AWA72 Historical Recount In Memoriam – Wojciech Gajowniczek aka “Gajowy”
AWA – AKADADEMICKIE WYPRAWY AFRYKAŃSKIE – UNIWERSYTET WARSZAWSKI
W dekadzie lat 1970-ych miał miejsce w Polsce „wysyp” naukowych wypraw do Afryki. Zrealizowano ich wówczas co najmniej kilkanaście. Oto wspomnienie dotyczące wyprawy pierwszej z 1972 roku
AWA UW ROK 1972
AWA72 a Historical Recount IN MEMORIAM – WOJCIECH GAJOWNICZEK, by Wojciech Dabrowski, Sydney
Neither dog nor the otter (ni pies ni wydra) i.e neither scientific nor sport-in-extreme but more likely a falcon and an owl representing sharp eyes and ability to reflect.
To: Whom it may concern.
The text below, dedicated to the Memory of Wojtek Gajowniczek (aka Gajowy), consists of Two Parts.
Part 1 follows closely the briefing given to Gajowy, when he, as a doctor, joined our group, not long before our departure for Africa.
It presents the mood and dramas of the preparatory stage of the Expedition. It ends at the final stage, leaving from Warsaw.
Recently, using memory and my notes I have been able to recall, for the first time in the fifty years which have passed since our much-anticipated departure, the mood, political climate, discussions, and different events which proved to be so pivotal in the final makeup of our upcoming African Expedition.
Part 2 deals with Wojtek and his contribution to the spirit and welfare of AWA72 (as we started to call our African project). This contribution consisted of his medical interventions, which, along with his personalised language and the specific humour which strongly characterised him, provided the “flavour” for the whole project.
His medical interventions are presented in chronological order, commencing from the stitching of Michal’s forehead on the first day in Africa and finishing on nursing me in Moshi hospital, after the incident on Kilimanjaro.
Another way of introducing his presence on the Expedition was the presentation of the “snippets” of his language and humour. Various sayings, funny responses, and the many songs which he sung with great passion, despite their being unattached to a specific place or situation. This all built up a picture of the man’s character. They seem to “hang out” on their own, in a way like the distribution of dots on Impressionist paintings, amounting to recognisable shapes only when viewed from a distance.
Those “Wojtek dots” provided a flavour to the traveling and formed an integral part of any attempt (when it finally will happen) to come up with the “history of AWA2”.
The picture which clearly emerges from the “dots” in Wojtek’s case, shows a young, energetic, charismatic and flamboyant man.
Wojtek, in plain language, was a good companion and a much-loved friend.
In fact the direct impulse for me to “relive once more the memory of the Expedition” came from receiving the devastating news about the death of Wojtek, and my wish to describe the times together “as I remember him”.
Wojtek’s presence during the travels was strongly felt. Not only was he an excellent medic but also a joyful and highly amusing companion.
Beginning of Part 1
We, a group of several students from the Postgraduate Evening African Studies, UW, ( Studium Afrykanistyczne), seemed to have believed in the phrase “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” especially during the “political spring” that emerged in Poland in the early 1970s.
The times during this period were also extraordinary. One could easily compare the first decade of the 70s to the “spring of our lives”. A new political team during the “early Gierek” era wanted to open Poland to the world.
Thousands of people had started to travel abroad to receive training related to purchasing technological licenses. It felt like a breath of freedom and optimism. Tens of thousands of people were even going on vacations abroad, often for the first time.
Our banal sounding slogan “to show the world (at least on its way) the “joyful face of Polish youth” sounded both tacky and as though it was trying to liberate Poland from its complex about being seen as parochial. This appealed to the decision makers.
We did not even really care about such slips of “good taste”, knowing that communication among people is often easier on the basis of kitsch than on the basis of high art.
In fact, any idea which could have sold the project to the decision makers was good enough for us.
The times had a taste of a “revolution” with (imaginary) slogans such as “all power in the hands of the councils” (known from the 1917 heyday). But the “councils” were in this case, just us simple students. We considered these few years of Gierek’s renewal as a “window of opportunity” suddenly opened, but probably not for long.
“We must hurry” was the slogan often repeated by the media, showing Prime Minister Jaroszewicz looking at his watch.
We were confident that we could organize a trip to Africa on our own, (something unimaginable until now). Details like “when”, “how”, “with what resources”, and “how many of us” were, in these high times, considered not important and remained to be determined in later days.
Without even waiting for answers to these important questions, we began preparations by sending out requests to potential major sponsors such as the Ministry of Sports, the military, and a truck factory in Starachowice. It was bravado without precedence but “the times felt right”.
We weren’t just kids. Each of us was in our mid-twenties and knew someone in decision-making positions. Each of us had a master’s degree in some technical profession, less frequently in the humanities.
Someone knew someone in the Office of the Council of Ministers. Another knew somebody in the top ranks of the military. And more importantly, one of the group knew somebody at the truck factory in Starachowice.
