A Message to Romania on December 1, 2017.

Interview for StirileTVR , for December 1, 2017.
The Romanian version can be read here : Message to Romania

1. How does Romania look like for you today?

Romania for me is beauty, humanity and love. It is also struggle, endurance and resilience.

Romania is green, lush and natural, like the water that springs out of the mountains. It is clarity and freshness as the Dobrogean blue. It is red as the love and warmth of its’ people. It’s yellow and bright like the sunflowers standing tall and soaking the sun in July.

It is cheeky, humoristic and relaxed as in summer, reflective and spiritual as autumn, sometimes crying deeply as winter, and then again full of new hope as spring !

Romania’s history tells the history of humanity, a place between east and west. A place that was challenged so many times. It’s a story of endurance.

The Romanians are kind, helpful, generous and loving. They melt me in winter when I am cold, they allow me to express all the spectre of my feelings fully alive.

They taught me that I can’t plan for everything but to leave space for magic. They told me to cherish everything – to be mindful about resources.

The Romanians’ never ending wit made me less serious and more easy going. The Romanians showed me what real friendship is and what it means to stand close, no matter what.

It is a country with people who struggles every day against corruption and the realisation that western press is bullying Romania with a narrow-minded discourse about it.

It is a country on the verge of welcoming tourists again, after it had a grey period when tourism was very, very low because of inactivity, carelessness and the incompetence of the decisional factors in the tourism area.

The country is beautiful and, from a couple of years back, finally, things have started to move within the travel sector , thanks to social media.

2. Depict a beautiful memory that enlightens your soul when thinking about Romania.

Which one shall I chose ? I have so many memories that enlightens my soul and warms my heart. My heart bursts with longing, only by thinking of them all. Here are a few.

– When I stepped out of the plane in 2011, after not having returned to Romania since 1985. It was so exciting and I was very curious to see Romania again after 26 years.

– The smell of thyme, when I picked up a big package full of Romanian produce that my friend sent me from Romania to Sweden. I picked it up on a dark and rainy winter evening and the smell of thyme spoke to me from all the way from where it was sent and made me smile.

– Listening to my friend telling me the stories about the resistance group in the Fagaras Mountains and how special and strong friendship the group members had between them.

– The sound of the bells from the Petru Voda Monastery, which sang a song completing the whispering of the forest.

– Spending time in the village of Bucium in Transylvania, listening to colinde in the church and seeing all people wearing the traditional clothing.

– The neighbour in Amzei, who, when I asked her for a scale to weigh my suitcase before going to the airport, brought me also a few “chiftele” ( meatballs ) to eat.

– My friend coming to pick me up at the airport and bringing for me, to eat, white cheese , tomatoes and onions, just because he knows I love it !

– My friends making a phenomenal New Years’ dinner where abundance is an understatement and the food was so tasty and delicious. Much better than any five stars restaurant ! Romanian grandmothers really know how to cook !

– Making sarmale outside, in my friends’ garden .

– Dancing to live music, with my friends, at a restaurant, at the December the 1st celebrations, in 2014.

– Washing my IA in the river, the traditional way, in Mandra, Brasov County, Transylvania.

– Visiting Orthodox churches and reconnecting to what is important in life.

– Meeting Father Tanase in Valea Screzii, Prahova, and hearing about his heartfelt work for hundreds of people.

– Just simply waking up early in the morning and hearing the city of Bucharest waking up outside my window.

– Getting up, in the middle of the night and start driving, to catch the sunset on Transalpina. Then drive through a landscape that seemed so untouched and prehistoric that I was just waiting for the dinosaurs to show up and thinking “ time froze here”.

– Visiting Bucovina for the first time and being welcomed with homemade visinata, falling in love with their beautiful vests.

– Being amazed by Oradea architectural beauty.

– Every meal I had at Casa Terra in Fagaras, made by a woman full of passion, spirit and kindness.

– Spending time at my friend’s house in Dobrogea, where the sounds from the animals roaming in the neighbouring Danube Delta can be heard, where we enjoy grilled fish, where the white and blue houses attract my attention. There , where life is slower, I can again hear my heartbeat.

