Sunday, March 26, 2017

Before I Forget...

I'm home!  I'm currently in my apartment, laying on my bed, with my laundry going, after a church service at my own church and lunch with an old friend at a favorite local restaurant.  Strange to suddenly be right back in "normal" life...but I want to blog about the last 2 days of my trip while it's all still fresh!

On Friday, I tried to take in as much of Budapest as I could.  I'd bought 48-hour tickets the day before that covered bus and boat tours and advertised free walking tours as well...so I took advantage of all 3!

But first...coffee.  There were coffee shops EVERYWHERE in this city, so it was hard to choose, but I choose one that was just a couple short blocks from my apartment.  I'd gotten used to the Romanian style of sitting down and being waited at in coffee shops...but sheepishly approached the counter after realizing this was not that kind of coffee shop :-)  Anyway, I enjoyed coffee and breakfast there, then started my exploring. 


Walking across the Chain Bridge
I walked across the Danube on a beautiful bridge called the Chain Bridge, and once I got over to the "Buda" portion of Budapest (there are two halves of the city, divided by the Danube, which used to be separate cities), I took the funicular (little cable car) up Castle Hill.  I explored up there for awhile, then walked back down the hill, and caught my tour bus, which took me back to Pest.  Yesterday's bus was a closed one, but this was a lovely open-air one, so I retook some of yesterday's pictures with a much better view and enjoyed the perfect weather as I retoured the city.

the funicular I rode up the hill
I got off the bus in time to grab some lunch before heading to the boat tour.  I was one of the earliest to board, and was listening to the other groups of people on board (some loud drunk guys speaking one language and some sweet ladies speaking another) and wishing I had someone to talk to (I'm actually kind of an introvert and don't always wish for this).  Moments later, a guy with a European accent asked in English if the seats were free next to me.  When I said they were, he called his wife who was at the back, saying "Hai!" which is Romanian for "Come."  He then answered a phone call and confirmed my hopes that he was Romanian as I eavesdropped on his conversation. :)  It was fun to talk with him afterward and feel at least a little bit connected to these strangers.

view of Parliament from the boat
The boat tour was beautiful, and afterwards I walked over to a different neighborhood for a scheduled walking tour covering Jewish history in Budapest.  It was fascinating, and of course sad also. I wish I could remember all the stats, but I think the guide said that 10% of the Jewish victims of the Holocaust were Hungarian, which is especially striking because they were relatively safe in Hungary until the war was almost over.  We stood at the gate of their largest synagogue (the 2nd largest in the world!) and saw pictures of people standing in this same spot over piles of dead bodies in what was then a Nazi-built ghetto.  Such a sobering experience.


The Great Synagogue
Gravestones from the ghetto, in the
synagogue courtyard
in the foreground, my tour guide. 
Behind him, if you look closely,
an orthodox Jewish man.
And behind them both, an orthodox
synagogue

Zsolt and Emese
After this tour, I got to have real friends again :-)  One of my music therapy clients is Hungarian, and his dad lives in Budapest. I've seen him about once a year these past 8ish years when he comes to Tempe to visit his son, and we'd arranged for me to meet him and his girlfriend for dinner.  They were such fun!  They took me out of the tourist neighborhood to a fun restaurant near a university.  I ordered a Transylvanian cheese platter, pumpkin soup, and an apple ginger lemonade, all of which were delicious, and it was so fun to have these bilingual friends help me feel less out of place.  They graciously paid for my dinner, then took me walking around town before escorting me back to my apartment.  What a perfect way to end my time in Europe!






I got to the airport bright and early the next morning (via my host's friend, whose driving might have been the scariest part of my entire trip) and began my long journey home: 3 hour flight to London, 5 hour layover, 11 hour flight to Phoenix, customs process.  Everything went really smoothly, except when just after going through security in Budapest, I realized I forgot to leave my key to my host's apartment!  I tried to figure out how to get it to him, but eventually heard back from him that it wasn't urgent, so just added that errand to my schedule tomorrow: mail keys to Hungary :-)

This trip was truly amazing.  Thanks for "joining" me as I've rambled about it.  I don't expect to blog again anytime soon, but I'm excited to get my pictures (and my thoughts!) organized, so if anyone wants to hear more details or see more pictures, do let me know :-)  I know that I will not likely get tired of reflecting on it all!
How can you not love a city that has a flowerbed in a piano?

