The world opens up a sea of possibilities for me, and I can choose and not have to live one life. I don’t have to be only a photographer, I don’t have to be only a DDA, I can wear different hats, I can try many things, turn my traumas into my greatest strengths, into my greatest assets,” says Ola Orlikowska-Mae in an interview with Piotr Chodak.
P.Chodak: Good morning, hello. How is your day going?
Hi, very good. I started with a morning walk in the park.
It’s a beautiful life…
And I was forced to take a cold shower, fortunately a short one.
Aha, why? What happened?
To wake up. It’s just that my boyfriend is terribly fixated on the cold and walruses. And so step by step he tries to convince me to do it.
That is, he is trying to convince me…. I for one realize the very numerous benefits of extreme temperatures only that I dislike it terribly. Well, but he is just so step by step, first starting with these showers, and then he will probably drag me to some cold lakes.
There is a lot of talk about cryotherapy, that it is brilliant for human health.
Yes, yes. In general, putting stress on your body is very beneficial and it is these extremes of temperature or sauna or just cold. I for one am fascinated by Wim Hof’s character and what he does, how he is able to control his body. It seems to me that there is a great deal more to be discovered there, and it is certainly the cold baths that bring more benefits. I wouldn’t even say they’re neutral, but there’s so much research on that, you know….
From myself, I will say that I try not to wash my face with warm water.
Ok, it works well for skin firmness?
No, no, I have always been like that. Someone close to me did, I do, and I can’t imagine otherwise now. I got used to it, I feel better when I do that :).
Okay, okay. And the effects? Just in terms of skin firmness, what does it look like?
Rather, I do it for health and better well-being!
I understand, I get it. Well, but you see, it’s a bit of a matter of habit.
Then what, can we talk something about you?
Of course it does.
Tell me something about your nickname, Ola Mae what is the history of it?
Ola Mae is a nickname I got from one of my co-workers when I worked on campus at my school where I studied in the States. You know, when you have a Polish name, a ten-letter name, on top of that one that you can break your tongue on, it’s just hard. My friend began to address me by a nickname, and since I’ve liked nicknames for a long time and this one somehow became particularly memorable, instead of making names on Instagram with my name, which no one could pronounce anyway, I started using this artistic pseudonym. I, too, know that a lot of people use some sort of alter ego and that just such a nickname, pseudonym, stage name can be an alternative form of your personality, and that’s how I adopted it. Hence, a lot of people think I’m from abroad, but I also like this hint of mystery.
“I grew up a little bit in such a conviction that Polishness disturbed me a lot…”
And what is your last name?
After all, it is not a difficult name.
For you as a Pole, yes, but for Americans?
Okay, and the current Ola Mae is for Americans or for Poles?
Ola Mae is for Ola. I just continue to like it. This is actually a very interesting question, I never thought in such terms, but as I say, in a way it became my alter ego and I didn’t want to change it. Especially as far as my circle of friends is concerned, it is very international and for me, Polishness and being Polish is something I am still learning. It sounds a bit absurd, because this time I’ve spent abroad is not that terribly long, but due to the fact that I spent most of my 20s outside the country. I grew up a little bit in such a conviction that Polishness disturbed me a lot, and I guess at that point, when I started to reconcile with it and accept it, I was still not ready to fully embrace it. Maybe that’s why she continues to be Ola Mae, not Ola Orlikowska.
And who took a cold shower today, Ola Mae, or Ola Orlikowska?
You know, I’d have to think about it, because I don’t know… You see, it’s kind of such a fragmented identity, in a way. For a long time I felt that way, I didn’t feel completely Polish, but of course I didn’t have, any other nationality either. My character is a little different in Polish, and I am also a little different in English. But you know what, when it gets cold, when it gets uncomfortable, that’s when I think there’s nothing to hide, because that’s when the most authentic version of yourself comes out, so that was Ola. In the shower was Ola.
“But it was rather Ola who pushed the pedals and pressed forward.”
