At long last I am finally somewhere long enough to sit down and tell the tale that can only now be told. Currently I find myself in southern Germany but this is not my final destination and only the Creator knows where I will end up as my strange odyssey continues.
It’s now all over the news in Romania but in case you haven’t heard it yet, I am officially exiled from Romania. On July 21, 2014 at around 10pm I was hustled over the Hungarian border and left to fend for myself. As things stand now, I am legally barred from returning to Romania until 2017. I am free to travel anywhere else in Europe or the rest of the world but the one country where I felt home is now forbidden to me.
The pain in my heart cannot be adequately expressed and it is only the fact that I am still numb from shock that I can function. I know that once I lay my head down for a few nights in the same place that the full extent of what happened will catch up to me so I can properly grieve.
How it all began
As I have written and spoken about many times, I first came to Romania as a tourist in the year 2000 and then returned several times until I moved there (even now I want to write “moved here“… amazing how hard it is to let go of the reflex of thinking I am still in Romania) in 2004.
I was fully aware in 2004 that I had entered the country on a 90-day tourist visa. I knew that to live in Romania permanently I would need a permis de sedere (residency permit) and so I asked my colleague Mihai for help. I had met him in 2001 in the United States and he and his then-girlfriend were in the process of opening a small pensiune (like an inn or a small guest hotel or B&B) in Baisoara, a village near Cluj.
Mihai and his then-girlfriend had asked me to invest some money in their business and I had agreed and done so. Mihai’s solution for my residency permit was simple – I would officially become a stockholder (actionar) in their company and then I could get the residency permit because the Romanian government would see I was contributing to the economy.
In 2004 I did not speak a word of Romanian, as I’ve written about before in my famous post the “37 Steps”. He and I went down to the Immigration office in Cluj, which at the time was in a building shared with other government agencies such as the Interior Ministry, and it was Mihai who filled out all the paperwork. Frankly I didn’t understand a damned thing that was going on but it was okay because everything turned out all right. I got the residency permit a few months later, the pensiune got built, I got my investment money back as the business did well, and I began to build my life in Romania.
Unfortunately for me, a few weeks after I had the residency card in my possession, I lost my wallet. I think I’ve told that story before because I also lost my money and keys during the same incident and I had to rely on the generosity of Romanians to help me and it was a very positive experience. Everything turned out okay in terms of money and my apartment but the lost residency card was (from my perspective) a small problem. I went down to the central police headquarters to report I had lost it but no one there spoke a word of English. Even in 2014 nobody down there speaks English, as I found out when I was “arrested” earlier this year after a dispute with them over some homeless people that I am helping (sorry, no links at the moment because I am on a borrowed laptop).
The long and short of it was that I lost the physical residency card but I wasn’t too worried about it because I knew that the authorities were aware of my existence in Romania and that everything was legal. My passport luckily had been left at home when I lost my wallet and since I used that for everything requiring official identification (including signing contracts and flying in and out of the country, etc) I wasn’t inconvenienced in any way. I continued to live my life peacefully and the years passed without any problems whatsoever.
Now it gets personal
In April of this year I was at home working when my doorbell rang. At first I thought it was two Jehovah Witnesses due to the way they were standing in front of my door with paperwork in their hand but they identified themselves as Immigration officers. There was a young African student living in my bloc and at first I thought they were looking for her but they told me no, they had come to see me.
One of the officers was a woman, whose name I never learned, and she never did anything but just back up the other officer, a man. His first name is Catalin (out of respect to my lawyer’s wishes, I will not say his last name here) and he clearly knew me personally, calling me “Sam Cel Roman” instead of my legal name. Honestly I thought he wanted an autograph or something and so I got one of my books and was about to sign it when he told me that no, we needed to go to the station.
