Category Archives: migrant life

Australian vignettes: First Days


We arrive in  Brisbane in the evening. It’s hot and humid. When we finally get through customs, Franki is waiting and when she offers to carry someone Janek jumps onto her back without hesitation.

She takes us to a hotel near the port. It is already dark, and after we have eaten  we go to the playground, where there are woodchips on the ground instead of sand, and a shadecloth instead of trees.

On the way home we see a huge possum swaggering through the enveloping branches of a fig tree.


Marcin takes Janek out early one morning for a meat pie and chocolate milk. On the way they encounter an ibis. Look!  calls Janek, delighted. It’s a funny stork!


We drive a winding road to Binna Burra, and mountain resort where we have booked a night. From the picture window we can see all the way down to the Gold Coast, jumbled on the horizon. We eat lambchops for dinner and the kids sleep from 2 in the afternoon until 7 the next morning (with a brief wakeup to eat at 11). In the morning we go into the rainforest, where my nascent twitcher’s eye is befuddled by all the greenery, and my nascent twitcher’s ear is distracted by chants of Carry me, carry me, carry me. We do see a bush turkey and a potaroo, and 2 hikers who have been so mauled by leeches that they look like they have escaped from Wolf Creek.






1 Comment

Filed under Australia, family, migrant life, travel

Coming home

We are back in Poland after a month in Australia. There is something soothing about the rain and the grey air, and the spareness of wintertime. I will post a bit about Australia over the next few weeks.

1 Comment

Filed under Australia, migrant life, travel

Why having children doesn’t mean social death

Who knew? Because when you don’t have children, all the staying home at night because you don’t have a babysitter, all the not going to restaurants because your kids will wallow in the sugar bowl and then smash it into a thousand pieces, all the I’m- too -tireds and I-can’t-because-it’s- nap- times seem to mean it’s all over. But I, ladies and gentlemen, would like to report, both truthfully and optimistically, that it’s not.

My first inkling came when I managed to find a mother’s group. We would  meet once a week in a yoga studio, do yoga for a while (our kids were still tiny, and only one was ambulatory), and then talk about our tribulations- about our experience of birth and feeding, about what had happened to our relationships, about what had happened to us. Most of us were on our first babies, and still reeling. Contact with strangers is harder to make in Poland, but we seemed to have created a charmed circle where the usual rules of standoffishness didn’t apply. We would share our dark secrets amongst a chorus of wails, and I would go home feeling slightly less shipwrecked.

I also have another set of new friends which my children have brought me . A couple of months after they were born, looking for some connection, I joined a Facebook group of women who had twins due around the same time that mine were. Most of them are in the States, but some are in Europe, one in Australia, one in the Gambia. It’s secret group, which means that our ‘real’ friends can’t see anything that we write there. And oh, how they save my sanity. Together we have obsessed over sleep, over feeding, over the weights and skin conditions and moods and teeth of our offspring. Many of us have older kids, and one has already produced a younger sibling for her twins.

But it’s not only about children. When I get a new job which I desperately want to boast about, I boast to them. When one of their husbands is diagnosed with MS, she tells us. We confess  our  pain, our fear, our isolation, our triumphs.  We advise each other and commiserate and cheer each other on.  It’s the internet, and we are total strangers, and engaged in that most competitive of businesses-motherhood-, but we are gentle with each other, and unjudgmental.

And then there are the playground friends. At the mummy-cafe, I met an Austrian who takes care of his daughter while his wife works, and a Frenchman who does the same. We go to the playground, and try not to lose our children or let them kill themselves, while engaging in desultory conversation about all manner of things. The Frenchman divulges his plan to become a failed writer (“I’m well on my way”,) the Austrian tells me about his hobby of motorbike racing and shows me a picture of the 6 screws and a metal plate he had put in his knee after an accident. We cover the usual- food, sleep, a quick boast about new achievements- and then are free to talk about ourselves.

I expect it to go on like this, more or less. There will be preschool and school, and they will have friends whose parents I might like or not, but they will bring us into the orbit of people we would never otherwise have met. I don’t expect each and every one of them to be my bosom buddies, but it makes me realise that maybe kids aren’t tyrannical little jailers after all.


Filed under childhood, friendship, happiness, mental health, migrant life, motherhood, twins, Uncategorized

Having two homes

When we went to Australia last month, I hadn’t been home for almost 5 years. During which I had cycled from Tokyo to Warsaw, settled in Poland, learnt Polish, and had two children.

I couldn’t predict what would happen to me when I got out of the plane. On the surface, most of my apprehension centred on logistics- how to transport 4 people, two of them only one year old, from one side of the world to the other, with a minimum of squealing and disruption.

What I was really worried about was what sort of crisis the trip might force. I live fairly happily and unreflectively in Warsaw, and thought that maybe this was only possible because of the lapse in space-time that separated me from my real life and home. I hear myself brushing off people’s questions about why I have made this choice and what life is like with a sort of obtuseness- that I don’t really think about it, that I am as happy as I would be anywhere, stubbornly refusing to admit any real dissatisfaction or make any unfavourable comparisons, though I think this is often what they want or expect. I felt on some visceral level that my life in Warsaw wouldn’t stand up to any real scrutiny- that my friendships would seem superficial, my work senseless, my  attachment to place tenuous, if I started to compare.

