Oh those darned things Grandmothers say

We while away the time by cooking and eating. My grandma cooks, and I eat. Before and after our copious meals we talk. It turns out that my grandma’s preserves and roast turkey hock also come with a rich accompaniment of home-cooked Polish expressions. Like idioms, just no one else has ever heard of them. I ask if we two are expecting company for lunch because the quantity of food prepared could easily feed a hungry family of six. “Narobiłam tego wszystkiego jak głupi piwa” (I cooked as much food as an idiot brewing insane amounts of beer) which, when I think about it, is a very colourful turn of phrase for any unnecessary excess.


Life discussions commence and we arrive at the conclusion that there is always more than one solution to any problem. To quote grannie: “świat nie torba – z każdego wyjścia są dwa wyjścia” (the world is not a handbag – for every way out there are atleast two exits”)


In regards to several noted Polish politicians: “Ciemny jak tabaka w rogu” (he’s as dark as the snuff in the corner). Read: very stupid.


Me: Grandma, do you feel that your mom and dad really loved each other?

Grandma: Energetically: “Well yes, of course they loved each other.”

Her voice begins trailing…

Me: “Why the hesitation?”

Grandma: “My father really loved my mother. My mother loved him too, but she also had a lot of other ideas in her head.”


Grandma continues on the topic of love.

Grandma: “I don’t understand those głupie baby (stupid women) who fawn all over men and fall apart when things go wrong, yet again, and their poor hearts are broken.” She sighs heavily. “What the hell is their problem? An intelligent women checks to see if the man is in love with her first before falling in love herself.”

Me: Half laughing, half amazed. “Let me write that down”.


Grandma: “Really, life is made up of a lot of small, quirky details. “Drobne rzeczy uwierają jak ciasny but.” (The small things can wear you down step by step like an ill-fitting shoe).


Grandma tells about her first husband’s (my grandpa’s) field work in the forests of Poland circa 1950s and 1960s aka. back in communist times. He studied biology and forestry. He wasn’t a very organized fellow. He was also an artysta and liked to paint and write poetry in his free time.

Grandma: “He came home from the field work with his mapa sztabowa (a kind of military map) of some of the forests of Poland. He and his team had spent many months working out the exact details of the terrain. Every last tree and mushroom were outlined on this map. Marian lost the map. He lost the map at the train station. I nearly lost my mind from worry. The general public is not meant to see these maps; they were considered top secret military information. We could have gone to jail for leaving a document like that lying about.”

Me: “So what did you do?”

Grandma: “I dropped everything and immediately went to the train station to look for it. I hunted high and low at every bench and nook and cranny and I found no trace of the map. Marian went back to the office that winter to rework the map with his team from scratch. Luckily no one ever got upset with us for that first one which got lost.”

She was holding her breath and slowly lets it go.


Grandma continues to dish out her marital advice and I eagerly take notes. I’m not married, but I might be one day, so I’m eager to learn.

Grandma: “One of my cleaning ladies, well she told me about her sister, who got into some fuss with her husband. The man started drinking more and more and even became violent and started hitting her. She tried to put up with it and then to find a solution but to no avail. She left the man. The trouble is that now her grandmother is angry at her and tells her that she should go back to her husband! She goes on and on about how marriage is for life and that she should stick to her husband for better and for worse and so on.”

I’m in shock, and irritated with that other grandmother for being so painfully old-fashioned.

Grandma: “Last time she was here (the cleaning lady), she was very upset about her sister and this situation with their grandmother so she told me about it. I recommended that her sister come and see me and we can have a chat and she can talk to a grandma who is more modern and certainly won’t try to talk her into going back into a bad relationship.”

Me: “That’s it?”

Grandma: “Well, no. In all honesty, I’d like to tell her: “Pani Helenko: niech Pani weźmie coś ciężkiego i mu przyłoży, to z niego gówno i buty zostaną.” (Dear Ms. Helen, please take a heavy object and apply it to your idiot of a husband and all that will be left of him is his shit and shoes).


We are pulling her small Fiat out of grannie’s garage and someone has awkwardly parked their large van in front of the gate blocking our way.

Grandma: “Krowa na pastwisku lepiej się zaparkuje niż niejeden chłop” (A cow in a field knows how to park herself better than many a man).

Me: “But Grandma, we can’t even see the driver. You don’t know if it’s a man or not.”

Sure enough, we pull up to the gate and we see a man behind the wheel.

Grandma: “Oh my dear”, she says to me in a knowing way “No woman would be stupid enough to park like that.”


After lunch, grandma and I like to turn on the T.V. and watch silly programs (by silly programs I mean cop shows, sit-coms or Polish politics, but between you and me there isn’t much difference between any of them). One of the sitcoms is called “School” and portrays teenagers in a typical, Polish high-school. It’s complete with elaborate romantic dramas of the many youths and their unstable emotions. Today the students are sharing about their sexual experiences and one of the girls is desperate to find a guy, any guy, who she can sleep with just so that she can lose her virginity. She feels left behind since everyone else is “doing it”.

Grandma: “What the hell is wrong with the young fry today. They have sex like I used to go sledding. Some school friend would come by the house in the winter and it didn’t matter whether I liked him or not, if he invited me to go sledding, I would go.”


Me: “Grandma, yesterday I received a text message from you, but it only contained the letter “B”. Just that single letter, nothing more.

I’ve been texting my grandma every day while I’m in town and when I see her she lets me know that she has received my messages. She never texts me back though.

I was therefore very surprised to receive a message, and a peculiar one at that.

Grandma: “Yes that was me, I sent you a text message.”

Me: “Does the “B” stand for Babcia*?”

Grandma: “Yes, my finger slipped.”

