Today was a pretty mellow day. I (Jessie) got caught up on some home schooling in the morning with Naomi and Mae, made a giant stack of clătite (Romanian panckakes, similar to crepes) for lunch so we could use up some căpșune (strawberries) we got at the market last week, and headed out to the market with Naomi in the afternoon.
I love going to the market here. It is one of my weekly highlights, because I really like using the tramvei (tram), I love wandering through the aisles of fruits, veggies, flowers, honey, cheese, and meat, and it is my best opportunity to practice hearing and speaking Romanian. So that I can start to get to know some people, practice my Romanian with them, and eventually progress in conversation beyond, “I’d like two kilograms of potatoes,” and “Thank you,” I have been trying to go to the same vendors each week (if their prices are good). Because of my blonde hair or my slow, pitiful Romanian–or more likely because of the cute blonde-haired children I bring along–I easily stand out and am remembered.
Today, I was asked by three different people which country I was from, even though I didn’t speak in English, haha! But, I was excited, because I actually knew what they were asking me, even though they asked in Romanian. Even better, I could answer back in Romanian! As usual, I got, “Wow” and “Whoa!” But the most encouraging part was when the women who sold me the strawberries asked if there were strawberries in America also. I answered, “Da, dar aici–foarte bun!” They laughed! That means, “Yes, but here, very good!” I tend to forget verbs, but at least I’m making some sense.
Having Naomi along was fun, as it was a good time to get mama-daughter time in with her, and now that she’s getting a little older, I think that’s really important for her to hang out with mom, ask questions, chat, and learn how to do grown-up things. She loved it, but she was thrilled when an older lady came up behind us, saying, “Domnișoară, Domnișoară! Doamnă!” which means, “Miss, miss! Ma’am!” As we turned to her, she handed Naomi a generous bag of strawberries, and started speaking to us with a big smile and fast Romanian. I explained that my Romanian was not very good and that I couldn’t understand her (in Romanian), but she just kept smiling and talking about Naomi. I asked, “Pentru?” and pointed at Naomi, meaning “for Naomi?” She nodded and smiled and walked away. Naomi was so pleased and carried it all the way home herself.
I realized later that Friday is Children’s Day here in Romania, and one of our friends here, Cristiana, had explained to us that strawberries are a popular treat for children on that day, so I’m thinking that was her Children’s Day gift to Naomi. I emphatically told the woman, “Mulțumesc, foarte mult!” I feel like we will soon be more a part of this beautiful culture, and I cannot wait until I can speak even more Romanian!
To market, to market to buy a fat pig.
Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.
The power just went out for a second. Car alarms started going off like crazy, dogs started barking, and some guy belted out an Arabic-sounding tune at the top of his lungs. Why? Who knows, it’s Bucharest.
I love this city. It’s frustrating at times, but I love it. People don’t smile enough here, but when they do, you know it’s real. The driving is crazed, but it actually feels like people are more attentive and better drivers than in America, where it’s easy to zone out and not pay attention. Things that should take 5 minutes take 5 hours here, which is frustrating, but it teaches you patience. At least that’s what I’ve been telling myself, that something good should result from all this waiting and running around we end up doing most days.
Part of all waiting comes from the fact that we don’t understand Romanian perfectly yet, partly it’s a result of traffic congestion, partly it’s just figuring out a new city and culture, and partly it’s just that things in Bucharest operate at a different speed than in the US. Anyway, you do learn to wait on God, not get stressed about it, and trust that things will get done in His time. And that’s a good thing.
Today was filled with errands, lots of errands. The guys from IKEA (pronounced ee-KAY-uh in Romanian) were supposed to come by at 8 to build the kids’ bunk-beds, so we got everybody out of bed early and cleared out their room so the guys could come and do their work without Barbie dolls, dressers, and mattresses being in the way. By the time 8 rolled around, we were ready to go.
But we were the only ones who were ready. We got to do that whole waiting thing for another hour before the guys came to build the beds. I was just about to surrender and just build the beds myself when we heard a buzz on the interfon. One hour late isn’t too bad, especially when you consider Time Warner Cable tells you they’ll be by “sometime between noon and 5 pm” to install your internet. At least IKEA had a target in mind.
Last night, when IKEA called to let me know they’d be coming today, I tried to tell the guy on the phone “Good evening,” but my tongue slipped and I accidentally told him, “Good stairs” instead. For some reason, he didn’t say it back to me. People here are so unfriendly. 😉
So today the bunk-beds got built, which is awesome, because now the girls can sleep in beds and not just on mattresses on the floor. That’ll help with all the “Daddy, Illiana’s sticking her butt on my mattress” scenarios we’ve been having.
