The last two days have been interesting here in Romania. Mostly, it’s because I started teaching in one of the many private schools Bucureşti has to offer its wealthier, busier families. Allow me to give you a real quick look at school, orthodoxy, naked kids, lucky poop, and missing pants here in the capitol of România.
On Friday, I got a call from a woman with a thick Romanian accent saying, “Is this Ben Stimpson? We have school on Monday, but we do not have an English teacher. We want to know if we can meet today. What time can you meet us?” Forgetting my curiosity about how she got my number and why she thought I wanted to help at the school, I simply said, “Okay, I can meet between 3 and 4 this afternoon. Will that work for you?” And that was my introduction into the world of teaching English to Romanian elementary students. What’s expected of me? What lessons will I teach? How much English do the kids understand? What on earth have I signed up for???? I’m still not sure. But I’m now committed to teaching English to Romanian kids from 4 to 11 years old at least until June.
On the first day of school, besides being surprised by parents (and some kids) in three-piece suits, I was also surprised to see an Orthodox priest. I guess it’s pretty standard throughout Romania, even in public schools, to have an Orthodox priest come in on the first day to bless the school for the year. It seemed strange to me, but the blessing itself was, honestly, really beautiful. I could only understand bits and pieces, but what I caught was mostly straight Scripture. But the coolest thing is that it was sung! It reminded me of the ancient Israelite custom of singing the Scriptures; the Masoretic text is, in fact, crowded with little symbols called “cantillation marks” which indicate how each word was to be sung. Anyhow, it was a cool peak into this very religious culture that is still almost completely ignorant of who God is and what he desires.
If you’ve read my brother’s blog (It Doesn’t Matter Where), you already know Bucureşti isn’t big on clothing. A few days ago, I was reminded of this when I went to get lunch with my friend Dan (pronounced “don” over here). As we walked along the park, we saw a group of 5 or 6 Rrom jumping into the lake from a couple of park benches. They were, of course, without swimming suits and without shame. As we passed the boys, we spotted a stern-looking security guard (yes, the parks here have security guards, and so do the grocery store, the subway, the mall, and just about every other public place); he was quickly making his way towards the boys. We stopped to watch the comical scene unfold as the boys suddenly noticed the guard and started covering up what before they’d been heedlessly flopping around. We laughed, knowing that as soon as the guard left, the boys would be back to jumping in the lake in their birthday suits.
Let me start by saying that I am not a lucky man, and I couldn’t be happier about that. You see, I learned today that in Romania, when someone steps on dog poop they say, “Noroc!” which means, “Lucky!” “In Romania, we say it is good luck to step on dog sh*t. We say ‘Noroc!'” the third-grade teacher said to me over lunch. Needless to say, as a Christian, I felt obligated to trust Jesus rather than to take the path of luck. Our floors thank me profusely.
So I don’t know if this is normal in Romanian kindergartens (grădiniţe) but a girl today showed up to class without any pants on. Just walking around in her underwear and a shirt. Maybe she was in a hurry when she dressed. Maybe it was dark and she never even noticed. Maybe it was laundry day at home. Maybe it’s the style these days, kind of like all the American guys and their baggy jeans hanging below their butts. Maybe the girl just forgot to put on pants. But nobody else seemed too concerned, so I just went right on teaching.
And that, in a nutshell, was my last couple of days. Not much ministry going on, but we’re wrapping up our visas and I’m learning a ton about “normal life” here in Bucureşti.