Recently I’ve wanted to start a new category of posts, called “1,000 Reasons Why I Choose Romania”. Then the next time anybody asks me why I live here, I can just hand them an entire book and let them read all about it. But up until last night, I didn’t know where I wanted to start.
As I mentioned, an official from the American Embassy was in Unicorn City last night to meet with American citizens here. I brought my camera but I didn’t take any pictures because it was largely an informal affair. Essentially he had other business in town and our meeting was official only in the sense that he was there if we had any questions or needed paperwork done for something. Otherwise it was a sit around and chat over a beer kind of meeting.
Now I realize few people reading this understand the State Department (Foreign Ministry) of the United States so I’ll go ahead and refer you to this post I wrote last year:
So there you have it – the embassy is run by an ambassador and several political toadies currently in favor with the sitting President (and his party). Their goal is obviously to push whatever is currently on the White House’s agenda.
Underneath them are a small phalanx of (American) professionals who do the day-to-day grunt work of processing paper and stamping things.
The man we all met yesterday was one of those “professionals”. If you are Romanian and apply for a visa to the United States, it’s possible you will meet him because he is one of the people who decide whether you get it or not.
What I didn’t mention in that earlier post is exactly how most of those “professionals” get hired. To begin with, they must take a specialized exam. But the kind of people they attract are often like the man we met last night – former members of the Peace Corps (in his case, he spent two years in Odorheiu Secuiesc).
I’ve known Peace Corps people since I was a child due to the life I’ve led and I hate to over-generalize who they are and what they do but nonetheless that’s exactly what I’m going to do.
The Peace Corps was started by President John F. Kennedy to send out Americans to all corners of the world, to live and work somewhere for relatively low pay, with the theory that these interactions will help promote peaceful relations. The workers are called “volunteers” but they actually do get paid so it’s kind of a misnomer there. Nonetheless they call themselves volunteers so I’ll use PCV (Peace Corps Volunteers) as the short form.
To become a PCV you absolutely must have a university degree. Nearly all PCVs are young adults (21-25) who come from relatively wealthy families and of course are well trained and inculcated by their formal education. They then commit to two years in a remote location (usually chosen by the Peace Corps, not the PCV person themselves) and off they go to dig wells or teach classes or whatever it is that’s deemed necessary to help the poor foreign bastards (Romania, btw, is now deemed so wealthy that the Peace Corps is ending operations here next year).
Some PCVs are incredible people. They learn from the foreign culture, they learn the language, they adopt and they embrace the people that they’ve come to work with. They are kind, resourceful, committed and understanding people who truly are glad to participate in a hands-on way to promoting peace and understanding amongst all cultures and societies. After their time in the Peace Corps they often go on to start NGOs, non-profit organizations and (truly) volunteer their time and energy to making the world a better place. I can tell you the first solar oven I ever built was with the help of a former PCV.
The other PCVs go out to these remote locations and find it enthralling and a tremendous boost to their egos because they are treated like superior human beings. Here they are, the rich, privileged American and they are bringing civilization to the savages. They don’t learn the language (or learn it very poorly) and they are praised, coddled and celebrated. Back in America they are ordinary people but out there in a foreign land they are emissaries of the Greatest Country on Earth™ and are a kind of rock star.
And it is this second group which often finds themselves attracted to a career in the State Department, where now they get paid a regular salary to officially go out amongst the heathens and bestow the blessings and rewards that the American government can offer, whether that’s granting a visa or other things. I really don’t want to get the guy in trouble with any direct quotes but he’s clearly in the second group. He is here as a kind of god, celebrated and feted, and it is given to him the power to decide who gets to enter the United States and who doesn’t. And make no mistake, he fucking loves this power.
He told us many, many stories of Romanians who applied for visas that he rejected and Romanians who applied for a visa that he approved. He works behind a thick sheet of bulletproof glass and after you pay your $100 and fill out the paperwork and wait in line and pass through the fortress-like security, it is he who decides your entire future and he loves it. Again, not to get the guy in trouble but he spoke about the many superbly hot and beautiful women who also must wait in line for his approval and how much he loves that power to decide (and even goes on Google to see more photos of them later – everyone listening to that story was chuckling at that but frankly I find it perverted as hell).
But hey, he’s no aberration. That’s exactly how the American government works all over the world in their embassies. Whether it is deserved or not, you have access to something people want (entry into the United States) and having the power to decide which savages get it and which do not is incredibly seductive and thrilling to a lot of people, exactly the kind of people who were first sent out as (paid) volunteers when they were young adults to small villages or towns as treated as celebrities and heroes.
But I was never a PCV and I never worked for any embassy, so how is this a post about why I choose to live in Romania? Good question, kind reader!
This entire blog and my book and everything else you know about me was because of a visit I made to the American Embassy in early 2010. The building is like a fortress, with armed guards out front with high-powered rifles, a special kind of barrier to prevent vehicles from crashing into the building and super thick metal doors that I’ve never seen anywhere else but (actual) prisons. Even though I was obviously not carrying any weapons they made me remove my belt and leave it at the front desk so my fucking pants were sagging down. And even once you’re inside the building and been scanned and checked (and belt removed plus your mobile phone and lots of other things) all of the workers are behind even more bullet proof panes of glass (like a kind of bank).
So last night we were talking about this security and this time I will quote him directly because he said, “Oh I’m glad it’s like that.” Why? Because he literally believes (I asked him twice to make sure) that somewhere there is an evil terrorist who is plotting some dastardly attack on the Bucharest embassy and that this insane level of security makes him feel safe. Since about 98% of Romanians are pro-American I asked him why in the hell anyone here would attack the embassy and his response was that evil bogeymen from “parts unknown” could slip across Romania’s borders and do it.
Sadly, I know this mentality all too well and it is this reason why I choose to live here and am damn glad to be away from that kind of thinking. The British Embassy in Bucharest is just a few blocks away from the American one and over there you can walk right in no problem (it’s the same in the Canadian Embassy and the former Australian one, French one, etc). It’s only the Americans who have a literal multimillion dollar bunker with a platoon of armed soldiers out front.
And there’s no way to convince someone that there isn’t a threat. God knows every Romanian I know locks their apartment doors without fail. But for me, before they put in an interfon in my bloc (now I’ve got to have this little blue fob thing to let myself into my building), I rarely if ever locked my door. I’ve lived here for years and never once heard of anyone breaking in through the front door. No one has ever tried to enter my apartment (even when it was unlocked). I remember one time I went out for the night and came home at 4:00 am and not only was my door unlocked but I had accidentally left it open. Nothing was touched. But there’s no way to convince people that there isn’t a threat.
And while the guy I met last night was on the lowest rung of the ladder of the American government, quite frankly I used to work with people who were much higher up and should know better. But they had the exact same mentality, paranoid and delusional about security and threats and the potentiality of attacks. They live in a climate of fear and insecurity and no amount of money or guns or reinforced steel barricades or bulletproof glass is too much. Pointing out to them that they are more likely to be injured or killed by lightning than a terrorist attack has absolutely no effect, sadly.
So yeah, Romanians might be bratty, spoiled, lazy, overly pessimistic and frustratingly bureaucratic people sometimes but thank God almighty they aren’t craven cowards who arm themselves to the teeth and shake with paranoid fear of nameless, shadowy bogeymen. Damn, I am so glad to get away from that mentality!