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Heritage & Identity / Turning points

Not an ordinary grandma – Part two

Mrs. Kłobuszańska with the participants of the History Camp (Photo: Karolina Kaleta/Körber-Stiftung).

Mrs. Kłobuszańska with the participants of the History Camp (Photo: Karolina Kaleta/Körber-Stiftung).

Talking to average and ordinary people is boring? Andreyan from Bulgaria tells about the metamorphosis of his attitude after meeting a 70 years old women from a polish village.

Communism, Communism, Communism

“We work hard, play hard

Keep partyin’ like it’s your job”

Contemporary pop

My interest in the interview and Mrs. Kłobuszańska’s story was obvious at that moment, however the continuation of her story kind of disappointingly started with a cliché about hard times during communism. But then she said something very firmly and confidently, without any nostalgia or bitterness:

“We were forced to join the Communist party. If you need to get something done, you need to have a party card. Once you return it, the administrative terror begins. It was as if they put a stick in your idea’s cogwheels.”

She continued with her surprisingly rational and wise evaluation of communism. I was impressed and moved. Her voice kept running in every direction from resentfulness and contempt towards the abuse human rights and freedoms, up to making rational, wise and very persuasive conclusions about life:

Mrs. Kłobuszańska (Photo: Karolina Kaleta/Körber-Stiftung).

Mrs. Kłobuszańska (Photo: Karolina Kaleta/Körber-Stiftung).

“History depends on the writer!”

She appeared to have done and endured everything, so every word was soaked with insight. The most memorable one was:

“People who start wars sit in bunkers, it’s the nations that suffer!”

It is so strikingly obvious, yet true and insightful. As we say in Bulgaria, the most obvious thing is the wisest.

However, when we mentioned martial law her face withered. Her voice became very dark.

“Martial law brought memories of the war!”

Though as fast as this sudden turn of things came, it was gone. The mentioning of the changes and the fall of the Berlin Wall brought a new light. Mrs. Kłobuszańska was reliving those moments again. She once again became full of energy. She was in her 40s now and she wanted to bring the system down. Her whole facial expression changed. It was as if she drank from the fountain of youth.

“I was everywhere! My husband had to tell me to stop, because I was a mother and my children were waiting for me at home.”

The time travelling she made with us had exhausted her. She needed a break and I needed some fresh air. We went outside to take a couple of photos. After the pause it was my turn to ask her about her home, at which I was just looking at. I got a bit nervous. A great forest behind the fence, the endless meadows in front of the house, and the vast expanse of the sky struck me with respect.

We went back inside where we were served the tastiest pastry I tried so far in Poland. She had done it herself. I focused on nervously eating as much pastry as possible in an attempt to calm my nerves. Her wise brown eyes were piercing me through her glasses. I opened my mouth and a sigh came out.

Present, Future, Identity

*sigh*

A sigh can mean more than a thousand words. It can express a relief. It can also be a concern. Or it is possible to reflect a deadlock. However, when this 70-year old woman sighed, it was visible that it is something else, something different and more complex. Her eyes were starring through the window as if she was jumping back in time. I could notice that there was a flicker of a smile in the corners of her mouth. She was reevaluating the situation. My question was obviously troubling her, so it took her a few seconds to start talking. The flicker of smile twitched a bit. A new storm of feelings hit her face. Satisfaction, with a few drops of happiness, was on the front and the flicker grew into a smirk.

A ride through the past on an ancient 'drezina'-vehicle  (Photo: Karolina Kaleta/Körber-Stiftung).

A ride through the past on an ancient ‘drezina’-vehicle (Photo: Karolina Kaleta/Körber-Stiftung).

I am happy with the changes after 1989. There is still a lot of work to be done by our children. But I think that this is a very solid start that there is less repression. There is much more freedom now. I can feel it!

When we mentioned her 16 grandchildren, we saw the big smile on her face. It moved me. In that moment I was ardently, slightly jealously hoping that one day I can take as much pride in my children and grandchildren as she did. However, as fast as her smile came it also faded away. Her face, battered by the twists and turns of life, became extremely concerned and serious. This cheerful, jolly woman that was so dynamic and energetic, turned stiff and rigid. Her look became slightly grim. She aged in front of my eyes.

“I am scared about my grandchildren. My life was harsher back in the day, yet I had time for everything. Now they don’t! They are overused. They don’t have enough time to stop and enjoy life. Despite all the technological advance, we work more than before, even though my common sense makes me think that it should be the other way around!”

