Avion cu motor, ia-ma si pe mine-n zbor

19 martie 2007
See you soon from the other side ;)
 
Lyrics are from an old Romanian children ‘s song. 
 
Pax  

Super News

20 februarie 2007

Well extremely good news as I am quite happy to announce I have purchased my airline ticket and I will be arriving in Romania at the end of March.

I still have to work on what my plans are going to be from there on out, but wanted to let all of you (who are interested) know that after all these months in the United States, I am finally headed back to my second "home".

I also wanted to put in a link to a new website that just got up and running. It’s called " Expat Romania" and will be a guide for all the foreigners who come to live in the land of Dracula . I hope to be of some help to someone by writing a few pieces over there.

Thanks go to the kind website administrator who contacted me and let me know of its existence :)

More later!

Pax


What the heck is this?

18 ianuarie 2007
Well it isn’t much ;)
 
According to my stats, roughly 865 people are getting the same email that you are (presumably) getting.  That’s the number of people who are subscribed to this blog and since I haven’t written anything in more than six months, it’s about 99% likely you’re getting this in an email rather than through RSS or something else. 
 
First of all, let me say hello and then answer some questions that I’ve gotten in email and from other sources.
 
1) Are you in Romania? – Well not yet but I will be back shortly.  I cannot tell you exactly when because I do not know but it will be this Spring.  I am hoping to go in just a matter of weeks but again I do not know for sure.  In the meantime I congratulate Romania for having joined the EU and now being an official member.  Of course I realize not much has changed but some things have and mostly those are for the better.  So way to go Romania!
 
2) Will you be blogging full-time now? – Well not yet.  I’ve been working a number of jobs in the months I’ve been in the USA.  When I first got here, I simply walked around the neighborhood and went into every single business and asked if they were hiring.  One of them was a hotel and I applied and was hired within a week of my arrival.  Of course that wasn’t my life’s goal but it did at least provide for an immediate income.
 
That job was okay but I’ve since moved on and am working nearly full-time on a completely different job that is done entirely via the internet.  I wish I could tell you more about it as it is fascinating (to me anyway) but again there are just too many people who wish me harm out there.  Suffice it to say that it is hopefully a good job that will pay the bills and allow me to live anywhere in the world I want to, so if I go to Italy for a couple months or something, I can still log on and work.
 
3) So when WILL you blog? – Well that’s a good question.  For now, it won’t be very much.  The blog you are reading at the moment is specifically for my life in Romania and I want to keep the focus on Romania.  I might add some vocabulary or news stories about Romania here but until I’m actually on the ground, the blogging will be light.
 
4) What about your other website? – Right now it’s closed down.  I still "own" the site and I am the one who closed it.  I’m such a horrible programmer that I haven’t even put up a little sign letting people know it’s closed.  Instead it just has some error message.  So this time George Costanza is right – it isn’t you, it IS me :)
 
I am not sure when I will bring that other website back up.  It requires some time and a little bit of programming and I’ll need a full day off to do it.  I hope to do it very soon and I have a lot of ideas about how to make it even better than it (briefly) was.  I will definitely let you know when it is up and running "for reals". 
 
5) So what are you doing if not blogging? – Well mostly working.  The reason why it’s taken me so darn long to get back to Romania is because I overstayed my visit there.  In other words, I borrowed money to live there that I had no way of paying back and really should’ve come back to the USA and made a better financial plan a long time ago.  So even though I’ve been working since the first week I arrived here, I had a lot of debts to pay back.
 
The good news however is that those debts are finally all paid back.  I’ve also managed to save up enough pennies for a new computer, something I badly needed.  All the blogging I ever did was on a computer that was made sometime in 1998 or 1999, an old IBM thinkpad that was actually donated to me.  It originally had Windows 95 on it and I upgraded it to XP and that used just about all the memory and "brain power" it had.
 
6) So what’s the plan? – Well the plan is for me to keep working here super hard in the next few weeks and get ready to move back to Romania as quickly as I can.  I also have to make sure I have all the things I need from the USA that I can’t get over there, especially electronics.  A little three dollar cable that you can buy online in the USA might be next to impossible to find in Romania and then cost you 40 bucks.
 
To give you a concrete example – in the USA you can buy a brand new iPod shuffle with a 1 gig memory for about 80 bucks.  In Romania they still only sell the old model , with half the memory, for about 120 dollars. 
 
I also have a unique dislike for European footwear in general and tend to prefer to buy my shoes in the USA.  I know a lot of people disagree with me but hey, that’s fine :)
 
Ok folks, that’s about it for now.  I just wanted to send out a signal of life and let some of you know what’s going on and I can do it this way en masse.  I still keep the old email for the blog and occasionally do respond to it. 
 
Once again, happy new year and lots of luck to Romania as an EU member and I’ll be blogging to you soon (I hope!).
 
Pax

From the Inside Looking Out

15 mai 2006

Well hello there.

I’m almost unsure where to begin this. It’s been two weeks since I last
wrote anything of substance on the blog. In “real life” that’s almost
no time at all. In blogtime, it’s an eternity.

Even in “real life” it’s been a major change. I feel like I lived in
Romania about 500 years ago sometimes. And yet at the same time I feel
like I’m a stranger in my own land.

I guess the logical place to begin is to start chronologically. I left
my home in Romania two Sundays ago. I did some traveling in Romania and
then headed to Hungary for my flight to the United States. I went
through both
of New York’s airports, had absolutely no problem whatsoever in terms
of security or delays or anything else. My journey was extremely long,
extremely tiring and mentally just as far as physical miles, but I
arrived in one piece (along with my luggage).

My first instinct was to remark on the differences I saw between here
and there. I hate to get into those tired cliches but I will tell you
my experience in New York’s airport. I ordered a coffee (actually
“espresso” because that’s the kind of “regular” coffee I was used to)
and it tasted delicious. It did however come in a paper cup, which had
to go in the trash. They also put some kind of brown paper band around
the cup. I asked them what it was for and they said it was to protect
me from overly hot coffee, which in the case of a small amount of
“espresso” in a cup that could’ve held two, it wasn’t that hot. The cup
also came with a lid.

So all that went straight into the trash and seemed overly wasteful.
There were enormous trash cans everywhere and people eating and
drinking at the other places in the area were also throwing away tons
of garbage. And my other experience was I ordered a Sprite, the
smallest one they had, and drank only half because it seemed to be far
too much. It also came with a lot of ice, which seemed to be too cold
for me, and I didn’t even ask for it nor did I want it. So that was New
York. On the more positive and welcoming side, I struck up several
conversations with total strangers and universally the people were all
very nice and friendly, even the ones who were residents of New York
City. Just saying, don’t believe the hype.

