Someone told me upon arrival that Romania is 75 years behind the US. That would place Romania firmly in the 40’s. I think they’re a good bit past that…we’ve been here a month and we found it to be an odd mix of modern and not-so-modern.
Modern Romania has wifi and expensive fuel. Romania has restaurants with good beer selections and people with pink hair and Ellie Goulding ringtones on their smart phones (which cost about the same here, as we found out when Randy’s phone died). They’re up enough on the international news that I was asked in English on the tram one day if we were in Romania because Trump won. (Don’t get started people.)
Then again, some things remain old fashioned – it is nearly impossible to find any prepared convenience food in the grocery store, walking a good distance in the bitter cold and using a broom instead of a snow shovel are fairly common, cash is still the most common form of payment, speaking of which, some things are really inexpensive here—I got my hair highlighted for $14, and coffee and a pastry can be had for $1.50, and our local bus driver makes up the fares himself some days,.
The buildings, trains, and taxis, although non-smoking, have a faint smell of smoke. They remind me of being a little girl visiting my father’s military offices, where smoking was just barely on its way out but still lingering in the walls and floorboards. And the smokers are committed – with mulled wine stands, Christmas markets, and lavishly furnished tents outside every restaurant, you’d think you were in some sunny resort town the way these people hang out outside in the dead of winter, which is the only season we experienced during our time here, and it’s a bitter one.
Most of our time was spent in Arad, where we were volunteers at Vis de Copil, a day center for Roma children, mothers, and “street boys” – men who grew up in the system, but have aged out and are now living on the street as men. Watching our hosts Kathryn, Kenneth, and Philip was an education in perseverance, consistency, and unconditional love. We learned so much from them as we played with some of the local kids, organized shoebox gifts and sorted donations of hats, gloves, scarves, and toiletries for the winter months with their limited space. You can see more photos and learn more about their work on their Facebook page, and we encourage you to do so!
Some of the kids at their home, a shanty town where many of Arad’s Roma live.
Having grown up a huge gymnastics fan (can you say Nadia Comaneci?), it was a big thrill to visit a serious gym where promising Romanian gymnasts (age 7-10) work out several hours a day. Our hosts’ daughter is one of the best in the country, and invited me to watch her train.
In Brasov, we saw pedestrian shopping streets with all the shopping of Denver’s 16th Street Mall, the charm of Vail’s European architecture (yes, I get the backwards-ness of this statement), and the graffiti of Berlin. In the last populated medieval village of Sighisoara, I high-fived a man lying in a coffin in the room where Vald the Impaler was born; later, we watched the New Year ring in from our hotel room with a perfect view of fireworks on every side of the Cathedral overlooking the river.
We also got to sing and play—yesterday, to a room full of the street boys, who were a wild bunch. Some knew a few English words, and many tried to sing along regardless of the language barrier (and not knowing the songs). We had a few spontaneous drummers, and one harmonica was found amongst the donations…it got a little weird at moments, but that can be fun! There was some singing at home over Christmas and there were also neighbors who invited us to play, so we went by to see Helen, and her adopted family members, who take such joy in singing, it made me even more grateful for the gift of music and its ability to communicate regardless of language barriers.
PS Speaking of barriers, I have written most of this blog while stuck at the Romanian/Hungarian border on the train. Waiting to move…still.
So…we’re off to London tomorrow, and will be traveling around England the rest of the month, excited for our first house concert of the year on Wednesday. More on that later. As always, thanks for taking the time to keep up with us. We welcome your comments/questions below.