And who traveled by bicycle? (Ola spent 12 months traveling by bicycle …)
It was the same on the trip. You can’t hide a lot of aspects when you’re traveling either, so… There were elements of Ola Mae, for example, keeping my blog and the fact that I wanted to be a perfectionist, I wanted to keep that identity of mine from before the trip, not realizing that my life from the past was already being left behind. A lot of things had changed and I was trying to grasp what used to be, not accepting what I had in the present moment. That’s why, at least this blog and just this tendency to perfectionism and to very much take good pictures, videos, write and create something that was visually appealing to people, something that would give them pleasure when they read it. It was important to me at that moment, unfortunately more important than my expedition. I mean I didn’t start this blog until six months later, but unfortunately it was further influenced by my past life, where I wanted to show something, prove something to someone. Because, after all, I was a photographer, I was going on an expedition. Everyone around me told me that it was a great opportunity to shoot wonderful photos. Ola Mae traveled with the conviction that she had to show them something, that these pictures of mine had to speak for themselves and prove that studying in the States had shown that I could take pictures and that on a trip like this it obviously works too. But rather, it was Ola who pushed the pedals and pressed forward when the going got tough it was Ola who had the most authentic conversations with people, and it was Ola who clenched her fist when the going got really tough.
Do you remember any cold showers from your childhood?
You ask me such unusual questions. A cold shower metaphorically?
I grew up in an alcoholic home, where there was tension in the day-to-day and I didn’t need such extreme things as cold showers. Nothing was ever taken for granted, and I had to be prepared for every situation, because sometimes it was great at home, and sometimes it wasn’t “cool.” This kept my alertness at an all-time high, as I had to adapt very quickly to changes in situations and dynamics at home. These were my kind of cold showers.
“I didn’t admit at the time that this was my father…”
How old were you when you realized there was an alcohol problem in your home?
I think it was relatively late, because my defense system was denial, believing that all was well at home and pretending to myself that it was only temporary and it would surely pass. After all, Dad is so fantastic. I perceived him then as the greatest hero. He was a person I greatly admired in many aspects, and I preferred to focus on that. I remember such a situation when I was at some festival, I was probably about eight years old by then. I think that was kind of the first moment when I realized that something was wrong. I for one greatly admired my dad. During this festival he jumped on stage and started dancing. In our family is that we have a talent for dancing and we move very well. So, dad, young, handsome, with lush hair, great physique, plus those cat-like movements of his on stage… At one point, while he was dancing, a friend came up to me, looked at him with fascination, how he was dangling on the dance floor, and told me: “Gee, do you see this guy? But I would love to have a dad like that.” I didn’t admit at the time that it was my father, because I knew he was drunk. This is probably such a first story, where this awareness has emerged, maybe not so much awareness as shame.
“Love can be complicated and can consist of many toxic elements.”
What does the mother say about it?
People who live with alcoholics are said to be codependents, and I think she was in such a situation. She was emotionally dependent on the person who abused her and harmed her children. Love can be complicated and can consist of many toxic elements. She then could not get out of the situation. I for one have a great deal of empathy for her, because knowing her story and knowing what happened in her life, I know that she didn’t have the strength in her to be able to make the decisions she wanted to make until the end. She found herself in such a moment, in a situation she never wanted to be in, and she probably didn’t understand a bit where she was and what was happening. I think she deluded herself for a very long time, however, that something would change. Just as a great many people are deluded. Me thinks we all deluded ourselves for a long time that something would end, that something would change. Because there were times when there was virtually no drinking at all, and it could be 2/3 months when there was peace in the house. Then such sequences began, when he came home drunk every day and completely failed to control it. That’s why we were all very easily fooled and he fooled himself too….
“I’m starting to understand certain behaviors, I’m starting to connect the dots…”
And when did you ask your dad the question, why the alcohol?