It’s been a pleasure speaking English to everyone here. It’s not that I
never knew anyone who spoke it in Romania, it’s just that here I can
express myself fully and know I will be understood (well mostly). I do
tend to overenunciate compared to people here, saying the t’s in
interstate and minutes, that kind of thing. Mostly it’s just nice to
speak a language that comes reflexively, to say what’s on my mind without having to double-check it before it comes out of my mouth.

And of course there were some foods I had been missing, chiefly peanut
butter and peanut butter flavored things. I’d never heard of Reese’s
“sticks” before but they’re quite tasty. As usual, some foods in
America are super expensive (bread) while others are as cheap or
cheaper than in Romania (ice cream). I don’t know how a box of Breyer’s
ice cream can be the same price as a loaf of bread, but there you go. I
ever discovered that Perrier sells very nice mineral water in the half
liter size (17 ounces for Americans) and in a plastic bottle. It’s one
dollar here, about 50% more expensive than in Romania.

Of course I was also struck by the sheer material wealth here. I don’t
mean the cars or clothes or electronic gizmos that seemingly every
American over age 5 carries around. I mean things like tables, chairs,
paper cups, the roads and highways, the signs. They’re all so clean and
new and well-built and strong. Even the plastic bottles for water are
thicker and tougher than in Romania. It’s like everything here, down to
the paperclips and ballpoint pens are just designed to be shinier,
brighter, bigger and more durable. Or perhaps things in America are
just so much newer because they’re always being replaced, including the
roadways. In Romania things tend to last a long, long time before
getting replaced.

Last Sunday I went to one of those new kinds of churches, what they
call “megachurches”. It’s in an old sports arena complex. Even that was
luxurious, from the size of the seating area to the furnishings in the
bathroom to the carpet on the stairs. There were also large video
screens on the stage for those too far away to see the preacher. So
nice, and so amazing, and yet everyone here just takes it for granted.

I came back here to make some money and I did in fact get a job. I will
be going for my first night shift here a few hours after you read this.
I’ll go ahead and tell you I am now working in a hotel. I simply walked
up and down (while dodging cars) and went in every business asking if
they were hiring – and this hotel was. One of the chief benefits so far
(besides an income, meager though it is) is that there is an absolutely
enormous television in the lobby for the guests. I figured out how to
change the channel (the sound is turned off) and I’ve enjoyed a few
shifts of non-stop Weather Channel action. :)

I’ve had some time to be online and read the news and the blogs, but
it’s been limited. I’ve spent most of my time (besides looking for and
finding work) just getting used to being here. It’s like I stepped into
some kind of Star Trek transporter and I’ve landed on a completely
different planet. The aliens look very human-like (as they always did
on that show) but it takes a while for my Universal Translator to help
me get adjusted to the different norms and rules.

A perfect example of what I’m talking about is I saw a commercial for
some kind of diaper (for babies) that is designed to get wet. By that I
mean, designed for kids to wear when they play in the ocean. My
“Universal Translator” overheated because in Romania little children of
diaper-wearing age simply go naked. Why put on some kind of absorbent
garment when the child is in a body of water that will wash him/her? Or
to puzzle on it further, why would an American baby need to defecate in
his diaper, have that riding next to his skin? How is that better than
just going in the ocean? It’s just one of those things which does not
compute for me.

On top of that I can’t help but notice the sheer number of
advertisements, including in print media, for medications. Not just
allergies and erectile problems, which I remember, but I’ve seen pills
for reducing cholesterol, losing weight if you’re tremendously obese
and even one to cure “restless leg syndrome”. I still don’t know what
the heck that is and my friend here told me her father has it. I’m
quickly getting the impression that Americans are all terribly ill and
suffering from diseases and syndromes on a regular basis. On top of the
different kinds

A couple of similarities between Romania and America (and Poland too):
those tiny yoghurt “shot” bottles. I think the brand here is Actimel
but I could be wrong. Designed to help “regulate” your bowels or
whatever else is wrong, through the use of live cultures. Exact same
commercial in all three languages. I’ve also seen a couple of hair
products (mostly the French ones like L’Oreal) marketed similarly here.

What else? The grocery stores here are frightening and very cold. The
chips have all re-designed their packages and have all kinds of new
flavors (especially Doritos). I saw about 3 or 4 sodas I’d never heard
of (Vault?). The snack foods and snack drinks and frozen items are
incredibly varied here while in Romania they’re generally a small
corner. What I consider the “standards” of cooking, the oil and flower
and that kind of thing were pretty normal and friendly looking, even if
the containers all seem to be too large. The raw, uncooked vegetables
and fruits are mostly too large as well. The ordinary onions were
larger than my entire fist and I could not find any regular size ones
in any other store around here (even a different company).

There’s plenty more I’ve observed but that’s enough for you to get the
taste of it. I hate to be bogged down in overanalyzing the tiny details
like that. I’ve been writing about the United States and her (its?)
foreign policy for a number of years now and that’s probably the one
thing which surprised me the most. Or perhaps it confused me more than
shocked me.

There’s theoretically a “war” going on but you sure wouldn’t know it
from here. Or from New York. Or from the television. Nor from any
conversations I’ve had. I was initially willing to chalk that up to
“callousness” or something like that until I was reading a book in the
back yard last week about wars in the Bible. In the history of
civilized warfare, that is between cities (not as in having to do with
“morality” or ethics), there was no such thing as a petty war. Any war
put a serious strain on the economy. It took an enormous toll on the
male population. It had a deep impact on the outlook and songs and
traditions of the culture. You can look back to the Greeks of Herodotus
or the battles in the Bible or those described in the Egyptian records
- they’re all the same. Wars are costly in terms of time, men and
treasure.

That has been true in the days of Ramses II right up until today. It
was true in the Iran-Iraq war, which killed off much of the (male)
generation which could remember the time of the Shah for themselves (as
opposed to the preaching about it). It certainly was true in Viet Nam,
when the draft took a young man not out of every home, but certainly
out of every neighborhood and town. World War 2 took enormous economic
and cultural sacrifices, including women reversing the previous taboo
about manual labor. Wars in most places around the planet, such as the
one ongoing in Nepal for instance, are the same. There’s no such thing
as an uninvolved person in Nepal. If you’re not actively fighting, then
you know who someone who is. If you haven’t chosen sides then sooner or
later one of the two sides will ask you to support them and you will
have to choose. The war is directly affecting your ability to get
educated, to travel, even to buy food at the marketplace. There are no
bored uninvolved Nepalese.

