26 May I was born a Refugee: A bit about Agathe, Part 2
Last week in my newsletter I celebrated the arrival of a lot of new subscribers here – WELCOME to the FUELLED FAMILY! – and so I thought I would share more about myself over the next few weeks.
I started my newsletter off last week with this:
“For starters, my name is Agathe Regina Holowatinc – what a name right?! LOL – and it’s pronounced Agatha Ray-ghee-na Holow-va-teents.
..and, No, it’s not English! I will share more about my ancestry and background in another post.”
And today I thought I would share about my ancestry and background.
I am born to Polish parents, Zbigniew and Krystyna Holowatinc. My parents are both from the same little town in southern Poland called Cieszyn (pronounced: Cheh-szhin). It’s super cute; situated on a river called the Olza, a tributary of the Oder River, which borders the Czech Republic. It is located within the western Silesian Foothills north of the Silesian Beskids and Mt. Czantoria Wielka, a popular ski resort.
The area has been populated by West Slavic peoples since at least the 7th century.
According to legend, in 810 three sons of a prince – Bolko, Leszko and Cieszko, met there after a long pilgrimage, found a spring, and decided to start a new settlement.
They called it Cieszyn, from the words “cieszym się,” which means “I’m happy”.
To this day, you can visit the site of the spring; I’ve been several times. Cieszyn is also home to the Olza Cieszyn sweets factory, where the famous Prince Polo wafers are made (this was a big deal when I was 8 years old and visiting!).
My parents were married in Poland in their early 20s and they really wanted to have a family, however, they enjoyed married life for a few years before starting one. And when they were ready, their timing was a little interesting to say the least. When my mom was pregnant with me, there were huge political uprisings, government repression and underground operations in Poland…and a lot of instability. The Russians and the Americans were involved and it even seemed like a war with Russia might be coming. It was the early 1980’s and the time of the Solidarity strikes/ revolution. Solidarity was an independent trade union that rose up against the Polish Government and the Communist system because they wanted a democratic liberal capitalist system for Poles, and it was lead by a man named Lech Wałęsa:
“Solidarity was a broad anti-authoritarian social movement, using methods of (peaceful) civil resistance to advance the causes of workers’ rights and social (and largely Political) change. Government attempts in the early 1980s to destroy the union through the imposition of martial law in Poland and the use of political repression failed. Operating underground, with significant financial support from the Vatican and the United States, the union survived and by the later 1980s had entered into negotiations with the government.” (my parenthesis)
To see what this was like, visually, I would recommend watching these two 10-minute videos:
–> Watch “Solidarity Poland 1981” on YouTube
Lech Wałęsa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983 because he led these strikes and this successful revolution in a non-violent way, and Solidarity is recognised as having played a central role in the end of Communist rule in Poland. Poland later transitioned in the 1990’s to liberal capitalism.
Anyway, during that period of instability, a lot of Poles left. There was also a huge food shortage, lot of layoffs, pressure from Russia to squash the uprisings (or else…), and you literally needed food stamps to get your rations of food. My mom even fainted in line when she was pregnant with me waiting for her ration of food. Can you imagine?
It was hard to leave though; you couldn’t just move out of the country…so this is my parent’s story, as told by my father (note: my father will never tell you that things were hard, so bear that in mind):
My father was a skilled leather tailor and he had his own business, a shop in town that was visited by people far and wide who came to have custom leather tailored clothing and goods made by him. (He later taught me how to dress). My mom worked in a grocery store and through her network, she was able to obtain fake papers that would allow her and my father to leave Poland and cross the border, saying they were going “on vacation.”
My father, in the meantime, went to purchase US currency, which was sold underground in a sort of black market currency market. You could not purchase US currency in a bank at that time, but according to my dad, it was the money you needed if you were to make it on your journey (even in Europe). He bought the US dollars from a Jewish lady he knew.
And with that, one day they left practically everything they owned, almost all of their material possessions: my father’s shop, their car, their apartment and almost all of their things. They packed a few suitcases and caught a ride with a man who would drive them into Austria. That’s where they wanted to go.
