We often catch the 123 or 124 bus at the bus stop across the street from our apartment bloc. Last week, we caught it almost every morning at 7am because our whole family went to Universitate to pray in the morning for the university students that were returning to classes this week. One afternoon following one of those mornings, my oldest daughter Naomi pulled me aside and said, “Mama, I saw this yucky picture at the bus stop this morning. A woman had almost no clothes on.” My heart sank. I’d noticed all sorts of those posters and flyers all over the place, anytime I went out, anywhere I walked, but I was hoping they would escape the eyes of my three young daughters who never saw much of that kind of stuff back in Milwaukee, or at all in Oconomowoc before that.
My response was a question, “Have you seen lots of those kinds of pictures around?” She had. I told her to make sure she looks away from them, because they are not good and shouldn’t be up, especially all over the place where kids can even see them. The rest of the day, I had this kind of angst rise up in me against all the strip clubs, night clubs, erotic massage parlors, and bars that post these kinds of signs up all over the place, in plain sight of everyone. I remembered a day recently where we were on a bus stopped at a light, and right out the window I saw a wall, about a hundred feet long and seven feet high, completely covered with posters of a woman, suggestively posed with very little clothing on. It was an ad for some club, I’m sure. I didn’t look long, because I began praying that my family wouldn’t turn their heads and see it.
Now, I know most of the “western” world sees America as prudish and puritanical (in stark contrast to the Muslim world which sometimes teaches that we are the great satan–see Jake’s post here), but I think there is something valuable in that. I was thinking how, if one such poster showed up in Anytown, America, the moms of that town would band together, form a coalition, sign a petition, protest whoever put it up, and crowd town meetings until it came down. But in Bucharest (the only city in which I’ve seen such signs here in Romania), it’s ubiquitous and everyone has learned to just deal with it.
I think of the age-old debate of whether or not pornography should be censored and how pro-pornography folks just say, “Well, don’t look at it if you don’t like it;” but kids don’t really get a fair chance with that kind of reasoning. They shouldn’t have to avert their eyes all the time. Once, my youngest daughter Illiana, who’s three, was walking to the store with Jake and kept looking down in an odd way, saying, “I don’t want to look at that sign; it’s bad.” She saw a big sign at the bus stop of a woman in a bikini posed seductively. Curious about what she was thinking, Jake asked her, “Why is that bad?” She didn’t know why; she just knew. Kids are innocent and their consciences are hard at work until they just get desensitized to stuff like that. No one had to tell Illiana that sign was immodest; she just knew.
Girls are learning at a young age from these posters that men only want women who look like those on the signs, whether or not it’s the truth. And when we pass the multitude of magazine stands, many of them display their porn magazines, uncovered, at about kid level. and when the kids grow up and go to university here in Bucharest, the area where much of the student housing lies is inundated with the kinds of places that post up all these posters and flyers. And one woman’s magazine encouraged young women students to take up part time work in the sex industry in order to pay the bills. What kind of message does this send to women about what they are worth? That they are mere eye candy, easily disposable and replaceable, valued only for their sex appeal and appearance? What about the women who are trying to live godly, feminine lifestyles or the guys who are trying to stay pure and holy?
Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love Bucharest and the people here, because God loves them and created each of them in His own image for His glory…even the women on those posters, even those who put those posters up, and even those who visit those places. The day before yesterday, I wrote about something I love about Bucharest and Romania. Today’s post is about something that breaks my heart for this city. However, the Bible says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined” (Isaiah 9:2). In the greatest darkness, God’s light shines brightest. And I can’t wait to see it shine here ever brighter and God be glorified more and more.
In the meantime, Jake and I have joked about creating stickers that say, “bubonic” and sticking them over top of “erotic” on all the erotic massage flyers. Somehow, I think bubonic massages seem a little less enticing. 🙂
Shortly after our adventure with plumbing, we had another issue with the electricity in our apartment, but this time it was self-inflicted. While Ben and I were at another visa meeting, Jessie decided to get some cleaning done. She moved from one room to the next, and when she got to our bedroom, she took the sheets off the bed, grabbed a new sheet to put on, and whipped it through the air in the hopes of landing it nicely on top of the mattress.