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Beautiful Budapest

Today, I was purely a tourist, and on my own.  Strange to think that this was what so much of my trip was like last year, but this year I've been surrounded by friends and by purpose throughout my trip.  It was an adjustment today to go to pure tourist mode, but I had a good time.

Dawn arranged for my van this morning, which picked me up directly from her house.  It was just me and one other passenger for awhile, but we picked up a bunch of people in the city of Arad.  I got lazy about trying to speak Romanian, so I was just the silent American in the back of the van.  I tried to stay awake til the border...but did not succeed.  The others in the van woke me up to ask for my passport.  I was amazed that I just had to pass my passport up, the driver handed it to the agent, and nobody ever looked at my face to see if it matched!

How can a new city be intimidating when some of the first
words you see are "coffee to go" and some of the first people
you see are cute little kids holding hands?
I got to Budapest 3 hours before I was due to meet my host, but I made the most of it.  I'm in a super touristy part of town, so I didn't feel out of place with my touristy ways.  I sat on a lovely patio for lunch and enjoyed conversation with the host working there.  He is fluent in 5 languages and has learned some restaurant language in many others, so he plays this game where he tries to guess someone's language as they walk by and calls out to them in their language - "great food, excellent coffee, free internet..." etc.  He was so good at this!  And it turned out he was born in Romania, so I felt like he was meant to be my friend. :)


my building
After lunch I wandered a bit, then met my host's brother, who let me in to this amazing apartment I get to stay in.  I'll have to get some good pictures of it later.  I got settled in, then went exploring.  I got a pass for the "hop on hop off" tour, which includes bus routes and a boat tour, so I did the whole bus route this afternoon to get a feel for it.  This really is an amazing city.  The weather's gorgeous, so I was disappointed that I didn't get an open-air bus...but maybe tomorrow.  The pass is good til Saturday.

I'm staying right on the main pedestrian street here, Vaci Utca.  So I got off the bus a few blocks down and walked back through there.  I ate at a delicious Italian place for dinner, and treated myself to gelato afterward - I don't think I've bought any ice cream this whole trip! It was less than a dollar for this little cup, and it was well worth it.

Tomorrow, I have huge plans for seeing as much of the city as I can...and I'm also preparing myself that those plans might be a little over-ambitious.  Really, I'll be satisfied with whatever I can see, and am thankful for God's provision in things big and small to allow me to be here.  Tonight is my first night alone this whole trip...and I still feel far from alone. I've been so well cared for these last couple weeks, it truly blows me away.

First on tomorrow's agenda - starting the morning at a coffee shop!  I learned today that Hungarians are known for their love of coffee and bookshops... I think we will get along quite nicely. 




I mix all the bridges up, so I can't remember which one this is. 
But they're all pretty amazing.



Vaci Utca bustling with evening crowds.
I get to live here for 2 days!



Not sure if this statue has any significance,
but I liked having him in the foreground
for a sunset-over-Buda picture :-)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

One Last Day

My last full day in Romania has been a resounding success.  What a great day! 

This morning, Dawn and I went back to the children's center.  While she took some of the kids outside, I got to bring one kid at a time into one of the rooms and do little mini music therapy sessions with them.  It was so much fun!  I haven't taken a new music therapy client in a long time, and I haven't improvised Romanian songs...maybe ever :-)  I'd only known these kids for at most 24 hours...but there were some really meaningful moments and at least one important insight that I was able to pass along.  Then it was lunchtime, and I helped some of the kids eat lunch, and then we headed out. 

