MISJA 21: Podróż dookoła Polski w 21 dni Euro

Nasi wysłannicy z Londynu i Łodzi - Petter Larsson z City University i Maciej Stańczyk z Gazety Wyborczej - przemierzają kraj w poszukiwaniu największego sukcesu i porażki Mistrzostw Europy w Piłce Nożnej UEFA - Euro 2012.

Kielce - Habib Msallem

  • czwartek, 30 czerwca 2011
    • Is Kielce ready? Is Poland ready?

      If I were to believe all the news reports in the UK at the moment, then the answer to the second of those two questions above would be no. But the TV cameras only care about what they can see, and all they can see are stadiums. Not being based in one of the host cities I’m unable to pass judgement on the current status of the stadiums being built in preparation for the Euros. However, the purpose of my journey to Poland was to find out whether Polish people, and Poland as whole, seem ready to host a mega international event.

      I can say with some certainty that yes, Poland is ready. Polish people were very welcoming to me and I can imagine this hospitality will be generously extended to the masses of football fans who descend on the country come June next year. Although a little rough around the edges, Polish public transport does function and function pretty well at that. Granted I didn’t experience the worst that Polish roads had to offer, but the highways and roads that I did see were all functioning and many were under construction so they’ll be ready well in time for next year.

      The country seems to be coping well with the rapid growth and construction it’s trying to undertake in preparation for being the centre of Europe’s attention for two weeks. The majority of Polish people I spoke with seemed genuinely excited that their country is hosting such an event. Most are eager to show the rest of Europe the developments that have been made since the fall of communism.

      Although Kielce is experiencing the same construction works as many other Polish towns and cities, I believe it more ready than most to host tourists. Although I’m sure my view of things my have been slightly tinted due to my receiving special treatment in certain cases, like when I entered tourist information and had three ladies virtually waiting on me hand and foot. Though the bottom line is that the majority of the time, nothing seemed to big an ask for my hosts who were happy to help in all situations. From Polish bars and clubs to Polish restaurants, tourist attractions and that famous Polish hospitality, Poland is ready!

      Although players from the warmer corners of our continent should watch out for the indecisive weather Poland serves up even in its Summer months. That may be rich coming from an Englishman but when it rains here (in London), it rains. Whereas in Poland, the temperature seems able to jump from one end of the thermometer to the other and let rain hail down at sudden intervals in the process.

      All that’s left to do is wish Poland good luck next year in hosting and taking part in Euro 2012 and thank all the people who made my stay in Poland a memorable one.

      Thanks you!

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      czwartek, 30 czerwca 2011 17:58
    • Favourite spots in Kielce

      Before I make I post my last entry on whether I think Kielce and Poland are ready to host a major competition like Euro 2012, I’d just like to give a proper post on the tourist spots I was able to visit during my time in Kielce.

      During my time in Kielce I was able to visit some amazing landmarks and see some beautiful sights. Within the first few days of my visit some history students from the local university contacted me and were more than generous in the time they dedicated to showing me and teaching me about their city. Their knowledge and insight as history students was probably better than any tour guide could have afforded me.

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

       

      The day after I took the bus out to Checiny Castle I went with two of the history students I’d met previously to see the Swiety Krzyz (Holy Cross). After the long, hard climb up Holy Cross Mountain the views were unlike anything I’d seen in Poland up until that point. Although on first impression the Polish countryside much resembles the English countryside, there are some subtle differences. The random groupings of pine forestry besides rolling hills and mountains isn’t something you see very often back home. Neither are lines of housing alongside main roads purely as matter of convenience, or multi-coloured patchwork fields because Polish families often own only small chunks of land and therefore different crops bring differing colours, all making for a unique view.

      Relating this all back to Euro 2012 and tourism in general; seeing such beautiful views in and around Kielce has shown me that Poland has other things to offer football fans next year. The country could establish itself as a nation with activities and sights outside of the infamous Auschwitz and the nightlife of Krakow. All it needs to do now is make these attractions known to outsiders so they have something else to when they’re not watching football in 2012.

