We present some extracts from memories of people who got to know or worked with Joy Murpy, the American Peace Corps volunteer, in Kudowa-Zdrój.
On the photo above: Joy Murphy and Janusz Korybo . leaving of Joy, Kudowa-Zdrój, 2001. With courtesy of the Góry Stołowe National Park
Wojciech Heliński, Cultural Events Organiser for Kudowa-Zdrój Town Council:
In 1998, well before Poland joined the EU, the slogan ‘Amerykanka’ [female American] aroused many emotions. A colleague explained that this referred to the American Peace Corps. I recalled having heard this in some sort of film but I associated it with Americans going off to Vietnam, Korea or perhaps to Africa… but why to Poland?!
Krzysztof Baldy (Education Department employee in the Góry Stołowe National Park):
I was taking part in an international project relating to the protection of amphibians when I met a man who worked on behalf of the Peace Corps in the Education Department of the Białowieża National Park.
Zbigniew Gołąb (Scientific Laboratory Director in the Góry Stołowe National Park):
Joy had so much warmth and so much ease in building personal relationships with us that my view of Americans underwent something of a change. I had always thought of them as being convinced of the superiority of their nation but Joy was, in a sense, unique. I had the impression that she treated her mission seriously and realised that she herself was from a different reality. Joy was very involved in everything she undertook, she was incredibly committed. Although most Americans probably thought that we were something of a third world country.
Joy was the initiator of our Earth Day. Kudowa had a serious unemployment problem and nobody could be bothered – ecology was just another slogan. Only well-off communities could afford it… Joy tried to explain to us about Earth Day, she referred to the dictionary but we could not understand what she meant. “Let’s have an Erf Dey, an Erf Dey…” she proposed in her broken Polish. So, it’s a festive day – but what does it involve? You what? – you invite the world head and he makes an Erf Dey? And who’s the head? The Pope? – “No, no – Erf Dey – you not know what is Erf Dey?” Ecology was such a natural concept for her that she didn’t even mention the word. In the end, however, we managed to reach an understanding and on the Internet we found that Earth Day is held in honour of Mother Nature. And so we organised our first Earth Day ceremony. It was Joy’s idea that we should join in this festive event which is celebrated around the world by everyone taking part in cleaning up their locality. At that time it all sounded rather like a sect to us, a sort of New Age.
Katarzyna Mrowiec (tour-guide, co-owner of a café bar):
At one time we were fairly close with Joy because she was friends with everybody. She loved people and she loved meeting people. In our café bar we had a computer corner where English lessons, called Joy’s conversations, were held. A great many young people of high school age used to come and – surprise, surprise – they only spoke English there.
Joy had some interesting ideas – for instance, she proposed we should find sponsors in our local community who would finance an ‘Interesting Tree Path’ in Kudowa’s Spa Park. Even now the names of the sponsors of each tree can be seen on plaques. They include owners of boarding houses and of restaurants. Joy managed to get them all involved. She approached everyone personally and that’s why everyone in Kudowa knew her.
Zbigniew Piotrowicz (Director – Culture and Leisure Centre):
Joy decided her project would be a climbing wall – on ecological grounds. Sandstone rock faces were frequently used by climbers during bird breeding periods – when climbing is not be allowed. This climbing wall was to provide an alternative – a place to train and to enjoy oneself – until around 15 June when the breeding period in the National Park ends. This was a difficult undertaking and a solid piece of engineering. It involved all sorts of safety regulations and someone had to put his signature to the project. I was full of admiration for Joy when she managed to overcome all the difficulties posed by bureaucracy.
There was a sort of post-communist belief that only a government department can ‘make things happen’ and that if you want anything done in the town you have to go to the Mayor, ask, hang around and wait, then go to the head of the local council and then to the provincial governor… And then it suddenly turned out that there are other ways, and that people can get things done by themselves, that it’s not always a question of money, about contacts or whom you know – and that if we get several people together then we can do something really spectacular. Joy asked everybody, she did not have local knowledge, or local contacts, so she approached everyone and somehow this worked. The point is that, apart from the normal everyday problems, like unemployment, industry and so on, someone had come from outside and had provided an impetus for something different.
Czesław Kręcichwost (Mayor of Kudowa):
Joy emanated optimism. She initiated that climbing wall and organised it with the help of others. The secret of her success lay in the fact that she managed to gather together a group of people who believed in her. This was a country which, just a few years previously, had proved successful in winning its freedom. Now, Joy tried to show us that nothing is impossible and that money is not always the key to success. She demonstrated to us that there are many people and many organisations which are able to help. She used her powers of persuasion to show that the climbing wall was a necessity and she helped me – us – to organise and assemble it in the sports’ hall. And it really did not cost us that much. Thanks to Joy I, too, began to have faith in what I was doing because work in a local council is not mere officialdom and I realise that you have to have vision, and be able to share it with the local inhabitants because, without them, nothing will be done – we work on their behalf. They have to feel secure, they have to know that someone will back them.
My most difficult problem was explaining the intricacies of Polish bureaucracy. The sheer amount of paperwork produced, the justification, the ‘devious paths to decision making’… For the young American girl this was an eye opener – why complicate things? In the second half of the 1990s computers were still not in general use so everything had to be on paper, perforated and filed in a loose-leaf folder, a copy had to be kept, approved, with relevant stamps… To the Americans these stamps were a curious novelty – over there a signature suffices. Here, on the other hand, a signature without a stamp is meaningless. There had to be a stamp, and preferably two stamps. Red stamps carry most weight, round red ones are the tops – no stamps in Poland are more meaningful.
Marek Szpak (Director – Sports’ and Recreation Centre):
We came up with the idea that we had show our gratitude to Joy. We discussed this and Joy said that their national holiday is Thanksgiving Day in November. We decided to make it a special celebration. Joy would direct and we would help her. It was to be a meeting of all Joy’s friends and those connected with her. We would invite the Peace Corps whom we have to thank for her presence among us and someone from the Embassy. We also agreed that there should be flags – the Polish flag, the flag of Kudowa and the American flag. The latter was not that easy. We wanted to buy one but the wholesalers did not have any. I wrote to the Embassy and to the Peace Corps asking for the loan of an American flag. Eventually, the Americans supplied one for our celebration. The main dish was to be roast turkey with a fennel stuffing. We found a turkey… in the Czech Republic. Joy chose it herself. We bought two or three turkeys to cater for so many people and also the fennel. And, of course, there had to be Coca-Cola.
Janusz Korybo (Director – Góry Stołowe National Park):
We are sad that there is no news from Joy. Despite everything, we were sure this young woman stay in touch from time to time, let us know where she was and what she was doing – perhaps she is in China, or perhaps she has lots of children. We have no idea what’s happening to her. Perhaps this was just an episode in her youth, a closed book, and she has now progressed… Or perhaps it’s that American mentality, so different to our Polish one.