This week, Kafkadesk spoke with Debra M Josephson, an American global visual journalist, blogger and photojournalist based in Warsaw, about her new community space project: Experient Explorer. She tells us about her events, the importance of community, life in New York City, her love for North Praga… and what it means to be an Experient Explorer.
“Explore your spirit, experience the world”… what on earth is an Experient Explorer?
Believe it or not, this isn’t as complicated as it sounds… It encompasses much of who I am. Experient, an actual word, (though Microsoft Word doesn’t believe it), describes a person having experience, knowledge or skill from observation or participation. As far as the word Explorer, I have always had a sense of curiosity and continue to inquire about anything that is of interest or importance to me. In the end, we will look back on our experiences, not our bank account, to reflect on how well we lived our lives.
Couldn’t agree more. So, what kind of events and workshops does Experient Explorer organises in Warsaw?
Experient Explorer has only been around since May 2018. I opened my doors with a Praga community event called “Cuda Wianki Vintage na Pradze“. My place has pieces of vintage from local businesses I am cooperating with, so they invited me to participate in this special neighborhood tradition. Since then, I have had a few student and amateur artist exhibitions, art openings with live music, done a couple of art related workshops… I have just begun, and have many more ideas, but I hope more members of the community will rent out the space to do their own thing as well, like educational lessons, learning to play drums or knitting, for example…
And what do you hope to achieve through these events?
I want this space to bring community together, in an organic way, and offer opportunities that might not be accessible to others, especially in the arts. Perhaps, I also want it to be an affordable space that fills in the gaps, especially to creatives and those with positive ideas. With English, a needed and desired skill, Experient Explorer offers a way to enjoy practicing language skills, while being engaged with others in a social manner. I love education and helping others, and when I can do both within a colourful, cozy environment filled with my favorite things, I feel I am contributing something, and sharing a piece of myself, from my heart.
You come from New York, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world… why Poland?
You sound like many of my English clients! Simple answer, why not? In a nutshell, I am an Experient Explorer. Life, to me, is more than settling into one city, one country, one perspective – even if NYC is the ultimate melting pot of culture in US. More so, there’s what you see on the surface versus the underbelly of a place or country. And, do you know how expensive it is there? I want my money to go into experiences not solely to rent and basic needs. The world doesn’t begin and end in NYC or in the USA.
… so why Poland?
Europe is a better fit for someone like myself… rich in history, art and culture. Warsaw is the gateway; I was able to start my own business here while successfully getting my temporary residency. But, not to say, at times, I miss the dense diversity, individuality and ambition I have only experienced, so far, in NY. London, I’ve heard, will hopefully, be my next “NY-like” experience. Berlin, also, was eye opening in this way, especially with the high quality food.
You say, “Community Development is a process that enables communities to develop active, sustainable and supportive environments in which people live and work”, how different is it in Poland than in New York?
I haven’t lived in NY in over a decade. My inspirations and aspirations come from the decades living consciously and participating in cultures as an Experient Explorer. Of course, my foundations in NY are always part of it all; it’s just so much more than that now – more like my creative, dreamer brain with hungry spirit putting it all together, and pounding an idea in my mind. Especially, after strolling through North Praga district. As a feeling, it may be like an inner poking with a sharp knife, telling me, “It’s time to share all of this (knowledge) with others.”
You seem to be particularly drawn to North Praga, what makes this neighbourhood so special?
Oh yes, it was lust at first sight! Seriously, it’s most definitely the right match. The artist within me, needs an inspirational environment. Europe has the history and spaces to offer that. I got the opportunity to work in Warsaw, so, when I looked online into neighborhoods to live in here, I was immediately drawn to North Praga. It is a survivor of WWII and therefore has the “character” I desire. It is the underdog district, that needs a cheerleader, with a lingering stereotype of high crime that it – used to – have. Artists have been making their mark around it, and live here because of its bad rep, making it affordable. The authentic Polish faces, local businesses within its modern touches offer layers of charm I appreciate regularly. North Praga is still full of possibilities and living in it and watching it grow around me, is an incredibly beautiful and rare thing to witness.
As a foreigner, do you try to steer clear of the social and political debates in the country? Or do you try to get involved through your community development action, by building social and political awareness, for example?
I don’t try to steer clear of important topics. Small talk irritates me, and bores me to tears. I steer clear of nonsensical conversation that is called, small talk. In my English conversation lessons with clients having intermediate level skills, I always utilize interesting topics with articles, TED talks and other fact-based resources to engage in topics that I believe need to be discussed (also considering the interests or needs of local culture). I don’t debate heated topics, rather try to listen, challenge ideas and respond with open questions to hopefully develop critical thinking with language skills. The journalist in me, needs such topics. It’s satisfying and necessary for my mind and spirit to be sane.
Any tips for surviving Polish winter in Warsaw?
I would say, find and be with positive, caring people to keep you company. Engage in some cultural, or community based activities. Help others. Of course, a warm jacket and a cup of hot dark chocolate from E. Wedel will help, too…