So, we “spread out”, putting our minds to the task of obtaining support for our initiative. More precisely, it was boiling down to obtaining the money for gasoline and military vehicles. All food, albeit in tins, we were prepared to take with us.
Already before we got any answers from our potential sponsors we started “preparation for the expedition” by taking care of physical and mental fitness.
We daily attended the gym as a group. We practiced yoga with Tadeusz Pasek, a legendary instructor and authority on Hindu philosophy. He had become famous for making himself immune (or so he claimed) to the adversary effects of drinking the Ganges water, by practicing asanas.
We were impressed!
We reasoned sensibly that physical fitness would be welcome, in any case, even if the expedition never came to fruition. And anyhow we were having the time of our life!!
Every evening we attended the gym (with a real sport coach who squeezed every drop of sweat from us for the promise of a postcard from Africa). We exercised directly after yoga sessions, and after the set of lectures, and still, amazingly, we had some spare energy to have a midnight drink at the Main Railway Station (Dworzec Glowny).
Next day each of us turned up to our respective work since all of us had some kind of fulltime employment.
Several of us had received offers for attractive foreign scholarship and had been forced to choose between accepting a significant career boost or continue to work, for uncertain results, on the AWA72 organisation.
I, like others, took a gamble and chose “the canary on the African roof” risking being left without a “sparrow in the hand” if the project flops bally up. We laughed at this adaptation to our situation of a known saying that “better is a sparrow in hand than a canary on a roof”. Fraught with uncertainties whether the Project will go ahead, we compared it to an elusive “canary on the roof” which we, the risk takers, preferred to bid for, rather than being content, as advised by the saying, by the “sparrow like” offers of our employers.
The “hope for Africa” was like a “personal trainer”, who motivates to make extraordinary efforts, not achievable in a “normal situation”. It is amazing how much latent energy is being stored, ready to be released by some lofty idea.
Or was it the “flush of love” induced by the powerful aphrodisiac of the mystique of Africa.
Physical exercise aside, the psychologists, familiar with such group dynamics, pointed out that mental strength and emotional stability were the main conditions underlying successful expeditions. Technical problems with cars, spartan camping conditions, regulated water consumption per person, and daily canned food diets, bandits, snakes, and scorpions would be insignificant challenges compared to the capacity of the individual for endurance and danger of emotional break downs.. That rather obvious piece of “wisdom” mobilized us to an even tougher mood, and mental resilience trainings called “yoga exercise”. We diligently trained with doctor Pasek a specialist on Hindu culture. After a couple of months all of us knew how to control negative feelings. How that would translate itself to “real life” situation “in the field” was an open question. We were particularly proud that we were able to stand “on our heads” for any duration of time.
Dr Pasek assured us that during any crisis standing on our heads would be the right thing to do. The method resemble a bit of an ostrich strategy of dealing with danger, but at that stage we were prepared to believe any forms of reassurances.
In those days, as in the past, achievements in sport on the international forum, were generously supported by the government. It was seen to be the proof of the virility of “socialism”. So, sport was our real trump card. Our hopes to secure the required finances could easily rest on our self-presentation as “endurance sportsmen”. Or one could imagine Africa akin to ‘Mount Everest” climbed without oxygen ..but with Polish flag.
At that time an extra value, additionally to “speed”, “jumping ability” and “capacity for lifting heavy bars”, a usual things expected from extreme sportsmen, was placed on “popularizing Poland” in the world.
That new political mantra of placing Poland “back on the world map” was stressed by us repeatedly.
Following the logic of “facts accomplished ” we performed under the banner “Students’ Expedition to Africa” long before we were sure that our bold project would come to fruition.
We thought that “being perceived” would create the climate of support on the level of decision makers.
The builders of “Warsaw metro” marched on all 1st May manifestations year after year without the underground transport coming up with a single train station. By being “visible” the issue of the modern mass transport was kept alive even though (for the lack of funding and viable engineering plans) it was actually in a state of induced coma.
We made sure that our movements had all the right propaganda coverage. In those days the plan of a “voyage to Africa” drew a lot of positive attention. We were on the pages of daily newspapers.
We were visible.
Since the topic of the day was a planed reconstruction of a Kings’ castle destroyed in the WW2, we shuffled bricks to be reused at the resurrected Castle, kept in ruins since the war. Our enthusiasm was photogenic. And – after all, we had colleagues in the newspaper editorial boards helping us to enter the national imagination.
At the street parade we walked as a whole group with the banners: The expedition to Africa greets the day “July 22“. And below; “formerly E. Wedel.” With this we parodied the inscriptions on the packaging of chocolate produced by the company named “22 JULY”, the day of the official National Holiday. For legal-export reasons, they always added: “formerly E. Wedel” mentioning the name of the company’s founder and former owner.
