What comes to your mind when you read the word, “Romania”? Let me guess, you think about it for a minute, and Transylvania comes to mind, which leads you to blood sucking vampires and Dracula. Or maybe you’re spending this time trying to remember where Romania actually is, and you may have even googled it by now. It’s okay, I understand, you’re just like most Americans. However, Romania has so much more to offer than Vlad the Impaler (a.k.a. Dracula). One time I had asked my cousin who had been to Romania what the country was like, he replied, “Beautiful place and beautiful women.” Both are true, they do breed them well over here, but it’s also breathtaking beautiful. I would argue that Romania is Europe’s hidden treasure.
When we arrived, we went to Bucharest, the capital, and then ventured off to Targu Mures. Targu Mures is in the heart of Transylvania and has a population of about 150,000 people. They say that about half of the population is Hungarian and the other half is Romanian. One person told me that a long time ago, Transylvania was a part of Hungary, but after a revolution, Romania gained the land. So the Hungarian population either moved, or became Romanian citizens. Targu Mures is probably one of the most beautiful cities I have ever been to. (Maybe even the most beautiful). All the buildings are brightly painted and if the walls could talk, I would venture to say that they would hold some pretty rad stories. Along with the buildings, the city has beautiful walkways, staircases, and churches. The best part, is that the backdrop of the city is the mountains. One of my favorite things about the city was to wake up to the local church bells in the morning. However, I think what captured my heart about the city wasn’t anything that I have mentioned, but instead it was the local high school down the street.
On Monday morning, we left the base for “Colegiul National Unirea” and I was nervous. Our task was to speak in English classes, ranging from 6th grade to 12th grade. We had 4-5 classes a day, and we did this for two weeks. On that first day, I wasn’t nervous to teach nor to be in front of people. I wasn’t nervous about the middle school either, but instead I was bothered by the idea of going to high school classes. Why should the students take me seriously? I mean, I was the same age as the seniors, and had literally just graduated 6 months prior. However, I just swallowed my fear and walked up the stairs into the school.
We visited both Hungarian and Romanian classes (the classes are split) and we visited all ages. Some classes were rough, where you could tell that they could have cared less about what we had to say, and some were loads of fun and were very attentive. We gave the students ways to practice their english, and we discussed culture with them. My favorite question to ask them was, “What are the good things about Romania?” This question was almost always followed by sighs, groans, and “There is nothing good about Romania!” Whether they were Romanian or Hungarian, they didn’t like much about their country. It took us, as foreigners, to start talking about the things we liked for them to think of good aspects of Romania. We also had them think for themselves about 25 things they would like to do before they turn 25. This was a very interesting activity at times.
Overall, the high school was a blast, and I think they left a greater impact on me than I could have left with them. As I had said, in the beginning I was so nervous about being close to their age, but in the end my age was to my benefit. I could associate and relate to them, and I could be friends with them without it being weird. So we invited the kids to coffee house on Friday night, and the first week we had about 7-8 kids show up. The second time we had about 15, and both times were a blast. We had so much fun together, and I wouldn’t trade my time with them for the world. We were even able to go out with some of them later. My prayer is that we made the students realize that their country has value and if they want to see change, they are the change. However, if they didn’t learn anything, I want them to know that someone across the pond cares about them and was influenced by them.
During the weeks, we were able to also go to a Gypsy community, Cold Valley, and spend some time with the kids there. Gypsy culture comes from India, like the long skirts and bright colors. (However only the wealthy gypsies wear traditional skirts and hats, not all gypsies wear that.) Going to Cold Valley, we didn’t really have an idea of what they would be like and we didn’t have a translator for this. Needless to say, that made playing with the kids very difficult. We made it work somehow, and it was wonderful. Firstly, let me describe Cold Valley to you: It’s one big hill, and so all of the houses face on street and are slanted up the hill. On each side of the road there is a trench for water, but are filled up with trash and sewage. Some of the houses are nicer than others, and some apartments are being constructed. The land of Cold Valley was given to the gypsies by the government, so they go in and build apartments for them. All over the place are people, running, smoking, talking, or working. There is laundry hanging on lines outside houses, and children are running around playing. So when you walk onto the road, kids whom you’ve never met run and jump into your arms or grab your hand. They lead you up the very steep hill, to the make-shift playground. This is where we spent our time, we played soccer, played on the rusty equipment, painted nails, or took pictures. The kids absolutely love pictures and are fascinated by cameras. However, one of their favorite activites (at least for the girls) is to do our hair in all sorts of different braids. Needless to say, everytime we left Cold Valley, we left with a new hairdo.
The thing about the gypsies, though, is that they are pariahs of Romanian society. When we would ask the students about the gypsies, we also received responses on how they steal, murder, and how they give Romania a bad name. Now does every Romanian feel this way? No, but a lot of the people we talked to did. One student, felt this way. He was completely against thinking that the gypsies could change. However, a few days later at the coffee house, he told us of a story about how a gypsy community changed, and how he had come to see that they could. This was all we had asked for him to see, was that the gypsies could change, and that they are people just like you reading this, and me. It was very cool to see.
Overall, Romania was wonderful. I met so many incredible YWAMers and people there. I was incredibly blessed by the culture and people. I have so many stories that I could tell, but I have already written enough here. I am currently in the Republic of Moldova, and will be writing about Moldova in the coming weeks. 🙂
CLASSROOM PICTURE PHOTOCRED: ELY RAINES