Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Our Visit to Andreiseni - A Little Bit of Heaven on Earth

July 11, 2008 (Friday)
The Lord’s Hand in my Life:
Having the perfect example of complete selflessness and hospitality shown to me by the people of Andreiseni.

Andreiseni – the most friendly and giving town on earth was where we went today. We were invited to come back and visit when we attended Marion’s funeral by the priest and his family a month ago – except this time all nine of us girls came.

I woke up bright and early because we had to meet at 8:00 a.m. for the mini bus. I worked out, got ready and packed. Then as an apartment we got all the necessary chores done – sprayed our apartment for fleas and roaches, took out the trash and made sure no dishes were sitting out while we were gone. Last time our landlord visited our apartment while we were on vacation he almost had a heart attack – let’s just say we left in a rush.

When we arrived in Andreiseni, Teo (the priest’s daughter who speaks English) was waiting for us with a warm welcome. We immediately walked to her house where we were quickly fed – of course (1st feeding). Apparently on Wednesday and Fridays they don’t eat meat – so we had a meal with flat bread and a vegetable spread. Then we had apple gogosi with homemade jam. Before we left for Andreiseni Mary was worried about being fed and was like “Should we bring some food?” I quickly told her that I don’t think we will have a problem being fed…if we only knew how much of a problem it wouldn’t be.

After we ate Teo had a list of adventures and places for us to visit for the day. Our first stop was a little mill where they make flour and oil. It was fascinating to me how all the little towns in the area make everything they need to eat or cook with – down to the flour and oil. I never think twice about the process of making either – I just buy a bottle of oil or a bag of flour at Wal-mart when I need it…oh the luxuries we have that we don’t realize.

As we walked around everyone stared at us – which makes sense considering the town is so small and we are nine American girls that are foreign to them dressed in our clean clothes and new tennis shoes. As we walked down the dirt roads we all commented on how we felt like we went back in time. People don’t have cars in Andreiseni – they get around by a horse and wagon. We were cracking up when we noticed that at the back of each wagon there was something similar to a license plate – I’m not sure why? I wonder if you can get pulled over for speeding…haha…that’s hilarious to think about. To add to the sensation that we were in a different era every person we walked by had dust infested shirts and pants along with a sun dried face from years of the sun’s bright rays shining down on it. The older women had colorful scarves that hid their head and the little children wore mismatched clothes. It was quite the scene.

When we exited the mill there was a baby horse next to its mom. We all wanted to pet it, but it was scared of us – with good reason. Then one of the men in the town thought we should pet it so he tackled it as best he could to hold it still…it only worked for about two seconds. It was a strong little bugger. We all quickly decided it wasn’t worth petting – none of us felt like getting trampled, bucked or breaking any bones. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Elisa jump so fast as she did when it started backing up into her path…

We returned to Teo’s house with her, and she called for a horse and wagon for us to ride around for the rest of the day. We were all excited about it. The poor horses that had to pull all of us weren’t, but we had a good time singing in the wagon as we slowly passed townspeople by. Every single one of us almost fell off the wagon at one point, but we ended up being just fine – we laughed, giggled and enjoyed the gentle breeze that tugged at our face. I kept thinking how I wished we could ride horses to wherever we needed to go if it were short distances. How fun would that be to gallop over to your neighbor’s house and ask for a cup of sugar?! Too bad it probably isn’t allowed…

Our second stop for the day was the child’s center. All the children were gone for the day, but the workers showed us around. The center is a place for children to go who can’t be adequately and properly taken care of by their parents. The director of the center happily showed us the art work of all the children displaying on the walls. I’ve decided that Romanians start their children out young with fine craftsmanship. I was quite impressed – especially with some of the needlework projects that were displayed. There was no way I could make the crafts that they made at such a young age.

