(An excerpt from my book 'Life Realized')
To Make Dreams Come True
..... I was at the airport dreading the thought of embarking the plane. This wasn’t because I was afraid of flying. Terrorists’ attacks had never intimidated me either. The real terror I’ve been trying to avoid for so long was in finding myself back home. Facing my family after all these years, completely broke financially, and after all still pregnant, could not be easy. I didn’t want to go there and yet I was headed that direction. Nobody was really forcing me, and yet, I chose to go there. I wasn’t expecting for anyone to welcome me with understanding since I wasn’t even understanding myself, or my actions. Total defeat and total surrender was the state I was in. Embarrassment, interlaced with the highest sense of insecurity was governing my mood. At the same time I was excited about the thought of seeing my family for the first time in ten years. Some new family members I had to yet meet. Being in such a vulnerable state I was hoping I would find some moral support.
My youngest sisters came with my brother in law to pick me up from the airport. Magdalena and Monika weren’t the two little girls I remembered. They were all dressed sexy and they kept giggling at the sight of my amusement with them.
“So, you thought we’d stay little forever?” They were teasing me on our long drive back home. The road was covered with snow and my brother in law; Marta’s husband had to drive real slow. While chatting with my family, I observed my mother land. The cold weather, so characteristic to this part of the world was taking me into my past. Everything else was different; the new beautiful homes everywhere, the new businesses, new cars on the road and even people were less gray than I used to remember. The new population, armed with their cell phones, was giving me an impression of more uplifted country, more in a hurry of gaining what had been lost in the past under the Russian regime. There was no sight left of the Communism from the old days, and it looked like the nation was doing everything possible to make sure that the history would not repeat itself. Also traveling had been made so easy since Poland became part of European Union. You could almost smell a sense of freedom in the air, a freedom that was denied for so long and for which “my” people had to fight for. The fear that used to dominate the atmosphere and the people in the old days was nowhere to be found. It felt good to see all this change. For the first time in my life I didn’t mind at all to be Polish. I was no longer embarrassed of my roots, and that felt well too. I was actually appreciating my origins and this was new to me. I was feeling little bit guilty for not having faith in my country and for judging it so harshly before. I felt very humble.
My family welcomed me the best way they knew how. It felt like they were shocked and concerned with my new situation. It felt as if they weren’t allowing themselves to be too affectionate with me. I didn’t feel understood, and if it wasn’t for my youngest siblings, I would have felt completely lost. In the eyes of my older siblings, I was messing up my life and I needed tough love for a wake-up-call. Everybody had their lives put together somehow and according to my family it was my turn to do the same. I was different, I was making them worry and my selfish way of living life was bringing me misery. Being seen this way was like visiting my childhood, like reliving my worst nightmares. I loved my family and I hated how I was never able to feel part of it for real. In attempt not to hurt anybody’s feelings, so I wouldn’t have to regret that later, I decided to keep my disappointment inside me. I was afraid to say anything just like I was afraid not to say anything. The level of discomfort kept rising, until two weeks later, I bought a one way ticket to Athens to visit the rest of my family and to see if things would be different there, but they weren’t. Still pregnant, knowing that slowly, but surely my baby was leaving my body, I was at the edge of losing my mind. The accumulation of emotional pains I was feeling was more than I felt I could handle. I kept calling Ahmed on regular basis. It felt humiliating how desperate I was. He would always limit himself to reassuring me that Rex and Nel were doing fine. He’d make them whine by talking to them in baby voice so I could hear it for myself that they were fine. He seemed to enjoy the empowerment he felt due to a total sense of control he now had over me. He had my precious dogs and now my heart too in his hands. There was nothing good about being in such vulnerable position and not knowing how to get out of it. Hearing from everyone around that I was the one responsible and the one to be blamed for everything was not giving me wings either. I wanted so bad not to exist but not bad enough to pollute my mind with harmful thoughts.
I needed some trace of hope. Going to Africa was the only thing that made any sense to me. To help even if only few small children and to change their lives forever were going to be my medicine and solution for my broken life and my broken heart. I found nothing noble in my decision; it was simply a matter of business. In my understanding, the Law of the Universe said that whenever we want something we can get it the fastest way if we provide such thing to someone else that needs the same thing. So, if we want to be happy -- we need to make someone else happy. If we want more money -- we need to give some to those who need money as well. I tried this approach in the past few times with Teddy and almost immediately it brought me quite astonishing results. I was now so determined to create a better life that I made myself believe that this was the only way for me to go about things.
