Day 1 - Traveling to Krakow Poland
Well, I’m on an 11-hour flight, I have a great seat-mate, and now my mind starts wandering … These are my musings on the first day of my Humanitarian Quest at 35,000 ft in the air.
Quest Log … Stardate March 20, 2022 … Wow, I’m such a nerd…
Well, it’s official … my humanitarian quest to Krakow Poland is underway. I made the decision to fly to Poland and lend a hand in the humanitarian crisis caused by Putin’s aggression less than a month ago. Now, here I am 35,000 feet in the air on my way to Amsterdam for a 4-hour layover before finally touching down in my final destination: Krakow, Poland.
I’ve never been to Poland before. I’ve never even been to Eastern Europe, the Baltic countries, Russia, or any other culturally similar locations. In high school, I was able to go to Italy as part of an art program and Fat Papa and I spent three weeks touring England, Scotland, and Ireland for our honeymoon. But that’s it. That is the full extent of my travel experience outside of our continent.
Luckily, my trip is off to an auspicious start. I’ve always said that I lead a rather serendipitous life and so far that is true for this trip. When I boarded my flight to Amsterdam, I misread my ticket and sat in the window seat when I was supposed to be in the aisle seat. However, because I did that, the woman who was supposed to be sitting behind me took the empty aisle seat, thinking she was in the correct row. Right before gates closed, we were both informed we were in the wrong seats, but the passenger whose seat I was in never showed up.
This was fantastic luck because Nannette, my new seat-mate, was such a lovely person and I would have been sad not to have the opportunity to talk with her during our flight. Though we had only met 10 minutes ago, Nannette and I talked like old friends and she was quite interested in my trip to Poland. Like me, she wanted to find ways to help but didn’t want to “just write a check” because it’s difficult to be sure your money is going to the people who need it the most. She didn’t like the idea of donating to a “faceless” organization who might spend the money on advertising just as easily as they would spend it in aid efforts.
But, like most people I know, she also couldn’t understand why I felt like I was the right person to do aid work in Poland. I gave her a rather surface answer of, “I feel compelled to help because if everyone chooses not to then there will not be enough help to get things done.” But it started me thinking. I get the question a ton. “Why am I going to Poland?” Frankly, I’m starting to get a little offended. Why not me?
So what in the world possessed me, an overweight, 35-year old mom and wife, to travel halfway around the world to help people I don’t know at a time when the geopolitics of the areas are having a minimal impact on my life (thanks oil companies for your insane prospecting)? Well, first, I’m human, and like many of you, I find it hard to watch the nightly news about the current Ukrainian crisis without breaking into tears. But, as my fairy-mother-in-law likes to point out, I could “just write a check.”
I get the argument for just writing a check; I really do. It keeps me safe, it reserves resources in Krakow for those who are in need, it keeps me safe, its allows professionals to fund the work they are already doing, it keeps me safe, it’s better to spend the travel money on a generous donation instead, it keeps me safe, it doesn’t worry my family, it keeps me safe … Do you notice a trend here?
Everyone close to me is terrified about this trip. They all would rather I just write a check. Gigi went as far as to say, “If someone is encouraging you it’s because they are an acquaintance who don’t love you like your family does.” Now, in all fairness, Gigi has really come around and is one of my biggest cheerleaders. But I hear her earlier sentiments, I really do. The problem is that I’m me, for better or worse, I have an odd skill set that lends itself well to aid work. Before the crisis in Ukraine erupted, I had already been looking into ways I could “Travel for a Cause”.
So why don’t I just write a check?
I have always said, and Fat Papa can attest to this, that If we lived in troubled times and there was a way I could help, I would. But why now? Why this crisis? Why not a different cause? Truth be told, it's because of privilege and history.
Believe it or not, ducky friends, I am a multifaceted person. Being a wife and mother do not define me. This makes life a little difficult sometimes because on occasion the things I need in life to feel fulfilled, needed, and like I’m leading a meaningful life are contradictory to my role as a live-in maid … I mean wife and mother.
I am a student of history … literally I have a BS in history and was 4 classes shy of an MA in US history, before I dropped out to start my own company. History is such a fascinating topic to me because once you get past the names and dates, the patterns in human behavior are so fun to study. I drive Fat Papa crazy when watching the news because I am constantly comparing current events to past events. Then Rachel Maddow makes the same observation and I get to say, “See, that’s what I said.”
But, its hard to study history and not think, “How would I have reacted in this situation?” I’m sure at one point or another, everyone has wondered what they would have done during the World Wars, or would they have joined a wagon train and traveled the Oregon Trail, or which side of the slavery debate they would have been on in the early 1800s. Would you have participated in the Underground Railroad? Would you have been a trailblazer looking for a different life? Would you have joined the medical core, or made bandages, or built planes? No? You don’t think about these things? It’s just me?
I’ve never lived a more privileged life than I do now. Fat Papa has a good and secure job that provides more than enough for our small family. I am traveling and writing to my heart’s content. Itsy Bitsy is in school and doesn’t need as much from me now. There really couldn’t be a better time for me to get involved in humanitarian aid work. But more important, are the historical times we are living in.
