Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Doctor's Mother

We were traveling on bicycle along the Polish eastern border with Lithuania. Our task was to interview local people; to learn how they were dealing with transition from a communist country to a 'free market' democracy but even more to better understand how they identified with themselves in a place since the time of the drawn Curzon line (named after the British foreign secretary Lord Curzon) of WWI.
The Curzon Line,  established a demarcation line between Poland and the Soviet 'Russia' Union that was proposed during the Russo-Polish War of 1919–20 as a possible armistice line and became (with a few alterations) the Soviet-Polish border after WWII. After WWI, the Allied Supreme Council, which was determining the frontiers of the recently reestablished Polish state, created a temporary boundary marking the minimum eastern frontier of Poland and authorized a Polish administration to be formed on the lands west of it (Dec. 8, 1919). That line extended southward from Grodno, passed through Brest-Litovsk, and then followed the Bug River to its junction with the former frontier between the Austrian Empire and Russia. When a subsequent Polish drive eastward into the Ukraine collapsed, the Polish prime minister,Wladyslaw Grabski, appealed to the Allies for assistance (July 1920). On July 10, 1920, the Allies proposed an armistice plan to Grabski, designating the line of Dec. 8, 1919, with a southwestward continuation to the Carpathian Mountains, keeping Przemyƛl for Poland but ceding eastern Galicia; the following day the British foreign secretary, Lord Curzon, whose name was subsequently attached to the entire line, made a similar suggestion to the Soviet government. Neither the Poles nor the Soviets, however, accepted the Allied plan. The final peace treaty (concluded in March 1921), reflecting the ultimate Polish victory in the Russo-Polish War, provided Poland with almost 52,000 square miles (135,000 square kilometres) of land east of the Curzon Line. Although the Curzon Line, which had never been proposed as a permanent boundary, lost significance after the Russo-Polish War, the Soviet Union later revived it, claiming all the territory east of the line and occupying that area (in accordance with the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of 1939) at the outbreak of World War II. Later, after German had invaded the Soviet Union, the Red Army pushed back the German troops and occupied all of the former state of Poland by the end of 1944; the United States andGreat Britian  then agreed to Soviet demands (Yalta Conference; Feb. 6, 1945) and recognized the Curzon Line as the Soviet-Polish border. On Aug. 16, 1945, a Soviet-Polish treaty officially designated a line almost equivalent to the Curzon Line as their mutual border; in 1951 some minor frontier adjustments were made.Encyclopedia Britanica retrieved from online -

So, it was this line that we traveled by bicycle the summer of 1998 and the following summer of 1999.  Who were we (me and colleagues- Mirek, Arek, Martin, Kryszek) We had all our gear on the back of our bikes, little money and lots of enthusiasm. The story of the doctor's mother takes place south of Bialystok.
We had bad weather, lots of rain and I was soaking wet. Though we found shelter in a bus stop in a small village on our route, it did not provide much in keeping us from getting even wetter. And, of course, I had to use the bathroom. I learned early on that flush toilets were far and few between. So, somewhere behind the bus stop among the tall weeds I went. That night, I realized that I had gotten into some weeds that caused a rash, itching and lots of pain all over my legs, behind and feet. Needless to say, I was miserable. The next morning the rain had stopped but my misery grew. I could not even sit on the seat of my bicycle. I pleaded with the guys to stop in the next village and help me find a doctor or pharmacy. We found a doctor and I was so relieved. He gave me some topical cream and tablets for allergy and itching. I was so thankful. With that taken care of, we continued on our way. We rode about 60ks further south and soon found ourselves at a crossroads in yet another small (very small) village. It was already evening and we needed to find a place to pitch our tents. We took out the maps and checked out the area and the route we intended for the next day. So, imagine this... there we were the five of us in this grassy crossroads  intersected by dusty village roads scoping out the area when from down the long driveway of a small hut a man walked toward us. We did not pay him much attention until he started waving his arms and yelling something. We thought like other local encounters, he wanted to meet us and find out who we were and what we were doing. Of course, this was our work to talk to the locals and we intended to do that once he was upon us. We kept scoping out a place to pitch our tent and he kept walking toward us... still waving his arms and yelling. When he was closer we finally heard what he was yelling at us "I m the doctor"!   It turned out that he was the doctor who treated me earlier 60ks back. He had finished his work and drove south to visit his mother. We did make our interview with him and his mother who lived in the tiny hut. We also stayed the night with her sleeping on bright white sheets that smelled like sunshine. More incredible is that she made us a delicious breakfast the next morning of homemade donuts fried on a wood-burning kitchen stove.
I will never forgot that encounter, I am truly amazed at the simple life of those people in that region of Poland.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful story! Amazing that the doctor's mother's hut was right where your group was scoping out for campsite. As far as the eastern boundary of Poland, had Pilsudski not overreached with his army all the way to Kiev in 1921, it's likely he would have been in a better strategic position to counter the attacks of the Red Army and the Polish border may well have been much further east than it was in 1939. This would have given the Poles some strategic depth to deal with the Germans when they invaded.