No matter where the fate takes us, I will certainly try to help the people in need

Aldona Krajewska is one of the women who impress with discrete elegance, sensitive intelligence and noble spirit. Born in Warsaw, she graduated with a degree in Pedagogy from the Warsaw University. She married Mr. Krzysztof Krajewski, now Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Poland in the Republic of Bulgaria 26 years ago, and hence they are everywhere together. They have two children: Piotr - 25 years old; and Maria - 16 years old. After her family, what she loves the most is helping people in need. That is why she is always participating in charity initiatives of the countries where the fate takes her. Only a few days ago we saw her dedicating herself to the success of the Charity Bazaar of the International Women's Club in Sofia. It is no coincidence that on the 9th of December, at the Christmas meeting with the Polish community at the embassy, ​​Mrs. Aldona Krajewska received the "Heart for Heart" Award from the Polish Cultural and Educational Society Władysław Warneńczyk for her charity work in Bulgaria.

- Ms. Krajewska, you are for the second time in Bulgaria because of your husband's diplomatic mandates. Before his coming to Poland as an ambassador in Bulgaria, he was also a consul in Varna. How do you feel in our country?

- Me and my family have always felt great in Bulgaria: years ago when we were in Varna, and now in Sofia. Moreover, we all speak Bulgarian in the family. This facilitates the establishment of new contacts. It is very important to me that I can call friends many of the Bulgarians I met both in Varna and Sofia. The fact that the country is changing into the right direction, which in my opinion is a merit of its membership in the European Union, also contributes to my good self-esteem in Bulgaria. With the help of the European funds, many projects have been implemented, thanks to which the urban environment has become more welcoming. New green areas, recreation areas and active leisure places have also emerged, which I am very pleased with. Of course, there is more to be desired in this respect, but I know that not everything can happen right away. As they say in Poland, and in Bulgaria - everything comes with its time.

- Have you encountered any difficulties adapting here? How did you learn our language so well?

- Bulgaria is a very hospitable country. In this sense, we have not experienced any difficulty in adapting to life here.

I learned Bulgarian gradually, by communicating with local people and watching Bulgarian media. I was greatly facilitated by the fact that our tongues are kinship. Something more: people are very friendly when they hear we speak their language. Many Bulgarians are pleasantly surprised by this fact, since foreigners speaking Bulgarian is a rarity. So it may be a good idea to consider a campaign to promote the study of the Bulgarian language abroad.

- Although we are Slavic states, there may be differences in people's mentality. In what way are Bulgarians and Poles similar and in what different?

- I do not find the differences between us so deep. However, there are many similarities. It is my impression, for example, that the family is of great value to both peoples. As in Poland, here too, people are very cooperative and help each other. Still, if I have to point out any differences, I would draw attention to your expressiveness and vitality inherent in all southern peoples. We - as a northern nation, seem to be more restrained and slower to converge. In this respect, after our stay in Bulgaria with my husband, we look a little exotic to our compatriots. There is no way - your warmth and friendliness are infectious!

- For each mother, vastly important is the education of her children. Recently in our country there has been turmoil related to our educational system. Would you say whether the Poles are pleased with theirs?

- Indeed, initially, the educational reform in Poland has caused quite a lot of emotions, but they seemed to have faded away lately. I have to admit that I was also skeptical about the proposed changes that will lead to the abolition of high schools. The beginning of the school year, however, refuted the worries regarding the effectiveness of the reform. Honestly, thinking about it, my generation also went through such a system and I cannot think of any serious flaws in it. Moreover, structural changes in schools are an important, but not the only, reform-related change. A sophisticated curriculum has been prepared, which focuses more on the project-based education, as well as on the development of language and technological skills and on the prevention of problematic behaviour among students. These changes have both opponents and supporters. That is why I think before giving any clear assessment on the reform, I just have to wait a bit to see how it works first.

- Does it give young people the opportunity for a successful career in their homeland?

- Poland is a great academic center with centuries-old traditions. The first university, the University of Jagiellonian, opened its doors in the far 1364s. There are 1.3 million students in Poland every year. Polish universities are becoming more and more popular among foreign students, with their number now reaching 70,000. Higher education institutions in Poland can boast a high level of teaching. According to the Times Higher Education magazine, there are nine Polish universities, among the top European universities for 2017. This good level leads to an ever more successful realization of the young people. This is evidenced by the lower unemployment rate among this group of people.

- We see you at many cultural events. What do you think about the cultural exchanges between our two countries?

