Over the last few weeks, Chris and I have had the pleasure of diving into the Romania that lays outside of the cities. Both of us made a sojourn back to Calafat, in Western Romania, Chris stopped through Craiova, and I went to visit a small village called Baleni 60 km from Bucharest (37 miles).
I’d been invited to the village by the owner of the hostel that housed me in Bucharest. His father had been born there, in a house two blocks away from the one I stayed in. When we stopped to visit that house, his grandmother was still there, and had apparently been born there too. There was a sense of timelessness that wowed me. Some of the people I met had been there since before my hometown was really a town. Life was simple. Most families grew their own vegetables, and sold the surplus in Bucharest. All said hello to almost all, gossiping and chatting without end, practicing the original facebook.
As in Calafat, a lot of goods were moved by horse-drawn cart. The villagers laughed at me as I sat on the corner and took pictures of them trotting by, amazed at how much could fit into one wagon. Rush hour was at 6 o’clock, when the cows and sheep were driven home from the field. The cars honked aggressively, which perplexed me. I couldn’t figure out where they were in such a hurry to get to. They couldn’t figure out why I was so excited to take pictures of cows.
My time in Baleni was without a doubt one of the best experiences that I’ve had on this trip. It was the first time I was really accepted into a small community, doted on, fed until bursting. I was offered small shots of Tsuika, the local liquor made with plum, at all hours of the day starting from noon. It was homemade, of course, and served from a 5 liter plastic water jug. It still tasted like ripe plum. My plate was refilled every time without question, and any misconceptions I had about bad Romanian food were instantly dispelled. I loved every minute of it, including getting kissed six times by grandma.
At the same time, I began to confront the difficulties of reporting in small communities. It is difficult to be a good guest and a good reporter. Journalists by nature seek conflict, prying into the places that are hidden. The people of Baleni were amazingly open and welcoming to my questions, letting me spend two days at their school and visit all the communities. At every home I entered, I was greeted with smiles and coffee and coke and food, sometimes even their delicious homemade wine.
I cannot forget that I went there to find a problem, to talk about ethnic discrimination. I found it, to be sure, but not in the form I thought I would. As I write this article, and prepare to publish our magazine, I am already facing a personal, and some might say moral, conflict. How can I write objectively about a community that showed me so much love and kindness? All communities have their dark side. I am wondering if my quest to become a good journalist will leave me with the burden of paying back kindness by publishing the harsh truths, given to me in vulnerability and confidence.
I will always seek to report the facts of course, but I can already sense that in some cases it will be with a heavy heart. It is my hope that I can find a way to tell it without editing out all the smiles and kindness, and without forgetting to write how good all the people were.