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Andy's previous articles:
Teaching high schoolers free-market economics
Looking for Ben Franklin in Timisoara
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by Andy Trincia (Romania 2002 )
Partying with peasants
and a letter to America
ONE SIMPLE ERRAND a spontaneous beer run in the boondocks turned into one of the most poignant moments of my life.
For a few days around New Years, I stayed in an itty-bitty Romanian village, an ethnic Hungarian one at that, tucked away in Transylvania, literally and figuratively many miles away from civilization and the cover-charged, champagne-packaged revelry usually associated with ushering in another year.
Miclosoara, population 500, has no running water, only one paved street, electricity but no gas lines, and is heated only by wood the burning smell of which fills the country air. Chickens, horses and other animals seem to outnumber its poor residents, who speak Hungarian first, Romanian second. Despite their Romanian citizenship and great distance from the Hungarian border most have never been to Hungary they proudly proclaim their Magyar heritage. This remnant of history, and longtime source of nationalistic rivalry and conflict, is part of what makes the Transylvania region so interesting.
My girlfriend and I were staying at the rustic but charming inn in town, and we met a British guy also named Andy and doing humanitarian work in Romania and his visiting girlfriend. The inn had no beer, so Andy and I headed to the towns lone market only to find it closed. So we tried one of the three yes, three tiny watering holes in the village. Using a flashlight to navigate the dark streets, sliding through an icy, muddy mix, we found a log cabin-like pub about the size of an American living room. The patrons were all men, peasants wearing soiled rubber boots and the evidence of a long days work. We received odd stares when we entered, our only goal to buy some beers to take back to the inn.
As we started to leave the smoky den, one of the men spoke to us in Hungarian. I replied that I dont understand, but I speak some Romanian. The guy looked shocked and they all start to tell us to stay and drink with them. Whats the big hurry? Tomorrow night is New Years Eve. Sit down and relax.
We said, sure, well stay for one, but after that, we should rejoin our girlfriends back at the inn. Within a few minutes, the outspoken one, Gheorghe, or Gyuri in Magyar, and his cohorts were surrounding our table, grilling us with questions and ordering up shots of palinca, a fruit brandy that could strip paint off a wall. They were fascinated by the presence of an American and a Brit in their isolated village. Since Andy had been in Romania only a few weeks, I served as a so-so interpreter. Gheorghe had leathered hands and a face revealing some tough years. He told us that he is the village blacksmith. I didnt know that word in Romanian, but understood once he explained, charades-like, how he makes shoes for horses. We all laughed over this. He also delighted in telling me that he shares a name with the President of the United States. Next time I come to Miclosoara (or Miklosvar in Magyar), he said, I should stay with his family and save my money.
After another round or two, more laughs and some confusing conversations, Gheorghe turned more serious. He said that his brother left for America several years ago but had since died, leaving a wife and two children, who would be in their teens now. They were near Phoenix, Arizona, but he had lost touch. The kids only speak English.
Could you write a letter to them for me?
We agreed that Id visit his home the next day. He gave me a double-cheek kiss, a sign of affection that doesnt normally occur until much later in a friendship, and off we went back to the inn. Andy and I endured some teasing from our girlfriends and the innkeeper, whod already heard we were the hit of the pub. The entire village was talking about us. Everybody at dinner enjoyed our story, especially about the letter I promised to write.