Sunday, September 27, 2020

Karta Pobytu

Imagine the DMV: lines, chaos, maybe some tears, a general feeling of droll and dread. Add in a foreign language and that's about what it's like to visit the Ursząd Wojewódzki

In order to stay in Poland beyond November (when our current visas expires) we are applying for a three-year temporary residency permit, a karta pobytu. There is a 13-page applications (that needs to be filled out in Polish, of course) which is accompanied by about eight appendices. My final printed application package sat about three centimeters thick. After printing everything in triplicate I needed a large grocery bag to lug it to my Tuesday appointment.

I had little say in the appointment date. I send an appointment-request email with all of my key information and waited. If any information is missing you don't get a response, but if your email is properly constructed then within a few days they will respond back with your appointment date. Cameron was lucky- he was granted a day last week when we were on holiday but I have to take a few hours off of work on Tuesday morning. 

I was nervous going in. I wasn't just walking into the unknown, but I was walking in without one of the keys documents. I requested it from my employer about a week in advance, but despite express mail it didn't arrive in time. For safety reasons, they have everyone wait outside the building. It was a little chaotic. Although they had sections cordoned off for lines most people were just massed in a clump. After observing the situation for about ten minutes I attempted to explain to the security guard that I had an 8:40 appointment. He shuttled me inside, asked me to disinfect my hands, took my temperature, and then I sat in another room. 

From what I could tell, there wasn't much order inside that room either. There were three of us sitting in the waiting area and as one employee finished up with a customer they would shout out to us asking what we were there for and what time our appointment was. I was thankful that the man I was assigned to spoke English. He moved very quickly and seemed intimately familiar with the plethora of stamps in front of him. His hands were a wizz flipping through application pages and applying stamps and signatures to each. Every few pages he would look up at me and ask to see the original ink-signature versions of each document included in my application. 

He seemed unfazed when I said I did not have my Appendix 1; I would be able to turn it in later. I asked about taking fingerprints but since the machine was down it didn't need to happen. He handed me a slip of paper, which I assumed was confirmation of my application submission, and sent me on my way. Only after I left did I realize I forgot to ask for a stamp in my passport, which essentially is the pivotal part of this process and proves I'm legally able to stay in Poland while my application is processed. 

Two hours after I got home my missing document got delivered- cholera! After working with HR and sending emails to the Ursząd Wojewódzki I learned I could come by appointment-free between 16-19 on a weekday and then on Saturday there was an open house that might offer appointments for getting a stamp. I did not get one of those appointments because, as I learned when I went in for the second time on Thursday, my application did not have a case number assigned to it yet. 

Thursday was a much more nerve-wracking situation. When I arrived at 16:10 there was over 100 people waiting outside; some were in lines and some were clumped up, presumably waiting for an appointment. When I found the right line I think I was probably #50 so I sat down on the curb and worked while I waited. Every half hour or so it seemed like the security team handed out tickets to the first ten people in line and then fifteen minutes later those people were brought inside and the rest of us would lurch forward to fill in their place. 

I waited for over two hours until I was near the front of the line. Maybe if I understood Polish better I would have been able to get inside sooner since periodically they called out fo particular situations. Once I finally made it in it was similar to the first time. There was another little holding zone but I was called over to one of the desks after about five minutes. I handed over my missing document and the confirmation paper I got the first time, but the man behind the counter didn't seem to know what to do with them. He was just as surprised as I was that I didn't have a case number and he wasn't able to take my fingerprints or give me a stamp either. 

In an attempt to make me feel better, he told me that if I were pulled over by the cops and my legal status were to come into question I wouldn't actually need the passport stamp; that's just a formality that makes people feel better. I am one of those people who wants to feel better! He also said that probably I would get something sent to me in the mail with next steps but if not I could call in 10-14 days to see if a case number had been assigned yet. Basically, I left feeling pretty pessimistic that my missing appendix would find its way to the rest of my application. Keep your fingers crossed for me.

This mega building is filled with the paperwork and bureaucracy. 

Sitting on the curb waiting for 49 other people to filter inside before me. 

Finally at the front of the line. The security guards are very serious looking with miliatry-style outfits. 

This is what I found inside- mega DMV vibes!

