I have a lot more “important” things to post about, people we’ve met, conversations about God we’ve been having, parts of the city we’ve been exploring, doors God has opened… but today I want to talk about elevators.
Romania has given me a new love for elevators. Real elevators. Not those Cadillac-sized monstrosities in America with mirrors all around, air conditioning, soothing music, and air fresheners. No, I’m talking about elevators just a little bigger than a casket, with fading lights and a dingy scent of cigarette smoke. With creaky doors that don’t close all the way. Elevators that make sounds like “ka-chunk” when they start moving. Now that’s an elevator.
There should be a sense of danger when you step into an elevator, a feeling that you are currently being hoisted up at high speed past jagged bricks, rusted wire, crumbling mortar, and graffiti-marked passages, on wires and pulleys clanging like Jacob Marley’s chains with the lonely tone of a ship’s bell.
What are these poor excuses for vertical transportation they’re making nowadays in more “civilized” nations? These contraptions that numb society into unconscious complacency by their elegance and ease?
But I digress…
We’ve had a number of fun experiences on the elevator in our apartment bloc (lights shutting off, can’t gain access to certain floors, doors opening in-between floors, elevator stopping while we’re in it, cramming 8 people into one tiny elevator, etc.). But my favorite experience on our elevator happened this evening.
Tonight, I was heading to the mall to meet with a member of Spiritual Revival Church, a small church in Bucharest headed by a pastor from Sudan and with members from Romania, Australia, the Congo, Canada, America, and Myanmar… and maybe others, but I don’t know everyone yet. We’ve participated in a few events the church has done, spoke at their ministry to refugees, and have been invited to preach this Sunday and at their church retreat in a couple weeks. We like the church a lot and are having a great time getting to know people there, learning about the situation here in Romania, and ministering.
Anyway, I had a meeting at the mall, so I jumped in the elevator and began cruising down to the ground floor. As the elevator “landed,” but before the doors opened, I could hear the high-pitched sound of tweener boys outside the doors. They were talking in Romanian very quickly, laughing, and apparently having a great time.
When the elevator stopped, I went to open the doors, but they beat me to it. Everything went so quickly, but it seemed like time slowed down as one of the young men opened the door without looking, turned around, saw me, and screamed at the top of his lungs, followed quickly by the other two letting out high-pitched squeals of terror.
Then, just as abruptly as their terror overtook them, it switched gears into hilarious, almost psychotic, middle school laughter. Well, mostly middle-school laughter. I thought it was pretty funny too. As we all laughed, one of the boys looked at me and said, “Hello. Hello. Hello,” which only made his friends even more delirious.
Aaaaaah, there’s nothing quite as satisfying as scaring little Romanian children after riding a bonafide Bucharest elevator…
Note to readers: Don’t get the wrong idea about the elevators here. They’re really not so bad. They usually feel mostly safe, and they work most of the time, but they’re definitely more exciting than elevators in America. If elevators were sci-fi movies, Romanian elevators would be Star Wars (Episodes IV, V, and VI of course) and American elevators would be 2001 A Space Odyssey. Lame.
Since I posted about one of the frustrating aspects of Romania recently (the RATB KGB), I thought I’d remind everyone today about why Romania is awesome.
– Mountains! Bucharest is just a short train ride from some amazing mountains, and Romania is one of Europe’s most mountainous nations. Sure, they’re not quite as majestic as some of the more awe-inspiring peaks in the Rockies, Himalayas, or Caucasus Mountains, but they’re beautiful. And they’re accessible. There are trails all over most of these peaks, ranging from incredibly easy to incredibly difficult, and you can get as much of a wilderness experience as you want. If you want to be out in the middle of nowhere with nothing in sight, rent a car and drive to some remote trailheads in the Făgăraș Mountains. If you don’t mind a few people and houses, just hop on a train and ride a couple hours to Sinaia, Busteni, Brasov, or Sibiu. The above shot is from Sinaia, a smallish town tucked at the foot of the Bucegi Mountains, where the ancient Dacian god Zalmoxis was believed to have lived.