You know, I remember one situation like that, and I was older by then, I was maybe 15, 16, 17 years old. Only, no one was home, it was just the two of us. He liked to talk to me because he knew that out of the whole family, I was the one person who had the most faith in him or perhaps understood the least because she was the youngest. I then asked him to stop drinking. I remember that he burst out crying, and I don’t really remember anymore whether he started to apologize to me or whether he said that he would so much like to stop drinking… I remember this situation because I confronted him in some way. To this day, I wonder if he even remembers that conversation. In my house, alcohol was a taboo subject and we didn’t talk about it. One of the first elements of getting sober for such a person is coming to terms with the fact that you have a problem. It took him a very long time to admit to himself. Fortunately, in our family it was the case that this moment came, and already for the last 10 years this alcohol in the house is gone, but it was a long journey to get quite to this point. He had to hit his metaphorical bottom to bounce back from it.
Were you or are you a DDA?
I am. I am, despite the fact that I have put and continue to put a great deal of effort into my development, into my mental health. This is the most important thing for me. From certain traumas a person heals for years, and of course now, at the age of thirty-one there is a very strong awareness in me. I’m starting to understand certain behaviors, I’m starting to connect the dots and it’s very empowering for me because I know I’m moving forward and I know I’m getting rid of certain things. When I’m alone you don’t see these traumas as much, but when I get into a relationship, especially with men, they show up. This is something that I’m obviously working on, want to work on, and is very important to me, but it’s not like you can just close that chapter and it never comes back to you. This is something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I can work through a lot of things, I can come to terms with the past, accept it and catch certain behaviors, but the adult child of an alcoholic becomes forever. The same as becoming an alcoholic. My father continues to be an alcoholic, although he doesn’t drink. He is a sober alcoholic, but an alcoholic he will always be again.
Who would you want to gift this DDA to? More Ola Mae, or Ola Orlikowska?
Donate? In what sense?
In terms of the chapter, who would you give more credit to?
This is definitely Ola. This is the kind of part of my story that, despite being very hard, is mine. I’m absolutely not saying that this trauma should be glorified or should somehow be excused and forcefully forced to see the positive aspects of it, but I consciously choose as I get older to make it my strength and my hidden power. I don’t want it to be something that makes me socially disabled or that I’m somehow more hurt or that I can’t do something because of what happened. Rather, I see it as my strength and therefore attribute it to this truest version of myself. Because I think Ola Mae is a bit of a facade after all.
Or does Ola Mae not have DDA?
Maybe Ola Mae doesn’t have DDA, maybe you’re right.
“No one goes on a cycling trip of more than a year just like that.”
Ola Mae was born later.
Yes, much later. This was already the person who cut himself off from this Polishness. This was the person who was very proud to go to college in the States, who was climbing the ladder and wanted to prove at all costs that I wouldn’t end up like… (silence), it’s hard to talk about it, but like my parents, and that I could show them that I had a lot more… You know, it’s that kind of proving. Probably not to himself, but to his family. If you don’t get as much love as you needed or not in the form you needed well then you have a few options, yes? I chose the option where I show them all that I don’t need anyone, so I went into extreme individualism. These extremes in my life have been many, well, and hence this expedition. No one goes on a bicycle trip of more than a year just like that. There are some deeper things to work through there that make you want to leave. It’s just that this ladder heel and this world that seemed so very attractive to me, because it was so different from the one I knew and the one I grew up in, I guess it didn’t work a bit. I would wake up at some point in my life finding that something didn’t feel right after all, that seemingly everything was ok, such a typical crisis syndrome. It’s just that this is not a mid-life crisis, but now there is talk of a quarter-life crisis. Individuals in their twenties, thirties, who are climbing the ladder, have money, are theoretically in happy relationships, and yet feel some kind of insufficiency, feel some kind of emptiness and know that something is not right. I was going through my version of this crisis.
“Nice Street is not nice at all, down Nice Street don’t walk my nice…”
Have you ever thought that his drinking is your fault?
Let me tell you, I didn’t blame myself for his drinking, but I guess I thought he could finish for me, and he didn’t. I think this has stayed with me. I had this feeling, if he loves me enough then after all he should, well…, but yet he didn’t. I don’t think I’ve ever blamed myself for his drinking, because I know my family history too well and I know that with him it was simply a strong genetic condition. His father drank, he himself grew up in an alcoholic home and went through a great deal of harm himself. This is so ironic, because unfortunately he followed in his father’s footsteps and did the same to his family. I was aware of this, because somewhere there was information that came up in conversations that he himself came from such a home. For me it was a pretty clear correlation, so I didn’t blame myself, but I guess I was a little disappointed that this love of mine wasn’t enough.
