My eyes grew sleepy as winding hills consumed my view, sloping gently into the background with no sign of relapse. I watched as sunflowers danced in the wind and wildflowers mingled haphazardly; the colors of a thousand sunsets in one field. I was awoken from my trance with a jolt as the driver slammed on the break. There was a moment of shared laughter as we waited for hundreds of sheep to cross the broken pavement. As the last animal crossed, the driver punched the gas and the van raced forward on the A1 motorway.
As the driver would later tell me, “Here, the speed limit signs are only suggestions.”
Several children with bare feet and tattered clothing waved at the van as we entered the village of Susani just outside the city of Lugoj, in Romania. At age 15, I was traveling alone to an impoverished community knowing only fragmented Romanian that I had studied online. Yet, these kids would become my family and this village my home for a month. Though we looked different and spoke different languages, there was a commonality to be found in our youth.
From sunrise to sunset, I played pickup soccer on a concrete strip with shoes as our goal posts and prickling weeds as our spectators. When it would get too hot, we would all run to the local store and buy ice cream that always seemed to melt before I was finished. On the days it rained, we stayed inside and drew pictures with a box of Crayola crayons I had brought. Some nights, I would venture out of my room to the concrete strip with several other kids where we laid on our backs in silent awe of the tints of greens, purples, and blues that made up the starry sky.
This is the universal language that only children know. It’s an unspoken bond of naivety, curiosity, and spirited rebellion. It’s found in pickup games of soccer and in late nights with no parents in sight. The kids I met taught me that this connection crosses backyard’s and continents, races and ethnicities. They showed me that this world is interlaced like the star-freckled sky and that people would be less hostile if we all remembered our childhood; a time where skin color and nationality didn’t mean anything and where Crayola crayons and half-melted ice cream cones meant the world.
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