Romanians – The Way We Are

maxresdefaultAs I’m getting immersed in the culture of my birth country for a little while again, there are a few things that make me think.
1- The beautiful environment of my green and colorful city is filled with cigarette smoke. The air can be unbreathable. We smoke a lot.
2- Most of the time, we are friendly, especially with foreigners and visitors. We are helpful, ready to go the extra mile.
3- We walk on the street not on the right side like you might think, but claiming the entire sidewalk for ourselves. If we bump into you, it’s all right. You get used to it because we are in a hurry.
4- We still have the feeling that we are in an ongoing everyday existential battle with each other. It is the mentality from under the communism before 1989. We get suspicious when, in a line at an office, you go ahead only to ask a question. Stay in the line!
5- Every little store, office or area have strict rules. You have to place the shopping basket only under the moving belt in this store, or only at the end of the belt at another store, or…You can’t do what you want. It’s our store. You have to learn the rules.
6- We’ll feed you and your kids anywhere. If we eat in public, you get a piece of what we have. And yes, your kids would get chocolate, candies, and all kinds of sweets. It’s our way to say, “we care about you.”
7- We love to socialize. We have many friends. We love our friends. Friends and family make our life better. We drop by anytime for a coffee and a croissant. We call you when you are sick, get something for you from the market, share our recipes with you, know everything about you as you know everything about us, give you advice in any matter, tell you how to raise your kids, how much is our salary and how much is our mortgage. If your TV needs to be fixed, we know somebody who knows somebody to help you. We’ll invite you on vacation with us, or to spend the weekend at our parents, and you’ll get the best of everything.
We love you.


A Bus Full of Kids

EU08_1277We rented a Turkish bus to take us to Turkey years ago.
Our group of many kids, teens and a few adults got off the train in Bucharest, Romania and got on the bus to Turkey. The two bus drivers were over friendly and promised us that we would get a Mc Donald’s meal at the departure time in addition to the fun of the trip.
We were all tired and hungry after a night spent on the train.
Well, it seemed that the friendly drivers changed their mind about the meal when they bestowed our money in their pockets. After minutes of loud reasoning on their side and blunt astonishment on our side, we made a compromise and settled to a hamburger.

Then one of the drivers turned on the engine and we took off.

It was going to be a long ride, crossing the Danube River to Bulgaria, strolling Bulgaria from North to South during the night, getting on the water again and then stepping on the Turkish soil. But we all were so happy to go on this trip and visit dear friends on an exotic land.

The children slept most of the night. I was napping on and off, holding to my chair and marveling at the way the Turkish drivers would change seats while the bus was speeding with 80 miles/hour.
When we stopped right before the border between Bulgaria and Turkey, the bus drivers went and bought bottles of alcohol and placed them under every seat in the bus. They got the liquor at a cheap price and using us to carry it in Turkey where the law didn’t let people in their country with loads of alcohol. Our leader was alarmed to see what was going on and she strongly asked them to take away the bags with bottles, but we were on a strange land and they didn’t care. It was awful to be used like that, but the drivers looked dangerous now that they counted on this kind of business.

Most of the children were still sleeping and had no idea that they were “assigned” bottles of liquor under their seats. It was crazy. The drivers warned us not to talk to the border officers about this, but we couldn’t just go along with it. When the officers from both countries came to search the bus and saw the alcohol under every seat, they smirked. They had been already “paid” to see nothing. We talked to them in English, but the bus drivers knew Bulgarian and of course, Turkish, and the conversation moved on without us.
Our long ride continued with us watching the angry drivers and they watching us.
We crossed the Aegean Sea and headed to Istanbul. When we stopped at the travel agency office for an hour or so, the sun was up and hot.

There were many miles ahead to our destination, and the whole road I felt unsafe.
When we finally got off the bus in Izmir, the children were happy and well, and that was the most important thing. Coming back home was another story.

A Well During the War

It was in 1939 when the countries in Europe were torn between Germany and Russia. Germany had occupied Poland on September 1st, 1939, starting the II World War and the Eastern Europe countries became easy prey for the two empires.

It just happened that my grandma was pregnant again with her sixth child. She was 36 years old and grandpa was in his late forties. Their oldest daughter was married and already had a baby, and grandma was ashamed to be with child when she was a grandmother. The news about her pregnancy overwhelmed her. She didn’t tell her husband and began acting strange. She didn’t talk, didn’t eat and did her chores around the house weeping in secret.
“What’s wrong with you?’ grandpa Toghere was asking her, but she wouldn’t say a word.

“Your mom is sick,” he confessed to his oldest daughter. “She doesn’t want to tell me. Go and see, maybe she would tell you what’s going on,” he asked his oldest daughter when he visited her on his way back from the field.