Who taught you to ride a bicycle?
(Ola smiles) I taught myself, after all, I’m from an alcoholic home, I’m a Susan. I have absolutely no memory of anyone riding that bike with me, but I remember very clearly that first memory of my bike. This is basically my first memory, and I like it a lot because it is expressive. I remember that it was a red folding car and I remember that it was right after the storm, the rain ended. I took my bicycle, started riding it on the coal-black sagebrush and remembered the refreshing smell of the air. I remember somewhere in the distance a rainbow and literally a fire in the middle. I remember this joy, carefree, freedom. From the very beginning, for me, the bicycle was synonymous with freedom and something I associated with freedom from worries, problems.
What is the name of the street you used to drive on as a child?
Street of Nice, do you know this poem? “On Nice Street don’t walk,” I can’t quite remember now. Wait, I’ll read you an excerpt, because this is very interesting. Mile Street, poem. Wladyslaw Broniewski. “Nice Street is not nice at all, along Nice Street don’t walk my nice. Houses, crude houses, three-story houses, four-story houses…” There is still a passage in there somewhere. This is quite an interesting poem… “My dear I don’t walk down this street, even if it’s on my way. Even when I’m in a hurry to see you, I don’t walk down Nice Street, because who knows if I won’t get hung up on it.” This poem is quite…
Deep. Although in this poem one is talking about a cemetery, I think, and it is a street that is located in some city, and in my place it is such a residential street that is close to the forest, so the atmosphere is a little different, but the very fact that such a poem exists, that this street should not be walked and that it is not “nice” at all. It has an interesting overlap with my story.
“To Jesus you could always go and get down on your knees…”
Did you draw when you were little?
Where do you get such things about me? I drew, I drew. Do you know what I drew first? I laugh about it now, because I am a very spiritual but eminently non-religious person, but I used to draw the Virgin Mary and Jesus. First of all, because first of all, this artistic gene was in my family and it was very strong. He is also just coming from my father’s side, who is eminently talented when it comes to manual skills, he is a handyman who can do / fix anything. I derived a great deal of pleasure from drawing, and such religious elements appeared because it was my shield that I owned at the time. To Jesus, one could always go and get down on one’s knees to pray, if there was a row at home. That’s why religious figures and the church in general were very important to me, because I turned to them when nothing else could help me.
And who did you turn to, as no one was able to help you on your year-long journey?
By then I was already turning to myself, because faith ceased to be part of my identity at the age of 18, 19. It has been nearly 10 years since I lived without Jesus. During the expedition there come moments where you are aware that home is several thousand kilometers away, you are aware that you have no family or loved ones around. Although I gathered friends along the way, but I pushed the bike alone. Precisely, at the moment when these forces are lacking, because physical strength is depleted, that’s when the head has to come in. And my head is strong, because that’s what my childhood taught me, such resourcefulness. In those moments where I had no one around I had to turn inward. As much as I thought and knew that this head was very strong, I guess I never expected that this bike, that this trip… I mean on the one hand I expected it, and on the other hand I was not aware of it. I began to discover additional layers of potential in myself. This physicality, by being able to do something that I was not able to do before, such as drive so much and so much, with such and such a load, in such and such a time, this suddenly began to translate into other aspects of my personality. Here very interesting things began to happen. Then the essence of the whole expedition began to show.
“Extrovertism came out of the fact that I really wanted to be noticed and needed love, but my natural default is in being alone…”
When did you think or when did you feel that you were an artist?
Very early. Very early on, because I was… You know it took me a good thirty years to realize that I’m not an extrovert, I’m an introvert and that my….