On the way back to Dawn's place, we stopped for my train ticket for tomorrow's trip to Budapest...only to find out that the trains are on strike!  I had this sort of exhilarating moment when I thought I might be stuck here...but Dawn is a tremendous resource and knows about a van that can take you directly from point A in Timisoara to point B in Budapest.  It's pricier than the train but won't go on strike (hopefully!) and will get me straight to where I need to be so I won't have to walk from the train station or figure out the subway right off the bat.

sign for the revolution museum.  Let's just say it wasn't fancy.
Dawn's friend Pam fixed another tasty lunch, and then while Dawn got some work done, Pam and I got to do some exploring.  We went to the museum of the Revolution, which was closed when I tried to go last year, and then back to the Garage coffee shop that we'd been to yesterday.





an exhibit in the museum, with a picture of a big
demonstration in Opera Square.  This is where we
hung out with the kids yesterday and ate dinner tonight. Crazy
to think of all that happened here not even 30 years ago.




a dramatic room in the museum filled with old Romanian flags with
their communist emblem ripped out of them



















Stunning Piata Unirii.  I have so many pictures of this place from
last year but still felt the need to take more.




 Between the two, we took some shameless tourist pictures of the storefronts and beautiful old buildings.  It was a lot of fun.  Then we wandered back to one of the main squares and met Dawn for an insanely delicious dinner.  It was a beautiful restaurant right on the square, with linen tablecloths and fancy waiters, and I had dinner and wine and dessert...and paid about 10 dollars, including tip.  I love it here.

Our restaurant this evening. 










Pam and Dawn

Here's where I start to get all reflective and emotional.  I seriously love this city, and this country, and this language, and these people.  Where last year was an exciting but occasionally lonely journey all around the country, this year has been even more exhilarating, but in such a more wonderful way.  I've really connected with people - lots of people - in meaningful ways.  And I've spent time with sweet Romanian families, and with sweet Americans used to living in Romania, and I've gotten a better sense, I think, of what life is really like for both of these groups of people. 

Tonight, walking home from the restaurant to Dawn's place, I tried to take in every sight and sound.  I'm not sure how to explain how much I love simple things, like the Romanian words for "thank you" and "you're welcome" and "goodbye" that I think are so beautiful.  It will be hard to not hear them anymore, hard to once again be the only one who says "Noapte buna" (my sweet roommate probably grows weary of me saying goodnight this way, but she doesn't complain).   It seems highly likely that I will return again soon, but every departure from Romania always includes a certain sense of finality, in case it is my last, even if I hope it won't be.

Ok, enough of my rambling.  My van will come early in the morning, and I need to be ready!  Tomorrow...Budapest!


This dog chained up near the museum startled me so badly
today, but then turned out to be a total sweetheart.  I know you're not
supposed to touch the dogs...but we had an instant bond. :-) 
Also, I promise he isn't dead.  He just looks a little strange.



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Timisoara Day 1

Ah, another satisfying day!  Timisoara is pretty much a whole different world compared to Draganesti, so much so that during parts of today I had to remind myself that I am still in Romania! But I love both areas so much, for different reasons.
Dawn lives on Bach Street!  And today is Bach's birthday!

As I mentioned in the last post, I'm staying with Dawn and her friend Pam.  Both of these women are internationally-minded women deeply committed to improving the lives of children.  Pam has worked on child welfare issues around the world, and is meeting with some sort of important official this coming Monday here in Timisoara to discuss foster care and adoption.  Dawn has been faithfully serving the kids of Romania with the love of Christ for 20 years.  Needless to say, we had much to talk about!