But here in America, despite the billions spent and the thousands dead,
this has perhaps become the first war in the history of civilization
which has not had any major impact on the country fighting it. I’d say
right off hand that the incident of 9/11 has had FAR MORE impact on the
life and culture of Americans than the 3 year war in Iraq. It’s simply
incredibly mindboggling to think that America really is so tremendously
wealthy that it can fight a war and barely feel it. What other country
could do that? Even if you took a wealthy country like Canada or Japan
or Saudi Arabia, any war the size of the Iraq war would be a MAJOR
event. It would take dramatic bites out of their economy and put
tremendous strain on their military. It would require a fundamentally
large shift in cultural thinking as well. If Canada, Japan or Saudi
Arabia was fighting a war this big it wouldn’t be some page two, ho hum
event, it would be the topic on everyone’s lips from sun up to sun down
and in every newspaper. Just like World War 2 was in the United States.

So here I am, in the land of those so rich and powerful they can fight
a war on the side, something unthinkable in the history of
civilization. And what does that do to the American psyche? What impact
does it have on people to know their land is so f–king powerful that
it can fight a war and barely feel it? This attitude is really a
continuation of both the Bosnia and Persian Gulf wars, built of course
on the backs of Panama (1989) and earlier Grenada. It started out as a
police action that was daring but righteous, then it moved up to an
internationally condemned police action that was self-righteous, then
it moved on to a couple of self-righteous out and out wars that other
countries literally paid for. They did, you know. Persian Gulf war, the
one with Bush senior in office, literally cost the United States not
one dime.

It’s always been hard for me to understand the fervor of those who want
even more war. I’m talking about the neocons and PNACers and those who
push for wars with Syria and Iran and whomever else. But I’m starting
to see where it comes from. 100 years ago a war the cost of Iraq might
not have touched the aristocracy too badly but the peasants would’ve
been eating crusts of bread to pay for it and there’s only so much
blood you can squeeze out of a turnip. But in America? By god, there’s
at least two or three more big wars and maybe up to 10 “police actions”
that could be started and you still wouldn’t even have to ration food.
No need for blackouts or air raid drills or anything else either. It’s
just pay more on the W-2 or in some other way and presto, more regime
change.

I also think that explains the apathy so many people have for these
wars. I understand the zealotry of those profiting from them, but why
the apathy? It’s because there’s apathy for pretty much anything that
doesn’t affect you. Do you really give a crap if children in Malawi
starve every year? You probably barely even heard of Malawi and unless
you see some commercial at 2am, it doesn’t even enter your
consciousness. And neither does the Iraq war. Some other
people volunteered for it, the government somehow pays for it without
any (discernible) cost to you, so who cares? The cable TV here still
gets all 85 channels and the sports games go on and the comedies are
all brand new and the dramatic shows like Survivor and American Idol
continue to roll on. Who got voted off the island? Who got voted for on
AI? That’s what has an impact on people’s lives and that’s what they’re
going to care about.

I think I want to meditate further on how this kind of unbelievable
godlike powers affects the way people think in this country, but I’ll
leave that for another time. For now I just wanted to say hello and let
you know what’s been rattling around in this weird brain of mine.

Peace of pain pills – ones for headaches, one for foot pain, back pain, even
different kinds of headaches. Plus cough syrups, cold medicines, etc.,
etc.


Goodbye Romania. Hello America.

30 aprilie 2006


If you’re looking for the Flogging the Simian blog, it has moved here. This website is now my blog about my experiences in Romania!


Well my friend and supporters, this is it. I’m unplugging the computer here in a couple of hours and that’ll be all she wrote for a few days.

My stuff is already packed but today is when I move what I’m leaving into storage. Then comes the cleaning. It’s amazing just how filthy a tiny apartment can get. After that I’ll go to my partner’s house for a little farewell dinner and drink.

Tomorrow I’ll be headed out at 5:00am for the train to Cluj. I’ve then got to make a little trip up to the mountains near Cluj to see my friend Princess B. Tuesday morning I’ll be taking care of some business paperwork and saying goodbye to everyone else I know.

Tuesday night I’ll be on a bus that will get me to Budapest (that’s Hungary!) at the early hours of the morning and then from there it will be a long, tortuous journey before I’ll get to my final destination some 24 hours later. Which means that for those of you in America , I should be online again sometime during your (now mine as well) afternoon on Thursday or so.

I have to be honest with you and tell you I’m nervous as hell. I really am. It isn’t flying, because I enjoy that (for the most part) and have been doing it all my life. Nor is it the security at the airport, because I’m transporting nothing more “dangerous” than some dirty clothes. I’m just very nervous at the thought of a massive culture change. A shock to my system.

It’s not like I don’t know the United States, as I’ve lived there most of my life. I obviously speak the language just fine and my “papers” are all in order. It’s just going to be a huge shock to my system to be back “there” again. The land of air conditioning and so many big people. Not just big as in overweight but also big as in tall and beefy. There are a lot of very thin and short Romanians and I just know seeing all that flesh walking around in America is going to be hard to get used to.

Not to mention all the different cultures in America too. People of every physical characteristic. I’ve been living in a homogenous blend of European mix for so long that it will just be a shock to my eyes to see not only colorful skin tones but also colorful clothing. And of course I can’t forget the loudness. Americans are all such loud and enthusiastic talkers, laughers and complainers. Romanians tend to line up in giant queues and grumble quietly. Around here I am the loud and opinionated one but I’m a wallflower in America.

I’m also just nervous because I’m going to feel so out of place. Of course I speak English but my speech has become so intermixed with Romanian it’s going to be hard to remember now to slip in some Romanian words, especially when I’m flustered. The food will be so different too and that’s going to be hard to get used to. Of course I will miss Romanian staples like pickled cabbage and fried bread with garlic and pickled peppers and the cornmeal pollenta. But it’s more than that.

American food, quite simply put, is often quite bad. The bread is nearly always full of chemicals and preservatives in America and believe me you can taste it when you’re used to bread in Europe that goes stale after 24 hours. I’m sure the soft drinks will be more or less the same but I don’t drink soft drinks. What I mostly drink here in Romania is coffee and water.

American coffee is usually quite weak and sold in gigantic cups, while Romanian coffee is quite strong and sold in tiny quantities. If you’ve ever had an “espresso” in a coffee shop in America, that’s how Romanian “normal” coffee is. It used to seem too small and too strong for me but now it’s all I’m used to. Not to mention there are two kinds of coffee beans in the world called “arabica” and “robusta”. Robusta beans are cheaper to buy and taste cheaper and that’s what most American coffee is made from. In Romania it’s always “arabica” and so that’s also going to take some getting used to.

