Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Part Three: Haunting
(Sighisoara, Continued from The Realization and The Place)

They haunt me when I am still. They appear, peeking around the corners of my idle mind with their doe-like eyes and their outreached hands, caked in filth. Hard black muck wedged under their nails and in the creases of their skin. Their calloused hands slide against my soft white palms and their bare feet pound the hot pavement, walking beside me.

In the winter, I went to their village. It was a mile or so beyond Sighisoara. We drove in a cramped diesel van packed shoulder to shoulder with padded winter jackets and stacks of peanut butter sandwiches, pots of rice and soup. The village appeared in the horizon as stubble against the white-gray landscape. We parked along a brook, slush encroaching on its small brown stream. The children raced to meet us, bare feet, bare legs, bare chests and arms, all flailing against the white landscape and splashing through the brown water to slap their little palms on the side of our van. Their toothless grins smudged with dirt.

We quickly dished out plastic bowls of soup and sticky sandwiches to the tune of Jesus Loves Me. Their parents remained on their side of the brook, watching closely with arms crossed and faces stern.

After eating, we crossed the slushy water to their homes, with medical and cleaning supplies. Their houses looked thin, like cardboard stuck in piles of wet brown earth. The village reeked of filth; dirt and feces. Th
e homes were one room, cramped and sticky with heat. A makeshift stove sat in the middle, blasting heat against the layers of clothes and garbage, lining the walls. Old, glassless TV's were stacked in corners; a solitary mattress would be heaped with mothers and babies, staring glassy eyed at us as we walked into their dimly lit spaces. Standing there, in the windowless room, breathing in the steamy stench, you could forget that there was a shining sun and a cold breeze moving just beyond the walls. I was desperate for the air. Desperate to leave.

I escaped to the cold winter air and was immediately swallowed by a crowd of children; reaching for my hair, petting my jacket, smiling. Frumoasa. Beautiful.

Some of them escaped village life. They live in one-bedroom apartments in town with their entire extended family, sleeping and pissing on the same floor. They spend their days chasing the Americans along the sidewalks, sweetly smiling, eyelashes flickering puene te rog...Bread, please. They are often bruised, either from staggering drunk parents or from scuffles with older siblings. In the springtime, even the little girls heads are shaved. They wear wool winter caps to hide their stubbly lice ridden heads.

I loved them. I would wander the streets of the town looking for them with bread in my pocket and money for ice cream treats or bubblegum. They were all beautiful, stubbly heads, dirt caked grins and all. And I promised them more than I could ever deliver. More than food and smiles, I promised them hope.

And then, I abandoned them.

Five months later, I was thousands of miles in the air, crying and crossing the Atlantic. Back to my safe, ordinary, American life. I left with promises of returning...but haven't.

And so they haunt me still.

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Blogger Michele said...

This is beautifully written! I have been in a place like this--and returned here, always looking back.

Blogger Susanna Rose said...


Your story, with a beautiful yet powerfully haunting feel to it, makes me think on what you wrote about feeling guilty for not going back. I for one feel guilty for never going. I've been blessed with many travel opportunities but have never chosen to go somewhere for the sake of helping others instead of for a nice holiday. There have been so many opportunities in the past with church, etc where I could have gone on mission trips but I always felt it was better not to go than to just go for a short time and leave. That was then. Now I see that giving just a short amount of time-whatever you can-is better than nothing at all. It sounds like you really touched the lives of these children and that is priceless and something few of us get the opportunity to do! Also, by writing about your experiences and how you feel now, you can be an ambassador of sorts and lay on people's hearts the plight of these and other such children. BUT, on the same token, I'm sure it is not a bad thing for us North Americans to feel uncomfortable/guilty with all that we have and desire to do more/be more for those around the world who are in so much need. It's so easy to get comfy-cozy and never think beyond ourselves. Thanks girl...see, you've touched someone already right here at home!(=

P.S. I have a friend who feels very similar to you after getting back from a missions trip to South America last summer. Thus, she has started to write articles about different issues problematic there and has actually had some published in local papers in order to make people aware. Writing is definitely a powerful tool (and you sure have the gift of the pen!)

Blogger Publius said...

I feel fortunate to have stumbled across your post. I too have spent some time in Romania. I accompanied a missionary there for three months during the summer of 1994. The missionary, who was my landlady back in the states, had a real heart for the orphans in Timisoara. My Romanian trip remains a significant event in my life.

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