What a whirlwind of emotions this past week has been. From arriving to my Cluj-Napoca, my favorite city so far in Romania, to meeting with friends, baking more gingerbread cookies, caroling from late night into early morning, I suppose you can say my schedule has been hectic and constantly moving– not that I mind. After all, this is part of what I came here for. Blasting Christmas music and baking gingerbread cookies, mixing up the recipes to make one of our own. Going to another friend’s house and drinking tea, catching up on basically everything and exchanging exciting life events which are happening. Game nights which go on until well after midnight. Caroling from the early night well into the early morning. Sharing stories with other family members and showing each other pictures of who looks like what and how everyone is doing on the other side of the world.. It’s the simple things in life which make me perfectly happy. And it’s moments like those that I live for.
Snowflake on our gingerbread cookies 🙂
Mom would be proud of us. None were burned in the process.
La o ciocolata calda cu verisori 🙂
Through the tumultuous activities and visiting family after family, I realized how much I really did miss my family back in America; my parents, brother, cousins, aunts, uncles, and friends I would typically celebrate the Christmas season with. It was the second night of caroling; snow was softly falling from the sky when I stopped and simply breathed, taking it all in. Behind me was the laughter of many new friends I made while minutes earlier we were singing carols to a home who gave us yet another round of prajituri (probably our 37th plate that night). The line from the Pentatonix song “That’s Christmas To Me” kept playing over and over in my head… “The only gift I’ll ever need is the joy of family.” Family. The Christmas season is usually spent with family, yet I decided to leave my parents behind and spend a cold, white, wintery Christmas in Romania with my sister. I missed them dearly, but I’ve come to the realization that the more I miss them, the more thankful I am to have them and cherish the time I spend with them. They have given me so much and made sacrifices I won’t ever learn about simply because they love me. Their love, unconditional love to even my selfish acts, reflects and reveals God’s love to me constantly. For this, I can’t ever thank them enough.
Train rides, car rides, bus rides. Our sources of transport to see our family. How blessed I am to be able to travel the world and still have a place to call “home”.. I do suppose, however, that home isn’t a building or structure where you live or where you make your memories. Home is the people you have in your heart, no matter how far you may be from them. Home is knowing wherever you are, wherever you have been, you still have them to go to, regardless of need, regardless of anything else, because home is the people in your heart who love you.
Two days in Romania, and I have yet to see my sister. I took an afternoon bus ride to finally reunite with my sister, now only 2 hours away. My sister moved to Romania this past fall on a Fulbright Scholarship from the US State Department, and is completing her first semester in Arad. Her accomplishments exceed far more than the average individual which justly proves how extraordinarily amazing this young woman is. She perseveres through every single hardship challenging her and inspires me to constantly strive towards becoming the best version of myself I have the potential of becoming. Through exploring her “home” city (for now), we caught up about our lives, chatted over coffee, froze our fingers and toes, were pursued by a stray dog for miles because of the food in our hands, and even a followed through a spontaneous, quarter-life crisis of chopping 5 inches off her hair (at a hair salon, of course). The second night we also made a first attempt at gingerbread cookies with a friend. Our night was so lit, we accidentally burned 3/4 of them. Mom wouldn’t be proud. Maybe next time.
Finally saw the sister.
The Christmas market in Arad, Romania.
Mulled wine, langosi, si porumb fiert. My heart.
First round of gingerbread baking.
After spending two days in Arad, we headed back to Oradea by train Saturday night. Sunday morning, we headed out to the grandparent’s village– the place I spent most of my time during my childhood in Romania. I’ve written about Coroi in previous posts, so you can refer back to there if you’d like to read about my happy place there :).
Pe drum spre Coroi, Romania.
Iarna in Coroi.
Wood pile for winter.
Three days later, we were back in Oradea at the Christmas market. Only twenty four hours earlier in Berlin, Germany, a Christmas Market was attacked by a man, killing 12 people and injuring dozens more. When a time such as this, the Christmas season, is meant to represent joy and peace on earth, it is difficult to remember such a thing when hatred and evil are prevalent still in society today. My heart breaks when I see acts of violence committed out of hatred towards other, or out of any other reason, for that matter. True peace and love can not be found in this world; it comes from God. It came down into a cold and filthy manger to bring joy to the world in desperate need for it. It came for me, a broken sinner in need of redemption and hope. It came for us all.