As for water… well I’m almost about to cry thinking about it. Here I drink what I guess you could call “sparkling mineral water”. In America the two brands of this you can usually find are Perrier and San Pellegrino, both of which are very bitter tasting (to me). Romania has some of the best natural water springs in the world and I’m going to sorely, sorely miss buying 2 liters (half gallon) of sparkling mineral water for about 50 cents. Americans nearly all drink “flat” water and I guess I’ll have to get used to that again.

I’m also just going to miss how things are done around here. You get used to a place, you know? Doesn’t matter if it is Romania or the jungles of Thailand, once you live somewhere long enough it becomes your home even if you’re not native born. I will also miss this fantastic weather we’re having and walking through all the beautiful parks.

Speaking of which, I will also really miss all the walking. Not that I can’t or won’t walk in America, but I’ll be the exception there. Here the streets all have sidewalks and there are always people walking around. It’s so nice just to “people watch” if nothing else. Plus of course there’s lots of public transportation, from trams to buses, and I’ll miss that a lot. I really will.

But it’s not all bad. I’ll be seeing some very good friends in America and they just recently had a baby so I’m looking forward to that quite a lot. There are also some foods and sights and sounds I’ve missed and those will be quite welcome. It’ll also be nice to hear some different music on the radio. Here in Romania there are 5-10 stations in every city and nearly every single one plays the same thing – pop music (Romanian and American) with a steady mix of hip-hop. It’ll be good for me to hear some oldies and country and even talk radio like NPR again.

I’m not a big television fan but I’ll sure miss “Schimb de Mame” on Prima here. I should write an entire article about that sometime. I sure won’t miss the constant soccer games because I’ve never been much of a sports fan. It’ll also be interesting to go back to the land of “gizmos” where there are little gadgets and electronic doo-dads to do everything. I’m sure my friends have all kinds of new whirlygigs to show me and play with and cook their food with.

So I guess you could say I’m mainly nervous because this is a big change in my life. But that’s ok, right? I certainly hope so. I came to Romania in 2004 and I remember how nervous I was then and it turned out alright. I had some wonderful times and got to see some wonderful places. I also made some very beautiful friendships and even fell deeply in love. I’ve been very blessed by my life here in Romania and I never regret moving here for even one second, even though sometimes this country drives me absolutely bonkers :)

If life is a book then this is one of the new chapters in my life. I hope it will be another good experience for me and that I do not miss Romania and all the people here too badly. People here think I’m a fool to love this country so much but I cannot help it, I just do. But I am American and I do love my own country too and I think perhaps it’s a good thing that circumstances have dictated I return now. As my partner says, everything happens for a reason, and I think they may be right.

So that’s it for me on this side of the Atlantic. If you’re the praying type, say a little one for me and wish me a safe journey. I will return on Thursday or Friday and let you know what it’s like on the other side.

Until then, I remain your humble blogger, grateful for all your support and patronage.

Peace

-Soj


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From the Outside, Looking In

28 aprilie 2006


If you’re looking for the Flogging the Simian blog, it has moved here. This website is now my blog about my experiences in Romania!


I think every expatriate
American is in somewhat of a quandary. I can’t speak for any of the
others, the many thousands scattered around the world, but I can tell
you I’m always caught between a rock and a hard place.

I’m trying even now to think of a way to describe it. America is such
an insulated country that there are very few of us who ever cross the
line, who get completely outside the American mentality. And from out
here, it’s not pretty. It’s not pretty at all.

I happen to live in Romania, one of the most pro-American countries in
the world. I’m not just talking about the slobberingly sycophantic
Romanian government, I mean the average, ordinary Romanian on the
street. I’ve met hundreds of them, maybe even a thousand, and they
nearly all are more pro-American than even I am.

It’s odd though because they’re not more American than I
am, just more pro-American. But that I mean they are more enthusiastic
about what they see as the “brass ring”, a country where hard work can
make you lots and lots of money. And with that money comes all the
luxuries of life from a nice house to a nice car to beautiful clothes
and fancy electronic gadgets.

And that right there is the sum total of why they are pro-American. It
has nothing to do with admiration for freedom of speech, freedom of
religion or equality between minorities. It has nothing to do with the
beautiful landscapes of America from deserts to mountains. It has
nothing to do with the easy classless camaraderie that exists in most
parts of America. No. Romanians are pro-America because it’s a place
where you can make money.

That’s because the average Romanian already has everything else, with
the only thing missing being money. Romania has beautiful landscapes
from beaches to mountains to amber waves of grain. It has resorts,
health spas, and tourist attractions. It has a modern, large capital
with all the urban attractions and it has a folkloric heartland where
peope still do things the old-fashioned way, right down to the clothes
they wear.

The average Romanian you see has a life worth living. That seems like
something almost inconsequential, something you would almost dismiss
out of hand. “Oh sure, but don’t we all?”. Not so. And Romanians will
be the first one to dismiss this, which is actually the greater wealth
than dollars or gold.

The average Romanian wakes up in the morning and is utterly certain of
what is right and what is wrong. They know what they want out of life
and there’s little hesitation or doubt. They’ve got a family which
while not perfect or harmonious, is supportive. When I say family I
mean more than a mother and father or sister and brother, I mean an
extensive network of cousins, nieces and nephews and grandparents and
great-aunts and uncles. Every Romanian knows where they come from.

No Romanian is ever alone either. To begin with, they never live alone.
Even if by some horrible tragedy their immediate family were killed,
they’d live with some other relatives. Many Romanians even today spend
their first few years with the oldest generation out in the countryside
anyway. They return to the more urban areas to go to school and live in
close quarters with their families. University often means living at
home too. If school is too far out of town to commute, the dorms are
intensely crowded and apartments are too expensive not to share.

And even besides the living quarters, every Romanian who walks down the
street will see people they know, people who will stop and talk to them
for long, languid minutes. It could be the clerk at the food store to
the neighbor in the apartment building. No Romanian ever spends their
life in any solitary existence, with only a token nod from those who
have a passing acquaintance.

Romanians are intensely social people. I’ve met and befriended total
strangers on a train and believe me it was they who made the effort to
talk, to ask questions, to share food. I’ve seen Romanians make very
close connections even while working part-time entry level jobs.
Romanians quite simply put, care about what other people think, even
“strangers” they don’t know. And the other side of that coin is that
Romanians are always interested in what other people do, even strangers
on the street.