Extrovertism? Is that how it’s pronounced? Extrovertism came out of the fact that I really wanted to be noticed and needed love, but my natural “default” is in being alone, and when I just think sometimes about my childhood then I am reminded… I remember such a feeling of excitement, similar to the one I felt on the bike and such a desire to create something, the desire to walk around the yard, to collect different things and analyze what I can do with it, some kind of coming up with small projects and realizing them. I remember that element of loneliness and the excitement of being able to do something. It’s just that for a long time I denied myself this ability, this attraction I had to art, because, after all, you can’t make money out of it, and there was a very strong urge in me not to cower in poverty the way I did as a child. That’s why I had very high expectations of myself and thought of a mass of things I could do somewhere. I thought the most money was in politics and I wanted to go into politics. Then many times it changed for me, and somewhere there was a love for English. I just wanted to play a little with diplomacy and some translations at one point, but then when I went to college it suddenly became clear that this was not my thing.
“I think we should not forget that we are the best teachers for ourselves…”
No, just my first studies were English studies at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, and it was actually MISH. I was at MISHU, which is an interdisciplinary degree program, so I could choose to take classes in different subjects and from different fields. Generally, I could do two majors at the same time, so it was such an elite group. I laugh about it terribly now, you could see my pull to get away from my home and the environment I grew up in.
From Nice Street.
From Nice? A bit like this. My escape begins at the age of eighteen and ends only with the last day of my bicycle trip.
You said lonely, and I wanted to elaborate, alone or single?
Alone, alone. It’s cool that you understand the separation of the two words, because it is beautiful to me. In terms of a noun, that would be loneliness and solitude, yes? That is, solitude as such an emotional state of feeling socially isolated, and loneliness as being physically without company. For me, there is some magic in this physical being without company, that is, solitude, there things happen there that don’t happen in the company of any, other person, and there is a great deal of power there, because I then have direct contact with myself. Thanks to the fact that I am strong in solitude, I never feel lonely. It’s really not something I struggle with. I used to struggle, but there came a point where I just discovered my strength, understood some things, and suddenly loneliness began to be… For me, this is the fountain of creativity. All the cooler ideas come out of this. I listen to myself and that is the most important thing for me. I learned at some point that, instead of looking for experts to tell me how to live, which is also sometimes important, because we learn from mentors… But I think we should not forget that we are the best teachers for ourselves and that we already have the answers to many questions, if not all of them, somewhere inside ourselves. The trick is to listen to the voice of your heart. I know it sounds trivial….
It’s not trivial. Someone once told me “A man who has a guru will never be a guru.”
Exactly. You know what in general, when it comes to Buddhism and at least Christianity, although I don’t want to sort of demonize it, but a little bit is that in Christianity you have God above you. Although I’m areligious, this Buddhism is all about turning inward yourself and finding that God within yourself, and it’s energetic if you think about it. You give that power and strength to someone and they have control over you versus you having that control in yourself. I think this is a very interesting dynamic.
How many kilometers have you traveled by bicycle during this year of travel?
I think it was about fifteen thousand, plus or minus, I don’t know a thousand kilometers, two… It’s hard for me to judge, because I took notes for myself every day and counted the kilometers, but I didn’t have such a clever device as a kilometer meter with me. So these are my records, which I tried to do very regularly, but it’s certainly not an exact number.
Meet GentleWoman: journalist, publicist, writer – Malgorzata Domagalik.
“I have it that every face is beautiful to me.”
And did you drive more miles or have more thoughts in your head while traveling?
He certainly thinks. He certainly thinks because, you know, sometimes you drive through some areas that are breathtaking and it’s hard to think about anything other than the beauty of the nature around you. But let’s not hide the fact that a great many of those days spent on a bicycle are moving along the road along stretches of fields. Forests a little different, because it’s a different feeling for me, but let’s say fields where nothing happens. You drive like this for four or five hours and at some point the autopilot comes on. On such autopilot, however, there are a limited number of podcasts or music you can listen to, at some point you have no other option and you have to face these thoughts. Then very many things come to you, whether they are demons of the past or, as in my case, many of these thoughts were redirected to creativity. This creativity started pouring out of such pages, in such quantities, that I couldn’t keep up to take notes.
And how many photos did you take?