And I loved  being in Australia. I loved speaking English all the time, getting all the jokes, talking silly slang and never thinking about my declensions. I loved feeling totally at ease and inconspicuous, I loved the sea, I loved being in a place where I had a long history and seeing my family and all my lovely friends.

But I also felt fine coming back to Poland again. Partly it was just because I was ready to be back in my own space again, after a month 0f screamy nights in other people’s houses. But mainly, I just felt alright. There were people and places I wanted to see. The freeze was over and the days were longer and the language was still familiar. I felt as if I had passed an important test.

1 Comment

Filed under Australia, family, friendship, history, memory, migrant life

10 years ago…..

24 December, 2003, Dongola, Northern Sudan.

I am sitting outside  Lord’s Hotel in this dusty town, which nevertheless looks like a metropolis to me with its gold shops and its tarmac after a week of riding along the Nile. The hotel is a one-story, concrete building, one of two hotels which have sprung up to catch the nascent tourist trade after the recent opening of Sudan’s northern land border. I am nursing a stomach bug I have picked up from ill-advised drinking of riverwater, feeling wan and wondering if I will ever have the urge to eat again.  It’s evening, and there is a buzz of tea drinking and conversation at the tables standing on the street outside the hotel. I am reading, or writing something, keeping an eye out for other whiteys, since I have been on the road for a bit over a week and I know that the boat from Aswan to Wadi Halfa came in 2 days  ago.

And here they come- 4 of them, carrying a gigantic bottle of Cola to drink their Christmas Eve toasts. Two Czechs, Marcin’s friend Anka, and Marcin himself. He is wearing a pale blue scarf and a pair of glasses with thick black rims, and sending an sms from an ancient Nokia. I will carry a deep affection for all these items (scarf, glasses, phone) long after they have gone out of circulation.

This story  is one which I never tire of telling myself, and it never fails to give me a frisson. Over the next decade, I will meet this man again, fall in love with him, live with him in 2 countries and travel with him in countless others. I will learn to speak to him in his own language and have the hilarious pleasure of hearing him use Australian idioms. He will be the father of my children. This moment, this harmless Christmas Eve sighting of a bespectacled European going about his business, is simultaneously so casual and so momentous that it fascinates me. It carries the ungerminated seed of my whole future as an adult, with a husband and a family, and I don’t know it.


Filed under family, memory, migrant life, travel

“All children are ours”

This is what people say in Poland when they want to express how beloved children are, as if they are some precious collective wealth that we all share. During the many hours I spend in Warsaw public transport, it often occurs to me that people actually do feel some sense of ownership of children in the public sphere. They feel entitled to grope their toes and claim they are cold, or note the shielding blanket hanging over the pram (specifically put there to keep leering old ladies away from a baby who might actually be going to fall asleep if left in peace) and stage whisper, “That child is going to suffocate!” (this happened to Marcin, not me). When they cry, there is a wave of speculation as to the reasons.

Janek’s eczema attracts a magnified amount of this attention. Everybody has their theory on why it is there at all, and their more or less outlandish advice on how to eliminate it. We should smear him with this or that wonder cream, wash his clothes in this or that magic detergent, put him on a diet of pumpkin and rice. We should bathe him in starch, in linseeds, in this particular emollient. We should keep him in a sack of potato flour. And so forth.

Sometimes I enjoy the attention. I find my children beautiful and feel a silly sense of pride when people confirm it’s so (though of course nobody is ever going to approach me and say, what a hideous pair ).  Sometimes I feel hounded and accused- do they think that we haven’t tried every scabbiness-eliminating trick that anyone has suggested? (we have, except the potato flour). Sometimes I just want to read my book and not answer the same questions two thousand times.

One thing is for sure- my days of unobtrusiveness are over, as long as I am parading with them. Because although I have twins every day and the novelty has somewhat worn off (though I still do have moments where I look at them and think, WHAT THE FUCK ), they attract double the garrulous attention that a single baby gets, and that is already quite a lot. I am learning to resign myself to all this public possessiveness, because unless I get myself a car, this is going to be my lot.

1 Comment

Filed under around Poland, childhood, migrant life, observations on Polish society, twins

The solace of place

Reading blue milk and hoping desperately for a lengthy nap from two grumpy infants, I came across  this  link to an article about an amazing project:  taking  the single photographs requested by people in solitary confinement. I was struck by the number of requests for pictures of downtown Chicago- for neighborhoods and junctions that the prisoner knows well. It reminded me of a scene that always moved me from Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, where an old Aboriginal man, half crazed with loss and disease and alcohol, inspires William Thornhill’s envy for the solace he draws from sitting on a particular piece of land.

The areas that the prisoners want pictures of are not especially salubrious. Beauty has nothing to do with it. They are just places that are dense with personal history: it is as if the prisoner is requesting a picture of his own past.

There’s something wonderful and terrifying about have a place like this, where your entire history sits, layer on layer, like some great midden.  I am thinking about this particularly at the moment because I have just bought a ticket to go and visit my first 14 years, which resides on the south coast of NSW. My children, that ultimate anchor in time and place, are little Europeans, and somehow I feel comforted by the idea of being in Australia with them.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, family, history, memory, migrant life, motherhood, Reading, travel, twins