In Romanian, there are several ways to greet someone and ask how they are doing. For example, to someone older or in an authority position over you, you might say, “Ce mai faceți?” To same-aged folks or friends, you could say, “Ce faci?” or “Cum ești?” The latter literally means, “How are you?” Ok, ok, boring language lessons, I know. But here’s the point of me bringing this up.
In America, often when we ask someone, “How’s it going?” or “What’s up?” or “How are you?” we don’t really care. Or if we do care, we only want to hear the truth if it’s something positive. But, one thing I’ve noticed, and really loved, about Romanians is that if you ask them how they are doing, you’re going to get a real answer (unless they are responding with very simple Romanian so that we understand). Now, I don’t mean you’re going to get a long sob story, but just the truth.
If someone is stressed about an exam or work, they’ll tell you–not whining, mind you, but just simply the facts: “I’m okay, just work has been a little stressful lately.” Even at the churches we’ve visited frequently and developed friendships with, there is rarely the “church face” going on. It makes it easy to say, “I’ll pray for you, then.” And anytime I’ve done that, it’s been very welcomed!
In all the frustrations of certain cultural things we don’t fully understand yet (will we ever “fully?”) and the slow-going of language learning, I have a great appreciation for this aspect of Romanian life. Sometimes the straightforwardness of people here throws me off, like when older women scold us for Isaac pants riding up when he’s sitting on my lap on the tram, exposing a couple of inches of bare skin, or their tying Illiana’s winter hat tightly under her chin so that air won’t sneak up there into her ears, or random people questioning me suspiciously about why Naomi is out with us during the day and not in school. But, I’m getting used to it, and some day I will be able to stand my ground more confidently as I learn more of the language and customs. Until then, I can appreciate that when someone at church smiles and tells me they’re doing really well, I can believe it!
It’s been rainy the past few days, so we’ve been getting more done inside. Today, we spent a lot of time studying Romanian. Since we don’t have a ton of money for tutors or classes, our strategy is going to be using the materials we already have (books, Pimsleur audio MP3s, Byki, and Google Translate) supplemented with heavy doses of real-world usage, conversational partners, and an occasional tutor to make sure we’re learning things correctly. The key ingredient will be the self-discipline to actually sit down and learn. To help with that, today I started creating a comprehensive “lesson plan” to force us to stick to a schedule and track how well we’re learning the language. Rather than just randomly trying to learn as much as we can, never sure if we’re actually getting anywhere, we’re going to have a systematic strategy.
Speaking of that, I had my first full conversation entirely in Romanian with a real, genuine Romanian person, and I understood everything we talked about. It went something like this:
My phone rings.
Me: “Alo?” (Aloe? Salute? Sit down, you high Duke. She tear, oh. You be the man who mashed the feta cheese… If you don’t understand, click here.)
Marian (our landlord): “Alo, Jake. Ce mai faci?”
Me: “Bine, mulţumesc. Și dumneavoastra?”
Marian: “Bine. Eh, eu vin acum. Eşti acasă?”
Me: “Da, acasă.”
Marian: “Bine. Voi veni în zece minute.”
Me: “Da, bine.”
Marian: “OK. Pa.”
It was just a simple conversation, I know, but it was the first time I understood everything and didn’t have to guess based on context. It felt so good.
Other milestones today include finally getting our rental contract (necessary for residency permits), bandaging Mae’s chin (she cut it open pretty good on the tile floor), and finding a better way to say “We came to tell people about Jesus” (Am venit sa le spunem oamenilor despre Iisus.) The sentence I learned before actually translated to, “We came to speak for Jesus,” which is good I guess but not exactly what we were going for.
I got some feedback from Filip today on some Romanian tracts we brought with us. His honest opinion, which is what I want, was that they weren’t very good except for some that I made for street ministry in Milwaukee that told my story of coming to God. The others he said were fine but Romanians, especially in Bucharest, have heard it all already and would probably just dismiss it like they have all the others. Sharing my story would get around all the arguments and draw people in to want to know more. So my goal is to redesign it to share my testimony, talk about what brought us to Romania, and give a quick Gospel presentation, all in Romanian. When I get that done, I’ll feel ready to share the Gospel. Because then even if I can’t say the right words or they don’t know the English words, at least I can give them a pamphlet that has it in there. Plus, I’ll have my contact info all in there so I can stay in touch with those I share with and keep pursuing the relationship.
Anyway, those are my evangelism goals for now – learn the language as much as I can and redesign my tract so I can hand it out to all the people who ask us what we’re doing here.