Well, above our bed, hanging rather precariously from bare wires, is a ceiling light which, as Jessie whipped the sheet through the air, was just barely tapped by the sheet. Suddenly the lights went out and a car alarm sounded outside.
Due to the fact that a car alarm went off at the same time, we weren’t sure if the loss of power was actually caused by the sheet touching the light fixture or if it was a bigger issue.
Since I was gone in a meeting, Jessie ran around the apartment and did a quick catalog of what was going on, which outlets worked and which didn’t, which lights worked and which didn’t, and sent me a text message letting me know what had happened.
When I got back, we looked all over for a breaker box, because it seemed like an issue with a circuit breaker just getting flipped when Jessie snapped the sheet over the mattress. The closest thing we found was in the hallway and securely locked closed. We tried all our keys, but none worked. Then I tried knocking on our neighbors’ doors, but no one was home. Finally, I grabbed a screwdriver and tried prying the door open, but that only succeeded in bending the metal frame. Not so successful.
With no way to get at the breaker box, we decided to go to the mall to buy some extension chords, and then in the morning, I would call either our landlord, who speaks no English and was currently on vacation in Bulgaria so would probably be very little help, or I would call one of our friends we’ve met in the city. This problem was proving too big for us.
Alright, so I headed to the mall for extension chords and, outside our apartment, sitting on a bench with the other old ladies who know everything about everyone in our building, was Adela, my favorite neighbor who has rescued us time and time again from the idiosyncrasies of living in Bucharest. She speaks no English, and our Romanian is terrible, but she’s very patient and she seems to enjoy helping us poor foreigners out.
So I walked to Adela and began probably the most awkward conversation of her life. Here is the translated version:
Me: “Adela, I have a question.”
Me: “In our apartment, we don’t have light.”
Me: “Is everything building no light?”
Adela: quizzical look
Me: “Every apartment no light?”
Me: “Our apartment no light.”
Me: “Some.” And this is where I started motioning wildly. “Here, light! There, no light! Why? I don’t know.”
Adela: “I don’t understand.”
Me, repeating, this time with even more exaggerated hand motions, “Here, light! There, no light! Why? I don’t know.” And then, to make sure I would enlist her help, I pitifully added, “And Marian [our landlord] in Bulgaria.”
Adela: “Marian in Bulgaria. Aaaah…” Then she made a weird wavy motion with her hand and asked, “[A word I don’t know] works?”
Me: “I don’t know [said word I don’t know].”
Adela, repeating the same weird wavy motion: “Works?”
At this time I took a chance and assumed she was asking if the outlets were working.
Me, making a similar wavy motion to represent the outlets, but slightly adjusting it for my tastes: “Here, it works. There, it doesn’t work.”
Adela: “I understand.” Then she asked something about “hours” that I didn’t understand
Me: “I don’t understand.”
Adela: “How many hours no light?”
Me: “From morning.”
Adela, with a slightly concerned look: “And mother and kids are at home?”
Adela, her face lighting up with a new mission: “OK. Five minutes.”
Then she disappeared and I waited outside by the old women. Five minutes later, she came back and said, “Come on, hurry! Go upstairs!”
Adela had found an English-speaking man in our building who came by and showed us where the breaker box was (not where we had thought). He flipped a breaker, we had electricity again, and we were once again grateful for old ladies willing to help us figure out life in Bucharest.
We did a lot of international student ministry in the States, and if I believed in Karma, I’d say that was a good thing, because being on the mission field, we’re now the international students. We’re the ones who don’t understand much, can’t get around without help, can’t communicate clearly, and keep doing and saying awkward things that don’t make much sense. Every day is an adventure.
I remember one student from Saudi Arabia who lived with us. His first day in America, he didn’t know anything about life in the United States and didn’t speak any English, so when the taxi dropped him off, he held a cell phone to my face: “You talk. Friend. Speak English you.” It was his friend from Chicago who spoke more English than he did. He introduced our new guest and we welcomed him into our home. We had to teach him about using the toilet properly, closing the shower curtain, riding the busses, staying away from the bad neighborhoods, everything.
Pretty similar for us here.