Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Most Intriguing Day In Romania By Far

June 12, 2008 (Thursday)

Elisa, MacKenzie, Mindy, Melissa and I had the opportunity to attend a funeral in the countryside for one of our orphans - Marian Cojocariu. He has been in a catatonic state his entire life and at 11-years-old he finally passed away. He has been in the Intensive Care Unit of the hospital for 6 months. He is in a much better place now – no longer limited by his physical body. Five BYU girls were asked to attend. We were grateful to be a part of the service. We helped fund part of the funeral with some of the money that was raised by various girls in our group.

The plan for the day was to meet at the orphanage and take a two hour car ride to Marian’s hometown named Andrieseni for the funeral. All the BYU girls wore black, except me of course. For some reason I didn’t think about that. I wore a dark green shirt.. I was afraid I was going to offend someone. Luckily, no one else wore black in attendance besides the other girls in my group. Phew!

The countryside on the way to Andrieseni was gorgeous. Romania is absolutely beautiful outside the city. It’s so fascinating to see farmers working the land and people driving buggies with horses. I felt like I was in a car driving through another time zone to a far off land. It was amazing. The only thing that wasn’t real pleasant was Doamna Silvia’s chain smoking habits. We were wondering how she was going to make the car ride without smoking – oh she still smoked. She was sitting in the front seat of the van and it all came back and hit us in the face. We were laughing so hard at the situation. Crazy Doamna Silvia.

When we first arrived at the cemetery we started unloading all the items for the funeral. Doamna Silvia from the orphanage had it all planned out, and she did an excellent job. The funeral service was very different from one in America. Sadly the only family that showed up for Marian’s funeral was his little brother, two uncles and his bunica (grandmother). Apparently the mother and father didn’t care – so they didn’t show up….Even if you had a child that was in a catatonic state I would think that you would at least want to attend your child’s funeral. Once again I don’t understand, but I guess they have their reasons. What was amazing about the funeral was that even though there were only a few family members in attendance, a class of children, neighbors and random people passing by stopped to pay respect at the service. You could tell that it was a very close knit town. We were afraid that it was only going to be us at the service. We were happy when a decent amount of people showed up.

The service was performed by a large priest, outside, next to a beautiful wooden pavilion that stood at the entrance of the cemetery. The priest’s appearance fit the stereotype. He was dressed in a long, thick, black cloak, and he held a wooden cross in his hand. His daughter Teo was there as well – she did the majority of the singing at the funeral. She was very helpful and friendly towards us. She spoke a little bit of English and happily explained the symbolism for the various decorations that were present. The first items we noticed were three cakes that were beautifully decorated with various colorful candies. Each cake carefully had a cross decorated on the top of the cake. The three cakes represented each person in the Godhead.
During the service a few younger boys stood and held large poles that had painted crosses at the top while the priest read out of the “Evanghelia.” Attached to the poles were covrigs and a towel. Covrigs are braided bread in the shape of a circle. They are very popular here. When I asked Teo what they were for she said that they were gifts to Marian. At a funeral the people attending will give something they like to the person that is dead to represent their friendship and love. As for the towel, they believe he will need it in the afterlife. They said it will provide a clean place for him to sleep. In between the priest reading scriptures his daughter and another man would sing songs from the book. Then throughout the entire ceremony people would cross themselves when it was appropriate. This was their way of praying for Marian’s soul. In the Greek Orthodox religion they believe that you travel for 40 days after you die. Within that time you are shown everything you do throughout your life. Then on the 40th day you are judged on whether you go to heaven or hell. In the Greek Orthodox religion you can help the dead obtain a better chance at going to heaven if you pray for them which is why people in attendance were constantly crossing themselves. I occasionally would participate in praying for his soul to show my respect as well. It was a fascinating scene to behold.