She had hit send before she could write the rest of her message 🙂

*Babcia, meaning grandmother in Polish.

The so-called Universal Currency

“What time shall we have the meeting” I interrupt M., as he politely blinks up at me from his computer screen. “Whenever you like, whenever you like.” is his automatic reply. After nearly two years of working side-by-side with the head of our team in Senegal I’ve grown wise in his ways and I know he’s likely to slip out of the office, into his car and drive away at any moment. Whether he simply feels like leaving the endless barrage of questions presented to him by his employees, or there’s some kind of urgent rice cargo crisis to deal with at the Port of Dakar, I don’t always know why he leaves and where he goes. “You plan to stay here all morning?” I double check with him trying to keep my voice level. It’s hard to hide the fact that this meeting is important to me, and so infrequent are our meetings, between the movement of all of our bodies seeking the office, port, warehouses and lunch, that I’ll consider it close to a miracle if we are actually able to gather the 4 secretaries, myself and M. all together in one room for 10 minutes this morning. I’m also daring to dream for no cell-phone interruptions during that time. “Does 10:00am work for you?” as I glance at my phone which states 9:30. I wince internally at this display of OCD (from an African perspective) and regular-time-management (Western perspective). To some degree it really doesn’t matter how many books you read and how many people you talk to about our different concepts of time because when push comes to shove and when your nerves are rattled you’ll inevitably default to the culture which is most deeply ingrained in you. I’ve physically experienced the zombie-like state of waiting hours for a bus to fill before it leaves to your destination (in Haiti) numerous times, so you might say, on a deeper level, I really do understand the maxim “the bus leaves when there are enough bodies to fill it” as the very logical and reasonable answer to the question offered by the white woman “Please sir, when is this bus scheduled to leave?” I feel that if not for M.’s distraction while he tries to send photos of discharged merchandise, correct a survey report and answer an email all at the same time (while invigorating himself with a smack of his desktop PC and grumbling that he’s having technical problems again).. he really would tell me that the meeting will simply take place at the time when everyone gathers in the same place to have the meeting. Sigh. My exhausted Western psyche gives up on the questions of time, for the time being. In my last attempt at organization I tackle the question of location. I decide to make life easier for M. and to simply inform him in which room we will meet instead of asking him about it. I can tell that he is inwardly grateful and I leave him to his work for another 30 minutes. My own brain is quickly calculating what kind of work I can actually get done in this time frame. I sigh again realizing that the obsessive pursuit of efficiency is another pernicious Western quality that I’m gladly weeding out of myself with calm, calculated movements. That particular weed is obviously far from all-out, I realize. My nerves are tense and I feel like a cold, iron fist is closing around my heart. I know I won’t be able to get any real work done in this state. I also know that I’m doing the right thing and that it’s time to leave here, but that doesn’t make today’s meeting any simpler. How do you tell the kind, calm people (read: Senegalese) who have put up with your crazy moods and antics for two whole years that your time together has come to an end? In fact, it’s for this, for their patience and tolerance (especially for M.’s patience!) of my strange behaviours that I am most grateful. They’ve seen their boss weeping from exhaustion and frustration (I’m not very good at hiding my emotional break-downs and well, seriously, dealing with European clients when you work in Senegal is not easy) and heard me raising my voice at employees as I would get increasingly irritated that for the third time in the same week they’re explaining to me how they don’t have enough phone credit to call their colleague in such and such warehouse, in essence to properly DO THEIR JOB. Wow, my nerves still get rattled when I think of that. The point is, after every occasional outburst when I would start breathing again, I’d see that great cultural divide again, what looks in my mind’s eye more like the chasm of the Grand Canyon, between us and them and our different concepts of everything. And through it all, when I would come to my senses again, they were present there for me and smiling, and reassuring me, reminding me that I always had tomorrow to try it again.

It’s as though Western mind has so thoroughly bought into the ideas that time and money are to be dominated and controlled by us and buried it so deep in our thought process that we allow ourselves to forget that it is all an invention in the first place. Instead we discuss investment strategies and the benefits of morning yoga practices acting as though we are the Lords of Everything. An African observes Time, like a neighbour passing by, and doesn’t seek to respect it, while he pulls out the crumpled paper money from a dark hole, smooths it out, and considers it for using it as kindling to help along the small fire cooking his fresh fish. It is paper, after all. Trouble is, his mind has been warped with ideas of modern society as well, and whether he knows it or not he’s slave to the money dance now too. He’ll pocket the bill and try to find more. Besides, if local superstition is right his 1,000Francs note with careful prayer and attention may yet become a 10,000Francs note. Yet, superstitions aside, I feel his eyes will see paper first and currency later, as our eyes, if we care to see deeper, must make the opposite journey. Money then is defined not only by different currencies our nations use but by a different appreciation of what the paper-bill actually is and what it can do for you. Meanwhile Time, the so-called universal currency, bows to the African not unlike a slave to his master. It is glad to be molded by humans and not the other way around or otherwise, if it is too hot or we are feeling too lazy, it is equally happy to move on by.

Somewhere around a quarter past 10:00, I shepherd the secretaries, myself and M. into one of the office rooms, trying to ignore the bleating of the sheep outside, to begin our short meeting.


