By Troy Headrick
My mind works in mysterious ways. For example, three or four days ago, for no particular reason, the following question popped into my head: I wonder who said, “Clothes make the man”? I then almost immediately forgot that I’d asked this question—my brain having its own unique way of functioning—and went about my daily business.
This morning I got online and found out that Mark Twain was the originator of the “clothes” proverb that had grabbed ahold of me days earlier. In fact, the full version goes like this—”Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”
I’m not for sure how much influence clothes have on people, nor am I well versed on the relative powerlessness of those who go about in the nude, but I feel comfortable proclaiming that places certainly do “make” us. When I look back over this batch of years I call “my life,” I see that almost every town and city I’ve ever inhabited has left its mark, has played its role in making me the person I’ve become.
Many moons ago, I exited my mother’s womb in a hospital located in a metropolis called San Antonio, Texas, USA. That was the first time I was born. Years later, I experienced a rebirthing in a city called PĨock, Poland.
PĨock—pronounced “pwotsk”—is the place I was sent to do my Pre-Service Training (PST) once Uncle Sam had accepted me into its Peace Corps program and then flown me off, over land and sea, to the wonderful European country of Poland, or Rzeczpospolita Polska (as the Poles like to say), to do my two years of service. Before a person can be fully accepted to serve as a volunteer, she must complete a very intensive, three-month training program to determine if she is made of “the right stuff” to live alone (and often isolated), in a foreign country, under what can be very trying circumstances.
Before applying to join the Peace Corps, I was in a dark place in my life. I had a really good education but was unemployed, on the public dole, and eaten up by anger and self-pity about my situation. Plus, I had only made two brief travel forays into Mexico and Canada but knew there was a wide world out that I wanted to see. I felt frustrated and stunted and hungry to do something truly unique and transformative.
PĨock was magical. It was a beautiful city with a lovely old town situated on the banks of the impressive Vistula River. During the day, I, along with sixty other Americans who were part of my “Poland IX” training group, learned Polish, trained hard, were challenged in many ways, and then went home to host families. By night, we pub crawled, drank too much Polish beer, and had one crazy adventure after another. On the weekends, we were encouraged to travel to nearby cities so we could see more of the country and practice our Polish. (By the way, during my two years, I got really good with the language.)
I see my life consisting of two phases—my pre-Peace Corps phase and my expatriation phase. The latter lasted about two decades and took me to Europe (twice) for nearly three years, Asia (twice) for nine years, and Africa (once), for a seven-year stint.
I think of PĨock as my second birthplace because as soon as I landed there, I felt like an old version of Troy had died and a new one emerged. In many ways, during my earliest days in Poland, I was a baby again. I spoke the babbling, incoherent Polish of an infant and viewed the world through the wide eyes of a bedazzled child.
I see this as the first in a series about places that have shaped me. I want to hear what you have to say about this first installment. Thanks so much reading.