A ballad about drinking

Katarzyna Woynarowska

I am going to tell you about Pati from the district of miracles, grand-daughter of Helka, who smuggled vodka through the Russian border, daughter of Aska who left her new-born baby at the threshold of her mother and ran away somewhere in Poland. I will tell about the district of miracles: this is the usual name given to places, which strangers enter risking their lives, where scraped walls are covered with vulgarisms and where men, swollen from drinking and fighting, stand day and night - they are someone's fathers, husbands, sons, brothers, sometimes only by name and family connections. They do not know a lot about life but in order to bare hardships of life they must drink. This is the only thing that they know unquestionably. Why must they drink? Since their fathers, grandfathers and great grandfathers did so. Their births were marked by vodka. They were born by drunken mothers, grew up in the odour of alcohol, their cry was calmed by a nappy soaked with beer, teenagers were persuaded to have another shot in spite of the fact that afterwards they had to throw up at the corner... In their world different rules are obligatory, they follow a different code of honour, different law...The results of the national questionnaires, conducted in 2005 at the request of the State Agency for Prevention of Alcohol Related Problems (PARPA) are alarming. One can see a radical increase (almost 30%) in the consumption of alcoholic drinks in Poland in the last decade. In accordance with the official statistics of the Central Statistical Office (GUS), this increase amounts to almost 53%! Drinking in Poland has had a long and disgraceful past. During the communist times people were taught that lords - bloodsuckers - and leasers, i.e. innkeepers, turned serfs into drunkards. Breweries and distilleries belonged to the gentry and they made big profits from them. Then the countries that had partitioned Poland continued the process of turning the nation into drunkards. They had additional motivation to make Poles incapacitated. Firstly, it was easier to control drunkards, and secondly, drunkards would do anything to have alcohol: would betray, sell and deceit. The present big beer and liquor companies continue this tradition with success. Firstly, they have managed to convince us that beer is not an alcoholic drink, and secondly, they have found the way of advertising alcoholic drinks: they show a boat while all people know that this is promotion of vodka. - 'Helka controlled the district for years', the inhabitants say, 'she sold vodka even on the darkest December night during the marshal law. She has not been sober for some 20 years, i.e. nobody remembers her being sober. She had four children. Two sons are in prison, one daughter took over her business and the other, Pati's mother, got lost some two years ago. Her sons are recidivists. Hardly had they grown up when they began stealing. The streets and young offenders' homes taught them how to live. When the elder brother got married he enjoyed his stag night so much that he was found in a speak-easy at the other end of the city. He had a good wife but he beat her so much that he killed her. And as the police had found him in a speakeasy on the day of his wedding they found him in the same place after he had killed his wife. He had three children. The youngest one, Kamilek, could not even walk on his own when his mother died. His neighbours told him to give the baby up to adoption. They tried to convince him that the baby could find some good people but Helka banged the table with her fist, 'Over my dead body! I will not give up my grandson to any stranger!' And although she was slightly drunk she found her way to the court to appoint a foster family. The neighbours wondered why the judges, who were supposed to be educated and wise, left all the poor kids to be raised by their grandmother. Did not they have any heart? The old woman gets money for every grandchild, the kids are left to themselves all day long, they are terribly dirty, and have the poorest marks at school. Kamilek can walk but cannot speak properly...And Helka stands at her window, sells shots of vodka, and likes the hard stuff. She is fifty years old but she looks as an eighty-year old woman. Together with her daughter she has the right to care for the children who are under age. 'Where does the name 'district of miracles' come from?' 'Because nobody works here but has money to buy alcohol...Sometimes we can see such a 'Bonanza' that we do not need to go to the cinema...' 'What do you drink?' 'Whatever we can...mainly beer. It is cheap...' Pati does not like to talk about herself. Well, she lives like all other people here. She is getting married in a few weeks since she has been pregnant for three months. She speaks about her fiancé 'not too bad'. The lad is handsome and has always got money. Where has he got money from? She snorts with impatience. 'And who asks what you do for a living?' Krzysiek, 21, completed vocational school, spent some time at resocialization centres and one year in a detention centre. His past evokes respect in the district. He is exceedingly polite, nice; people say that he knows how to fight. It is obvious because his father used to beat him so much that the young man has had a hard hand and week nerves since his childhood. Pati, 19, without any profession, managed to work for three months; she packed noodles. Now she stands in front of the gate: she is small, chubby, wearing tight low-waisted jeans, with sharp shining make-up and an expression of a winner. Her advantage over her friends is that she will become wife and mother soon although she is so childish in her pretending to be mature. 'Why do you drink being pregnant?' One beer or two a day is not drinking at all...' 'Do you know that you harm your baby?' 'Please try to understand me, beer makes me calm down. It is better for the baby when I am calm, isn't it?' One in three women at procreative age have drunk alcoholic drinks during pregnancy (PARPA research). However, when nobody hears Pati is sorry that little Kamilek has not had a change for a better life, that some good people could not have taken him. She wishes her mother had left her on the threshold of some church or hospital. Who knows who she would have become? And now, she is 19 years old and feels that her life is lost. Where will she go without having any education, without any experience of refinement, with her slang, full of insults, curses, fifth? She will stay here where she feels secure. Since the district is not going to change, this is the only certain element in the universe. Communists, capitalists or aliens can govern somewhere... She does not mind that until she has money to buy alcohol... Between 600,000 and 800,000 people in Poland suffer from an addiction to alcohol as a clinical syndrome (decease) (PARPA).

"Niedziela" 33/2007

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl