This is not a story about a special person, or place, yet it is a very special story. It’s about a mass and extremely painful phenomenon in Romania, my native country. In my opinion – and many people think so – it’s actually a national drama, we could say. According to the last eurobarometer, approximately 3 millions Romanians are usual residents in the rest of the EU. Adding Romanian immigrants from other continents, the number is even bigger, going to a quarter of country’s population. Some of them are with their families, integrated, performing in their adoptive countries – these are the happy cases. Most of them work very hard, with lot of overtime, leave their children in Romania to be raised by grandparents, have no life, make sacrifices to build huge houses where nobody lives. This story is about such a family. And about a whole profound country, actually.
Oas Country is an idyllic region in northern Romania. It’s actually a small piece of heaven, I say, and I’m not subjective at all. There are landscapes that simply take your breath away, old traditions still kept, beautiful old wooden houses, people going to the church on Sunday dressed in traditional costumes. And a wonderful wisdom – those simple advices got from old, simple people – that are, actually, extremely valuable life lessons.
Beyond this, Oas Country, like all Romania, actually, lives a very big drama. The one of more and more people left to work abroad. Children let to be raised by grandparents. Family reunions usually three times a year and a life lived on smartphone talks, when it’s possible. As if this could replace hugs or good night kisses. And huge houses, built with a lot of work and sacrifices, just to stay empty.
To be alive, not to live.
One by one
It’s a very hot summer day, first of july, 35 degrees outside. The car goes along the small road, one curve after another, to the last house in the street. We are in Moiseni, a small village in Oas Country. Beyond the gate, in a small yard, three generations.
“Two of our nephews made a surprise for us and came earlier”, says Ana Bobuta (71 years old), grandma, mother, daughter, heart of the family. She wears a coloured, flowered dress, the traditional model in Oas Country. She asks us if we don’t want to eat something – this hospitality, from the heart, nothing forced at all, is traditional in the area.
With Ana are her mother, Odochie (91 years old) and her husband Dumitru (76 years old). But she is the heart of everything that happens in there. Actually, if she hadn’t told her age, you would not think she is more than 60. She smiles when she starts talking about her girls. Three girls, all with families, all left abroad.
Till they left, her daughters and sons in law worked in the small village, in agriculture, trying to earn their living. A lot of work and very small income, so, 25 years ago, Gheorghe, one of her sons in law, was the first one to leave. Illegally, back then. “He ran, someone from here took them, on water, by the sea”, she resumes. He got to France and found a job in construction. Nuta, his wife, followed him one year after and started working in cleaning.
The way was opened.
Cecilia, who they call Tataie, and Maria, the other two girls, with their husbands, left one by one. To France, also. The recipe was the same – men working in construction, women in cleaning. All their children remained to be raised by Ana. Nuta’s girl was 4 years old when her mother left, Cecilia’s boy, 9 months, Maria’s twins, 11 years. Children attended kindergarten, school, turned 18, took their driving license and left for France, to work.
Another generation, same road. “They all left, and left us, none of them is with us anymore”, Ana says. It’s almost a serenity when she says that – you could think she does not care and that’s not true, she suffers deeply, but somehow resigned to the idea – that’s our destiny, that’s how we are meant to live. “It wasn’t hard for us to raise them, we had food to give them, we had work to do”, she says.
Children could not share with their parents directly a lot of special moments. You can’t hug on the phone, you know. They got good night kisses from mamma on vacations. Had everything they needed, materially, yet, books could be written about the souls of children whose parents work abroad. “Somehow it was hard because they were not with them, but everything passed”, Ana says.
She misses them every day, even after so many years. We are looking at some pictures – her children and grandchildren dressed in traditional costumes – and she has tears in her eyes. It’s hard every day. But life goes on.
Thanks God there’s new technology – they speak on smartphone few times a week, see each other on video. Ana tries not to cry when she does this. But if it’s evening Dumitru asks – The girls, they haven’t called yet?
Every two weeks, she prepares packages. Ham, meat, sausages, corn flour, cheese – everything produced by them, packed, sent to France. In august, when they come home for summer holiday, she sacrifices a pig and prepares the meat for them, to take it. It’s what people do for generations – parents and grandparents who live in the country, for the children who left.
They come home three times a year, and it’s a celebration every time. For Christmas, for Easter, and one month in august, the summer holiday. Like a ritual, the family gathers around the table, and on the table has to be a lot of food. Maybe, without being aware of that, this could be a reminiscence from communism, when the problem with food for the population was a very big one, few things could be bought, you could not find almost anything, food was rationalized and population deeply suffered. “Let it be”, it’s like a slogan for many Romanian meals.
When the time for them to come is close, she sometimes feels she does not have enough air from so many emotions. After they live, it’s with tears, screams sometimes. After so many years, it still hurts. Every time.
Big empty houses
Moiseni is today a village with almost one third of his population from many years ago. When Ana was young, 300 inhabitants were in the village. Now, it’s hard to say if you can count 100. Most of them are old, young people left. When Nuta, one of Ana’s daughters, was at school, 42 children were in her class. Now, in the small village there is no school, neither kindergarten. The few children attend school and kindergarten in a small city nearby.
People who left started building huge houses, where nobody stays. It’s like a competition in the whole area, nobody knows why. The roots may also be in communism – then houses usually had 2 rooms, one was for guests, in the other lived the whole family.
The whole Oas Country is full with big houses where nobody lives. Old people remained to take care of the constructions, just open them from time to time and that’s all. When they come on vacation, children do something in the house – rebuild, add, order some new furniture, all sorts of things. “If one did they all do, they go and work hard and houses stay empty. They buy furniture, bedrooms, that stay there all alone”, Ana says.
Her daughters have, in all, 6 houses. “We stay only here, three old people, 6 houses are empty”, she says.
And she remembers with nostalgia the times of her childhood and youth, when people stayed many in small houses but knew to be together. “Many years ago, people talked one another, now they are all stressed, no one talks, this leaving is a kind of stress. They left to earn money, to build big houses and to leave them empty. When I was a child we stayed 4-5 kids, our parents and grandparents, together, and it was ok, now in these huge houses there isn’t enough space for 2 brothers. Back in time, people were not so rich but were much more happier”, she says.
Granny is 91 years old and that kind of person that makes you hug her, instinctively. She could be anybody’s granny, there’s so much gentleness in her eyes, her voice is like a balm, her hand, full of wrinkles, gently touches my cheek – tell my, my child – as if, in her old, small arms, would be a place to stay for all world’s good children.
She cries a lot. When she misses her grand and grand-grand children , when she thinks that they travel by plane and if something wrong happens with the plane, when they leave – that’s the hardest.
“Let me show you something, come to my room”, she says. A small, simple room, a small bed and on the wall, on top, a picture with Saint Mary and all around it, caught in the frame, pictures with her grand children and her grand grand children. A whole world. Her small world. “When I miss them I look at the pictures, but it’s very hard”, she says, even if they call her all the time.
Instead of epilogue
Before leaving, we visit a house belonging to one of Ana’s daughters. A big house, basement, two levels. Partially furnished, all the materials carefully chosen. A big bedroom, ordered furniture. And the mattress from the bedroom, with plastic foil on it. Nobody ever slept there.
The house nearby, the one from the other side of the road, both huge, both empty.
The sun heats deeply in Moiseni, the faces and the hearts. One of Ana’s grandsons smiles – it’s actually his house, theoretically. He attends high school in France.
Will you ever come back?
I don’t think so…
PHOTOS BY RAMONA SARAC/ANA BOBUTA PERSONAL ARCHIVE
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