– Our neighbor woman with a buzz cut. When our downstairs neighbor came pounding on our door, yelling at the top of his lungs in Romanian, mad about our kids being too loud or something, we were rescued by three older women who chewed him out and basically told him to leave us alone. One of these women is a thin older woman with big glasses and almost no hair. I’m assuming she’s going through chemotherapy or something, but I’m not sure what the deal is with her hair. Anyway, we see her all the time now and she’ll always give the girls hugs or blow them kisses, tell us how beautiful they are, call them “angel” and “princess.” She’s so friendly and cheerful and just loves our family. She speaks only one word in English (“Hello”), and she’s patient enough to talk slowly and try to teach us more Romanian. I love it.
– Romanians care enough to get in your business. In America, everyone is so worried about offending other people or stepping on someone’s toes that they rarely feel compelled to help when they can. Here, people give you help whether you asked for it or not. When we took the kids to the park one day, I was having trouble getting Isaac’s overly plump legs out of a baby seat. It wasn’t that hard, but I just had to wiggle him out a bit. Before I could get the job done, however, a woman ran over, pushed me out of the way, and pulled him out for me. Then she handed him to me with a look that said, “Silly man, what are you doing trying to lift a baby?” People helped us get our luggage out of the overhead bins on the airplane, people have picked up our kids so they could see out of windows just a little too high for them, they’ve helped them down escalators, they’ve helped us get the stroller on the tram… On more than one occasion, without us asking for help, people have noticed our confused faces and walked us over to taxi stands, translated conversations for us, and figured out the best tram for us to take by asking everyone within 50 feet. Someone refused to sell us purses we were buying for the girls, because they only saw Isaac and thought they were for him. When they realized we had girls, they let us buy them. Someone refused to sell Susie ice cream because it wouldn’t be good for her health. Once, when I couldn’t figure out which bill to pay with, I had a man reach into my wallet, grab the right one, and give it to the person I was paying. I don’t think he kept any for himself… 🙂
– There’s few taboo topics in Romania, that I’ve come across so far anyway. In Wisconsin, you can talk about weather, football, or the economy. You’d better not even think about talking about politics or religion. A number of people I’ve met on the street have launched into debates about both politics and religion before anything else. From what I’ve noticed, people tend to speak their minds and ask questions you shouldn’t ask. People have asked us how much money we make, why we have so many kids, if we’re going to have more kids, how much our rent is, if we’re Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. In America, people always want to ask those questions, but they never do.
– When a Romanian asks, “How are you doing?” he really means it. In America, you ask, “How are you doing?” and everyone responds, “Oh, good, how about you?” It doesn’t matter if they just won the lottery or their son just died in a dramatic car accident involving explosive fires and electric eels, they always say “Oh, doing good.”
– The food. Fruits and vegetables are amazing here, and really inexpensive if you pick them up at the market. Fresh bread from the bread store is crazy good and also crazy cheap. Honey is in a whole new category now. Even food you get from the grocery store has less preservatives than in the US and tastes healthier. I miss cheddar cheese, good old Wisconsin milk, ground beef, and cheap peanut butter, but the trade-offs are nice.
– Romanians are very generous people. Random strangers have given us strawberries, pretzels, tickets to kids events, and other various stuff. Our friends we’ve met here have bought us coffee, donuts, Greek deserts, honey, cake, ice cream… they’ve translated for us, given us advice on the city, helped us learn Romanian, researched events for our kids to go to… Such giving hearts, and still one of our friends here apologized for being “greedy and selfish and not hospitable enough” toward us.
– Bucharest is dirty, busy, graffiti-covered, and prone to pick-pockets in certain areas, but it’s really safe for being a city as big as it is. You don’t get the violent crime (rape, murder, and aggravated assault) that you get in American cities of comparable size.
– Romanians are really kid-friendly. You could argue they don’t really love kids, due to the insanely high abortion rate and the fact that most people are having only 1 or 2 kids now, but we’ve seen a lot of love poured out to our kids here. We’ll do a blog about more details sometime, but we’ve had more random old ladies leave their husbands and run up to our kids to squeeze cheeks and kiss hair and whisper sweet-nothings to them than I ever thought possible. Every event and attraction has really low kid prices, often even free. Kids are welcome at all restaurants, even though not all restaurants are made to specifically accommodate them, which means we’ve seen plenty of kids running around causing havoc while others are trying to eat dinner. Parenting skills aren’t the greatest, but there’s definitely a love for children here.