A month later, in early April, I receive a small, sweet taste of reverse culture shock. My mother and I have been visiting the historic centre of Warsaw all day and we’re feeling sleepy as we step back inside our flat at around 4:00pm. It’s a sunny, bright day and my eyelids droop as I head to my father’s office, temporarily my bedroom, for an afternoon nap. Few things feel as delicious on a Sunday (and on a holiday) as a sluggish cat-nap in the afternoon warmth and light. I snuggle in to the warm blankets I’ve laid out on the floor and sleep for atleast an hour. When I awake my thoughts are hazy and lazy. I do however perceive a small, nudge inside my skull reminding me that I have some kind of meeting at 6:00pm. Oh yes, the parents of a dear friend in Dakar are coming over for tea, I remind myself. Glancing at my phone it reads 17:40 at which point two parallel thoughts spring to life in my mind. Firstly, I think happily that I have plenty of time to take a shower, get dressed and have a bite to eat (haven’t had anything to eat since breakfast and my belly is rumbling) since no one shows up for a meeting like this on time anyways, so I can easily interpret 6:00pm as 6:30 or 7:00pm at the earliest. I sink in to happy visions of a warm shower and delicious sourkrout for dinner. I shake myself a little bit more awake though since I realize it’s a very Dakar-esque thought that I’m having and I am no longer there so perhaps it is not suited to be here. This is when the second though bounces in joyfully to remind me that although I am meeting this couple for the first time I should remember that Polish people are extremely punctual and so I can expect them to be here at exactly 6:00pm. Which also means that I have basically no time to do anything that I wanted to do before they arrive. Darn. That thought also reminds me about some idea of respecting-other-peoples-time being an importance concept in our societies and so on. I feel like I’m relearning basic concepts from my elementary textbooks while I nod sleepily, and somewhat guiltily, like the student in the back of the hot classroom who has been pretending to pay attention but has actually been doodling in their notebook and dozing this whole time. I mentally close the doodle-book, click my phone off and drag myself out of my pile of blankets laughing at this internal dialogue. The funniest thing is that thought number two is running around the room trying to get me to panic, aka. to stress me out. I acknowledge thought number two because it’s probably right in facts alone, and pat thought number one on the head since it’s way of being, its relaxed and calm manner, is much more to my taste than irritating, spastic number two. With ten minutes still at my disposal I move slowly and calmly to the kitchen to make myself a small coffee and then back to my room to change clothes. A face-wash and deodorant check will have to replace the delayed shower, and I plan to have my food while our guests have their tea. There, I smile, it’s 17:59, the doorbell rings and it’s time to begin.

Polko – Kanadyjka : )

Kocham lotniska.

Można powiedzieć, że są trochę jak igrzyska olimpijskie lub ONZ , gdzie wszyscy niezależnie od rasy, narodowości oraz statusu społecznego mogą brać udział w tej samej dyscyplinie. Tutaj na międzynarodowym lotnisku we Frankfurcie, naszą dyscypliną jest znalezienie kolejnej bramki, czy też bagażu. Z sukcesem zlokalizowałam bagietkową kanapkę oraz kawę, po czym przyjęłam odpoczywającą pozycję skierowaną w stronę okna i wydarzeń dziejących się na pasie startowym. Przyglądam się jak samolot linii Air Canada zaczyna powoli unosić się w powietrzu, a jego namalowany liść klonu znika z widoku wraz z ogonem samolotu. Czuję ogromny sentyment do mojego kolejnego kraju. Jest to takie ciepłe uczucie względem tego zimnego klimatu 🙂

To był wspaniały czas w mojej ojczyźnie, Polsce. Jestem bardzo szczęśliwa, ponieważ teraz jest ona dla mnie autentyczna… . Koncept pracy, zabawy, życia w Polsce, po polsku i z polakami jest teraz dla mnie namacalny. To nie jest już tylko wakacyjne wspomnienie z dalekiego kraju, z którego pochodzą moi rodzice… To żyjący, oddychający twór.

Istnieje kilka pozornie prostych, ale bardzo symbolicznych dla mnie wydarzeń, które zostaną w mojej pamięci. Podpisanie mojej pierwszej umowy o pracę w języku polskim, przejeżdżanie lub przechodzenie przez Puławską… to magiczna nazwa, którą często słyszałam jako dziecko, ponieważ moja rodzina miała w czasach PRL’u mieszkanie na tej właśnie ulicy. Pierwszego sierpnia stolica emanuje energią… W tym roku obchodzimy 70 rocznicę Powstania Warszawskiego. Spotkania odbywają się na Nowym Świecie. Jadę ze znajomymi krętymi, wyboistymi drogami, śpiewając po drodze ukraińskie folkowe piosenki. Piękna, ciepła, złota polska jesień. Piszę (a raczej próbuję pisać) po polsku firmowe maile. Jestem w nich znana jako „Pani Katarzyna” 🙂 Aczkolwiek te dwa ostatnie elementy najbardziej mnie bawią i sprawiają, że na mojej twarzy pojawia się uśmiech. Jako „Pani Katarzyna” jestem jak staromodna kobieta mająca we krwi grzeczność i formalność, a w rzeczywistości czekam cierpliwie na moment, w którym będzie można zakończyć te kulturalne uprzejmości i zaczniemy mówić sobie po imieniu. Jak człowiek do człowieka.

Podczas przyglądania się jak samolot linii Air Canada kieruje swój dziób ku pasu startowemu uświadamiam sobie, że moja tożsamość bycia jednocześnie Polką i Kanadyjką, będzie dla mnie nierozłączna jeszcze przez długi czas, a właściwie do końca życia – na szczęście. Będąc w Polsce jestem wyróżniana przez innych z powodu mojego kanadyjskiego wychowania. Będąc w Kanadzie jestem rozpoznawalna przez moje polskie dziedzictwo. To są wrażenia zewnętrzne. Wewnątrz nie ma potrzeby konfliktu czy wytykania tego palcami, tylko akceptacja. Mogłabym po prostu wybrać ulubiony kraj, tak samo jak mogłabym wybrać ulubionego rodzica. Oddzielenie siebie od jednego bądź drugiego kraju, byłoby jak wybranie tylko prawej ręki zamiast lewej. One się wzajemnie uzupełniają.  Moje etui na paszporty pasuje idealnie zarówno na ten bordowy jak i niebieski dokument.