I didn’t write all this to wax poetic on the social life of Romanians.
I just feel in my heart the absence of what’s been missing for so long
in America. Romanians who go to America to work always know that the
number one priority is to make money. Even those who move there to stay
end up re-creating a simulacrum of their life here in Romania, where
family and cultural values are so “obvious” that they’re not even
discussed. Children should be supported. Elderly family members must be
taken care of. Sick people should go to a doctor. Everyone should know
how to read and have a basic education. Food should be cheap, healthy
and natural. Life has a purpose and there is no doubting it.

I went to New York City for the first time in the mid 1980′s and I
remember being shocked by it. Before I went, people told me the
“rules”, to not stare at anyone, to ignore even the strangest oddities.
They told me about crimes that happened in broad daylight that people
would pass by as if they didn’t exist. That it was a very unsafe city,
that everyone would look out only for themselves. I don’t want to
disparage New York because I had a wonderful time there but somehow my
entire country has become a New York.

As I prepare to go back I have to steel myself for what I know is
there. I have to be prepared for the large numbers of homeless people.
In Romania the people on the street, from obnoxious alcoholics to the
grotesquely deformed to the extremely poor elderly women are all
thought of as unfortunate, someone who needs a helping hand. In Romania
it is a shame Enough that you have to beg. In America they’re often
seen as the enemy, to be despised, as lazy and shiftless, as a threat
to safety of property and person.

I have to prepare myself for people who are vastly illiterate and
uneducated. People who can not even read simple street signs, people
who don’t even know who the current president of the country is. People
born in America who speak no second language but can barely string
together a coherent sentence in English. In Romania the most aged
peasants in their fields can read and write and they know who the
current president is. I have to prepare myself for Americans who cannot
do simple mathematics, not even to give change at a cash register,
which is just basic subtraction.

And that’s just the beginning. I have to get used to racism of an
entirely different order than what exists here in Romania. There is
racism here, and it is awful and sometimes quite hateful, but it never
goes to the depth of what exists in America. Here it is mostly a
contempt of different cultural values but never rises to the level of
wanting to hurt the “other”. I’ve heard Romanians curse and grumble
about the Rroma (gypsies) but the gypsies live right in their
neighborhoods year after year and there’s never even a single
fistfight, never an ugly graffiti on the wall, never an arson or car
window smashed. And god forbid a Romanian wanted to marry an “other”,
from a gypsy to a Hungarian, it would probably be ok with most any
family.

In America however there is that simmering level of suspicion. I may
not be racist (at least consciously) yet every “other” looks at me with
suspicion that I could be, that I might be, that even if I haven’t
shared any racist sentiment that it could spring forth at any moment.
My actions and words must always be carefully construed to not give
offense, even unintentionally, because the offense is expected rather
than unexpected. If I’m on a bus or in a restaurant or in a store with
a member of the “others”, I have to wonder if I should fear them. And
they might be wondering whether they should fear me.

In America I have to be prepared that my neighbors will fear me as
well. I could be the thief, the burglar, the junky, the assaulter, the
robber, the car stealer, the trickster, the con artist, the baby
snatcher. If I talk to a child in the park I could be the molester or
the kidnapper. If I look in someone’s car window I could be the thief.
If I count my money in public I could be the drug dealer or the purse
snatcher. If my car breaks down and I ask for a jump I could be the
carjacker, the strong-arm robber. If I sell door-to-door magazine
subscriptions I could be the home invader. If I wear the wrong colors
or clothes I could be the gang member. And on and on.

And I too have to be on guard for these people, the junkies, the
pickpockets, the gang member, the robber, the raging driver, the crazy
and dangerous, the drunk or medicated or stoned driver. I have to lock
all my doors and windows and suspect everyone. It will start with the
security at the airport, where everything from my shoes to my dirty
underwear could be hiding a bomb, a weapon, a disease or drugs. And
that quite frankly, is a horrible way to live.

I’m also having to prepare myself for the subtle cruelties of American
life, where political discussions are vicious and overly simplistic,
where slight differences in clothing leave you pegged as belonging to
one group or another. When to avert your eyes and when a bold direct
gaze is appropriate. In a nutshell, every stranger will be suspicious
of me and I am supposed to be suspicious of them.

When I first moved to Romania it took my months to truly relax. It took
me months before I could eat in a restaurant and not want to face the
door “in case” it got robbed. But no restaurant or bank or store has
ever been robbed since I’ve been here. It’s never happened, not even
once. I’ve never been mugged or robbed on the street. I’ve never even
been afraid. The most dangerous denizens of the night-time Romanian
street have four legs – the feral dogs.

I will always be American until the day I die, no matter what my
passport ever says. But I’ve noticed just how much I’ve become
Romanian, despite the fact that I’ll never truly be one. To me it seems
unfathomable that people could tolerate unsafe streets, robberies, lack
of health care and basic schooling. It seems insane to me to have the
majority of the government’s budget go towards war and the military and
not in social services for the people, from public transport to
healthcare to schooling to beautiful parks and plazas in urban areas.

But the greatest influence Romania has on me is to look forward to
contact with strangers. The person on the street corner next to me is
just a “friend I haven’t met yet” rather than someone to be suspicious
and fearful of. It could be an elderly person who tells me amazing
stories of surviving World War 2. It could be a young person who tells
me what life is like at age 12, the kind of silly inconsequential stuff
that make for happy childhoods just as they should be. Or it could be
someone closer to my own age, someone who after time really does become
a real friend. And that’s a really good feeling.

Now I too am going to America, like so many Romanians do, primarily to
make money. I have good friends in the USA and I’m greatly looking
forward to meeting them again. There are some foods which they just
don’t have here and I can’t wait to try them again. And of course it
will be just wonderful to speak with native Americans, with all the
subtle nuances and humor that is part of our English. I’m not much of a
TV fan but comedy in America is a refined art and I look forward to
some laughs from that. But I know that deep in my heart that I will
never be truly happy until I am back here, even if I never “belong”
here all the way.

I guess I could say that while I love many Americans, I hate what
America has become. I hate that a nation of the oppressed, the poor
struggling for new opportunities and a refuge for the entire world has
become fearful, hateful and suspicious of all. I hate that America has
let itself be ruled by people who exacerbate the fears of anyone who is
different and use it to stay in power. Most of all I hate that so many
Americans have succumbed to the numbness of ignorance and apathy,
sometimes even making a state of unknowingness something to aspire to.

It may sound strange for me to say this, but I do believe America still
has more to offer than its material wealth. The right to free
expression and supporting such expression is paramount to me. And the
drive to make the world a better place despite the odds is something I
will never relinquish and I am happy to share it and push it here in
Romania as well. In a way I consider that the true heritage of the
United States and it is something I share with every Romanian I meet.

I thank you for your time and most of all your patronage of this website, and all of the stories I have written here.

