It was wrong- it was all wrong. Everything was gray and crumbling. There were no sunny orchards or plump smiling women with fresh bread waiting to greet me. It was just past dusk, and the few streetlights that were working flickered on and off, revealing slews of teenagers in leather jackets huddled around abandoned buildings.
Lupeni had existed in my head for months. “My Lupeni” consisted of a collage of images of quaint churches and roaming animals that had been erected from Facebook images of friends who had lived here before, and the hours of driving through rolling countrysides, small villages, and mountain scenery I had experienced on my way to Lupeni.
This Lupeni was everything but “My Lupeni.” The only word I could think of that night was ‘disenchantment.’ How could the rest of the country be so awe-inspiring, and this place be so… blah?
So, I set my sights on focusing on how much I loved the rest of Romania. I could fall in love with the country minus this one little glitch, right? I began normal life here in Lupeni: I bought groceries, I walked to class, I fell in love with my incredible host family. I dreamt of weekends away at the sea or vacations to castles a few towns over. I lived the next few weeks in awe of the culture, but hating the location.
And then, it happened. I was walking to class, and there she was: spoon lady. The old woman, dark and wrinkled (the kind of wrinkles that you can just tell come from hard work combined with constant laughter), who sits outside each day selling hand-whittled spoons. I looked at her, a bi-daily presence in my life during walks to and from class, and I couldn’t help but smile. I looked all around me, and I smiled.
Somewhere, between kisses from Romanian children, sunsets in the mountains, long hours praying in the vibrant local Pentecostal church, watching women frantically pull hanging laundry inside as rain begins to fall, loose cows running around my apartment block, and spoon lady, I had fallen in love with Lupeni. And not just “I’ll miss this when I look back on pictures someday” kind of love… I mean intense “I’m going to leave a huge piece of my soul here” love. The kind of love you experience when you let a place enter your life and become just as engraved in your story as you know you are in its.
The kind of love that doesn’t forget.