Very many, I certainly made a lot of them. I snapped on my main camera. Nim primarily took portraits of people, which, as far as my photographic preferences are concerned, are my favorite. I love working with people, I love people’s faces. Plus, the footage was taken on a phone, which was a quick tool to work with if I didn’t want to take out that big camera, and I also had a drone. Nim I took videos, and photos, so I can’t tell you exactly how many, but these are thousands and thousands of photos. It’s hard for me to score, but I suspect about thirty thousand, so lightly.
And are there any faces that you removed from the camera?
No, rather not. There are certainly some photos that have simply been unpublished, but every face is beautiful to me. It’s more a question of whether I did a good job taking the photo and whether I like it technically, whether it has something special about it. But no, I am not removing these people from my life. I don’t delete photos from my camera, especially faces, just as I don’t delete people from my life, because they all appear for a reason and are important.
During your travels, you also lived in different houses with people. Have you encountered alcohol in these homes?
Alcohol? Yes. Alcohol appeared because… First of all, alcohol in many cultures is even an elementary part of hospitality. Are we just talking about some wine in France, Italy and Spain. There, alcohol often appeared. In general, people are in the habit of just offering alcohol as such an ice breaker, well, because it just breaks some ice somewhere, and I think it’s a thing that people do automatically a lot of times. It’s not that every time I see alcohol I’m reminded of scenes from my childhood, but that alcohol has never had any attraction for me. Mostly I refused, sometimes it happened that I drank, but the alcohol… I don’t need any stimulants to get along with someone, but I saw that in many people it caused surprise and quite a lot of surprise as I asked for a glass of water. With that being said, if I, every time I was offered alcohol I would take advantage of the offer, I don’t know in what state I would go home! It really happened, I don’t want to say repeatedly, because I don’t think it’s some bad habit, it’s for people, but it appeared very often. This is partly I would say, in some sense, part of the travel culture even and such hospitality, that people equate this alcohol with such a warm welcome to someone’s home.
“hey, I love my parents, but I had a crappy childhood.”
Already during this conversation I have established more or less when you regained faith in yourself in the chapter from faith in God. I’m curious, when did self-confidence give you such strength to be able to speak so strongly, courageously and deeply about yourself at the same time about what you have experienced and are currently experiencing?
I remember, such a funny situation. It was probably my second time in the tent. Listen, in the middle of the night, around two o’clock I was woken up by some roaring. Of course, I thought that it was already some kind of chupacabra and that I would die within the next seconds. Now I know that most likely it was the roar of some deer, because they just make such very characteristic sounds. Anyway, I panicked a lot during the night and I remember that when I woke up I was still quite shaken and then I logged on to my Facebook. I had posted a photo somewhere the previous day and under that photo was a comment: “We can’t wait for your book.” I read that comment and thought to myself,” Gee, what are they talking about? What book?” I couldn’t completely understand what I would actually be talking about in such a book. I think to myself, “Well, okay, I slept in a tent, I almost died, because here the chupacabra, but well this is not material for you to write down a whole book”. You know, that’s how I ignored it, and at some point the idea of writing down a book actually came up. She in very many forms evolved, changed and went through her metamorphoses. Even at one point during the expedition I already had four or five chapters of a particular book written down, which was such a novel with surrealistic elements, and then I hit such a writer’s block and didn’t know how to move on. My best friend said to me, “Well, okay, why don’t you write some kind of cycling guide and it’s so quick. Then you can just publish it on Amazon, put it in a PDF, write it in two or three months max, and that’s it. At least you’ll have some revenue from it. I started writing, and all of a sudden things poured out of me that instead of a guidebook, I wrote the story of my trip. The more I wrote, the more I began to feel the need to tell the whole story with all its elements. Not to tell someone that I just had a job in London and gave it up because I was suffocating there, but to tell everything from the beginning, that “hey, I love my parents, but I had a shitty childhood.” That’s one of the things that made me independent, that made me mega-ambitious, because I know I couldn’t rely on anyone else. I realize that there is a great deal of strength in vulnerability, in just such openness. Someone once told me that when one strips off the armor one normally wears to function in society, one is exposed to blows, and this is precisely the vulnerable position in which the soft belly comes out. But this does not at all mean that it is a weaker position. On the contrary. At this point, the demons we have to face are neutralized. So I talk very openly about my past, about what I’m going through. This conversation we had gave me a lot to think about. For me, it’s an amazing lesson that we can talk here, because you ask me questions that make me think more intensely about my past, start to understand it more. Every time I have such valuable, deep conversations I understand something more about myself, my past. People who hopefully read such an interview will see their own reflection in our conversation, and it will be valuable for them, too. The alcohol problem is a rampant, notorious problem in Poland. It may not be fully talked about, but show me a person who does not have an alcoholic in their entire family. Whether it’s closer or distant family. Show me a person who doesn’t know someone who struggles with alcoholism. It seems to me, although I don’t have statistics to prove it, that there are very few or no such people. So this openness of mine and the fact that I talk about the difficult pieces makes it so that those difficult pieces are neutralized and they don’t hurt me anymore, because I take away their power that way. This is a cool thing on very many levels, because I’m doing good for myself and I’m doing good for the people who listen to me and who can identify with my story.