Peace

-Soj


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The Kiosk

25 aprilie 2006


If you’re looking for the Flogging the Simian blog, it has moved here. This website is now my blog about my experiences in Romania!


Howdy…

I’ll say it right away. The kiosk (chio?c is the Romanian
version of Wal-Mart . You have have visited here in the past or come in
the future and never realize this but it’s true. I myself didn’t latch
on to it for a long time.

In America and Western Europe and elsewhere, including on the outskirts
of Romanian cities, there are those “big box” stores. You know, huge
parking lots, big shopping carts, double-wide electronically opening
doors, the works. Long lines at the register, but “worth it” because of
the low, low prices.

Personally I hate those stores and it isn’t just because of their
policies towards employees. I just hate the impersonal ambiance, where
the shopper is alone in a maze, dwarfed on all sides by shelves rising
30 feet into the air with faceless voices booming out over the PA. I
don’t care if there’s a sale on a 4 liter jar of mayonnaise or if the
croutons are 10 cents cheaper. I hate the way those stores feel, I hate
waiting in long lines for the privilege of paying money, and I hate how
those stores destroy the concept of a neighborhood.

Luckily in Romania only the rich and those aspiring to be (car owners)
go to those stores. The rest of us do our shopping at teeny tiny stores
right in our own neighborhoods. And the best of all these stores is the
kiosk.

When I was a kid in America there were a lot of kiosks that did photo
processing, often with a drive-through. Now there are almost no more
kiosks in America except perhaps in New York City. I don’t count those
little “island” kiosk stores inside malls, airports and large gas
stations. I’m talking about a small free-standing structure on the
sidewalk.

The Romanian kiosk looks nothing like a Wal-Mart, that’s why it is so
deceptive. It’s a tiny building with room inside for one or maybe two
people tops. You could probably link arms with three of your friends
and completely surround the thing. Yet packed inside every Romanian
kiosk are nearly enough products to stock your average Wal-Mart.

I used to be fooled because if you look at the window of any Romanian
kiosk, you mainly see food products, cigarettes and plastic bottles of
(cheap) alcohol. Every square inch of window space is covered with
items, each labeled with their price. Even the window through which you
interact with the kiosk person is crammed with products. I’ve seen
kiosks so crammed with stuff that the worker inside looks like John
Glenn in his Mercury capsule – a tiny viewing window and every inch of
space utilized.

I’ve been living here in Romania a while and normally I just buy gum or
other rather simple things from the kiosk. Yet here are some items I’ve
seen other people buy:

  • Trading cards, all sorts (sports, comics, Pokemon, etc)
  • Plastic jewelry for kids, including rings, necklaces and earrings
  • Bus and tram tickets
  • Deodorant
  • Perfume, all types
  • Calling cards, all kinds
  • Pay-as-you-go cards for cell phones
  • Dog and cat food
  • Egg dying kits
  • Hairspray
  • Coffee, both ground beans as well as the “instant” kind in about 20 different varieties
  • Tea – Romanian style, which usually means more fruit and less actual tea leaves
  • Shampoo
  • Magazines
  • Newspapers
  • Books
  • Maps
  • Cheap toys of every description, including the fake-o cell phone toy that beeps and rings. The most annoying toy ever made!
  • Rubber gloves
  • Greeting cards
  • Small tools such as screwdrivers and pliers
  • Cleaning products, all kinds, including soaps, detergents and cleansers


And that is of course on top of the more “usual” items like cigarettes,
sodas, water, alcohol (both “hard” spirits and beer) and candy.

Kiosks also sell a wide variety of more “grocery” store items like
flour, pasta, salt, oil, herbs and spices, sugar, corn meal, soup,
beans, jelly, canned vegetables, etc. Anything that doesn’t require
refrigeration basically.

Instead of a Wal-Mart, where the customer goes inside a big store and
chooses their own products, the Romanian kiosk works the opposite way.
You stand outside and the little elf inside finds whatever you’re
looking for.

I didn’t take the above photo but it is a Romanian kiosk. All of the
above items are sold from places just like that. It’s literally
mind-boggling for me to shop there because everytime I thought I’ve
seen everything, I’ll see someone buy something new there.

There’s one of these wonder kiosks near my house and I think I’ll go
take a picture of it later this week and show it to you. I’m tempted to
try and see if I can find something they don’t have.

There are actually three kinds of kiosks in Romania. There are ones
which sell only magazines and newspapers, one which sell only books and
maps, and the third kind which sell everything else. The ones which
sell books are like a small library and the ones with newspapers and
magazines have literally 50 or more varieties. Romania has at least 10
national daily papers plus a handful of local papers and of course
about a dozen papers that focus solely on sports. There’s even one like
” National Enquirer ” which is called “Dracula” that regularly focuses on
UFO sightings and miracle cures. I love it!

Buying things at a kiosk is a bit daunting for foreigners like me who
don’t speak perfect Romanian. But don’t let that stop you. Just gawk at
the window for a while and memorize what you want. Or just look up any
noun in the dictionary and ask for that. Chances are they’ll have it :)

Wherever you are, I hope you’re having a super Spring day!

Peace

-Soj


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An Easter “Miracle”

24 aprilie 2006


If you’re looking for the Flogging the Simian blog, it has moved here. This website is now my blog about my experiences in Romania!


This was actually written yesterday but I had some internet problems… now resolved!

Howdy… as I write this to you it is Easter here in Romania. I believe
a few other Orthodox churches such as in Greece also are celebrating
Easter today as well.

Last night I sort of experienced an Easter “miracle”. A friend of mine
who is Romanian is engaged to a British guy. She invited myself and my
partner out for what I guess would be a “double date”, and I was eager
to meet her fiance, whom I had not seen before.

We met and unfortunately we sort of crossed wires a bit. I do admit I
played a part in that somewhat, as I am rather more direct in bearing
than are Europeans but in my own defense I do have to say that what
offended me was this British guy’s disdain for Romania.

I can understand Romania is not as “sophisticated” as is west London,
where he lives, and certainly this town is not a major world culture
center either. But if you’re going to be marrying someone from Romania,
it would seem like you’d want a chance to see her culture and get to
know the country a bit better. Instead this oaf barely knows three
words in Romanian and couldn’t be bothered to learn a fourth.

And it was quite clear that he had already pre-judged this country as
“beneath” his standards. We were to meet in one of the major downtown
squares and me and my partner got there first. A lot of people go out
for a drink or two on the evening before Easter so most of the
nightspots were busy. I managed to find an open table in a very
nice place. I didn’t take any photos but let me tell you that
everything from the furniture to the lighting to the drinks to the
atmosphere was top of the line. It was just a small bar, not a dance
club, but it wouldn’t have been out of place in Rome, London or Paris.