Well, there’s a lot more reasons to love Romania, but that’s probably good for now. 🙂
So we’d heard rumors of plain-clothes RATB officials who sneak aboard busses, trams, and trolleybuses to check to make sure everyone paid for the trip, but I hadn’t seen any until yesterday.
Thankfully, too, because we’d forgotten to pay more than once. It’s never been intentional. It just kinda’ happens sometimes if we’re in a hurry, the tram is really crowded, we’re trying to figure out if we’re headed in the right direction, or we’re trying to keep our kids from getting eaten by dogs or run over by cars. 🙂 Sometimes you just forget.
Before I go further into my experience with the RATB KGB, a little background. RATB (pronounced Air-Ahh-tay-bay and standing for Regia Autonomă de Transport București) is the body that governs all Bucharest-area public transport – tramvai, troleibuz, and autobuz. Every city in Romania with public transport has an RAT-something. Bucharest has RATB, Cluj has RATC, Timișoara has RATT, Brașov is RATBv, and so on… Nice and orderly.
Yesterday, I needed to take the tram to a meeting I had with a medical student, so I hopped on board. I waved my card in front of the reader, but it was broken and never deducted money from my account. So I slowly squirmed my way through the crowded tram to get toward another card reader that I hoped would work. I waved my card, it worked fine, and then I stood there and waited for my stop.
People in Romania stare at you way more than in America. It’s just not inappropriate here. It’s kinda’ cool that there’s no stigma against it but really unnerving at the same time. People here also stand really close to you. At first it freaked me out and I would tend to back up to give myself room to breathe, but now I’m mostly used to it.
So yesterday, as I waited, standing on the tram, lost in my thoughts, it didn’t really surprise me that a short Romanian woman in a white collared shirt would stand right in front of me staring at me. I just thought, “Oh, she’s a Romanian.” Then she mumbled something really quietly, still staring intently at me.
“Poftim?” I said, to which she responded in another hushed, mumbled response that I had no chance of understanding.
At this point, I was losing hope that I would ever understand what she was trying to say, so I decided to try to ignore her. Why was she staring at me, standing inches from my face? I didn’t know, but I would pretend she wasn’t even there, or that it was normal.
I hoped my attempts would convince her to leave and stare at someone else, but it didn’t work. She continued to stare. Then I suddenly noticed her hand, holding an RATB badge.
I tried to tell her I paid, she mumbled something in return and stared even harder, so I pulled out my wallet and showed her my card. She grabbed it, held it up to the reader and, as far as I could tell, made me pay for another tram trip. I told her, in extremely well-spoken Romanian, “No, not two. One.” Now it was her turn to ignore me.
The second ride she made me pay for only cost an extra $0.30, but I let it ruin the rest of my trip on the tram. Now it’s funny, but at the time, I was really annoyed, not so much at her but at this culture that I don’t understand. I love Romanians, but I sure don’t pretend to understand them. They constantly talk about how bad things are, they stare at us all the time, they stand really close to you, they mutter a lot, they’re obsessed with appearances, they speak this strange language we can’t understand…
In spite of the stuff I don’t understand, I really do love these people, and it’s fun to figure this place out. One day, it’ll feel just like home, but right now, it’s still mostly a foreign country to us.
The ground beef situation in Romania is a little bizarre.
Surprisingly, hamburgers at McDonald’s are amazing. By far the biggest and tastiest burger on their menu is the “Big Tasty.” The pickles taste fresh, the tomatoes seem like they’re straight from someone’s garden, the buns are delicious, and the hamburger patties taste almost like they just came off a backyard grill. I know, weird, isn’t it? I’m used to McDonald’s tasting a lot more like rubber.
That’s where the ground beef happiness ends, from what we’ve found. I ordered a “hamburger” at a roadside kiosk a while back. It was more like a chilli-flavored meatloaf sandwich. It tasted great, but the meat was crumbly and mushy, and this concoction would never pass for a hamburger in the States.
