On the border of Romania and Hungary, Oradea, Romania is a city of diverse culture, people, and architecture. The remnants of Communism and the beginnings of Capitalism are noticed in the towering clusters of grey, cement, Communist housing lining the downtown streets, but nearby, in the newer sections of town, cottage-like dwellings, painted vibrant hues of pink, yellow, green, and orange, dot the landscape. These quaint homes, adorned with flower-filled window boxes, symbolize a new era of freedom and self-determination in Oradea. During a one-month mission trip in Oradea, I fell in love with the people as I became engulfed in the culture, both in the city and in surrounding villages.
Salem Church, my month-long home, sat just down the street from Nufarul Market, a vibrant place full of vendors hocking homegrown produce. Across the street, a local bread shop specialized in delicious, inexpensive, homemade bread and pastries. While the market and bread stores offered local charm, Oradea was not without its version of the mega-wholesale buying club—Selgros, offering everything from clothing to food items. Shopping venues in Oradea also contrasted the old and new world in Romania.
Oradea’s efficient public transportation system comprised both trams and buses. While many people utilize public transportation in Oradea, one still sees all makes and models of cars as well as horse drawn wagons sharing its streets. The cost of public transportation is inexpensive for a tourist, however, many locals, especially teens find the cost prohibitive and rely on walking as the major form of transportation, accounting for the typical Romanian’s lack of punctuality.
While I lived in the city, I spent my days in the gypsy villages, playing with children and delivering food to hungry families. Entering these villages was like entering a third world country. Lining the streets were twelve by thirteen foot mud and straw structures with thatched roofs, housing up to twenty-five people along with pets and farm animals. These structures lacked running water, electricity, and a central heating system. The homes’ small, portable wood-burning stove served as a source of heat and a cooking appliance. The backyards were a place to hang semi-laundered clothing and a dumping ground for trash. Poverty, abuse, alcoholism, and despair characterize these villages; however, the smiling faces of the dirty, scantily clad children living in these villages touch one’s heart and implore one to stop and lend a hand and lovingly reach out to a people group considered outcasts in Romania. Gypsy villages are wonderful places for mission teams to offer practical help as well as love and compassion.
In the evenings, I met many friendly and welcoming Romanian teens in the city’s many beautiful parks. Another favorite gathering place is the “Walking Street” lined with its shops, ice cream parlors, and unique restaurants. At Lotus Mall, one can take in an American film, with Romanian subtitles, or bowl a game or two in the neon lit bowling alley. If one visits the cinema, he should sit in his assigned seat because Romanians do not appreciate someone occupying their seat, even if the cinema is practically empty.
If invited to join a family for a home cooked meal, go. Romanians are wonderful cooks, serving extraordinary local dishes, however, arrive hungry because Romanian meals have about six courses. The Romanian’s hospitality overcomes any language barrier and teens in the home act as interpreters.
Traveling in Romania was exciting and meaningful. Both in the city and villages, I experienced Romanian culture and made wonderful friendships. The highlight of my summer was traveling to Romania, and I plan to travel to return soon.
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