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Drinking with the Locals

It's probably no surprise to you to hear that Polish people like to drink. Wódka is the national drink, but from what I've seen beer and wine are still the common daily drinks. One of my favorite things to see is people setting out for an adventurous day (hiking or kayaking) and enjoying a beer at 9:30 in the morning. 

That being said, drinking is done socially. I had five friends over Friday night for a wine night and quickly learned that it is bad luck to pour refill your own glass. Of course that led to jokes about the disadvantages of living alone and lots of people making it very obvious when their glass was empty. Looking back, I think this is also why no one accepted my offers of drink and food until the full group arrived. 

This was marketed as a wine party, but I still was surprised when everyone brought a bottle of wine, plus I already had two. Seven bottles of wine for six people seemed excessive, but over the course of seven hours we got through six and a half of them– o boże! Only one of the seven bottles was a dry wine, everyone else brought sweet or semi-sweet. Of the seven, five of them were red. Despite this, I was asked to put all of the bottles in the fridge. Maybe it's just my lack of wine education but for now I shall think of chilled sweet red wine as a Polish thing. 

As we drank, we also ate, and sang, and cheered– "na zdrowie!" We cycled through party music from Poland, Ukraine, and Russia as we drank Georgian, Modovan, and German wine. Food wise, I made spanakopita (which my friends kept referring to as spinach baskets) and Cameron had baked cream puffs, which were of course a big hit. He only got to enjoy a few though since he had been banished to a bedroom during this time, but that didn't stop him from periodically texting me for things or to remind me to keep quiet. It wasn't a problem for us, but I actually have since learned that there is a noise curfew at 10pm; luckily we didn't hear any complaints from neighbors!

Overall, I feel very pleased of myself. I'm now officially in my late twenties but there was no hangover for me; I think that might be a sign that I am officially welcomed by Poland. 

Never pour your own wine!

Singing and dancing to some well-known Polish party song that I've never heard of. My favorite new song of the night was My Słowanie 

A game of fishbowl always makes its way to my parties. 

The reason there are clothes all over the couch is because we also had a clothes exchange. I'm going to another swap meet today because I've realized I have way too many things. Hopefully I leave with less than I walk in with. 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Aisha after Dentist

I was too busy to write last week. I have been very busy: we moved flats, I've had some big demands at work, I'm putting to gather my temporary residency permit application, and yesterday was my birthday. With all of that going on, naturally I'm going to talk about the dentist. 

To put it out there, I almost always have cavities when I go to the dentist despite having pretty good oral care. I'm typically in the habit of having a dental check up every six months, but this year with the move and Coronavirus I've fallen off of my routine. That's not to say I wasn't trying! I called Lux Med (the medical provider) in May and was told they were not doing non-emergency appointments. I called again in early July and then again in mid-August before I got an appointment for 10 September. 

Lux Med manages all sorts of medical care coordination and there are about 15 locations throughout the city. When you make an appointment, you can specify if you need an English-speaker provider and if there is a particular doctor you want to see. If you don't have a preference you get booked at whichever facility has the next available appointment. When I called for a dentist appointment, they asked me "what type of dentist appointment?" I didn't really know how to answer that question so I said a check up and a cleaning, and was informed that those are two separate visits. Since all of the hygienist were fully booked, I only made the checkup appointment.  

The Lux Med facility I was booked at was about 40 minutes away by bus and located in a big office complex. After checking in at the receptionist desk, they send me to wait outside room 27 to wait. I was early so in the 20 minutes I was sitting there someone else got called into the room and was sent back out. Before I got called in they had me fill out a page-long medical questionnaire with the basics: do you take any medicine, what are you allergic to, are you pregnant, etc. 

When I was asked into the room, there was nothing unique about it. It had a set of cabinets, the dental chair, and a small desk with a computer. It looked like the base of every dentist office I had ever been in. Both the dentist and her assistant were fully masked up, but what I could see of her eyes and hair my guess is she was about my age. She started by going through a list of Coronavirus questions before sitting me in the dentist chair. 

