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On the Way to Poland

Lydia Olsen
Class of 2016

(9/2015) "Ugh!" I sighed to myself. We were late again. The taxi pulled up to the departure gate and I flung open the side door. I stood at the trunk as the driver came around and opened it. He handed me my bags and I used all my effort to compensate for the extra weight. People always say that you shouldn’t travel with more than you can carry and I was tiptoeing the borderline of that saying very closely. "Danke," I said as I handed him a handful of euros and turned to the complexity of the airport in front of me.

The sliding doors made way as I walked briskly into the airport with my two traveling companions, Dan and Jordan, trailing behind me with backpacks nearly the same size as their bodies. Inside the lobby, we stood trying to make sense of the signs and searching under the large German words for the tiny printed English.

"I, uh, I think it’s this way," I said, unsure of the true direction and hoping for the best. We ventured through check-in and security quickly, nearly professionals at this point, thanks to all the traveling we had been doing. Once through the chaos we walked on, passing gates and looking for our destination on the blinking signs above the various doorways. We came to the end of the terminal and still had not found the seating area for our flight. It was less than 15 minutes before boarding begun and we had no idea where we were suppose to be.

We stood there for a moment as people passed beside us all going different directions. I looked around, searching for something helpful. "This is the one," I said as I pointed to the waiting area for Gate 14. "How do you know?" Dan asked, puzzled. "That man in the khaki jacket," I said as I motioned to an older gentleman sitting at the end of a row of connected seats, "he looks like me."

It had been a long couple of days around Germany. It was not exactly a business trip; I had retired long ago, but I found that I needed something to occupy my time and art seemed to be the answer. I had always loved to draw. Even as a child I remember picking up a pen and finding paper to scribble on. It was not my occupation, but rather more of a hobby.

The summer months had been dragging on. I needed a change of scenery so I decided to fly on over to Germany for a few days and explore some of the old sights my mom and dad used to take me to when I was young. It was nice to get away for a little bit and go back to the places I had so fondly recalled, but how difficult it was to see how drastically they had changed.

It occurred to me then that I too had changed so greatly. I found myself opting out of the stairs for the lift more frequently, and noticed myself taking more breaks to catch my breath.

"Where does time go?" I couldn’t help but think. It all passes so quickly. I used to think that there was no way to capture it. That we had no chance of remembering what it once was, but then my art would speak to me and I realized that I had the ability to capture moments and freeze them in time. That was what this trip, this new phase of my life was all about; capturing the moments that others let slip by.

I sat patiently at Gate 14 waiting for the plane to arrive. It was just about time to board and already a line was forming. The destination flashed on the overhead screen and I stood up with my boarding pass in hand. I walked over to the back of the line and waited to board the small propeller plane.

We barely had time to sit down before we had to get in line with our passports and boarding passes in hand. I could barely contain my excitement as "Krakow" flashed on the overhead sign. I had never been to Poland before and though I did not know what to expect, I was thrilled to find out what it had to offer. Poland had a special pull that made it a bit different from all the other countries I would be visiting. Like I said, I had never been personally, but at one point it is where I came from. I am Polish and though I do not have much experience with Polish culture or language, it still runs through my blood and fills me with pride. I eagerly boarded the plane and plopped down in the window seat ready for take off.

Before we had even gotten into the air, my companions beside me were sound asleep. It was going to be a short flight and I decided to get a little bit of reading done. I sat back and flipped open my book. For some reason, it could not hold my interest and after a few minutes I closed it and shoved it back into my backpack.

I glanced over to the other rows to see what everyone else was doing. Most people were taking naps or listening to music but then I noticed the man in the khaki jacket who happened to be sitting in the same row I was in, on the other side of the aisle. He had a small note pad flipped open and a pen in his hand. Every so often he would glance up to observe more before going back to the sketch he was making.

"Uhm" I thought, "that’s a good idea." I had been looking for a way to remember my experiences without having to journal everything. Drawing was a thought that had not crossed my mind until now. I opened my backpack open again and pulled out a book with blank pages and a pen. I looked over at the man in the khaki jacket and began to sketch him to the best of my ability.

Once seated on the plane I reached into the chest pocket of my jacket and pulled out my notepad and a pen. I looked around at all the different people all headed to my country. I picked a man in the row in front of me and started to sketch him. He had headphones on and his eyes closed. I spent a few minutes capturing him and doing my best to make his chin as accurate as possible. Then I flipped to a new sheet and started to sketch the flight attendant as she offered us each a drink. After a few minutes, I couldn’t help but feel as if someone was watching me. I looked to my right and saw a young lady at the window seat with a pen in her hand and a blank sheet of paper in front of her.

"Could it be…?" I asked myself. After noticing a few more glances I came to the conclusion that she must be drawing me. When she looked up again we made eye contact. She blushed, embarrassed that I had caught her and then we both laughed quietly. I flipped to a new page and began to sketch her.

He caught me sketching him and I immediately felt as if he had caught me stealing cookies from the cookie jar!

"Oops," I thought to myself. I couldn’t help but laugh at the silliness of the moment. The man laughed as well and then flipped his page. Much to my surprise, he began to draw me!

There we sat, drawing each other across the aisle and my companions beside me in the silence of the plane. Now, I do not consider myself an artist. The artist in the family is my sister, not me, so I did not really know what I was doing. I gave the picture all I had and then after a couple of minutes I was done. I looked up at the man and motioned for us to trade drawings. He nodded in agreement but signaled that he was not done yet.

I added a few more touches to my sketch and then wrote a short note on the bottom; "I’m not much of an artist, but you inspire me. Thanks for making me smile." I signed my name and dated it.

A few more minutes passed before I leaned over the two sleeping beside me and the aisle to exchange our pictures. When I took his drawing of me in my hands I could not help but smile. It was so good. He was clearly a very talented artist.

After a couple of minutes, the girl and I exchanged drawings. To be honest, I am not sure if I have ever had someone draw me before and it was interesting to see myself from a new perspective. At the bottom of the drawing she had written a message. I do not read any English so I had no idea what it said. I pulled out my translator and did my best to decipher.

I held it in my hands and smiled at how special of a moment this was. Everyone else on the plane slept quietly, unaware.

When the plane landed, I motioned to the girl that I wanted a picture. We both tried so hard to converse but she did not speak any Polish and I did not speak any English. It took us a few minutes to figure out what the other was trying to say but we managed.

She sat at the window and I moved into the row and sat down beside her. I handed off my camera and a photo was snapped. I pointed to my chest, "Albin" I said as I stated my name. I pointed to her. "Lydia" she said. We shook hands. I pointed to my chest again, "Poland" I said. I pointed to her, "United States of America."

I tried to tell her how nice it was to meet her and to ask her how long she was visiting for but it was lost in the language barrier. I tucked the drawings she had given me into my notepad and put it back into the chest pocket of my khaki jacket before exiting the plane.

When the plane landed we both got up. We tried so hard to speak to each other but our language barriers got in the way. He motioned to get a photo with me and I agreed. We sat for a few minutes. We said our names and where we were from, but that was about all that we could manage.

I wanted to ask him more, to learn more about him, but I simply could not understand. We both kept talking hoping that maybe the other would catch on but neither of us did. In the end, we both shrugged our shoulders and started to laugh, happy to have had the moment.

The people on the plane stared, confused as to what was happening and as to what they had missed out on. I put the drawing Albin had given me into a special spot in a folder in my backpack. I exited the plane with all my luggage in hand.

We walk into separate customs lines before heading out into the fresh, warm air of Poland. Before the other went out of sight, we both turned and waved. Then we continued on our journeys.

Read other articles by Lydia Olsen