- Our cultural exchanges are very active, especially in the field of language learning. At three Bulgarian universities - in Sofia, Plovdiv and Veliko Tarnovo, there is a specialisation in Polish language. Polish is also taught at the University of Shumen. The Polish Institute in Sofia, which also organizes Polish language courses, is very active. It also has numerous cultural projects aimed at popularizing Polish culture in Bulgaria. More than a hundred initiatives are held every year: concerts with Polish and Bulgarian music, book presentations, scientific conferences and lectures with the participation of famous Polish and Bulgarian experts, writers and artists. There is also active co-operation between the academies of science of the two countries, which have 40 joint projects. A new cooperation program between the Polish and the Bulgarian educational ministries is currently underway. I hope this document will be signed soon.

In 2018, our countries will mark several important anniversaries: 140 Years of Independent Bulgaria, 100 Years of Independent Poland, and 100 years of Polish-Bulgarian diplomatic relations. I am convinced that they will give additional impetus to the Polish-Bulgarian partnership, including in the field of culture.

- What is the position of the Polish woman in the society today?

- With regard to the role of women in society, Poland is no exception to the trends in many other European Union countries. The woman is a full participant in political, economic and social life. More and more women decide to start their own business. They are increasingly being appointed to managerial positions. I recently came across an interesting survey done in 36 countries, according to which 40% of these positions are occupied by women, giving us the third place in this ranking. There is an interesting trend in Poland right now. For the first time in the history of the country, female unemployment is lower than that among men. However, there is still something to be desired, as many people continue to look at the woman as a secondary actor in social life, whose main occupation is raising children. I strongly believe that this stereotype will soon be fought down.

- You have two children. What did you aspire to teach them? What do they occupy themselves with?

- My son Piotr is 25 years old and lives in Poland. Currently, he works in the administration of the Polish President, responsible for organizing visits to the head of state. My daughter Maria is nine years younger than her brother. She is currently a student in one of Sofia's high schools. As far as the education of our children is concerned, my husband always strives to educate them in a spirit of love for their homeland and respect for other cultures and peoples. The fact that they, as children of diplomats, have accompanied us in many countries with a mentality other than the Polish one, helped us a lot to achieve this goal.

- You know the Bulgarian cuisine well. Is it very different from the Polish?

- Bulgarian cuisine is extremely varied. It combines local and Slavic traditions with external influences. So there is, at the same time, a lot of similarity and lots of differences with the Polish cuisine. Both Poles and Bulgarians eat a lot of meat. But the meat products are different - you have all the possible sudjuks’ and we prefer sausages and salami. The grill is something typical of the Balkans, which our kitchen is not acquainted with. The oriental influences, which enrich the character of the Bulgarian cuisine, far less affected us. There is also a fundamental difference in the bread consumption - for you, it is a must-have addition to any dish while we eat it separately, for example, with butter spread. That's why we have a variety of kinds of bread. Some important differences are coming to my mind. For example, our cheeses are not like yours, but rather Western ones - gouda, emmental and others. Additionally, we adore the sour taste, so we eat all year round pickles, salads with sour dressing or, as you say "turshii". Your sour cabbage for the Polish taste is almost sweet! I see that in Bulgaria they definitely pay tribute to salads with fresh vegetables, because you have them in abundance.

- What is a typical Polish lunch or dinner?

- We do not sit on the table, if there is no hot soup on it. We have many kinds of traditional soups - from tomato, pickles, beetroot and other vegetables. Our most specific soup is the zurek - with bacon, eggs and a characteristic leaven. The zurek is sometimes served in a carved bread roll. I would say that there is a lot of meat served too, but there are also vegetarian delights - fried pastry with potato, pancakes with spinach or the typical for our kitchen pierogi - cooked or fried pastry bites with various filling.

- There is a large Polish community in Bulgaria. Does it keep the Polish traditions?

- In Bulgaria there are over 3,000 Poles or people of Polish roots. They live mainly in Sofia, Varna and Burgas. There are also Poles in Plovdiv, Ruse, Veliko Tarnovo and other places. Many of them came in Bulgaria during the 1960s and 1980s. But the first Poles arrive in the late 19th century. These were soldiers and intellectuals who have made a significant contribution to the development of your country. The Poles in Bulgaria create their families, have children and grandchildren who visit not only Bulgarian but also Polish schools (in Sofia and other cities). They also have their organization - the Polish Cultural and Educational Society "Władysław Warneńczyk", which is in charge of the Polish traditions.

- How does your life run as the ambassador's wife? Are you always with your husband in his work abroad?

- It is a great honor for me to be a diplomat's wife. I always accompany my husband, I support him and I am next to him. I cannot imagine life differently. Thanks to the fact that my husband is an ambassador, I got to know other countries, cultures, meet new traditions and customs. But the best thing is that we meet with wonderful people, many of whom are our close friends. I also actively participate in the organisation of charity campaigns.

- Yes, it is well known that you are doing a great deal of work and effort for charity causes - both in Bulgaria and in other countries where you were with your husband. Tell us more about them... about your aspirations and your dreams.