It was very quick. They gave me a cup of pink liquid to rinse out my mouth with, and then the dentist quickly surveyed each tooth and called out numbers to her assistant. She then gave me a mirror and pointed out the dark spots on my teeth, which was kind of neat. I asked her about a sensitive tooth and she took an extra look at it and was able to tell me I was probably brushing too hard and in the wrong direction. Before swapping me out for the next patient, the doctor sat me down at the computer again and looked to see if my insurance covered an x-ray and fillings for all three of my cavities. Since it did, she signed off on a paper prescription for the x-ray and sent me on my way. The whole ordeal was less than 15 minutes, and I was a little miffed that I had bused 40 minutes for this.

I also didn't know what to do with my x-ray prescription. Was I supposed to call and make another appointment 3 weeks later? I went back up to the receptionist desk and I was pleased when they sent me to another room in the facility. As I waited another person came by and asked me what time my appointment was, and I truly didn't know; I was worried I maybe misunderstood when and where I was supposed to be. That guy got called in, and then about five minutes later he left and I was called in as his replacement.

The x-ray machine was awesome! As I stood with my chin resting on a little plastic bench the machine's arm swooshed around my body. It was way quicker and more comfortable than the other x-ray experiences I had in the past. This was definatley the highlight of Polish medical care! The radiologist informed me that if my doctor was within Lux Med then they would have access to my x-rays tomorrow, and if not I could come by next week to pick up my x-rays. 

She sent me on my way, and I once again was left not knowing exactly what to do next. I stopped by the receptionist again to set up my next appointment for the cavities. There wasn't anything available next week (which I have taken off of work) but she had an appointment available the next day. 

Friday I returned and was directed to the neighboring door to where I was at on Thursday. I was surprised to see that the receptions were different from the day before, and from what I could tell the assistant for dentist #1 also was different. When I was welcomed into the room, I surprised the dentist and assistant by announcing I only spoke English. The assistant was shocked but the dentist nodded and said "it's ok."

I didn't have to go through the Coronavirus questionnaire and although the same cup of pink liquid was sitting next to me I was not asked to use it. The dentist started off by asking me which cavity I wanted to fill in. I was not expecting that question, and I immediately responded "can you do all of them." That shocked her and she looked down at her watch and said "oh no, I don't think we have time for that. Just one." 

Not sure how to respond, I told her to fix the worst one–it's not like I have a favorite cavity. She took another look and said that since they were all surface-level cavities if I didn't need anesthetics then she might be able to do all three. That's fine with me! I really didn't want to have to come back for two more appointments. 

Leading up to the point where she started drilling holes in my teeth, there were some things that made me nervous. For one, this dentist looked to be nearing her retirement. Then, when she was checking her tools she could not get one to spray a consistent stream of water, it seemed to only mist. Her assistant couldn't figure it out either so she left the room to find a replacement. During that time, the dentist accidentally started raising my chair and could not figure out how to get it back down again for a solid minute. The assistant returned and the new tool head didn't fix the water problem, so she left again to grab a different woman who promptly showed that my dentist simply was pressing the wrong button.

Finally, once all of the equipment was set up the dentist set up my chair. She pulled the head rest back in a strange position and then kept the chair in the upright position. It wasn't wholly uncomfortable until the dentist started pressing down on my tongue which clogged up my breathing. The rest of the procedure was pretty standard to what I've known before. She drilled all three holes and then directed me to rinse with the pink liquid. It was strange being able to explore the holes with my tongue, but then putting down the filling putty and drying it out with a UV light was the same. The clean up was also normal, but there's a little bit of residual filling on the side of my teeth. 

Overall it was not the best dental experience I've had, but it also wasn't the worst. When I was retelling this story to some friends back home someone argued that this is an example of why the United Sates will never move to universal health care. Yes, it was a little odd and impersonal, but it was fully covered by my health insurance and it got the job done. In Poland, many people do choose to still go to a private provider if they want a more intimate experience, but I don't feel any need to pay for something that I can get for free.

The outside of the dentists' doors- day 1 and day 2. There are probably about 50 rooms at the Lux Med facility I was at and they all look pretty much the same. 

They had me fill this out at my first visit. Aft fist they gave me a Polish version but when they saw me using Google Translate to interpret what I was signing they found an English version for me.

There weren't very many other people in the hallways while I waited. I wasn't sure if that was because it was mid-afternoon on a weekday, if the dentist wing is just typically infrequently attended, or if people are choosing to avoid non-emergency medical care right now. 

