“Ditch the resolutions. To resolve means to find a solution to a problem. You are not a problem. The way you showed up for your life this past year was necessary for your growth. Now is a time to reflect. To learn. To create an intention, a positive call to shift, a spark of magic + manifestation rooted in self-love and backed with action.” Danielle Doby Tribe
New Year, New Place
We make too much of New Year’s Eve. We rejoice in the passing of the old year while opening the door for the untested year ahead. I like to hang on to the old year, especially if it was a good one. This is a meditative, thoughtful process, I think. However, in today’s culture and in the past, the party and celebration are ostensibly promoted. Fireworks, and crowds and mind-altering drinks to either celebrate a start or dull the pain of disappointment. Resolutions are made, the past years disappointments are boxed up quickly and we forge ahead for a new adventure with sails to the wind. So why the noise? Why the chaos? Why the glitz? It is like the birth of a child and not unlike a wedding. Like marriage, like a new child, we are making a go of the New Year with a commitment to endure, care and be responsible.
For New Year’s Eve, my husband and I had planned on attending a big sparkling affair in the main market square in Kraków. The largest outdoor stage in Europe had been built there to showcase a spectacular light and media extravaganza along with the most talented, or so it was advertised, of Polish performing artists. It was a very cold night here on December 31. Discouraging to think about standing on cold cobblestones for several hours in the midst of thousands of people. In the square, private stashes of alcohol and fireworks were to be banned (buying fireworks is legal in Poland). Several checkpoints were to be posted by the police to let revelers into the square and also to let them out. That was the deciding factor for us. What if we wanted to leave early? Would we be able to mill through the throngs of people to get out to the street and home? This was our first New Year as expatriates. I struggled with an ingrained, youthful idea that if you don’t get out there and actually “see” the year in then you are just an old fuddy-duddy. “Not so” said my wiser mature experienced self. There is more to celebrating a New Year than just champagne and exploding lights.
We stayed in, watched the whole show in the square on the telly. I drank tea; he drank cola. We ate cake and generally had a very low-key time. Good thing. The entertainment as we saw on TV was quite awful or maybe it was just way over our heads. In bed at 11.30 with the noise of intermittent firecrackers and rockets. The street on which we live is engineered as a canyon: sounds reverberate and bounce off the walls, then amplify and resonate. At midnight, the whole night exploded into thundering vibrations that lasted for over a half hour. It was startlingly noisy. Still 2016 crept in and here we are.
It is astonishing to me that, at the ripe age of 67, I have set up house in a confined flat in a foreign city amidst a foreign culture. We have adjusted to life here as if it were normal to be living outside the U.S. This is really our home now. The accoutrements, “stuff”, we have purchased like furniture, kitchen appliances, window treatments and decorative items make it feel homey. The household chores are the same here as they were across the pond with the twist of a foreign language to navigate in antediluvian settings. I’m living in a European country as an expatriate American with papers that say I have a right to live here. As if in a dream, I still think I will wake up and find myself back in snowy Maine.
2015’s Game Plan: Fumble, Recovery, Scrimmage, Goal
In a somewhat meditative state, my retrospection of the last year and a half, is a stunning maze of paperwork and planning, maneuvered and completed. First up, even before we made a commitment to living in the European Union, was executing a 9-page application requesting a reclamation of my Polish citizenship. This process, in written Polish, was begun in August 2013. In November, the application form was deemed obsolete. A new version of the application was downloaded; different and difficult enough to be counted as another challenge.
I did not have a few of the required documents. Because my parents were displaced persons, some of their documentation was lost. I had to apply to Warsaw for my parent’s Polish birth certificates. After a couple of months, my father’s birth certificate was retrieved and sent to me. A letter stated that my mother’s was not in the main archives. I had to move forward with only the record of my father’s Polish nationality to prove my nationality. Requests were also sent to a registry in the U.K. for my parent’s marriage certificate and my long form birth certificate. I was documented.
The English language documents I collated as attachments to my application had to be translated into Polish. This included my U.K. birth certificate, U.S. naturalization paper, my passport, marriage certificate, my parent’s marriage certificate, my father’s military discharge papers, and my father’s travel document (a kind of passport he was issued when he left the U.K. with all of us in tow). The short family-history essays in Polish as well as the translations were a herculean task that I could not have completed alone. I worked with my friend, Dominika who was a wizard with the Polish grammar. She did most of the translating. At the end, she got some help from a Polish student, Weronika, who oversaw and proofed the final translations. In January 2014, I had all the original documentation notarized and sent it off to the Polish Consulate in New York City where the translations and documents had to be checked and approved. The legal consul then forwarded the application to Warsaw for processing a decision.
A few months later, a letter from Warsaw came with a request to prove that my father was a Polish citizen when he left the U.K. Additionally, it was required that the original documents be viewed and approved by the Polish legal consul in New York; the notarized copies were not acceptable. And the translations were to be approved and stamped with an official seal by an agent of the Polish Republic. Holy-molly.