What exactly did I want now the most?
I wanted not to have to struggle anymore. I wanted desperately for my life to change for better and for good this time. I needed to have a sense of security. By now, I seemed to have embraced the fact that true happiness did not depend on anything or anybody that was outside of me. At the same time I didn’t believe that renouncing everything and living in a cave on a mountain would bring me closer to such state of Self-Realization that I’ve been longing for. It was a confusing matter to me; no doubt. Could I do everything that was in my power to make my dreams come true, and at the same time, could I remain detached from the expectations of the outcome that I desired? And what exactly was in my power? Certainly the numerous attempts of changing my own life, no matter what approach I assumed, had failed, right? So what was the point of keeping on going in that direction? Why would I keep on slamming my head against the wall and keep expecting different results? I sure didn’t like the thought of waking up one day, old and all wrinkly, and having no other choice but to accept the fact that my methods did not produce the results I had in mind. So what exactly could I do differently this time? What was it that I haven’t done yet? If I’ve failed at changing my own life in a definite way, did I have what it takes to change someone else’s life in such way? Could I make somebody else’s dreams come true? Somebody’s who needs it real bad and who’s not in a position of obtaining it on its own. Could I give up and reject completely the so popular, and so much believed in conviction, that in order to be able to help others we MUST help ourselves FIRST? I could… Maybe it was time to change. Maybe it was time to say to myself: 'Fuck the fear caused by the lack of conformity from around'! Maybe it was time for me to go to Africa; find some children that were living on the street, and buy them that damn house somehow! It could be a group of children, perhaps siblings, where the oldest of them being a teenager, would be able to take care of the new household.
..... “They found them.” Fan translated to me.
“What do you mean? They found the kids? Where are they?” I asked. I leaned towards the door and I saw four small children. The two girls and the two boys looked scared and insecure. They stared at me with their mouths open. The clothes they were wearing were better suited for rags. All four of them were barefoot. Their small bodies were as dirty and as neglected as their wardrobe. Their coarse hair was way pass due for hair cut, which was distinguishing them from the rest of the population. Their dark skin was very dried and overall they looked exhausted and dehydrated. The women tried to express their gratitude while I was unlocking the door of the room designated as our kitchen. I was still pretty much in shock.
“Oh my goodness.” My famous phrase was the only thing I could really say. I was in disbelief how happy I was feeling. I had in my hands the lives of four precious and innocent children. I had the power to shape their destiny. I had the power to take their struggle away. I had what was needed to make a difference. In that moment I felt enormous gratitude towards Elisha and Fan particularly.
The women dispensed the candies we bought. Fan made some modest sandwiches and everybody ate in a hurry. Without wasting time we started to prepare the children for their baths. Fan kept boiling the water in a single pan. There was no stove so she had to do it on a borrowed from our neighbor coal operated kettle. The eagerness in which the children formed the line to take the bath in the small plastic mixing bowl surprised me. The women were laughing out loud at my amusement. Children’s street-learned confidence was now erasing the fear from their faces. They looked fully engaged and a little bit still in disbelief. Watching them you could see what full appreciation meant. I had never seen children whose desire to be scrubbed was so vividly written on their faces! Their heart touching way of checking if all the dirty spots were gone was amazing to me. The athlete-boy from the shed kept videotaping all this so I could post it online. It was quite a commotion taking place in our barrack. Later in the evening, when everybody else left, things calmed down a little bit, but the excitement stayed present. The children dressed in my old clothes were jumping and bouncing of their new mattresses that were still wrapped around with the plastic packaging. They were trying to stand on their heads while kicking their feet in the air.
“What are they saying?” I kept asking Fan to translate.
