Thursday, August 23, 2007

Pani Henryka

I'm gonna be really pretentious for a second and pretend that I can become best buds with extremely important people, which would allow me to have an enormous friend crush on Pani Henryka Krzywonos. Pani Krzywonos worked in Gdansk as a tram conductor in 1980 when the August Strikes began, and she stopped her tram in the middle of an intersection to start a public transportation strike. Today, thanks to my super contacts at the archiwum, I got the chance to meet her, which was an utterly humbling and inspiring experience. In one beautiful long narrative she told me of her experience in Solidarity and under Martial Law. She escaped being imprisoned by going into hiding, was found and beaten by the police more than once, and went so far as marrying a good friend to change her name from the one well known by the police. Her heroism continues today, as she and her husband have opened up their home as a family orphanage, and she is now the mother of 14 (or maybe 40? I get really confused with numbers in Polish) children. I love my thesis topic. Though right now I have no idea how I'm going to incorporate all the different material I've gathered. All I can imagine writing is the already long "thank you" page.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Week 2 in the Archives

My time in Gdansk, and Poland for that matter, is drawing to a close. I've spent the majority of this week back at the archive, continuing to search the Bibula (underground newspapers) for any references to women. Unfortunately,y my ability to search for gendered language is severely hampered by my lack of fluency in this language...that would certainly be exciting! But I've got a whole stack of articles that I will probably spent the next year translating. I will resist the huge urge that I have to hand it over to my mom to sift through, because this work will be good for me.

I just need to take a nerdy moment out to talk about HOW MUCH I like working in the archive. The staff here is super and encouraging and that helps a lot. But really, everyday I get to hold, in my own hands, CLANDESTINE DOCUMENTS. People literally risked their lives to conduct interviews, write articles, print copies in their homes/rented rooms etc, and distribute these papers. During Martial Law, when the leaders of Solidarity where imprisoned, papers like Tygodnik Mazowsze were the voice and image of Soldiarity and gave people hope. And I've (tried) to read the original articles!

Besides meeting Pani Walentynowicz I've also met Alina Pienkowska's best friend. Alina Pienkowska was a young nurse who worked in the shipyards and was hugely important for the 1980 strikes. She telephoned the international press with news of the August strikes-the telephone lines in her office were the only ones who were not cut. On the 3rd day of the strikes, the strike committee agreed to a 1500 zloty pay raise and the reemployment of Walentynowicz and Walesa-which is 500 zloty more than the intial strike demands. But Pienkowska, Walentynowicz, and a few other women realized that there were other smaller factories striking across Gdansk and the country who were counting on a big victory in the shipyards to help them get their own issues accross. And they decided to continue the strike for Solidarity-closing the gates and telling the departing workers to come back and strike for Solidarity. She wrote the 17th of the 21 Demands and was a Senator before she died in 2002. Her friend was awesome, awesome, awesome-was already thinking of Pienkowska's role in terms of gender, had a great apartment and cool jewelry.

And tomorrow I have an interview with Pani Henryka Krzywanos, a tram driver in Gdansk who led the transportation strikes in August of 1980. Basically, thanks to the amazingly kind director at the Solidarity archive, I've been put in contact with 3 of the most important women in Solidarity. Whether or not I use this material for my Thesis, it's incredibly exciting to meet such legendary, strong women.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Week 1 of Archive Work

I've been in Gdansk for a week now, staying with my awesome cousin and spending my days at the archive in the Solidarity main office building. I've learned that archival research is slow work but exciting. I'm looking through the Bibula, or underground press, to find articles about women. I'm also doing some interviews-I have a list of contacts so long that it's unbelievable, because word has spread that there is an American girl looking for information about women in Solidarity, and everyday somebody from the building will wander down to the basement to share some stories and give me a couple of contacts. This is cool, but probably not the most helpful information for my Thesis. I'm doing a few more interviews so as not to offend my kind archive benefactors. Plus, it's a pretty great experience to meet people involved in the movement I'm writing about-not many historians get that experience.

Today I am going to the Solidarity museum, to see the Roads to Freedom exhibit which was closed last time I was here.

And in 1.5 weeks I will be home!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Pani Ania!

One week ago I was in despair because it looked like every archive I contacted about doing research was closed, either for vacation or remodeling. But my mom contacted a wonderfully helpful archive in Gdansk that is open, and the director put me in touch with none other than Pani Anna Walentynowicz. Pani Ania was critical to the 1980 shipyard strikes in Gdansk-it was, in fact, her firing just months before scheduled retirement that sparked the strikes, and she and Pani Ania Pienkowska motivated the shipyard workers to strike for Solidarity. She's a hugely tough lady, and on Wednesday, I got to meet her. We talked for about 3 hours (and by talked, I mean she shared amazing stories about Solidarity and I tried to inarticulately communicate understanding, empathy, and questions in my unfortunately poor Polish). Sadly, I didn't get any pictures with her because of camera battery issues, but I sat at this same table with her! (photos are courtesy of anna I'm returning to Gdansk over the weekend and have an invitation to come for a photo op if she's still in town.

And here's a photo of Anna Walentynowicz from back in the day-during the August 1980 strikes. I think ti's fair to make some comparisons between her and Rosa Parks-they were both iconic, strong, intelligent women who worked hard for civil rights and freedom. They're usually both remembered for simple acts of resistance but were true fighters. I'm still in disbelief that I got to meet her.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Teraz, Tylko Jeden Tygien

I'm approaching my fifth week of intensive Polish classes. They keep me busy but man, my Polish has gotten a lot better. It's really exciting to be approaching a point of competence in a foreign language. I'm still a stuttering mess when I try to say anything complicated, but I have a few friends here who don't speak English, so we communicate completely in Polish. I'm proud of that! This, by the way, is a picture of the courtyard at the Catholic University of Lublin (KUL). It's hard to see properly, but in the middle is a statue of Pope John Paul II that always has fresh flowers and a lit candle at the base. When the weather is nice I study out here during my afternoon break and usually I can hear someone practicing the organ (did I mention that I've met 2 famous organists here?)

For anyone who is looking to study Polish (I'm sure there are a ton of you out there. Slavic languages are so in right now, and I mean that with all sincerity) this course is by far the best one I've found or heard of. The teachers are amazing, and for the first time in my studies the cases (almost!) make clear sense. The teachers work really hard-we rotate teachers for our individual lessons each week and every teacher has been so enthusiastic about preparing lessons for me that focus specifically on women's history and solidarity vocab. I don't see any other way trying to do archival research would have been possible. Here's a picture of my class. The denim clad lady sitting in front is Bozena, my great teacher. My roommate, the history grad student who frequently calms me down when I have an "honors thesis? what honors thesis?" sort of brekadown, is standing next to me in green, and seated in the right hand corner is Siostra Maria-my favorite nun EVER.

It seems as though my language limitations might not be a problem for archival research, after all. A bigger problem is finding a place that has relevant information and is open. I didn't realize this before, but August is "Cucumber Season" here and mostly everyone goes on vacation. I found one archive thats open, and the director may have some contacts I can interview, which would be sweet. But it's all very up in the air at this point.

I have just 3 weeks left until I return to America and I'm really happy about that. Poland has been great-I'm loving every experience and I know I'm so lucky to be here, but I've been gone for almost 7 months. I need some fish tacos, black bean burritos, mounted shower heads, iced soft drinks and clothes driers back in my life. Not to mention the people who are kind enough to occasionally read this blog.