I wasn’t dressed and so I asked him to put on some proper pants and some shoes and that’s when I first realized that something was wrong. He insisted on me leaving the bedroom door open and watching me dress, as though I were wanted for murder or some other serious charge. I pointed out to him that I had nowhere to go to run from them and that if he waited outside my bloc for a minute he could easily see me if I tried to jump out of the window or something. But it was to no avail. I quickly threw on some clothes and peacefully came with them to their car.
Immediately they took my phone away from me, which I thought was weird, and so right away I was prevented from calling my lawyer or anyone else, meaning no one knew what had happened to me. Catalin kept telling me it was a “small problem” that we had to sort out back at the station (located inside Iulius Mall in Cluj for those of you who know it) but he wouldn’t tell me what was going on at all. Nonetheless I rode with them peacefully to the mall and gave them no problems whatsoever. Why would I? As far as I knew, it was some routine bullshit paperwork thing and after living in Romania for 10 years and learning the language and culture I knew that protesting would do me no good.
As soon as we got inside the station properly and behind locked doors, everything changed. I was placed in a tiny, airless and stifling hot room and a whole cavalcade of Immigration officers, including the head of the Cluj Immigration department, came in there and started berating me and yelling at me, asking me why I had “disrespected” Romanian law and making me feel like I was some child molester who had been preying on children or something.
I kept asking to speak to my lawyer but they laughed and said I didn’t “need one”, which set off alarm bells. Clearly if I was in legal trouble I needed a lawyer, especially one who knew the law better than I did (despite my fluency with Romanian culture I am in no way, shape or form an expert in Romanian legal matters). I kept asking to have my phone back so I could contact people and again I was denied. I had been drinking coffee in my apartment and so I badly needed to use the bathroom and that request too was denied. I knew there were public bathrooms in the mall (they told me the Immigration office’s bathroom was completely off limits to me) and I even volunteered to be handcuffed and accompanied so they wouldn’t think I was a flight risk. None of it mattered.
I spent five long hours sweating and my bladder in agony before they let me go. But they forced me to handwrite a statement in Romanian saying all kinds of things, including the phrase that I had not been abused, either “physically or emotionally”, which was a damned lie. But they wouldn’t let me free OR go to the bathroom until I did it, and so I wrote it and signed it.
When I walked out of that office that afternoon I had been given a piece of paper ordering me to leave the country in 15 days as I was now officially an illegal immigrant in Romania. According to what they said, my residency permit had expired years ago while I thought it was still valid. They never showed me anything proving my permit had expired. Instead it was just Catalin’s word on a piece of paper that it had expired and so there was nothing I could do at the moment.
Once I got my phone back I immediately called my lawyer and we met and she agreed to contest the deportation order in court and so I breathed a sigh of relief. I knew I could straighten everything out and she told me (correctly) that as long as we were contesting the order in court, the deportation order would be suspended and so I could continue to live my life.
Besides everything else that I’ve done publicly, I knew I had been living in my same apartment for three years. Often in Romania people make private agreements with landlords but in my case, precisely because I wanted to follow the letter of the law as a foreigner, my rental contract had been duly registered with the authorities. In other words I hadn’t been hiding from anybody and the government knew exactly where I lived. And why would I hide? I was a public figure and a legal (or so I thought) immigrant and all my contracts were properly stamped and registered and filed with the authorities.
While on one hand the Immigration police were in a rush to deport me, the court system was not quite so hurried. Due to technical procedural issues, the case kept getting postponed and rescheduled and so it wasn’t until the end of June that the “trial” actually took place. By that time I had gathered all kinds of evidence to support my case, including signed letters from prominent (Romanian!) members of the community, my contract as an author with a book published in Romania and other evidence showing I had never been convicted or even charged with any crime or infraction of any kind whatsoever over the years (minus the Immigration thing itself).
Between the weakness of the evidence against me, the testimony of my supporting witnesses and my own confidence in a fair chance to defend myself, I actually felt pretty confidence going into the courtroom. Sadly, I was in for a very rude shock.
