If I could rewind my arrival to Romania I would know to walk in and tell my fellow volunteers that I walked through the valley of the shadow of death to get there. Because - A) They wouldn't know that I was quoting "Gangstas Paradise" and B) I pretty much did.
Now, let me tell you how it actually went -
The girls asked me how my jetlag was and shared that I had just enjoyed a gluttonous 10 day stay in Italy and I could not longer fit into my jeans. On a normal day I would know better than to share this information with a group of girls being funded by their churches but on this day my mouth was moving faster than my brain.
The next day we planned on hiking to the Brasov sign in the center of town and having a picnic at the top. One of the girls from the foundation told me she would show me around the town and grocery store so that I could exchange currency (Euro to Lei) & stock my kitchen before our trek. She ended up dropping me off at the grocery store and told me it would be fine to take a cab home. Before I could ask, Where do we live? She was off and I was standing in a grocery store who stored their baked goods next to suitcases and socks. Later that day I was told, you missed a really great hike today! Oh I'm sorry, I was busy trying to figure out the difference between a pretzel and a schniztel and avoid getting pick-pocketed.
There was no one around to teach me, so here's what I learned all by myself -
Stray dogs are everywhere. Some are scary. The girls at the foundation never gave us keys to our gate so if we get home and the gate is locked we look for a hidden key at the neighbors gate and deal with their dog.......
Stray cats are also everywhere and they're so loud at night they wake me out of a sound sleep. (This coming from the girl who sleeps through fire alarms.) The cats jump into our windows and lounge in the house. My. Worst. Nightmare.
Gypsies. - Where can you see them? bus, train, street corner, fancy restaurants, casual restaurants, coffee shops, you name it. Most will try to sell you something, from pots & pans to flowers. Others just beg. Gypsies typically hold out a hand gesturing for money because they don't speak English. I was lucky enough to be chased by a gypsy who knows 2 English words - One starts with F and the other with Y. Momma didn't raise no fool.
*Side note - Gypsy babies are always easy to spot in the hospital because their face is incredible tan compared to the rest of their bodies. It's the only part of the body that is exposed while their Mom displays them as she begs and barters.*
The sole purpose of my trip was to take care of infants, so being in the hospital was incredible. The girls at the foundation started a program to get diapers to the babies who (like the babies in South Africa) used to wear towels or rags which left them laying in a crib umable to move and very messy. The babies now get 4 diapers a day (think about that Moms) and we would do morning and evening changes along with feeding & playing..
I won't say my experience was horrible. Romania is absolutely beautiful and rich with (very recent) history. But as a girl who travels frequently, I know when I'm uncomfortable enough to remove myself from a situation and in this case, I had to. Maybe if someone had contemplated the importance of giving volunteers a key to the gate, permission to lock their apartment and a small do's and don'ts list (including places to avoid) I would still be in Romania. In the past I've traveled to a city with one of the highest crime rates to volunteer and felt just as safe as being at home because the program was run so well. I'm thankful for that because It taught me the importance of knowing the beliefs and values of the culture, proper manners, language & of course safety!
Not all travel goes smoothly but the #1 rule is to take care of yourself, above all else.
I bet you're wondering where I am now...... ;)