April 30, 2008 (Wednesday)
My first 24 hours in Romania have been full of adventure…so I can only imagine what the summer will bring. It all started with enthusiasm and excitement at the airport. All of us girls were FULL of energy and ready to go. The first plane ride from Salt Lake to Chicago was a breeze – full of comfort – no problem. The second airplane ride from Chicago to Austria was not the most comfortable 9 hour flight I’ve ever been on. The plane was huge – but the seats were tiny and I was lucky enough to get stuck in a middle seat between two people for 9 hours…haha…lets just say I didn’t get any sleep….I attempted…but failed. That flight was somewhat miserable because of our lack of sleep (the 9 of us Romanian girls were scattered throughout – none of us got to sit next to each other). However, I did sit next to a girl that was on her way to the Jerusalem Center who I chatted with for a bit. She was very nice. The weirdest sensation on the airplane was trying to sleep and waking up and instead of it being the middle of the night (which was the time in the U.S.) – it was bright outside like it is in the morning. Apparently the United States is 8 hours behind Romanian time. I felt like time was playing a trick on me – which to a certain extent it was. By the end of the flight all of us girls had horrible jet lag – we were exhausted, cranky and hungry. The last flight to Iasi was only like an hour and I slept the entire time. When we got off the flight my head was whirling from lack of sleep for 24 hours, and I struggled to walk straight and keep my eyes open because we weren’t supposed to go to sleep again until it was bedtime (at least in Romania) otherwise we would never get over jet lag. When we arrived at the Iasi airport – which was probably the tiniest airport I had ever seen – we passed through customs and then it was time to be taken to our humble abode. We were greeted by Mario who is our liason between the Romanian and American world we live in. When we walked into the room to get our luggage I was praying mine was there. Luckily it was. However, two of the girls in my group were not so lucky. Each had a bag of luggage missing. I think I would of started crying if I were one of them. I felt horrible for them. Although I did have my luggage, I discovered my camera was missing – it must have fallen out of my bag between Salt Lake and Romania. I just got that camera as a donation to my Romanian trip - it made me sick to think I lost it. I had passed through three different security checks and three different airplanes – who knows where my camera went. Out of everything to lose – that was probably the worst thing I could have lost…I’m going to try and call the airports today. I have said many prayers that it will be found, but I can’t complain too much because at least I have my luggage.
Outside the airport we had several taxi drivers waiting for us in tiny taxis. I have decided that everything in Romania is miniature sized – the cars, kitchens, elevators, airports, stores, apartments, rooms, etc. I feel like I’m playing house. I wonder how large people get around? When I went to put my stuff in the taxi my taxi driver started cracking up. Apparently my luggage practically took up the entire car – we had to stick some of my luggage in another taxi. Our first taxi ride was pretty fun though. We talked to the driver in broken Romanian. He laughed at our attempt to put together Romanian phrases and questions. We are terrible at speaking the language, but hopefully we will get better as time goes on.
We were soon dropped off at our lovely abode for the next four months. Talk about luxury. Our first introduction to my apartment named “Scala” was the smell of sewer. We then had about 5 flights of stairs we could walk up or we could take the elevator. We decided to take the elevator. Only two of us with our luggage could fit at a time. The elevator looks like a wooden saloon stall. You have two little wooden doors that you have to shut before you go up it. Then we arrived at our apartment. There are two bedrooms and two bathrooms (only one toilet works -which we soon discovered) and a sitting area and kitchen. The apartment is old and falling apart. Annie and I took the middle room through a rigorous game of heads and tails between our other two roommates. The bed in the other room was a fold out couch not much bigger than a twin – so I was grateful to have a room with a bed that we could both fit on. However, we later found a note from the last girls that were here reminding us of fleas in the middle room. The other girls laughed at us. As for the bathroom, it was atrocious - when I sat on the toilet I was afraid it would crumble right there. It’s old and has mold spots all over the shower area and the pipes look like they will spew at any time. All the furniture is patched up with tape and nails – no television and no internet. This apartment makes my college apartment look amazing. Never thought I’d say that in a million years. I will handle living here for a few months, but I have NO idea how people grew up in places like this their entire lives. It amazes me.
After we got to our apartment we unpacked. One good thing about our apartment is the nice view. We can see the entire city. It’s crazy how everything is so compacted into a particular area. The weather is nice in Iasi too – at least right now. It’s a little humid but not as bad as other places I’ve lived like Houston and St. Louis. It’s warm and cool. After we unpacked we went to the grocery store. We all walked in and just kind of stared at everything. We were exhausted and everything was unfamiliar. All the food was labeled in Romanian. I could barely even tell what package was cheese because the way everything is packaged so differently – plus it doesn’t help that we barely know the language. After wandering around for about an hour I managed to have bread, cheese, butter, toilet paper and milk in my basket. I think that was the most annoying thing about the day was not being able to figure out what the heck I was buying. It was so interesting how everything is even packaged smaller in Romania. Maybe everyone eats less? I must admit I haven’t seen many overweight people yet. Even the way their milk is packaged is smaller. It’s not in gallons – their milk is packaged like a small thing of soy milk in the United States.
Paying for our groceries was interesting as well. The money they use in Romania is called “lei,” and apparently you have to pay for the plastic grocery bags to put your food in. We get those free in America – weird. We also bought bottled water so we don’t get sick from the water here. After that we put out groceries away and met up with the other apartment to eat food. We went to the local mall to get dinner. Even the mall is smaller. Very compact. We ate schwarma which was meat, French fries, cole slaw and a sauce wrapped in a tortilla. It was pretty good. While we were waiting for our food everyone struggled to stay awake. Mary ended up closing her eyes for a second and woke up to a security guard yelling at her in Romanian. I don’t know what his problem was – either he was being a jerk because we were American – or we aren’t allowed to close our eyes in public. None of us understood what he said…hmmm….
After that we all went and ate our schwarma on the floor in the other girls apartment. Then we walked back to our apartment and turned out the lights and said some prayers. I was so tired – out like a light bulb and a little less full of the enthusiasm I shared the day before.