Worst judicial system in Europe
Back in 2010 I was invited down to Bucharest to do an interview with Romania Libera newspaper. You can find a copy of that interview somewhere in the archives of this blog. But while I was down at the RF office, the nice young woman who interviewed me gave me a free copy of their newspaper, which I took home as a souvenir. I found it while going through my stuff in preparation to be deported and so I scanned it and you can see it above.
If you don’t speak Romanian well it is a quote from President Basescu stating that Romania’s justice system is the worst in the European Union and that it is doing immense harm both to the country as well as its own citizens. God, that is so true! As I once told the UK Ambassador to Romania, the justice system here is abysmal and I found out the hard way during my own “trial” that it is even worse than I knew.
Lost in translation
Although I am confident in my Romanian language skills, my lawyer wisely asked the court for an official translator for me. Some of the legal terms are quite unfamiliar to me and I knew that in such a critical situation that I needed to understand every word. After all, this wasn’t me ordering a coffee or something else casual but a technical and complicated legal procedure and it was important that I was understanding what was going on.
In America, whenever foreigners are involved in a court case (including yes, Immigration hearings), the translator services are provided for by the government, the same way the government pays for the judge’s salary and other court officials. In Romania it is supposed to be the same way, the translator paid for and provided for by the court. But not in this case!
Instead, right in the middle of the hearing, a young woman was summoned and the judge told me she was the officially certified translator and if I wanted to hire her I had to pay her 100 lei (about 25 euros) right there on the spot. If you live in Romania you know that’s an outrageous price as even private language tutors rarely get more than 30 lei an hour. I had no idea how well she could translate complex legal terms into English but I didn’t have much of a choice so I said yes. I stood up, handed her the cash right in front of the judge and then she came and sat down next to me at my table.
Right away I knew I was fucked as she was the worst English speaker I had ever met in Cluj. Not only did she not know how to translate complex legal terms, she could barely formulate a simple sentence. Every single English speaker I know in Romania speaks better English than the “officially certified” translator did. Fuck, my own cats understand English better than this useless woman did.
At one point the judge was asking me if I sustain a petition to the government about a technical issue and this is how the translator was “translating”: uh… do you… is a document… you agree?. I interrupted her and said, “You mean do I sustain the petition?” and she nodded gratefully. After that I literally told her mai bine sa taci din gura ca nu pot aud ce zice judecatorul (it’s better for me if you just shut the f*ck up so I can hear what the judge is saying) and so she sat there mutely the rest of the trial while I was forced to do my own translating in my head of these complex and difficult legal things. And did she care? Of course not. She just made a ton of money for doing absolutely nothing whatsoever.
Deaf, dumb and nearly out of sight
The entire court proceeding was a farce right from the beginning. Besides the judge completely uncaring that my translator was useless, all kinds of other irregularities were going on.
To begin with, the courtroom was enormous. Over 100 people could’ve easily fit in there and yet it was just me and my supporters and lawyers, the judge, the judge’s assistant and the prosecutor. The judge’s bench was so far away that I could barely see her face or hear her. Even the Romanians sitting with me said they could barely hear her.
The prosecutor got to stand just a couple of meters from the judge and so those two could converse freely without any issue. But me and my supporters and lawyers were several meters further away and so we had to talk very loudly to be heard. I have been in hundreds of courtrooms in America and I also have been in British, Spanish and Canadian courtrooms and never in my entire life have I seen a judge sitting so far away from a defendant. It was clear that the judge had no interest whatsoever in hearing anything I had to say, as evidenced by the many times I tried to speak and was told I had no right to speak and defend myself.
Only my lawyer had a right to speak on my behalf and even then she was constantly interrupted by the judge and prosecutor. There were two junior lawyers from the firm present during the hearing just to observe the proceedings and so they were just sitting there silently. Nonetheless, the judge at one point started shouting at them, asking who the hell were they and what their business was, even though again they had never once tried to speak and the hearing was public, meaning anyone from a journalist to a citizen off the street had the full right to be there and watch what was going on.