Our third stop was to a foster family who had taken in a little boy named Andrei. It was just a mom that took care of the little boy, but it was amazing to see how much they enjoyed one another’s company. Andrei was a handsome 7-year-old boy, and he had lived with her for five years. They lived together in a humble house that consisted of two rooms – a bedroom and kitchen, but they were noticeably happy. Even though we couldn’t understand what the mom said we could all tell that the mom had a good sense of humor and that the little boy adored her. Both their eyes lit up when they looked each other’s way. They weren’t putting on a show – it was genuine. It is a rare find these days. It goes to show that money doesn’t bring happiness.
On top of enjoying being around them, I think it was a relief for all of us to see a happy ending for an orphan. At least it gave me hope that orphans can be adopted out to good families who love and care for them. The only problem I thought about with the kids I work with is that they are less likely to be adopted because they have disabilities. The little boy in this situation was normal. However, the Lord is aware of all of his children.

The fourth stop was a friend of the priests. As you walked up to the little house the overpass that shaded our head from sunlight was covered with grape vines intermingled between pieces of crisscrossed wood…It definitely added a countryside feel to the house. The women enthusiastically greeted us and waved us to come in. She took us through each room in her house that was perfectly tidy and decorated in traditional Romanian style. Nothing matched in the house, but everything in it was bright and handmade. Hand sewn rugs, table cloths and doilies made up most of the decorations. Then there were several areas with pictures of Mary and Jesus Christ which is where they pray. Then after the tour she insisted on feeding us (2nd feeding). She brought out bottles of juice and apple gogosi with homemade jelly. The jelly was absolutely amazing. We all agreed it was the best we had ever tasted. I was so amazed that people who have so little give so much. There were nine of us, and they didn’t think twice about giving all the food they had to us. Teo said that’s just the way Romanian people are. However we decided that it’s not a regular characteristic for people in the city – just people in the countryside…but they treated us divinely. The way a guest should be treated. I’m definitely going to incorporate their hospitality into my future home.

In order to thank the couple for their hospitality we asked if we could sing them a song. We ended up singing a couple of hymns. Then the priest and the Romanian’s sang us a song in Romanian. It was really neat. We just took turns singing songs until we were all finished. The spirit was strong.

On the way to our next stop we passed a bar that was full of men drinking. One of the girls asked Teo if there were any “bad guys” in town. Teo responded very simply “yes, the drunkards.” We all started cracking up. I guess there are certain men in the town that get drunk all the time. At one point we were driving down the road and a man coming the opposite way was driving with his head down. He looked like he was asleep. What was funny was that he had the reins in his hand and his horse was moseying down the road, but he was so drunk he was completely out of it. Maybe the horse knew how to get home without his guidance? Who knows.

The fifth stop was at the beekeeper’s house. His house was swarming with bees. I just kept praying that I didn’t get bit – of course I happen to be the only one out of the group wearing a bright orange shirt. I kept thinking “please don’t think I’m a flower – please, please!” Luckily I didn’t get bit, but I did freeze several times when a bee came humming around. There were hundreds of thousands of bees. The beekeeper ended up putting on his hat gear, and he showed us the inside of the homes where the bees make the honey. Then he sat us down and poured us each a cup of honey and handed us a spoon (3rd feeding). We all stared at the cup blankly at first. He didn’t seriously want us to eat it raw? Oh yes he did…I took a big spoonful of it. That was a bad, bad idea. It made me feel sooo sick. I almost gagged right there. I could of managed to eat it if it were with bread, but there was no way I was going to eat an entire cup by itself. Needless to say I didn’t touch any more of it. Annie just kept telling me “don’t think about what you’re eating!” I couldn’t do it though…then the bee keeper brought us out some honey comb. He signaled for us to put it in our mouth and chew it. We did, and it was really neat. When I chewed it it collapsed in my mouth into a ball of wax. Then I spit the wax out. It felt really cool on my teeth when I chewed it.