the children's center
Dawn and I walked down to the children's center where she works this morning.  It's actually a pretty cool complex, but is essentially an orphanage that's part of the child welfare system here and in an area with several different hospitals serving this county.  But compared to the state-run orphanage that I visited in Hunedoara in 05 and 06, this place is beautiful.  The kids there all have disabilities of some sort, and many live in cribs and don't get the education that they should, but the place is clean and well-lit and smells fresh and has lots of supplies and bright colors.  I tried to do music therapy there...but it was a little chaotic.  I didn't have a guitar or keyboard, and there were lots of kids in the room with lots of different abilities, and there was the language barrier, and I'd never met any of them before.  There were still some meaningful musical interactions, but I think tomorrow I'm going to try to work with one or two kids at a time with fewer distractions.  Not allowed to take or post pictures of these kids, which is a bummer, but you will have to take my word for it they are beautiful and special.  We also got to enjoy their outdoor courtyard for a while, and meet with a therapy dog!
the courtyard at the children's center

happily drinking an iced latte at
Garage Café!
We came home for lunch, which Pam cooked for us, and then after an afternoon nap went back to the center.  Pam came too, and the 3 of us took 3 kids with us and went for "o plimbare" or a walk, through the town.  I was determined to visit this coffee shop I'd wanted to go to last year, and so Dawn built that into the plan.  These sweet kids walked with us (well one of them was in a stroller), all the way through the 3 most famous, beautiful squares here in Timisoara, and with Dawn's help found my coffee shop.  The kids drank orange juice but wanted my coffee because it was so pretty. I loved the place, and the waiter was handsome with good English, and kindly escorted me to the door to help me bring the 17-year-old in a stroller down the stairs. 

We went to McDonalds from there, so the kids could have some ice cream, then we took them back to the center and went out for a nicer dinner ourselves, at a place called Casa Iosefin.  I ordered a delicious chicken dish with mamaliga, which is a Romanian staple. A glass of wine rounded out the meal nicely, and I am satisfied in body and spirit tonight after such a lovely day.

I love this city and feel so comfortable here.  If only I had time to do all I want to do in all the places I want to be!  I feel like this trip has been so chock full of amazing experiences, and I can hardly believe there are only a few days left.  Thankful for the perfect provision of the Lord - in friendships, in health, in fantastic weather, to name a few things.  Just a few days left, and I'm determined to make the most of them!




I seriously love this city
the closest I can come to posting
a picture of one of the kids.  Here is
part of the back of his head, while he
sat in his stroller and we enjoyed Piata
Unirii together.


graffiti, but true graffiti

Spring has sprung!

On a car: "Jesus loves you! But I am the favorite."  Strange sentiment.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Journey Continues!

Ok, tonight's entry really should be short and sweet.  I slept beautifully at Raul and Ana's last night, and because Monday is everyone's day off, it was a bit of a relaxed morning.  Raul asked me to help him with some projects in the morning, but we did that from the comfort of the living room and were able to talk and pray together before I had to leave.  I also enjoyed sweet conversation with Ana and felt like I had to tear myself away from this dear family when it was time to go.

The Costea family, minus their oldest son who was at school
Marcel, a friend from the church, picked me up and took me to the train station.  He's the same one who brought me to the train station last year, and that was such a blessing because he was able to make me laugh when I was pretty much terrified about beginning my solo journey.  This year, I was still a little anxious, but way less scared, and it was nice to chat with him while we waited for the train, which ended up being pretty late. 


one of many beautiful views from the train
The train ride was long but quite lovely.  I chatted with a Romanian girl (in English, I'm so lame) for the first portion of the trip, then kept to myself the rest of the ride, reading, texting, praying, and eating a sandwich and apple that Ana had sent with me, along with some delicious Romanian chocolate. 

I kept trying to avoid getting this man in my pictures,
and then I decided just to go for it, dapper cap and all!


the beginnings of sunset, over the
Danube River










My friend Dawn was waiting for me at the station when I arrived, and took me back to her place.  She has a friend staying on the floor above her right now, and the 3 of us ate and chatted together.  This friend was actually part of training Romanian leaders about the process of deinstitutionalization of kids here in Romania, 15 years ago!  We all had much to talk about.

Tomorrow, I'll get to meet the kids that Dawn works with and maybe do some music therapy with them, although I won't have many instruments to work with.  I'm also hoping to squeeze in the coffee shop that I tried so hard to find last year and which eluded me :-) 

Despite a full night's sleep last night and some lovely naps on the train, I am so ready for bed!  Good night!




