Poland Community Trip - Lissa's Journal
Lissa Norman - Greencastle, Pennsylvania
The team gathered in Krakow at various times and enjoyed great traditional Polish cuisine in Morskie Oko Restaurant. We represent a vast array of backgrounds and experience and have already begun to gel as a team.
We are looking forward to spending Saturday and Sunday experiencing the intriguing culture of this unique country. We thank God for His Blessing and safe travels!
We arrived here yesterday afternoon after spending a couple days in the amazing city of Krakow. There is so much to see and do in that city -- we wish we had 2 weeks to spend there instead of 2 days!
The history in Krakow is amazing. We took a city tour Saturday morning and had a chance to see several churches that were built before the US was even discovered! The tour also took us to the oldest Jewish Synagogue in Poland, as well as a street that was used in the film Schindler's List, and his factory.
Some of the highlights from the team about their visits to Krakow:
- It's incredible architecture and history.
- The center square - the food, shopping, and people watching.
- The friendly people.
- The flowers. Many of Krakow's buildings have beautiful flower boxes and hanging baskets on their balconies. There are also flower shops with beautiful fresh-cut flowers.
After leaving Krakow on Sunday morning, we toured the concentration camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau. It was a very moving and sometimes painful experience. Several people commented that when they were done, they felt emotionally drained. It is very hard to put into words everything we saw, heard, and felt. Simply because there are no words to explain such horror, and such evil. To understand a hatred so intense for a person just because of their race is almost impossible. Our tour guide, Wojteich, was above and beyond what I expected. He spoke with such a passion about all that went on at the camps. A quote on one of the walls that struck me reads:
The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again. George Santayana.
May we never forget!
Yesterday, after ariving in Gliwice, we split off into small groups and spent the remainder of the day with some of the Habitat partner families. Last evening at our team meeting, we all shared our experiences. It was so wonderful to have the opportunity to meet them, to see their houses, and to put a face and personality to the names. For me personally, it makes working in the houses all the more meaningful, knowing the people who will call these houses home. Some of us spent our afternoon walking around the city, playing games, sharing stories about life in America and in Poland, and sharing a lot of laughter. We all had wonderful meals!
And, finally, today was our first day on the jobsite. After our safety orientation, we went straight to work. Some of us spent the day mixing concrete, some poured a concrete stairway, unloaded materials for Stanislaw's flat in Building 7, and most of us spent a majority of the day pounding nails out of wooden forms, so they could be used again. I think I speak for most of us when I say that I will be perfectly fine if I don't see another nail for awhile.
But, all kidding aside, it was a great first day. We accomplished everything they expected us to do, and we are ready to start again tomorrow!
Build Days 2 & 3 are done! Woo-hoo! And I am very happy to report that neither day involved pulling nails!
Day 2 started out with a group of us sealing and painting boards green to be used for the soffit on Building #7. We had quite the assembly line set up. One team sealed the boards, with something like Thompson's Water Seal, and then the next team came along with the green paint. When those were done, our runners hauled them off to dry and set up a new batch. We only stopped when we ran out of paint at the end of the day. Good planning!
Another of our teams finished removing concrete forms from around windows and doors in the lower floor of Building #8.
After we finished up for the day, we headed over to the Opel car assembly plant for a special tour. Opel is a corporate sponsor of Habitat for Humanity. Opel is also owned by General Motors, which I did not know. It was amazing and awesome, very interesting to see how cars come together from just a bit of metal frame to the finished product. The emphasis on quality was displayed constantly via a scrolling marquee throughout the plant. They incorporate just-in-time inventory and 5S processes. Some of the families living in the Habitat houses work here. Unfortunately, they were not giving out free samples!
Day 3 -- With our supply of sealant and paint replenished, we got to work on the rest of those boards, completing them by lunchtime. Meanwhile, a group of our more adventurous souls climbed the scaffolding to begin installing the soffit in Building #7. Karen and Diane, our sister act, worked their magic with the table saw to cut the boards to the right size. There was a little bit of frustration this morning -- things are done differently here than they are in America. And with multiple supervisors, and sometimes a rotating crew, it can get a bit frustrating. But we smiled, made the best of it, and kept on going -- being flexible!
After lunch, the painting crew became the hauling crew. The 20kg (about 50 lb.) concrete blocks needed to be brought up to the second level in preparation for tomorrow's work. So up the stairs we went.
We transported the blocks to the second floor by using a human "bucket brigade." We are tired! But a good kind of tired -- at the end of the day knowing how much we accomplished!
While we were waiting for the bus, some of us took the opportunity to walk down and look at the seven other Habitat houses that have been finished. It was neat to see what the homeowners have done with their homes. The flower gardens were beautiful! It's encouraging to be able to see what our house is going to eventually look like.
