Outside my window there is a cacophony of noise, roosters crow, dogs bark, and pigeons coo. Horse drawn carts clop, clop along and cars rev their engines and honk their horns. The sky is baby blue with cotton ball clouds. Someone is sweeping down below and the sound of the broom echoes up into my 4th floor window, along with sounds of lively conversation in a foreign tongue of which I am beginning to become familiar. After rain earlier in the week, there is a chill in the air, the first sign seasons will be changing soon. Pigeons sit on the scalloped terracotta shingles; their feet make the sounds of tiny tap dancers above my head. The gray concrete building contrasts with the tattered roof tops creating an old-world feel. In the distance, I hear a rooster crow and the birds outside my window seem to reply. I do not understand the language of the birds here like I do at home, but I gather that they are joyful that the sun is shining. Some things are the same despite language and species barriers.
Romania is a land of contrasts. There are colorful signs in the modern cities which proclaim any number of products, sitting right next to buildings that have stood for centuries. The alleyways twist and turn in narrow branches which seem to have no pattern to my foreign eyes. Some buildings are skeletons of their former selves and others are shimmering with new sleek designs. Cafes are hidden amongst the twisted maze of streets and behind the gates. If you stumble into one of the nondescript buildings you find laughter and good food abound within courtyard walls. Just outside, markets from a bygone era boast with local produce. Drivers talk of old times, during communism when power came and went along with heat, but “It wasn’t so bad.” He tells us the fall came quickly, but the transition is very slow ‘in the minds’ because there are many who still think in the old ways. The younger generation has their own vision, but it has not come to pass yet. We cannot tell if he himself has a preference.
In the train station his words ring true, as I look into the faces of the Romanian people. The older women wear head scarves, printed dresses with aprons. Their faces are kissed and leathered by the sun and hardened without a glimmer of a smile. In stark contrast, the younger women are dressed in modern clothes. Old and young alike have eyes that tell a story of hard work and fending for themselves. Old men with hats and talk to one another as if they are solving the problems of the world. They are animated in their discussions revealing a passion you cannot see just by looking. Aboard the train, chatter is happening all around and much of it contains the word Americani. We are easily identifiable among the local people. Soon we settle in for our 2-hour ride. A baby cries nearby, and the mother works diligently to get her to sleep.
Outside the big glass window, the city fades into farmland. Fields of corn and open skies trick me into thinking I am in the Midwestern US, until I see the fields upon fields of sunflowers. Their heads are hanging down at the end of their season, but I can imagine the breathtaking scene it would be when they are in full bloom. The farms roll on and on with villages in between. Patchwork rectangular fields create a quilt with dirt the color of chocolate, tall green grass, and swatches of golden stalks of corn at the finish of the harvest. Houses are surrounded with fences and gates, some beautiful, some bedraggled. Most every house has some chickens wandering nearby. Within the many of the walls are gardens of flowers, fruit trees, and vegetables. Roses and zinnias are lovingly cared for among many flowering plants which are unknown to my eye. On the streets, the older women sit on stools or benches beside produce that looks freshly picked from the garden behind the fence. In the heat of the non-air-conditioned train car, people doze on their journey to far away cities. The occasional ring of a cell phone interrupts the feeling of being in another time period.
The clouds outside the window have transitioned from white to gray and the sun has gone into hiding. By the time we reach our stop the rain is beginning. We hop from the train directly onto the track and wrestle our luggage over gravel and tracks. We attempt to roll it down the stairs where we will wait for our ride. The stray dogs greet us, hoping for a morsel of food. It is clear that feeding one would start a frenzy from the others nearby who turn their heads our way, and so we resist the urge. After some time in the rain, we make our way under the overhang of a nearby building to wait for our ride who arrives shortly. We are travel-weary and wet while we wait, but once we are snuggly in the van, we drive past more gates of all kinds and colors. They each tell their own story, and I have to quench the desire to stop and ask them for more details. There will be time for that later. We arrive at the church, the only gate that is open, and we are welcomed by our hosts with open arms and hearts. I am intrigued by this country of contrasts and I look forward to having my curiosity satisfied in the days ahead.