Sunday, March 19, 2017

Weekend Overview

My heart overflows with encouragement and love from the kind people here whom I'm thankful to call friends.  I should probably be organizing my suitcase and prepping for tomorrow's journey to Timisoara, but there's so much to say. I'll try to be brief, but brevity has never been my strong point!

Yesterday I spent time with Ana, the pastor's wife, for much of the morning.  We worked on some projects at the church, and also went to the market that happens on Saturdays.  It's sweet to see how easily Ana makes and maintains relationships with the people in her town, and we were able to pray with a woman named Mari, who is hoping she sells a lot of her eggs and produce to help pay for her daughter's upcoming wedding.

Tavi and Dave picked me up from the church around noon to head to Tavi and Nico's house.  I'd connected with Tavi and his wife Nicoleta last year, and they'd invited me for lunch this year, and they are also hosting Dave, a visiting missionary from Canada.  We all ate lunch together at their house, then headed to Maruntei to do a kids club.  I was able to use a lesson we used in our small group at church to teach the kids about things that only Jesus can do.

The next part of the plan for me (it's been kind of fun that everyone is mostly making plans on my behalf!) was for me to head to another village, Stoenesti, to see the ministry that pastor George and his wife Dana have there and to spend the night in the missions house above the church there, connected to their home.  There was some confusion about how I would get to Stoenesti, and eventually they sent a man named Ilie to come pick me up. Ilie is an older Romanian evangelist who comes for one week each month from the wealthier north of Romania.  He told me that he tried to escape Romania in the 80s, just before communism fell, but that he couldn't get out, and he knows this was God's will because he was meant to serve southern Romania.  Turns out he plays the accordion quite well, but I didn't learn that until this morning!

I arrived in Stoenesti and got to spend the evening with George, Dana, their two kids, and a few of the teens from the town.  Every Saturday night, they host these teens for dinner and a sort of "slumber party" in the missions house. The dinner table was filled with delicious food, lots of laughter, and stories of God's faithfulness that a few of us shared.  I slept in a cozy room upstairs, and it was such fun to just have to walk downstairs to breakfast...and to church!  I shared my testimony in the church, and was able to understand most of the service, and was so encouraged by this family's involvement in their community.

After a lovely afternoon nap, we all piled in the van, picked up some others from the village, and headed back to Draganesti for evening church.  It's kind of surreal how many relationships I already have there - it almost felt like showing up to my church at home!  George preached on the humility of Christ and how we ought to live in light of it (I turned down several offers for translation and really feel like I understood most of it!), and the whole church prayed for me after I got up and said a few words.  I said many goodbyes and took some pictures with these sweet friends (on my camera though, not my phone, so can't share here), and then headed out to dinner with Dorothy.  I was able to spend time doing ministry with Dorothy earlier this week, but when she found out I was staying longer, she went out of her way to find a time to take me out for a meal.  What a joy! We went to a nice restaurant in a nearby town and enjoyed pizza and great conversation.  Then she brought me "home" back to Raul and Ana's house in Draganesti. 

Tomorrow I catch the train, and I'm not ready.  These people here are now so dear to me, and it will be hard to leave.  I hope that I can somehow express, when I'm back at home, just how sweet the ministries here are, just how encouraging the friendships are, just how hospitable the people are.  But what I can't express is known by the Lord, and I know that if I find joy in these things, He finds infinitely more joy.  These things please me...but I'm not the one they are aiming to please! Truly this is a special place.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Much to Learn

The students left this morning!  Last year when the team left, I ate dinner alone and slept alone in a big empty house.  I was getting to know the people here, but didn't know them well, and felt shy about spending time with them.  This year is so different!  I'm currently relaxing in bed in an apartment filled with people I know and love after an evening filled with delicious homemade food and sweet fellowship.  But I get ahead of myself.  First...yesterday.