Yet this utter snob showed his disdain right from the get-go and that
just get underneath my skin. He also made a disparaging remark about
the wine and Romanian wine is amongst the best in the world. I finally
challenged him to find a place better suited to his liking but he
wouldn’t have any of that and he and his fiancee stormed out of the bar
in a huff.

The “miracle” part came about when Mr. Rich London Snob threw down a
large bill on the table on his way out. Not only did it cover his
bottle of wine and his fiancee’s soda but also three beers ( Heineken )
for my partner and I. And after they left out we had ourselves a grand
time and ended up going home and ordering a pizza with the rest of the
change. So despite the unpleasant behavior, we got 3 beers and 1 pizza
free on this a–hole’s dime. Fraier!

We got home just about midnight to see the special mass here in Romania
(on every TV channel). The Romanians call it the “Resurrection” mass
but the literal translation is “Coming Back to Life” which I like. The
head of the Romanian church (whose title is Patriarch) read out the
passage from a super gold and jewel-encrusted bible. He also had
literally the coolest church hat I’ve ever seen. I wish I could find a
photo of it to show you but it was more round and pure shiny gold with
a little picture of Mary on the front. It looked like a cross between
an (American) football helmet and a shiny golden astronaut’s helmet.
Super!

The tradition in Romania is you light a candle at midnight during the
mass (or while watching it on TV) and you salute everyone with the
greeting “Christ has risen (come back to life)” with the traditional
response “He has risen indeed (truly back to life)”. I felt bad for
making the pizza guy work on Easter eve but I’m an evil heathen. Even
he too greeted me with the refrain “Christ has risen” which I thought
was a nice touch.

Today (Sunday) was one of the most gorgeous days I’ve ever seen in my
life. The sun was shining but not too brightly, the air was warm but
not too hot, and the wind was blowing just right. It’s the kind of day
where your problems just seem to melt away.

Unfortunately I made the same mistake I did last year on Easter (shows
you I’m not as smart as people think I am). By that I mean I completely
forgot absolutely no stores
were open today and I had no food. I walked all over the place until I
finally found a kiosk open (about which I’ll write a full article
tomorrow). I ended up buying a bag of chips and a candy bar, which
ain’t exactly the healthiest meal in the world.

Right after I bought my “lunch”, two little girls stepped up to the
window. I dare say they couldn’t have been any older than 10 or 11 yet
one of them bought a pack of cigarettes. I stood there in the perfect
sunlight for a moment and realized just how Romanian that is.

To begin with, Romania has very clear laws that say tobacco products
can’t be sold to minors (under age 16). Yet there was no way those
girls were anywhere close to 16. Of course this is a tiny kiosk and the
fact they’re working on Easter means they’re trying to earn a buck
anyway they can. So what’s up?

There’s two possible explanations. The first is that those girls were
just running an errand for their parents (or some other adult) and were
buying the smokes for them. A buddy of mine In America once worked at a
gas station and let some little kids do that when he knew their
families. But what if the girls were the ones who would smoke them?

In Romania people believe that the parents are responsible for the children, not the police. And so if the kids were
smoking, then the other adults would assume that the parents were the
ones who need to step in. But what I realized as I walked home is that
there’s no way in hell those girls could be secretly smoking,
at least not for long. People all know one another here and sooner or
later someone would run into their parents and tell them they saw the
daughter smoking. I guess you could say Romania is one big “village”
even in larger towns like this one.

Contrast that with my buddy who ran a convenience store in America.
Sometimes the police would hire an underage kid to go into stores to
try and buy cigarettes (or beer). If the clerk sold them the products,
the police would swarm in and issue a huge fine. Thankfully my buddy
never got in trouble but I think this shows the clear difference in
mentality between my country (America) and my new home. In Romania
people would look at you as if you were insane if you proposed having
the police do the parents’ job. It’s literally unconceivable here.

Just as it is inconceivable here the American concept that your
family’s business is completely private and nobody else’s affair. I’m
foreign so there’s a kind of loophole for me but with every Romanian,
the neighbors not only consider your life “of interest”, they consider
it their business. Trust me, they’ll come tell you about it if they
think you’re on the wrong path. And so I walked home thinking that
whatever the situation was with the two girls and the cigarettes, they
were taken care of.

Well that was my Easter. I hope yours went well, whether it was today or last week or not something you even celebrate.

My fondest wish is just that you could all experience the
picture-perfect weather we had here today. And since you’re not here,
I’ll just have to enjoy it double for you ;)

Peace

-Soj


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The Rabbits Are Coming!

21 aprilie 2006


If you’re looking for the Flogging the Simian blog, it has moved here. This website is now my blog about my experiences in Romania!


Howdy folks…

Gosh I’ve been so lazy in not taking my camera with me. Today is a perfect example of why I should do it more often.

I know that Easter was celebrated around the world last week but here
in Romania it happens next Sunday. Today I went down to the local
market to buy a few vegetables and saw it was absolutely chock full of
people, even more than usual. I was surprised until I remembered that
everyone is stocking up for Easter.

Easter is more or less the same in the Romanian Orthodox tradition as
in Catholicism but still I thought I’d tell you about it a bit.

There is a very nice mass held at Orthodox churches on Easter Day. I
went to a church in Brasov last year and saw it. Orthodox churches have
no benches or pews for worshippers so the congregation remains on their
feet. The priests sing a long series of songs (which I couldn’t
understand but I believe they’re in Romanian). At the same time they
conduct a series of rituals which partially re-enact Jesus’
resurrection.

The congregation’s “job” if you will is mostly to stand there, packed
in like sardines, and listen. Candles are sold and a lot of people hold
lit candles. It’s a very moving experience although I regret I can’t
tell you more about what they’re singing as well as the religious
meanings of all of the actions.

And just like about everywhere else (Christian) outside of America ,
Easter is the single biggest religious holiday of the year. So people
who never see the inside of the church the rest of the year show up.

People here in Romania dye Easter eggs too. While all the colors are
used the overwhelming majority of them are dyed red. I’ve asked around
and this is supposed to symbolize the blood Jesus spilled on the cross,
although clearly that can’t be too accurate since the bleeding happened
on Good Friday not on Easter itself, which was the resurrection.

The eggs are dyed during the period of Lent and eaten on Sunday as part
of a large homecooked meal where you invite over your friends and
family. There are a wide variety of traditional dishes served but it’s
been a year so I can’t remember all of them. I do know that unlike in
America where a lot of people eat ham, here in Romania the most
traditional Easter meat is lamb.