In order to thank the beekeeper we sang him a song as well. We decided that since we didn’t have anything to give people we would just sing them all a song. We did and he loved it. He said we sang like angels. Then we all decided to leave. We were lucky that we all got out of there without getting stung. However, the priest wasn’t so lucky. The poor guy got stung in his eye. Within an hour his entire eye was swollen… really swollen.

Our sixth stop was the lake. It was absolutely beautiful and peaceful. There was a little boy who kept riding his bicycle through the lake and a couple of locals that were fishing, but besides that it was pretty still. Elisa, Melissa and I decided to attempt to walk around it. We figured out that wasn’t such a good idea when we couldn’t walk all the way around it. I was glad we went though because we had a nice chat between us three. Elisa asked me how I think I have changed the most since I’ve been here. After contemplating the question for a few minutes I came up with two areas I think I have changed the most. The first area being my relationship with my Heavenly Father. I don’t think my prayers have ever been more meaningful than they have here in Romania. When I kneel down I talk to Heavenly Father like he is a close friend or parent who is eager to listen to me. I love it.

The other change is the way I look at people. Thinking about it I realized that too often I emphasize the outward appearance – instead of taking time to look at the inner spirit of someone. I remember when I first started working with Irina (one of my orphans) I was a bit scared of her because she was unattractive and she made loud grinding noises with her teeth. However, I’ve gotten to know her sweet personality over the past couple of months, and I absolutely adore her. She is one of the most beautiful children to me because she is such a loving, well behaved girl. It’s amazing how much we lack to see at first glance. It makes me sad to think how many people (including myself) have missed out on getting to know amazing people because they only take them for face value. I’m glad I’m learning to look deeper while I’m here. That will be a good quality to carry with me in the future.

The seventh stop was the family that grows vegetables and flowers. When we arrived they immediately cut down over half of their beautiful flowers and gave them to us. We kept telling them we didn’t need any more, but they insisted. They looked like tulips, but I’m not sure. I’m definitely not a flower expert. The wife handed everyone white flowers except me. I received some vibrant bright orange ones. I was excited because they matched my shirt….I wasn’t sure if she did that on purpose or not?

Their family was absolutely lovely. The wife was pregnant, and she had two other younger girls. The little girls were halfway dressed and barefoot, but that was the attire of most young children running around. Then they showed us their garden and all the vegetables they grow. Life is so simple in Andreiseni – so different than my world.

The eighth stop was at the librarian’s house. Teo told us that her house was one of the most rich – and I was surprised because of the way it looked. Teo explained to us that those who are rich try not to show off their money and those who are poor often try to make their houses look as extravagant as possible to avoid looking poor. I thought that was an interesting…
Just as all the other houses the librarian was more than enthusiastic to have us at her house. When we walked into the entrance of their land there were a bunch of baby ducks. All us girls started chasing them and tried to pick them up. Those little guys are fast. After several attempts I finally caught one. It was sooo cute. Then Mindy caught one and it pooped all down her shirt. We were all laughing. That would only happen to Mindy. Haha…I only wish I would of gotten a picture of her face when it happened. The hostess was so nice though. She had Mindy take off her shirt, and she hand washed it immediately for her. It was quite the chore because they don’t have running water in most of the houses. The librarian had to get water from the well…but she did it gladly.

After we had our fun with the ducks the librarian showed us into her house. By that time we figured out that if we enter the home of someone we should expect to be fed something, and fed we were (4th feeding). We were fed gogosi (similar to a scone), but this time they had sugar on them instead of being filled with apples. They were good, as all the previous ones, but we had been fed so many times we were all trying not to groan. When she walked out of the room we all started laughing at the irony of the situation. I looked at Mary and was like “and you were worried about getting fed….haha.” She just shook her head back at me. It wouldn’t be so bad if they only let you have one item of whatever they made, but they make you eat several…Teo just sat back and laughed.