There was an electronic sign indicating that the proceeding was being recorded (audio only) but neither I nor my lawyer were ever allowed to obtain a copy of that recording. I asked who exactly IS allowed to get a copy and nobody knows.
Neither I nor my lawyer were allowed to call any witnesses. We weren’t allowed to submit anything to the court for my defense. We weren’t allowed to question the prosecutor or the prosecutor’s “evidence”. There was no such thing as cross-examination. Every single thing my lawyer tried to do was shot down by the judge as “irrelevant”.
Furthermore, it was clear that the judge had no idea who I was. At first she thought I didn’t even speak one word of Romanian even though my lawyer had already tried to submit my Romanian book and other signed and witnessed letters of support. The judge had no idea what my name was and only referred to me as inculpatul or the “defendant”. The prosecutor didn’t know what my name was and, just like the judge, only referred to me as the defendant.
What’s even worse is that I never knew the name of the judge or the prosecutor. I wasn’t allowed to ask and nobody ever said their names. Supposedly their names will appear on my verdict (see below) but since that has never been written, to this very fucking day I have no idea what the name of the judge is who ruined my entire life.
After about 15 minutes of complete and utter horseshit, mostly the prosecutor reading from a law book about exactly which law I had “violated”, plus the judge asking me weird and irrelevant questions such as the exact name of the company I had been an investor in back in 2004, the whole thing was over. No verdict was rendered, instead I was told to come back the following day.
Drawn and Quartered
I was on my way to the courthouse to find out the verdict when my lawyer called me and told me not to bother. I had been found guilty without ever having needed to be in the courtroom or the judge telling this to my face. The lawyer herself only learned about the verdict from the court’s website, which requires a password and ID to log in to. I saw the screen in my lawyer’s office and it just said “rejected” (my petition to appeal the deportation order) and nothing else, no explanation, no judge’s name, not even a facsimile of the typed paper document that is required by Romanian law.
To this very day, over a month after the “verdict”, not a single piece of actual paper exists saying I am guilty of anything. The judge is required by law to sign a paper declaring which law(s) I have violated (called the motivarea in Romanian) and yet that’s never been done. I have a stack of documents relating to the case but they’re almost all the evidence I tried to submit, a few papers from Immigration, and that’s it. Not a single piece of paper exists that says I am guilty or that my petition was rejected or anything else.
Originally back in April my deportation order stated that I had 15 days (or fewer) to leave the country voluntarily or else I would be arrested and deported involuntarily. My lawyer (correctly) explained to me that while the court hearings were going on, that deportation order had been suspended. The question therefore after the online “verdict” was posted was when my new 15 days would be up.
My lawyer had filed some more petitions in court and I have a second hearing scheduled for September 17, 2014, in relation to my immigration status in Romania. I was told (wrongly, evidently!) that until all of those appeals had been exhausted that the deportation order would continue to be suspended. Later, when I was arrested the final time, I was told that the 15 days had expired on July 6. Mind you, despite the fact that Immigration considered me guilty on all counts and that there was a mandatory deportation order against me, they did absolutely fucking nothing until July 21 despite the fact that they knew where I lived, knew my lawyer’s address and phone number and that I had been completely cooperative with their requests from the beginning.
The Low is the Low
What the jackasses from Immigration did do however was harass me on the telephone constantly. I received one call from them on July 10 telling me there was a “small” problem. I asked them to explain what it was and they refused and instead asked me to come down to their station. I was bluffing but I told them “okay I will be there in 10 minutes with my lawyer” and the guy immediately began to stammer and then told me he would call me the next day or a few days later. What the hell?
I went down to my lawyer’s office (for real) and told her what happened and the gave her the guy’s name and telephone number. She tried to contact him on multiple occasions and got no response. Again, she assured me that my deportation order was suspended until all of my court appeals had been exhausted, including the one scheduled for September. Nonetheless, I began making preparations to leave and pack up my things and move out of my beloved apartment.
