And a sign was given to us

Katarzyna Woynarowska

Fresh greenery – thick, firm, pushy – squeezes in ash soil since you can only see such a sort of soil there. The nature breathes and rebounds from the bottom. We are driving on narrow roads, getting stuck in the sand. We are facing an obstacle: a pipe across the road. The pipe is connected with the water pomp that ejects water into one place and water – by its nature – moves to another place. I wonder when we are going to get stuck for good in this sand. We can see pools on both sides; water is almost reaching the horizon. The pools of still water stink. If the stench is intense it means that the water must have been there for weeks. The still water is covered with a thick green mold. We do not intend to check what it is. The houses with black lines on the front elevation (the line shows the level of the flooding) disappear quickly and we can see more and more houses that are destroyed to a smaller or bigger extent. On the roadsides there are piles of rubbish – one cannot define the colour – because all things got rotten a long time ago. Suddenly, we can notice the remains of the dike at the turning. One can see only sand; it is windy. There are also ‘little lakes’ with several willows stuck in the middle. Tons of sand were thrown carelessly and anywhere. Now what is needed is to give this sand area some form, the best would be to form it as a solid dike. We are reaching our destination – the village of Kocmierzow near Sandomierz, where the dike along the Vistula River broke, causing a tragedy in the whole surrounding.

What they do not lack is sand and wind

I am counting the days: the dike broke on 19th May and today is 2nd August. The neighbouring villages look as if there were some war there. Very little or almost nothing has been done here. As if people were left to themselves. For example, several new houses, surely credit construction, where some geraniums are reddening in the windows on the first floor and beneath there is a cleft, as if a bomb crater. Mud, rubble, some junk. Other houses with cracked plaster walls are hardly standing – wet, swollen. One can see green meadows at the backyard through some chinks in the walls.
We find nobody in the building that is the closest to the river. Only a dog is exposing its back to the sun in the middle of the square. We can see people inside the village: someone is loading a wheelbarrow with bubble; someone is painting a fence and someone is sweeping the side of the road. Many houses are destroyed so much that nobody will return to live in them. They are grotesquely curved and stuck in sand as if a laughing-stock. The opened windows show the interiors devoid of any equipment. In some house one can see only a sacred picture in a church-fair frame. Another picture shows a wedding held in the 1950s. A broken casement window is cracking in the wind. It is emptily around.
Despair. Can one get used to it? In the neighbouring village of Wielowies in the outskirts of Tarnobrzeg it is said that helplessness is worse than despair.
Here time is measured differently. From June people count the days before the first flood wave, after it and the days after the second wave, which was worse. People can talk for hours about the moment when the dike broke, when the flood wave drew near, growling as if engines of big lorries, when their houses were flooded and they stood on the balconies helpless like children and begged the flood to spare the next box room. They are showing us the place where the road from Tarnobrzeg to Sandomierz disappeared. They humanize the element. They say, ‘Water was talking, mumbling, cursing, going as fury, sneaking by like a thief…’ These stories are still full of emotions, fears that the element returns, attacks again when they are asleep, when they go to work…

The gift was accepted

There are 27 nuns in the Congregation of Dominican Sisters in Poland located in Wielowies. Their age varies. They work hard as men. Bright habits covered with solid aprons, worn out shoes and toilworn hands. They earned their living from the garden, which has been destroyed. Literally, it has disappeared. The flood wiped everything, leaving bright grey slime. It looks like some chemical powder.
What do they feel? What could anyone feel when his house, built with big efforts and sacrifices for years, was gone? What did the Dominican sisters feel when the flood wave was reaching one religious cell after another? What did they feel when they hardly saved the little altar containing the ashes of their beloved Mother Foundress? Did they think it was a trial or punishment?
From the outside the cloister looks quite tidy. No wonder – last year the nuns finished the restoration of all their buildings. They installed a new water-sewage system, electricity, new elevation, plaster. It is known how much it costs. They received furniture from some nuns from the other flooded houses. They were glad because many important relics were sent to Wielowies.

And then the dike along the Vistula broke in Kocmierzow

Only a few things survived. The truth is that today they have no beds, no furniture, no relics, and no small things. Everything was flooded. Although the water level was just above one metre it was enough to destroy some part of the history of this place. They brought some metal creaking beds. Only the old sisters enjoy them. The beds seemingly remind them of their religious youth.
We are going along the devastated corridors, peeping into the rooms that breathe emptiness. We can feel dampness. The floors of some rooms had to be removed. They dug deeply until they saw the vaults of the old cellars.
Sr. Beata Talik, the superior of the house, has a bright peaceful face. We are standing in the corridor, its walls chiselled to the bricks. The nun is polishing the porous wall and says humbly that the renovation was a votive gift for 150 years of the nuns’ presence in Wielowies. ‘Well, Lord God accepted our gift’, she smiles. ‘Now we must begin again…’

Inconspicuous good happens

Taking another turning in the cloister we bump into several buckets of peeled potatoes. Well, the Dominican nuns would lose their charisma if they did not help immediately people in need. Since May they have been cooking meals for those affected by flood. They prepare meals on the only gas cooker that survived the flood. No one asked them to do so but they thought that people were not concerned with cooking and they began delivering 500 meals all over the flooded area. They carried them in boats. They also walked carrying heavy pots. Then when people organised their lives they are delivering ‘only’ 250 meals. A priest from Chobrzany, Fr Damian Korycinski helped them. Naturally, it was not only the meals. It was important to give people the chance to talk, to complain and even to cry. People still suffer from big pain, disappointment with other people, more frequently with the institutions. Such pain does not let them see the good that appears in the moments of horror. But good is everywhere, also at this place, for example, in these fragile nuns.
Being stuck in the sand next to the dike in Kocmierzow, almost two steps from Sandomierz bathed in the sun, I am trying to imagine what these local people are thinking. And I know it is an apparent effort. One cannot simply do it. One cannot feel the drama of these people. It is good when you do not feel only compassion for these people but also make another step and do something… Whatever. Since I, like most of us, have this feeling of security that they have lost. In several hours before it gets dark I will be in my safe house. And these people will not. Every day they will experience dampness, stench and darkness after sunset.

"Niedziela" 34/2010

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