      

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      czwartek, 30 czerwca 2011 17:55
  • piątek, 24 czerwca 2011
    • Kielce's character

      I’ve grown quite fond of Kielce during my stay here. At first, seeing the outskirts of town, the worn buildings, the construction work and the housing estates, I wasn’t sure my time here would be that fruitful let alone enjoyable. But I can proudly pronounce that I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

      On first impressions places like the bus shelter seem worn and slightly ugly (see below). Locals refer to the PKS station as the saucer because, yes you guessed it, it looks unerringly similar to a U.F.O. The inside is slightly better, although don’t expect too much information from the huge schedule chart up on the wall, apparently the locals can’t even make sense of it. However, the lady at information is very helpful and although she doesn’t speak English, explaining to her where you need to go and asking at which platform you should stand is all very easy. The buses themselves are much the same as the station; rusting on the outside but just like any regular buses on the inside.

      My first full day here last Sunday was even less promising than my arrival as I was practically the only person walking the streets, not knowing that a combination of the day of rest (Sunday) and bad weather makes for Poles staying home. But as the good weather kicked in these past two days the streets have gradually begun to fill.

      Perusing through the city’s high street and well-kept parks made me understand how someone could easily enjoy life here because at first, I’ll be honest, I struggled to understand why anyone wouldn’t want to leave for bigger domestic or international cities. As a Londoner it’s refreshing not to leave my doorstep to traffic booming in all directions and people in a constant rush to meet the demands of city life.

      Kielce has it’s own unique character that has really shone through over the past few days. The annual festival of Kielce city began today and will continue throughout the weekend. The market stalls that now flood the main high street began setting up shop earlier in the week, so there’s been a slowly increasing buzz around town that was heightened by the beginning of school holidays and of course the Corpus Christi celebrations yesterday.

      The atmosphere in town, and especially in Rynek square, is a warm and friendly one. It’s the kind of feeling you don’t really come across in London because it’s such a big city, rarely do you feel part of such a spirited community who wishes to celebrate its rich history. That’s not to say London doesn’t have big cultural events, it’s just that ours don’t have the warmth that’s being emitted by Kielce right now.

      I think that’s quite enough of all this mushy stuff. Kielce, it’s been great and here’s to a smashing (couldn’t think of a word less British) last night!

      

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      piątek, 24 czerwca 2011 14:29
    • Dodgy characters in Kielce

      I had my first genuinely discomforting experience in Poland yesterday. Funny, perhaps, that it should fall on the holiday of Corpus Christi, a time when most people in Kielce seem to be celebrating with the church and their families and rejoicing over a day off work.

      When I came across the English man I interviewed in my last post, we sat in a nearby pub to talk. After ordering our drinks we went outside and I began to ask questions and make notes. The topic of racism cropped up in our conversation. Fergus even told me that he used one of my posts – which observed some people looking at me with interest as I walked the streets – to discuss the issue of multiculturalism and racism with students in his English class. He told me that ten years ago in Kielce people definitely would have stared at me or any other darker skinned person as they walked the streets. He also told me that things are changing. The emergence of Turkish owned kebab shops and a small influx of Asian workers has opened the minds of many Poles who are now accustomed to seeing the occasional brown face around town.

      However, as we spoke three men passed through the pub garden and seemed to gesture towards us. Later, one of them came over to ask if Fergus – who was wearing a slightly conspicuous leather jacket that could, I suppose, be taken as some sort of detective style of dress – was a policeman. When he replied in Polish that he was not, the two of them spoke for a while before the man’s phone started ringing. When he took the call Fergus told me that he thought we were being asked “politely to piss off.” However, later he admitted that he was probably overreacting and that the man just wanted to talk with us.

      When the man returned he explained to Fergus how policeman drink in different pubs: "They have their pubs and we have ours."

      In all my experience of racism it has to be said that the man in question fit the bill physically in comparison to racists I’ve come across in the past. Call me prejudice for judging someone on appearance like that but when it comes to these matters, in a foreign country, I’d rather be wrong and keep my health than be right and face the consequences.

