Moving to any new place is always confusing. The choices of neighborhoods can be confusing and overwhelming. Add a language barrier, a hectic work schedule, cold weather (in my case) and the whole process can easily become a nightmare. There are a couple of not-so-great ways you can go about this:
- Resort to the good ol’ Gumtree! Where you basically have to master the Google Translate technique (and I recommend you install the Chrome extension!)
- Hire a real estate agent! In Warsaw real estate agents charge up to 50% of rent to help you find an apartment. Hmmm…I say not worth it!
- Solicit the help of a local co-worker or a friend. Just be prepared to be paying for that favor for a long time.
As you may have guessed I chose to go with not-so-great-but-seemed-like-the-best-choice #1. I have become a master at translating Polish sites and capturing important pieces of information. Once I started looking at the listings I realized I had to get to know the neighborhoods, this required investigation, which for me meant: WALKING…a whole lot of walking all over Warsaw! I had a basic idea of what I wanted and liked. So, let’s start by taking a look at the different neighborhoods:
- Żoliborz: is one of the northern districts of Warsaw. It is also where I have been living my first few months in Warsaw. I would describe it as green, quite, and pretty. There are a lot of small parks around the neighborhood. So, it’s great for walking especially for families and people with dogs. It is also directly connected to the center via busses (#116, #503) and the metro. Pl. Wilsona is 4 stops away from the Centrum Station. One of my favorite bars in Warsaw is in Zoliborz, Coco d’Oro, where they serve delicious Sri Lankan food.
- Old Town: As the name suggests Old Town is the oldest historic district of Warsaw. Although initially, established in the 13th century what stands today was meticulously rebuilt after the city was destroyed in World War II. Old Town is pretty, colorful and busy. Some of the tucked away residencies offer some quite away from the touristy hustle & bustle. It is quite well connected with busses to the rest of the city, but expect to walk a lot since most of the Old Town is a pedestrian zone.
- Powiśle: Literally means near-the-Vistula. This is probably my second favorite neighborhood if not my favorite. This neighborhood is happening! Surrounded by beautiful little parks, the Warsaw University Library (which has an amazing rooftop garden that overlooks the entire city), and a great selection of bars and restaurants. This is a quite central location accessible via busses and if you ride a bicycle it’s one of the more bike-friendly neighborhoods in Warsaw. Some of my favorite hang outs here include: OSIR Cycle Culture Cafe, Warszawa Powiscle, and Solec 44. And if you’re crazy about street art as I am, you’ll love taking a stroll down Aleje Ujazdowskie and getting a taste of Warsaw’s vibrant street art and graffiti culture.
- Śródmieście: Meaning city center or downtown. With Warsaw’s iconic landmarks Palace of Science & Culture, Warszawa Centralna Station, and Złote Tarasy shopping mall you cannot get any more central than this. Unlike other city centers, Srodmiescie is not overwhelming and crowded. It is also not a downtown that is solely functional and lively during the week. Many bars, pubs and other venues call this part of town home. If you like being in the center of things, this is definitely the place for you. The square of Pl.Zbawiciela is packed with great places to hang out like Charlotte, Plan B Bar, and Coffee Karma. One of my favorite places in downtown is art venue called V9. V9 offers all sorts of art workshops from stenciling to silk screen printing and more. They also regularly hold art exhibitions and small concerts.
Happy Apartment Hunting or just neighborhood exploring!
Yes, I have made yet another big move! This is probably one of my biggest and randomest thus far! I have moved to Warsaw, Poland.
I accepted a job with TechSoup Global as their Sr. Manager of International Partnerships, EMEA (Europe, Africa and the Middle East…and yes only Americans would come up with such acronyms that lump random parts of the world together!). The reason TechSoup caught my attention is the simple fact that it works to utilize technology for social good. TechSoup’s main focus is to provide non-profit organizations around the world with donated software (and hardware) to enable them to do accomplish their missions more efficiently. Obviously this is a big win for me – my two passions combined: technology + social good.
The reaction to me moving to Warsaw from family and friends has been less than ideal. People tend to have a very uncordial reaction to Poland. The perception is usually a cold, distant, unfriendly, harsh and the list goes on. It also didn’t help that I moved here on December 1st…the very beginning of the unbearable winter ahead of us. I’m not going to pretend like I’m not scared of the winter ahead, but I’m looking forward to the experience. Besides, I’ve already gotten a few tips about ways to face the winter, but the most interesting is the way you wear your scarf:
- Make sure you have a warm (wool) scarf
- Tuck in your winter coat colar
- Wrap the scarf around your coat’s color – this guarantees maximum warmth (here are a few examples: this or this)
In the meantime, I’ll keep correcting folks “Poland…not Holland (or Portland, in some cases).
Every time I have entered Tahrir Square over the past few days I have seen the crowds grow bigger, their chants become louder, their sense of cause become more determined. But despite all of those things, I’ve kept asking myself ‘why are they there?’ Why are they so determined? Why are they so loud?
