Jewel and I were hungry for kebabs so we trotted down the street to the doner kebab shop that’s on the road we live on. It’s pretty heady, really, to think about being able to follow the road west to Berlin and Paris and east to Moscow if we’d go far enough.
The man at the counter was taking my order (cięnki, z kurczakiem, sos mieszana) and suddenly he said in English, “You’re not Polish. How long you live in Poland? You speak Polish well. I’ve lived here two years, and I understand everything but I still don’t speak Polish well.”
I told him I’ve lived here three and a half years, and I understand how he feels, because I understand more than I’m able to speak. He said he’s from Egypt, and I said I dream of travelling there, and he said that would be nice, but the economic situation there isn’t good right now. “Are you happy here?” I asked. He nodded, avoiding my eyes. “I live here because my wife is from here.”
Later, I stood where he was preparing our food. With no warning, he turned to me and spit out, “I HATE this country. I lived in Holland for six and a half years and you can have a wonderful life with everything there. I HATE this country.”
The venom in his voice and fire in his eyes took me aback. I asked why he hates Poland. “People here are aggressive.” I didn’t comment on that, but said I think that in general people in Holland and Ireland seem friendlier and happier than here. “They’re racist here,” he said, and the way he spat the words broke my heart. I said I’m so sorry, and I haven’t experienced racism myself, but it’s a terrible thing. “I’m going to wait some time, then I’m going back to Holland.” His posture told me he was ready to defend his decision had I tried to dissuade him.
The kebab and cold Coke was wonderful comfort food, a splurge for a Friday night on a holiday weekend, but I was heart-sick, remembering the shards of his words. We’ll be back down the street for that good food, but the real reason will be to have a chance to talk with the sad man from Egypt.
All the roads of the world should unite us, not divide.