Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Assignment

Yesterday Nadia gave me an assignment. I was supposed to go spend time with Monica, a young woman back in town on a break from her university. I'd briefly met Monica several months prior, but hadn't gotten to know her much. Nadia suggested getting a soft drink with her and then cooking dinner with all the other girls at the apartment. I was glad for the chance to do something sort of fun and new, so I put my shoes on and headed out.

When I got to the other apartment, Monica wasn't there, so I messaged her and waited for a little while, as she was out and about in town. Soon she returned, and we headed to the Centru, which has a nice bakery with many tables. We both got cokes and sat down.

As I'd been asking her about as we walked, Monica is going to university in a nearby city. She is studying music theory*, which I found interesting. How does one get involved in such a field? I failed to ask her this question, as I wasn't sure how to phrase it in Romanian, but I found out that she found her major difficult. She also told me there weren't many other people earning that degree. We had taken to using Google Translate to aid us in our conversation. I asked her what she liked to eat and she told me potatoes, rice, maybe some others...she just didn't like meat very much. She isn't a vegetarian, just not that big a fan of meat.

It was good to talk with her. Monica is an extremely gentle person. I tried to encourage her not to worry about what other people think. I feel like I'm similar to her, especially the Katie of the past. I was very quiet and shy and didn't speak up because I was sensitive and was extremely aware of other people's negative (or even just complex) reactions and got hurt easily. It's only now that I'm really seeing myself for who I was: a person who thought I had to read people's minds in order to communicate. Sometimes reading minds pays off, but mostly it's exhausting. I wasn't like this 100% of the time, but you get the idea. It might be because in certain areas of my life, I effectively was, in fact, expected to predict precisely how someone would think about everything, from the time I was a child. Some lessons are hard to unlearn.

Some people always say, think about the other person. And this is good advice. But no one should be obligated to read minds. It ends up messing with your own head.

Monica and I finished our cokes and went back to the apartment. She took a nap and I went out to browse in Humana, which is like Goodwill if Goodwill had two stories and a security guard at the entrance. In Romania. I've been trying to not spend much money on clothes, but I decided to buy a big sweater and a sweatshirt, since winter isn't going away anytime soon and my old sweatshirt is, well, old. Nine bucks for both.

I returned from Humana, inspected the food items in the kitchen, and decided to make a vegetarian version of my nameless potato concoction. There was meat but it was all frozen solid, and since Monica didn't much care for it anyway, I decided to make do without. After she got up from resting, we began cooking. No one else was going to help cook or eat. Half the people had sensitive stomachs (can't eat potatoes! can't eat onions!) or were leaving. So Monica and I continued to enjoy our time together, just us. She is very good about washing dishes.

We ate quietly, having talked so much earlier. Monica suggested I turn on the television. I put it to something with Romanian music videos, and without saying a word, Monica slipped away to her room after only one song or maybe two.

We can't rely on other people to make us into who we should be. Parents try to make their kids into good people, responsible people, successful people. Maybe this lulls us into expecting that if we do as others wish, we'll become better people. But it will only drive us in circles, because people will all expect different things from you, and especially the things that are bad both for them and for you. Growing up means stepping outside of the cycle and taking care of your business using your judgment, the judgment you have acquired through all of your experience and reliance on God.

What we try to teach our young people here at Next Generation, alongside love for others, is independence. Maybe those seem like conflicting goals. But they're not. There is a way to love others while walking your own path. It's not easy. We struggle with it often. But that is the way to peace, and to sanity.

Thanks for reading! Hope it made sense. To donate to what I'm doing here in Romania, please click here.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

New Year, New Challenges Part 2

Beyond home life and church life, I want to share with you about our ministry. We are always looking out for people in need. And when you're known for doing things for others, sometimes people take advantage of you. It's happened before. We're not sure if it's happening now, but anyway, here is what we have stepped up to do this time.

On January 29th 2018, Nadia and I headed from Apartment 1 in one neighborhood to Apartment 2 near the gară, or train station. The mission? To get some used clothes, some diapers and wipes, and maybe some food for Anke and her three-month-old baby. Anke’s husband went off to Britain to work and was supposed to provide for his wife and child from across Europe (as many Romanians do) but he has hardly sent any money to Anke and she has been living in a center for young mothers going on four months now, three months longer than she was supposed to be there.

When Nadia and I got to Apartment 2, Nadia began going through her clothes, picking out some gently used items, since she and Anke are both about the same size, petite and thin. Then they left with Alina and stopped to buy a large package of diapers and a large package of wipes, as well as a piece of raw pork (very Romanian). We ran into Cristina and so the four of us got in the car and drove off to the center where Anke and her baby Ana Maria were staying, along with Anke’s sister Georgetta. After we cooed over the baby and took pictures together, Anke left Ana Maria with Georgetta and us four visitors plus Anke left in the car to pick up a heater that was at her unfurnished apartment.

