A borrowed suitcase, $20 and a passion for writing was all Joanna Kujawa had when she left communist Poland for the charms, mystery and seduction of the city of light, Paris.
Kujawa was an ambitious and determined 19-year-old with a dream to become a global traveller and devote her life to writing, but the culture, tensions and the economic decline in communist Poland ate away at her.
It was 1985 and Poland was in the midst of The Solidarity movement, a 10-year revolution which triggered and ultimately resulted in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, and Kujawa wasn’t conforming to the country’s demands. She had other ideas and vision.
“I always knew my life was elsewhere, I had this power of life in me that was pushing me away, I had to get out of Poland, I could no longer continue living in a closed community and country where you needed permission to leave and become a global person,” she told Dscribe.
“Joseph Conrad was one of the greatest writers and he became a living figure for me, he wrote and travelled and I wanted to be just like him.”
“The dream of writing and living in Paris like Hemingway was also my inspiration.”
Two years before she left for Paris, Kujawa had been thrown in jail. A self-confessed idealist and daughter of a communist party leader, she actively campaigned and supported the Solidarity movement during the country’s turbulent struggles. Her determination and firm beliefs in democracy resulted in her arrest and imprisonment for three days in a Polish jail. Kujawa’s mother spent the family’s savings on getting their only child out of prison.
“My mother had all this money put away to do a house renovation and that was a lot of money back then, so she basically had to bribe the police to release me even though I was fighting against the system and I wasn’t going to be quiet about it despite my father’s high position in the communist party,” Ms Kujawa said.
A firm believer in the notion that the universe was “aligning her stars” and a chance meeting with a friend that led to a contact in Paris, meant Kujawa was soon on her way to explore the horizons she’d dreamt of.
The Parisian life, lights and her regular pilgrimages to the art galleries instantly seduced her. She found work as an au pair and held various jobs to help her fund her stay in the city for a year-and-a-half. However, she knew her time in Paris was rapidly coming to an end and she desperately did not want to return to Poland.
“My visa was expiring soon and there was no way I was going to return back to Poland as life there wasn’t any better and there was so much uncertainty, danger and unsettlement that I needed to act quickly and I decided that Canada was my next stop,” she recalls.
Reflecting on those days, Kujawa claims a free spirit and a youthful, positive outlook on life with nothing to lose as the turning point for her bypassing bureaucratic policies to move on to her next chapter and adventure in life.
“I personally wrote to the Canadian ambassador because I wanted him to know that even though I didn’t have any formal qualifications, I knew I had a lot to offer.”
“I was a hard worker, I had this big dream to be a great writer like Joseph Conrad and I was going to follow my dream.”
“I had to follow my heart and I didn’t want to just fill out an application form, I wanted to personalise it,” she recalls.
An interview at the Canadian embassy proved that 21-year-old Kujawa’s passion, drive and ambition was worth the persistence as she was granted permanent residency. She lived in Canada for 12 years where she was granted scholarships to achieve a Bachelor of Education, an Honours and Masters in Arts from Toronto University and had a series of short stories published during that time.
“It was a great honour to live in Canada because I learnt so much, I learnt how to think in English which was important to me in order to be able to write in English and I wanted to keep sharing my knowledge and life experiences through all the opportunities I was being given,” she said.
Nonetheless, Kujawa admits this new found life had its challenges and tough times as she struggled to find happiness as a teacher in Toronto and she still yearned for adventure, to explore the world further.
“It was really hard, there were days I was in tears because as a teacher I didn’t enjoy policing and disciplining people and felt I didn’t have anything more to offer this place. Teaching was destroying my soul and I had to go somewhere where I did have something to offer and that was difficult because I also had to leave my marriage,” she reflects.
Kujawa travelled and did a stint of voluntary work in Mexico but it was the four years she lived in Malaysia, lecturing at universities, travelling, writing and growing spiritually that her journey into spiritual philosophy and meditation began.
“I was raised as a Catholic but I began to question Catholicism and the dogma was killing me, every human being has a deep spiritual need to connect to something higher, and most institutionalised religions are failing us because people are hungry for spiritual knowledge and natural connection,” she said.
“I feel traditional religions are keeping us within boundaries because of fear and the new age movement is a spiritual practice that teaches us to look within ourselves and stops us being afraid, and it’s not an easy practice because we’re stripping layers upon layers.”
In 2003, once again at the urging of her inner voice and desire to continue her life’s purpose, Kujawa packed her life up in Malaysia and headed to Melbourne to continue lecturing and complete a PhD from Monash University.
Upon completing her doctorate studies, Kujawa couldn’t resist the adventure of a lifetime and travelled to Jerusalem with two men who claimed to have discovered Jesus’ tomb and home in Israel.
“I truly believe there is so much more to our existence and this spiritual adventure just ignited a fire within me and as a result, I wrote my first book Jerusalem Diary: Searching for the Tomb and House of Jesus which was published in 2012 and is now in its second edition.”
Now settled in Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, Kujawa meditates daily and continues her passion for writing through her Goddess News spiritual blog whilst writing another novel.
The troubled days of Poland’s communist regime are a distant memory, but the fire that passionately burnt inside the rebellious teenager who refused to conform to certain ideologies, is still fierce.
“People need to follow their passion and whatever breaks your heart, you must do differently, change your focus and go for it, Kujawa said.