Taking Flight… My Summer in Warsaw after the Fall of the Berlin Wall – June 23, 1990

This evening as I was organizing my closet, I came across my journal from the summer of 1990 (yes, 21 years ago).  Now, this might serve as interesting reading just because of the passage of time, but in this case, it was particularly noteworthy, because it journaled my summer in Poland as part of a team with Jeffrey Sachs just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, i.e., when Poland was trying to become a market economy.  A pivotal period of history.  Well, I couldn’t put it down, and an hour later, I find myself sharing it with you.  I hope you find this window into the Poland of 1990 as intriguing as I did.

June 23rd, 1990 at 6:45am

Dear Journal,

I know I should sleep, but I am too excited…

I love to fly!  I don’t love sitting here, but I love what flying represents.  I had been looking forward to the takeoff of this flight with such anticipation.  Taking off is so definitive.  It means that you are leaving one place and going to another.  And while you are doing so, you are restricted to being alone with yourself and thinking about what you are doing.  It is forced down time – to read or write or watch a movie or meet people or listen to music or just think.  (Do you remember those days – no electronic/mobile communication devices – just books and in-flight movies and portable tape players) And you can’t turn back.  You can’t change your mind.  And there are a limited number of daily tasks you can attend to while you are flying.

This flight is so significant.  It is a turning point, and it represents freedom.

Traveling like this simplifies my life.  There are a finite number of things I can deal with, and the cut off for whether I put something on my to do list is much higher.

My main task for the next two months is to experience and also to be focused – to read Polish literature, Polish history, Polish maps, Polish dictionaries – because the more I know about Poland and Polish culture and language, the richer my experience.

My goal is not to save money or get staffed on a consulting engagement – but to experience life.

In two hours I will find myself at the Warsaw airport where I will be met by a representative of the Stephan Batory Foundation.

I will collect my baggage and go with him to the home of Pani Jasienski – Michal Jasienski’s mother. (Michal was a tutor in my college dorm.)

I may have a phone, (note the word “may”)  but I will not be able to work my way down the list of people I need to call to prepare for my time at Wharton.  My life will be simple.  My wardrobe is simple – despite the weight of my bag – cut down to a minimum.

Of course the flight over is more than symbolic.  It is the beginning of the journey.

Starting at the baggage check, you meet people who speak only Polish.

Then  you encounter the stewardesses and either they reprimand you for carrying too many large carry-ons or they help you store it away.  In this case, they helped me.

And of course, flying is full of class distinctions.

Which brings me to another issus – the cost of the flight.  The cost of this flight – had I paid for it (rather than using frequent flier points) – would have been at least $800.  How much does it cost a Pole?  Where would a Pole get that kind of money?  That’s like 8 months rent.  That’s like $60,000 to me.  Do they offer it cheaper when bought in Poland or when bought by a Pole?  How does purchasing power parity work?

I’m happy…

(More to come.  This is just the preface to the beginning.)

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