Każdy z nich ma swoje miejsce w zależności od moich potrzeb na dany moment. Wybieram ten odpowiedni do danego celu.

Tak, piszę głównie po angielsku. Kilka lat temu musiałam podjąć decyzję w jakim języku pisać. Wybrałam ten, którego najwięcej używałam, który jest najbardziej chwytliwy. Mój umysł byłby jednak pozbawiony większej głębi i doceniania różnorodności bez znajomości innych języków. Elokwencja francuskiego, czy pierwotne tony hiszpańskiego… one również mnie uzupełniają . Nie być w stanie spontanicznie zażartować, zaśpiewać, czy opowiedzieć jakąś historię w moim ojczystym języku polskim… to by było rzeczywiście smutne.

Teraz zmierzam do niewielkiej nacji na Karaibach, znanej ludzkości głównie jako jeden z najbiedniejszych krajów na Ziemi; znanej mi, jako kraj rojący się od marzeń, nadziei i ciepła. Kiedy dotrę na Haiti, to wiem , że na pierwszy rzut oka będę dla haitańczyków jak ta kolejna „biała kobieta”. . W najlepszym wypadku mieszkańcy będą mieć tylko nikłe pojęcie kim jestem i skąd pochodzę. W porządku, nie przeszkadza mi to, naprawdę.

Jestem gotowa na rozmowę, o ile do niej dojdzie. Jeśli ktoś zapyta mnie skąd pochodzę… wtedy będziemy mogli porozmawiać o tych fascynujących miejscach i ludziach. O Polsce, o Kanadzie i o sile którą z nich czerpię.


(Zamek w Lublinie, Sierpień 2014)

Elan Haiti…

…i Pierwsza Międzynarodowa Konferencja Młodzieżowa na Haiti podkreśla zaangażowanie młodych Haitańczyków w odbudowie kraju

Krótko o konferencji:

Nazwa: Elan Haiti 2014 – (Pierwsza) Międzynarodowa Konferencja Młodzieżowa – website and Facebook

Miejsce: Uniwersytet Henri Christophe w Limonade, Północne Haiti

Czas: 15 – 18 listopada, 2014

Organizator: Elan Haiti (Haiti) grupy Echo

Uczestnicy: setka wybranych młodych ludzi z Haiti i z za granicy: studentów, przedsiębiorców i liderów

Piosenka Elan Haiti 2014: 

“Starość we wszystko wierzy. Wiek średni we wszystko wątpi. Młodość wszystko wie” – O. Wilde

Młodzież na Haiti stanowi jedną z najważniejszych i najbardziej dynamicznych grup demograficznych w tym kraju. W przeciwieństwie do wielu krajów rozwiniętych, gdzie dominująca grupa demograficzna są osoby w wieku powyżej 55 lat (tzw. ‘baby-boomers’), Haiti ma bardzo młodą populację. Choć statystyki są różne, niektórzy twierdzą, że aż 70% ludności Haiti ma poniżej 30 lat! Jednakże w społeczeństwie hierarchicznym i elitarnym ta duża i ważna grupa młodych Haitańczyków ma często trudności, żeby się przebić ze swoim zdaniem i być wysłuchaną.

Następujące pytania czekają na odpowiedź: czy młodzi ludzie są gotowi odbudować swój kraj po tragicznym trzęsieniu ziemi w 2010 roku? Czy jest jakaś nadzieja dla młodych, żeby spełnić ich marzenia tu na Haiti? Jak odnajdują się młodzi w skomplikowanej sytuacji polityczno-gospodarczej, z niepokojami politycznymi, słabymi strukturami gospodarczymi i głębokim uzależnieniniem od pomocy międzynarodowej? Moim zdaniem to właśnie na podstawie tych pytań powstała koncepcja konferencji na Elan Haiti w 2014 roku, z jej. starannie dobranym hasłem “młodzież jest zaangażowana”.

‘Élan’ www.elan.ht , to po francusku ‘pęd’ lub ‘bodziec’. To właśnie zespół Elan Haiti przyczynił się do organizacji pierwszej międzynarodowej konferencji młodzieżowej na Haiti, konferencja która ma zostać corocznym wydarzeniem w tym kraju.


Ekipa Elan

Jako uczestniczka konferencji, ponad tydzień temu dotarłam do Elan Haiti 2014. Byłam ciekawa spotkania z młodymi haitańskimi liderami ale także świadoma, że cały projekt został wszczęty i zorganizowany przez młodzież. Samo istnienie Elan ma być również świadectwem czego młodzież jest wstanie dokonać, jednocząc wspólne siły do osiągnięcia celu! 

O Konferencji Elan

Trzy-dniowa konferencja nie tylko obejmowała prezentacje i dyskusje na temat różnych aspektów rozwoju gospodarczego na Haiti. Elan podkreślił również znaczenie przedsiębiorczości. Odbył się konkurs z nagrodami na plany biznesowe.  Pierwsza i druga nagroda miały postać wsparcia technicznego i finansowego  dla realizacji tych projektów.

Wszyscy, cała setka uczestników, została podzielona na cztery grupy: edukacja, współpraca międzynarodowa, przedsiębiorczość i środowisko.  Przed każdą grupą postawiono zadanie:  sformułować istotę problemu i w zadanej dziedzinie opracować projekt, który rozwiąże ten problem. Proponowane projekty mają być zrealizowane przez grupy zgłaszające projekty w ciągu następnego roku. Każda z grup dostanie dodatkową pomoc techniczną zespołu Elan.

