Tuesday, July 4, 2017

A Friend in Need

Yesterday I made my way from a doctor's appointment to Casa Next, our apartment on Independentei street, walking about a mile and a half through the city with which I have become very familiar. I had no idea what the rest of the day would have in store, but as I've learned, anything can happen at any time.

At the flat, I hung out and studied some Romanian for a little while. Joe was helping Nadia write out a recipe for jambalaya. She's gotten into the biggest reality cooking show on Romanian television, Chefi La Cuțite, and needed to have some recipes written out, on top of a lot of photos and her personal story. To my great disappointment I will be in language school in Sibiu when she goes on national television in Bucharest in a few weeks. I've wanted to be there since before she even applied but I'm just glad she's getting to do this.

Then, amid these events at home, Nadia revealed a new project, beginning immediately. Nadia had been told of a young woman living with her baby and five-year-old in a house with no windows or doors, no food and hardly any possessions, just a bed and a stove. We immediately began going through the kitchen, collecting food and mugs and cooking utensils to give to the family. We would be going to deliver them that evening. I clarified my dinner plans with my roommate Cristina and with that resolved, helped carry out bags of food to the car. Mirela was outside her apartment so we invited to her to come along and she agreed. We jumped in and headed for Club Next.

Sadly, Club Next will be one of the first things to go as we begin saving money and batten down the hatches, as it were, in the aftermath of some changes. Arriving at the Club, we went through several large sacks of clothing, picking out women's clothes and clothes for babies and small girls. We also threw in some plastic cups, cleaned out the trunk to fit everything in and went off to the large grocery store in town, Kaufland.

Nadia, Mirela, and I went into Kaufland where we selected various food items and an industrial sized sack of potatoes that is normally used for refilling the potato bin but Nadia assured me that the young woman and her girls eat lots and lots of potatoes. I picked up a croissant for myself and an ice cream bar for Joe to repay him for haivng driven me to the forest on Saturday, and I bought a lip balm, choosing the cherry one at Nadia's recommendation. The cashier had to call a man to tell her how much the sack of potatoes weighed, since it could barely be lifted by two people, let alone put on a scale. It was only 37 lei for that giant sack of new potatoes, or $9.25, a great deal. We headed out with our haul. Joe was talking to a guy I recognized but to whom I hadn't yet been introduced. I realized I had seen him at church and we met officially. We all talked for a little while and then said goodbye and put everything in the car and headed off for the village where the young women and her daughters were living.

Mirela hadn't been talking much. I had gone a long time without seeing her, so at the Club I asked her about how she was doing and she told me about how busy she's been with her job at a children's radio station. On the way out the city, she told Nadia that once we would go through a certain village, it would be nice to drive slowly so she could find a certain house. I was confused about the significance of the house but eventually made out that it was the house of her biological mother. Mirela had never met her biological mother, not once. Yet she knew which house she lived in, and had seen pictures of her, so on our way through that village she asked if she could take five minutes to meet her, and if Nadia could take video and pictures of her. I was still confused as to how this would happen but soon I would see.

We pulled up alongside the road where two women were seated outside on a bench. Mirela got out of the car and walked up to them. She began talking to the younger woman who I learned was her mother. Nadia filmed and took photos as promised, and then Mirela's uncle came out from the house, and another older woman. It was a remarkable thing to see happen but it all felt strangely normal. There were smiles but no shrieks, happiness but without hugging or kissing. We stayed for only four minutes. But Mirela was clearly affected by this encounter and as she said, it was a huge moment that she has wondered about extensively and I'm sure it will remain a milestone for her.

After this brief experience, we continued on and eventually did find the right road to the young woman's home, and then the house itself. It looked the way it had been described. The front door, the doors inside and all of the windows but one had been forcibly ripped out, stolen by the rear neighbors, I learned. The house had been vacant, for how long I'm not sure, but everything worth taking, and some things that probably weren't really worth it, were stolen. The house belonged to the young woman's family and was her only place to live. She had made some bad choices but had been treated much worse than she deserved. Her parents were now trying to help her, as we now were.

