I have just returned from six weeks of working with Ukrainian refugees on the Polish-Ukrainian border. It was an experience like no other, and I should know. I have lived and traveled literally all over the world, and all this I have done until now, my tender age of 71.
I have only three words to say: God bless America. Corny? Maybe. True? Most definitely. This is a phrase usually associated with right-wingers. Not in my case. I am a born-and-bred Democrat, of the left-of-center stream, and you can call me many things, but right-wing is not one of them.
And I have a special reason to bless and ask God to bless our country. While in Poland working with the Ukrainian refugees on the Ukrainian-Polish border, I had need to go to the American consulate in Krakow where, for want of a better term, I was treated like a queen, or rather, a beloved daughter.
It all began with the fact that the wonderful Scottish charity with which I was volunteering, Siobhan’s Trust, decided to leave Poland and work within Ukraine itself. They were moving to Lviv, which, according to the American consulate, was a dangerous part of Ukraine that periodically got bombed. There’s a war going on. Not only did the consulate advise Americans not to travel there, I was not about to take the chance of getting hurt or possibly killed. So, suddenly after six weeks, my three-month job (I had signed up for three months) was over.
So what to do? No more volunteering. Time to see the sights a little, change my three-month ticket, and go home. Or so I thought.
Not so simple. My ticket had cost me $550, so how bad could the ticket change fee be? The same airlines wanted, just for the change of date, almost $1,000. I could have fainted. No way was that possible. So I was literally stuck there. I don’t know if I was ever so frightened in my life, and I’m someone who had lived under bombing in Israel many years earlier.
I called a few friends; nobody had the money. I was literally going out of my mind when I received a text from a very good friend saying he got something from the State Department. He told me to call the nearest American consulate, in Krakow. I immediately called the emergency hotline. They took down some of my information, and asked me to call the consulate in the morning. I called and was immediately put through to the diplomatic consul (what?? I worked for a G7 country embassy for 13 years; nobody gets to talk to a diplomat, at least not in the non-American embassies). She told me she knew who I was, and would I please come down to the consulate.
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I went to the consulate, and the consul personally greeted me. She gave me some forms to fill out. She told me that I would have to pay back the ticket when I get back to the States, and the State Department would even give me installment payments if needed (was I dreaming?). I was told to come the next day to pick up my ticket.
The consul called me that evening at my hotel. She asked if I had enough money to pay for the hotel (I did). She told me if I needed the money for a taxi, they would pay for it (I didn’t need it). She told me that they had booked me a ticket to New York, my home, and gave me the details. She then asked if I was okay with the itinerary (are you kidding? Just get me out of here!). I was floored.
I got to the consulate the next day and the consul gave me a file. Not only was my ticket ready for the very next day, so was $100 in the file along with approximately $100 in Zlotys, Polish money, absolutely none of which I had requested. I was in shock. I have traveled the world and have never seen anything, absolutely anything like this.
I walked out of the consulate proud, very proud, to be an American. We may take care of others, but it was nice to know that we also take care of our own. And in such a kind and considerate way.
With all the internal fighting going on in our country, with all the mud-slinging, and yes, with all the violence, we are still among the best people on the planet. We should all be proud.
We’re not as bad as we think.
Lucich is a native New Yorker who lived more than 25 years in Tel Aviv.