to say I do not feel I’m in any danger here. And I’m not doing anything heroic. But I’m happy to be handing out warm drinks if that can be any comfort at all. There are two medics here but they are standing around without much to do. 

Love to all,

Linda