My ex-husband called this morning to see if he could help by sending money and spreading the word in San Diego. He asked: Tell me about a typical day.
What an interesting turn of phrase as there is no typical day. Getting coffee and starting a fire in the downstairs fireplace is where it typical ends. But one does look forward to the coffee and the warmth of the fire, dare I say, we count on it in a world where counting on anything is a precarious business.
Twenty-eight refugees in your house quickly converts a person’s thinking from the theoretical to the actual. No longer do I speak in the abstract. Every night as I climb into bed, I am struck by the visceral and the practical in each minute of my day.
I never knew one could contain so many emotions and complexes in one body and then to multiply that by twenty-eight is what the house and the land must support and then remembering the Nazis that drove up the driveway in 1940 to take Zofia and Krzysztof to Ravensbruck and Majdanek, respectively, is the atmosphere at Sichów.
While there is no actual threat to Poland, the Poles and the Ukrainians share the same memories of an ancestral past which is still tangible, real, not imagined.
We have six families, including one pregnant woman expecting her first child, four other children and two teenagers.
We have a six-year-old master chess player who is a Ukrainian national treasure. She took subtle delight, though measured in her display of confidence as she has impeccable manners and clearly didn’t want to boast, to beating the socks off Paul. She takes the game of chess quite seriously and yet she had a slightly upturned smile during the game which set the tone from the first move as to who the winner would be. Poor Paweł was massacred. He turned the King on his side. He fell on his sword. Still, she insisted on shaking hands at the finish.
She carries her baby dolls around and makes direct eye contact with you. She doesn’t run from anything. She plays the recorder like Zbigniew Preisner.
The women rake leaves, cook and clean with a formidable commitment. There is no hesitation. They make soup like a 15th C. alchemist.
I don’t know why there are some women who rarely come out of their rooms, the older ones. I don’t know whose husband is alive and whose husband is dead. I do know that most have lost their homes and, in some cases, their pets that they had to leave behind. I don’t know about their friends.
I do know that their lives are changed forever. Home is no more. Now they must cling to each other and rely on the goodness of strangers. They must eventually consider who will be the best host country, who will take them, what language will be the easiest to learn, who will have work. They have the daunting task of rebuilding their lives and perhaps with an incomplete family.
Daria is expecting her first child. A little girl. Daddy is moving around the Ukraine. Will she start off life with him or will she grow up with only stories told about him?
For nearly the last twenty years, I have told the story of Rose and Henry Kieniewicz and how they arrived in Scotland with only the clothes on their backs, without a penny to their names.
Every morning I look into the eyes of this memory, the memory of my mother-in-law, the memory of all who made it out of Poland in 1945 alive. There are half laughs, moist eyes, deep sighs, distant looks.
Every morning, there is something to touch, something real, something tangible, some practicality that needs addressing: a pair of shoes, a needle and thread, a pair of slippers, a bottle brush, cough drops.
Do I pray? Of course I pray. Do I know there are angels around us? Of course I do because there are. I just no longer think about the women as I did the women from Yemen and Syria, whom I thought about with great concern but only thought about, only imagined and theorised about.
Today, I have coffee with these women, the Ukrainian women. And we just sit together. Very few words are exchanged but the care and the love at that table, the power in it is enough to give birth to a new star. All women and children all over the world who have been forced to flee their homes, their lives because of the tyranny of evil, sit in spirit with us.
I will be writing this diary during the week, when time permits. I think it’s important.
Tomorrow: Dignity and Shame. How we receive a