I wrote this blog a long time ago and chose not to post it but I couldn’t stop thinking about it so I finally decided to put it out there so here it goes!
If I said that before embarking on this trip that I hadn’t thought about what it would be like living in Eastern Europe as an African American, I would be lying. I thought about it a lot actually.
I have met more and more people who have been so kind and accepting and tell me over and over how much they love my dark complexion and my hair. One day one of my little host nephews touched and squeezed my hair in joy and fascination, and every day I walk past this gypsy woman she always says hi and once said that she likes that I am darker like her and thinks I am cute.
Walking down the streets of Lupeni I have been called everything from “Africa” to “Whoppi” to “Rhianna” by rowdy teens on the street. Some just stare, double takes are probably the most common reaction, and some have simply burst out laughing in disbelief.
Most days I am able to laugh it off but some days its not so easy. Some days I really just miss blending in. “Just because they are staring does not mean that they don’t like me,” “curiosity is not a crime,” “just because that older man is staring at me does not always mean that he is checking me out”…are things that I really have to tell myself over and over.
I think people may also be getting used to me, or maybe I’ve gotten better at tuning it out, except for the annoying teenage boy every once in awhile I haven’t had as many problems. Recently I walked passed a group of men and one man called out “hey nigger, como esta blab bla bla…” but it didn’t faze me. I surprised myself in how well I handled it. But truly I know that this man most likely had no idea of the historical implications of the word “nigger”. It is funny though how I’ve realized that some don’t even know that there are black people in America. I’ve gotten this reaction only from children but I’ve had many of them ask what it is like in Africa. But how would they know otherwise?
When you think about it on a deeper level it’s an issue that really has absolutely nothing to do with me. The people of Romania have been isolated from other ethnicities and populations possibly due to Communism. Few people were allowed in and out of the country during Communism especially not foreigners. Today people end up living in small towns like Lupeni, struggling their entire lives, never able to see the world around them. This blog entry may be a vent for me but it is also a window into a topic that is a rather sad situation. This makes me realize that much more how lucky I really am to be here.
To be honest in some ways standing out so much may have been an advantage. It gave some people an extra curiosity and eagerness to engage with me, and even if it was hard, I hope that I was able to give them an accurate depiction of what an African American is like, in contrast to what is often portrayed in the media. I would be lying too if I didn’t say that every once in a while I appreciated the attention, but most of the time it was exhausting. When I went to a freshman prom, many of the kids were really friendly and asked who I was and what I was doing here in Romania. It was nice but at certain points I also felt like an exhibit in a zoo. Some asked to take pictures with me and one even asked for my autograph (can’t really explain that one haha).
I can say that I do not at all miss always cringing at the sight of a group of boys walking towards me, and the third time I was called a nigger, pushed me a bit too far and bothered me a lot. One of the American students was with me when this happened it outraged her. She later explained to me that she has a lot more understanding for minorities in the States, and she can finally understand what it feels like to be identified by your ethnicity and not by who you are as person, when Romanians made generalizations about her being an American.
I think that it’s important that we all learned lessons about our identity, about being a woman,and about race upon living in a foreign country. But the biggest lesson that I learned on this topic was from none other then my host mom. Whenever I walk around town with my host mom, she links arms with me just as many other Romanian mothers do with their own daughters. When people stare she is undeterred and simply holds my hand tighter, smiles, and keeps walking. I could write a whole blog about my host mom and how genuine her love and kindness was towards me. We had so many conversations and beautiful moments that I treasure deeply, she really is a special woman. It is our bond that surpassed all color lines, and language barriers. It’s her love and acceptance that truly made me feel more at home then I ever could anywhere else in the world.