And while I don’t want to go into detail here, me and the SMG were now separated, partly due to the stress of all this Immigration bullshit, and so we were packing up her things too and moving them to a new apartment.
Immigration then called me again the next week and I just happened to be in the bathroom at the time and so didn’t answer that one particular call. I again called my lawyer and she kept trying to contact them and find out what the hell was going on. Again, Immigration knew full well where I lived and where my lawyer’s office was and yet never went to either place to tell us anything.
On July 21 I was walking to the corner shop when I ran into some of the homeless people I knew and so I began talking to them. I was in the middle of the conversation when three Immigration officers, including Catalin, the guy who personally has a hate boner against me, jumped out of a car and arrested me. They never went to my house but instead just randomly saw me in town and decided to have some fun and throw me in the back of their car.
I was taken down to the station, which was miserably hot and completely airless. This time I was smarter and so I immediately texted my lawyer and told her where I was before they once again took my phone away from me. Down at the station Catalin started yelling at me and screaming that I had to write out (by hand!) some confession that I had broken the law. I told him I wasn’t going to do jack shit without my lawyer present and he told me I didn’t “need” a lawyer. Hilarious.
Luckily my lawyer showed up soon afterwards and so began a marathon Romanian bullshit session involving about eight different Immigration officers, one of whom was the fattest Romanian I had seen in years (he was the “boss” or the head of the Cluj Immigration department), and he clearly hated me with a burning passion, shouting at me how I had disrespected this country and that I was a disgrace and a criminal.
Again, not a single piece of paper was ever produced. As far as Immigration was concerned, the online guilty verdict was sufficient for them and they had taken it upon themselves to calculate when my 15 days had run out. Again, there wasn’t a single piece of paper showing this anywhere.
My lawyer calmly and patiently explained all of the things I have written about, how I had another appeal scheduled for September, how the verdict was only a single word online and hadn’t been published, signed or officially submitted, how I had been a good citizen my entire 10 years in Romania, how I had been cooperative, etc, and it was all to no avail. Catalin and his boys were salivating to get an American deported and that’s all they gave a shit about. Even an appeal to call down to the Bucharest head office of Immigration was of no use. They wanted me, they had me in their custody, and it was the end of the line for me.
I was sitting there in that stinking hot office for five hours, sweating like a pig, filthy clothes on my back and 10 lei in my pocket and they wanted to deport me immediately. The “problem” for them is there are no direct flights to the United States from anywhere in Romania and so they were going to have to drive me to Bucharest (an 8-hour drive), keep me in some kind of jail for a few days and then fly me under escort somewhere and then change planes and then fly me to America. Where in America? Well nobody knew. All they said was the “closest city” they could find, which means nothing as America is huge and maybe I would be taken to a city a thousand miles from where any of my friends or family live.
We finally “negotiated” a better solution, which was to take me to the nearest border (Bors, near Oradea, on the border with Hungary) by car and literally just kick me over the line and be rid of me. This was cheaper and easier for Immigration and so they “generously” allowed me to go home, under escort, get my passport (as to how in the fuck I was going to be flown to America without a passport is beyond my capability to understand) and pack a few things.
Luckily I was already in the process of moving out so most of my things were packed but these assholes gave me literally 10 minutes to do everything, including arrange for the care and feeding of my cats. I rushed around like a madman, stuffing clothes and other items into my bags. My lawyer had gone to her office to draw up some papers giving her permission to file another appeal and she was scheduled to meet up with us at my house but these bastards kept hustling me to go.
Finally I took my bags with whatever I could save and put it in the Immigration police car and they were about to drive off with me when my lawyer showed up and so I quickly signed the papers for her and then we went down to the (regular, not Immigration) police station where I was photographed and fingerprinted using 1950’s technology where they smeared ink all over my palms and I had to stand in a fucking stairwell while they took my picture since even the main police headquarters in Cluj (the second largest city in Romania!) has no proper facilities for doing any of this. Mind you, I was in the section of the station for forensics (think CSI the TV show) and yet they had no proper way to even photograph or fingerprint me. Insanity!
