I Hope You Had The Time Of Your Life: More Memories Of Alina
In Galeria in May this year, that being 2015, current Golden Gate Native Speaker Ben Sixsmith and I performed a beautiful acoustic song by Green Day called Good Riddance (Time Of Your Life). We performed it acoustically. Did we perform it beautifully? I don’t really care. We played it as well as we could and we did so in honour of Alina Myszka – an English Native Speaker from 2005 to 2006 and, really, the last female Native Speaker who ever had an impact at Golden Gate. She unfortunately died in April but isn’t forgotten.
I wrote a piece about Alina soon after but at the time there it was all quite raw and some memories were blocking out others. These thoughts have come to me over the past six months, so I think it is only fair we enjoy some more happy memories of Alina and honour the effort she gave to Golden Gate in her year there.
Ten years later there are still things that make me stop and go ‘Bloody Alina!’ For example, in our year together we lived in Balkanska, Ohio and, because she arrived a month before me, she showed me the walk to Tesco. Now, anybody familiar with the area knows you have to go to the left of the White Church to walk along the nice footpath at the back of the car park to get to Tesco. For some reason Alina took me to the right of the white church. Across fields. In snow these fields were not my friends. They were my enemies. And the footpath? What footpath? I didn’t know there was a footpath! The winter of early 2006 was awful and I spent months of it walking across snowy fields, falling over, carrying plastic Tesco bags, whilst a lovely footpath I didn’t even know about was available a few hundred metres away!
She helped me to settle in so much. Tarnowskie Gory was my home and probably will be my home again some day. So much of it was introduced to me by an English girl who isn’t even here anymore.
Many times we went to restaurants together in town and we didn’t have a clue what we were ordering. We couldn’t read the menus. We didn’t know Polish! Jesus, Alina once told me in Tesco that she thought ‘Zeberka’ was Zebra meat!
‘It has to be. Look at the spelling!’
In Great Britain we normally say ‘Are you alright?’ or ‘How are you?’ instead of ‘Hello’. So when Alina and I first came to Poland ten years ago we were asking everybody ‘Jak sie masz?!’ as soon as we met them. They thought we were strange.
‘I think they think we think they were ill, but now they’re better, or something,’ Alina said.
‘Hmm, it’s not the ‘Are you alright?’ we think it is,’ I added.
Alina had many boys who liked her back in Britain, but she saw the year in Poland as a year devoted to herself. When some of these boys came to visit her there was a problem or two.
Firstly she had a friend called Sanj, whose family were of perhaps Indian or Pakistani descent, but he was raised in Britain. He knew Alina from school and really liked her, you know? He came to visit Alina, I think hoping for her to become his girlfriend and return to England with him. Well, Alina took him to the, sadly no more, pub in Ohio called Piotrus. Now, I think it is safe to say not many people of Indian descent went to Piotrus. As Sanj sat with his drink, trying to impress Alina, some drunk guys from the other tables kept shouting ‘Omar Sharif!!’ at him, after the old Indian actor. The same guys who would shout ‘James Bond!’ at me. Sadly for Sanj, he returned to Britain from his holiday alone.
Then her old friend Eddie came to visit and they decided to visit other parts of Poland and they came to stay in a hotel. Alina could not speak much Polish but she could speak more than Eddie so she dealt with the receptionist. When it came to Alina’s surname ‘Myszka’, well, I’m saying nothing. The receptionist was laughing a lot. The receptionist didn’t believe ‘Myszka’ was her real surname. Myszka? It is Polish slang, not English, so Alina had to tell Eddie what it means. Alina then came back and, when telling the story of the hotel, had to tell me what it means…
We shared a flat in the first year, and it isn’t easy living with somebody you don’t really know. I have always hated spending too much money and in those days I would buy the cheapest noodles from Tesco and cheapest sausages, cheapest everything. One day before classes, early in our time together, I was using the kitchen and Alina obviously wanted me to hurry up. She was getting quite impatient and saw that I was cooking my usual low quality products. I still laugh at her question.
‘Look, are you going to be much longer cooking your…cheap shit?’
She was right. It was cheap and it was shit. Sometimes English is so easy.
Anybody who knows the history of Golden Gate knows that many years ago there were a few owners, including the current owner Rafal Drewniak. A few became two and two became one as eventually the other major power left Rafal and Golden Gate to start the Pink Apple School, also in Tarnowskie Gory. As I understand it, some students left Golden Gate and went to Pink Apple, with their cool American Native Speaker Roger. Strangely Roger used to always like socialising with Golden Gate staff and enjoyed coming to Golden Gate parties. Alina and I came to work for Golden Gate soon after. This was a very important time for Golden Gate because of Pink Apple’s existence and students perhaps being unsure where to go for lessons.
Alina never had great dreams to come and teach in Poland but, when she had the opportunity, she came and stayed at Golden Gate for the full year. As I said in my original piece, she had opportunities to leave but never took them. I truly think that, at that particular time, if one of us had left Golden Gate and not completed the year, causing a replacement, it would have truly hurt Golden Gate and helped Pink Apple. Well, we didn’t, and where is Pink Apple? There is no Pink Apple anymore.
That really is Alina’s legacy to Golden Gate, in my opinion. She never had a plan to work in Poland but things changed and out of nowhere she found herself teaching in Tarnowskie Gory. In a difficult time she was loyal to the school that helped her and her loyalty helped the school. Was she the best native speaker Golden Gate ever saw? I don’t think so. Neither was I. But we stayed when life wasn’t as comfortable as it is now, before Wi-Fi and Skype and all those other things that make you feel like you’re in the same room as your loved ones on the other side of Europe. We were in difficult times and we stayed. For me, that is something to be proud of. And we believed in Golden Gate too. So did Roger!
Teachers like Alina are what helps Golden Gate continue. She was one of the good ones. We remember the good ones, such as the Tinas, Robins, Codds, Johns, Daves and a few others. I’m certain Hazzard and Ben will join that list as well. The ones who want to leave after two weeks because they didn’t know Poland would be cold or those who invent reasons to go back to their easier life at home are probably best forgotten.
We can only hope that in the future our school has more teachers with the passion and steel of Alina. Finally, I like to think that she enjoyed her time at Golden Gate as much we enjoyed her being there.
‘If something’s unpredictable but in the end is right,
I hope you had the time of your life.’