I always knew Romanians were more religious than us Bulgarians, and yet I would still get surprised by random gestures of religious faith. Crossing the Danube with the ferry (which if you could see, would agree had nothing to do with a ferry but I do not know any other word to name it with), I somehow against my will ended amid a group of retired Romanians. Upon arriving at the Romanian coast, I noticed one of the ladies making three times the sign of a cross in front of her chest – because we had arrived safe, I assumed, and thought there was nothing surprising in that gesture, coming from a lady her age and social status. Once in the town of Călărași, I spent one hour wandering around, trying to find the bus station, which despite my friend’s assurance was not so easy to find; speaking 4+ languages didn’t help me much. Thanks to the kind guy who proudly answered affirmatively to my question ‘Sorry, do you speak English?’, I finally made it to the station, which was just round the corner of where I was desperately standing. Once the bus, or should I say the little van, left the station, I noticed the guy on the seat in front of me making that same cross sign. Three times. Exactly what the lady did. Except that this time it was a guy my age i.e. young, and definitely from a different social milieu than the elder lady, as 10 min ago I was looking, for the sake of sociology and anthropology, of course, at his clothes’ style and his fancy vest. And yes, I did notice his equally fancy girlfriend sitting next to him.
While writing, I noticed in my peripheral vision (despite my driving instructor insisting I have no such thing) that we were going through one of these little, picturesque countryside villages. These same villages that we also have in Bulgaria, except that in Romania they are more colourful and cheerful as if to make up for the colourless conditions of the harsh countryside life. So I lifted my eyes from the tiny notebook I was frantically scribbling in and examined the elderly people sitting on benches in front of their houses, curiously observing the passage of buses and cars, or maybe just waiting for the passage of time. At that moment, Bulgaria and Romania could not be any more similar. However, I soon realized how wrong I was since in Bulgaria you would not be able to find this life-size crucified Jesus in a little niche inside the garden walls of these same houses.
Looking up again from my notebook, I noticed (I am sure you could not help but notice that I am a person who notices a lot) the three little icons above the head of the young bus driver, who had his left hand on the wheel and his right on his ear, holding an iPhone. I have always considered religion and its symbols outdated signs from the past. That was why I was surprised to see Virgin Mary, holding the baby and looking down at the driver’s iPhone. Once again, I had arrived somewhere with my preconceptions and had projected my own views on society, and in particular my own agnostic visions on Romanian society, as obviously religion there was alive and present. Omnipresent.
This was more than obvious in the little wooden ‘houses’ sheltering Jesus or Mary and the baby and covered with images of saints: something typical in every village the bus passed through all the way to Bucharest.
Later that day my Romanian friend told me that she had no idea what these sanctuaries were. She thought it to be weird. Yet, every time we would pass by a church or see one in the distance, she would make the cross gesture; a rare sight of someone having and showing respect and faith in something, I silently thought.
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9 am. Bucharest – Paris Wizz Air flight. The pilot ended the usual message to the passengers with the words ‘Thank you for choosing Wizz Air. Enjoy your flight. Goodbye!’ Is he going somewhere, I could not help but wonder.
While I was waiting impatiently for the magical trolley to bring me the even more magical coffee, the man in the front seat ordered two beers when all I could think of right now was a sip of a strong coffee. And no, the second beer was not for the lady sitting next to him. Yet, one hour later she was the one sleeping on his shoulder while I, the coffee having fulfilled its mission, was energetically rearranging my purse, scribbling frantically in my notebook and flipping curiously through the pages of an old French Glamour magazine with ever so glamorous male actors and models. Paris, here I come!
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8pm. Dark night. The Romanian Danube coast. Narrow dusty road, dry bushes, a small barrack and the bac (the Romanian word for ferry) approaching the coast. The bac is a 100m² platform made of rusty metal sheets and pushed by a small, even rustier boat that noisily and wearily, as if with its last breath, stopped at the coast. Looking like giant bugs coming out of their nest, the cars started getting off the bac and getting on the shore; in the space lit by their lights, I could see dust particles flying in the air. I suddenly realized where I was and understood what the girl on that Bucharest – Călărași bus meant. I had asked her in English where I could find a taxi to take me to the bac. ‘The bac? Are you going back?’, she asked perplexed. ‘The bac‘, I repeated with what I believed to be the right Romanian pronunciation and then continued, ‘The bac to Bulgaria, Silistra! I am from Silistra, I am going home’. ‘Now? In this night?!’, she could not hide her surprise. ‘Yes!’, I answered even more surprised, thinking what was wrong with the night; though already dark, it was not even 8pm after all. Then I got on a taxi, put on again my good-for-nothing Romanian pronunciation and asked for the bac. The second thing I asked, in as threatening as I could get my voice, was ‘Where’s the meter?’ I have enough experience with Bulgarian and Romanian taxi drivers not to get in a taxi without showing them who they are dealing with, i.e. small but fearless girl. Not that with all my threatening voice I could have done anything to save myself during the 10km ride on a dark road in the middle of nowhere, then getting off at a dusty barrack selling tickets for the bac and arriving right in front of two grubby-looking men whose only job was to sit, smoke and stare at that must-be-crazy girl coming from nowhere ‘in this night’. This is when I realized how people perceive me and my supposedly reckless actions. It is a good thing I do not see them as such. I like using the word adventurous if I have to think about it. But only if I have to…