Poland 2007: Miętne, end of first week  ►

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2008-05-28Poland 2007: Miętne, end of week two

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For most of the week people had been toying with the idea of trying to visit the Ukraine, but that got ruled out after some further research – it'd be a very long, indirect route there, and require a very early start. Instead they decided to head out later, go to Lublin, have a chilled afternoon there and do some clubs or bars.

Paul decided to stay and crack open some books for his Russian literature essay. I toyed with the idea of going back to Puławy for the day... but the irregular Garwolin bus services didn't guarantee getting there or back, so I asked Sally to look for a CF card and resolved to have a really long lie-in on Sunday. Mick and Vicky were going to join Maria for a bike ride in the countryside, but as things turned out the weather put the kibosh on excursions and rain set in for the weekend.

Unfortunately only the message a few days earlier had been passed on, so the kitchen only knew to do food for a handful of people (four of us and a few of the students who were opting out of a Warsaw trip because they came from there, knew the area well or had been to the museum there in previous years and couldn't face it again.) Natalia offered up her portion, and I hope nobody actually took the girl up on it...

In fact most people took that as the cue to head to Garwolin and get pizza there, so we headed into town, where apparently the bus stop was on the other side, past the shops I'd been to a few days earlier. We had the time of a bus to Lublin, though I wasn't fancying the chances of people making it.

But we jumped the ditches, ran across the motorway, climbed over the barriers, went through a few fields (exact same route I'd taken before; there wasn't road for some stretches, and on others it was the direct route the locals took) and half the group were in the distance somewhere behind by the time the edge of town was visible. They only missed that bus by a bit, but a handful of people who'd set out earlier had found some possible other bus times, and everyone was quite happy to go pretty much anywhere and try to get a hostel as long as it meant they got to do something, anything, that didn't involve staying in Miętne. Whilst waiting for everyone to regroup, we got pretty decent pizza (not a patch on Atmosfera in Puławy, but it was warm and food) and huddled under parasols amidst the emergent drizzle.

After that I left them to it and made it back to camp with the rain not having started to really pour. The group got to Lublin, but it took them six hours from when I left. I'm told my sister had some lovely conversation with leering Polish drivers (well, if you will wear low-cut tops, dear...) and Mel did the polonaise in the middle of the station. When they eventually arrived at the other end, the accommodation turned out to be in the suburbs – an old converted prison block run cheap and cheerfully for students.

Anyway, the rest of the day was nice and relaxed. Watched the last couple of episodes of Doctor Who as Paul hadn't seen the last one either, read one of the Russian books he'd got – I think it was Heart of a Dog – and vegged out online.

Sunday it rained. And rained. Later there was some rain; copious, thunderous buckets of the stuff. I found the Simpsons movie and left other people to watch it; apparently it's not all that good past the intro. When everyone else got back Sally, well...

I remember packing the lads, who spoke no Polish and had no money, into a pre paid taxi with directions for which buses went to the airport/train station and waving them off into the storm, wondering if I'd ever see them again.

...business as usual, really. Later I read Sofia Petrovna, which was two more books for Paul's Russian course than Paul had over the weekend.

The rain highlighted something, as it was far too pelting to bother going to the shop over the road – the food on this camp had been very nice, on the whole, but the portions rather small. Puławy was more geared towards seconds and random people turning up to visit camp and getting fed. Miętne was catered and budgeted per head, young'uns and older kids / adults fed the same, and as a result pretty much everyone was making one or more shop trips per diem to top up their sugar levels.

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Resources in general were oddly imbalanced... we had our own photocopier, but a stock of paper wasn't kept on site. The place was surrounded by grassy areas, but most of them had to be booked and the camp was reluctant to pay for sports facilities for afternoon activities. Getting hold of things like marker pens, art/cookery supplies and toilet paper after the initial week was easier said than done, with Maria doing her best but often being refused or getting something different to what she'd been told initially was available. A couple of older 2000 or XP era PCs would have been far more useful between ~20 people than the single new Vista machine we had access to, as long as there was at least one burner.

By Monday Class one had decided that there was nothing they wanted to do except, possibly, frisbee. That didn't change much for the following week, so I was quite glad when my sister volunteered to teach them weaponry through the ages and how to strip and rebuild a UK armed forces rifle with diagrams. They did pay some attention to the Guy Fawkes story, and got a bit more enthusiastic going through medieval torture methods, but the weekend seemed to have tired them out. Other groups were finding similar and opting for 'gone native' chat sessions, but whereas they had the option sit and talk, only a few of mine could carry a conversation. Instead we did some advert work with One and Two, coming up with scripts and props and filming them on Vicky's digital camera. Then we got them to learn a couple of songs, one their choice, one ours – Rihanna's Umbrella, and Summer Nights from Grease as it's easy and would get both guys and gals involved. I let myself get talked into doing the rap for the start of Umbrella and Szymon and Milena worked out a dance routine.