      Things became a little more uncomfortable for me when the man started referring to myself and Fergus as foreigners. As dramatic as what I’m about to say sounds the scene wasn’t actually that threatening but after all the rumours I’d heard about Poland I was pretty much ready for anything; so I discreetly put my pad and pen in my bag and prepared myself should the man become a little aggressive.

      Fergus continued talking with him but was clearly uncomfortable with the conversation and was only translating to me half of what the man was saying. Perhaps it’ll add some context to his character if I mention that the man told us that for Poland to advance economically and increase the flow of tourists, it should become the new Amsterdam in allowing the sales and use of marijuana. He also spoke of his resentment towards the English who, in his view, treat Poles badly. When I asked if he’d ever been to England his answer was simple: “No.”

      What made me most uncomfortable while sitting there observing the man as he spoke, was the way in which he avoided eye contact with me even when I directed my speech at him. The few times he did look my way it was with a kind of disdain that I’d seen before. I got the feeling he lacked respect for me.

      When the man called over his friend I knew my time in the pub was coming to an end. Growing up in London, especially throughout my teenage years, I can’t count the number of times I’ve found myself in predicaments involving hostile characters who outnumber me and my friends. One of the biggest signs that things are about to turn sour is when they call over a friend of theirs. It usually means this friend is going to come over, play the big-shot character and investigate what’s going on. This rather chubby friend, who looked just as unfriendly as the first man, stood a little too close behind my shoulders for my liking, so feeling as though I was in a vulnerable position, I stood up. Although I don’t know what was said for sure, Fergus later told me they weren’t happy about the abrupt manner in which we were leaving and decided to make their feelings known. Fergus may have felt comfortable that he could talk his way out of the situation and any hard feelings that were expressed but being totally unaware of what was being said all I had to go by was body language and instinct.

      In London I probably would have stuck around, but in a foreign country, where I don’t know the streets that well or the local customs, I didn’t fancy getting in to any kind of altercation. That being said though, I wasn’t about to let the first man we spoke to feel as though he could intimidate me so when he spoke in my direction I looked him straight in the eye and remained relaxed, slouched back in my seat until we decided it would be best to leave.

      The chubby friend who approached just before we left asked in a menacing and somewhat surprised manner “Are you English?” as he pointed at me. I nodded before casually leaving the pub, not wanting to see how much further his basic English skills stretched.

       

      I couldn’t help but wonder how the first young man would feel if it were he who was in my city, and if it were he who found himself in a hostile environment surrounded by young men all of ethnic minorities. I’m sure he listens to the occasional rap song, in fact being from Kielce, I’m quite positive he’s a big fan of rap. I’m sure he was a fan of Ronaldo, Zidane and other famous athletes from “ethnic” backgrounds. So why does he feel the need to act hostile and tough in the face of a “coloured” person, and even make the brash statement that he doesn’t like foreigners?  

      Of course I’m attempting the impossible here, which is to explain ignorance, and it’s obvious that ignorance of this manner holds no logic. I guess I’m just a little disappointed. My stay in Kielce is coming to an end and even though I’ve had negatives to point out during my time here, most of them have been minor points that suggest Kielce is nothing but a little rough around the edges. My time here has been thoroughly enjoyable and the experience overwhelmingly positive. What a shame. I just wish I could have understood everything that was said in the pub, but maybe it’s for the best that I couldn’t. I’m a fairly calm person but like many I don’t react well in the face of ignorance and especially racism.

      It did make me chuckle that the man in question had a Nike polo shirt on. Not just any Nike polo but one that comes with a little TW logo on the sleeve. I wonder if he knows that TW represents the initials of a foreigner. A mixed African-American and Asian man to be exact.

