As I gradually rose from my state of slumber this morning, I became immediately aware of the tantalizing aromas emanating from our kitchen. That unmistakable scent of home cooking.
I think that everyone will agree, there is nothing quite like it. My own mother back in Australia is a wonderful cook, and has honed that craft from years of experimentation and adaptation, the result of which is always something that I sadly have probably not taken enough time to appreciate. This realization now has me stop when I can as a meal is laid in front of me to take in the sights and smells of the plate. Try it sometime. Those extra seconds of anticipation really heighten the enjoyment, and the space is often made a little more special if you can have someone fill it with a short message of thankfulness.
This morning’s tickling of the old olfactory nerves was courtesy of Pani Maria (or Babcia to our three year old) She is my Polish mother-in-law, who is now visiting for the holidays. It is fair to say, from a combination of tradition and opportunity of exposure to a wider food culture, that her menu offerings may be rather narrow. No shortage of meat and potatoes here. However, in this simplicity, we may find a deeper knowledge and understanding of the merry dance that we as humans perform in honor of our food, but there is probably a whole other blog that can be written about that.
For now though, it is safe to say that It took me a while to swing my legs out to the cold floor. I found myself swimming in the smells, trying to pick up on ingredients and game myself a little on what was being prepared. I could even envision Maria moving about the kitchen, a space somewhat uncomfortable for her in unfamiliarity, but as is the skill of the Polish in general, constantly adapting and slowly making it work. For keep in mind that even the use of the gas stove is something new to her. She has spent her whole life cooking on a wood fire stove, in a kitchen that was adapted from the chicken coop that was once attached to their two room house. Over the years, upgrades have been made of course, including the installation of an actual floor instead of the original linoleum covered bare ground. It is in this heritage that the true message lies, for in such a kitchen, the very food she prepares for us today has been produced with love and care for her family. Through the hottest of summers, to the depths of the cruelest of cold winters. And through all this, this wonderful woman has left her house every morning to walk to her church and give thanks for all the blessings she has.
Of course, meeting and marrying a native of Poland was always going to bring me to this country. From my very first trip there it has captivated me through it’s architecture, culture, traditions and (at times troubled) history. From my Australian orientated lens, it has at times been mind boggling to wrap my brain around the long timeline of events that have shaped this land and its people. Early on I committed myself to learning to speak the language (OK even if my first motivations were to impress a girl!) I searched and found books on the country. From coffee table picture books through to novels such as “Poland” by James A. Michener. I sat inquisitively in the presence of my wife’s family and friends, eager to learn how they thought and acted in their daily lives. This was no more valuable when it was with her parents. Both old enough to remember the very darkest of days, when much of their time was devoted with simply trying to stay alive. But they always expressed joy and thankfulness for what they had.Many observe the people of Poland from the outside and consider them a little cold and unfriendly. In the world of cross cultural training, this is analogous to the coconut. The somewhat hard exterior, once cracked, exposes a warmth and generosity that is genuine and heartfelt.
So there will be more on this subject in the future, but for now, I can only say that you should if you are fortunate enough to travel, take time to at least add a short visit to some part of Poland and just see what I mean. I can recommend many places, some on the usual tourist trek, others not so mainstream, that will leave you with a lasting impression of this beautiful country.
Where to point the arrows…
There are many things I could make this blog about, and so I will. Got myself a head full of ideas, all born out of various experiences over my lifetime. However, I am not so naive to think that these experiences give me any licence to pass out advice. In fact, the idea is that I will only deepen my knowledge in my area of interests from what I know will be thoughtful and well informed feedback from anyone who wants to join the conversation. So….. here is my short list of topics to go on with:
- Australia – My home country. Yep, born and bred in the suburbs of Sydney town. Passionate about my homeland and so very proud of its place in the world. Ask me anything, I can find the answer even if I don’t know it.
- USA – My country of residence, and recently, citizenship (I do get to keep my Aussie passport too, more about that in the future.) Specifically Chicago area that I now call home. Love the different opportunities my life here has brought. Certainly the country has its challenges, but there is no denying you can make a go of anything here if you’re willing to put the hard yards in.
- Poland – Birthplace of my wonderful wife. I have grown to know and love the history and traditions that surround this country. I love its people and though I have traveled there many times, there is still so much to learn.
- Kids – I have a couple of my own. My first daughter Samantha, now a beautiful and woman in her own right. A devoted wife and proud mother of two small girls of her own. Her little sister Emily, now three going on thirty three. Possessed frequent flyer status before she was 1 year old, speaks two languages and devotes each day to the task of capturing my heart. I simply love and adore both my girls.
- Marriage – I am basically married to the most wonderful woman in the world, so really what do I say. If I do start, I may not stop.
- Kakadu Traders Australia – If we must work, why not do it with something you love. We will learn more about this great family company in the future. I get to work alongside the US crew as purveyors of some of the finest apparel you can buy.
- Cultural Competence – What? you might ask. Well, there is every chance this could engage a pretty wide audience. Over the past 6 years, I have been involved in supporting programs as a country specialist in preparing individuals and families for expat assignments in Australia. In this I have found a passion for the field. I am now more more directly involved and have become certified to deliver more general programs for a wider array of expat destinations. So cultural competence, perhaps also cross-culture training basically means having the tools to navigate the challenges that come from doing business and engaging socially in a foreign culture.
I be thinking that this is enough to get the juices flowing. If you’re reading this, then you’re one of the first. Don’t be shy, I would love to hear what comes to your mind on any or all of the above topics of conversation. Feel free to share with your friends, let’s see where this goes. Think of it as much as your blog as mine, I certainly don’t want to be the only one writing. I am needing content for my soon to be podcast series, and the feedback and comments I get here will form the basis of conversations there as well.
Looking forward the journey!