I was not prepared for this. This sharp turn to the darker side of today’s society made me speechless. However, shortly my instincts started working again without the consent of my brain and the mentioning of the EU also brought back the woman that I got to know during the interview. The grimmer, older-looking lady disappeared completely. I noticed a majestic, confirming nod that she made when the translator asked her about voting on the EU referendum. She was satisfied with her choice. She looked like a glorious leader after a victorious battle. Her answer came very quickly. The flow of her speech and the confidence were remarkable.

“I am very happy with the EU. When I married a Mazurian, people were still very prejudicial towards the new and I can positively say that the differences between people are fading away!”

We were back on the positive side. I started feeling good again, so I delved into the EU topic. She started talking about a project she has done with a children’s learning center. When I saw the energy, with which she stood up to fetch the big album in order to show us pictures of the place, and the way she was rushing like an excited child going for a roller coaster for the first time touched me like nothing else before. It was as if her hopes for the future gave her superpowers, even though the road to her house was still a dirt road and asphalt was not even remotely close to it. She is indeed an incredible woman that deserves the greatest respect.

“The EU has done a lot for us. I definitely don’t feel it distant. I think I have integrated well. I have even started to feel like a European!”

I was awe-struck. My grandmother is just a year older than this woman. They share a similar background – being raised in a communist society, in a poor farming region, having a harsh life, sacrificing dreams for family and other things that were more urgent in those more practical times than chasing one’s dreams. Yet, my grandma is not even close to being as European and socially active as this woman in front of me. I wasn’t just reenergized. I was over-energized by her. I needed few seconds to catch my breath. I gave the word to the other participant for the next few questions so I could gather my thoughts and not just sit there stupidly with a dropped jaw, repeating like an idiot: “WOW!”

The next part of the interview was about homeland and the question about the meaning of homeland raised the tension. It was a difficult question for her. Not because that she did not know the answer, but because it was hard to transform the feelings into words. Her eyes were glowing with love. Her body language was screaming how moved she is by this topic. Although only few words were spoken, more honesty, more intimacy and more love could not be felt.

JOHANA Černochová copy

Johana Černochová’s interpretation of Mrs. Klobuzsanska’s words

“I would not live anywhere else! Sometimes we need to move far away, in order to appreciate home. I have grown my roots deeply here. You wouldn’t be able to “replant” me anywhere – maybe only in the cemetery.”

As the conversation continued about her life and how she helps the local community, how she knows everyone and the relationship they have, I could not help but feel that she is certainly one of the most integral parts of that remote place. She is the real superhero that you do not read about in comics or watch in a movie. Her ability to adapt and her openness were astonishing. She came from a different place, she married a man who had a different cultural background, but at the end nothing was lost, even her son continued the newly established customs.

“Our traditions fused.”

Despite her strong connection with the place and the rise in her social status in that area, she was adamant that she felt Polish. The firmness with which she said it even gave me goosebumps. I, more or less, expected the Polish anthem to be played from somewhere, as the whole situation appeared very patriotic. However, I kept thinking if maybe she loves and respects Mazury so much she still would not dare to call herself Mazurian, especially when her husband was a real one.

“I feel privileged to be called Mazurian! I am happy when I look around. I never feel lonely here, because I am never alone.”

Time traveling through stories and artefacts (Photo: Karolina Kaleta/Körber-Stiftung).

Time traveling through stories and artefacts (Photo: Karolina Kaleta/Körber-Stiftung).

The strong emotions towards home that she felt were impossible to be narrowed down to one word, which is what I asked her to do. Instead, she decided to express herself with a song. It was beautiful. The soft, tender flow of her singing was very touching. Even though I do not speak Polish I got a clear impression of the song. I could feel the nostalgia and the melancholy coming out of the song, yet there was also a bit of joy and a bit of happiness, just like the feelings you get when you think about your mom.

When we plunged in that interview, we travelled in the past, the present, the future. We visited Rutkowo, Olzstyn, Mazury, Ural, the newly renovated center and one of the most intimate spots of her soul. Mrs. Kłobuszańska is definitely more than a free spirit. She is an extraordinary woman.

However, coming to this realization puts me in an even more complicated situation of wondering how to adequately end this text. Whenever I close my eyes and think about her, I see her on the seesaw cart she led us to. The smile is glowing from her. She moves forward to the horizon, as the sun goes down. Her eyes are looking forward to the vast landscape, sort of looking into the future, yet never forgetting the past. With this picture in mind, I come to a conclusion that only one thing can properly end this article, a quote from Mrs. Kłobuszańska herself:

“You are young, study, work, do anything, but please don’t let another war happen!”

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Andreyan (1995) comes from Gabrovo, Bulgaria. He is a student at the Maastricht University in the Netherlands where he studies European Law. Besides the obvious he is also interested in history, law, politics and contemporary literature (his favourite authors are Kurt Vonnegut and P. J. O'Rourke).

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