Some of my most enjoyable moments while on my year-long, study abroad trip to Poland were spent in the small, farm town of Jagiełła near the Ukranian border where my Polish family lives. During my first weekend with them, my Polish grandmother (Krystyna) and grandfather (Jan) brought my father and I to this old mansion near their town. My father first met Krystyna 40 years ago on his first trip to Poland. He didn't meet with her again until she came to the States to work in 1990 and then didn't see her again until 2010. If my father had not saved her address, written her a letter (only in Polish) a few weeks before my departure to Poland and magically received a phone call from Krystyna (only in Polish!) the morning of our plane ride, the photos in this spread would probably not exist.
Poland is still old and communist, at least along its train routes. Every so often, I would take the four hour long train ride to Przeworsk, near my family's village, on trains with engines like these.
No matter how old the trains were, sticking your head out the window never got old. On this particular trip, my two brothers and my Polish friend, Dorota, came with. This is my younger brother, Bryan. All of the trains were like Harry Potter's, with private compartments but extremely slow, just more time to see the countryside!
My friend Dorota sits on her suitcase in the train's aisle. Sometimes, the trains would be so full that passengers would have to stand for three to four hours! Surprisingly, no one complained to the conductor, who still managed to click everyone's ticket!
The train stations on the way to Przeworsk were all built by the Soviets. Most were rusty and dirty, but full of character! For most Poles, the sight isn't as easy to appreciate as it is for Americans used to everything new.
Driving into Jagiełła is like entering a long, lost village after emerging from a deep forest. Jagiełła is bordered by a small forest that separates it from the bigger towns on the other side.
A religious shrine marks the oldest tree in the forest which surrounds Jagiełła.
Religious shrines are everywhere in Jagiełła and Poland. On special holidays, funerals, or for simple prayer, Poles will light candles and lay them under shrines such as this one. Poland is one of the most Catholic nations in Europe.
A common sight in Southern Poland's fields. Most farmers in Poland are poor and own only small amounts of land, unlike in America. They rake their fields by hand with their family's help. Jan, on the other hand, tills a very small plot of land for potatoes behind his home. He is still uses an ancient tractor from the communist era eh calls Vladimirsk to finish his work. When he isn't working his field, he works as a manager at the train car factory on the other side of the forest.
A traditional, Southern Poland house; a common sight in Jagiełła even though many of the houses are modernizing.
Jagiełła is a farm town that specializes in wheat, cows and chickens.
Every year before Easter Sunday, Jagiełła and her neighboring villages partake in the annual Turkish parade. Legend has it that during the Battle of Vienna in 1683, the enemy Turkish soldiers wore extravagant uniforms into battle. Today, this tradition survives to mock the Turks' surrender to the Poles. The group of local boys parade around the entire village for four days before and on Easter, with a small but extremely loud band following.
Chickens are the most common farm animals in Southern Poland. This family of chickens lives next to my Polish family's home.
A Bocian (bo-chan), Polish for stork, stands on top of its nest. If Poland has anything unique, it is these birds! These birds migrate from Africa and settle all across Poland. Jagiełła is home for many of them.
Jan, far right, dances with Dorota on his imieniny or Catholic Name Day. The celebration is more exciting than a birthday party, with platters of meat, cake and salad and of course bottles of vodka.
A field near Krystyna's home.
Pigs belonging to one of Krystyna's neighbors are excited to see American foreigners for the first time. Her neighbor, who is older, runs the farm all by herself. Before I returned to Chicago, she told me that if I didn't come back soon, she would already have passed away.
A boy walks his family's cows back home from the fields, a twice a day process. He keeps them moving with a thorny branch. The lady on the bike is Ela. Ela, the town crazy lady in the words of my Polish grandmother, became a good friend of mine. We at first thought she was stealing the cows, as she guided one onto her property. It later turns out that the cow was hers. On my last visit, I helped her rake her field and then got to sit shotgun in her tiny, toy car Polski Fiat 126p while she drove with her eyes closed through the town!
Ela's house and Polski Fiat 126p.
Krystyna cooks her famous Polish soup and potatoes. Meals included a platter of meat, cheese and bread for breakfast, a big feast of what-not for lunch including soup, and a platter of meat, cheese and bread once again for dinner. There was no question about cake, it would always be accepted after every meal.
Stanisław (Staniswaf), Jan's father, lives on the first floor of the family's home. He used to be the carpenter who made the Turkish hats for the Turkish parades. On our last day, my brothers and I sat down for a chat. During one of the quiet moments, he stood up, opened his cabinet, and poured us a shot of Polish vodka! He passed away before Christmas. He was 94 years old.