Wednesday Oct 25: Arad, Romania

I’ve arrived, with Jeff and Dominique, in the small city of Arad in northern Romania. At breakfast I sit with fellow performer John, from Kenya. Nairobi, to be precise. He has already eaten, but kindly helps me figure out the coffee machine and stays while I serve myself a plateful of tomatoes, cucumber, and a fried egg. I am not really awake, but it is morning here and we have a full day of festival ahead of us and I don’t have much choice. Giorgiana joins us, effervescent despite her lack of voice, and the two of them are talking about her laryngitis. “It is very common,” John says in his lilting Kenyan English. It is at this moment that I press too hard on the edge of my plate and flip its entire contents into my lap. Giorgiana doesn’t miss a beat. “See what you did?” she accuses John. “You scared her!” By some miracle, my food has all landed on the paper napkin in my lap, and I am able to flip it all neatly back onto my plate. The three of us are still laughing when Dominique and Jeff arrive. They slept in because they didn’t know about the one-hour time change from Budapest.

Conversation turns to my other goof: not bringing enough warm clothes. We relate the story of the red jacket I brought along for Dominique, and how I’m the one who’s going to need it. We are all having a good laugh at this (again) when I look at John from Kenya. He is laughing too, in his T-shirt and thin jeans jacket. “John,” I say, “Are you warm enough in that?” He stops laughing to reassure me. “I have also a sweater,” he says, holding up a thin acrylic thing. “And this.” A small purple scarf. Suddenly there is silence around the table. Giorgiana’s eyes are boring into him. “John. You do not have a coat.” She states the question in a flat tone like a parent who knows you set the house on fire, but doesn’t want to believe it. John is still smiling, but Giorgiana is shaking her head gravely. “No. No, I cannot get you a coat this morning, we have not time, and we are going to the mountains,” she says.

There being no other option, Dominique and I take it upon ourselves to dress John in whatever we can find in 10 minutes. Contrary to my expectations, Dominique arrived from Hawaii with a decent winter wardrobe, including not one but two winter coats. Her spare is a long grey thing, given to her by none other than the acclaimed Margaret Read MacDonald at another storytelling event in another cold region. The grey coat is too small for John, who stands a good head above us. But I am the same size as Dominique, and we know by now that I didn’t bring enough warm clothes, so it will work for me. This leaves my red jacket for John. The logic here is flawed, of course. My red jacket does not fit him any better than the grey coat, but it sort of works as a curious kind of shoulder wrap. Dominique has also produced a peach-orange shawl which John cooperatively and elegantly wraps around his neck, along with the red jacket and his own purple scarf.

John Mukeny Namai, with the red coat.

 Prepared for the elements, we gather overnight bags and load into the car. Long-legged and well-wrapped John accepts the passenger seat. Jeff, Dominique and I share the middle, and Laryngitis Giorgiana takes the solo seat next to the bags in the back. She will talk less and save her voice for the show. Our driver is Dan, the priest’s brother-in-law. I’m not yet sure how the priest fits into the picture, but it’s safe to assume he is Eastern Orthodox and part of Giorgiana’s vast network.

We leave Arad, heading south on a smaller secondary road. The expansive fields of flat farmland continue until we come to the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains and the road winds through small villages. Copses of deciduous trees; farmyards with chickens; fields with sheep; cows; a patch of goats. Tall narrow heaps of hay that rise to a point at the top, stacked by humans rather than machines. Dominique says it reminds her of her grandmother’s area in rural France, 50 years ago.  

 

 

Brick farm buildings in good shape, Transylvania.

The road rises, turns and twists. Dan lowers the window for some air. Giorgiana, with no voice, taps us in the middle row to ask him to put the window up, as she is cold in the back. It is pretty much impossible to be in Giorgiana’s presence without wanting to do her bidding. And she is sick. We all quickly ask Dan to put his window up.

But Dan does not speak English. Behind him, I try tapping his window and pointing “up” but of course he cannot see me pointing, and has no idea why everyone is calling his name. Dominique, who has a head start on Romanian with her fluency in both French and Spanish, might be creating some new Romanian words in her efforts, while Jeff is addressing Dan clearly and slowly in English. John in the front seat is trying some gestures, but Dan is trying to keep his eyes on the mountain road. And I keep tapping the window. It is hopeless for Giorgiana to try speaking over the din of our charades. By the time Dan gets the message, the five of us are weeping with laughter, and poor Dan is ready for a cigarette break.

Corvin Castle and countryside, Transylvania, Romania.

We stop at Corvin Castle, one of the main iron extraction and processing centres in Transylvania in the 15th and 16th centuries. We walk through the many rooms and the large courtyard; gaze out windows set into two-foot-thick stone walls. We arrange ourselves for group photos, fiddling with our cameras. It’s fairly quiet until a group of middle-school students swarms in. They fill the echoey hall with their excitement as they rapidly move through the room taking selfies, swapping cameras and selfie sticks. They pose, smile, clown; then like a flock of crows at dusk they have moved on, and the hall exhales a silent echo.

John Mukeny Namai from Kenya, with our driver Dan, at Corvin Castle, Transylvania

In the late afternoon, we arrive at the community centre in Lupeni. It’s a beautiful space, well restored with a fine entry hall and a sweet small theatre. Our show runs over two hours. We take turns telling stories, with translations by two English speakers from the town. Our audience ranges from babies and toddlers to kids and teens, parents and grandparents. The show is sponsored by the priest, Father John. He is indeed a friend of Giorgiana’s, and these are his parishioners. Apparently he is new here, and one of the first things he undertook was putting on this storytelling event.

At the end, the audience gives us a standing ovation. Then the village kids leap onto the stage –teens in the lead- to take selfies with the performers. It’s a busy whirlwind of activity as cameras and a baby named Sofia are passed from hand to hand. Finally Dan drives us another 40 minutes to a remote country inn where we eat supper together, along with Father John, before retiring to rooms on the second floor. In my room, there is heat, and the light beside the bed works. I lie in bed wondering if it is possible they don’t know about wifi here. It is midnight; the quarter moon has set. I’m on the opposite side of the earth from the place I call home. On the other side of these walls are friends new and old, and I can still feel the day’s laughter in my belly. There is forest around us. Not far away, large dogs are barking in the dark.

I open the door to my balcony, because, as it turns out, it’s not that cold.

All content © 2017 Anne Glover

In the mountains, we drive through a mix of rural farmland and old Soviet industrial relics.

 

Roma child begging along the road in Transylvania. Our driver Dan just gave him his sandwich.