A week ago, I thought, “Enough of the desperate hamburger situation! I’m buying the most expensive ground beef I can find and we’re making our own burgers.” Not gonna try that again. The burger patties turned out mushy and crumbly, barely holding their shape, and every bite was scattered with inedible fat chunks. The tomatoes from the market and sesame seed buns we got from the bakery, however, were amazing.
So, don’t come to Romania expecting some sort of ground beef heaven. Well, not unless you plan on going to McDonald’s every day.
Since only a select few will understand the reference above, I’ll share the other titles I was considering: “I’m Too Sexy for My Shirt” and “Help, I’ve Wandered Onto a Nudist Colony!”
We had been warned (through guidebooks and friends) that summertime in Bucharest means a lot fewer clothes, but I wasn’t really prepared for today’s events. This morning, I decided to meet with God at Parcul Titan, one of the nicest parks in the city. The sun was up, the weather was warm, and so I figured it’d be a good day to meet with God and get some work done outside.
After following a wrong map to the park (thanks, RATB, for changing the routes since my app came out), I sat down to meet with God in a nice shady spot on a hill. After reading the Bible and spending some time in prayer, I decided to walk around a little and find a new place to sit and work on our monthly newsletter. I found a good spot to sit down in the shade, turned the computer on, and got to work. I barely got started when a bunch of guys around me started stripping down to their underwear and diving into the water.
I, like most Americans, am aware that guys in Europe tend to wear swimsuits that are slightly smaller than our versions, but these were not swimsuits. Despite the fact that I was now surrounded by guys in their underwear, or maybe because of it, I got a lot done. It definitely made it easier to focus and not do a lot of people-watching.
After a while, I wanted to switch to a new outdoor office location, so I wandered over a bridge and onto an island in the park’s lake. This was when it got really weird. As I sat there typing, two women popped up from some long grass in front of me. Apparently they had lost the tops of their swimsuits in the grass because they weren’t wearing them. That’s when I decided it was time for me to find a new place to work, just as another woman came up the trail. I’d say she was half-naked, but she was definitely wearing less than 50% of the clothes she should have had on.
On your way to the subway station by Parcul Titan, you walk through a path in the fields. I figured it’d be pretty safe there, far from the water and the sunbathers, and it was mostly deserted except for two very large, very old women wearing even less than the previous women.
OK, time to go home!
Well, I didn’t want to share this only to make you laugh, but also to show you one of the needs Romania has. Women in Romanian society are viewed as little more than sex objects, and most don’t seem to mind. Yeah, that’s a generalization, and yeah, you might disagree, but that’s what it looks like from my perspective. Some guys unashamedly snapped photos of the topless women at the park today, in full view of everyone, including the women, as if they were animals in a zoo or a tourist attraction. There’s literally thousands of erotic massage flyers and posters around, each proudly displaying barely-clothed women. Every newspaper has ads for webcam models and escort services. A lot of the women dress like prostitutes. Guys walk around with their women like they own them. You can call it sexual-liberation if you want to, but it’s not freedom. It leads to premarital sex, broken hearts, depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, bitterness, the highest abortion rate in the world…
When God invades this society, all that will change. Men will treat women as they deserve, sisters to watch over, defend, and honor, not objects to lust over like the latest Apple product. And women will know their true value goes much deeper than what she can give a guy with her body. She’s a child of the King, bought with the blood of His Son.
Just wanted to let you know.
My month of daily postings is done. 🙂 It was fun, but I’m glad I don’t have to do it daily anymore. Stay tuned, however, because I’ll probably still have updates every couple days or so.
OK, one quick update from today. We just got out of a really awesome prayer meeting at our house. We had people over to watch the Ee-Taow movies, documenting how an entire tribe from Papua New Guinea came to Jesus. Though only one of our friends here made it over, we had a great time watching the movies, talking about revival, and praying for God to move in our city.
We’re getting so stirred up right now. Please pray for God to continue giving us vision and show us where He wants us to go and what He wants us to do every day. There are a ton of obstacles to the Gospel here, but we’re confident God wants to move in a big way. Jesus, let Your Kingdom come to Romania, and let Your people rise up in power and love to declare the Gospel throughout this nation!
Before I close, if you’ve never seen the Ee-taow movies, you need to watch them. Here’s the links on YouTube:
God bless you all!