Grupa 'środowisko'

Grupa ‘środowisko’

Dlaczego pojechałam na tą konferencję…

Tego lata mieszkałam i pracowałam w Warszawie, gdzie się urodziłam.  To właśnie tutaj dowiedziałam się o konferencji Elan po raz pierwszy, dzięki moim wcześniejszym kontaktom z Haiti. Pomyślałam, że mogłabym reprezentować Polskę.

Dodatkowym atutem była lokalizacja konferencji, jako że miała się ona odbywać w północno-wschodnim rejonie Haiti – a to jest mój specjalny kącik tego kraju.  W tym rejonie (departamencie) właśnie po raz pierwszy pracowałam na stażu dla CIDA (Kanadyjska Agencja Rozwoju Międzynarodowego) rok temu. Teraz, już po konferencji, też mieszkam w tej części Haiti. Jestem zwolenniczką decentralizacji Haiti skoro przez dłuższy czas rozwój kraju był głównie skupiony na rozwoju stolicy Port-au-Prince i jej okolic. Pomysł, żeby Elan ulokował szeroko zakrojoną imprezę na Uniwersytecie Limonade w departamencie północno-wschodnim był warty wsparcia.

Byłam też bardzo ciekawa poznania młodych liderów z Haiti. Skoro wszyscy przeszliśmy proces selekcji do udziału w Elan (między innymi pisanie wypracowań i pokazanie zaangażowanie w rozwój Haiti), domyślałam się, że osoby obecne na tej konferencji będą wyjątkowe.  Moje przypuszczenia sprawdziły się.  Spotkałam Haitańskich przedsiębiorców z zagranicy, młodych dziennikarzy, lokalnych liderów z różnych zakątków Haiti i profesjonalistów z różnymi pasjami – od pisania, do tworzenia muzyki i filmów. Przedsiębiorcy, aktywiści i uczniowie – wszyscy dzielą się tym samym optymizmem i wiarą, że to właśnie ich praca może się przyczynić do rozwoju Haiti.

Mało jest rzeczy równie inspirujących jak spotkania z młodzieżą pełną marzeń i możliwości. Nie mylę się chyba twierdząc, że wszyscy wyjechaliśmy z tego spotkania pełni nadziei i z podniesiona głową.

Refleksje po konferencji…

To ludzie, organizatorzy i uczestnicy, sprawili, że ta konferencja stała się tak wyjątkowym wydarzeniem. Moje serdeczne podziękowania kieruję do zespołu organizacyjnego Elan oraz partnerów i sponsorów którzy przyczynili się do realizacji tej konferencji. Jestem pod wrażeniem niezwykle efektywnej pracy ekipy komunikacyjnej. Projekty graficzne, fotografie i jakość wideo były na bardzo wysokim poziomie. Nie obyło się bez pewnych błędów logistycznych – ale jest to punkt problematyczny przy każdym dużym wydarzeniu. W ogólnej ocenie, konferencja Elan stoi na wysokim poziomie. Moim zdaniem, jest to duże osiągnięcie gdy konferencja tej skali jest organizowana po raz pierwszy…zwłaszcza w kontekscie odbycia się imprezy na Haiti!

Bardzo jestem zainteresowana jak potoczą się losy wszystkich czterech projektów wciągu nadchodzących 12 miesięcy. Co uda się nam stworzyć? Jakie napotkamy przeszkody i wyzwania? Pomimo tego, że mamy czasem wątpliwości i czeka nas dużo ciężkiej pracy, jestem przekonana, że przekazany w czasie konferencji Elan ‘duch’ pracy zespołowej będzie nam towarzyszyć przez dłuższy czas.

Niesiemy również ważne przekazanie dla całego świata: młodzi Haitańczycy i cudzoziemcy pracujący dla tego małego karaibskiego kraju są serdecznie zaangażowani w walce o budowanie lepszej przyszłośći dla Haiti.



Startups4Charity: services modernes offerts gratuitement aux ONG

Un jour un group de jeunes polonais à Varsovie se sont posé une question importante : “Qu’est-ce que les Startups font pour participer au développement ? Est-ce qu’elles pourraient collaborer avec les ONG ?”.  C’est ainsi qu’est né le projet de Startups4Charity.  Entre autres, on peut y trouver des services gratuits (ou à prix très réduit) de la conception des sites web, du codage ou programmation, surveillance des réseaux sociaux, de traduction et des jeux interactifs d’apprentissage.

Qu’est-ce une “Startup” ? 

“Startup” est un terme issu de l’anglais qui signifie “démarrer”.  Une startup est définie comme une jeune entreprise à fort potentiel de croissance dans un stade d’implémentation et d‘expérimentation.  De nos jours les startups sont surtout liées aux entreprises technologiques qui testent rapidement et agressivement de nouveaux produits et services baser sur l’émergence d’un des plus grands outils de nos temps : l’Internet.

Les startups les plus connues et les plus accessibles de nos jours sont les compagnies comme Facebook, eBay et WordPress – des compagnies jeunes, fortement investi dans la technologie et entièrement du monde de l’Internet.

Qu’est-ce que les Startups puissent faire pour les ONG ? 

Une ONG ‘typique’ n’est pas forcément connue pour son innovation technologique.  Quand on observe les ONG haïtiennes travaillant dans l’agriculture, l’environnement ou les services médicaux on se rend compte que ces organisations sont moins connectées et moins modernisées qu’elles pourraient l’être.  Les méthodes de travail, de communication, d’apprentissage et de gestion les plus pratiques sont à jour chez les grandes entreprises des pays développés et sous-estimés par les ONG aux pays en vois de développement (ou simplement inaccessibles).  Faut-il accepter que les outils les plus modernes et les plus innovateurs de nos jours resteront exclusivement entre les mains des organisations à but lucratif ?

