Food for ThoughtJanuary 16, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Posted in Bun, Me, Transylvania | 14 Comments
Tags: Challenges, Charity, City Life, Expats, Life, Perspectives, Poverty, Romania, Winter
It took us 20 minutes to get out the door — unfold the stroller, find the lost mitten, refill the sippy cup, extract the blanket from the baby, go back for the charging cell phone — but Bun and I went for a walk last week.
It started to snow as we shuffled up the hill. Round, lacy flakes settled on the top of Bun’s boots like doilies on an armchair. Just enough fell to cover the icy, slushy muck piled on the edges of the road. We navigated past buses, taxis, and magazine stands, taking a left and a right and another left with only a vague idea of where we were headed.
But eventually, we found it, a little orange shack nestled close to the university dorms off Strada Republicii. Imprimante, the sign said. Through the open door, I could see copy machines lining every wall, purring happily as they spit hot toner fumes into the air.
I pulled out my USB stick and handed it to the guy inside the shop. He popped it into his computer, punched a couple of buttons, and sent my 200-page file whirring through one of the machines onto perfectly white double-sided A4 sheets.
We both stepped outside to wait. I distractedly entertained Bun and wondered if I had enough cash to cover my project. How much did copies cost in Romania anyway? The guy stood on the other side of the mat and lit up a cigarette.
While I furtively glanced around for a price list and tried to shield Bun from the secondhand smoke, a girl walked our way. She had on a hot pink jacket and a red knit hat. Her hands were tucked in her jean pockets, and her cheeks were rosy. I figured she was a student, just back from the holiday break, maybe about to cram for her physics exam.
She stopped at three large green dumpsters a few feet from us. I wondered if she had a juice bottle or a croissant wrapper from breakfast to throw away. Instead, she put her hands on the edge of one of the dumpsters and heaved herself into it. She tossed a couple of trash bags onto the sidewalk and jumped down beside them.
I turned away, shocked and a little revolted, as she ripped open the bags and began rummaging through them for something she could eat.
For 10 minutes or so, we stayed there. All four of us. Me staring fixedly at the yellow highlighters for sale on the back wall of the shop. Bun hollering for a rock from the sidewalk. The guy smoking his Marlboro Light. And the girl digging through the garbage. The oblivious copy machines hummed contentedly behind us.
Nobody said anything. The girl didn’t look at us. We didn’t look at her.
Eventually, my project finished and the guy stacked my papers and rang up my total: 21 lei. Seven bucks. For 200 copies. I marveled over how cheap it seemed and tucked the receipt into my wallet. Without really thinking, I grabbed some bills to give the girl and tugged the stroller through the gravel toward her.
Just around the corner was a little grocery store. A loaf of bread, bag of apples, and some chips would cost about three bucks. I knew because we often stopped there, my husband after the bus deposited him on our corner after work and me when I needed a pastry fix from the bakery inside.
The girl could easily buy food for a few days with what I would give her. But something stopped me.
Was it the warning a fellow expat had given me about Romanians and money, about the perceived mathematical and social gap between “rich” foreigners and “poor” locals? Was it my fear of making the girl feel ashamed? Was it my own embarrassment? Either way, I quietly stuffed the money into my glove and walked away.
Marshmallow-sized snowflakes continued to slink lazily down from the sky. The scent of freshly stacked reams of paper and the sound of wet, rustling plastic slowly faded as I pushed the stroller down the street, up the hill, and away from a kind of poverty I could no longer pretend didn’t exist.
What would you have done? What if you had been the girl? How do you reconcile social problems in your community with your own comfortable lifestyle?