The young woman, I realized, was probably younger than me. She was quite beautiful, with light brown skin and a pretty nose. She held her baby constantly, and the baby was adorable and had this remarkable wise-beyond-her-years look. I got the baby, who was about a year and a half old, to smile and she laughed when I did peek-a-boo.

The five-year-old was full of mischief and fire and then some. She seemed to know how to get into trouble but was generally very happy. She was very physical with us, a little too physical, and one of her favorite things to do was to point her finger at me or Joe or whoever and laugh at us. "Ha ha ha ha ha!" I earned more respect by picking her up and twirling her around, and she enjoyed being overly scared by me whenever I stepped in her direction. She was very delighted when we opened up a bag with little rain boots and she discovered not only that a pair fit but that they lit up green on the soles. She ran all around the yard, lighting up every step.

Nadia talked with the young woman and Mirela checked out the few rooms in the house. Joe had walked off to the field behind the house, and when I saw the little girl go after him, I decided to see if I could keep her at bay. Joe had found a cherry tree so we all ate some sour cherries. Then a man walked up to us. When Joe told the man his name, in Romanian, the man looked at Joe like he had a horn growing out of his head. Then he turned to me, and as I introduced myself in Romanian, stared at me with big eyes in the same way ("The same way, but a little different...." Joe would later say). The man followed us back to the home and proceeded to talk to the young woman and walk into the house. He peered at all the bags of food and clothing we had brought. Later, I would overhear Nadia explain to Joe that he was one of the neighbors who had stolen the windows and doors and that he would probably come back later that night to steal all of the things we had just brought.

I could scarcely believe it. What would this man want to do with a bunch of clothes for women and children and a few sacks of groceries? Maybe the frying pan we threw in was worth taking, but how could someone do that? "Some people steal just for the sake of stealing," Joe told me.

After the neighbor had left, the five-year-old was wiping the rain off our car with her hands and then took the pink knit hat off of her head and used that, to my protest. "It's dirty already," Joe told me. Then she wandered off to the well and within the minute the little girl returned to us, hatless, and distressed because, of course, she had dropped her hat into the well.

Joe walked calmly to the well and began lowering the bucket into the water with the crank and the chain. I held my hands on the little girl's shoulders as she looked down at her hat far below, trying to keep her from falling in herself. "That child is a prime candidate for falling into this well," Joe said as he worked. Believe it or not, once the bucket had been lowered and Joe did a little fishing, I could see the very wet hat in the bucket. Up and up came the bucket and the hat, and before the girl could reach it, I grabbed the hat and rung it out. "The hat's clean now," Joe observed.

Nadia, at this time, had continued talking to the young woman. Part of why we came so promptly to deliver the items was because child protective services was on her case and threatening to take her girls away. One thing was clear and that was that the young woman was intent on keeping her children with her. 

 So Nadia told us that she needed to walk with the young woman to a neighbor's house where Nadia would read a letter from child protective services to her, so that she would understand what she needed to do. Meanwhile, Joe and Mirela and I would wait in the car outside as it began to get very dark. All was peaceful until the little girl came out of the courtyard and asked if she could get in the car. Two minutes previously Joe had just said that we at least might keep her out of the car to keep from getting little bootprints on the ceiling. But it was dark, so Joe let her in. She proceeded to attempt to push every button. "Don't touch," Joe repeated again and again in Romanian. Then she couldn't decided if she wanted to be in the car or out, so she opened the car door and shut it over and over. I couldn't do much being in the backseat but tried telling her to stay put a few times. Finally Nadia and the young woman came out of the neighbor's yard.

The young woman and her daughters were going to spend the night at the neighbor's small house, for safety, and we all helped carry the bags of groceries to the neighbor's for safe-keeping. We then bid them goodbye and drove back to the city, and I wondered about the people in the dark houses that we passed, if they were better off or maybe as bad off as this young woman. How many people stole things like those neighbors? How many people had nothing? Do other stories like the young woman's happen? Do the stories get told? What does Jesus think about all this?

I don't know the answers to these questions but I know that at least I can share this little bit with you. Thanks for reading.

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