When my mother called me last week, I told her I would be out on the streets if I were in Bucharest. She said she was shocked to hear me saying that. Why would I join the biggest protest in the history of Romania? I will try to explain.
What’s happening in Romania lately brings to surface things that turn me upside down whenever giving them too much thought. It’s the fear I feel whenever contemplating moving back to my home country, after more than six years of living abroad.
I fear the doctor won’t show me respect and won’t take care of me if I were sick, unless I bribe him. Him, the nurse etc. I fear having to be even for one day in a Romanian hospital.
I fear having to work overtime just for the sake of it, because the boss likes to leave the office late, or because he or she waits until 4 PM to give you an urgent task. How asking for holiday is asking for a favour. Not to mention the hysterical episodes from the management, which seem so normal in a Romanian office.
If I were to buy an apartment, I fear a normal income will never allow for that. I would maybe end up living in a derelict, concrete box dating from communist times, in a neighbourhood where there is no metro, and where people only care about their homes, the shared spaces of the building lying in disrepair.
If I were to have children, I fear an inadequate teacher will humiliate them in front of their colleagues, telling them how they are not good enough, leaving them with traumas to last for a lifetime.
These are my biggest fears about moving back to Bucharest. There are more, but these are to me the most terrifying.
My boyfriend is English. In the absence of any emotional connection with Romania, he sees things even more clearly. He would never move to Bucharest, no matter how much he likes it when we go there for holidays, to visit my family. “Maybe in 20 years,” he says. “Maybe to Cluj, or a tiny village somewhere in Transylvania.”
He thinks it is exhausting to live in a country where one must always be alert, careful not to be mistreated. Exhausting to have to be stuck in traffic at least two hours per day, in a polluted and poorly connected city, where having a car is a must if you need to go from one place to the other. Exhausting to even think of all bureaucracy and inefficiency in case you need something – anything – and the helplessness when being told you have to start the process all over again.
Most of all, my boyfriend cannot understand how we are ever going to be happy – even if we manage to get good jobs in Bucharest and live in a nice house etc. – when each day we will be facing people less lucky than us who, right in front of our eyes, are living a life of humiliation and poverty, begging and sleeping on the streets because the state doesn’t give a damn about them. How are we ever going to be able to enjoy our presumably good lives when confronted with such failure of the social system? Why would anyone want to live in a country that doesn’t care about its own people?
And so, if I manage to change his opinion about his other fears about living in Romania, this last argument is something I can never make disappear. Because I believe my boyfriend is right. Because that’s why I left in the first place. I don’t want to live my life in Bucharest in a pretty, cosmopolitan bubble, when reality is so far away from that. Reality, for most Romanians, is sombre.
That’s why what’s happening in Romania these days is important. “People just want to live in a normal country,” I said to my mother. “What’s wrong about that?” And I would indeed be marching the streets with them if I were there. Although I don’t believe in miracles. Although I am very cynical about the outcome. Yet it feels like the right thing to do. Because lying, stealing, abuse, and lack of education should always be wrong. And because this joke isn’t funny anymore.