Last Sunday afternoon I drove my mom to the Atlanta International airport and walked her to the gate. She was flying out to Romania to be the sole presenter in a three day conference on child custody law. My mom’s an expert in the field, you see, and someone in Eastern Europe noticed. They brought her from America, all expenses paid, to work with Romanian psychologists on improving child custody practices and care in their country (according to one of the hosts, a harsh dictator from times past disallowed the practice of psychology in Romania for decades, and they were struggling to rebuild).
I cried as she went through the security gate. I know so little about Romania; all I really know is what I’ve seen in movies. So here I am, believing my dear mother is headed off towards organ-stealing gypsies or large men with gold teeth and black hats. Mostly, I was worried because she still has a flip phone, and can’t call us. She doesn’t have an international laptop charger, and wouldn’t be able to email us either. I was expecting to sit in silence for eight days and hope I didn’t have to buy a last minute ticket and go to Romania Liam Neeson style, and hunt down these Romanian psychologists like he hunts down the kidnappers in Taken. I was hoping I didn’t have to, because my particular set of skills includes making pretty internet pictures and crying.
36 long hours after the departure, I receive an email:
Well, I did arrive–three flights acros the Atlantic Ocean, across the continent of Europe, and through three airports. The $35.00 adapter I bought in the airport doesn’t work so I’m borrowing the hotel computer. Except the keyboard is Romanian. Even the hotel clerk couldn’t find the @ symbol.
Please tell Andrew the pilot of the Tarom Romanian airplane was not a gypsy with a ring in his ear. However the plane was small — 4 seats across and it had propellers. The airport was so small we got on a bus and drove ot to the runway and walked up the steps to the plane.#
This is challenging not being able to make a phone call or use my laptop. And the # is where the Enter key should be. Tomorrow I will walk the streets of Jasi and get my bearings. I will have to convert my euros and dollars to lei and find an adapter configured to Romanian outlets.
I love you all.
I let out a sigh of relief. The email was full of errors, but typing on foreign keyboards is hard (did you know they’re different?)
She proceeded to email me several more times over the course of her trip, and I thought they were incredibly insightful and lovely. Here are some of them, with pictures.
After converting my dollars to lei, I started walking in search of an adapter. I walked from 11 am.to about 2 p.m. before I found a store that had one. There are no Best Buys here. I don’t think there are any chain stores. I found two computer stores but they were closed (out of business). The university is behind my hotel and I finally found an adapter at an accessory store near the medical school. Things are cheap here. It is just like the one I bought at the airport for $35, but it only cost $3.30. .
The town is very old and historical with many monuments–the cultural palace, the national opera and theater, museums, and cathedrals.. However, the streets have no signs and there are no designated crosswalks, so walking around is a challenge. Also, for some reason the walkways are uneven, crumbling, and broken everywhere. I tripped and fell and banged up my arm. It’s odd the things we take for granted.
“Dear Ms. Lawrence,
I do need you to do some updates for my website. I have a new photo to insert (you took it), two new issues of my newsletter, and some change to make to my vita. When will you be read to work on it?
Dr. Ellis—something happened wit6h the indentation here??
Oh yes, it is 7 hours ahead here so it is 10:00 and i’ll probably go to bed soon. “
“Hey Sarah and Andrew
Today was the first day of the training. it was very challenging. Some spoke English well, some not much at all and they were all translating what I said amongst themselves throughout. I’m not sure how I’m doing because I’m not always sure how much they are understanding. They would funnel their questions to the fluent speakers who would ask me the questions then translate my answers back to them. Whew!
Tonight I ventured out to a café on my own for dinner. Behind the hotel is a wide boulevard on the other side of which is a major university. There are 100,000 students here. I mostly found little bakeries and coffee shops. I sat at the bar and had chicken salad and chatted with the young bartender (as well as his English would allow) and watched him make drinks. Sarah, he was a cutie. The music was sort of that electronic euro club music. I must have looked like a Martian to those 20 somethings. I also went to a little bookshop that was open late. (It is 10:30 p.m. right now). If you guys had come here I don’t know what you would have done all day.
No gypsies have hit me over the head yet. In fact, I haven’t seen any, just lots and lots of students talking on their cellphones.
Television here is very interesting–there are French films with Romanian subtitles, and American movies with Romanian subtitles. You can pick up some Romanian by reading the translations on the screen.
Everyone looks the same–they are all Caucasian, they all wear black mostly.
I finished up the training today and everyone seemed happy. We took group pictures and they asked me to autograph their training manual. Alex, who is a young guy (about 35) who is very fluent in English volunteered to take me on a driving tour around the city and that was wonderful., because I could only see a very little walking within a mile of my hotel. We went to a large very old monastery outside of town, then to pick his son up from kindergarten, then to a sort of La Rambla area where we visited a great, historical Orthodox cathedral. People were lined up to touch the crypt that held the bones of the patron saint of Romania. The monks, dressed in black, were singing a liturgy. I wish I could have taken a picture.
I told him, “I was hoping one of you would invite me to your home to have dinner and see how you live. They had been suggesting restaurants to me and I told him that I could eat alone at a fancy restaurant anywhere, even in my home town. He got the hint and invited me to his home tomorrow night for dinner. I am looking forward to that. He’s very engaging. He’s working on his Ph.D. in Sociology and doing work on the sex trafficking of kids in Europe and migration patterns of parents. There were gypsy children begging in the street and he explained to me how the parents train the kids in these con games and are lurking near by. He had done research on this previously. The group that I have been training–Alternative Sociale–does research, provides services, and advises the family law courts and social service agencies on how to provide services for these children.
I am very tired though. I haven’t slept well al week, given that I tend to be an obsessive insomniac. I hope I can sleep tonight.
I’m fine. Had a busy day. I’ve come down with a cold. I hope they have Kleenex on the plane tomorrow.
I picked her up yesterday evening, tired and bruised and upset at being in a plane for ten solid hours, but happy to be back. I’ve never traveled overseas, but I would love to someday.