Then I was taken back to the Immigration station where more paperwork was filled out and more sitting around in a hot, airless office and then after an extremely lengthy day lasting about seven hours we headed off to the Hungarian border. These jackasses were loving their “special mission” and so activated their blue lights and siren. At first I thought it was just for our trip across Cluj as traffic was heavy but they kept the siren on the whole way, even when we were out in the countryside, just because that way they could look important and drive 50000 km an hour, passing trucks on blind curves, swerving all over the fucking road and I half expected to die in custody before we even got to the damn border.
For two hours in a burning hot car with no A/C and me unable to roll down my window I had to sit in the back of this speeding car with the siren blasting. I had about a million phone calls to make, including to my landlord, explaining the situation, to other people to take care of the cats, etc, and Catalin, who was in the back seat with me, kept telling me to talk more quietly. What the fuck? The siren was blasting, it was my last chance to use my phone in Romania, and he’s worried about me talking too loudly.
We stopped exactly once at a gas/petrol station on the side of the highway. I don’t know where we were but it was in remote Bihor County and on either side of the road was nothing but empty fields and grass as far as the eye could see. Nonetheless, I was not allowed to go in the station unattended or to walk out of the station unattended (after buying some water because I was dying of thirst) just “in case”. In case of what? All my worldly possessions were in their car and they had my passport. Where in the fuck was I going to go?
In between my desperate phone calls and texts to my friends, these assholes kept on haranguing me and yelling at me. I told them hey, I lost, they had me in custody, I was in the back of a police car with three officers, why the hell was it necessary to keep yelling at me? In their broken, shitty English they kept saying “the low is the low” (meaning “law is the law”) and acted personally offended that I had dared “break” the rules and how much of a morally bankrupt person I was and all-around scoundrel and worthless piece of shit. They also insinuated I had been too much of a pussy to meet them at their office when they had called me 10 days earlier and I challenged them to a fistfight right there on the spot if they thought I was such a coward.
Not one part of the entire thing was done with any professionalism whatsoever. If they truly believed I had violated the immigration rules of Romania then fine, do your job, sign your papers and then deport me. Why was it necessary to constantly harangue me and yell at me? Did I even know these guys personally? Had I chosen 10 years ago to let a document expire just to ruin their lives or what?
I told them about the illegal immigrants I had known in America, both Mexicans and others, and how I had never once during any of my government jobs treated any of those people with such contempt or hostility. Frankly I had let several undocumented immigrants go without reporting them in my official capacity because as long as they hadn’t committed a serious crime (such as murder, kidnapping, etc) why go to such lengths to ruin their lives? And even on the rare occasions when it WAS necessary to detain someone I never once took it personally, got angry, yelled at anyone or acted like I was personally affronted because someone had been born in a different country and didn’t have the same paperwork that I did.
Fuck, the city where I lived (Cluj-Napoca) was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There are people alive today who had been born in Hungary and then became Romanian without doing anything. Borders change and treaties are signed and it doesn’t change who people are. There are ethnic Romanians to this day who live in Serbia, Hungary and Ukraine and their villages were once part of Romania. Why so much animosity about some paperwork? I really couldn’t understand it.
I’ve never once been charged, arrested or connected to any crime whatsoever in Romania other than this Immigration bullshit. I’ve done nothing but promote Romania and say what a wonderful country it is and yet Catalin and his boys acted like I was an unrepentant child molester roaming around Romania and preying on kids.
To top all of it off, Catalin decided to roll his window down (again, I was not allowed to roll mine down) and then smoke in the back of the car, a complete violation of their own rules, but none of that matters. I’m stuck in the back of a swerving car, I am badly dehydrated, I am half deaf from the siren and I got to “enjoy” the sweet, hot odor of smoke being blown all over me for two hours until we finally got to the Hungarian border.