When you enter Tahrir Square you’re usually met with huge masses of men…particularly young men between the ages of 15-35. They’re university students, cab drivers, college eductaed professionals that are unemployed, etc. A generation that was born and have lived all of its life under the Mubarak regime. A generation(s) that was given no opportunities and resources to excel in a hobby or encouraged to think critically throughout their education. A generation(s) that was often described as corrupt, useless, ignorant, and more. It’s a generation that was robbed of its creativity, individuality, but most importantly of its sense of purpose.
When you walk around Tahrir, you find many of these young men assuming roles that lend them legitimacy to claim and feel a sense of purpose. You have the ambulance line human shield guys, who are constantly telling people to walk behind the rope and leave the road empty for the ambulance. You have the motorbike ambulance guys, usually two guys on a motorcycle that rush in to the frontlines to rescue the fallen ones and bring them back to the field hospitals. You have the sign makers, who are usually writing signs like “Hospital” or “Clear the Road”. Then you have the field hospital guards, those are the ones that guard the field hospital from random bypassers and direct them to take another route. You also have the people collecting donations and supplies from different meet-up points and taking them to Tahrir. And of course you have the heroes who make it to the frontline, get attacked and hurt and go back for more.
For people like myself that wondered why are they there…that’s why! They want to feel needed and wanted. They want to contribute and be able to get recognition for it. They want a sense of purpose that makes them want to do something. And guess what they are doing something that several generations behind them weren’t able to do.
You all found your purpose; keep fighting for it!
[Original blog post on Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice Blog]
After holding a democratic vote with a group of friends we decided to head to the State Television building. State-controlled television had launched a campaign propaganda misinforming the public about the numbers of protesters and launching and anti-revolution campaign with famous actors and public figures.
A group of us jumped in a car and immediately drove to Tahrir Square. There are very few words that can explain how I felt at that exact moment. Seeing so many people out on the streets of Cairo waving the Egyptians flags high in the sky, singing cheerful and nationalistic chants and songs and children dancing on the streets was a sight I did not predict in a million years.
We entered the busy Tahrir Square and I immediately felt the change. This was not just the fall of a corrupt dictator and his regime; this was the uprising of a people who have been silenced and ignored for 30 years. Growing up in Egypt as a woman, I always avoided crowded spaces for fear of sexual harassment, a growing problem across the country. A problem that has not been fully addressed in Egypt and in the media. But this time, I felt different. I felt like I could walk the streets of Cairo as a woman and nothing would happen to me. It was because we were all connected. We were all connected to the spirit of change and the soul of Egypt. Throughout the whole uprising, we all wanted the same thing. We all wanted freedom and democracy.
Step to the side, Miss:
I arrive at the airport at a little past 6pm on Thursday evening. In my backpack, I have a folder stuffed with letters – a support letter from Google stating my position at Google and why I was visiting. Along with that, my friend at the State Department sent me an official state department-issued letter for American of Arab origin. Although many told me to be too worried about entering the country, I definitely had the feeling that it wasn’t going to be a piece of cake, but I kept telling myself that if anything it’s going to be great story in retrospect (as my friend Tim would say). Ok, so back to Thursday evening – I get to the immigration line, I confidently walk up to the Foreigners line, and hand over my passport to the young-looking immigration officer. And this is the conversation that went on:
Officer: Hello. Passport please.
(I hand her the passport open to the personal details page)
Officer: What’s your name?
Me: Hebatallah Gamal (dying to tell her that it is right in front of her)
Officer: Where were you born?
Me: (again thinking – it’s freakin’ right there) Cairo, Egypt.
Officer: Why are you in Israel?
Officer: Where do you work?
Me: I work for Google.
Officer: in Israel?
Me: No, in California, but I’m here to visit the Tel Aviv office for some meetings.
Officer: Do you have a letter or something?
Me: Yes, sure. There you go.
Officer: Can you please wait here (and she walks off out of the booth with my passport)
I then get asked to step to the side, where I was escorted to waiting room with a TV, vending machine and handful of other foreigners, who looked like they have been waiting for a while. I immediately open my laptop and try to go online in hopes of catching anyone from the Tel Aviv office online, but who was I kidding I was sure no one would be online – it was Thursday evening (the equavilant of our Friday in the US – end of the week). Of course, internet wasn’t working and my laptop was being slow. Ten minutes later I was asked to come into an office, where another officer lady asked me to sit down at a desk across from her and her big black computer monitor. She then started asking me the exact same series of questions the first officer asked. I answered politely and was again asked to go wait in that room. Another 20 minutes later or so, a nice looking man came into the waiting room and gave a young group of 3 (2 young guys and a girl) their passports back and wished them a nice time. He then returned less than 5 minutes later and asked me to follow him. He then brought me into yet another office and started asking me the same questions, although he was a bit more detailed and definitely tried to ask me “tricky” questions, like: What do you do for Google?What’s your title? Little does he know that my freaking title at Google is a mouth-full and a little hard to forget :) What I thought was extremely funny is that at one point he said: You are not a trouble maker, are you? I don’t think you are who we’re looking for, but we have to do this to be sure!