After Anke instructed Nadia on which streets to take to get to the apartment building located somewhat outside the city, we arrived. It was dark, and the outside of the building wasn’t lighted, and neither were the halls inside, so Nadia turned on the light on her phone as Anke led the way up the stairs to the second floor. Her apartment was bare, with only a large mattress leaning up against one wall in the biggest room and the boxed space heater. The kitchen was all bare bones, without a proper refrigerator or stove set up yet. The space showed all the remaining signs of the previous residents, including children’s stickers all over the bare white walls.

Cristina and I carried the boxed heater down the stairs, trailing everyone else, and put it into the trunk of the car. As we paused in the dark street, a man and a woman walked up. The man’s hood was up but Nadia and Anke seemed to know him. His name was Colin, and the woman, who was picking pieces off of a loaf of bread and popping them into her mouth, was his girlfriend, and her name was Serena. After some chit chat, all of us young women who were about to leave followed the couple back into the dark building. We went up the stairs again but entered an apartment farther along the hall. This one was furnished, and evidently it belonged to the couple who had just walked up. We all filed into the back bedroom, which had been the same room as the kitchen in Anke’s corresponding apartment. There were many pictures on the walls of the couple, but the main attraction was a microphone, a speaker and Youtube on the computer. Colin began singing and getting Nadia and I to sing some Romanian and some English songs. Song after song was played, and Anke was getting antsy to get back to her baby, but at last we all left, down the dark hall and the dark stairs, back to the car and back to the center where Georgiana was waiting with baby Ana Maria.

We are considering having some of our young men begin getting Anke's apartment in order, putting in appliances and furniture that we will pay for. However, there is a chance that Anke and her husband (who she isn't officially married to yet) are using us to provide goods and labor. What is the husband doing? Has he really abandoned Anke? There are some things we don't know about the situation that might inform us as to how to proceed.

In this line of work, we can expect to face people who are not entirely honest about their situations. And yet, we help anyway. Even the people who are not telling the whole truth are probably still in a difficult position. There was that lady with the two kids who claimed the neighbors stole the windows and doors off of her home. Well...it turned out she had been the one who took apart her house for the money from selling the pieces. But you know? At the end of the day she was still a single mom with very little to her name, even with whatever pennies she would have gotten from dismantling her home. She was still a person in need. The traveler was helped by the Samaritan without having to prove anything. We aspire to be Samaritans. It's better for everyone in the long run.

Thanks for reading, and if you feel like donating to my fund for this work, please follow the link to my fundraiser. Have a great February!

New Year, New Challenges

Here I am, back in Romania! I've gotten settled into my room in Tante Lenuța's apartment, along with Cristina. I lived with Cristina last year and after selling our apartment, Cristina moved into a room in this apartment, which Tante Lenuța had been living in alone following the passing of her son, and now that I'm here I've begun paying the rent. I try to cook dinner twice a week and of course I rely on my own funds to eat all of the other times, unless someone specifically makes food for everyone. 

Tante Lenuța is generous and keeps fresh fruit for everyone to eat, and she will do way more work than she needs to, lifting jugs of water and things like that if you don't stop her. I'm learning how to insist on doing certain chores or carrying those jugs of water for her. One time I was in the kitchen preparing to bake chicken, and while I didn't mind her helping me light the oven, I was unsure of how to tell her let me do the rest of the work, because before I knew what was happening, she was peeling potatoes and suggesting that I use wine and tomato paste...I didn't want to be rude but I had wanted to do something for her in cooking the meal. Anyway, I'm learning how to insist on doing certain things, and she let me cook on my own yesterday evening, so I think I'm finding my place as a resident and not just as a guest.

As I alluded to, there is still a challenge in communicating in Romanian. I understand more than I did last October, much more, in fact. But there are still nuances to the language that I haven't picked up, expressions and phrases, and while I can communicate some things on a basic level, usually the basic level is not what I'd wish to stay on. 

It's frustrating to not understand the majority of the sermons in church but so satisfying to be able to understand a whole sentence or a few sentences in a row. I can tell that much of what I'm been learning is finally sticking. I think the best thing for me would be to catch up on my vocabulary and go over and over the trickier grammar points. Not knowing how to say things politely or gently is part of my struggle at home when I'm trying to help Tante Lenuța without making her feel incapable. Living fully immersed definitely provides the incentive to learn.

Thanks for reading this update! I hope you got an idea of all the little challenges of this journey. Please consider donating to my fund with which I pay for the apartment I share, as I mentioned, and with which I plan to do some much needed visiting with other missionaries. Just click here. Thanks again!