Friday, February 18, 2011
Of Gypsies, Travel, and Peanut Butter Sandwiches
No, I'm not going to try to speak knowledgeably about the Gypsy/Roma population of Romania, their treatment and management an unsolved dilemma for centuries, except to say that in every underclass there are scalawags and saints, those who wallow and those who strive, and mercifully there are those on the outside who seek to help. I have become involved with such a group, Children of the Son Ministry, who is funded by a US NGO (New Life for Children), various churches (particularly in North Carolina, home state of the founder), and by private citizens. This group works to place orphaned or abandoned Roma children in foster homes and aids in adoption proceedings. They operate preschool programs for five-to seven-year-olds, and after-school programs for 1st to 3rd graders. And, important to me, they have a home for Roma boys, high school students, here in my village. I have begun going there every Monday afternoon to give a tutorial class in English to the six who are now in residence. These are young men who want to finish high school (a rarity, unfortunately) and benefit from the care and attention of the foster parents and staff in this home. They spend the week in the home, attending school in Oradea, and then return to their families in their villages for the weekend. They are terrific kids--eager, funny, responsive. Working with them was the highlight of my week and I look forward to our next session. They got far behind in their English studies while in elementary school, missing more days than attending, a common problem with Roma students, and now are trying to catch up since passing English is mandatory for graduation. The "parents" are a wonderful Romanian couple who have love and discipline to share. The house, built of wood (unusual for this area) from American donations, is cheery, clean, well-organized, and always smells of something delicious from the kitchen. I'm glad to be a part of the team to help these guys reach for a better life. **** On a lighter note, I had fun Wednesday night introducing--in the cultural segment of the adult class period--PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICHES! Believe it or not, these adults had never tasted them and dutifully, if not eagerly, took one of the quarters I passed around. These were made with crunchy peanut butter and strawberry jam. Grape jelly doesn't exist here because, they explained, grapes are used for wine! Duh! Americans' love of peanut butter is almost a joke here. Romanians like peanuts just fine, but the texture of peanut butter (unt de arihide) doesn't appeal to them in the least. We tried to come up with an equivalent staple in the Romanian household, something to always have on hand to spread on bread, and decided it was zacusca, the wonderful roasted pepper concoction. As one class member said, "Maybe that's why we don't need peanut butter." Good point. *** I'm finally off to Timisoara this weekend. (Read about this interesting city here.) Weather and conflicting interests of my companions kept us from going a few weeks ago. The forecast is not so great for this weekend, but we have the offer of a friend's empty apartment and a tour of the city by two very nice Romanian young people, so Connie and I are taking a bus this afternoon and will arrive there four hours later in the evening. Right now the sun is shining and I'm hoping the forecast is off. Stay tuned!