After we were done some of the girls lingered inside for a while longer and talked with the librarian. I sat outside with the rest of the girls and talked with Teo and played with the ducks. Then as the girls exited the house from talking with the librarian their arms were full of items. I asked what was going on and they said that while they were in there the librarian started pulling random things off her shelves and handing it to them. She gave us a doll, picture and a bunch of handmade doilies and table cloths – enough items for all nine of us to walk away with at least two gifts. I couldn’t believe it! I was like – “you have got to be kidding me!” What person in America would ever start grabbing random things from their house and giving it to their guest? Sadly, I think no one. Then the librarian took us to her garden and started grabbing fresh carrots, cucumbers and other vegetables. Then she handed us a bottle of wine…we told her we couldn’t drink it, but she gave it to us anyway. We decided we would just give it to the Priest. Finally she stopped handing us items, and we told her thank you profusely. I was shocked at the hospitality that every person had shown us throughout the day. Although American’s can be great, it was easy to see how selfish we are at times with out belongings. They have so little and they give so much, and we on the other hand have so much and give so little. That kind of goes against the scripture “where much is given much is required.”
As we went through the items we divided them up. I had my eyes set on the doll, and the girls said I could have it. I was so excited – it’s going to be one of my most treasured items from Romania. Apparently in Romania each region has a traditional “suit” or outfit that is native to their area. The doll that she had given to us, that was now mine, was wearing a traditional outfit native to Andreiseni. I will always love that doll…

Finally we were done with visiting people, and we decided to head back to the Priest’s house. It was about dinner time and we were all praying that the priest wouldn’t feed us dinner. None of us could take eating anything else. Plus we were sunburned, thirsty (because we didn’t want to drink any of the water people gave us because it was from the well and we could easily get sick) and our stomachs were not happy campers. We begged Teo to see if we could skip dinner….wrong again.

When we arrived back at the house dinner was ready for us. Not only did we eat dinner, but we had several courses (5th feeding). We had stuffed peppers, bread, sarmale, soup and fruit salad with chocolate pieces in it. We were dying. I don’t think my stomach has ever in my lifetime stretched as far as it had within the past couple of hours. Within about a seven hour period we had been fed five times, and some of those feeding were multiple courses….wow…I kept thinking to myself “I’m glad I worked out this morning. A lot of good that did.”

After dinner we gave the priest and his wife some gifts that we had brought for them for letting us stay with them. They kindly accepted them. Then we sang them a song. We first attempted to do a round, and we ended up completely butchering it. Talk about embarrassing. However, we did redeem ourself by singing Nearer My God to Thee. Throughout the day we found out that we were best at singing that song. I was happy about it – it is my absolute favorite hymn!
After we got done the priest told us that if we would sing another song he would give us a gift. We told him we didn’t want a gift, but that we would be more than happy to sing him a song. We sang him The Spirit of God and A Child’s Prayer. He ended up giving us each a painted egg. They were each beautiful and unique. I couldn’t believe someone would be talented enough to make something so beautiful.

After dinner we set blankets on the grass outside the church and priests house to sleep. We all insisted that we sleep outside…plus we thought it would be fun to sleep under the stars next to a church in the quaint town of Andreiseni. As we got ready for bed we kept talking about how amazing the day had been. Every time we thought the day couldn’t get better it did. We were all amazed at the hospitality and warm welcome we received from every house we entered. Even if they had nothing they offered us whatever they did have.

We all finally got settled and were just chatting and gazing at the stars under a thousand blankets that we had been given when the beekeeper showed up. He brought us five liters of honey which is equivalent to about five quarts. We couldn’t believe it. That was worth a ton of money – especially for him! Once again we accepted it, but I was really starting to feel bad for all the gifts people kept giving us…we didn’t have anything to give them all in return. However, Elisa and I did come up with an idea. We decided earlier in the day that we would take pictures of each of the people we visited. Then when we go home we will get them printed out and send them in a package for Teo to distribute accordingly. Pictures are rare and treasured by the people. Hopefully it will be a small but good way to repay them for their generosity.

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