Next day, Floritza took her baby with her and went to see her mother. They lived in the same village in Transylvania. She pushed the wooden gate, and the little dog came wiggling to welcome her.
“Mom, are you here?” she asked in a loud voice.
She walked to the little summer kitchen and went behind the drape at the door.
There was a pot with food simmering on the stove.The woman knew that her mother wouldn’t have the fire on and leave the house. She had to be there somewhere.

Grandma had just finished collecting the eggs in the stable. When she heard her daughter in the yard, she went against the wall in the shade. “I hope she can’t see me here,” she thought and ducked down.
Floritza crossed the courtyard next to the well and got in the house.
“Hello, Buna Ziua!”
Nobody answered.

She searched the second room and then walked outside on the porch.
“Mom, I know you are here and I’m not leaving without talking to you.” She took a seat on the stool and started breastfeeding her baby.

When she learned that her daughter was determined to see her, grandma showed up with the eggs in her apron.
“Did your father send you here?”
“Mom, what’s going on? We are worried about you.” The baby fell asleep and Floritza covered his face with her scarf.
The hostess waved her hand and walked inside the summer kitchen and her daughter followed her.
She placed the eggs on top of the others in a basket and pushed the basket under the daybed with her foot.
“How is your baby?”
“He is healthy, thank you for asking.”

Grandma left her body on the side of the bed and broke down in tears.
“I’m pregnant.”
Her daughter placed the baby on the bed and gently pulled her mother against her shoulder.
“You are going to be all right, mom. This is not a shame, it’s a joy.”
“Everybody would laugh at me. My grandson would be older then his aunt or uncle.”
“So, what?” the young woman replied. “You are married and father would be so happy to have a new baby.”
But the woman didn’t want to be comforted.
“I will go and drown in the well.You’ll see.”
“No, no, mother! You’ll have this baby and we will adopt him or her. You don’t even have to see the child after the birth.”

These words made grandma think and she decided to make peace with herself. She wanted that baby. But even though she informed her family that she would have the little one, they were still concerned and watched grandma to keep her from drowning.
My mom came into the world the following year.

France fell under the German occupation on June, 1940 and England retreated her forces from the continent. Romania found herself without two main supporters and in the way of the German and USSR’s steamrollers. The Russia empire took the NE of Romania, while the Hungary snatched the Northern Transylvania.

Mom was there and soon enough her family had to hide in the forest.

The Goose Egg

It was in the ’90s when I got a phone call from a well known teacher from another city. He was putting together a small team to follow an invitation from some schools and churches in the Republic of Moldova. We were to teach a seminar to the teachers there.

I said “yes, I’ll go”, and short after that, the four of us took off in a car.
It was a long ride from the West side of Romania to cross the border in the East to Chisinau, Moldova. The roads right after the Revolution in Romania were pretty challenging, but we made it safe. It was interesting how during the Communism in Moldova, the main roads didn’t go through the cities or villages. They were guarded by forests on both sides of the ways, to keep the eyes of the intruders away from the hard reality of the population there.

We met tens and tens of intellectuals, people with a sweet heart, humble, but full of knowledge. They listened to us and we listened to them, sometimes in tears.
The last night before leaving their country, we were sheltered in a school principal’s flat. We got there late and went directly to bed. Next morning we met his wife and children around the table for breakfast. It was a time experiencing dear friendship, sharing out lives and praying for each other.

In the end, right before leaving their home, the woman of the house handed us a gift. It was a goose egg and a pickle to take to our families in Romania. That was all what they had to bless us. I was crying inside. These beautiful people didn’t want to send us away empty handed.

When I reached home, my children and I sat at the table around a goose egg and a pickle.
Sometimes it’s not so much about the gift, but the heart behind it. We were blessed.

Dang! Crack That Walnut

If I say I’ve self published 8 children’s books( google my name on Amazon in books)  and did a 50,000 word novel (still in work) in the past 18 weeks, you’ll label me as crazy. And that’s correct.

If I’d say sometimes I’m tired, you might believe me. But there is a fantastic spring of stories in my pockets and when they well up, I get on my laptop to collect the juice- it’s that easy.

There are days when I don’t get out of the house, but only to pick up the daily paper from the driveway. And there are mornings when I take a tour of our neighborhood in SoCal in my slippers, talking to the dog walkers, greeting people while passing by their house, praying loudly in my native Romanian language and picking up oranges I find on the sidewalk from the orange trees around.

This brings me back when I was little and used to collect walnuts wherever these trees were on my strolls. I would stop and crack them with a rock right there under the tempting tree.

What was I saying?  Dang!


National Novel Writing Month Still On #NaNoWriMo

While writing the last part of my #NaNo novel ( still some thousands words to go ) there are so many things flooding my soul from my grandparents’ and my parents’ fascinating memories.

“Just Saying” is a fiction, inspired from real events and very much alive people in 1920s to 1970s in Romania. It’s getting a touch from the time when the country was under the harsh Austrian-Hungarian Empire and to the troubled years under the Communism. Romance, drama and secrets, they sprout out together, revealing a society craving for freedom.