Dear Pen Pal,
My name is Slavko. I am eleven years old and I live in Eastern Europe. My English teacher told me to write to you and tell you about my home. For some time now, there is no more Russian in schools, but English. In the student’s book, there were a lot of useless expressions like tiles or local community. I had to look up in the dictionary to see how to say blokowisko in English. I found: “residential district consisting of large blocks of flats.” Mom said she wasn’t sure that was it and maybe you don’t have such a word.
So, to explain: in the past there were some wise people, who wanted all people, whether rich or poor, to live in comfortable and modern conditions. They wanted people to stop living in houses, to which there leads a trail of mud, and to live in blocks of flats for many families, to which there is a road, and from where it is close to work, to the park, and to the store. But this was the communist’s idea, and everything that came from the communists is bad, so now again there are houses being built, and there are trails of mud leading to them, because developers are for building houses, not for building roads, and the municipal authorities are for yet something else (mom says I should write that this is typical for periphery countries).
So, anyway, something went wrong with those wise people’s ideas, because there is no park anymore, there are new houses there, with a trail of mud leading to them, and instead of going to the store, we drive to a supermarket in the suburbs. This is because there is no bakery or grocery store anymore – but there are other stores like the store with English second hand clothing or German chemical products. There are also places where you can take out a loan, remove a simlock, or duplicate your keys.
And, thanks to European subsidies, we have a football (soccer) field in our neighborhood, but the field is closed, because it is unclear who should pay the janitor (the municipal authorities are for something else). There is also a new lawn, because on the old one there was no grass, only dirt. Now there is grass, but you cannot walk on it, because you will ruin it. There is a sign that informs us about that: “Don’s step on the grass.”
In a blokowisko, it is very important whether someone is rich or poor. Those who are rich always block the sidewalk with a big car. Those who are poor block the sidewalk with an even bigger car. Moreover, rich or poor, everyone has a satellite antenna and a burglar alarm, because, as the Eastern European saying advises, “What is guarded, God guards.” This is probably why there recently appeared a big fence around our block and now we can’t play anymore with children from the neighboring block.
The corridors are common space. Common space is a place where you can’t keep a bike, because, as the neighbor says, this is a common space. In the past there used to be a lot of glass from broken bottles, but since we have the fence, only common space is left.
And now a bit about the apartment. In the times where there was Russian in school, the apartments were all the same. Everyone has their own all-in-one sofa, and in the dining room there was a Plywood wall unit, and in the wall unit there was crystal glass from Bulgaria. Now, when there is English in schools, they are also all the same, because everyone does their own euro-renovation, but what counts is who does it first. In order to do your euro-renovation, you need to buy European furniture, that is furniture that is too large for our small rooms. For instance, in my room, after the euro-renovation, in order to turn on the light, you need to move the desk, and in order to sit at the desk, you have to fold the bed. Moreover, after the euro-renovation there is no more dining room, but a salon, and no more wall unit, but a drink bar, and in the drink bar there is duralex glassware instead of crystal glass. It you don’t have money, it’s enough to buy the duralex, hide the crystals in the closet (you never know), and just call the rest by different names. What you must buy is a shower with a radio and massager, but you have to watch out for the water not to spill on the floor, because commie-piping cannot handle the euro-water inflow.
Another thing that changed is the colors of our blocks. They say they used to be all gray, with plaster falling off. Today the plaster falls off too, but the blocks are colorful, with colors like lemon yellow or fuchsia. Mom says this is because my countrymen, and especially Lech Wałęsa, fought for freedom, and freedom means you are free to do anything. For instance, you are free to have a business and advertise it, and this is why there is freedom to cover all the windows in our block with a large ad for mayonnaise. And people are free to build up their balconies with columns in a European style – Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian.
So a lot changes after the euro-renovation, but one thing that does not are noises. In the day you hear the neighbors fighting or going to the toilet. And in the night you hear trucks backing up. Mom says it’s because we are a transit country. After I looked up all these words in the dictionary, I asked Mom between what countries was this transit, if all the countries around are periphery countries, and Mom said between the West and the West. I don’t understand any of this, perhaps you can explain this to me, since you live there.
I think that’s all. If you want to know more about blokowisko and housing blocks, I invite you to our Facebook game. It may seem surprising to you, but blokowisko in Eastern Europe differ between countries, as much as the countries themselves. Maybe you are surprised that we have Internet in our blocks. Until quite recently, the neighbors would arrange to come together and hang cables between windows. But then the wind would blow and tear the cables down. One time Dad tried to catch a cable flying in the wind like that, but it hit him in the face. Luckily, now there is Wi-Fi and you don’t have to make arrangements with anyone, you just have to hack their password.
Translated by Aleksandra Małecka
Kaja Puto is a journalist, translator and editor focusing on topics related to migration as well as politics and society of Central and Eastern Europe and Southern Caucasus. She is the deputy director of Ha!art publishing house.
*This article first appeared in Polish Impact. A guide for foreigners to Polish electronic, experimental and otherwise unconventional literature.