Thanksgiving break, during the road trip to Tennessee with my father, we began to naturally discuss plans for Christmas. I’ve been longing to spend a Christmas in Romania for years since I was little, but I never thought it would actually come to happen. A conversation with my mother, emails to professors, and hours of flight-stalking later, I bought a ticket with a date set for a week after.. I couldn’t believe it. Reality didn’t even sink in really until I arrived at the airport in Budapest and saw my aunt and uncle who were waiting for me. The week before that was packed hour to hour as my schedule was filled from the moment I woke up until the late hours I would fall asleep. After four finals, ten various assignments, five choir concerts, and an entire house decorated for Christmas, I was ready to go spend Christmas in below freezing weather with my California wardrobe.
I had the sweetest of friends drive me to LAX, where I took off for my 14 hour flight to Zurich. From Zurich (pictured above), I had a layover which took me to Budapest. A four hour drive across Hungary and into Romania, we made it back and into the apartment where my mother grew up: home. I spent a day in Oradea and met up with Abby, remembering that months earlier we dreamed to spend the Christmas season together in Romania.
We walked around the Christmas market “ciocoalata de casa” in hand, listening to traditional Romanian carolers sing, watching young teenagers ice skate, little children running around, and families altogether enjoying the exuberant atmosphere vibrant throughout.
This Thanksgiving break, I had the opportunity to accompany my father on his usual trip, though stopping at Tennessee for me. His routes span from California to New York, and takes about a week to go from one side of the country to the other and back. He’s completed the journey approximately 22 times a year for the past 22 years now. This past semester, I’ve spent more time in the library than I did at home, which did put a slight strain on my relationship with my parents. I hardly saw them, and when I would have a few days off of school, I would most likely be on an airplane flying to my next destination to explore more places. With a few days on the road with my father, we had some time to talk and catch up about life. Of course, we discussed issues on current events both in America and Romania, politics, guns, God, and I even ventured to ask about his life growing up in Romania, which I know is not an easy topic to discuss with anyone who grew up in a communist country. Without revealing too much personal information, simply put, I am proud of the person he has become from where he has been.
My father reading his Bible in the mornings.
He can cook a bomb omelette and drive his 18-wheeler. Talk about a multitasker.
The wide open highway of Oklahoma.
Thanksgiving and Tennessee, in my opinion, go hand in hand with the other. With Thanksgiving comes about the aura of family, cold weather, and leaves holding on to their last bit of strength to the trees which sprouted them. People pull out their scarves, beanies, mittens, boots, and pumpkin spice lattes, while pumpkin bread and muffins bake in the oven and lastly light the fireplace to finish the opening of a beautiful setting making way for a colder season to enter. Thanksgiving in a Romanian household is pretty typical to that of an American household, or so I believe. Romanians in general, though especially my family, are plentiful in people, food, and conversation regarding anything in life.
3 of too many Bangeans.
He was so pumped to have gotten a Gingerbread house kit he opened it that night.
Romanian desserts. My heart.
What I love most about Tennessee is the family there. With open arms, they welcome in more family even if they are have 13 kids between two households. My life with my family is something I treasure greatly. Have you ever seen My Big Fat Greek Wedding? Now imagine that, but with twice the number of cousins the main character Toula had (there were 27 first cousins). I love my family and I would not trade any of them for a husband in the world (which means more than the world in Romanian life).
Food makes my world go round. Food is what I plan my days around: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. One of my favorite aspects to traveling is exposing myself to new foods and varieties of foods that exist. Last weekend, I visited Portland and had hands down my favorite food I’ve had yet. It was a BLT biscuit. Simple, but sufficiently completed the job of feeding the soul. It was greasy, it wasn’t messy. It was perfection to me.
My favorite “holiday traditions” aren’t exactly tradition per say and it usually doesn’t always take place during a holiday. Whatever that would now be, it is to visit Portland every year when the weather is colder. Since 2012, my family has been taking road trips up to Portland during winter, and in 2014, I went during Thanksgiving break. This past year I have already gone three times, with the third time being last weekend for my birthday, and to celebrate fall as well. There’s just something about exploring a city with beautifully clean air, colorful trees brightening the city, and walking down a cold and rainy street wrapped up in warm clothes with a hot coffee or tea in hand.
