Finally getting a home, 1998 – 2000

We decided to travel up north, to Mazury (I’m not sure why we chose that particular region). We arrived to Suwalki, and were wandering around until we found one charity organisation. They directed us to a certain parish, saying that they were helping immigrants. We went there and met the priest, who advised us to go to a village called Smolany. After having some food brought by the priest, and resting after a long journey, we got on a bus to Smolany. There we saw a large building looking like a monastery. A young priest met us and offered a warm meal, then ushered us to a room with two bunk beds. Yet, he politely warned us that they wouldn’t be able to host us for long. 

There were a whole bunch of young people who belonged to that community. But the purpose of that place was to host big events or assemblies for like-minded communities. There was nothing worth mentioning while we stayed there, I think it was around two weeks. Meanwhile we tried to find our next temporary ‘home’. As I got in touch with the local congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses, one of the brothers knew a woman who lived in Suwalki, but had an empty old wooden house in a village, just 2 kilometres from Smolany. We met the lady, told her our story, and she kindly agreed to let us live there for a while, for free, and only pay for the electricity.

So, we moved into that house. There were three old beds there, and a table. Everything was old, the house was inhabited for a long time, there was no running water, no toilet. There was a well not far from the house, but there wasn’t much water in it. We had to find wood ourselves, in order to fire a stove, to cook food and to heat the two rooms. The conditions were drastically harsh for little children. As there wasn’t enough water, in order to wash ourselves, we had to use the same water for all of us. So, first I washed my youngest, then the middle daughter, then the oldest, then washed myself, and Vlad washed himself the last! I also had a big problem with laundry; there wasn’t enough water to do that, so I had to ask our neighbours for a favour, and they kindly let me use their shed where they had hot water, and I did laundry there.

The villagers were mostly Lithuanians; neighbours were helping us with wood and food, as well as the brothers from the local congregation. Yet, we were struggling with the cold. It was winter and very freezing, about 30 degrees. We had a plastic big barrel inside where we stored water, and there was ice in it! Our youngest daughter, Dani, got very sick from the cold. We went to our neighbours and called for an ambulance. Vlad went outside to wait for the ambulance; it was taking long as there was so much snow everywhere. I was holding Dani on my lap, then suddenly she got seizures. She looked completely unresponsive, I was crying and shouting, I thought she was dying. After a while the ambulance finally arrived and collected Dani. The doctors saved her, and even took our two remaining children into their care. Not because they were ill, but because the temperature inside the house was totally unsuitable for children. There was nothing we could do to raise the temperature in the house, we didn’t have enough of free wood, and were unable to buy.

We realised that wasn’t a place for us to live anyway, Vlad started to travel to Suwalki nearly everyday, trying to find a journalist, who could help us with accommodation. Finally, one journalist from the local radio, helped us to get a place in a small village near Goldap. It was a small flat in a long ‘barrack’, with other four families living in it. We moved in and started to settle in it. It wasn’t really purposed to be a residential place (once there was an office there). It was one large room on one side of the corridor, and a large kitchen on the other side. The furnace in the kitchen worked, but the one in the room didn’t, and it was quite cold inside. One day all of us got sick because of that cold. Then we decided that something had to be done with the heating.

We started to write letters, one by one, to the agency who managed the property, and after some time they sent two men who installed a central heating for us. Well, it wasn’t completely central – we still had to supply our own wood and coal. Vlad tried to get a job somewhere, but no one could offer him a job anywhere. Meanwhile, we managed to bought a very old accordion (I played it very well), and started to travel to nearby cities and play on streets. Vlad had a tambourine, so together it sounded quite nice. It was only possible to do in summer, when there were many German tourists around (the region was inhabited by many Germans in the past). They were quite generous – I played mostly German dances and French waltzes; sometimes we managed to collect over 50zl within 3 hours. But summer was only three months, and we had to figure out how to earn money during cold months.