“Go big or go home,” my fellow student Jenna King likes to say, “and since home is too far away, we've got to go big.” With this in my head, I stepped out of my comfort zone with a giant leap one Friday afternoon in October. Alone, I climbed onto a maxtitaxi heading for Petroşani, the biggest town in the Jiu Valley, armed with instructions on how to find someone who would lead me to my first IMPACT club meeting. My big girl pants were on and I was traveling out of Lupeni on my own for the first time – without program director Kadie Becker, without my fellow students or anyone else I knew. I slightly remember being enamored with the natural beauty of the Jiu Valley, but I was definitely more concentrated on counting the number of stops the maxitaxi made as well as the knots in my stomach. I had been told that someone would find me when I got off in Petroşani to take me to my IMPACT club. So I walked off my ride at the right number of stops, determined not to show any fear on my face. A friendly voice called out my name as I walked off the maxitaxi, and I was greeted by two New Horizons Foundation employees who took me to my meeting (which turned out to be a very pleasurable experience, despite my fears).
The ride home to Lupeni was much more enjoyable than the earlier ride. I remember taking in the scenery with fresh eyes, my soul filled with relief and awe. Summer still clung to the trees of the valley and the air was still warm. A few flowers were still blooming and the fruit trees were still laden with their produce. Brightly colored clean laundry hung in balconies in each town we drove through - Petroşani, Vulcan, Aninoasa and Lupeni.
In early November, the ride to Petroşani was full of more life than I could comprehend. Autumn had come in full force after fall break; red, yellow, orange and gold leaves covered the sides of the valley. The natural colors complimented the red slate roofs and the vibrantly colored Romanian homes which filled the spaces between the towns in the valley. I was getting more comfortable with my IMPACT club, I felt at home with the student group, I had just returned from an amazing vacation in Greece, and like the trees, I was full of life. The sun had just entered the golden hour before sunset and illuminated the autumn colors of the trees on the hills and mountains on both sides of road towards Lupeni.
Today, a gloomy and frigged December day, was last time I took the maxitaxi to Petroşani. The autumn colors of the hills had been replaced with steel grays, blues, purples, whites and browns as snow covered the ground and matched the gray color of the sky. The mountain tops were hidden by the low hanging winter clouds, and the natural hues of the valley matched the drab colors of the old factories and mines between Lupeni and Petroşani.
Each of these rides have been a rest from the world as I stared out the window of the maxitaxi for 45 minutes each way to Petroşani and back. October, November and December showed me different seasons of the Jiu Valley and of myself as well. I can't understand the ways I've changed yet, but I know that I have gone through many changes in these past months. On my final ride, the colors of the sky matched the colors of my heart as I said goodbye to my favorite part of the week and started a week full of painful goodbyes. I had just said goodbye to my wonderful IMPACT club and had my last cup of crappy vending machine coffee. I am still in the process of figuring out how to say a good farewell to Romania – the people, the places and the part of myself I will leave here. This next week will be a rough journey of finding ways to say "ne vedem" - until next time.