They come from all sorts of backgrounds—Caucasian, Hispanic, African American descent—you get the idea. The little ones had dreams just like any other kid would. The older ones have a lost hope that anything good can come from their situation. These are the citizens of the streets of Los Angeles. They are humans, built like us, look like us, and live in the same area as us. The difference? They were born into a different life. While a majority of us were born into a home, with parents who love and sacrifice what they can for us, who send us to excellent universities and made sure we participated in whichever sport our hearts desired as a kid. For me, I did gymnastics for twelve years. Twelve years of paying money for leotards, competition entry fees, and gas to get where I needed to go. Along with gymnastics, I was also privileged to have spent a majority of my childhood in a country I consider my home: Romania. I have been able to travel the world and see magnificent sights one would only see in a book or on television. These children? They weren’t born into the similar life I have. Their parents can not afford to send them to Europe to spend time with their family there, or go to a private school for eight years, or do gymnastics for over a decade. No, they don’t have what I do speaking in terms of materialism.. But they have a hope. They have love deeper than any ocean in existence could share. They have a God who loves them fiercely and passionately. A God who desires for them to look to Him and trust He knows what is best for them and the live they are living. And so our lives intersected. We crossed paths on the day of October 6th, 2016. I have witnessed a need desperate for our attention, and something we could change if we did our parts. We don’t have to spend thousands of dollars to go on a missions trip to Africa. Please don’t misunderstand me either. Going to Africa on a missions trip is a wonderful thing to do if God has called you for it.. But there is a need to share the gospel and message of Christ in our own neighborhood, in our own cities, in our own neighborhoods. It doesn’t have to be publicized. No, these people don’t seek attention. The people I met at the Fred Jordan Mission simply needed to know someone was there for them.. That someone loved them, even if for a short time. They search for meaning, for purpose, for acceptance, but what some of them do not see what they need is in front of them—the love of God. I could only let God use me so much that day to be there for those kids. I am only a vessel which can hold so much. The people of Fred Jordan Mission have shown me how different life can be if God was or was not in the overall picture of my life, and for that, I know my life is dependent on my faith and strength rooted in Christ.
My favorite city, quite possibly in the world, is Cluj-Napoca, Romania. I visited this city when I would spend my childhood and summers in Romania, though I would usually be with my grandparents out the countryside, so my time in the city was limited. The first time I stayed for an extensive period was in 2014, when I stayed at my cousin’s place in the city. I fell in love with it over and over again when I would roam around the city, eating the food, enjoying the culture, and making memories with the friends I would come to know as my family, and with my family who became my best friends. Every time I leave this city to come back to America, my heart breaks. Even now, I long to spend my days wandering the streets of Cluj with an ice cream in hand, occasionally people-watching and making ourselves laugh.
(Pictured above is my favorite church, built in 1309).
The parks in Cluj are always full of people of all ages, whether they be old, young, married, or walking in solitude. Also, it doesn’t hurt too bad that they have free wifi now at every park. In 2015, Cluj-Napoca was named the European Youth Capital by the European Union. It was during this year they began their yearly music festival called Untold, which spans a few days the beginning of August. This past summer in 2016, they had even more music festivals which invited hundreds of thousands of people from not only Romania, but all over Europe and the world. Cluj is a flourishing city which is now thriving with culture, good food, and a warm atmosphere all around. It makes me happy to see how great the city is, how far it has come from where it has been, and where it will go in the future. The potential is there, and I know they will use it to their advantage.
An Orthodox Cathedral in Piata Avram Iancu.
The back side of Biserica Sfantul Mihail.
An outside place to dine and drink surrounded by trees, twinkling lights, and beautiful buildings.
Taken in 2014, this graffiti is no longer here.
Walking down the streets of Cluj.
En route to my favorite shaorma place.
Every day, I miss this city more and more. The memories I’ve made here are priceless, and I long to live the life and culture of such a beautiful city. I look forward to where the future will take me, the memories I still have yet to make, and the experiences I will forever cherish in my heart.
Pictured in this one is also the “Mirror Street”..
The view from atop the church.
Strolling through Cluj.
The home of the Matthias Corvin; where he was born.
The Orthodox church in Piata Nvram Iancu, Cluj-Napoca, Romania.