Finally we did get to Bors and the Immigration officers’ job was to hand me off to the Romanian Border Police (in case you haven’t figured it out yet, Romania has about 100 different police branches, none of which ever work with or talk to each other). The idiots at Immigration actually drove me to the wrong place, technically taking me into Hungary (illegally! lol) and then had to turn around and drive me back across the line and into Romania where the nightshift Border Police were completely unprepared for me. Of course not! Why would anyone call ahead and let them know I was coming?
Finally the Border Police boss was found and so all 10 of us were herded into this office and a million papers were signed and stamped. I called my lawyer and assured her I had not been beaten up or robbed (something she was genuinely concerned about, which just goes to show you how “professional” the cops in Romania are) and that I was about to leave the country.
The Immigration guys let me transfer my luggage to a Border Police car. One Immigration officer was a fairly decent guy and so he wished me luck and shook my hand. Catalin was grinning and trying to hide the enormous boner in his pants that he had deported an American, something which evidently pleased him to no end, but at least he also shook my hand. The third Immigration officer was such a dick that he refused to shake my hand (I mean wtf) and so I grabbed it anyway and told him to be a man for once in his miserable fucking life.
Then the Border Police drove me a grand total of 10 meters across the line into Hungary and I got to unload my four enormous bags and then I was finally free. I had a brief chat with the Border Police guys, who were happy I spoke Romanian, and they told me they’d never seen such a thing in their entire career. A few minutes later a minivan (microbus) going to Budapest crossed over and I negotiated with the driver and so I loaded my luggage and I was on my way. I’ve since crossed three different countries and have many more thousands of kilometers to go.
Did my residency permit expire 10 years ago? Honestly, I have no idea. I lost the physical card years ago and didn’t speak Romanian well enough to figure out how to replace it.
I know that Catalin from Immigration is certainly convinced that document expired years ago. But how does he know that? The original paperwork or a photocopy of my card was never produced. Not a single piece of paper or screen printout from 2004 exists. There isn’t even a printout or piece of paper from 2014 showing that it expired. All that exists is Catalin’s word that it expired.
I was never allowed to question this so-called “evidence”, I was never allowed to challenge the veracity of this so-called “expiration” and to this day there doesn’t exist a single piece of paper connected to this residency permit except for the paperwork filled out by Catalin, the very same guy who hated me, who knew me on sight in April, who saw me walking in town on July 21 and decided to grab me, the same guy who was too much of a lazy fuck to even go to my house or my lawyer’s office and try to do this respectfully and professionally.
Catalin is a younger guy, maybe in his late 20’s or early 30’s. As far as I know, I’ve never met him in my entire life. But the truth is I never was much of a saint in Romania and god only knows what I might’ve done to piss him off. Maybe I flirted with a girl he liked or maybe I “stole” a woman away from him or maybe it was something else. Frankly, I don’t know.
All I know is that from the moment he decided to get me, he was laughing his ass off because he knew that I had no chance to resist him, that all the lawyers and appeals and petitions were useless because the Romanian “justice” system just takes their word and there is no way to attack it, discredit it or disprove it. He even sneered at me during the car ride to the border and said even if the SMG and I hadn’t broken up and would try to get married that none of it would help, and not all the books, films, TV appearances or anything else would make a whit of difference.
When it comes to foreigners, Immigration can do whatever the hell they want whenever they want and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them. A single Immigration officer with a personal grudge against you can ruin your entire life. And god knows that if you do accidentally let a single piece of paperwork expire or fall out of compliance, they will hound you and deport you without shedding a tear regardless of the circumstances.
A lot of people have been asking me what I will do in the future. The real answer is that I don’t know. In the hurry to pack my bags and take care of my cats I forgot my (American) bank card and left it sitting right on the table in my (former) apartment. I could call my bank and re-order it but I am on the road now, staying at friends’ houses, and won’t be anywhere long enough to be able to have it mailed here.