So I was along for the wild ride, so to speak, illegally crossing borders inside my mom’s pregnant belly.
And she wonders why I can’t just sit and stay in one country as an adult!
They were dropped off on the side of a road in or near Vienna and they called for a cab. The driver took them to a specific refugee camp, which they declared to be their destination.
The Refugee Camp
At the refugee camp, which my dad describes as looking like an old army barracks, surrounded by a metal fence, they gave up their passports and were checked in. They quarantined with about 200 people for a little while, I think it was 2 weeks, and it was probably because the authorities needed to run background checks on them.
Families were not kept at the camps, however; the camps were for single people whereas families (including married couples without children yet like my parents) were sent to guest houses/hotels. My dad said that some single people even pretended to be married to each other (from being complete strangers in some cases!) just to get to a guest house! Hehe. Can you imagine?! What would you do?
Being as passionate about food as I am, I asked my dad what they ate in the camp for their 2 week stay, and my dad said it wasn’t all that bad. “Normal German food,” he said (which I took to mean: sausage, sauerkraut, potatoes and soup, but that’s just my guess because I grew up on a lot of it!)
The “Guest Houses”
After their 2 week quarantine/holding time was up, they were sent to a “Guest House,” arriving by bus. They hated it though. It was winter in Austria and their room had no heating! My dad said that they literally slept fully dressed, with winter coats on and socks! My dad isn’t one to put up with nonsense, so he asked to leave. They would not let him leave, however, and threatened to report him. He knew that buses came back and forth to the refugee camp on a certain schedule and he asked to be put on one of those, with my mom. The owners said no.
You needed “papers” to get on that bus to get back to the camp, but that did not deter my dad. He packed his stuff, took my mom and made a bit of a confusing commotion at the bus stop saying that of course he had papers and not to question him (or something like that) and the driver let them on the bus and so they “escaped” that “Guest House!”
Back at the camp, the authorities were confused as to what my parents had done (naturally), and wanted to send them back. My dad was prepared though! He had managed to get a hold of his brother, Henryk, who had fled Poland a couple weeks after my parents did, with his wife and family, and who had lucked out and ended up a really wonderful Guest House! Henryk had arranged for the owners to write a letter and request that my father and mother come to stay there. My father had possession of that letter and he proudly showed it to the authorities. And with that, my parents were off to a lovely Guest House in the breathtaking mountains on the outskirts of Graz…in St. Margarethen.
Could you imagine being pregnant with your first child, and having to go through all of this? You’re not homeless, but you pretty much do not have a home and your future is uncertain.
St. Margarethen, near Graz
My parents arrived at their second Guest House in a small town in the mountains named St. Margarethen, and it was a “night and day” difference compared to the first one, my dad said! There was heating, first of all, and a dining hall that fit 80 people! The owners were absolutely wonderful too! They were an older couple – last name Pronnegg – with children who were just a bit younger than my parents. My parents loved them and their family. The food there was nice and the people were great.
When I asked my parents who paid for all of this, they said that the Red Cross for sure and they think the Vatican. Back then, Austrians received a fair bit of compensation for taking in Polish refugees and so it was a very good situation in that regard. My parents (all refugees) received a stipend too but it was very little, so you were technically pretty poor, but their life was pretty okay by this point, according to my father.
My Birth in 1982 in Graz
My parents stayed in St. Margarethen for around 2 years, learned to speak German, and I was born during that time. St. Margarethen was too small to have a hospital where my mom could give birth, so she traveled to Graz, Austria’s second largest city, and that’s where I was born. My dad said that my mom was craving chocolate every single day before and after my birth, so he kept having to bring her bars of it! German chocolate is quite delicious.
My parents chose Regina Pronnegg, the daughter of the Guest House owner, and a Polish refugee named Radek, to be my Godparents (they were not a couple). When I was baptised, the owner of the Guest House threw a big party for me in the dining hall and he invited all of the refugees and his family — it was at least 80 people! Music and food and celebrations. My birth was also announced in a newspaper and my parents have that clipping in their archives.