– The sunsets by the Black Sea with my kids, taking them back to the same hotel I stayed at, 30 years earlier, and telling them about how life was back then in Romania, comparing it to now.

– Eating walnuts straight from the tree. How big and crisp they were !

– Being given corcoduse from the tree, by my friend picking them for me.

– Walking Eros, the Ciobanesc Mioritic dog, in the snow, one cold December morning.

– Drinking vin fiert in the old town.

– Trying tuica for the first time – haha !

– All the different meetings with different people , sharing their stories with me.
When I spend time in Romania magical things often happen. There is surprise waiting for me, undiscovered places to see, people to meet. I love Romania more and more each time I go there.

2. When did you hear about Romania for the first time? How was the first contact with this country and its people?

I heard about Romania in 1985, when my parents had booked a trip to Mamaia. It was during the Cold War and Romania was a country that was held mysteriously behind the Iron Curtain and I was curious to see what was behind. I was a young girl of 13 years old, living in Gällivare, Sweden, 100 kilometres north of the Arctic circle. My life was very carefree and I had a lot of freedom growing up in Lapland, a UNESCO heritage area. Nature was omnipresent and I could roam rather freely growing up in the 1980’s and 1990’s Sweden.

My parents, paternal grandparents and I arrived to the Romanian seaside resort and we slowly started to realize what was the life for the Romanians.

While we were shopping in the shops that were only for foreigners, and the Romanians couldn’t enter, they wanted to exchange money with my dad and grandfather on the black market, to be able to obtain some western money. Western money which, I found out later, were used to buy goods and food from the same shops, through other people who had access there.

The cleaning ladies, at our hotel Dacia, were happy when we bought them chocolate and invited them to smoke a cigarette in our hotel room.

The waitress Diana ( my mum still has a Constanta address of her ) while at our table got a gift from my mum and quickly ran away with it, so nobody would notice it. One of the gifts was a neon pink hair band.

The teenagers approached me hesitantly and few spoke to me spontaneously. Few knew English.

Electricity was scarce and cars were on the road according to a system of even and uneven numbers of their registration plate. There was mostly schnizel at the restaurant and long queues outside food stores.

I noted the joy in the Romanian traditional music and dancing and the beauty of the people.

My mum said that she still felt the incredibly friendliness of the Romanians and when we came back to Sweden she noted that we, who had so much, were not so appreciative as those who had less.

Was Romania different from anything that you have heard of before?

For sure ! Romania, at that time, was a completely other world for me. Imagine me living in Sweden in the 1980’s when we enjoyed a pretty well-oiled well-fare system and safe environment, having a government that did pretty well for its’ people, then arriving to a Romania that was so closed for incoming impulses from abroad, and being tightly kept, by a dictator.

I still met teens and I came to write to a Romanian boy, one year older than I. My Romanian pen-friend told me later that they were freezing indoors in the winter and my letters didn’t arrive to him until after two weeks. I also understood that my letters were opened by customs and my gifts, to him, rarely reached him.
It was at this early age that I started to think of concepts such as ‘ freedom’, ‘ democracy’ and ‘freedom of speech’.

My pen-friend wouldn’t admit in the letters that the leader was a dictator and I later understood why.

The correspondence with my pen-friend taught me many meaningful things such as the value of us, as human beings. I was very angry that his freedom was very restricted and that he couldn’t express himself freely, due to fear of being prosecuted.

3. How could Romania be an example for you, your co nationals or maybe for your country? (if we could, of course). Maybe there is a relevant experience from this point of view.

The way of living in the Romanian village is an example for the whole western world. There is a need of living more sustainably on our planet. If you look at people living close to nature you will realize that they make little harm to the world we live in , but instead live with what nature offers us. In the Romanian village people are quite self-sustainable, growing a lot of food. This became so noticeable for me one time when I traveled from Cluj to Constanta, by train, and saw house after house, with gardens full of food growing in abundance.

