Kawa, chai and Nazar
Notes on serving coffee and tea at the welcome tent at Przemysl train station
Note: I am back in the United States and finishing up posts that I began writing while still in Poland.
The main rail station in Przemysl is just a cobblestoned block from the studio apartment I have called home over the past week-plus. Every morning on my walk to the WCK field kitchen, I pass through the station’s pedestrian tunnel. Most days, I enjoy a concert from a busker playing the accordion.
I pass the steps leading up to Platform 4, the very platform where the trains arrive from Ukraine. In the early weeks of the war, more than 350,000 Ukrainians came to Przemysl on one of those trains, packed to the gills. It’s the first stop away from the country they were forced to leave behind.
These days, there are three such trains — one at 5 a.m., one at 8 p.m. and one in early afternoon. Due to heightened security and crowded conditions, trains are frequently delayed, or maybe not show up at all. The journey from Kiev — 2.5 hours before the war — may now take as long as 12.
After disembarking, new arrivals queue up outside of the immigration and customs building. Just a few hundred feet away is a WCK tent, open 24 hours, where they can sit, get a bite to eat and a warm welcome.
It’s Saturday night and I join the night crew to help receive arrivals on the 8 o’clock train. Clint, a retiree from Lafayette, Louisiana, is the first one to greet me. For nearly two weeks, he’s been working the 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. shift. When I asked him why he came all this way, Clint said this: “I was tired of yelling at the television. At least this way I can help the people I’m so upset about.”
Clint showed me the ropes on the coffee and tea station. I quickly learn that the word for tea is “chai” and coffee is “kawa.” There’s a bowl of cookies and squares of a carrot snacking cake. A crowd forms just before nine.
While I serve hot drinks, Laura (who speaks Polish) and Yuliana (who speaks Ukrainian) work the panini press. Alla, a native Ukrainian speaker, is handling the hot food. We are set.
One of my first customers is a boy traveling with his family. He asks for chai. He knows as much English as I do Ukrainian. But somehow we communicate. He manages to tell me he’s 12. His name is Nazar. He and his family are going to Britain. He asks for a second cup of chai. He points to the cake. Can he have more please. He reminds me of Loren, my special 11-year-old pal in Seattle.
Where am I from, he wants to know. He smiles when I tell him America.
When it’s time to go, he comes back.
No, Nazar. Thank you.