- I'm actively engaged in charity. Each year my husband and I, together with the Embassy, ​​participate in the Charity Bazaar, organized by the International Women's Club in Sofia, which this year took place on the first Sunday of December.

I am currently the organizer of the "Charity Package" campaign, which helps families in need. This campaign is one of the most recognizable social projects in Poland. It includes families which, in circumstances beyond their control, are in a complex financial situation. I have decided to launch this kind of action here that is filled with good intention, because we must also support our compatriots outside Poland. I want them to know that they can always rely on the Polish institutions in Bulgaria, to be able to see them as support. I also try to regularly support the Polish schools in your country - in Sofia, Varna and Burgas. These schools promote the study of Polish language, Polish history and literature among young Poles living away from their homeland. For them they are a part of their homeland in Bulgaria.

No matter where the fate takes us, I will certainly try to help the people in need.

I cannot remain indifferent to seeing that there are people in need and not to show empathy. Moreover, I think there is always something that can be done about them. We can support them, help them so that they do not feel abandoned and rejected. But the most important thing for me is the family. First and foremost are my husband’s and my children's health and happiness. And now my dream is for my daughter to finish her secondary education with good results and to enter the university she desires.

- How does one of your days pass by?

- Probably just like the day of any housewife. I take care of the kids, I do the housework, cook, do the shopping. There is always something to do when a person is at home and has a family. Moreover, as I mentioned, I systematically study foreign languages. The only thing that distinguishes me from other housewives is the fact that I often accompany my husband to numerous diplomatic meetings and cultural and educational celebrations to support him.

- When and how did fate meet you with him?

- With my husband we met at a student camp in Shaleiov, located in the Kłodzko Valley in Poland and since then we are together. More than 30 years ago... It's unbelievable how time flies...

- And what do you like to do today together, in your spare time? Do you have favorite places in Bulgaria?

- Me and my family have lived in Bulgaria for a long time. From the beginning, step by step, we got to know your country and we started loving it very quickly. I think Bulgaria is an exceptional country. Whenever I look at a new landmark, I think how wonderful places this earth has, in which history, modernity and beautiful scenery blend into one. Me and my family have many places where we like to spend our free time. When we have only a few hours, we walk through the streets of Sofia. We often go to Vitoshka. When we have a few days, we travel to Plovdiv or visit the magnificent Rila Monastery. When we are on the Black Sea, we love to see Nessebar and Sozopol. In my opinion in Bulgaria you just need to get into the car and drive in some direction to find a new amazing place.

As far as my free time is concerned, I love skiing very much. In this respect, Bulgaria has a lot to offer to tourists. Your mountains are wonderful, and the resorts offer very good conditions for practicing winter sports. I especially like Pamporovo. Previously we visited Bansko. This is a wonderful city. Lately, however, it seems to me a bit overcrowded. Besides doing sports I like reading, especially criminal literature. At the time, I was crazy about Agatha Christie's books. I also love the history and historical novels, including those of the well-known and beloved Polish author Henrik Senkevich. I can boast with the fact that I have read Ivan Vazov's "Under the Yoke", though translated in Polish.

- Christmas is ahead of us. How do you celebrate it in Poland? What are the most important elements of the Polish tradition?

- Christmas is one of the most important holidays in Poland. That is why it is celebrated solemnly. In the morning of Christmas Eve, called "Vigilia" (from the Latin word meaning "vigil"), the Christmas tree is decorated, and presents are placed under it. In the evening, when the first star rises in the sky, the whole family and their relatives gather at home. At the beginning of the solemn dinner, they divide an "oplatek," traditional unleavened bread, with painted motives from the Bible, and wish health and well-being. Only then they can sit down at the table and try out all the unusual dishes prepared especially for the lean dinner. The number of dishes should be 12 in honor of the apostles. It is obligatory to serve: borscht from red beetroot, mushroom soup or fish soup, carp, bedded "biogos" (a type of kapama made from sauerkraut, forest mushrooms and prunes), "pierogi" (boiled pastry bites with various filling), compot from dried fruits and various sweet pastries, including "makowiec"- a cake made from poppy seed. The dinner ends with Christmas songs. The next two days of holidays are spent with relatives and friends, and meat is also present on the table. In the big cities there are also Christmas bazaars that offer traditional Polish dishes, handicrafts and Christmas decorations, as well as "grzaniec" - hot mulled wine with aromatic spices.

The photos were provided by the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in the Republic of Bulgaria.

Above: Mrs. Aldona Krajewska and her husband - H. E. Mr. Krzysztof Krajewski, at the Christmas meeting with the Polish Embassy community, where the Polish Cultural and Educational Society "Władysław Warneńczyk" handed her the "Heart for Heart" Award for her charity work in Bulgaria.

Below: with her husband - a reception on the occasion of the national holiday of the country 2017; in Lisbon; in Greece; the Charity Bazaar of the International Women's Club in Sofia 2017