“Denis is saying that this is his mattress and they are not allowed to come near his area.” She informed me and we laughed. Denis and Joan were siblings and they looked the part. Denis was a strong and loud boy and you could immediately tell that he served as pack leader until now. He was what we estimated about nine years old, but because of lack of nutrients all these children’s heights didn’t exceed the height of a five year old. While picking my clothes Denis made sure that he got the jacket that had “Fire Department” written on the back. He practically ripped it out of my hand when I pointed it at him. His sister Joan was more reserved. She had incredibly piercing look in her eyes. Even though I was going to treat all children equally, I could sense that this girl was going to have a special place in my heart. It wasn’t because of her left hand being deprived of few fingers. It was how smart she appeared to be and how serious she was about the role she assumed of protecting her “street” family. She was about eight years old. The other two kids were also a couple of siblings. Elizabeth was Joan’s age, and Laban might have been six years old. The boy smiled a lot and he liked acting silly. At the time I still didn’t know that blood-sucking parasites were responsible for the round shape of his pronounced stomach. Elizabeth looked like she was afraid to fully trust anyone and she acted as if her job description was to be on a constant look out for the bad things. She was constantly alert. I could not describe the emotions I felt while observing those children finally falling asleep from exhaustion. Joan’s eye-lids were only half way closed, even though she was sound asleep! It was as if she wasn’t convinced quite yet that they were all completely safe. Or perhaps her mind was resisting the idea of going to sleep, too afraid to discover that all this was nothing but a dream.
“Oh my God. That’s how they’ve learned how to sleep on the street, isn’t it?” I whispered to Fan.
“Must be. Can you imagine?” She was as touched as I was.
Furniture-wise our bedroom was empty except for the mattresses that we placed directly on the pavement. The mattresses itself were single size and they were very thin. The thicker mattresses cost twice as much and that was something I didn’t feel like we could afford. Each of us had one new blanket that wasn’t generating enough heat in this raining season that began to cool the air at night. We had the lights though. What a treat that was!
“What do you think their life looked like until now?” I asked my friend. We were lying down while enjoying the view of the children sound asleep. Despite the chilly rain pounding against the roof loudly there was warmth and coziness inside the bedroom. Fan had left the kettle that still had reddish coals in it. Sensitive to cold, I was still wearing my jacket in bed.
“They had a rough life. That’s for sure.” She stated.
“I mean I had no home and I had to face some harsh reality of being on my own, but I was like fifteen then, not nine or six years old. How on earth were these kids able to take care of themselves?” I tried to imagine being in their position.
“Not just that. I wouldn’t be surprised if Joan and Elizabeth had to protect themselves from the advances some older homeless boys were probably making on them. It‘s unfortunate but these kind of things happen.” She said.
“Gee. I don’t even wanna think about it.” I looked around the room. The kids were sleeping on their stomachs completely immersed under the blankets. Through them I was feeling the deepest appreciation a human being can experience. By imagining being one of them I could sense the relief that comes from knowing that you are safe. The knowing that you are loved and that you are not forgotten, that your life matters, that YOU matter.
“They’re really happy Elzbieta. They’re really happy.” Fan smiled. She looked just as content and just as peaceful. This woman’s dedication and her big heart were very inspiring. She had mastered her own ways of handling everyday tasks with very little resources. She was very strong minded, yet she knew how to remain flexible and diplomatic. She was a born leader. She had a clear vision of how she wanted to make changes, and boy, was she faithful to that vision. She wasn’t showing any discouragement caused by her position, as she was convinced that I was the answer to her prayers. She was prepared to do anything it took, including soothing my sometimes neurotic character, and she wasn’t afraid of taking the load of pressure onto her shoulders. Her strong belief that anything could be accomplished if desired bad enough and her expectations for success were responsible for her driven attitude. In her mind there were no limiting boundaries or challenges big enough that couldn’t be overcome. In many ways the two of us had a similar way of thinking. We both were extremely motivated with our new project and we both kept motivating each other. It was nice for a change to work with someone who had similar goals/intentions and similar attitude. Honest care from the heart, readiness to go extra mile, willingness to sacrifice, willingness to do whatever it takes, as well as “never give up” attitude were the pillars of the foundation we were forming.
The Forgotten One
The following day started almost as regular as any day would start in a regular home. Children woke up excited. Their faces had that cute expression that said: “What is today going to be all about?” They kept jumping on their mattresses while Fan was preparing breakfast.
“What are they arguing about?” I inquired.
“Oh, the girls are getting mad at boys for messing up their new clothes.” Fan laughed. I watched Joan and Elizabeth folding the few skirts and shirts that I once wore.
