Stories from the Muddy

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010


By Naomi Lewis

            A few days after I arrived in Warsaw, my friends began their vacation.  Monika’s brother, Jacek, came to drive us to her country home in the Mazury Lakes district of northern Poland.  I can never in good conscience complain about U.S. highways again.
          The main thoroughfare between Warsaw and Gdansk, a Baltic Coast recreational area, is a two lane highway.  There is no such thing as a freeway.  I was told they know how to make them, but they don't, and they skimp on the roads they do build, as it was described to me, so they can pave someone’s driveway and make extra money.

          Now, the two lanes between Warsaw and Gdansk are deeply rutted from all the truck traffic.  If you get caught in a rut and need to get out, heaven help you.  The Poles want to get where they’re going as fast as people with four or six or eight lanes, so they have devised a passing lane down the middle.  It's invisible, but the Poles agree it's there.  Drivers coming toward you at 120 km an hour with their brights on, assume you'll move over onto the shoulder so they can pass the car in front of them.  This is not crazy, as I was told, it's normal!  It's Polish!

          Polish semi trucks travel as fast as U.S. trucks or faster with half the room to navigate.  It's terrifying. I felt I was caught in a loop of Mr. Toads Ride, praying and holding on to the handle bar on the ceiling of Monika’s compact car.

           To make it even trickier,  when people are passing you down the middle and there's a car coming from the other direction passing the car in front of them, there are two passing lanes down the middle and the cars with the right of way move over onto both shoulders.  Now, if you add the guy riding his bicycle on the shoulder, or the huge, ancient trees bordering the shoulder, or a horse-drawn cart full of somebody's family riding on the shoulder, or maybe just a guy out for a stroll, you get the idea of what it’s like to drive in Poland.  But I’m not finished.  Now...add curvy and hilly.

Wheat field near Naria
            Okay, country roads.  These are also two lanes, but full of potholes on the edges, next to the 200 year old trees that aren't moving.  People drive down the middle of the road from both directions, and when a car approaches from the other direction, the alternative to a head-on collision is to swerve the last moment to miss them.  I mean last moment, then dart back to the center.  The cars rock so badly, you might think you're riding in a cartoon car, if you can picture it. 

           When I thought I couldn't take any more, the light would splash golden and breathtaking through the clouds that kept us cool across the wheat fields ready to harvest. And the air, was so cool and fresh, free of pollution.  I didn't see any smoke stacks from industry.  I don't know where they are, but there aren't any between Warsaw and the north.

           The night we drove north, we ended up in a pitch black Hansel and Gretel forest.  There were no street lights in Morag, the nearby town to cheer us on. We arrived at Naria at and Monika showed me my room.  It had been closed and smelled musty.  I was well-travelled and used to landing in unfamiliar places, but that night, I sat on the edge of my little bed a long time with my miniature flashlight clutched in my hands.  I knew I would come to love that room as my refuge after I put myself in the context of the house and neighborhood, but that first night, I was scared to the bone.  I prayed I would fall asleep quickly and I did.  It may be the first time in my life I truly knew what it meant to "Lie down unto the Lord."  When I awakened, light flooded through my window and I found out which direction was east.  Upon reflection, I thought I knew something of what Jonah must have felt in the "belly of the whale."

There are more storks in Poland than any other country

          I was reading the Old Testament that summer.  I don't know how the Lord does this, it happened several times on my journey, but when I opened my scriptures, I just happened to have arrived at Joshua 1:9, "Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest."

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