I think the best way to end today's blog is to let the team speak for themselves. So here's what the rest of us had to say about our experiences so far:
The physical effort is not nearly as challenging as the ability to be patient with the process.
Great team work!
The families we built for in 2007 are watching us work on Building #8. They frequently stop us to thank us again for helping build their new homes. It is wonderful to see the children playing in their safe neighborhood!
Painting is done! Concrete blocks taken upstairs! The more people, the more fun, the more work we get done! (from the Team Poet!)
The "Sister Act" of Diane & Karen rocks!
The height to achieve the installation of the soffit was incredible. Great balancing act -- guys look great! (our aerialists perform again tomorrow, same place, same time, same rafter channel!)
Thumbs up on the roomy bus Wednesday afternoon. No wheel hump!
It's hard to believe that the week has gone by so fast. We've been blessed with great weather this week. Today was a little overcast and chilly, but, thankfully, the rain stayed away.
Day 4 - Together with the crew we have fondly come to refer to as "the Blue Man Crew," we started laying the concrete blocks for the walls on the second floor. "The Blue Man Crew" members get their name from the blue work coveralls they wear. These unemployed men are sponsored through an arrangement between the City of Gliwice and Habitat for Humanity to teach them new construction skills on the jobsite that will give them an opportunity for future employment.
One thing we've noticed during work days is that the working schedule is different from what is common for us. As with many other things in Poland, there is a cultural difference in the approach to getting the job done. Breaks are more frequent here, unlike many American work schedules. We have also learned to appreciate them, because of the physically demanding tasks.
Today, the "Aerial Soffit Crew" scaled the scaffolding to continue working on installation. They have really done an awesome job on that project this week. And while they were working from the scaffolding and the "Great Block Wall Crew" were laying the blocks, a few of us became the "MMMT" (Miscellaneous Materials Moving Team), moving materials here and there, removing support poles from the first-floor flats as the upstairs concrete floor cured, moving scaffolding and jobsite cleanup. The highlight of the day for some of us was dumpster diving! It was scheduled to be emptied, and the site supervisor (Damian) wanted as much junk stuffed in there as possible. Four of us -- Chuck and "Chuck's Angels" - had that dumpster filled to capacity.
At the end of the work day, we toured the Tarnowskie Gory Silver Mine for our R&R activity. The 50-degree temperature 40 meters underground felt so good after a long day in the sun. The highs and lows of the tour were the ceilings...either you stood at full height, or you crouched to avoid hitting your head. Most of us also have never taken a boat ride underground in the dark. Fortunately, we were wearing rather stylish hard hats for protection! The earliest date referenced inside the mine was 1793, and most miners lived toan average age of 38 because of the dangers associated with early mining techniques.
Day 5 - Today started out much the same as yesterday. The Aerial Soffit Crew continued hanging and painting soffit boards. The shipment of new concrete blocks arrived, so the Great Block Wall Crew could build more exterior and interior walls. It's so encouraging to see the progress that is taking place. One thing we have to remember is that everything assigned at the jobsite is meaningful. No matter how great or small the task -- it is all meaningful work. Whether moving blocks, hanging boards, painting supports, installing soffits, building walls, cleaning the jobsite, or ordering and buying lunch -- no one job is more important than the next. Well, except for maybe ordering lunch. That's pretty important for all the crews! It's all part of working as a team. At the end of the day, we leave here knowing that together we have accomplished a lot!
This evening's R&R activity was a tour of the Tyskie Browary Piwowarska (brewery) in Tychy. Unlike the Opel Assembly Plant, this tour ended with free samples!
The temperatures have cooled and rain is falling. Let's pray for warm and sunny weather for our last work day!
Saturday was a half day at the jobsite. The rains came during the night, and we needed to swab the decks to continue to lay wall block. Thanks to your prayers, we had sunny weather later in the day.
The Aerial Soffit Crew climbed the scaffolding for one last day up in the air. They did an amazing job this week on Building #7 -- the soffit looks GREAT. We also continued to lay the blocks on the second floor of Building #8. Looking back at the pictures from the beginning of the week, it's awesome to see the progress we made in just a few days.
And just when we thought we were done hauling those blocks, we were given one more job to do. Four more pallets of blocks needed to be brought up to the second level. Woo-hoo! So we got our Miscellaneous Materials Moving Team together and formed a Human Conveyor Belt, once more hauling up those blocks. All that nail pulling we were doing on Monday wasn't looking too bad right about then. At least nails were lighter! I think most of us moved those blocks at least once a day, every day this week. We became so attached to them that, when the day was over, Kelly, Debi, and I (Lissa) said a special goodbye to our blocks.
