If you read my first installment, you know that I was a Peace Corps Volunteer and was sent to PĨock, Poland, a beautiful and fascinating city located on the Vistula River, to complete my Pre-Service Training (PST), a demanding educational regime that was designed to see if I’d be up to the various challenges I’d certainly encounter once I was sent off to the town or city I’d be living and working in.
A very exciting moment came in late summer, at the conclusion of the third month of PST. It was referred to as “placement day.” I’d already successfully survived what amounted to the Peace Corps’ version of “boot camp” and was about to be told the name of the place in Poland I was going to be sent off to do my service, which amounted to teacher training, educational consulting, among other duties.
On this day, we gathered together in the “aula,” the auditorium, the location where much of our training had taken place—the Peace Corps had contracted with a high school in PĨock to use their facilities. The mood in the room was electric but oddly subdued. We were told that our names would be called, one by one. Once this happened, we would come forward to be handed a sealed envelope that would contain the name of the town or city that would become our new homes. There was also a bit a sadness in that room, too, because we were about to be disbanded and scattered to the four winds after we’d spent some intense months forming deep interpersonal attachments to one another.
My name was called and I went up to get my envelop. With shaky fingers, I tore it open while moving toward the large map of Poland that had been taped to one of the auditorium walls. I pulled the slip out and saw the word “Tarnόw”—a place I’d never heard of before—written there.
When I got to the map, I had to scan every inch of it until, finally, down south, not far from the magnificently beautiful city of Krakόw (Cracow), I saw what looked to be a rather smallish metropolitan area just to Krakόw’s east. I could see that my home-to-be was located on a major train line that ran west to east, all the way from the Germany to the Ukraine. Of course, as you can easily imagine, this discovery brought a smile to my face because I knew it would make traveling—I ended up doing a ton of it—very easy.
The next morning, on a cool and foggy August day, a fellow named Krzysztof Rusnak, along with a car and driver, arrived in PĨock to carry me 385 kilometers, about five hours by automobile, to Tarnόw. Krzysztof worked at the teacher-training college, called the Nauczycielskie Kolegium Językόw Obcych w Tarnowie, and would soon be a colleague in October when the college opened for classes.
I liked Krzysztof from the first moment I met him. He was a handsome guy who wore glasses with thick lenses that magnified his eyes, giving him a geeky but endearing look. He helped me load up my stuff and we took off.
It was my first car trip through Poland, and I felt terrified most of the way. Our driver, a fearless fellow who clearly felt braver on the narrow roads of Poland than I did, never slowed down even as approaching traffic flew toward us at unimaginably fast speeds. I recall, all these years later, closing my eyes while nearly pushing an imaginary brake pedal through the floorboard, as we zoomed along. Luckily, several hours after departing, we arrived with life and limb preserved and intact.
They moved me into a tiny, communist-era apartment on the fifth floor of what the English-speaking Poles called a “block of flats” located on Ulica Reymonta. I spent the first night exploring my neighborhood. I didn’t wander far until the next morning, so I had no idea, at that moment, what a wonder city I was now living in.
I promise that there’ll be much more about magnificent Tarnόw in the next installment.