You do the world and people good. Guess what? Before I called, I read an interview with Magda Cielecka, I also read an interview with Nosowska, and Ula Dudziak’s daughter, and sort of, that’s why I wanted to talk to you a little bit from a different angle. I wanted us to discuss intimate topics on different levels, and I personally thank you very much for this conversation, but I have one more question that will be a staple.
“I can wear different hats, I can try many things, turn my traumas into my greatest strengths, into my greatest assets.”
If you were a teenager and you read the kind of conversation/interview we have with each other now, what would it give you?
I think it would have given me a great deal of hope… One of the reasons I started talking to young people, started going around the schools and started talking about my expedition, is that I wanted all those young people who are struggling with some problems, who feel misunderstood, who feel that they have landed, in some situation from which there is no way out, to realize that there are very many possibilities. As a person who ran to the store and took things for a notebook, who never went on vacation with her parents, who felt very anxious in the evenings because she wondered what condition her father was coming home in, I would never have imagined that I would have the opportunity to study in the States or that I would go on some crazy trip and ride a bike for a year. I never imagined that I would write a book and my example is such a drop in the ocean, in the ocean of creativity, in the ocean of possibilities. I can see from my own example that the fact that you come from a certain family, from a certain background, determines a lot, because it’s what makes you have so much constipation and a hard ass, but it doesn’t determine the direction you choose. I think, reading such a conversation, I would think to myself that, however, in this world, because I would also like to note the difference between our culture, European culture at least the culture of the Middle East, where also the position of a woman is completely different or some other remote corners of the world, where someone is born in some tribe without electricity, I do not lump everyone together…. But in our culture, European culture, where we are very privileged, although we still don’t fully realize it, but most people in Poland have at least electricity, have running water and have a toilet, and these are very big advantages, these are very big opportunities, and there is not this distinction – women can also study. We are in a very privileged position and I realize this. So from that privileged position, reading an interview like this, I would feel that I really am able to create my reality and if I want to do something, I won’t necessarily get there the way I wanted to get there, but that the world opens up a sea of possibilities for me and I can choose and I don’t have to live one life. I don’t have to be only a photographer, I don’t have to be only a DDA, and I can wear different hats, I can try many things, turn my traumas into my greatest strengths, into my greatest assets. It would simply give me a sense of agency. I think such an interview would make me believe in myself more, to see such a person who shows me something new, something different. I like my example because I think I also show a little that you don’t have to go the standard route, you don’t have to graduate at such and such an age, you don’t have to have a partner when you turn thirty, you get the point.
Many such conventions that we believe in and that we don’t question, they actually don’t have to be completely part of our reality. It’s up to us to determine what we’re comfortable with, and instead of believing what the cultural marinade we’re ensconced in tells us, it’s nice to think for ourselves about how I really want to live, what I need this life for, and to think very deeply about ourselves, because that’s probably the best thing we can do.
“What I was looking for all over the world was located much closer than I could have expected.”
Paradoxically, each of us has a Nice Street, each of us has a camera, each of us has a bicycle….