“You better be niiiiiicccce!” I shook my index finger towards the boys. The kids giggled and then went back to their new routine of jumping, giggling and arguing. I went back to editing our new videos. The portable internet we purchased wasn’t fast enough to upload the movies to youtube, so I decided to put them all on disc, and mailed it to Marek. He agreed that he would handle that for me from Holland. While working with my laptop, I’d paused from time to time in order to feed children’s curiosity. They’d form a circle around me to see the images of themselves in movies we shot.
They continued to laugh while commenting out loud. From the pointing of fingers followed by giggles and soft punching, I could tell they were making fun among themselves. Based on the direction of those index fingers and the looks, I could tell that I was not safe from the comments either. I kept smiling while enjoying their reactions. Later on Elizabeth started to pull softly on my long hair. Seeing no objection coming from me, Joan joined her immediately in their new play. Denis and Laban giggled shyly from the safe distance as though not sure if their sisters weren’t crossing some boundary line. The soft touch of girls’ small fingers was having a soothing effect on me. Even though I didn’t speak Swahili, I could tell that they were talking about my hair. They had a dreamy look in their eyes while feeling the soft texture of it. They argued about the length of it while pressing the ends towards my back. Elizabeth playfully placed the pony tail she made over her own head. Everybody laughed at her new look. The kids kept investigating my head with Columbus-like curiosity. They were pressing hard on my skull to see better the dark roots of my bleached hair. I wished I could understand the explanations for my multi-colored look that they were giving to each other. The girls were doing the talking and the boys sat there with open mouths, while playing with their toes. Filled with affection; Joan’s and Elizabeth’s caresses felt like sincere expressions of deepest gratitude. I could also tell that I was being an important role-model in their eyes. While still remaining very respectful, the children were feeling comfortable around me. I was enjoying their presence and the ongoing discoveries of their personalities. They were making me smile, rarely without laughing.
In the afternoon Fan and I headed towards town again. Between Juliana, her oldest daughter and our athlete-boy, we didn’t have to worry about children being left alone. On the way back home we noticed that there was a commotion going on. Our new kids were rushing to show us their new shoes that were sponsored by Juliana and few other locals. The kids were stepping in funny ways as to present their dexterity in them.
“Oh my goodness. This is wonderful. Thanks Juliana, that’s very sweet of you guys.” I felt so glad that these people were not expecting for me to solve all the problems. As we entered the kitchen we saw among few other women a small, maybe five year old girl. She stood there with that same insecure and lost look on her face the way the pair of siblings did the day before. She looked like she was about to cry. Fan immediately started to translate:
“This is Winnie. She was at the market all alone and crying. She was part of the group. All five of them used to hang together. She separated from them for a moment yesterday and then she couldn’t find them anymore since we brought them here.” I was listening carefully. I felt bad for Winnie but at the same time I wanted to make sure that we weren’t being scammed. Fan warned me that if people were under the impression that we were some major charity; led by desperation many women would literally drop their offspring at our door. She explained to me that Juliana confirmed Winnie’s belonging to the “pack”.
“OK well; now we have five of them.” I said causing obvious sense of relief in everybody. I was being very strict as for the number of children in our household and everybody knew the reason for it. It wasn’t because of the money only and the costs related to raising high number of children. I simply didn’t believe in creating an orphanage. This wasn’t my goal. The idea was more of helping to shape a close family, even if only circumstances-related, by providing the essentials for living, not just surviving. The competitiveness, obeying the rules, cold institution feel was not something I was looking for.
Winnie fully relaxed once she joined the rest of the kids. They engaged in explaining to her what she missed and what was happening in general. She had envious and sad look on her face until she understood that she was being included. Her eyes started to sparkle and she begun to boss around the kids. It was hilarious to see how she was getting away with it. She looked like a boy even in the dress she was wearing. She had an aura of a trouble-maker. Being the youngest and the smallest would explain how that forced her to learn to be pushy and demanding. Winnie was funny as hell, the way that she was prancing around with those puffy expressions designed to control every one. The rolling of her eyes from disapproval on her expressive face and the arms crossed on her tiny chest were a frequent view. She had to be the first one to do everything. She was eager and fearless. She was definitely adding liveliness with that tiny posture and huge personality of hers.