      

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      piątek, 24 czerwca 2011 09:40
    • Interview with an Englishman living in Kielce

      As I walked the streets of Kielce yesterday morning, hoping to come across the Corpus Christi procession, I was also trying to think of someone from the town who would be worth interviewing. After walking the length and breadth of Kielce in search of anything that even slightly resembled a gathering of people I had found nothing and so decided to head back to my hotel a defeated man. On my way back, however, just as I was about to turn off down the street of my hotel I noticed the number of people walking towards me gradually increase. Within a few seconds it became obvious I was walking in the wrong direction against the hoards of people now heading my way, so I decided to step aside and get a clearer view of the crowds as they passed.

      (Apologies for the poor quality photo but my camera’s run out of battery and the charger is no where to be seen, so these are ipod shots)

      Out of the corner of my eye I noticed one other person walking against the crowd; a man in a leather jacket who didn’t look like your typical Pole. As it turned out he wasn’t your typical Pole, but an English man from Startford Upon Avon. His name, Fergous Mahon, and he’s been living in Poland for 13 years and in Kielce for 11.

      Mahon teaches English in one of Kielce’s many language schools and told me it was completely by chance that he ended up here. “I’d been living and working in Germany when, by chance, I got offered a job here, and I’ve been here pretty much ever since.”

      Although he said he has mixed feelings towards Kielce he said he enjoys living here: “The towns not too big so everything is easily reachable and it’s never too busy. Also I’m a keen cyclist and the region is great for that.”

      The first thing that obviously crossed my mind as the huge procession passed us by was the question of Catholicism and its role in everyday life in Kielce. According to Mahon it still plays a major part in everything from marriage to politics. “A Jewish friend of mine who’s not from Poland had a bit struggle when he wanted to marry a Polish girl. He actually had to covert to Catholicism and attend educational classes about the religion.” It comes as no surprise that religion plays a huge role in politics too. With 95 per cent of Poles identifying themselves as Catholic, it would be political suicide for a party to admit to being anything but Catholic.

      When the topic of modernisation and EU money was raised I expressed delight in the rapid rate at which the city seems to be developing. However, Mahon told me the city could actually be far more developed than it currently is. “The town’s really been dragging its heels throughout this whole process. Other western, and even eastern, Polish towns of the same size are actually a lot further ahead in development and it’s only recently that the city’s really got going.”

      Kielce has come a long way in ten years according to the Englishman.

      “Ten years ago Kielce was actually viewed as one of the most dangerous places in Poland.”

      There was a play on words that rappers from Kielce used quite a lot and it’s ‘Scyzoryki’, which basically means penknife. It’s in reference to the city’s reputation for knife crime all those years back.”

      However, this is all of the past and by walking the calm streets of Kielce today it’s impossible to think that such crime ever existed here. The people are laid-back and until later on that same day, I’d yet to see anything even remotely resembling threatening behaviour from youths. Mahon confirmed my thoughts on Polish people: “They’re really friendly people. I’ve had virtually no problems with them whatsoever and although I spend most of my time with the small expat community here in town, that doesn’t bare any reflection of my views towards Polish people.”

      “In terms of things like racism, yes sometimes a student in one of my classes will make the odd misplaced comment but it’s usually nothing but not well thought out. For example, one minute a student will be praising some American rapper and the next he’ll be passing comment on ‘niggers’, so you see it’s just lack of thought.”

      As Poland moves forward economically, the people of Kielce have had more interaction with other ethnicities. Korona Kielce, the local football team, has often signed players from abroad, most notably Edson “Eddy” Luis da Silva of Brazil. “Oh yes, they’ve had some black players, there was Eddy. But as you can imagine, everyone loved Eddy when everything was going well, when he was scoring, however, things weren’t quite the same when Eddy wasn’t as prolific.”

      The city’s acceptance and knowledge of other cultures and societies appears to being growing in tandem with education. “Education is on the rise and I think the figure is 20 per cent of school leavers are now going on to higher education which puts the region sixth nationally on that scale.”

      After spending a fair amount of time with History students and teachers of Kielce’s university I’d been informed that degrees and masters were a common thing in this town, Mahon said: “Everyone at university here aims to do a five year stint and get a masters. The trend here for getting educated has definitely risen in the past 15 years.”

