The parents left behind
By Peter Andrews
I remember my mother taking me to the airport on June 10, 1981. In theory, everyone knew I was leaving for three weeks, but both of us really knew that I would not be coming back. I was nineteen at the time and wanted to see a different world, a world outside the so called Iron Curtain.
My mother didn’t show sadness but I could see tears in her eyes when she said good bye to me. I saw her twice in ten years. Once after four years, when she visited my new home, Canada, and later in Germany when the Berlin Wall was coming down. Our contact was scarce. In those days, it was very difficult to call out of Poland, especially after martial law was introduced. Later, when martial law was lifted, it was a bit easier, but still there were only land lines. No mobile phones, no Internet, no Skype – only written letters put inside envelopes, with a postage stamp and sent from the post office. It was only when the Soviet Union collapsed and the so-called evil empire ceased to exist that I was able to see her freely. It is only when you are not able to see your parents often that one notices how age works on people.
At the time when I was leaving Poland no one knew that ten years down the road the world’s geo-political situation would change and that eastern European countries would join NATO and later, in 2004, the European Union would allow many young people to travel freely, without any restrictions or prosecution.
A large number of Polish citizens took advantage of the new situation, deciding to try their luck abroad. As most of them had gone to Ireland and the UK some chose places like Spain, Switzerland, the U.S. or Australia. Freedom of movement was finally given to people and was tested by close to over two million Poles. For some of them it has been an adventure for some job opportunity. But in all of the cases it has been an experience shared, like in the case of my mother, by their parents too…
Bank worker Hanna Mieszkowska, 55, holds a picture of her son Piotr, 32, and his wife Ghizlane at her apartment in Warsaw. Piotr met his sweetheart during an Erasmus course in Spain. They got married in Morocco and now live in Paris. She said that despite the fact that she is happy for her son, every time he comes back to visit her it feels like it is Christmas and every time he leaves she mourns.
Hospital administrator Katarzyna Wojcicka, 55, holds a picture of her son Maciej, 30, his wife Alina and their son Mateusz in her son’s former bedroom. Maciej left for Ireland with 200 euro in his pocket nine years ago when Poland joined the EU. Now he is married to a Polish girl Alina and they live happily in Waterford, Ireland.
Pharmacist Anna Naborowska, 52, and her husband sound engineer Jaroslaw Naborowski, 56, hold a picture of their daughter Joanna, 27, at their home in Warsaw. Joanna left for the Iberian Peninsula and presently lives and works in Barcelona, Spain.
TV stylist Dorota Williams, 45, holds a photograph of her daughter Klaudia at her office in Warsaw. Klaudia studied Italian language in Italy where she met her Australian fiance. They moved to Sydney, Australia where she works for a movie production company.
Actors and restaurant owners Barbara Zielinska, 54, and her husband Edward Dargiewicz, 60, hold a large picture of their daughter Martyna, 26, as they stand inside their Warsaw restaurant. Martyna finished high school in the United States and then studied in the UK. She graduated from the London School of Fashion and now lives in London, England.
Civil servant Boguslawa Dobrzynska, 63, holds a wedding picture of her son Michal, 31, at her home in Minsk Mazowiecki. After leaving Poland Michal and his wife Jagoda studied and worked in Spain and Romania and presently reside in Switzerland.
Farmers Tadeusz Weremczuk, 57, and his wife Maria, 54, hold pictures of their four children as they stand in the kitchen of their house in Dolhobrody, eastern Poland. Kinga, 33, has lived in the UK for the last eight years. Remi, 26, has done so for the last two years. Natalia, 25, left for the UK a year ago, while Dawid, 34, has lived in Britain for five years.
Plastic surgeon Monika Grzesiak, 48, holds a picture of her son Lukasz, 22, at her apartment in Warsaw. Lukasz has studied in New York for the last four years. He graduated from NYU and now has found his first job in the same city.