“Analysand” – Week VII & VIII
“Analysand” : a person undergoing psychoanalysis.
I use this word to describe these two weeks with the utmost seriousness. The first reason is because these two weeks took me through a journey that sent me diving deep deep down into myself and asking “What can I do to help the world?” Not only did I spend my fall break traveling through Poland learning about the atrocities the Polish people have endured, but I also turned 22.
We will start where it began:
I boarded a plane around 9:00am having no idea what the week had in store for me. Luckily I was surrounded the entire time by some incredible people (faculty, alumni and students) who would share my feelings along the way. We arrived in Warsaw where we had free time and then took a tour of the historic Jewish Ghetto. Previously, I must mention, we were given a book by Jan Karski, A Secret State, that outlined his experience as a member of the underground movement in occupied Poland during WWII. When reading of the atrocities he witnessed in the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto I was immediately nauseous, but witnessing it full force in Warsaw everything really came to life.
That was just the beginning. We continued onto Torun (the hometown of Nicholas Copernicus), a small university town, where we met Polish college students, sat in on a symposium based around Jan Karski and the fight for Poland during WWII and the Cold War, and spent some downtime visiting a gingerbread factory. Luckily, our SLA Jenny Ruffing was conscientious of the fact that we would need some cheering up after the horrors we were first hearing about and added that last little adventure into our itinerary.
Now, let me take a moment to describe the symposium and the people that we met in Torun. We arrived at the college library early in the morning and sat among 2 other groups of college students to listen to 4 of the most educated people I have ever had the privilege of meeting speak about human rights. We learned about the underground government that was able to continue during occupied Poland and then the way that the allies sacrificed Poland to the Soviet Union even after they promised they would never do such a thing. We learned about Poland’s first fake liberation and then its real liberation with the ending of the cold war. We learned about the sacrifices that millions of individuals made in order to serve and save the country that they loved with a deep compassion. And we learned that we, as American students, had no idea what it meant to suffer, to be oppressed, to fight or to love anything the way the Polish people had in their lifetimes. In the end, we were taught what it meant to love your country and to be a human being in the face of disaster and death.
The people we met included my 3 favorite alumni of all time (who accompanied us throughout the entire trip) John, Leonard and Jim. These three men devote a large part of their lives to teaching young people, especially my generation, what it means to believe in human rights and the ability to do good in the world.
After the symposium we headed to Krakow where we had downtime and then saw Auschwitz. I cannot even begin to describe to someone who has not been there the way that a place like that can make you feel. I think the only way I can even try is to say that afterwards none of us felt much like eating or talking. My most vivid memory was walking through the room where they had preserved the hair that had been shaved from the Jew’s heads after they had been killed in the gas chambers. A whole room that was dedicated just to this part of the process of extermination that had children’s braids that had been thoughtlessly taken from them after they had been murdered in masses. Now before I described this part of my experience I thought about warning my audience that they should not read on if they did not wish to hear of such atrocious acts, but then I realized that that is what America has taught us to do. We allow our children, our citizens, my generation specifically to simply avoid such horrific matters. We give the choice to ignore all of the inhumane things happening in the world instead of simply teaching them and telling us to go and do something. If we all went and did something, do you think these things would still be happening around the world? I don’t. As we walked into the next room there were millions of shoes crowding the glass case and finally in the room after that there were dishes and silverware and briefcases that the Jews all brought with them simply thinking they were taking a trip to work camps that had been set up for them. At this moment I began to cry. It wasn’t one of those cries where it racks your body with sobs, but an internal cry that only lets out a few tears but makes you feel more beaten down and tired than you would have had you physically let everything out. What struck me even more was that no one else around me was crying. I don’t think it was because they were desensitized though, I think it was because they could only numb themselves down with all of this new information flooding their brains. How could people be so cruel?
We had a nice finishing dinner the day after when we were all able to stomach our food again and luckily the air was finally vibrating with the energy put into what we could do. What can you do? Well, that’s exactly the psychoanalysis we began to undergo.
From Poland I traveled to Prague. On the way there I met a woman who, back when she was younger, worked as a nurse in Northern African countries. This further fueled my realization that I could do something and I could do something big.
Then, being in Prague and turning 22 it began to hit me that I am maturing and now is the time to change whatever I can for the best. I began my morning with a more self-indulging gesture by getting my nose pierced. Ultimately it symbolized the change I was undergoing. Sometimes a change in appearance helps to solidify an internal change. I spent the rest of my weekend in Prague vacationing with friends and taking a small break from the difficulties I had experienced vicariously through my fall break trip.
Upon returning to Rome (now I can call it home, though) I opened up my Peace Corps application and started even more intensely to finish it as soon as I can.
I hope everyone can have an experience like I did during fall break because it is eye-opening. If everyone could go through that and come out with the positive outlook that I have now, the world could be a better place.