It was a cheeky thing, to poke fun at the solemn seriousness of the National Day celebrating the foundation of the communist rule in Poland. Luckily, we escaped with this “crime”. It was registered at the “top”. But we got a positive response praising our “bold and youthful sense of humor” which would be so indispensable in coping with all possible African adversities.
New winds were blowing on Polish political scene, indeed. Gierek replaced all old communist guard with the new “blood”, more palatable to the Polish sense of absurdity and humour than was the case with the previous guard.
And that change had strong and positive nationalistic undertones.
Gone were the banners: socialism the hope and the future of the world. In were the slogans: we shall build the second Poland. Even the sceptics were seduced by the winds of change. A popular Warsaw newspaper Zycie Warszawy was partly published in German and English. We believed, against the “unbelievable” that “we”, the Poles, could build “another Zakopane”.
At the time of our preparations, to encourage the projects which would “popularize” our Country, a big price was announced, by the Premier, for the most outstanding ideas and the most daring sport achievements.
The main candidates for the prize were two daring individuals: solo sailor Krzysztof Baranowski, for circumnavigating the globe, and Andrzej Zawada, a legendary organizer of expeditions to Hindu Kush and Himalayas.
We felt being in the game and were convinced that we had a chance to “outdo” our competitors for the desirable trophy. We had an equally ambitious sport program as they did. And we had something very significant that they did not have.
We were to face an unknown culture rich with real and imaginary dangers. We had an ambitious social program of meeting various groups in Africa, and we considered ourselves (perhaps a bit immodestly), to be highly “presentable” on the African scene. Each of us spoke at least two foreign languages.
Piotr knew three languages and gave a classy performance in Milano by presenting us to the hospitable group of Young Socialists in fluent Italian.
Eugeniusz spoke Swahili and Slawek, a part time expedition member, spoke Arabic.
Also, if needed, to provide extra “Umff” in self presentation on the “international scene” we could have performed “head standing” in the middle of Sahara Desert!
That would surely be a killer !!!
We had little experience with the outdoors, communal life. Some scout or university time summer camps, that all.
However, the need to introduce some selection criteria which would scale down the number of participants to twelve persons or so, from any number of hopefuls, was looming as a stress.
We tried to postpone the judgement for as long as was possible.
A pressing issue was a possible participation (or not participation) of women. Scouting camps were always single sex ventures and the “male bonding” type experience. The presence of women would inevitably introduce a “destructive element” or “unsettling conditions” for one reason or another. At least we thought that way.
And we were preparing for an “extreme physical effort” usually reserved for “iron men” competitions.
Neither the women who participated in the preparation were convinced that “this way” of spending a year or more was “really their cup of tea”.
Especially that in those times of unprecedented opportunities, several scholarships to African universities became available. It was an attractive option, of course, open for young women scientists to apply. Even some of the initial expedition organizers, chose the educational opportunities over the sporty experience.
Much missed Adam Rybinski who, no doubt would have helped to maintain equilibrium in our group, was one of them.
We hoped that the “selection problems” would get solved later “by themselves”.
We leaned toward the “male only” version of the expedition but the issue remained opened and controversial.
Our knowledge of Africa was “opposite proportional” to our desire to experience this Continent. And, of course, was heavily romanticized.
Edmund Hillary when asked what motivated him to climb Mt Everest answered that the fact “that the mountain WAS THERE” unattainable for the white man filled him with desire to “conquer it”.
Our answer to the question what draws us to Africa so strongly could have been similar, though colorful, full of handsome looking people and wild animals Continent seemed much more attractive option than, beautiful, but baren Mt Everest.
We, by contrast with Hillary, were not in business of “conquering” Africa but to experience Her in close proximity.
We knew Africa mainly through our dreams of this land and through adventure books, documentary films of the “disappearing world” series, and monthly magazines such as Poznaj Świat and Kontynenty. When we were young, we read In Desert and Wilderness, (W pustyni I puszczy) and some of us even saw the film King Solomon’s Mines.
We tried to catch up as quickly as possible. We organized meetings with people who spent some time in Africa, usually in their professional capacities as lecturers on various universities.
I found pen-friends in various parts of Africa and consulted them on the issues of safety, avoiding the war zones and choosing the best routs.
It was difficult to find the informative maps which had to be obtained by foreign currency.
From the beginning the project had a “grassroots activity” character. There was no (at least we were not aware otherwise) political infiltration into the group of “greenhorns.” There was no university or the Party interference (in the early stages) into the project. For the first time in many decades (at least, that’s how it seemed to us), something “important” could happen without top-down initiative and without political supervision.
No one required us to be Party members, until recently considered a “precondition” for gaining permission to participate in attractive projects. Some of us had a PZPR (Polish Communist Party) card. Others did not.
The “establishment” was taken by surprise at the audacity of the youth and did not seem to believe we could succeed. As a result we were not closely scrutinize on criteria of suitability. Neither from the political perspective nor from the academic achievements.
