Before Romania, one phrase that I lived by was the classic, “You can always count on the kindness of strangers”. Whether it was a bus in Portland or an airplane going to Minneapolis, there have been countless times where a mere stranger has either told me which stop to get off at or would make sure I could get on my connecting flight. This probably doesn’t help my naïve and optimistic outlook on human nature; but so far it has rung true throughout my personal experiences.
Traveling alone around Romania definitely intimidates me. I could travel in the States all right, but relied on those to help along the way. In Romania, there are the added obstacles of not being able to fully speak Romanian and also not being able to call Mom or Dad when something goes wrong. While traveling with a colleague mid-semester and taking the wrong train by mistake, a kind woman over heard our panic and called us a taxi. In my eyes, she was an angel. I knew that that was a lucky occurrence, but at the same time I knew that we were going to get back okay.
This past weekend I traveled alone to Brasov to visit the sister congregation to my church back home. Sure enough I made both of my maxi-taxi’s just right on time. The second maxi-taxi left me at the Deva train station. Not fully understanding how the train system works in Romania (or anywhere for that matter), I was little nervous. About twenty minutes before my train was to depart I started to ask friendly looking old ladies whether they were going to Brasov as well; buddy system for me is the safest way to travel. After a few failed attempts I decided to ask a group of several young adults who seemed approachable. At last I found a group getting on the same train.
My unconvincing Romanian accent gave away my American identity pretty fast. We soon started chatting and found out that they were from Argentina, France, and Deva (Romania) volunteering for a Catholic affiliated organization that works with kids in poverty. They invited me to sit with them on the train and insisted on me having some of their lunch food while proceeding to find out more about one another. Meanwhile, a Roma friend of theirs who they had visited through the organization called. They told her that they had met an American and the Roma lady asked to speak to me on the phone so that she could use her English. At the end of a rather awkward phone conversation she invited me over to her house if I ever returned to Deva.
I think the moral of this ramble is it’s okay to trust a bit more easily than what we are raised with. I find it especially ironic being in a post-communist country where trust is in short supply. Without talking to strangers, I would constantly be lost. I understand that there is a clear line of being open to friendly people and being careless and putting myself in danger. However what I have found is that if you are open and genuinely interested in people, it is likely to be reciprocated.