Monday, November 12, 2007

Acum Pot


If you’ve read much of me at all, then you’ve probably observed that what I’ve mostly written has been for my American friends, about what is so different about Romania from our US experience, a kind of tourist cum expat sightseer journal of impressions from this stranger in a less-and-less strange land.

For his blog I want to reverse the polarities, and write for my Romanian friends. The ones who ask me repeatedly, “What the hell are you doing back? In Romania? What were you thinking?"

Well, here’s what I’m doing back in a country so many so fervently want to get out of because they believe that the land of opportunity is anywhere else but here.

Let’s enter the Way-Back machine. The year is 2003. I’m a lost puppy sent as an advertising guru to a country whose language is supposed to make sense to me because I parla Italiana, but doesn’t. I’m stuck with a driver who charges me double for everything I need because he knows I can’t fend for myself. He won’t show up to take me home past 1900 hours (7pm) when I work daily till 2100 (9pm) fiecare zi (every day) unless I bribe him adequately, which I don’t think to do, because, well, because I am an American, and we don’t think to do such things.

He works three jobs. His mother, who used to be employed by the state in a factory that doesn’t exist any more, and hasn’t yet been sold to foreign investors, would work if anyone would make her an offer, but they don’t. She’s almost fifty, and there aren’t many opportunities. His brother drives a taxi, works construction, and sells cigarettes on the side to foreigners who will pay outrageous prices for Winstons that tongue-burn on ignition from being so far beyond their expiration date. He never speaks of his father, and I don’t inquire.

They all tend vegetables in window boxes in every window of their bloc apartment (to eat themselves or sell) which houses three generations in the space solitary American grad students complain about. And they make do. Waiting for better. He would like me, when I go back home, to send him boxes of American sneakers which he could black market for a profit. I decline. His best hope is to one day own a Volkswagen Passat. It is, for him, a very big dream. They are a too typical urban Romanian family caught in transition. And the crossfire. I don’t know this at first. But I learn. Optimism is a very expensive and painful luxury in this land of promising disenchantment.

And the energy of the country is like quicksand.

It is a strange, stalled, static charge, rank with the bouquet of disappointment and frustration. Romania has one foot on the gas pedal and one foot on the brake, restlessly waiting for the light to turn green. Romania is a finally-liberated country desperately waiting for someone to tell it what to do. While I am here, no one does.

Fast Forward:

“You won’t recognize this place when you get here.” Andreea e-informs me as I pack for my short-project trip, the one that will ultimately culminate in signing on for long-term plans to ride the Romanian tidal wave.

“Everything’s changed.”

Was she ever right.

Now the energy is organized. There is an in-spite-of-everything optimism as the undertone. There is a flourishing and energetic world-class force that is emerging. Romania is rising. While America is still sinking under government stupidity and an aberrant, non-leadership, sock-puppet president, Romania has one of the few economies that is growing.

Multi-nationals have found a new exploitation target, which is really good for its victims. Personal income taxes have been lowered from 50% to 16% uniformly. Several corrupt politicians have gone to jail for being corrupt politicians. Banks issue debit cards now, and credit cards aren’t far behind. With real, professional jobs comes money. With money comes credit. With credit comes houses, and cars, and consumer economies, and every weekend can be Crăciun (Christmas) with an embossed plastic rectangle in your pocket, and malls opening everywhere you’d want to plunk them down. Yee haw, it’s capitalism. At last!

Right now Romania is drunk on money and choices.

Streams of Nissans, and Fords, Peugeots and BMWs, HumVees, and Mercedes necklace the better blocs and neighborhoods and flood every road. Versace wafts through Dorobanti and St. John’s and Armani walk hand in hand down the better boulevards. This is the show-off phase that comes after such a long and empty drought. Because they can.

The multi-nationals bring jobs, and with them the possibility of careers again. Lives again. Anything is possible. In Romania now, everything, after waiting through two thousand years of occupation, is finally possible.

FlashBack #2: Same time. Same station:
(Being prescient is not always an evil gift.)

I may not have known it at the time, but maybe I did when I wrote some lyric prose to Romanians for my then client, Connex, the country’s biggest telecom company at the time. It never got out of the agency, because the Romanians making the decision about what would go to client and what would go waste bin, didn’t have quite the confidence that what I saw was possible. It is called Acum Pot. (Now I can.)

I Am Romanian
I have survived two thousand years of others who believed that they knew what was best for me. And again and again, I told them that I know what was best for me.
I have survived hardships to work hard for myself. And for my freedom.
Now I can build businesses from mere ideas. Build my family’s life the way we wish it to be.
I am no longer a shepherd who is willing any more simply to lie down and accept my fate. I see fate as clay. I will mold myself new fate.
I look around and see my history in every street, but I also find there new possibilities and opportunities for change.
I am descended from brave-hearted Dacian kings and Roman emperors. I am Romanian. And I can do anything.
I invite tomorrow and I swallow opportunity in one bite.
Where others doubt, I believe. And what I believe, I can do.
I believe that doubt is defeat, and inaction is every opportunity missed.
And I don’t want to miss anything now. Because I believe that next thing I do is the first thing that brings me closer to whatever I can dream.
I move and change and dream in my own best interest now.
And now. I can do anything. Acum pot.
Sunt roman.

Present Time:
It is now nearly 2008. Four years nearly to the zi.

Bucureşti is exciting in the way that the Wild West frontier was. The way 1960’s New York was. The way Amelia Erhart and Henry ford were. It’s the discovery excitement of Columbus, and Thomas Edison and Carl Sagen, to go American on you for a moment. It’s the innocent optimism America has lost, temporarily, I hope. It’s why I came back to Romania. Though the natives cannot always see it for themselves. Sometimes it takes someone who hasn’t seen it every day (fiecare zi) to see what’s going on.

And everywhere I turn, here, now, I see Acum Pot. It’s why I came back.

And why I think I'm going to stick around for a while.

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Writer's Bloc by
Shelly Roberts is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

1 comment:

Florin said...

Hi Shelly

I'm Florin, a romanian currently living in Prague. I was talking with some friends about how many expats comment on the czech lifestyle and i was curious to find if there is any kind of expat forum for Romania.

That's how i basically discovered your blog. I kept reading for an hour or so and i really enjoyed your style and light hearted, unbiased views.

I especially enjoyed this post and quite frankly I was touched by the 'Acum pot' statement. It's somehting most of us don't realize or have too little faith/self esteem to consider.

It's very interesting how someone coming from a different culture/environment views the Romanian reality in a way that's not as we would have expected to be.

Honestly i expected to find a lot of comments on how things suck in Romania for outsiders a whole lot more than they do for the locals. I didn't find that though, maybe they're not a lot of expats yet in the country :p or active on blogs, or maybe you don't take things so serious as we tend to.

Anyways, long comment, i'll definitely enjoy reading on and promote your blog among my friends :)

Bafta in Romania si toate cele bune!