Towards the middle of the service they handed out thin, malleable candles to everyone. The candle represented Marian’s soul. All the candles were lit from the same flame. Then the priest went around with incense (represented the Holy Spirit) and shook it towards the crowd while people crossed themselves. While everyone held the lighted candles some of the children and family closest to Marian went and kissed a picture of Christ that was placed on top of his coffin.
After everyone paid their respects we were soon whisked away in an orderly fashion to the grave spot. On the way the priest would randomly stop, the men holding the casket would put the casket down and he would sing. Kenz and I thought they were going to stop every couple of feet, which would of taken quite a while, but they only ended up doing it two or three times. At the site there was a neatly dug grave spot that was fairly shallow. They lowered the casket in and at one point everyone placed one hand on a person located around them and shook their other hand in a continuous circular motion. We didn’t know what it meant, but we followed their lead. We found out later that this act symbolizes that we are all connected in the continuous cycle of life. Then they opened the casket while it was in the ground. It wasn’t the most pretty sight. Marian’s body was mangled, and his eyes and mouth were jolted open. They simply put his body in the casket. They didn’t embalm him, put makeup on him or sew his eyes and mouth shut like they do in funerals in America. He was left as is… that’s just the way they do things here. Death is a natural part of life and it isn’t shocking to see the gruesome decaying details All I have to say is that I never want an open casket at my funeral – even if they do put makeup on me and make me look nice. I don’t want people to remember me like that. I want them to remember me with a huge smile across my face.

Before they closed the casket the priest threw wine on his body. Then after the service they gave away Marian’s belonging to other children in attendance as a gift from Marian. Once again it was a representation that we are all connected and that the cycle of life is a continuous round. Even our belongings are passed on to others. In essence we all help each other fulfill one another’s needs both physical, temporal and spiritual. There was also a huge cart of braided homemade bread and fruit. The priest gave it away to family members and other people in attendance. Then he gave some to each of us. I felt bad – I think we got more food than anyone else there and we needed it the least. However, we didn’t want to offend anyone so we kept it. The mayor of the town and priest talked to us for a while after the funeral. They both seemed fascinated and excited to have “American girls” in their town. We all felt like royalty. The mayor even wanted a picture with us. It was so cute. I’ve never felt so welcomed and loved by random strangers. It was a pretty amazing feeling.

We were about to leave and head home when the priest asked us to come see his house and church. We agreed and he led us to a magical little church that was hidden between cherry and peach trees. I felt like I was in a movie. They showed us into their quaint church. The construction of the building was a little beat up, but it was still beautiful inside. They had pictures of Saints and shrines all over that could be worshipped. Then to remember that we came there the priest’s daughter Teo let us each pick a bracelet that held a cross on it. They were all beautiful.

After we looked at the church we went outside and all of a sudden they pulled a random bench out and told us to sit on the bench under the cherry tree. We thought they just pulled it out so we could look at the scenery. Nope. Then they pulled out two tables and another bench. Then they brought out a tablecloth and course after course of food. We had no idea we were going to be fed but it was so nice of them. Us girls were laughing in amazement at the situation. We were in Romania; sitting under a cherry tree; outside a traditional Greek Orthodox church; in perfect weather; and eating traditional Romanian food with a Greek Orthodox Priest, his family and the mayor of the town. We were treated like royalty. The mayor even asked us to pose in a picture with him.

Once we were situated at the table the first thing they brought out was wine. The priest poured wine in a cup and motioned that we were each supposed to take a sip of it. MacKenzie was the one sitting closest to him, and she had panic written all over her face. Obviously we don’t drink, but I could tell she had no idea how to tell him that we don’t drink alcohol. Plus we didn’t want to offend anyone in the process. We quickly motioned for his daughter Teo to translate for us that in our religion we don’t drink alcohol, but we wanted to thank him for his generosity. He teased us about it for a minute and then he respected our wishes. Shortly after that they brought out whiskey. The priest kept pouring Doamna Silvia more and more. She probably had about 5 glasses. We were all laughing. We kept thinking “this is going to be a fun car ride home – she is going to be so drunk.” In Romania everyone drinks, even young kids…in fact I don’t even know if there are any laws or regulations for drinking.

The food they served us was really good with a few exceptions. The first thing they brought out was fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, bread and goat cheese made from their goats. I’ve decided that the only type of cheese I like is normal cheese. I never knew so many cheeses existed until I came to Romania. Then they brought out fried eggs and lamb. I was a little nervous about the lamb, but it was delicious. Very flavorful and tender – I just had to remind myself not to think about eating a poor, innocent lamb. Then they brought out yogurt. Right before they pulled it out Doamna Silvia was like “They don’t have anything like this in America.” After one taste of it I realized she was right, and I was glad she was right. It tasted like sour milk. I was so grateful that Elisa only gave me a small amount. It made me want to hurl after one taste. The meal was finished with cherries and some type of cake. All of the sweets look so good, but they never taste very good. Almost all the sweets in Romania are very bland….