We were raised on the slogan attributed to poet Mayakovski, “the individual is ZERO/the collective is EVERYTHING.” This “wisdom” was socialized in the society. As it transpired not very successfully. At the first opportunity the “individual bent” in Polish youth character reemerged despite of decades of indoctrination.
It should have been understood that “the individual” was the umbrella term of a informally associated group of enthusiasts taking initiative in their own hands without being officially anointed by the Higher Authorities.
The “collective” was the party led organization which was to initiate and supervise all party approved initiatives.
In our case the powerful “collective” was the Warsaw University (UW), the bureaucratic body and their nominees. Until recently solely in charge of organizing and conducting all “educational” and recreational foreign trips.
We thought we were able to adopt an independent “way less travelled” and did not enter into any negotiations with the University. There seemed to be no point of doing that.
The High Education authority was scandalized by that impudence and looked for the occasion to pounce or “to put a stick into the spikes of our bicycle”.
The lack of a defined institutional affiliation, which could have act as our patron in confrontation with other “hopeful” institutions, was a mistake, as explained below.
We were seduced into a fresh thinking. We thought that after years of glorifying the “collective” and ignoring the role of the individual, the time had come to “discover” the creative potential of “ordinary people”, like us.
We drew encouragement and energy from the new “spirit” developing in society.
The tone of the daily press changed from the siding with the Mayakovski’s “collective” into something more human. We read in daily papers with astonishment that someone was hailed as a hero because he had built a bridge over a ravine at his own expense, something he had been unsuccessfully pursuing in the local council for years.
Someone modernized the production of screws and bolts at his own expense, although he had not received a subsidy for the modernization from the state for years.
There was a sense that if those praised heroes could have achieved their goals, so could we.
That confidence, as time showed, went into overdrive.
When it looked as if the Expedition would go ahead, the “collective” in the form of the University voice, “muscled in”.
And started to forcefully pose a question regarding the nature of the Expedition: Was it going to be cast as “scientific“? or “sporty“? or somthing “other”?
The answer could have been easy. It should have depended on the travelling agenda, i.e., on the character envisaged for the Expedition.
An officially presented plan covering about 40 000 km in Africa, was attached to each request for support. On this basis the benefactors made up their decision whether to show their largesse or not. There was no way to recall those presentations in order to file some other objectives. And of course, without thorough remaking of the whole plan, to present the motive as being scientific research, even most remotely resembling the requirements set by Malinowski for an anthropological investigation, was not possible.
In truth, the project could not be viewed as an extremal sport. It was not to be a rival to Paris to Dakar rally. It should have been conceived as something unique: a thoughtful travel via various regions and countries. It would be meeting local people, learning about their sources of their joy, hardships, and endurance. The project would be in line with the accounts of the famous globetrotters of the past or the popular traveling presentations often broadcasted on the Western television programs. And since we were full of good will towards Africa we could come with the stories of the “close encounters” with the Africans hitherto either not known to the Polish public or known with the negative bias.
But what did escape attention was the fact that moving from one country to another, without excessive speed, could provide an excellent opportunity for a specialized, well informed, travel log like, account.
All that would have been needed was a portable typewriter and a writing talent able to express the mood, the thrills, and the description of the world which passed us by. It could also include the valuable observations on the small group dynamics. Behaviour of twelve young men, with different personalities, in daily contacts of the shared traveling could be a rare opportunity for a sociological study.
The material could have been published in the form of monthly installments, as was done by various travelers for the BBC or travelling journals.
In combination with many pictures taken en route, it could even aspire to be published as a best seller.
The achievable “goals” should have been closely attached to the traveling strategy already before leaving Poland.
In fact, what we had was a so- called, “open ended investigation” strategy, i.e., watching where the winds “of intellectual pursuits” would carry us.
How much “sport” could be fit in was also to be determined on the spot.
Both concerns, i.e., intellectual and sporty had to be subsumed under an umbrella of “displaying a happy image of the Polish youth abroad”.
That was fine by us.
In the best-case scenario, we could have made observations like those contained in the “Golden Bough” (Frazer), which presented descriptions “od Sasa do Lasa” (literally: going from one king /Sas/ to another /Las/ in a chaotic manner) of architecture, rituals (e.g., funeral, wedding, religious, customs, descriptions of artifacts, etc.) provided without any cultural context, therefore amounting to a patch work of curiosities, without the hidden cultural dimension.
And still it would be a lot to expect from us.
Professor Zajaczkowski, our lecturer and intellectual mentor, saw the weak points in our program. He suggested to divide the trip into twelve episodes and present it as a mix of travelling, experiencing the life on the spot and an informative background bringing Polish audience closer to the reality of the Continent. As an author of a informative book on contemporary African culture, called Muntu dzisiaj (Muntu i.e. African peasant, today), was well positions to help us to edit any text related to Africa.
