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Ostatnia aktualizacja: 29.12.2012

Ryszard Kapuściński – his humanity lives on

Przegląd Australijski, styczeń 2009

On the second anniversary of Ryszard Kapuściński’s death – 23 January 2009

Jola Wolska with Ryszard Kapuściński

Two years after his death Ryszard Kapuściński, the internationally acclaimed Polish foreign correspondent, writer, philosopher and photographer, is greatly missed for his humanity and for the books he had planned to write, and he is loved more than ever for the legacy that he has left his homeland and the world. Countless books continue to be written about him and his works, his many interviews are re-published and his books continue to be best sellers all over the world. His words are quoted by many, students learn the craft of reporting from him and some try to emulate his life. Yet, the greatest legacy that he has left future generations apart from his prolific works is his humanity.

The books that brought Kapuściński acclaim in the English speaking world as perhaps the world’s leading literary journalist were “Emperor” about Haile Selassie’s rule in Ethopia, “Shah of Shahs” an account of the 1979 Iranian revolution, “Imperium” about the collapse of the Soviet Union, “The Other” and his partly autobiographical book “Travels with Herodotus” about the fifth century BC Greek historian. His works have been translated into 31 languages. But he was more than an observer and chronicler of the greatest hot spots in the world, particularly the third world and especially his beloved Africa. Kapuściński was also a poet, a thinker/philosopher who had a deep compassion and empathy for people. He was a humble pilgrim spreading kindness, helping people to understand the world and themselves.

I had the great privilege to have met Ryszard Kapuściński when he came to Australia in 1995. I was his support in Melbourne and we became friends forever. The moment I met him I felt I had always known him, especially since for years I had been reading his books both in Polish and in English. There was magic about him - the man was greater than any of the wise words and poignant observations he had put down on paper. He had a humanity that is exceptionally rare. He also had a great sense of humour and his disarming smile was one to die for – full of warmth, kindness, engagement and sincerity. It was then that I understood how he could have survived through all the horrific experiences of the many wars that he had witnessed, why people he met along his quest for knowledge were willing to help him. He possessed a kindness and generosity of spirit that I have never encountered before or since. In a lengthy interview I did with him for the Melbourne Polish Weekly he said that what he values most in people is their sincerity, their honesty and most of all their goodness. Ryszard Kapuściński had those qualities in abundance, and it shows through all his writing and poetry. It can also be found in his photography. When I came to Poland four years ago we started to plan a trip to the Trobriand Islands off the coast of Papua New Guinea. Ryszard was planning to write a book following in the footsteps of the Polish anthropologist Bronisław Malinowski and I was going to have the privilege of being his travel companion. That unwritten book, I felt, was to be the consummation of his life’s search. But illness was stronger than his dream and alas in the end it consumed him totally.

I feel Ryszard Kapuściński is still with us. Through his books we can, albeit in a small way, try to live the way he tried to steer our thinking – to be more tolerant, to see the changing global village not as a threat but a challenge to do good, and to accept our fellow man – “the other” as a friend. I miss him greatly.

Jolanta Wolska, OAM, JP

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