Later Mick discovered an old Windows 95 machine in a room down the corridor, old enough to predate USB and have MHz numbers on the front. I think he got what he typed up emailed to himself for printing or onto floppy, but anything more useful in a browser was out of the question – it lacked the RAM and speed to make it worth trying to do anything significant with it in the few days that were left, plus the original Win95 problems with 60Hz maximum refresh on the monitor.

By this point we'd tried rotas and timeslots for the computer and more-or-less abandoned them. There were too many times Sally or other co-ordinators would need it at short notice, throwing off any schedule, and several people (me included...) were arguing quite strongly that stuff for lessons should veto personal use. Though people were undoubtedly better off with my sister leading than me, as I'd have gone for a flat "get up early or stay up" if people were going to argue. Whereas if needed I was happy enough to wing a lesson by picking a topic and doing some generic activities with it, those with higher groups needed to find stimulus material and to sit and type up worksheets more often.

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Amongst other unexpected changes in schedule, Monday became a film evening – we still had the projector, and were going to blag Daniel's laptop to avoid putting Maria's mother to further inconvenience. Sadly he'd nuked his Windows install and the Linux distro he was using refused to play ball with the monitor out connection, so the staff computer got an impromptu relocation.

We found out that the director, one of the secretaries and her husband were coming on the tour with us, which made me recall Nysa and think about heading back early, as Paul had decided to do so that he could revise for the exams he had due. Since an answer was needed that day I opted for the tour, and decided that this time I was going to make an effort to explore wherever we ended up – there's only so many times you can visit the same tourist attractions, and I think it's a reason people don't tend to do APASS camps more than once or twice. It isn't so much the ad hoc organisation, as a lot of people said by the end that they'd like to do more TEFL in Poland or another country, or to visit areas such as Gdansk. Paul, Sally, Vicky and myself all returned several times – but the same few places get repetitive. I think people would jump at the chance to go back and get introduced to other places.

Less thrillingly, the director had heard that roads would be closed in Zakopane over the weekend due to a trade union strike, so the plan was to travel overnight rather than on Saturday. (As far as we could tell on Saturday, this road closure didn't take place.) People were not happy, and even volunteered to walk the last few miles.

Tuesday came, Group Five were considerably less responsive than the first time I had them, and since other groups appeared to running outside activities, after an opening activity we opted for a film, which was Polish dubbed so they had to explain at each stage what was going on for me in English. That's sort of educational, right? Group Six were very helpful translating the lyrics to a Polish song sheet we'd been mysteriously handed that morning, after which we played some vocabulary games.

Most of the British staff got Blind Date cancelled in the evening on the grounds that they were knackered, then buggered off to the pub, which probably didn't give a great impression of us as a group. Then again, we categorically weren't meant to be doing so many evening activities and it's unlikely any of us would have shied away from pointing it out by this stage... it's the old story as far as people management goes; if things are presented as optional, or they're run and there's an invitation to join in, there'll usually be some takers. Considering most of our group were new to the three week burn-out cycle camps run on, they were dealing quite well with the highs and lows, and certainly bonding in the face of adversity.

Wednesday I forced Group Five to jump through hoops with words for places, an exercise with Stereophonics' A Thousand Trees to get them talking about places and lyric meanings, some directions, and then we watched the first episode of Christopher Ecclestone Doctor Who so that I could emphasise how varied British accents can be. Group Six got the song exercise, then for the last of the morning lesson slots we went back to our normal teaching groups to practise songs for the bonfire that evening.

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The bonfire went down well, Kuba doing a good job setting it up and getting together enough wood for it to be kept going. Sally spent the morning and afternoon making friends with the kitchen and organising production of apple crumble on an industrial scale, with thermos flasks for the custard. I refused to do the haka as I'd only have fucked it up, and organised videoing the performance and speakers for some of the campfire songs. There were lots of songs and most of the groups got into it, with Mick's lot having a particularly reggae and 60s-inspired performance. Guys had been built from newspaper, rags and balloons, though we'd had to stop the kids making them look too recognisably like certain people.

On that note, you know you aren't entirely getting on with people when the others involved acquire nicknames from the kids that staff begin using unconsciously. We weren't sure if they'd been carried forward by students who were there in previous years or were original – but the previous camp had a mostly different set of names for the same people, so maybe it was just minds thinking alike.

This all probably comes across as there being a strong "them and us" attitude, but you wouldn't have known it from daily interaction – people nodded, smiled, said dzien dobry a lot, occasionally made each other tea and were generally professional about most things. There were even conversations about how the kids liked us and apparently we had power 'because you have the language' – I'm not sure how much I agree with that and how much it was different temperaments and the way we interacted with them; my sister became first port of call for quite a number who were trying to get help or trying to mediate disputes amongst themselves.