Through the course of conversation the mayor said Mindy looked like the local mail ladies sister. Ironically the mail lady walked up right after he said that to deliver the mail and Mindy got a picture with her. It was one funny thing after another. However, I must admit that I was sincerely impressed when the priest invited the mail lady to eat with us. He was so friendly, warm and inviting to a stranger. I wonder what it would be like in America if everyone were so inviting. Needless to say we were having the time of our lives. The conversation quickly evolved into the Priest talking about how people “could come and find a friend at the church always.” Then the mayor started talking about how we were going to go back to America and tell people of the good experience we had in Romania. I wonder if that was their motives to being so nice to us. Regardless, we had an amazing time. It was sincerely one of the best days of my life. A fantasy to say the least. Completely far away from the normal activities of my life.

After a couple hours of relaxing outside and leisurely eating our party was starting to get antsy. They had to get back to work at the orphanage and we had been gone all day. After a few minutes of attempting to get out the door the priest finally decided to let us leave, but he wouldn’t let us leave without inviting us back to visit again. He kept asking if we could come on specific dates…We finally told him we would check our schedule and get back to him. We are going to plan a trip in a month. The mayor said that we could come back and help with his horses and sheep. Then we are going to see if we can camp outside in one of the fields. It would be a lot of fun….

As we left the priest blessed us and gave us little cross key chains. Then the priest, his wife and the mayor all kissed us on each cheek to tell us goodbye. MacKenzie and I were laughing because we both almost kissed the mayor right on the lips. It’s hard to figure out which side they are going to kiss first. That could have been very embarrassing if we actually missed. Then we took a few more pictures and we were out the door. In the car all of us couldn’t stop talking about how nice everyone had been and how we wanted to plan a trip back so all the girls could meet him. I genuinely had the time of my life today…and I’ve never felt more treated like royalty than I did this afternoon. I want to make all the guests I have enter my home feel as special as they made me feel…I left feeling completely exhilarated and high on life.

After the event happened I was so grateful I was able to go. The experience was a once in a lifetime opportunity.

When they dropped us back off at the orphanage Elisa and I peaked our heads in at our kids. I hadn’t seen them in about two days since I was sick yesterday. I missed them a ton. Sadly they were all sleeping, but it was the cutest thing ever. They were all in their cribs, and they looked like little angels. Alex and Andrei were absolutely adorable….I don’t think I’ve ever seen Andrei so calm.

In the evening we had Outreach and while we were all playing Skip-Bo Ionut decided to tell us what animal we each looked like. He started saying we looked like random animals to make us laugh. He told MacKenzie she looked like a rat/mouse, Mary she looked like a Lion, then he kept changing his mind about me. He said I looked like a beaver, giraffe, rhino. He was full of it. Then he said Annie looked like a buffalo and a bird. We were all laughing hysterically…oh brother…the things that amuse us.

Then Ionut said I seem like I am harsh on guys. He said my expectations are too high. He thinks I should give Sera a chance because he is “a very handsome Romanian man.” I can’t believe another man would be comfortable with saying that about another man. Anyways the answer was “no.” I told him my expectations are just where I want them to be. If I don’t find anyone so be it, but I’m not going to be with someone for eternity unless I know it’s right.

After Outreach the four of us went and ate Pizza at a little shop outside on the side of the street. It was so nice and relaxing. We sat and chatted about the time era we would like to live in if we could live in any. Annie and I said the 1930s. I’m not sure why, but it stuck out to me. Then we talked about boys and relationships… that topic always seems to come up. For some reason there is always something to talk about in that department. We also randomly talked about where we were on September 11th. I remember I was in my 9th grade biology class when I first saw the plane crash into the Twin Towers. When I saw it on television I didn’t understand the severity of the situation or the history that would be made as a result of the events. However, it was definitely one of those memories that everyone will remember exactly where they were and what they’re doing when they first heard the news. To continue the random topics of conversation we talked about the second coming and if we would want to be alive when it happened. I really want to be alive. I want to be able to help with any situations that arise. Obviously it won’t be the most pleasant time, but I think it would be amazing to be a part of the events that take place.

When we got home it was time for bed. Poor Kenz slept on the couch because she is worried Mary has pink eye. If she does that would be really bad for all of us…

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