my ministry group on Thursday 
Even though we missed Women's Day this
year, we still managed to receive flowers from a stranger!
I love Romania!
Raluca with the friendliest cat
in the world
Yesterday was the last day of ministry with the students, and it was lovely.  I went with 3 of the students to a nearby town called Coteana, with two of the missionaries working in the area, Danut and Mark. Mark is British, and his two boys David and Ruben were with us also, and I was instantly jealous of their bilingualism.  When we arrived in Coteana, the men went with one of the students into a nearby town to buy a stove, while we girls stayed back with Raluca, a missionary living in Coteana with her husband Beni.  We got to see their house, which was a pretty amazing place.  They moved there in November but it isn't yet renovated, so they have no running water, no bathroom, and only a very limited kitchen.  The church also meets in the same building, in the room next to their bedroom.  So the reason that I say it's amazing is because of how hospitable they are able to be with so few resources, and the big hopes they have for this property.  This weekend another team of missionaries is coming, and 11 people will sleep there!  This is why they need a stove...

Anyway, after a quick tour, Raluca, the students, and I went to do house visits.  We brought along David and Ruben, and we walked through the village to visit women who have attended the church.  The first was a woman filled with sorrow because her children never come to visit and left one of their grandchildren with her 11 years ago and never came back.  The girls and I each shared our testimonies about God's work in our lives, and we prayed with her.  At the next house, we spoke with a woman and her adult daughter.  These women were tremendously hospitable and so generous with their limited means - they gave us duck eggs and sausages and coffee and candy.  We talked with them for a long time before heading back to the house to meet the men. 

Jared and the much-too-big cupboard
Back at the house, they weren't able to get a cupboard out of the kitchen - this project took a long time until they finally chopped it into pieces.  While we waited, Raluca cooked up the eggs and sausage and we had a mini feast in their bedroom before heading back to the church to eat a second dinner with the team.  I was blown away once again by the sweet hospitality that seems to be so central to the Romanian culture - I have much to learn from them in this regard!

enjoying our feast in Raluca's bedroom











 This morning, the students on our team surprised us chaperones by informing us that they'd divided into teams to get the cleaning done at the missions house while we went out for coffee. They'd even collected money so we wouldn't have to pay!  Instead of the typical vending machine coffee we often get here, we splurged and went to the "Art Café," where we sat and enjoyed coffee and conversation, then grabbed some treats from the bakery next door before heading to our final debrief with the students and Pastor Raul.

Sorry, this entry is so long!  When the students left this morning for Bucharest,
the men from the church helped me to bring my suitcase to the pastor's apartment, where I am staying now with he and his wife and 3 kids.  I spent much of the afternoon at the church, doing some administrative work for Raul and talking with people passing through. 
the view from my room at the Costea apartment
Friday nights are small group nights at Hope Church.  There are 4 small groups in this town, and Raul arranged for me to go to 2 of them!  At the first, one part of the group worked on an assignment, while the leader, George, worked through a lesson with the rest of us.  I was encouraged that I understood what he was saying and could follow along and take notes, and even more encouraged by the fervor and passion that he has for the gospel.

When this group was over, I walked down the street to the next group, which had just started. It was in a building I'd never been to, and I was nervous to enter, but it was a very special moment when they opened the door for me.  There were many familiar faces, many excited exclamations that I'd arrived, and a sweet little girl I'd spent time with on Sunday, who ran up and immediately gave me a hug. They offered homemade donuts (gogosi) and soda, and then we worked on a test for discerning your spiritual gifts.  There were 105 questions, and I was able to answer most of them without translation!  It was such fun to spend the evening with this group.  Another of the men from the church, Marcel, came to pick me up afterwards, and he drove me back to Raul and Ana's house, where I ate dinner with him and Raul and Ana's kids and a couple of other guys from the church.

Sometimes I just pause and remember the 9 years between trips to Romania, and how much I longed to come back, and how excited I would get at any reference to the country or its people or its language.  And tonight I got to sit at a dinner table, immersed in the language and the food and enjoying the people and the culture and the community here so much. And I remember also how I asked for prayers that relationships would be central to this trip to Romania, and they certainly are.  Thank you for praying.  I'm thankful to be here.