Also, we move! This view is accessible about a block away from our house. 

Of course a move mandates a stope at IKEA. We probably spent 2-3 hours in the store and these kiełbasi were very appetizing afterwards. IKEA even had a vege version. 

Also it was my birthday, and of course Cameron's baking skills were put to the test. He made a layered meringue with coffee, hazelnut, and chocolate flavors. 

To celebrate we had a picnic at the botanical gardens with about ten friends. 

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Kayaks and Pride

 I've had a long week. I'm working overtime and I'm trying to fill out a bunch of legal paperwork (residency permit, drivers license application, and a new lease). Yes, we decided to move apartments, which is very exciting but it also adds one more thing to the to-do list. With all of the busyness I didn't have much going on mid-week, but yesterday was a nice change. 

The Toastmasters went on a kayaking adventure yesterday. Normally when the term "adventure" is applied to a group athletic activity it is hyperbolic, but it was actually pretty apt in this case. In the introduction our kayak guide told us we would need to duck and climb and scoot–not the typical cushy river float. He also was sure to tell everyone that once you were in the kayak, you were in for the full stretch; there aren't any places along the river that you can get out with your kayak. 

We started walking down a pretty steep dusty hill to get to the river edge (well, more of a large creek) and everyone paired off into twos to embark down the narrow steam. Almost immediately there were some bumper boats going on and backwards floats. As was pre-warned, there were a few sections that necessitated getting out of the kayak and pushing, but many people were wearing street sneakers and jeans. Even Cameron, the kayaking expert, couldn't navigate us away from every obstacle.

For a three hour float, it was really fun! My favorite was when we had to climb over and hover on top of a fallen tree while our kayak was pushed below it. At the end we had to paddle upstream on the Vistula for a short way and then were welcomed at the end destination, the Nowa Huta Yacht Club, with coffee and candies. Let's just say I ate a lot of candy...but I found a new favorite–Ukrainian Minky Binky caramels! In addition to sweets, there was also some typical grill foods and wine. As can be expected with the Toastmasters, the food was paired with some speech-giving games, and Cameron even volunteered to stand up and give a speech! In my opinion, he did quite well, but being a native English speaker is definitely an advantage.

It was a fun day, and after six hours in the sun (and a week of overworking) I was tired, but yesterday evening was also Krakow's Pride parade, and I felt an obligation to go. There was a lot of people there, and many varieties of striped flags I had never seen before. I was glad to see how well-attended the event was, especially knowing the anti-LGBT position of the current government. It was a little scary when a small (~200 people?) parade marched around the main square shouting homophobic chants not long after I arrived. Luckily that didn't last long, and there were a lot of police officers monitoring the situation. 

Not knowing Polish, I wasn't sure what was going on most of the time. There was a small stage and a few speakers/crowd ampers and a bit of a production pulling out a long (~10 meters?) rainbow flag. At one end of the plaza there was a drum circle going, which I didn't realize was covering up the sounds of anti-LGBT protesters. Eventually, maybe an hour after we arrived, the crowds started to mobilize into somewhat of a parade and my friends and I shuffled along. It a very slow moving (only half a block in the first 30 minutes) but it was long—it took up two sides of the square and was at least 10 times as long as the anti-pride parade. 

I know it sounds like a lot of people, and it was, but I should be clear, everyone was wearing masks and it felt really nice to see so many people showing up for human rights. 

Starting our adventure on the Dłubnia river. 

Say "hi" to the Toastmasters. We were all huddled up because we had to climb one-by-one over a fallen log. 

Cameron giving a speech to the Toastmasters. 

This was early on in the Pride event and not nearly as crowded as it got, but once the parade got started this made a nice visual (used somewhat like a Chinese dragon). 

This is a good sum of how things are going at work.
Just kidding, but this snip from a recent training made me laugh. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Please Vote

A few months ago Poland re-elected Andrzej Duda as president. None of my Polish friends were pleased with the election results, and my boss called Duda "the Polish version of Trump," except Duda will be around for another five years. Krakow is a very liberal city and so many of the conservative elements of Polish politics don't affect me, but I also was able to ignore many of the effects of having Trump as a president since I was living in liberal Seattle. Don't get me wrong, I was very upset about our first Trump election and I absolutely do not want to be in the same presidential position as Poland in three months.

