Gyrne Turkish Cyprus
Belfast Northern Ireland
Back Home in California
Greetings from Bucharest Romania,
I got my first introduction to Romania from Radu, a construction sales engineer who shared my sleeping compartment on the train from Sofia to Bucharest. He spoke 5 languages: English fluently. Only forty, he already has had his first nervous breakdown from overwork, a condition he claims most Romanians workers share.
This is a country in severe economic crises. The old style Soviet infrastructure which tried to be elegant 50 years ago, now is just big, dirty and for the most part falling apart. I visited an old state supported department store and felt depressed. Brave foreign investors have made some improvements in the sectors supporting the tourist industry. Restaurant food is cheap: a four piece chicken dinner cost me $2.50. Hotels for foreign visitors are priced at world standards, though the big old restored Soviet built Hotel Boulevard I'm in has a $67 single room rate.
My hotel serves Fanta in place of the imitation orange juice (Kool Aid) served with breakfast everywhere else over here. Romanian TV news spends very little time reporting events in Kosovo. Bus rides are 12 cents. Internet access is $1.35/hr. All of the major US fast food chains are here and doing a thriving business.
People on the street are irritable: I saw three angry shouting matches during my 6-hour walks yesterday. The Romanian language sounds somewhat like Italian to my ear. The few Romanians with whom I have discussed the situation in Kosovo are divided on what the right course of action might be. Many support NATO, but just as many take the typical Slavic line I have seen elsewhere.
Where Sofia had a holiday atmosphere, Bucharest has a steel mill town feeling; not very inspirational. Tomorrow I am off to a place I didn't even know existed: Moldova.
The picture postcard part of this message can be found here.
PS: 10 May 1999 from Bucuresti
The treasure is several slices of discarded pizza snatched from a trash can. Crouched in the corner where two buildings meet, back forming a protective barrier between the food and three others barking threats and intimidations, I watched as he hungrily wolfed down large bites in between growling warnings at the others. Eyes darting between his precious food and the increasingly determined challengers, I think I detected both fear and desperation in his eyes.
Finally, one of the three lunged for the remaining crust and dashed off, swallowing as he ran with the prize, the three others in hot pursuit. I could not help but read a confused mixture of triumph, anger and hurt in the expressions of the combatants. As I have seen dogs fighting over food before, this short 30 second episode should have slipped from my mind immediately, and had I been watching an ordinary pack of canines on this dirty Bucuresti street, it would have this time, too. But, these "dogs" were human and only about 10 years old!
Such street urchins are common in Romania, the result of a strict government policy imposed by Nicolae Ceausescu of no abortion or family planning services under any condition until about ten years ago when the dictatorship was finally toppled. There are publicly supported homes for these kids of course, but many prefer the freedom of the streets to the loveless regulations of the institutions.
Romania is a country where the average worker takes home perhaps $120/mo, in the same range as the other countries of this region. A couple middle age people told me the economic depression would be tolerable, if they had any hope that things eventually would get better. But alas, many feel there is no hope. Watching the faces of all but the young and those in love, I can see the despair. For those in love, sipping coffee at a Mc Donald's Restaurant, the world is full of promises for better times. Thatís the only thing I saw that makes me think there might eventually be some hope for the region's future. FB
Fred L Bellomy