On the home front, the kids seem to be having a hard time now. They did really great on the airplane, in our temporary housing, and as we’ve gotten settled into our apartment, but now I think it’s sinking in that we’re not just on vacation. They’ve commented how they’re bored with the food already. Bread and jam, cheese, and sausage used to be really exciting and new for them, but now they just want Cocoa Puffs and Lucky Charms. They’re tired of not being able to pour their own water, since the faucet water isn’t healthy and they can’t lift the big water jugs. They miss having beds (they got delivered today and will be set up in a week!). The small elevator used to be fun, but now they’re really annoyed with it. They started talking about all the weird smells. They don’t like cars being everywhere whenever we go outside. When we go for prayer-walks, they huddle right next to us now, nervous about new people, dogs, and cars all over the place. Overall, they’re doing really good adjusting, but I think they’ve reached a point where they’re starting to miss the way things used to be. Just gotta press through and then they’ll be happy again.
In some funny news, we’ve discovered that expiration dates don’t mean here what they do in the States. You know how you can buy some eggs that say they expire May 31 in the states, and they’ll probably be good until June 6? Not so here. Due mostly to the fact that there are fewer preservatives used in food here, if something says it expires May 31, it probably will go bad by May 25. We bought some fresh chicken in a grocery store 3 days ago, and when we took it out today to cook for our lunch guest, it was green, sticky, and smelled like rotted meat. You’d think the fact that it smelled like rotted meat would have tipped us off that it had gone bad, but we poked it, prodded it, stuck our noses in it, looked it up on Google, started cooking it, then finally had second thoughts and decided to go buy some new chicken just in case it really was bad. When we got the new chicken, a thorough analysis showed that the original definitely had something wrong with it. The new stuff didn’t smell like rotted meat. Good clue that it was better.
That was during lunch. During dinner, Jessie poured the girls some milk that I just bought yesterday and wasn’t set to expire for a few days, and after they drank some of it, Naomi told me, “Daddy, this milk smells like poop and tastes a little like poop too.” “Really?” I said, picking up a glass and sniffing it. I wouldn’t describe the scent as poop, but it definitely wasn’t Chanel Number 5 either. So then, like any good father, I took a nice big gulp. And turned to the sink to spit it out right away. It had spoiled and tasted terrible. I rinsed my mouth in pear juice and then gave the girls each big glasses of juice in penance for making them drink spoiled milk. They told me they each had drank about half a glass before I got there. I was both disgusted and impressed by their abilities.
Now, when I bought the milk yesterday, I had Naomi with me. As I stared at all the different kinds of milk, I found the cheapest one and grabbed two liters of it. “Daddy,” Naomi had said, “don’t you think that since it’s the cheapest it might be the worst? What if it tastes really bad?” “No,” I told her, “cheaper things taste the same. Sometimes even better. You’ll see.” And she did.
I don’t think we’ve shared this story here, so I wanted to give a quick testimony of something cool God did for us a few months ago. We’d been working hard trying to learn Romanian, but it was a slow and grueling process because the resources aren’t as abundant as for the big languages like Spanish, French, German, etc. Even Chinese and Russian have more resources out there. With only 20 million speakers and no real worldwide influence (yet), Romanian isn’t much sought-after as a language.
So we bought all the books we could find, some audio lessons, movies, and found some free software online (byki), and we were slowly but surely working our way through everything. It was frustrating though, because we weren’t quite sure how our pronunciation was, and it was difficult to decipher some of the more complex aspects of the grammar.
We looked for classes, more software, anything that would work better than what we had, and nothing was turning up.
While doing a support-raising meeting, the person I met with told me, “Hey, you should give Vin and Jess a call. They just got back from Moldova, where they speak Romanian, and Vin and Jess got extremely fluent in the language. And I think they live a couple blocks from you guys.”
Turns out they did live just a couple blocks from us, so I tried calling them right away. No one answered. I tried a few days later and still no one. I tried at least once a week for a month, leaving voicemails every time, and never spoke with a person. So I just gave up and we went back to learning on our own.
One night, as I was calling people to schedule support meetings, I thought, “You know what? I’ll give Vin and Jess another call. It’s been a while, maybe I’ll reach them tonight.”
I grabbed the phone, dialed, and waited to hear the usual answering machine message. Instead I got a very rushed, “Hello?”
“Hi,” I said, taken off-guard that I was speaking to an actual human, “are Vin or Jess home.”
“No, you’ve got the wrong number.”
Then, rather than just saying the normal, “Oh, OK, sorry for bothering you,” I asked the mysterious rushed voice, “What’s the right number?”
“Hold on, I’ll be right back.” A minute or two of holding the phone and waiting in silence. “OK, here it is…” and then she gave me a new number to call.
I called the number, talked to Vin, and the next morning he walked over to our house to give us our first real, live Romanian lesson.
I love how God works. We needed a tutor, so he had one come back from Moldova for us, had him live a couple blocks from our house, gave us a wrong number to reach him, and then brought him right to our door. Praise God!