Reflections on Romania

By Aideen O’Brien, guest writer, writes about her life in Romania.

I write to you from Bucharest, Romania. I came here with my husband and 3 daughters in May 2013. I came with no expectations, no pre-conceived notions….or so I thought. When I broke the news of our impending departure, most of my friends exclaimed “What!” followed swiftly by “Why?! I left Ireland with 4 bags, 3 children, 2 bikes, 1 husband and myself. I felt a little like the emigrants of old….nervous, anxious and somewhat desolate. As if I would never see Ireland again.

I spent much of my childhood living in Zambia, Africa. A protected and sheltered childhood, full of wonderful memories. I would have absorbed and assimilated much of the sights and smells, the language, the culture and the people. It would have soaked into my blood, slowly but surely. Upon our return to Ireland, an adjustment was required. It was cold and rainy and they spoke strangely. My first major culture shock. But I was still young and I adapted well and settled quickly. In later years, I travelled extensively through the USA, Western Europe, South East Asia and Australia. These experiences make you who you are, they open your eyes to the world and your heart to the people. I thought I knew it all…..until we came to Romania.

All I could see then was the old, crumbling buildings; the beggars missing limbs on the street; the hanging wires waiting to strangle; the huge gaping holes in the road and the pathway lying in wait to trip you up; the stray dogs eying you warily or trying to bite; people staring as I travelled on the metro, tram and bus with 3 girls; the traffic and the honking horns and the sheer volume of noise grinding on my nerves; the intense heat burning our pale skin. My second major culture shock.

I desperately missed my friends and family; the misty rain on my face; the green hills; the certainty of life and knowing what to expect every day. I often felt like crying when it all got too much, indeed have done so only to emerge feeling washed out and exhausted but also renewed, invigorated and definitely calmer….for a few more days at least.

But a year on and what have I gained as a person and how have we matured and grown as a family? My children laugh and play with their Romanian friends, completely at ease, though neither child knows the language of the other; Culture, music, wine and food; The ability to communicate whether that be in English, Romanian, French or German; New friends…some will move on…some will stay…some will remain friends for life; Interacting with the country locals in the mountains..helping a stranger to put a wheel back on his horse and cart loaded with wood (using a car jack); Travelling in the Balkans…Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Turkey – countries previously only vaguely heard about; Campfires by the Danube; Boating in the Delta; Hot summers and cold winters.

We, as a family, have become stronger and we have found our niche in Bucharest. We play football with the Brits, go on camping trips with the Americans and drink with the Paddies. But we go to school, children’s parties and Mozart concerts with the Romanians. Every day I am surprised and at times overwhelmed by their indomitable spirit, hospitality and generosity.

When the time is right we shall return home. My friends and family will be there always. But I have the advantage. My heart, my ears and my mind are open again. Will I be different, will I be changed? It may be painful to change but change is inevitable. If we resist change, we grow stale and stagnant. If we embrace it, our life cannot but be the richer for it. I feel blessed. I hope you, my reader, will too.