I would love to find Regina one day, and Radek also, and meet them and chat with them. My middle name comes from my Godmother’s first name.
There came a time when the Guest House became emptier and emptier as people either chose to work and stay in Austria (I think), or left to another country that had granted them asylum.
Both Canada and Australia offered to grant my parents asylum, and so they had a choice to make about where they wanted to go.
[It is really hard to get out of my dad why they didn’t stay in Austria, but one thing he does say is that the Polish children he knew of were not being treated the same as the Austrian children were in school. I don’t know if that’s the case across the board, but he mentions that. My dad is not one to say negative things and he is famous in our family for painting a cheerful picture of dire times (definitely who I learned my optimism from), and so the truth here is hard to get to.]
My mom was set on Canada and so they got their travel documents and took 1-year-old me and flew across the ocean to Canada. Apparently I screamed all the way on that flight (what a nightmare for my parents!).
They were placed in Edmonton, Alberta, in the northern prairies, which made sense because when we landed there was a whole community of Polish and Ukrainian people, with a Polish delicatessen, Polish sausage house, Polish bakery, Polish Catholic Church…LOL! It was like a mini Poland on the Prairies in some ways. Later, I had my First Holy Communion in that Polish Catholic Church, wearing an absolutely beautiful custom-made white silk and lace dress that my father had sewn for me (it’s in my room at my parent’s house in Vancouver now; we still have it).
My first language was Polish but I learned to speak English playing with the kids in our neighbourhood, and then, of course, in elementary school. My bestfriends were Polish – Anna and Janet Gumulak – and Chinese – Stephanie Wee – and my first crush was a super cute Polish boy named Tomek (Thomas).
We were quite poor as landed immigrants, but I can’t say that I had a clue then! I had so many friends, I loved school, and soon we sponsored more and more of my dad’s siblings to come to Edmonton from Poland…so I also had dozens of first cousins!
My dad changed his name to Peter because no one could pronounce Zbigniew.
My little sister, Ola Jessica Holowatinc, was born in Edmonton in 1984 and so she is the first true Canadian in our family. I am famous for wanting her to grow up faster so that I could play with her and so I snuck our “Flinstones” children’s multi-vitamins and fed her a whole bunch of them at one time! What a disaster! I got in so much trouble and luckily it didn’t harm her!!
My parents and I became Canadian citizens in a ceremony that I remember attending when I was 7 years old, in October of 1989. It was a very happy day and my parents said it was very important and I remember being very proud of us.
We visited Poland as a family shortly after the Berlin Wall came down and it was very emotional for my father especially. I had a wonderful time. I remember the beautiful sites in Cieszyn and then going to the mountains and picking tiny wild strawberries and being loved up by several generations of my family. On that trip, my mother was very certain that they had made the right decision to leave and seemed to approach the whole thing that way.
I have not been back to Graz or St. Margarethen, but maybe some day I will go.
A lot has happened since this time, but this is my early history…and this is the very first time I’m sharing it.
Discussion: How This Shapes Me & My Work
From this early life experience, I have taken so much. It has formed my character so much, even in the work I do.
What I mean by this is that one of the things that sets me apart from other nutrition specialists and coaches out there is that not every nutrition expert or coach, consultant or strategist is as understanding, empathic, sensitive and totally non-judgmental with their clients. I love to lean in and hold sacred space for my clients to safely share their stories, because you never know what someone is going through or what’s happened to them.
So I have a solid framework to support my clients’ nutritional, physical and energetic transformation with ease, grace and love and also know how to hold sacred space for deep and lasting transformation. This allows them to release draining, depleting and sub-par nutrition patterns and shift into clarity and empowerment and a phenomenal way of being and living on this earth.
It is my goal that if if you are a client of mine, you feel seen, heard, and deeply understood. Because that’s where healing, transformation and, ultimately, your ASCENSION begins.
Thank you for reading this. I am sending you so much love!
📷 Hannah Collins
TERESA IS BACK!
DID YOU KNOW…?
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GET IN WHILE YOU CAN!!!
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OH MY GOODNESS !! THE WEEK THAT WAS!!!
Photos & videos say it all…
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