“I never wanted to leave Romania and I never thought I could be happier anywhere else. For those who think we are cowards and we choose the easy way out and leave Romania I have some news. It is not fun, and it’s sad and at times heartbreaking.
I remember the first time I left the country, 4 years ago (somewhere in Europe). I didn’t want to speak Romanian on the street or public places because people will just turn their heads and look weird at me. And then I thought that it’s the dumbest thing I could do, and for what? For some ignorants (aka idiots) to drag me down and beat me with (their) experience? So next time I was asked: “Where are you from, you sound foreign?!”, I just said plainly “Romania”, “You know where that’s at?” I was waiting for their answer ready to have a laugh. And they continued: ”It’s the capital Budapest, right?”
Hmm “Sure, why not?” After all, it’s not the first time I’m amazed about some people’s ignorance (though the worst one I heard was during a “Do you want to be a millionaire” show in the States, when a woman had to place Romania on the map having 4 possible answers to choose from, and she picked Antarctica… Really??
During my trip to Italy a few years ago (not for working, babysitting, house-keeping or prostitution/begging), I was taking my daily walk, taking pictures coming back to my apartment coming from downtown. It was really hot outside, no cloud in the sky, it was really quiet, no people on the streets. Then in all that silence I heard this car behind me, approaching slowly. When that driver finally reached me, he put the window down and asked me something, insisting on a few words. Back then my only Italian was reduced to a few phrases that would help me get around. I knew immediately that the guy was taking me for a Romanian hooker (there were a lot working in that area, unfortunately). I found out afterwards that he wanted to take me straight to bed…
A few years back, one of my high-school mates had to go study in France for a year and she was never accepted there, her colleagues calling her gypsy and looking down at her. She said that she was nothing more than a piece of trash for them even though her learning abilities were amazing. In Romania she was in the 10th grade, but after she passed a few tests in France in order to be accepted to that school they sent her to the 12th grade, so she graduated there 2 years earlier than anybody else. She knew more about Balzac, Voltaire, Gaugain and Renoir and more math than anyone else in that school. And she was…yes, Romanian, white as milk, from a good wealthy family…but in their eyes she was nothing but a dirty gypsy.
Two years ago, after I was done with the Grad school and after two long years of struggling for a job, any kind of job, I finally made it to America . I said to myself “Fuck it, fuck this place, the hell with its bureaucracy and stupid institutions. I’m leaving.” I admit I was furious, I was upset, I was pissed off, you name it.
Prior to my arrival in the United States I planed on taking everything that I have good in Romania (to be more specific I filled up a bag with books, catalogs, pictures and a lot of hand made stuff). When I arrived to the States after 12 hours flight I was the only one (I swear) on that 300 passengers flight that I was re-directed to a different area of the airport. I probably looked suspicious carrying a big luggage and 2 carry-on bags.
3 officers from the Custom and Border Protection looked in my bags, tearing them apart, unpacking the presents that were nicely wrapped, digging thru my things for the sole purpose of testing my patience. Then they sent me to this “interrogation room” , a small sound-proof chamber where another guy looked in my purse, in my phone, in my wallet.
After 2 and half hours of staring at how they humiliate me, I took a deep breath and I asked what are they looking for, cos if they don’t have a solid reason for keeping me there I rather put my shit back in the suitcase and leave. They let me go after I told them that my American boy-friend is waiting for me outside. I gave them all the information they wanted, I was clean, legal and well-dressed. I have a good education on my back, I have money to support my trip expenses and I have the right to leave and fill in a complaint about the way they treated me.
Once I left the airport I felt like “ a million bucks bitch”. And so my American adventure began. Now my fiancé and soon to be husband had to introduce me to his family for the first time. The first time he left the States to visit me in Romania his family was really concerned. They called him a lot, asking him to be safe, to watch his pockets, to avoid bad areas… bla, bla, bla. He’s been to Romania 7 times now and he loves it! He loves the people, the food, the nature, Transylvania, the simple and authentic life style that Romanians have.
Once I found myself in front of the huge American family I felt like I am in an auditorium and people are expecting a lecture on Romanian culture, history and traditions. Every and each one of them got a piece of Romania from me, a book or a handmade piece of clothing or pottery. They were all waiting their turn to ask questions, they were astonished by our history, our mentality and our politics which works backwards here for some reason. They knew about our gymnasts, Dracula, Transylvania, neighbors, communism, Ceausescu dictatorship and orphans.
I realized that there’s nor place or time to feel embarrassed, or act shy. They were all “in” for listening to my story. I felt proud, I felt like I’m going back to my roots. I feel that when I hear good news from Romania and when I hear our anthem I burst into tears because it matters to me. My fiancé told me that if I don’t love my country and the place I come from there will be no place for me in his family. And then I’ve started my own “campaign” named “Collective memories and recollections of (my) Romania.
Now every time I walked into a bar or hang out with my friends – people gather around me and listen, just listen. For them Romania is a mystical place, with mysterious historical figures, amazing landscapes, a former kingdom ruled by kings and queens of different nationalities.
Romania turned from the bad ugly witch into a beautiful promising lady. It was worth my time, my tears, my frustration, my lack of money, my hatred to be able to get to this point. I realize I might have to leave my Romania for good but when I know that when I say “I am Romanian“, I get goose bumps, I get tears in my eyes.
I now know that I can live anywhere in this wide world being sure about some things: my Romania is not a country of beggars, prostitutes, orphans, gypsies, criminals, homeless and stray dogs. My Romania is also prideful about its inheritance, its history, customs, warm-hearted people, a country where life is simple, challenging but meaningful.
I know how to share my Romanian heritage here and everywhere, I can speak up and I can defend myself. That’s how most Romanians should be: proud of themselves, knowledgeable of their past and confident about their future. I believe that Romanians can wake up and if they forgot how to do that they should read the anthem….the truth it’s (all) out there.