I am officially banned from Romania for 2 years and 6 months but of course (of course!) there is no paperwork anywhere stating exactly when that term expires. Down at the station the Immigration officers flat out lied and told my lawyer that if she filed some paperwork with the Inspector General of the Immigration Police down in Bucharest that I could get that ban rescinded. The actual truth is that if I “win” then at best my ban will be cut in half, or 1 year and 3 months.
All I have is the cash on hand that I had in my apartment and so my next stop is Poland and then I will head east to Ukraine, mostly because it is the cheapest place to live that’s “close” by (about 1,800 km from where I am at the moment in southern Germany). It’s far from ideal but about the best I can do unless some rich benefactor decides to wire me money or something.
If I “win” my appeal with the Inspector General then I can return to Romania normally once my ban is expired. If I had chosen to be deported to America, I would have to pay back the Romanian government for my incarceration and flights whereas since I chose to be driven to Hungary, there won’t be any costs that I will have to pay. One day I will return to Romania, that’s for sure, but how and when is far beyond my ability to know at the moment.
My goal is to make it to Ukraine, find a cheap place to rent for a couple of weeks and then get my bank card mailed there. Then I can try and sort out the rest of my life. Currently some of my stuff is parked at friends’ houses and I expect it will be months, if not years, before I can find a new place to properly call home.
A lot of Romanians are/were surprised that I didn’t want to go back to America but the truth is that my home is here. I have no place to go in America and I haven’t lived there in years and, depending on where they would’ve deported me to, I would probably just end up in a homeless shelter in some city I’d never been to. At least here in Europe I have my friends and a chance to live like I am accustomed to, with European norms and standards, unlike the violent cesspool that is my “home” country.
My passport might say that I am American but in my heart I will always be Romanian. One day I will figure all this out and get it sorted and begin the long process of becoming a citizen but that day isn’t here now, that’s for sure.
I’ve received hundreds of messages in the past few days from people expressing their support and shock and sympathy and I will use these words to collectively thank all of you. I’ve traveled from one side of Romania to the other over the past 15 years and was warmly welcomed and received by absolutely everyone from villagers to urban sophisticates in Bucharest and I have nothing but love in my heart for that beautiful country and the good people of Romania.
My good friend printed me two t-shirts that say DAT AFARA DIN ROMANIA on the front (kicked out of Romania) and I’ve been wearing it on the road and I’ve met a ton of Romanians in Hungary, Austria and Germany, all of whom have been amazing and cool and supportive as well. It’s been interesting hearing their stories of what it’s like to be a Romanian working overseas and those are tales which maybe I will tell another time on the blog.
What’s amazing for sure is just how much Romanian I’ve been speaking since leaving Romania and for sure two Romanian guys saved my ass in Budapest and another one helped me at a critical moment in Munich. I really never thought I’d speak the language again after being kicked out but it’s been a real delight to have people to speak it to.
English is a great language but many times it has been useless, especially in Budapest where I had to rely on a mix of a few Hungarian words I know (20% of Cluj is Hungarian so I picked up a few phrases over the year) and my elementary Russian, a language which is evidently used a lot more in Hungary than is English or German.
And so here is where the story ends, at least for now. Thanks for your patience and your support over all the years and all I can say is please take a moment to wish me well as I ramble around Europe trying to find a place to call home for a while.
If you are Romanian or a journalist and want to contact my lawyer, her name is Manuela Crisan. Her offices are on B-dul Eroilor in Cluj and her telephone number is 0745-054-123. If you have any questions or advice for me, please contact her (she doesn’t speak English, sorry) and she can tell you all the details about exactly what happened to me and what my legal plans are going forward, etc.
My old Romanian number doesn’t work anymore so if you’d like to contact me, please write me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am bouncing around from wi-fi hotspot to wi-fi hotspot but my simple non-smartphone at least lets me check my email so that’s really the best way to get ahold of me.
I had a beautiful life in Romania and now all of that is lost, including my beloved cats, but I have not given up hope and I know that one day I shall return.
THANK YOU ONE AND ALL FOR YOUR SUPPORT!