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. 🙂
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. 🙂