I’ve mentioned that one of the frustrating things with learning Romanian here is that so many people speak English way better than we speak Romanian. As a result, when people notice we’re pretty rough with Romanian, they tend to just talk to us in English so we can actually communicate. This makes it hard to practice our Romanian because few people will let us actually speak it. For instance, today, Susie wanted to buy us a pitcher with a water filter so we don’t have to keep going to the store for water every couple days. We’ll miss our Bucovina water, but we’ll probably end up saving close to $50 every month if we use the filter instead of bottled water. Anyway, I went to the mall to buy one, and I started off pretty well talking to the saleswoman in Romanian, but I got hung up on a few words that I didn’t know, so she just switched to perfect English. I still tried to use as much Romanian as I could, but she only spoke in English from that point on. Frustrating.
The open-air markets are different, though. Very few people there speak any English to us, and they’re all really willing to help us speak Romanian better. If we goof up a verb form or the gender of a noun, they’ll smile and then lovingly (and slowly) speak the correct form for us and then keep saying it until we’ve got it down. I love it. And if we don’t know what they’re saying, they don’t switch to English!
We had to get some fruits and vegetables, so we went back to the market again today. A lot of venders recognized us, and some even asked where the kids were (Susie was watching them). I can’t wait to get our Gospel tract translated into Romanian so we can hand it out to everyone we’re meeting, especially those we’ll see on a continual basis like these venders at the market.
After the market, we needed some bread so we swung by the bakery on the way home again. The same woman was working there as every other time we’ve gone, and she gave us a big smile when we told her what we wanted. I think her smile was because she recognized us and not because I told her “Good stairs.”
Sometimes, it feels like we’re not really making any impact being here in Romania, foreigners unfamiliar with the language and culture, but people have been telling us that our presence itself is a huge witness, even though we can’t say much yet. No one here thinks an American would ever choose to leave behind the American Dream and come live in Bucharest. Everyone who hears we’ve moved here from America is completely amazed and dumbfounded. Us being here makes a clear statement of taking up your cross and following Jesus, especially because so many Romanians think so highly of America and so poorly of their own nation. We think it’s awesome here, but let ’em think we’re making a huge sacrifice.
Today, we finally officially entered the realm of RATB (Regia Autonomă de Transport Bucureşti, Bucharest’s system of autobuz, tramvai, and troleibuz). Metrorex runs the underground subway network, and RATB runs the busses, trams, and trolleys. After talking with a few different Romanians and browsing RATB’s website for a few hours one day, we finally worked up the nerve to plunge into its depths and take a couple of tramvai to the open-air market because it was pretty far to walk. Getting the passes was relatively easy, if a bit comedic from our end. I tried to purchase three cards and put 10 lei’s worth of rides on each one, but for some reason the RATB employee would only let me put 13 lei on each. Why? I don’t know, but she took a long time to explain the reason in rapid Romanian. All I understood was when she asked if I understood. I didn’t, but I didn’t want to hear it again, so I did what every foreigner does when in the same situation – I lied and simply said “yes.”
The cost was 51 lei, but she only asked for 50. One of the cool things about Romania is that people aren’t as exact with money. A lot of places we’ve been round up or down a little if it brings everything to an easier amount to deal with. Almost every time we go to the grocery store, we save a few bani because they round the price down. It’s amounted to maybe saving $2 total since we’ve been here, but it’s kinda’ cool that people aren’t as stressed about it. Clerks in America would get fired for not having their drawers exactly right. People don’t seem to do it every time, and not every place is so loose about it, but it’s happened enough to seem normal now.
So we conquered the tram today. We forgot to look at a map before we left, got off at the wrong stop once, wandered around confused a little bit, accidentally rode without paying twice… but now we can say that we have ridden the tram, and it was good. This will help a ton with accessing parts of the city that the Subway doesn’t reach, since there’s a tram stop right outside our building.
Well, I don’t have anything majorly “spiritual” for you today, but here’s a handful of funny things with the kids I thought you all might appreciate:
– There’s a home improvement store near our house called “Mr. Bricolage.” It looks really awesome and I want to check it out sometime (especially since my tools from IKEA are proving incredibly ineffective), but we haven’t popped in there yet. Anyway, today, because it seemed appropriate, we nicknamed Isaac “Mr. Bricolage.”
– We bought some strawberries from the market today, and they tasted incredible – better than any I can remember from America. Naomi ate so many of them it made her stomach hurt. The whole time she was eating them, she made oohing and aahing noises and groans and giggles. At one point, she burst out, “These strawberries taste so good I feel like I’m having a baby!” So for all you women who’ve complained about childbirth, the truth is out. Now I know what it really feels like, eating a bowl of delicious strawberries. From this time forth, you will receive no more sympathy from me. Go have those babies, and enjoy every minute of it.