I want you to examine your life right now. How does it feel to live in these times? What are your worries, your concerns? What are your pleasures, your joys? Remember life as it is right now because in 30 years, school children are going to be asking you what it was like to live through these days. We are living in historical times and while I do not need my name recorded in history books, I do need to stand by my convictions.
Because I have such a privileged life, I feel like I must do what I can to help. So much of Putin’s war feels like the time of appeasement in Europe before WWII. Even if the war ended tomorrow, there is no way that Putin’s aggression doesn’t change the shape of Europe and the course of history. I don’t know how anyone can look at this and not at least write a check. But me, I have so much more that I can give than just money.
So I feel compelled to go. COVID made me feel like I had no control over my life. I had no control over getting sick or not. I had no control over going out, staying in, wearing a mask, sanitizing hands, staying away from family, closing a business, not traveling. It was all crazy and out of my control. I mean yes, I controlled how I reacted to these situations. I controlled my daily routine. I controlled my actions. But I felt like I had no control.
Feeling out of control also made me feel useless, impotent, and so depressed. There were times I just wanted to walk away from my life, just so I could feel something again. I didn’t, but COVID definitely brought about some of my darkest days. Thankfully there is ducking therapy. But since the start of the Ukrainian crisis, I have felt called to serve, and how I respond to that call is something I can control.
Since I decided to go to Poland, I have felt like I am working toward something positive. I feel wanted and needed, I feel fulfilled and like I can make a difference. I have inspiration, passion, and purpose again. And no, motherhood and wife-hood don’t give me those feelings; they never have and never will.
My fairy-mother-in-law likes to use my responsibilities as a wife and mother as the biggest reasons for why I shouldn’t go to Poland. But to me, those are amongst the biggest reasons I need to go. I am a better wife and mother when I myself feel fulfilled outside the family, and this allows me to be a better mother and wife to my family. When I don’t feel fulfilled, or I am depressed, I am not giving my best to Itsy Bitsy and Fat Papa. By helping myself, I really am helping my family.
Now, my in-laws do not agree with this not at all. They seem to think this is a very selfish point of view because they are sure something catastrophic is going to happen while I’m in Poland. Of course, reminding them that “something catastrophic” could happen while I am driving to pick Itsy Bitsy up from school didn’t quell their anxieties. But their point still stands.
I have planned my trip to Poland to be as a safe as possible, given the circumstances. While in Poland, I am going to be working with international charities and government agencies. I have meetings lined up. A car is being sent for me. My hotel is in a posh, safe part of the city. I’m going to take a daily COVID test. I’ve enrolled with the US government to get safety and news alerts. Yes, Putin is a war criminal but there is about as much logic in him bombing Krakow as there is in him bombing San Francisco. The risks I am taking by going to Poland do not outweigh the good I can do for others and myself.
But there is still the fact that I can be useful above and beyond sending a check. Yes I am going to do “grunt” work and fly to Poland to help stuff supply bags, run errands for charity organizations, prep food, and maybe even help people get from Krakow to their next destination. But I am also doing something most people can’t … I’m going to be creating a network.
I have 20+ years of experience in event planning, project management, charity work, and logistics. Can you think of a situation where those skills could be put to better use than in a humanitarian crisis? Pair that with my network of vast resources, my desire to be of service, and my communication skills, and I don’t see how I can’t do good on this trip. Yes, doctors, and lawyers, and professional aid workers are needed for this crisis, but so are people who know how to create supply chains, raise funds, inspire people, shine a light on what is going on, and connect people to one another for the good of us all.
Everyone I talk to who isn’t related to me by blood or marriage, says the same thing … “How do you know how to do this stuff?” The only answer I can come up with is, “I’m just me.” My odd, eclectic life has led me to this point. My experiences, skills, and desire to serve combined together are more valuable than any checks I write. There is a value beyond my physical labor to sending me, specifically me, to a crisis. So that also compels me to go. My skills are needed. It bothers me that Fat Papa is the only one who sees that. I hope I can change peoples' minds with this trip and show how helpful, and worth the resources, my participation can be.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I do not think that everyone should hop on a plane and head to countries bordering Ukrainian to help. I do think EVERYONE should write a check. Or a letter to your elected officials urging them to do more to help this crisis. Or start a fundraiser for a charity that is already doing good on the ground. Something, anything, every little bit helps. But, if you have needed skills, the resources, and the passion to serve … then maybe you should be going to Poland too.
So these are the thoughts running through my head at 35,000 feet. Am I making the right choice to go and help? Does living up to my convictions justify the risks I’m taking? Am I going to do irrevocable damage to my family in service to other, displaced families? Is this really the right decision or, as my in-laws feel, am I just being selfish? Nannette calls me brave. I don’t feel brave, maybe courageous. Maybe foolhardy. But, if today's flight is an omen for the rest of my trip, then I think I will be in good shape.
I don’t have all the answers for these questions. I hope to have good answers by the time I am flying home in 9 days. I really hope they are the answers I want. But who knows? Maybe I am making a mistake. At least it is mine to make and Fat Papa supports me all the way.