I should start with the caveat that I know very little about Polish politics, but a few news stories have crossed my path that I think are important lessons to learn from.

Poland is ranked as the worst country in Europe for LGBT rights. Duda ran on a family-first campaign, a big part of which is to make it even harder to live a "normal" life as a gay couple, including constitutional amendments to ban same sex couples from adopting and support of "LGBT-free" communities and municipalities. Earlier this month there was a protest that ended hauntingly similar to the Black Lives Matter marches we've seen in the US: heavy police intervention and violence. The full news story can be found here. But it's not all bad. Those "LGBT-free" free towns have been denied EU funding, and if you've seen anything Polish in the news, you probably saw something semi-positive. A handful of political leaders stood as the LGBT flag in visual protest during Duda's swearing in ceremony. 

When I moved here, I knew Poland was a little iffy on women's rights. Abortion is illegal (with a few exceptions) but at least birth control is legal (but there is no emergency contraceptive) and Poland actually is one of the better countries when it comes to the gender pay gap (but women still make less). Recently, though, I learned that Poland has virtually no sex education, and now Poland is withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty that strives to combat domestic violence. Apparently, the reasoning is that the treaty is equivalent to "blindly denouncing the Polish tradition and culture" and because it "required schools to teach children about gender." 

I know I cannot change the Polish political climate, no matter how much I educate myself or discuss it. Even if I could, I don't feel like it's my place; I am a guest to this country and I really appreciate how welcoming it has been to me thus far. But, I do have a voice when it comes to US politics. For those of you who can, please vote in this November's election so that we don't have a second round of the US version of Duda. 

Please vote, even if it is inconvenient. Oversees voters can request an oversees absentee ballot here!

I attended a women empowerment discussion group this week. One of the table topics was "you and your rights" and it was interesting to hear how women rights vary between countries. 

I really like my international women's groups. I think that my opinions and perspectives have been broadened having regular conversations with people from different backgrounds. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Hello High Tatras

If you want practice saying cześć then go for a hike! 

This was my first proper hike in the Tatra Mountains, the high mountain range which shares the boarder of Poland and Slovakia. It's about 2.5 hours drive from Krakow to Zakopane, which is the cute mountain town that is the primary hub for mountain access from the Polish side. That unfortunately means lots of traffic getting down there and a bit of parking stress. To overcome that stress, Cameron's coworker, Robert, recommended we leave Krakow by 4:30. Well, it's a good thing we did because we had a long day ahead of us. 

Two of my friends came along too, but we split up pretty early on and ended up doing separate hikes. Probably a good thing, since the route Cameron, Robert, and I ended up taking was pretty challenging. Robert planned a 25km route for us which included 1650 meters of elevation, two 2000+ meter high points, and pulling ourselves up rock scrambles with chains. Naturally, the most dangerous climb was paired with a huge downpour and some hail. 

But don't let me complain; it was beautiful! It had all of the elements of what I love in a hike: wildflowers, meadows, looming peaks, countless lakes, plus a few Polish add-ons like mountain huts and ski lifts. The Tatras aren't that big, and you can access any part of the National Park as part of a day hike, but nonetheless they fill up quick! You have to book far in advance to stay overnight, but they are also popular to stop for the bathroom, beer, or some traditional Polish cuisine for day hikers, too. 

Despite it being Friday (for many Polish people it was a three day weekend), there were a lot of people out. From the first peak, it seemed like any direction we looked we could see people trekking about. Unlike in the Olympic National Park where you can go off trail to create your own wilderness route, the Polish national parks are much more restrictive. They mandate that you stay on the trails and swimming in the lakes are not allowed, but it many ways the landscape is more accessible because of the abundance of trails. Also, unlike the Olympics, it's very easy to create a loop which is a really treat. It wasn't as wild as the Olympics, but I would say the Tatras rival in beauty. We will surely be going back regularly. 

These were some steep rocks to climb, especially when wet. 

Luckily the other side of the pass was not as challenging as this, because going up is much more manageable than going down would have been. 

Views from the start of the hike. We started off in the forest but it opened up within about 30 minutes of hiking- another benefit of the Tatras over the Olympics. 