– A couple days ago, Illiana told me, “Mama’s smart.” Then she paused and looked like she was thinking hard. “Wait, no, I mean she’s smart like a girl. She’s like girl smart.” I don’t claim to understand that one either.
Today, we spent a lot of time inside learning the language and researching the bus, tram, and trolley system of Bucharest, because it was cold and rainy most of the day. But before it got too cold and rainy, we visited a nearby market, Piaţă Sărat, with Simona, Adiel’s wife. Adiel is the senior pastor at Missio Dei church, in case you don’t remember. At Piaţă Sărat, which translates to “Salty Market,” we discovered how we’re going to be able to survive in Bucharest on a limited income. Food in the grocery stores is similar to the US, but quite a few things are way more expensive. At the market, we can buy fresh fruits and vegetables for really cheap prices. We walked away with bags filled with fresh produce, and all we spent was about $8. And as with all Romanian food we’ve had so far, the produce is phenomenal. No preservatives or chemical sprays or pesticides or hormones really make food taste better.
Jessie did most of the talking at the market. Since she’ll be the one heading over there most of the time, and since I’ve been doing most of the speaking practice everywhere we go, I refused to speak this time and told Jessie it was all up to her. She did awesome, perfecting such phrases as “Doi kilo, vă rog” and “Mulţumesc” – “Two kilograms please” and “Thank you.” Jessie was a little nervous at first. This is her first time ever outside America, and she hasn’t been in very many situations where she’s had to rely on grunting and miming to communicate. Being a guy, I’ve relied on grunting and miming to communicate most of my life.
At the market with our four blonde-haired kids, we got a lot of stares. We get stares wherever we go, especially when we’re out as a whole family. At first it was unnerving, but now I’m so used to it I don’t even really notice. We don’t know a lot of Romanian, but since Romanians tend to talk real loud and boisterously, we can pick up some comments they make about us – “I think they’re Americans,” “Did you see the big German family?,” “Those British people have 4 kids!”
We had so many people coming up to us at the market kissing our kids, saying we were a beautiful family, telling us the girls looked like angels, etc. Usually they speak so quick we can barely understand, their arms flailing about wildly, but once in a while they’d slow down when we made it clear we didn’t speak much Romanian. One woman asked if we liked Romania so I told her honestly, “Ne place foarte mult,” which means “We like it very much.” Her mouth dropped open and her face looked shocked and disgusted at the same time. Suddenly I got nervous that I had said something wrong. I asked Simona quickly, “Did I say that right? Is she mad?” She laughed, “No, no, you said it very well. She’s just surprised you like it.”
Many Romanians have a very negative view of themselves and their country. This is a really beautiful place that’s filled with beautiful people, but Romanians don’t tend to feel that way from what I’ve gathered. There are problems, to be sure, but we have fallen in love with this country and I think everyone else should too. I think years of oppression by Romans, Hungarians, Turks, Germans, Austrians, Russians, Communists, Ottomans – am I forgetting anyone? – has left a deep scar on Romania. Besides the harsh history of oppression, I think most Romanians are aware of the mostly negative image the world has of their nation from the outside – vampires, Dracula, Communism, orphanages, Gypsies, wild dogs, human trafficking, political scandals and corruption, computer hacking… At least they’ve got gymnastics, right?
The other day, I was talking to a guy in his twenties who spoke English pretty well. When I told him we loved it in Romania, he only told me, “You are still on honeymoon. Wait until honeymoon is over, then you will see how it really is here.”
Many Romanians have this rose-colored view of the world beyond Romania. They act like life must be perfect in the US. They think every other country has washing machines that never develop weird quirks, politicians who always fulfill their promises, clothing at dirt-cheap prices, and food that’s healthier, tastier, and easier to cook. A lot of Romanians think things are so bad here, and they’re ashamed of it. The reality is that some things are better, some things are worse, but a lot of things are really just the same.
After getting so many stares and so many people coming up to talk to us today, we were really frustrated that we couldn’t tell people what we’re doing here, so with Simona’s help we learned how to say, “Am venit să spunem pentru Iisus,” which means “We came to talk about Jesus.”
We didn’t come for the good food, the mountains, the friendly people, or the lovely packs of wild dogs – we came to talk about Jesus. Even though we haven’t had a lot of opportunities for that yet, we’ve had a few, and we’re laying a foundation now that we can build on once we know the language better and are more able to communicate with people clearly.
We came to talk about Jesus. Romanians may not think so highly of themselves, they may think life is better in the US or Italy or anywhere but Romania, but Jesus thinks really highly of Romanians, and I just want this country to know it.