Professor Zajaczkowski was an experienced scientist well versed in African issues. He saw through our project being unattainable either from sporty nor scientific perspective.
It was he who suggested that in our case, a Polish saying “neither dog nor an otter” whenever the identity of a project is difficult to identify, should be amended by the image of “falcon” and/or an “owl”. Both would symbolize the sharpness of observation and the ability of reflection on the issues encountered on the road.
We seemed to be too much involved in the organization of the Expedition and later to fend off the hostile forces threatening the very viability of the project to take his suggestions on the board.
But that very reasonable idea of rebranding the project along the image of the added animals to the company of a “dog” and an “otter” did not appeal to some. The “scientific character of the Expedition”, contrary to any reasonable assessment of its capabilities, was promoted by the University through the hands of those university “Africanists” who were earlier admitted to our group in order to diversify the membership.
The inclusion of University’s favorites was like adding “a few raisins” to a cake already almost finished.
Marek, who was at that time an indisputable leader of the project, did not sense any danger of the possible challenge to his position.
We all were naïve and did not perceive the project as presenting a potential area of political maneuvering.
As was mentioned above we did not have any institutional “mentor” who could represent us against hostile forces of Establishment.
The “informal” leadership of the Expedition was not “embedded” in either “hard structure” which would be a tool with which to defend us against attempts to seize control over our decisions, nor was there some Charta stating the main points of our “constitution”. There was no written document stating the basic goals; neither the governing and selecting criteria which could have been used in defense against hostile takeovers.
Our leadership was based on the “common law” of decency not on the statuary, written law.
For the University that “diversification” of the talents (linguists and economists), strongly supported by Marek, was a strategy of “putting a foot in the door” of the project and exercise a pressure from within. The section of the professorial body had no qualms in doing so, despite not having any part or role in the yearlong hard preparation for the Expedition.
The only formal connection was that African Studies, which we were students of, was structurally attached to the University of Warsaw. That was all.
For the sake of truth, I wish to report that our allies, as far as supporting our rights to organise the composition and program of the Expedition, in the form initially proposed, were Professors Zajączkowski and Winid.
But what could they have done when they had against them,… well I won’t go into that.
Polish custom requires talking well about the deceased people, or not at all.
There could have been a possibility of challenging the legality of the Uni intervention into our affairs….but it would, most likely, resulted in cancelling the whole project all together.
Anyhow, in those days we did not believe that the courts would take side of the wronged citizens.
Disregarding real threat to the project we continued preparation as if nothing was happening.
We did organise several “integration” camps. The whole group went on a mountain hike in Bulgaria. Marek attended in a “trail” whether he would fit well into the group. He did. Although not in the eyes of Eugeniusz, a newly anointed leader.
We also went to Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Moscow.
The mood and the mateship within the candidates’ group was excellent. No worries for the future trip.
Riszard Kapuscinski whom we consulted on the issues of strength and weaknesses liked Zajaczkowski’s idea of a suitable emblems-cum-mascots for the Expedition. According to Ryszard, we were missing in our plan a “life motif of the expedition-on-the-run” that could be captured on the film and the written commentary. A documentary film, Ryszard continued, should be like a “string of pearls,” with the pearls being various ethnographic and customary episodes and vignettes. They should be supported by a map signalizing the position of a presented episode.
And “science” was not to be mentioned, as the motif of travelling. He agreed with professor suggestions that some elements (not too critical, of course) of the group dynamics could jazz up the ethnographic presentations.
As Kapuscinski predicted Jacek’s thematic films, such as “Benin bronzes” or a visit to a Pygmy village, were interesting, but were not set into any continuous “time scale” to which the viewer/reader could refer, assigning positions to the viewed vignettes.
There was no document showing the daily life of the Expedition participants. There was no map showing the progress of the Expedition’s movement through Africa which could tie the events to geographical specificity. There was certainly nothing about the preparatory stage, even heavily edited.
A mistake in the Expedition’s film script was one thing. A lack of a developed meaningful identity was another.
Thus, in the final reckoning, we had neither any cohesive film material nor did we have a literary document that could be on par with (well, almost at the level) of Kapuściński’s works.
We had neither “scientific” material nor had we excelled in endurance challenges.
When in Africa, there was once an “ill-conceived idea” of driving at nights like in a Paris to Dakar rally. It was rejected by the arguments that we would fail to describe what Africa was like if we were to pass through it in darkness. It would be ridiculous.
We also made a “stab” into a “scientific”, ten days long, field work research in Kameron among the Bamileke people.
It was a failed attempt.
The closer we got to the trip, when we already had received a “strong” promise of money and cars, the more tension grew around the project.
The “desirable morsel” of the “dream coming true” that we had created, had been noticed. Going to Africa was not a dream which was limited to us. Quite a few of university lecturers, especially the younger ones, felt that they could fit into our projects as well.