Pourtant, les organisations à but non lucratif doivent aussi faire face aux réalités de nos temps.  De plus en plus on trouve que les ONG veulent créer leurs propres applications et veulent profiter de la communication offert par les réseaux sociaux. Elles aimeraient avoir accès aux outils d’apprentissage virtuel.  Elles profiteraient d’un nouveau site web.  Mais souvent ces outils coûtent chers.  Encore un projet à justifier devant les bailleurs ? D’où la nécessité pour un service tel que startups4charity – l’accès gratuit (ou à prix très réduite) aux services modernes désirées par les ONG.


Quelques exemples d’offres actuelles

Sur le site web il y a environ 30 produits offert par des Startup divers. Entre elles:

  1. Brand24

Creer pour surveiller votre marque, produit ou mot clé sur l’Internet et surtout dans les discussions et forums de Facebook, Twitter et Blip.

lien: http://startups4charity.com/offer/brand24


2. Edustation

Votre propre plate-forme d’enseignement et d’apprentissage virtuelle.  Vous pouvez y créer des leçons et présenter vos propres cours. Combinez les réunions traditionnelles avec l’enseignement et l’apprentissage en ligne.

lien: http://startups4charity.com/offer/edustation



Un logiciel de chat en direct sur votre site web. Vous pouvez parler avec votre public directement sur votre site.

lien: http://startups4charity.com/offer/live-gecko


4. Turbo Translations

TurboTranslations offre des traductions authentiques, professionnelles et rapides. Soyez en mesure de diffuser vos mots partout dans le monde.

lien: http://startups4charity.com/offer/turbo-transaltions

turbo translations
À noter:

  • Startups4Charity ne fonctionne qu’en anglais (actuellement)
  • Pour que les ONG puissent y créer un compte il faut fournir un numéro d’identification fiscale

Image en bas – le fondateur de Startups4Charity Mac Zielinski



la polonaise-canadienne

I love airports.

I guess it’s like the olympics or the UN in a way. Where everyone regardless of race, nation or social status is invited to take part in the same activity. Here in Frankfurt International our sport is finding our next gate, a piece of luggage. I’ve successfully tracked down a bagel sandwich and coffee and taken up a resting position facing the windows and the action on the runway. I’m watching an Air Canada plane slowly pull out, its maple leaf painted tail moving out of sight. I feel an immense fondness for my other country. Such warm feelings for such a cold climate : )

It’s been a blessed time in the homeland, in Poland. I’m so happy that it’s real to me now…that the concept of a working, playing, living Poland in Polish and by Polish people is a tangible thing to me now. Not a memory from holiday vacations nor that far off country my parents come from…she’s a living and breathing creature.

There are a few seemingly simple yet to me very symbolic events that stay in my memory. Signing my first work contract in Polish, passing or walking along “Puławska” street…a magical phrase I had often heard as a child because my family had a flat at that address during communist times. The heavy energy in the capital on the day of August 1st…where this year we commemorated the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw uprising. Meetings on “Nowy Świat” street. Driving with friends along crooked and bumpy country roads while singing a Ukrainian folk song. The beautiful, warm and golden Polish autumn. Writing (or rather attempting to write) business emails in Polish. Being referred to as “Pani Katarzyna” in a work context … 🙂 although these last two elements really make me giggle and smile most of all. It feels like an old-fashioned ritual in politeness and formality while I patiently wait for these cultural niceties to end so that we can simply speak to each other on a first name basis. Human being to human being like.

As I watch that Air Canada plane turn its nose towards the runway I realise happily that this identity, if we must speak of national identity, of being at once Polish and Canadian will be inseparable for me for a long time. Likely, for life. While in Poland I am set apart by others by my Canadian upbringing…while in Canada I am recognized for my Polish heritage. These are outside impressions; inside there is no need for conflict or pointing fingers, only acceptance at what is. I could just as soon choose a favourite country as I could a favourite lung. To choose one over the other makes no sense to me, as they are perfectly complementary. My passport case comfortably fits both the maroon document, and the blue one. Each one has its place and depending on the moment, I can draw upon either to serve my purpose.

Yes, I write primarily in English. I felt I had to make my language-of-writing choice several years ago and I chose the language most practiced, the one most malleable. But my mind would be bereft of a greater depth and appreciation for diversity without my other tongues. The eloquence of French, the earthy tones of Spanish and melodic Creole…my extended family. To never be able to spontaneously joke, or sing, or tell stories in my native Polish…oh, that would be very sad indeed.

Now, I am heading for a small nation in the Caribbean known primarily to others for being one of the poorest countries on Earth; known to me for being rife with dreams, hope and warmth. Once there, I already know that first impressions will label me as yet another “white woman”. That, at best, the locals will have only a faint notion of who I am or where I come from. And that’s fine. It does not bother me. Really.

Because the dialogue, were it to come, is ready. Were anyone to ask where I come from…well then, then we might talk about these fascinating places and people. Of Poland. and of Canada. And of the strength that I draw from both.

(Castle in Lublin, August 2014)

Entrepreneurial and exciting (with a mild case of confusion) – my Polish diagnosis

“Today, I told a beautiful woman waiting to cross the street that she wore a lovely dress, she flashed me a brilliant smile and uttered the two most blessed words in this world “dziękuję bardzo

“People are still quite rude and grumpy looking in Poland”, my mother notices.

