The 15th of August is not my birthday, nor is it Christmas or Easter as I’m sure you are aware. However, it is a day I shall celebrate because it is the day I met the loveliest family in Romania, potentially the world. We’d finished for the week after working at Casa Lumina so Steve and I popped 2 minutes down the road and walked up a long windy path with many an angry dog, rickety gates and fields of sweet corn. We ventured through all to find ourselves in the midst of a party. A party that very quickly and guiltily dispersed when our arrival was noted. Of course I was suspicious but I soon realised it wasn’t that they were trying to hide anything, they just wanted to be polite. The mother showed us the house, a beautifully looked after but absolutely ancient construction that had the ongoing threat of collapse hanging over it and Steve and I said “Vadem” (we’ll see what we can do) and made our plans.
We returned with a fresh team and a fresh plan Monday afternoon armed with pickaxe and spade ready to begin work on stabilising the circumference of the house. We were raring to go, just before we started we were invited for a quick black coffee and an introduction to her three sons: the clever one, the beardy one and the cheeky one (who is, against all expectations, still alive despite numerous diseases). Quite some considerable time, several good conversations, black coffees and snacks later we remembered we’d come to work. When we tried to thank her she would always reply by saying “it is I who is thanking you.” And she would always apologise that there weren’t enough chairs to sit us all down. She made us so welcome we forgot to do any work that day.
As the week went on we were stricter with ourselves so we got more work done, brought milk so our coffee was whiter and brought chairs so she could host the way she dreamed she could. I was also introduced to a liquid substance called Viscinata. This is a killer, 90% alcohol, 10% cherry with a kick like an enraged donkey. They offered me more and more as the week went on……of course the quality of my work was in no way affected. Also, I remember it very clearly, when one of the brothers first saw Nat carrying a bucket of water. What on earth was wrong with these English people that they let a fragile, little women carry anything. She was immediately relieved of her bucket as was every other girl from any task harder than cleaning until one day they’d had enough of wheelbarrows and buckets and spades being grabbed of them so they refused the gallant yet incredibly misogynistic help of the brothers prompting them to come up to me and say “Jack, these English girls, they are very strong da! It is very attractive.” Well guys, it’s a start.
I don’t mean to do the brothers an injustice. The whole family are fantastic, one day the mother told me how proud she was of her sons, she said “They help me, they respect me and they love me” which is good going for sons really. However, one afternoon, my bubble was burst when I heard what they weren’t telling me. Behind a woman who loves to host and boys who love to help is actually struggling with bankruptcy. The social worker told us after the first group had finished the concreting around the circumference that Anna thought this was an absolute miracle as she’d have had to take a loan that she couldn’t afford otherwise. The brothers old enough to work have been messed around and scammed by several employers but one has recently heard of an offer of a job in England (another dream come true) so I will pray with all my heart that this comes through for him. Having learnt this every coffee, every Viscinata, every sweetcorn didn’t taste the same. It showed just how much love they all had for us to still be offering when they had nothing. From then on every shovel of balast, raking of concrete and digging of ditches didn’t feel the same because love is infectious and I now love this family with more love than I can sensibly afford.