I will say this, the expedition taught me that you need very little to be happy, and the fact that I lived in different places for twelve years, chasing after these glimmers… Suddenly it turns out that everything I was looking for is exactly in the same place from which I escaped, and this caused such a tremendous peace. A calmness I never knew before and an acceptance of everything. It also gave me such a new pair of eyes, with which I look at the same things that surrounded me, that I grew up with, but I see them in a completely different dimension. Suddenly those simplest things from all those landscapes, from all those places I visited during those thirteen months… You know what the most beautiful one was?
I don’t know.
The most beautiful thing was to return to my family home, to the forest, which is located there five hundred meters from my house. When I saw this forest I found that I had seen nothing else in my life that could compare to this beauty. This is the place I came from, and finally there was such an acceptance in me, I saw it all with different eyes. I realized that there was no longer anything to run away from and that here I felt peace and safety. What I was looking for all over the world was much closer than I could have expected. Only to find it I had to leave.
Thank you very much.
I’m the one to thank you.
Until we hear from you, then.
Well I hope so!
Piotr Chodak – after talking with Ola, I realized that I hadn’t asked one more question, to whom Ola is dedicating her book, titled “The book of the year”. “The Witches’ Onion”, which is the fruit not only of a lonely journey, but of deeply reliving one’s life again …?
I hope that when Ola reads this interview again then she will add another chapter in her meetings with people about this as well.
Ola Mae – photographer, blogger, author of the book “Onion of Witches”, traveler
The Witches’ Onion tells the story of a young photographer’s adventure as she embarks on a journey by bicycle. Due to unexpected events, the expedition, which was supposed to last six months, is more than doubled, and a simple bicycle ride turns into a journey into oneself.
The Witches’ Onion is a story that may sound like the title of a fairy tale, but it’s not a story you’d want to tell your children before bedtime. The book is full of naughty language and rubbishy humor, with the author laughing at her own vices and sharing a personal story that doesn’t shy away from heavy and painful pieces from the past. This is a story about becoming a woman in the third decade of life, and understanding the processes that have controlled the author’s life so far.
15,000 kilometers, 14 European borders and one black cat later, the expedition turns out to be more than 13 months on the road – it is a return from 12 years on the run.
Excerpts from the book.
– We’re going sailing! – he ordered. We wanted to make it in time for sunset, but by the time we sailed out into the open sea, dusk had fallen and the bright lights of the marina illuminated the climbing steep coastline of the city. While he stretched, loosened, tied, and untangled the ropes, I stared at the high waves that crashed against the side of the sailboat.
– “Toward adventure!” – I thought and inhaled iodine, feeling like a true explorer. I turned behind me to look at the land once again, but instead of the beautiful coastline, my attention was drawn to strange noises coming from inside my own stomach. First, something strangely gurgled. Then it growled. A cold sweat appeared on my temples. “I actually don’t remember being at sea before…” – I thought. The waves intensified and with them, the number of bubbles, burbles and overflows doubled. – I don’t feel well…,” I said to Matteo. At once my head spun and my mouth filled with bitter saliva. Before I had time to warn my dwarf companion of the impending disaster, that one happened without my conscious participation.
– I chuckled! – I announced loftily. At the same moment, two moons emerged from behind a hill – one full, the other with a penis at rest.
I was too preoccupied with generating the next wave of vomit to be surprised by the conus’ bare ass, devoid of all context.
Raptly the roll of film stopped on the black negative. It’s Saturday. I’m spending the last weekend at the family home before my first solo trip abroad. Evening is approaching and tension is building up around me. “What time will he show up this time? What kind of mood will he be in?” The door of the room slams with a thud, and the dog hides under the chair. My mother and I both anticipate what will happen. The details are fuzzy. Maybe he started the brawl first, maybe her nerves let go after years…? Now they are tugging at each other in front of my eyes, and I feel my heart rumble. “What if one of them can’t stand it and throws himself into the kitchen?” I stand in the doorway, deliberately obstructing their access to the knives. My eyes are covered with fog. On soft legs, I reach the bed, just in time to keep from losing consciousness and falling to the floor.
GentleWoman’s editors also recommend columns by Ola Mae: Feminists – servants of the patriarchy.