I should mention here that during the period of Lent it is traditional
not to eat meat or eggs, so the coloring of the eggs and saving them
for Easter dinner is part of that tradition. In Romania it’s called the
“post”, which means “fast” (as in abstention for food). It’s a super
time of year for us vegetarians as most of the stores have sales on
non-meat items :)

The rabbit is also part of the tradition here although it’s a little
different than in America. For one thing the rabbit is only loosely
connected to “laying eggs” and Romanians don’t hide eggs for children
to find. There are lots of candy and chocolates sold here for Easter
but only a small fraction of them are specifically for Easter, i.e.
shaped like rabbits etc. I can’t be sure but I think that Easter candy
per se (shaped like rabbits, eggs, etc) is more of an imported
tradition like Halloween and people buy it more for the novelty of it
than anything else.

You do however see the rabbit on advertisements everywhere, including
on television, often with the phrase “the rabbit is coming!” meaning
that Easter is near. Some people do exchange gifts, even adult to
adult, but it isn’t something mandatory as far as I can tell.

 
The
most important aspects of Easter here are: going to the mass (including
one at midnight on Saturday), dying eggs (red), and having the big
Easter meal. More popular and traditional than Easter candy is a kind
of Easter cake, store bought or homemade, but I can’t remember the name
for it.

For the little kids the rabbit is something akin to Santa Claus. Kids
make little “nests” for the rabbit, usually with real grass and
flowers. And during the night, the rabbit comes and brings sweets, a
gift or two, and also more red eggs. The cute thing about this
tradition is that plastic grass and factory-made baskets aren’t the
norm. The children here make their “nests” all completely by hand,
which I think is very nice.

For someone who is neither Orthodox nor Romanian like myself, the
market today was absolutely wonderful. It was so jammed full of people
you could barely walk. Romanians get sick of crowded pedestrian
situations but as an American it remains a fun experience, mainly
because it’s so new. I think most Americans never experience big crowds
except during sporting events and those after-Thanksgiving sales. The
amateur psychologist inside of me wonders whether people like those after T-giving sales precisely because they are so crowded. In America there’s so much isolation and distance between people.

In Romania, people are used to being jammed in together, whether in the
marketplace or at home. As for me however I like it (on occasion!), not
to mention the marketplace is full of fresh vegetables with bright
colors. I absolutely love going to the market, any day of the week.

Speaking of the market, there were some people out there today doing an extremely brisk business selling live
rabbits. Besides the obvious Easter symbology, rabbits are pretty good
pets for Romanians who live in these giant apartment buildings as they
can be kept on people’s balconies. They’re fairly quiet and easy to
feed and keep, so I guess they make good pets. There’s also no chance
of them breeding if they should get released as the wild dog population
would kill them fairly quickly.

Anyway because of the crowds I did some of my shopping at a smaller
store away from the market, at one of the kiosks about which I’ve got
to write an entire article. An older man with a cane was standing
outside the kiosk, his hands shaking (from age or tremens I couldn’t
tell), trying to get open his little plastic bottle of liquor. He asked
me to do it for him and I did so. Poor guy, he seemed to be a full-time
alcoholic. But hey that’s part of life here in Romania.

Wherever YOU are, I hope you’re having a nice Spring day.

Peace

-Soj


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Rain Rain, Go Away

20 aprilie 2006


If you’re looking for the Flogging the Simian blog, it has moved here. This website is now my blog about my experiences in Romania!


Howdy folks…

Sorry about not writing for so long. I always feel a little silly
writing only about me and my experiences in Romania, but I do get these
emails from people saying this is often the stuff they like best. I
guess it’s hard to predict what people like sometimes.

I had a few people ask me about the rains and the flooding. The short
answer is yes it’s flooding like crazy near me but thankfully not in my
town itself. It is however raining like crazy regularly. I walked by a
local park the other day and saw the weeds /grass were growing in a
quasi-tropical way with the warmth and the excessive rains.

I wish I had some advanced digital equipment so I could show you a clip
of what Romanian news is like. They always make everything so dramatic,
especially with something like floods, where the screaming and wailing
villagers wade through the water to load their meager possessions onto
a horse-drawn cart, all of it overlaid with violin-heavy music.
Romanian news make every story vibrate your heartstrings, whether it’s
something as serious as flooding or as minor as a kid stealing an apple.

Last year this part of the world (including Romania) got hit pretty
hard by floods as well. And at the time my heart really went out to the
people here. So many homes were lost, so many towns were swept away . It
seemed like an awful tragedy. Actually it was a real tragedy. But what
I saw in my hotel room last September showed me what the Romanian news isn’t reporting.

To begin with, many people in the drier parts of Romania did a great
job of donating foodstuffs, blankets, clothes and other essential
items. Romanians sometimes come off as uncharitable and unfeeling
towards strangers but deep down they really are all extremely generous
people, especially to their own kind.

Not only that but the government, from local to national, did a superb
job of evacuating people. There have been thousands rendered homeless
but I’ve yet to hear of a single death caused by flooding this year.
That sounds fairly unremarkable if you’ve never been to rural Romania
and realize just how spread out people are. During the dry
season, many of the roads to these places are difficult to access. The
fact that the military got out its helicopters and ground vehicles to successfully evacuate people is an extraordinary accomplishment in logistics.

Many of the people from last year’s flooding got brand new homes.
Although nothing can replace a home’s sentimental value , the transition
from peasant shack to a genuine house is pretty amazing, and it was all
free to the recipients. A lot more people still have not had new homes
built for them but they’re all being taken care of somewhere, and I
don’t mean in a raggedy tent. Food, housing, school and medical care
has been provided to every single flood victim in Romania, this year
and last.

Compare that to what I saw last year in my hotel room, when I got my
ultra-quick vacation to Romania’s Black Sea. Staring back at me on CNN
was my own
country being devastated, not by a simple flood but by a hurricane. And
at the time I told my Romanian friends not to worry, as America was one
of the richest nations on Earth and the people would be taken care of.

We all know what happened, not just those who were killed outright but
those who suffered so horribly while waiting to be evacuated. If you
had told me the facts about what happened without geographical labels I
would’ve thought it was a poor country like Romania who had failed to
have adequate plans in place to evacuate its citizens, provide shelter,
food and medical care for them. But no, it was the United States.

Anyway the short version of what I have to say is yes the flooding near
me is quite horrendous but the good news is the government is there and
doing a terrific job. There were mistakes made last year, and Romania
is no corruption-free paradise, but in general they deserve an “A” for
their efforts. The wailing peasant women in their headscarves make good
footage but the important thing is they are on dry land, being fed and
looked after.

Wherever you are, stay dry :)

Peace

-Soj


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