At the expense of “legitimate” candidates, of course, since the vehicles were bound by their limitation of the numbers of the participants which they could take on board.
It became obvious that our sense of autonomy was an illusion of youth.
Also, as became later transparent, Marek, the leader of the expedition, did not have enough invested authority to stand up to internal opposition. There was no legitimation through the democratic process which could have absorbed any disagreement within. The leader was not formally elected. We all felt like the “creators” of the project with equal rights. There was nobody “more equal” than another.
The University propaganda raised the point that such a “huge undertaking” paid for with “taxpayer money” should have the “prestige” of an institution of the Higher educations. An athletic project devised by inexperienced youth seemed not to have enough weight. The fact that countries spend millions on “supporting athletes” on international forums, was conveniently overlooked.
The name AWA72 (Academic Expedition to Africa; Akademicka Wyprawa Afrykanska 72) which we started to use, seemed, to some, to be ambiguous. It, supposedly, was not clear whether “Akademicka” refers to the students or to the University, which liked to consider itself as ‘Akademia”. After all there was the Sports’ Academy (AWF) (Akademia Wychowania Fizycznego) as a popular institution of Higher Education devoted to issues of sport. There was Akademia Wojskowa (A Military Academy) and several references to “academia”, as an institution of tertiary education, in French language.
“Academic,” the name in AWA72 referred to the old-fashioned name of the student fraternity as “academics”. In contemporary Polish language “akademiki” means student houses, the dormitory for youth from outside the university town.
It would have been possible to call the expedition “African Expedition Organized by Warsaw Students.” But this, while freeing from ambiguity, would not sound as neat as AWA72.
When the expedition team had already completed the basic conditions for setting out for Africa, (cars, money, supplies) it turned out that there were “a few additional fathers (and mothers)” of success, from University ranks, who raised their hands as co-creators (and perhaps even main authors) of the venture. Thus, “they” , posing as “concerned” carers, also felt entitled to dictate to us both the program and the personal composition of the participants.
A formal objection which was advanced against leaving the Expedition in the hands of us, the “young people” was our lack of experience in running such large projects. Another (partially valid) argument was that no common denominator, such as scientific achievements, experience in group co-existence, or other measurable performance, was being used in selecting the present team.
None of us had any experience in running projects of that scale. Neither, of course, had those would be interlopers, the “concerned fathers and mothers”.
This was mainly because there had been no similarly ambitious projects like AWA72 in recent Polish history. The only area of the sort of qualifications which could have been considered valid, could have come from the army. But we were not seeking that option.
Jacek Baranowski, before setting out on his solo voyage, sailed for many years and obtained his qualifications as a yacht captain.
Andrzej Zawada, before leading expeditions to the Himalayas, had organized expeditions to the Caucasus.
In our case, our combined experience amounted to a couple of sailing camps in summer and skiing in winter. Nothing more.
We would be thrown into deep water with limited swimming skills.
In the end, emotionally bruised and confused about our collective identity, we did manage to leave for Africa.
The intervention of the University of Warsaw, at the last minute, was also supported by the lack of loyalty from a section within our own ranks.
A challenge to Marek, until then the unquestioned leader of the expedition, suddenly came to open light.
If it had been dissenting before, then it had remained invisible.
Opposition is a natural part of the democratic system, and the political process is supposed to absorb dissent.
We did not have any forum on which we could have iron out disagreements.
Here the University used this difference of opinion as a kind of pathological case threatening the viability of the whole project. It was not clear whether objection to Marek’s leadership was instigated by the university’s authority or not.
At some stage each of us was called in front of “kangaroo court”, as Australian call an informal justice system, to declare themselves “for” or “against” Marek’s
Instead of seeking compromise, the “pedagogical body” forced upon us a reshuffling of the participants of the Expedition.
It imposed a new leader from outside of organisers’ ranks.
Marek, despite his significant contribution to the overall organization, and the energy he put into it, was excluded from the expedition. This came as a shock.
The participation, or not participation, of the women was likewise vetoed out. Two main female candidates for the Expedition were given symbolic representation in the form of cars’ names: “Jola” and “Renata”.
Since Marek did not favored women participation, banning from the trip both him and the women was considered to be dealing a “symmetrical” justice.
But the issue of “women participation” was artificially blown out of proportion.
As I lobbied on behalf of Marek’s participation I learned that six out of twelve selected participants were strongly against Marek. They agreed that Marek was an “engine of the project” and that he had a great role in bringing it as far as he did.
But the energy and vision which was the precondition for the success of the organizational stage would be, they claimed, excessive force to harness on the move. Somebody much more mellowed would be needed at the stage of leading the small group in Africa. Marek, they claimed, was too forceful, too strongly willed to deal tactfully with small issues, twenty four hours a day. The final opinion was that Marek was “cut for bigger” venture that the one he successfully organized. And that different qualities are in demand for the organizing stage and different for leading a small group of men over a long period of time.
