Well friends, I’m afraid this is going to be my last post for a while. In less than 24 hours I’m going we’re going to be heading out into the pre-dawn morning to climb on board a (flying chocolately goodness) TAROM flight and head to Spain. And even if you’re not a member of Facebook, you can see my “upcoming events” on the sidebar, which includes my returning home on the fifth of next year.
I certainly hope you had (and are having) a wonderful holiday. Frankly, holidays have always been tough for me. I’ve already confessed to what I was doing on December 25, 1989 and there haven’t been many Christmases since that were much better.
Most years I’d be working on Christmas. Why not? It was easy money and then I didn’t have to sit around at home looking out the window and wishing I could enjoy the same things others do. I guess it’s one of those German-American-Puritan kind of deals where if you work yourself half to death, people at least respect that.
Yesterday I spent the day entirely at home, sick as a dog with a vicious cold. The good news is I slept a lot and feel much better. The cats had a can of their favorite store food and so of course they were entirely happy :D Someone asked me what I cooked and the answer is “nothing”. I’m a little weird about food these days but I did enjoy a nice orange, which has been a “Christmas food” for me and my family since my grandfather was a little kid.
I got a number of wonderful messages, both here and on FB and other ways (including one very nice SMS) and I thank you all for that.
I also got a number of rather mean-spirited and nasty messages, which stuck with me (unfortunately) much more than the nice ones. Relax, as it’s nothing new and I’m quite used to it. I’ve been “rocking the boat” my entire life and it’s entirely expected that some people are going to resist that quite fiercely. Still stings though.
I walked around Cluj this morning, one of my Romanian “traditions”, to take a stroll on the morning after Christmas. It’s always one of the quietest, most peaceful days of the entire year, with barely any traffic at all. And this morning it was absolutely, ethereally gorgeous as a light snow was falling. Definitely very restorative and I am definitely in a better mood.
One of my “side interests” (ie not having to do with Romania) is cults and communes and kibbutzim and “intentional communities” and the like. Through chasing down a link about a cult in Australia, I found a passage from a young woman who, as a child, had been constantly insulted and verbally abused as well as physically beaten.
We all used to hurt ourselves deliberately. If the adults weren’t hurting us we would do it ourselves. I don’t know why we did that: we just had a need to do things like that.
We wanted to hurt ourselves because it didn’t feel right unless we were being punished for something. It somehow felt better when we were hurting. In a strange sort of way that offered comfort. Maybe it was because the only form of human contact we knew was that of being hit. Even if it hurt it was interaction and attention and human touch: all the things that children need and crave if they are denied.
I’ve already written about this before but it seems quite clear to me that Romania – as a nation – has been through a similar experience. Almost the entire 20th century in this country consisted of brutal invasions, widespread hunger and poverty, suffering and repression.
The result is what one of my friends told me the other day – being Romanian and being proud of that is the same as saying you’re proud you’re a potato. In other words, you grow up hearing you (and your country, your culture and your way of life) are worthless, bad, unwanted and ugly and soon you start to believe it.
It’s extremely rare but in all my travels I have indeed met a few people who were racist against Romanians. Most of them were Spaniards but one was a Kosovo Albanian and a handful were Hungarians (all from Hungary, not Romania). You definitely know all the English-speaking writers who have had nasty things to say about Romania.
And yet not one single thing these people have ever said (or done) could match the virulent hatred and negativity I hear from Romanians. Hands down, the people who “hate on” Romania and being Romanian are themselves Romanian. It is exactly like the quote above – it’s almost as if wrapping oneself in misery and loathing is the last comfort a person has when other forms of attention and caring are absent.
YouTube is chock full of clips which Romanians watch precisely to laugh at (other) Romanians who make mistakes when speaking, when acting or do anything in an embarrassing way. Probably the most popular “comedy” show on Romanian TV (Cronica Carcotasilor) is almost entirely based on mocking and belittling other Romanians.
And so on and so forth. I’ve heard it out the mouth of grandmas and little children, uncles and aunts, city folks and country folks. I’ve heard Romanians bitterly criticizing this country while simultaneously driving a BMW, all without the slightest trace of irony.
Just like the survivor of that cult that I quoted above, it takes time to heal. It takes time to change people’s images of themselves. Ironically it’s not really the foreigners who come here who need convincing that Romania is wonderful – it’s actually the people who live here. Even when it’s phrased politely and nicely, I get a message just about every single day from a Romanian who thinks I am borderline insane because I enjoy my life here.