      It therefore comes as no surprise that the city experiences somewhat of a job shortage for these over-qualified graduates who are forced to seek work in some Poland’s bigger cities. Mahon said: “Yes at the moment the city’s economic growth needs to catch up with the demand for jobs.”

      As we wandered through the main high street, Henryka Sienkiewicza, we past the closed tourist information office, something which annoyed him to the point of laughter, “That just shouldn’t be the case on a day like this.” A day like this being the holiday of Corpus Christi on which all kind of events were set to take place across town.

      Mahon and I parted ways on a positive note: “I enjoy the lifestyle I have here. My pay is fairly good and I like my job. I go back to England roughly once a year but can’t say I miss it much. I can see myself staying here for the foreseeable future.”

      

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      piątek, 24 czerwca 2011 09:22
  • czwartek, 23 czerwca 2011
    • Osama VS Obama kebab shop, this time it’s personal!

      Check it out.

      Whoever came up with that piece of marketing genius deserves some sort of award that’s handed out for such things.

      The Osama menu: filled with delicious Middle Eastern-themed dishes that can be found in any Turkish kebab shop in London.

      The Obama menu: packed with American classics from fried chicken to hamburgers.

      Who wins? That’s not for me to say since I only tried one option that just so happened to be from the Osama side of the menu. Draw from that what you want but I’ll set things straight and say I just didn’t feel like eating chicken.

      The kebab itself was pretty good, up there with the Super Kebabs – see Dalston, Hackney – of the world, and the place itself seemed really clean. I don’t think Poland’s kebab culture has developed enough yet to experience the grotty caves, teeming with cockroaches and other pests, that we sometimes refer to as kebab shops in London.

      I guess the whole theme of the shop as been somewhat undermined by recent events. The Osama menu may be more appealing but I think most of us would agree that Obama had the last laugh.

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      czwartek, 23 czerwca 2011 22:03
  • środa, 22 czerwca 2011
    • Polish hospitality

      Of the Polish people that I’ve interacted with and had proper conversations with, most agree their fellow Poles are extremely hospitable and kind. However, I experienced my first taste of Polish hospitality turning sour yesterday. When trying to buy a bus ticket, something that is normally easily achievable through the word “autobus” and accompanying hand signals, a woman in a local kiosk was quite rude and abrupt in telling me she didn’t have it. I’m quite certain she had no interest in even attempting to understand me. I’d barely opened my mouth before she started talking, saying what I later found to be: “I don’t have, I don’t have.” 

      As a tourist I really can’t understand this mentality. I have money and I have a memory. Why wouldn’t a shop worker want to put in the slightest bit of effort to relieve me of my cash? And perhaps more importantly, why would they risk their reputation amongst tourists by acting rudely? I understand of course not everyone is going to be polite to me during my visit here in Poland but I have noticed that many Poles are either extremely welcoming and forward in their attempts to help me, or quite rude and dismissive.

      Hosting such a huge sporting event will draw in crowds from far and wide and average Poles, such as shopkeepers, can’t afford to lose business and harm the image of their country in the face of tourists, especially if they wish for the Polish economy and infrastructure to keep on developing at the rate it currently is.

      Later that day I dealt with an older man at another kiosk and he couldn’t understand a single word I said. Yet he gathered perfectly well that I needed four bus tickets and he was very prompt and polite in giving them to me. Sometimes it’s not the language barrier that counts in situations that involve tourists. Yes, some people will say that Poles need to improve their English skills if they are to progress economically and host more events in the future. I, however, don’t feel strongly that Polish people should have to learn English. It may help them economically but it would be an arrogant statement to make if I were to say Polish people must all speak English. 

      Effort and understanding go a long way when dealing with tourists. Nations that are used to playing host to hoards of English and American tourists have mastered the art of being patient and empathising with tourist’s needs. All Polish people need to learn to do just that, and this is much more valuable than simply learning the English language.

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      środa, 22 czerwca 2011 20:02

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