I did not agree with that opinion, but I had only one vote to influence the matter. However, all my buddies, those close to me before Africa which remain close during the trip, were supporting Marek’s participation as a matter of basic loyalty to the friendship and shared hard work for the common goal.
The shared front of either “for” or “against” Marek’s participation was not based on any differences of the vision of what the Expedition should be looking like.
As I said before we all were pretty confused of what shape and identity should we adopt before the departure. The polarity of attitudes was based on instincts of “attraction” or lack of it. Some kind of emotional gravitas or its lack.
Since no agreed upon structure was in place setting out a priori ways of conduction relationships (something of the democratic like system or the autocratic one) the instinctual forces of “human magnetism” or its absence, played a decisively strong card.
At the end the University candidate, Eugeniusz, fit the requirement of placid non-confrontational attitude, and got sufficient support for the project to go ahead.
In Africa he met the expectations of minimum intervention in the group’s dynamics thus contributing to the lack of major conflicts among the participants.
Lonek, talking about the University’s intervention, thought it was all about “preserving the authority”.
He joked, with good point, that the stand off with the University was like the episode in a well-known and much loved in Poland, the Czech movie, Closely Watched Trains. The station master scolded his subordinate who signaled for the train to depart without his authorization. “I am here for such decisions,” the station master yelled at his subordinate. “HOTOWE!!!” he signaled to the driver.
Finally, the “teaching staff” signaled “Hotowe!!!” and we were permitted to leave Warsaw, starting from the University main grounds. Our hearts were filled with joyful anticipation of what awaited us in the “big world.”
So, in September 1972, we were heading to Africa farewelled by a group of friends, families, and well-wishers.
Professor Zajaczkowski came to wave us goodbye. Nobody from so “concerned” pedagogical body, showed up. It seemed to be the manifestation of the displeasure that the project, despite their efforts, was going ahead.
Marek, bravely, came to wish “all the best”.
OK !! So the moment came when we were about to leave Warsaw and go….
We went via Czechoslowacja, Hungery (Wegry), Croatia (Chorwacja), Italy (Wlochy) France (Francja), Spain (Hiszpania), Marocco (Maroko), Algeria, Niger, Nigeria, The Republic of Central Africa (Republika Srodkowej Afryki), Zair (Kongo), Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, finishing the trip in Alexandria.
All together close to 40 000 km.
Not bad !!
Leaving Warsaw we were clearly aware that until recently, such a moment was a dream as unlikely to come true as having a dinner with Sophia Loren. Now, it was becoming true.
That is, the TRIP AHEAD.
Not a DINNER WITH LOREN!!!
There were following fellow travelers:
Eugeniusz Rzewuski, Jacek Olędzki, Lonek Adamowicz, Andrzej Walewski, Piotr Wolański, Bogdan Stefański, , Maciej Pytel, Michał Olbiński, Wojciech Gajowniczek, Wojciech Dabrowski, Krzysztof Albiniak, Staszek Nowakowski.
Each of us was marked for life by that event.
Eugeniusz held two ambassadorial posts in Africa;
Jacek went again for a brief stint to Africa. Later he committed his life to study a small community, perched on the bank of Wisla, in a place called Murzynowo, (Black place, literally A negro Place)), living in a small fishermen hut without electricity or toilet. He explained that during the expedition we did not have such luxuries and still consider ourselves lucky and happy. It was true.
Whether the village name, seemingly referring to the “black continent” was a conscious choice by Jacek for the prolonged field studies, was not certain. It could have pleasantly reminded him of the unforgettable times in Africa. (Later I learned that “Black place” referred to the shadowy part of the bank contrasting with the “White place” (Alborzi), not far along the river).
Jacek became a “cult figure” among the young anthropologists and his photos from Africa (mostly lost for the lack of a suitable university archives in which they could have been deposited and preserved) attract students’ admiration.
Lonek went to live in Mozambique. He became a professor of archaeology on the university of Maputo, and a chief Scouting Master on the national level.
Andrzej enjoyed a brilliant career at the UW basking in the fame of the hero of AWA2 expedition;
Piotr committed himself to the annual explorations of Canary Islands;
Bogdan lectured at the universities of RPA and trekked a part of AWA72 rout; in later days writing a small booklet about his experiences;
Maciej run a remote mountain chalet in Bieszczady, where, apart of a short tourist season, lived simple ascetic life;
Michal returned to Africa and had many adventures there; he is believed to live in Austria;
Wojciech Gajowniczek became a well known surgeon in Poland and one time a doctor in Iraq;
Wojciech Dabrowski became an Australian anthropologist with a prolonged research fieldwork (two years in a grass hut) in Papua New Guinea (PNG) and a lecturer on Australian and Polish universities. He also became a frequent visitor to Africa where he has been studying the rock art in various parts of the Continent;
Krzysztof Albiniak (judging by his pleasant character, witticism and ability for a hard work) must have achieved high level of promotions in the army, but I do not know the details;
Staszek Nowakowski became a Director of Strachowice Truck Factory, or at least he should have become one.