The climate is pleasant in Romania and there is both fruit and vegetables to be eaten in season and being preserved in different ways, for winter. All is cared for. Even the rose petals ! How beautiful is that.

People are also good at not wasting things but take care of what they have. There is no plastic around the vegetables you buy from the farmers, hence less waste.

Many people have animals : they have their own poultry to be able to eat and bake with the eggs. Milk comes from the cows and I never forget watching the cows coming home in the evening , in the Transylvanian village, where my friends live. That is harmony !

Living close to nature means following the natural clock of day and night , the natural rhythm of the seasons.

People work hard , but look at how healthy they are ! Their soft skin, their smiles, their respectful ways and friendly faces ! They are not burnt out or stressed out !

All this still exists in Romania. We used to have it like that , here too, but we got distracted.

Then come the preservation of traditions. Take for example the habit of dancing the “hora”. Holding hands and dancing together, to real music, makes everybody happy and me especially ! It creates a strong bond between people and strengthens a community.

Romanians are very hospitable and friendly. I usually say that if a Romanian has two apples he/she will always give one to the passer by, or even both. Even if he/she is poor. Or better said, especially if he/she is poor ! This is happening all the time.

4. Something that doesn't work here – an example of a thing that should still be fixed.

Corruption and weak leadership. These things have too much negative impact in the everyday lives of people and slow down development and make people flee their country, leaving more than 4 million Romanians in diaspora.

5. Your message for Romania and the Romanian people.

It is people, who change things. Look at history. It is people who took to the streets and protested when things went wrong in their societies. I am enjoying a fair share of good things in Sweden because my mum and her generation went out in the streets, protesting, had debates and changed things that were wrong, at the time.

Today there is so much distraction around us and it is easy to lose track of what is really important.

For as much as I love social media, it can also distract us and make us dumb. Just as life outside social media can.
It is not enough to only give likes to ideas. If you want change you need to act and- act together.

Think of the metaphor of the branches. Take one branch of a tree and see how easily it is to brake it. Put 20 branches together and try to break them.

My message is to organize yourself and make change happen through actions. Get out of the sofa. Courage and action are called upon us. Each and every one of us have to decide to be resilient and courageous . Take for example the taxis in Bucharest. It’s getting better now but, I remember my friend who notoriously used to ask how much the journey will be. Who notoriously would take the fight with the taxi drivers if being fooled and saying that he would go to the Police if not being able to pay the correct fee. It is hard , but we need to do this, in our everyday lives.

Don’t accept bribes. Demand better politicians and do not accept and make resign the ones who don’t respect their promises. Demand better leadership.

6. How do you see Romania a 100 years from now?

I imagine a Romania where people have spoken up and where the corrupt politicians have been put to jail, where
a new generation of leaders have emerged since 80 years ago . A generation of leaders that care for their people.

I imagine a Romania where travelers are coming to be inspired by the way of life that Romania has to offer, soothing the soul and where humanity is praised.

It is possible to change. Us human beings have created change throughout the history of mankind and we can continue to do so.

I imagine a Romania where people trust their hospitals to provide good care without having to pay for a good treatment.

I imagine a Romania where parents feel confidence in sending their children to any school and know that the child will be treated well and that they will learn, their history, together with all the others things which will help them through life.

I imagine a Romania where internal agriculture is taken care of and that Romanian fruit and vegetables are enjoyed, with absolutely no need to import !

I imagine Romania in 100 years as a prosperous, united country, as it was during Burebista’s time, where people live in peace and being innovators, leading the way, being respected all over the world, as opposed to the prejudice we see today, wearing their beautiful clothes where history is sewn onto.

I imagine the grandparents telling their grandchildren, stories about Harap Alb, Ileana Cosanzeana, Greuceanu, where kids learning the craftsmanship of sewing the IA and modelling the wood and ceramics, and where money will be of no importance because all will be exchanged for different goods and services.

A country where the notions of ‘corruption ‘ and ‘poor’ will only exist in dictionaries and the only bad will be the doings of Zmeul cel Rau.

I imagine a Romania, that you and I were part of shaping today, for the generations after us.

Yvette Larsson
November 2017.

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