Fuck Preconceptions

Lodz Travel Blog

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After four days in Lodz, Poland, I have decided to let go from all and any expectations I could ever have in my life. Although surely I've been put in situations before, after which I would always learn that it would've been better dealing with these situations with no expectations instead, but Poland has really set the record straight. No matter what anyone tells you, no matter what you've read before, you can't walk into something with any sort of expectations, you just can't, because simply put, people experience things differently, and people react to other people's experiences and/or ideas just as differently.

I can't begin to count how many popular preconceptions about Poland seem to be very false.

#1: Poland is poor.

The train from Warsaw to Lodz was very clean. Seats had high backs and were ultimately comfortable and there was enough leg room to sit like a pacha. Back at the train station, the lady at the information desk had a turnaround computer screen that displayed required information in any option of several languages. Signs to where you could exchange money were clearly visible, and each platform had a massive display screen with info on when the next train would arrive, where it would go to, and how long it would take to get there.

Passengers on the train were quiet and the sight outside the window was dominated by wild forests as far as the eyes could see, with the exception of the occasional house, or group of houses, and the small town train stop.

After reaching Lodz, a good hour earlier than when I was supposed to meet Dariusz -my contact person from the Art Academy- I decide to hop into a cab and head to the academy myself; a large modern building with a glass facade made up of an orange aluminum grid, built atop of a small hill surrounded by forests and greenery. The main road down the hill, and the surrounding cityscapes, are but a 3 minute walk away. I walk through the front door of the building, and go up to the first person I see, the lady at the coat rack counter and I ask where I could find Dariusz Kaca. The lady, who obviously can't speak English, directs me to someone else, who takes me to an office where an elderly man sits behind a desk. I give him my residency letter and point out Darius Kaca's name. He asks me to sit down and makes a quick phone call. After some mumbling I don't understand, I can make out he's pointing upwards, does "4" with his fingers, and the word "restaurant."

I make my way out of his office towards where I suspect the flight of stairs and elevator are. On the way, I see a number of computer screens and keyboards aligned against a wall which I suspect have internet access. Apparently I'm right and I'm able to check my email, where I find one last unread email from Dariusz writing me his phone number. I SMS him to let him know I'm waiting in the restaurant at the academy upstairs, and through the elevator I go.

The hip-designed restaurant of this public, almost-free Polish school is inviting with its white tables and red chairs and filled with students who make the kids from the American University in Cairo look bad. The minute I walk in, I feel like the music has almost stopped for a second, and everyone at the restaurant looks up at me. I'm not sure if it's because I'm carrying two bags or if its because I look like I've taken a flight from Cairo to Moscow to Warsaw before taking a train to Lodz.

I find myself an empty seat and get lost in a book until Dariusz shows up, and greets me and welcomes me with the warmth of the world. A cup of coffee later, he's enthusiastic to show me the academy's many facilities, and a little while later, I understand why; the graphics department is divided into many different printing studios with the coolest of manual printing equipment, with students working away at woodcuts, lithography, and screen-printing. As we walk further through the building, I can see through one of the windows a typography class at work, with posters featuring big type on the walls. The multimedia department is equipped with the latest macs and a library of well-selected books and DVDs. Textile department proudly displays uber funky textile experiments and clothes along the walls of the corridors. Sculpture has many sculptures, from the detailed classical to the more gesture-based contemporary. Sketches and ideas adorn the corridors of the product design section. All the work I see is very skillful, technically capable, and very inspiring.

These are not signs of a poor country and it would be unfair to call this one poor. Either that, or Egypt is absolutely shit poor and I have never felt sadder for it in my life.

#2: Poland is boring.

The second day, Dariusz takes me to an off-campus exhibition of "small works" by the students at a place near the center of town. Some of the students going to another show afterwards ask me to join, after which we go and hang at one of their flats, which as it turns out isn't too far from my flat, which is just across the street from the academy. Music, drinks, tea, traditional Polish pickles, shits and giggles, and an exchange of dirty words from one another's cultures makes the night a blast. When they run out of vodka, decisions are made to walk to another student's flat and continue the night there, where we also have traditional Polish soup.

If on the second day of being in a new country you're invited to two people's flats, I'd say calling them boring is just wrong, which isn't the same I could say for most of the Dutch.

The following day, I meet up with Lukasz, a teacher from multimedia who had also spent some time in Alexandria as part of the Radius program, and he takes me into town where we walk around and see the sights and eventually to his favorite coffee place, which not only serves some exquisitely brewed coffee but also exhibits fine photography works on its walls, and regularly screens interesting films and videos. Later in the night we meet up with his wife Gosha and friend Magda for an exhibition of a variety of works at Lodz's popular Manhattan Gallery and for some proper bar/club hopping afterwards, one of which was called the Iron Horse, which was the hangout for hardcore motorcycle-loving rocker types.

#3: Poland is intolerant.

Before meeting with Lukasz, I figured I'd try my luck at finding a nearby grocery store and picking up some necessary food, shaving cream, and shampoo and whatnot. I find my way to a small store and try to communicate my needs to the lady there, who, as it turns out, cannot speak English. I manage to communicate a few things to her while she constantly replies back in Polish as she brings me these things and we're both laughing simultaneously, not exactly sure what about. When I start asking for things that she really can't understand, it looks like she says "one moment" in Polish and then makes a call on her cellphone. She hangs up and says these long sentences in Polish to which I say "tak, tak?" -which is polish for yes, yes?- and she goes off laughing and says some more long sentences until who I think is her daughter walks through the door, and with a perfect command of English asks "so, how can I help you?"

I ask for some things and as she fetches them she seems to have a pleasant smile the whole time and she asks me "so where are you from?"

"Egypt," I say.

Her eyes glitter with excitement and surprise as she reacts "Wooow! Egypt? I LOVE EGYPT!!!"

Even though she's never been.

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photo by: kamja