You can see that it was by no means a lightly-attended trail. Even on the more challenging trails were busy, plus this was not as busy as a proper weekend day. 

We were on top of the two pointy peaks (the hill in front and the peak behind it slightly to the left).

Another view of those two peaks. One of the mountain huts was in this little village (not sure what any of the other buildings were used for).

Even though we split up, I think my friends ended up taking this lift later in the day. 

Cameron being a photographer and the clouds starting to darken even more. 

I love mountain streams. 

Another pond and more dark clouds. 

We climbed to this peak, which was the taller one from the earlier pictures. The sign wars of falling rocks and very difficult terrain. 

There's another lake at the bottom of this. The train you can see on the other side is the one we took to get to the other side of the pass. 

Views of the climb up to the first 2000+ meter peak. 

Lake views from the peak. 

You can see that there are trails along most of the ridge lines. 

People hanging up at the peak. 

Views from the top. 

One of the bigger Lakeland the mountain pass in the background. 

Two lakes on the other side of the pass that are part of the Five Lakes Valley. 

Another of the five lakes, including the Five Lakes Valley mountain hut. 

Wildflowers on the way down the valley. It was a lot of downhill and my thighs are very sore today. 

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Tads and Tidbits

I think it's time for another installment of the little tidbits of fact and culture I have come across living in Krakow for the last few months. 

Every so often my coworkers introduce me to new Polish idioms. These tend to come around after we hear some bad news, but the intensity of the language always makes me laugh. My favorites? "Absurdity carousel" and making a "choice between plague and cholera."

There are a lot of churches, and I see seminary students walking around in priestly robe regularly, but it's the nun-spotting that I love. I always am surprised when I see nuns doing pedestrian activities: dropping off something at the post office, eating ice cream, driving a minivan...ah what a treat!

When I was in a walking tour a few months ago, the tour guide introduced me to the term "Polish briefcase." He told us to keep our eyes open for shopping bags from high-end shops being carried around unnecessarily. Now anytime I see someone carrying around a Marc Jacobs or Prada shopping bag, I try to sneak a look at what's inside...I have never seen those bags actually carrying something from the store they originate from. 

We found this Polish version of the food pyramid- I think it's telling that coffee is included on the model. According to the same tour guide that talked about the shopping bags, Krakowians especially like their coffee and will drink seven cups a day because they are snooty. 

I don't know why, but it seems like Krakow really loves Elvis Presley. Outside of Wawel Castle there is a Hollywood-style "Avenue of Stars" which include's an Elvis tribute and there's a monument tribute to him along one of the popular walking trails near town. I have tried to research why and have not found a satisfying answer. 

Quite a few of my friends are attending university while here, partially because it's so stinking affordable! A two years master's program typically won't cost more than ~8000 USD (total!) and if you are in a PhD program you get paid a monthly stipend. I started to very strongly consider applying for an environmental protection and management masters, but I couldn't quite commit. 

Being outside of Poland for a week made me remember that homelessness is a thing. It's easy to forget because we don't see much of it in Krakow. Apparently, there are just lots of really good resources available–imagine that!

I was in an elevator with a stranger for the first time in a while. In the US, everyone politely looks to the door and ignores the others. In Poland, everyone circles and faces towards the center of the elevator. 

People cook lunch but prepare dinner. Why? Because lunch is typically a hot meal but dinner is more often a smaller thrown together meal: a sandwich or leftovers, for example. Also, it's really common to have breakfast at work.

I didn't notice this before summer came around, but it seems like every time I leave the house there is a big vehicle cleaning the tram tracks. I don't know exactly why it's shown up all of the sudden, but my theories are that summer is more dusty (not really but it's a guess) or the water it sprays on the tracks keeps the metal from expanding (also seems unlikely, but I did not study civic engineering). 

Overall things are going well. Here are some more miscellaneous pictures from mildly interesting things I've come across this week:

Movie showing in the park. It was an American film with Polish subtitles, and from what I could tell you could just pull up a chair and join along. 

Earlier this week there were lots of Polish flags, red and white flowers, and military services going on. No one I know really knows why, but one of my coworkers was guessing that it was for the August 1 National Warsaw Uprising Remembrance Day.

Just another great view of the city- this one from my friend's roof.