My father served in the Polish army from 1934 through 1946. We had been assured that his documentation would be adequate. But I had forgotten to include his U.K. Travel Document, the one I mentioned earlier. It clearly stated his nationality was Polish and affirmed that he had not acquired British citizenship while he lived in the U.K. I wrote a letter, in Polish, with more help from Dominika, to clarify his service was in the Polish army not British and to explain that the travel document had been left out in error. In June 2014, I flew to New York to the Consulate of the Republic of Poland with all the original documents that had to be
reviewed by the eyes of the Polish legal consul. Just for good measure, I included all my father’s military documents displayed in a large archival book, to prove in person unequivocally that I was a Polish citizen. I navigated the Polish consulate with the help of another dear Polish friend, Yola, who lived in New Jersey. The legal consul had no problem with my paperwork but then, she had not had a problem with my original submission. What the Warsaw bureau would see, think, and rule remained dubious. She stamped everything as officially ‘viewed’ and told us that the military archival album was worthy of a museum.
Back to Maine for more waiting. The original submission was in January 2014, corrections and edits in June 2014, by August the decision had not arrived. I sent an email direct to the Warsaw bureau, bypassing the New York consul, to request a status. The reply was given directly. The approval decision had been mailed to my friend in Kraków who, as was required, was acting as my legal representative in Poland for all correspondence from Warsaw. She was on vacation in Maine and no one in her office had recognized the name on the envelope (my name) and so refused to sign for it. It was mailed back to Warsaw without my friend ever knowing it had even arrived in the office.
Now, in order to have the document resent to Kraków, I would have to formally submit a letter of request, in Polish, to Warsaw with an explanation. OK and more sweat equity. The decision came in October of 2014, 10 months after the submission of the original application. I was a Polish citizen. I felt like jumping up and down but instead I submitted, by mail, a new required application for a Polish birth certificate; this one was for me. It arrived, surprisingly, in record time.
Now I could apply for a Polish passport. This application had to be filled out in person in Polish at the consulate; no online forms available. I alos needed a pesel number, which is like a European Union social security number and all-purpose ID. I was assured numerous times in emails and on the phone that I could complete both applications on the same day in person in New York. I made an appointment, which was not required but I was not taking any chances. About 5 days before I flew to NYC, I checked again that my passport and my pesel number application could be done on the same day, in person at the consulate. Yes, the consulate representative confirmed. Yola was waiting and she was determined that this process should be wrapped-up.
We arrived, we got the application, and we filled it out, and went to the desk to submit it with the pesel application. We were struck dumb when told: “no”; the passport application could not be processed until after the pesel number was issued. The pesel number could be issued in 2 weeks. Then we could return to apply for the passport. Why? Because the procedure was changed in March, just 3 weeks ago. After $400 for a round-trip air ticket and more spent on a hotel room, I had to return in 2 weeks for an additional expense of about $800. Yola got into battle stance but with European charm and flair and her very cute accent. I whipped out my smart phone to present the email sent from the embassy just a few days ago affirming the one-day process. The clerk went back to get her supervisor, the vice consul. The vice consul was adamant that the new procedure must be followed. I would need to return for my passport application and be fingerprinted at that time but only after I had a pesel number. Yola had warned me that bureaucracy in the consulate was still partially functioning with some of the archaic alchemy reminiscent of Communism, i.e., paperwork was valuable, procedures must be followed above all, communication could be sketchy, and there were no exceptions. Next!
Yola’s husband had an important acquaintance in the Polish consulate in Washington DC. And so, at this time, his name was dropped. Another look at my application, some thought and some sympathy. The applications would be processed today as a very special exception. But there would be no fingerprints associated with my passport as currently required by the European Union. Was I OK with that? Of course. And thank you, my dearest Yola.
New Game, New Rules
That was April 2015. My passport arrived in June 2015. We were then in the final phase of the big move. We could now buy airline tickets to leave the country in September. Along with all the other blogged adventures of our flight to Europe, the boring maze of paper management is a big part of what it took to get here to this first day of 2016 in Europe. More paperwork and bureaucracy were on the horizon for us. Greg needed a long-stay visa to live in the EU for more than 3 months. But that’s another tangled web of a tale that we’ll keep for another day.
So was it worth it? The last year of bungling preparation to come to this New Year in a strange land? For me, yes. To live in the EU is to be able to hop, skip and jump to all those out of the way, obscure places by train, short commuter flight or ferry. A trip to Malta, Croatia, Finland, Norway, or Bosnia-Herzegovina is an easy launch from this site. Even Belarus, a trip to deliver my mother’s ashes to be scattered with her ancestors at the cemetery in her family village might be a ‘can-do’. How many cross-Atlantic trips would I have had to make to accomplish all that? Trips like this were not affordable on social security pension and there was only so much time left in our lives. Before my 75th birthday, I dream to have incorporated all that education and adventure into a brain, which could become feeble any year now. And I could write the stories I’ve always dreamed of writing as a young person. What this dream could bring in 2016 is exciting and yet scary to explore. As long as we are healthy, we are ready
My hope for you is that you can wander to accomplish long-held dreams in 2016 in good physical and spiritual health. If you can, do what it is you dream to do now. Don’t wait for it and don’t make excuses. Anything worth doing means it will be hard to do. Nothing worthwhile is easy to acquire. Change your priorities. Don’t be afraid. Challenges will grow you. Seize the day, as they say; seize 2016! We still have some youth left in us to exploit. Do It! Happy New Year!