After we had cleaned up and put away the tools for the last time, we had a special BBQ for lunch. Some of the families from the other buildings joined us, and we all had a wonderful meal together. There's nothing better than kielbasa on the grill. Can I get an Amen?! Adam gave a presentation about Habitat and handed us Certificates of Appreciation. Asia made us special coasters with our names on them from some leftover laminate flooring from the other building, and one of the young girls living in Building #7 had a special present for us, too. Karolina came over throughout the week to say hello, and she colored and cut out hearts for all of us with 'I Love You' written on them. Moments like these touch your heart -- it's for people like her and her family that we traveled all this way and worked so hard.
Back at the hotel, Karen and Diane had one more present for us. I think we all handled those soffit boards at least once during the week, whether it was painting, moving, cutting, or installing, we are all intimately familiar with those boards. They used the leftover scraps and cut out our initials for each us as a little reminder of this trip! Although I'm sure some of us will have remnants of that green paint under our fingernails to remind us for awhile longer!!
The remainder of the day was free -- to pack, to eat, spend our last few Zlotys, and share those last couple of hours with newfound friends. We came to Poland mostly as strangers, but we're leaving as friends and family.
"Those who are far away will come and help to build the temple of the Lord..." Zechariah 6:15.
At the beginning of the week, Chuck told us that all we needed to have were willing hands and a willing heart. Some of us weren't sure that we had enough skills to make a difference. But God called each one of us to come on this trip for a special purpose -- and each of us for different reasons. And so we came -- some with more skills than others, but all with willing hands and willing hearts. And we're leaving this place different than when we arrived; some with a few more skills, most of us with bruises and scrapes (a testament to all those blocks we moved!), but, most importantly, I think we're leaving here with a different perspective on what really matters. Things make a house, but love makes a home.
To Chuck and Terri: Thank-you doesn't really quite say enough, but I think that I speak for the entire team when I say that y'all are one of the reasons that this trip was so amazing. So from the bottoms of all our hearts, thank you for all the months of hard work, organizing, and preparation you put into making this trip such an unforgettable experience. We all love you!
On the bus ride to the airport, I passed around a notebook and asked those who wanted to, to write down their thoughts, comments, and reflections about the trip. I think the best way to wrap this up is to end with that. Thank you all for following along with us, and especially for your prayers. God Bless.
- A wonderful week of working and relaxing, learning Polish and patience, being creative in painting and cutting! Many thanks to Thrivent for sponsoring!
- God certainly brought together a fabulous group of people to work together for His purposes! I have grown!
- A wonderful combination of working construction to help those in need and having time to see the many unique aspects of Polish culture.
- The experience was overall excellent. The planning was great. People in the group were awesome.
- This trip was mind altering. It had a great impact on me and my husband. Our group leaders were so organized and made the trip an easy transition. We will be sharing this trip the rest of our lives as well as recommending it to all of our friends and family. Go Team!
- I'll never again look at another block or nail or board or pallet without thinking of Poland. The memories flash quickly through my mind, and I am so proud of all that our team accomplished. Dziekuje bardzo!
- Some of us have shared family photos; some have not. Some have shared personal stories; some have not. But what we have all shared is this experience. The ability to work hard, play hard, and pray together. As we take our final bus trip to the airport, it will be hard to imagine not seeing this group of new friends.
- Some things I will be glad to see again: ICE, soda bottle caps with tabs that come all the way off, water without bubbles, breakfast without lunchmeat, and a big juicy hamburger!!!!
- And some of our fonder memories:
- Collection of jobsite grit on our hotel room floor.
- Technomusic concert with fireworks on our last night.
- "Habipup" - the friendly wiener dog at the jobsite.
- Is it 6:30AM or 6:30 PM?
- Chickens in the front yard.
- A Zloty for a potty.
- Karolina's song.
- Witnessing a motorcycle accident in Krakow.
- Yellow-jacket bees at our lunchtime picnics.
- Steam pipes above ground.
- Green toilet paper.
- Lunchmeat and bread.
- Salads for breakfast.
- Group dinners.
- Lody and piwo (generally not together).
- Can I buy a vowel?
- Human conveyor belt.
- Warm days, cool nights.
- Street performers on the square.
- The trumpeter at St. Mary's Church in Krakow.
- Wawel Castle.
- Tyskie Brewery.
- Thinking outside the boards and blocks.
- New friends and family.
- Collection of jobsite grit on our hotel room floor.
This trip was so meaningful in so many ways. It's taught me to look beyond myself, and I am coming home a different person than when I left. Hopefully for the better. I have a deeper appreciation for the many blessings in my life, and my eyes have been opened a bit more to what's going on outside of my own little world. It was amazing to see how so many different personalities were able to come together and work as a team. God is good!!!! ~Lissa