There's certainly a different dynamic because English staff don't have ultimate responsibility for pastoral care, but a number of things (confiscating phones, often not giving kids the option of supervised 'quiet areas' if they didn't want to do the evening activity, etc) came across as people being heavy-handed. Possibly part of the reason we rarely needed to discipline kids was because early encounters hadn't been confrontational – apparently at the start of camp there were 'riot acts' read, including the lads being told that, if they felt like masturbating, to put their testicles into cold water. No exaggeration, although one thing you should know before passing judgement is that Poland has some specific loco parentis laws for native teaching staff; this includes a level of automatic responsibility for a child if any student gets knocked up and the staff can be argued to have been negligent. All the same, a fair number of the kids (mostly the older and sharper ones) remarked that they felt they were being regarded as "animals, only wanting to drink and have sex" – their words, not mine. All was not entirely fluffy in the magical land of Miętne.

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But back to the bonfire. After the fire had died down the students went to bed, though we could still hear them singing Umbrella, Darragh's custom tune of Dzien Dobry, Dobranoc (sung to 'happy birthday to you') and other songs from the evening, even a field away. Paul and Mark set about divesting a tree of several branches. Plans to write something obscene in wood on the football pitch and scorch it into the turf were considered but rejected as a bit too obvious and traceable.

This was also (apparently) the week that lots of singing workshops were amongst the afternoon activities, with improvised accompaniment by Lizzy on piano and Anthony on trumpet. The vice director, who was a trained music teacher, was particularly enthusiastic and the kids went a bundle on songs with clear lyrics such as Can You Feel The Love Tonight and Amazing Grace.

Thursday the weather was fine, so a lot of people sat outside with their classes or went to the larger of the two general shops – this one was the other side of camp, through a wood and the path came out on the other side of town. It turned out that this was the side that had the church that's the other 'feature of interest' on Miętne postcards.

It having officially been declared Polish Day, the cooking group volunteered a recipe and baked the English staff industrial quantities of a type of sweet pastry made with śmietana, which were incredibly more-ish. Later, we were formally invited to Polish Evening by Pani Basia, which turned out to be a very entertaining event – music, sketches, dancing, quizzes. By the time it started I was trying to stave off a headache and wasn't entirely with things, so I was a bit surprised when Maria turned out to have been looking for me. Someone had snapped a disc, they'd downloaded it and tried to burn it again, but ended up with a data CD... Maria happened to remember I'd got something that would play it. I got the feeling I'd missed a lot of frantic running around by going for a bit of a lie-down after afternoon activities finished.

After watching the traditional dance in the car park, we went in to watch performance pieces, which ranged from comedy skits and aerobic dances to traditional songs. The staff who got picked for the quiz did quite well for the questions and refrained from invoking offensive stereotypes when asked to make a puppet representing a Polish person out of cardboard and craft materials. Then more of us were got up to sing Majteczki w Kropeczki – the song we'd been given words to on Wednesday – but some of us had taken the precaution of getting someone to download it so we could listen. We were more checking to see if we'd been given something hilariously obscene, but no – it's 'disco polo' (a popular form of party cheese) and even with lyrics that had the diacritics written on it's a tongue-twister. Kuba offered up his masterstroke, a chant of 'Polska! Biały, czerwony!' (to the tune of 'one-nil to the [insert football team]') that went on for about ten minutes. It tied everything together perfectly, and would've been a great point to ride off into the sunset.

Iwona in particular got a massive cheer from the kids, having built up a good rapport with them (she even got mauled involved during the Capture The Flag game) – and also apparently really liked Mick, like a goodly proportion of everyone else female on camp. She got Maria to help her with an anonymous letter through the internal mail system before we left, and Mick sent back a carefully-selected Shakespearean sonnet.

As it was Paul and Lisa's last night (she was going on to meet a friend who'd gone to the camp Rodney went onto, Paul was heading back via Warsaw) people sat up for a while trying to stay awake with the addition of booze.

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Friday was quite disorderly. Most classes came down to the conference room to have a party of sorts with music, games and food we'd got the day before. Since there was already a concentration of staff in there, I made a break for it and went to play pool with the kids out in the lobby – and Mick, who was wearing sunglasses and groaning quite a bit by this point. The weather didn't dry up for most of the morning, so the roaming packs of students writing in each others' exercise books and anarchy stayed inside. We managed to get a couple of copies of people's photos from the camp onto DVD, after the blanks Mark had got in Puławy all made coasters in the staff room PC – others of the same brand worked fine, but we couldn't get even one of the batch to write properly.

Blind Date was mooted again as an afternoon activity, but fortunately the ceremony to close camp overran and we were spared that shambles. Prizes were handed out to things such as the International Quiz, and we were given photo books and eggs on plinths painted gold.

That about wrapped things up, and was followed by clearing out classrooms (no surprises for guessing what Paul had legged it without doing...) and packing. There were hordes of emotional teenagers lined up to see us off, and I managed to say bye to most of the ones I wanted to. Unlike Puławy, the Miętne lot were almost all old enough to have their own opinions and personalities, and we'd gladly have taken some of them with us if it were feasible – particularly Koobs in Lizzy's case. (The one in her class, not the guy from the Polish staff.)


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