Jola, the “god mother of one of the Stars” built an ethnographic museum in Mozambique, one of the best in the world, as some claim it to be;
While Renata, the god mother of the other vehicle, gone to the USA (became a “real mother” of three boys), and re-emerges from there from time to time and could be met in Warsaw.
Slawek, a part time member of the Expedition, became a distinguished proponent of Islam in Poland.
Marek settled down in Australia. He extensively travelled in Asia, Australia and the South America.
One time he went on the round-the-world trip before returning to Poland on time to join Solidarity revolution.
He became an entrepreneur with his own business.
He never set a foot on African continent.
That would be the end of Part 1 dealing with all the drama of organization and “enforced on us” politics of “identity” which Wojtek Gajowniczek did not take part in.
In Part 2 I will introduce Gajowy as I “remember Him” from the yearlong travels in Africa.
Wojtek Dabrowski, Sydney 2023
Fotografie przesłane do Portalu Narodowa GA.PA przez przyjaciół do tego wpisu (październik 2023 r):
Fot. 1 Wojciech Gajowniczek (ze spotkania przyjaciół, Warszawa w rocznicę wyprawy – 2012 rok) – fotografię przesłali: Eliana Kamińska oraz Eugeniusz Rzewuski
Fot. 2 Przyjacielskie spotkanie w greckiej knajpie “Patris” (już przeniesiona z Saskiej Kępy na ul. Grochowską), Warszawa rok 2012, 40. Rocznica wyjazdu AWA 72-73 – od lewej: Gienek Rzewuski, Wojtek Gajowniczek, Piotrek Wolański – fotografię przesłał Eugeniusz Rzewuski
Fot. 3 Gdzieś na trasie wyprawy AWA 72-73, od lewej: Piotrek Wolański, Wojtek Gajowniczek, Gienek Rzewuski, Lonek Adamowicz – fotografię przesłał Eugeniusz Rzewuski
Fot. 4 Koledzy ze szkoły „LO Prusa”, Wojtek Gajowniczek pierwszy od prawej, na wycieczce do Krakowa – fotografię przesłał Eugeniusz Rzewuski
Fot. 5 Spotkanie grupy przed wyprawą 1972 r. Warszawa – fotografia 1 i 2, grupowe fotografie Eugeniusz Rzewuski i Eliana Kamińska
Opisanie osób na fotografii 1/2 – opis przesłała: Eliana Kamińska:
Fot. 6 Spotkanie grupy przed wyprawą 1972 r. Warszawa – fotografia 2/2, grupowe fotografię przesłał: Eugeniusz Rzewuski
Opisanie osób na fotografii 2/2 – przesłał: Eugeniusz “Gienek” Rzewuski
od lewej: Krzyś Albiniak, Wojtek Gajowniczek, Gienek Rzewuski, Staszek Nowakowski, Michał Olbiński (wysoki blondyn), Maciej Pytel (z profilu), Bogdan Stefański, Andrzej Walewski
A w kucki: Wojtek Dabrowski, Lonek Adamowicz, Piotrek Wolański, Andrzej Prosiński
Fot. 7 Mapka afrykańskiej wyprawy 1AWA 1972-1973 – mapkę przesłał Eugeniusz Rzewuski
Fot. 8 Pismo KOŁA NAUKOWEGO AFRYKANISTÓW UNIWERSYTETU WARSZAWSKIEGO z dnia 9.07.1974 r. do Zakładów Sprzętu Technicznego i Turystycznego w Legionowie – z prośbą o śpiwory na kolejną wyprawę AWA – fotografię przesłał Eugeniusz Rzewuski
Fot. 9 Przed wyjazdem wyprawy na dziedzińcu UW w Warszawie czarno-białe fotografie 1 i 2 – fotografie przesłał Eugeniusz Rzewuski
Fot. 10 Przed wyjazdem wyprawy na dziedzińcu UW w Warszawie czarno-białe fotografie 3 i 4 – fotografie przesłał Eugeniusz Rzewuski
Fot. 11 Samochody STAR wypraw AWA w Afryce – fotografię przesłał Eugeniusz Rzewuski
Fot. 12 AWA znak graficzny wyprawy – litera A – przesłał Eugeniusz Rzewuski
W przygotowaniu – następne fotografie do albumu wypraw AWA w Portalu Narodowa GA.PA (GAleria PAmięci, PAmiątek narodowych)
Zapraszamy serdecznie inne osoby, które mają jakiekolwiek pamiątki po wyprawach AWA do przesyłania skanów, filmowych nagrań, i tym podobnych pamiątek – do umieszczenia w portalu – przypominamy adres Email: firstname.lastname@example.org