“Poland is poor in many ways, there are great disparities, the middle class is struggling and it’s hard for young people to find a job”, women converse in the bus.

“Entrepreneurs with a half-decent idea can go to venture capitalists in Warsaw and take their businesses to market with easy access to EU funding, no problem” I hear from a friend.

“We are taking this company global – what are your thoughts on marketing strategies for the Mexican market?”, I am asked at a job interview

“Poland is best known for vodka, the Polish pope and World War II”, I read in the Internet.

…and, once you break through the formalities and get to know them, the Poles, for their laughter and intelligent sense of humour.

We want to be more like the French, or the Germans, or maybe the British. Definitely not the Americans. But also very much so.

But we’re actually extremely proud to be Polish.


or should I say CDC – co do cholery

Amidst these seeming contradictions, I have returned to live and work in my home country – the Eastern, now attempting Central European fame nation that my family left over 22 years ago.  This idea would likely have never entered my spirit if not for the recent six months spent in the 3rd world realities of Haiti – a country that I adore, but which is a hundred times more corrupt, complicated and hopeless than “Europe’s economic miracle” of Poland.  If Haitians can approach their daily reality with a dance, laughter on their lips and with unceasing optimism, then we sure as hell can do the same in Poland.  Do you hear me Poland – you have NO IDEA how much you have going for you!  Having gone from Canada’s comforts to Haiti’s inconveniences to find that my own Polska is doing very well, is dynamically growing and provides exciting opportunities to the creative and the hardworking… I find myself saying – what a great opportunity to get to know my own roots better.

(the peacock photo is my very own from the Łazienki Park taken just 2 weeks ago)

In my case, it’s really quite simple.  Warszawa is the capital and the hub, and it’s where I come from.  The city is in motion, the culture and start-up scene is vibrant and there are constantly more immigrants and visible minorities present.  Thank goodness!  Businesses and ideas are turning into realities and Poland is ready to shine and perhaps she’s even ready to proudly show her colours.  Dare I say that I find this nation coming into her own at around the very same time that yours truly spreads her wings.

While here you can expect me to be even more die-hard optimistic than before.  If Universe listens, and I know that she does, then I need to create my own positive vibes here.  Complaining and negativity are still too much of a Polish national sport to even consider entering that arena.  I will continue to feed my eyes on the flowing stream outside my flat overgrown with tall grasses and wildflowers – it lies on the border of an urban forest in a mishmash of unkept beauty typical of here.  I will continue to smile to others, to talk to strangers and to inspire positivity in my fellow Polaks. In short, I will give of myself what I most value receiving in return.  Put out into this world what you wish to get back.  Create positive spirals.  Get locked in a circle of collaboration, open-mindedness and innovation.

Oh, and I’m intending to take up African dance too.  It adds a spice of rebellion and flavour to this whole undertaking to wear suits by day while shakin’ my goods by night 😉

Looking forward to future posts? So am I.

Let this new adventure BEGIN.

my 'office' in Warsaw.

my ‘office’ in Warsaw.

p.s. I’m also seeking out the stories and adventures of my fellow 20 and 30-something returned-from-the-Diaspora Poles who are currently working and living in Poland – these intriguing tales can be found at: www.milewidziany.wordpress.com

Mastering the VC Game by Jeffrey Bussgang – something of a book review

Well here’s a new read to add to the chronicles… all about venture capital, entrepreneurs, start-ups and the world-changing dance that evolves between them.

the huge multi-national Amazon was backed by one of the most famous American venture capitalists - John Doerr

the huge multi-national Amazon was backed by one of the most famous American venture capitalists – John Doerr

Really, I downloaded a few samples of books about Venture Capital (VC) to iBooks, read a few and then decided on the full version of this one.  It’s written clearly, with every bit of the step explained, and by an author who has been both on the entrepreneur side of the fence as well as being part of a venture capitalist firm later on (he is general partner at Flybridge Capital Partners).  All written from the American perspective, and rightfully so, but with a great chapter in the end and spotlights on a Chinese, Vietnamese and European VC each and a global vision for the future.

The book covers just about everything from how a VC firm works, how it thinks and makes money, how to prepare your pitch as an entrepreneur and how to read and understand the ‘term sheet’.  The author continuously underlines the most important aspects: trust, transparency and strong relationship building between VCs and entrepreneurs (and their management team).

Bussgang uses great analogies and metaphors such as his likening of the 3 archetype VC directors to the original judges on American Idol (Paula, Randy and Simon).  He paints a clear picture and achieves what he set out to do “I wrote this book to demystify the VC world for entrepreneurs, having seen both sides over many years.” (from Amazon.com).  He illustrates the typical phases of development that start-ups go through and the classic story lines that show up time and time again in the dramatic, soap-opera realities of the venture capital financing world.

I especially enjoyed reading case studies featuring CEOs from companies I’m already familiar with: like Gail Goodman (of Constant Contact), Reid Hoffman of LinkedIn and Jack Dorsey from Twitter.

And as an educational exercise for myself I wrote down my notes from the reading in a 15 page PDF… attached here if you’d like to have a peek.  Great book and fascinating insight into the VC world in general – recommend !!

When a 1 week vacation can feel like 3: a bike, boat and sight-seeing tour of the Danube

(May 25th, 2014 at noon) On the train from Passau, Germany to Munich, I return from my first river cruise and bike-tour combo satisfied, well fed and simply happy. When Darren Alff from bicycletouringpro.com invited me to accompany him on this tour several months ago I would have never imagined that my 1 week holiday could feel so long and complete (in a really good way!) Having travelled through 4 countries, visited 3 European capital cities (Bratislava, Budapest and Vienna) and with both butt cheeks perfectly sore from biking (no thanks to the dodgy bike saddles 😉 …I’m looking forward to checking out the photos and reliving some of these new memories with you.

