It is mid Monday morning in Warsaw and already the pavement bakes in the heat of the hot June sun. My first two days, I had avoided walking through streets where my family had lived–Orla, Kredytowa, Graniczna–sealed off by the Nazis late in 1940 by a brick wall. My grandmother would have wanted me to enjoy her city instead of chasing ghosts. So yesterday morning, before jumping in a taxi to visit my mothers’ nuns, I had sauntered down a stone path behind the National Museum, into a park of green grass and luscious chestnut trees, following a boulevard through a network of more parks to Park Ujazdowski, where children ran around ponds and ducked under gazebos.
      But now I am walking to an appointment not far from Orla street. It seems amiss to not drop by. I pass by the grand Opera House that is lined with rows of towering pilasters. When I turn down Senatorska Street, a woman steps toward me and holds out a piece of folded paper. She points to an address written in pencil. She asks me in accented Polish if I know where it is. Wearing a long lightweight dress that ripples in the light wind, her head is covered in an off-white hijab.  Her eyebrows are as thick and black as mine.
     “Nie Polski,” I say. “English?”
      “A little.”
      I pull out my folded map. Circled in pen, next to a Star of David, is the Synagogue, and the Jewish Historical Institute. We both stare at the map.
     “No, I don’t see it. Wait, I’ll look on my phone.” I turn on data roaming and type in her address as she holds up the paper.  “Where are you from?” I ask while we wait.
     “Syria. I live here for two years.”
     She seems nervous. Her eyes dart from me, to the ground, and then she is with me again. “Where you from?” she asks.
     She seems surprised.
     “But my mother was born here - two streets away.”
     “Yes. It was during a difficult time. The area was cut off and most of her family were killed.”
     Her street shows up on my phone and I point to the roads she should walk down. “How do you find it in Warsaw?” I ask.
     “I feel safe,” she says.

Theatre Square - photo


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