If you grew up hearing a non-stop litany of everything wrong that goes on here, that Romania is a horrible country and all the people around you are miserable, evil people well then I think it’s normal you’re going to believe it. That’s how we humans are – we believe what we hear.
And yet the “life is horrible in Romania” song is not the only tune that’s being played. I know Romanians from age 8 to 88 who are proud to be who they are, are glad they live here, and actually enjoy their life here. And no I am not just talking about some few lucky people who inherited tons of money or something like that – just ordinary, “regular” people going about their life.
Last night my bloc was ringing with the sounds of children singing and it was beautiful, even for someone like me who has a hard time embracing the joy of the season. My neighbors’ windows were twinkling with colorful lights. The smell of delicious cooking filled the hallways. My Twitter and Facebook were blowing up with messages about all the good food people were eating. The Woman and just about every Romanian I know were at home, together with their families. I saw lovely pictures of trees and Christmas decorations.
Probably the most powerful book I have ever read was written by a man named Viktor Frankl, who had the historical bad luck to be Jewish during World War 2 and ended up barely surviving a series of German concentration camps, called Man’s Search for Meaning. As horrific as the concentration camps were, what he found was that life after it was all over was actually more difficult.
It’s a powerful book and I recommend you read it (the original is in German and I don’t know if it has a Romanian version). It’s a powerful insight to the meaning of life, especially from one who has seen some of the most horrible things any human being could ever witness.
My life has certainly been tough but not that tough. Nor has my life been as tough as the Romanian man I considered my third grandfather, who fought his way through the Battle of Stalingrad and made his way home entirely on foot during some of the worst fighting in World War 2. Nor has my life been as tough as the cult survivor I quoted above.
My point is that I honor and respect Romania’s difficult past. I have incredible patience even for the most ornery and stubborn senior citizens in this country, who sometimes are more foul-mouthed and negative than a sailor, precisely because I know they’re survivors. Somehow, some way, they made it and I know it wasn’t easy.
But the Nazis were defeated, the Soviet Union is no more, Ceausescu is sleeping in the cold, hard ground and the Turks are far away in Istanbul. The past is never forgotten but today is a new day and I’ve sat right in the room as new Romanians were brought into this world.
It’s a new day in Romania and it’s time for a new way of thinking. I know I’m not alone (witness the thousands who turned up for Let’s Do it, Romania) and I’ve gotten messages and comments and emails (and even met some of you face to face) from Romanians who think like I do. And the Romania we’re all going to live in tomorrow is up to us to create.
And that’s my message to all of you as this year comes to a close and a new one arrives. It’s a scary and risky and thrilling thing to admit Romania and being Romanian is a good thing. I know that and I understand it. I know people are going to be cautious about it and despite my occasional outbursts, I know it takes a nearly infinite amount of patience for it to happen.
But even the largest ship on the ocean can turn around, given enough time, and so will Romania. It’s not a job that’s going to be done by one person nor be the work of a single day. It’s going to be done the way all things are done, one step at a time, one day at a time, one person at a time.
One of the few things of value I ever took away from the U.S. military is the expression “Lead, follow or get out of the way”. I came to this country literally knowing nothing, frightened, confused and lost. I was beaten, robbed and stolen from, tricked, defrauded and lied to. I’ve been told I was insane, nuts, crazy, foolish and “impractical”.
And yet somehow I’m still here :D And I’m going to remain. I put my name and photo in the newspaper and I gave birth to a book that is spreading out all over the globe as I speak. I’ve got my neck and my reputation on the line here and I’m doing it precisely because I’m a believer.
Occasionally people accuse me of fabricating my stories, which I always find hilarious because it implies I’m such a good writer that I can pass off fiction as the truth. No. Everything I’ve said has been from the heart and I think just about every fan of this site feels it. I’m a very passionate person and I’ve traveled all around this planet and when I say Romania is special, I mean it.
In 1989 the people sang “wake up” to their neighbors. To that I add that, I say it’s time to stand up tall with your head high and be proud of this country. For all of its shortcomings, problems and issues, it’s a wonderful place. And there’s no more PCR official to complain to, no Hungarian voivod, no Polish boyar, no Turkish sultan, no Soviet commissar. It’s up to all of us to make Romania a country we want to live in now – no more excuses.
As the late, great John Belushi said in his own very American way, “Nothing is over until we decide it is!”
I wish all of you a wonderful holiday from the bottom of my heart and I will “see” all of you next year.