For me the trip was off to a very good start right in Munich where I was able to meet up with Laura my cousin whom I had not seen in over 4 years. With her friends and boyfriend we relaxed, ate delicious food and meandered about the beautiful city and beer gardens.


I then met up with Darren in Munich and headed through Bavaria to Passau where we were to meet our fellow passengers on the tour (Fun fact: Darren and I were the youngest people on board by about 40 years ;). The weather was overcast with bits of rain; the faces around us gloomy from the poor weather the week before. In fact, the water in the Danube had risen so much that we were to travel to Linz (Austria) by bus to meet the boat there. Everyone’s fingers were crossed for sun and warmth the following day.

Everything went according to plan – the attention to detail on board (from the little chocolates and candies on our bed pillows every night to the detailed excursion explanations) and the beautiful, warm and sunny weather that greeted us every day. We travelled from Austrian village to village and visited Slovakia and Hungary as well.  In general the idea is to leave the boat by bike after breakfast and cycle to the boat’s next docking station further along the river. During our ‘free’ days in Vienna and Budapest there were opportunities to participate in additional sight-seeing and cultural events.  This off time was actually busiest of all as we attempted to take in these monumental places in just a few short hours of running about.  Otherwise, the biking took place inthe mornings and early afternoon, on predominantly flat terrain and bike paths.
Breakfasts were buffet style with all manner of fruit, veggies, meats, breads and cheeses; lunches were either sandwich versions of breakfast or restaurant style gourmet 3-course meals. Dinners were elaborate with some unpronouncable and delicious dishes.

Personal highlights of the trip:

  • cycling around the Hungarian countryside and the Austrian Wachau wine-growing region
  • Meeting up with a dear Austrian friend, Veronika (with whom I WWOOFed in Bolivia in 2012) and her husband and friends in Vienna (and almost missing the boat’s departure that night – ha!)
  • our fellow travellers on the boat and great conversations and laughs – couples from Germany, the Netherlands, UK, USA and Canada.
  • the predominantly Slovakian housekeeping and catering crew – as a Pole I felt right at home 😉
  • silliness such as the Pirate evening on board the ship (see pics!)

If you’re looking for a more detailed review of the journey Darren has been busy writing (and posting photos) on bicycletouringpro all about it: http://bicycletouringpro.com/blog/gallery/danube-waltz-rad-reisen/ 
My own (and Darren’s) photos from the trip on Flickr: 


More about the tour company ‘Rad and Reisen’:  http://www.radreisen.at/en/home.html 

Overall: highly recommend!!

Poland’s bright economic past and future

Curious and always eager to learn more about the economic standing of my home country, it was with intrigue and a positive attitude that I attended a breakfast presentation this past Friday, put on by the Calgary Economic Development and entitled “Poland – the Economic Miracle”.  The speaker, a Mr. Marcin Piatkowski, senior economist at the World Bank and based out of the WB’s office in Warsaw (incidentally, as an organization working to reduce poverty, Warsaw is WB’s highest-income country base).  He’s a friendly, relaxed guy and excited to share with us, a group of about 30 people – a mix of Polish-Calgarians and foreign investment opportunists – and we tuck into our scones and coffee and perk up our ears for the presentation a little after 8:00am.

There’s not much preamble before I learn that Poland has been Europe’s most successful economy in the last 25 years. Bam, there you have the fact. Statistics and historical data follow, showing Poland’s progression from our last Golden Age in the 1500s until today, the New Golden Age.  And it gets better – we’re set up to be one of the world’s top 20 economies by 2030, and according to the IMF we will be growing at double the rate of the EU’s star player, Germany, in the following decades.  Nice!

More graphs and facts helped to illustrate the following :

  • despite many recessions and the global crisis starting in 2008, over the last 25 years Poland’s economy has continued to grow
  • Poland is growing faster than many of Asia’s so-called ‘tiger’ economies such as Taiwan and South Korea
  • Poland’s success can be attributed to Poles’ knowing what they want – to be part of the West, to join the EU, to be more European
  • the list of current Polish billionaires is full of the self-made rich – proving that Poland provides equal educational and work opportunities for all Poles regardless of their social and economic background
  • the country has based their economic success on the Japanese model of ‘brain and muscles’ as opposed to exporting natural resources (of which Poland has relatively few); today one of the largest industries continues to be manufacturing (about 20% of GDP); mostly in home appliances. Poland has not de-industrialised like it’s Western neighbours.
  • Poland’s annual GDP is around the 500 billion mark – forecasted to break the 1 trillion mark by 2030
  • new infrastructure in the country (road, rail etc.) is facilitating business like never before

Mr. Piatkowski knows how to hit a chord… by poking light fun at his Canadian crowd’s flight and cellphone bills (ouch!).  He reminds us that the European Commission watches for monopolies in these and other industries and works to make sure free markets will continue providing Europeans with cheap flights, phones and WiFi.

Other fun facts ?

  • Poland’s economic and social successes are being synthesized into readable and book format – to what end? Perhaps other developing nations can learn from the Polish success and adapt Polish strategies in the south.
  • the country is working to decrease its reliance on non-renewable energy sources; sitting at 7% total national consumption coming from renewables with the aim being to go up to 15% by 2020
  • Poland is quite happy partaking in the economic freedoms that come with EU membership but is not keen to give up the Polish currency, the Zloty, for the Euro for at least another 5-6 years

My thoughts? I’m excited to get back to Poland in a week’s time ! If Poland’s Golden Age is now, then I want to be part of it.

(Feature image: Warsaw skyline at night)