After three hours of sleep, a half-eaten bowl of cereal, a broken jar of mayonnaise, and seventeen people frantically boarding a train that was reminiscent of the McAllister family running through the Chicago airport while leaving their youngest “home alone,” we are finally on our way to Bucharest and eventually home. The view outside of snow-covered mountains and ice-cold rivers reminds me of how much I will miss the beauty of the Jiu Valley. Add to that the concrete remnants scattered across the landscape, which used to serve a purpose perhaps during communism, but now serve only as a reminder that this world is constantly changing and constantly forgetting.
It is the combination of these two that offers the distinct feel that pervades every aspect of the country and its people. I noticed this feeling the moment I first arrived in Romania, and in some ways I even expected it. Romania is often explained as a land of contradictions, a place where the old and new exist side-by-side. On one hand, there is an element of purity, of nature where people still depend so directly and visibly on the land. People such as my host-family grow their own fruits and vegetables and tend their own livestock, while working full-time jobs in the city. On the other hand, signs of modern industry, supermarkets, and an obsession with pop music show that globalization is living up to its name.
It becomes apparent after studying Romania’s history that this land of contradictions is in many ways a product of its communist past. The former dictator pushed for a premature modernization that forced many into industries while leaving others on their farms. In this way, the society appears to be fragmented.
But it is not. In some unexplainable way there is a synergy to these two levels of society. I cannot put it into words– It must be experienced. It is what makes Romania’s culture so unique and it is one of the reasons that makes me sad to leave.