With my ever increasing travels I have the opportunity of meeting new faces and not just. Unfortunately sometimes the actions I witness are inconceivable and they make me wonder why Romania’s image in the rest of Europe is so tarnished.
Let’s begin with the second half of the title and the Romanian sign in the picture above. For those who do not know Romanian, it says: Please use the restroom. Urinating outside the special facilities will be fined with 30 euros. It doesn’t say anything new. There’s only one tiny problem. This sign is in the middle of Austria, on the fence of a local gas station. On my journey to Spain I had the opportunity to meet all kinds of people. At the end I was pretty much the only tourist in the bus of 50 people (maybe there were one or more tourists, but I didn’t find them). The rest of the passengers are the infamous “strawberry pickers” or capsunari.
So what does this sign suggest? One lonely Romanian script in Austria. There’s no German, English or Hungarian inscription. Just a Romanian one. Well the owner of the gas station had to have a motive to put it up there. Whatever it was (maybe some people didn’t actually pee in the right place), the sign left me a sorrow impression. But in order for the reader to understand the volume of people that pass through here each day, let’s do some simple maths. In average there are ten buses with fifty passengers that stop at a gas-station like this. All of these belong to the same company. We are not even considering the other companies. The company in question has each day routes to Spain, all year around. And the buses are always full. Daily, thousands of people stir up the nearly 800 thousand strong Romanian community from Spain.
And maybe at the beginning one might look at these people with despise, as they most probably didn’t go to a high school in the center of the city, and their parents didn’t teach them all the good manners. But all of this disappears in a second when you see the modern tragedy that unfolds in front of you. Young women with to kids grabbing their arms are going to look up their husbands whom they hadn’t seen for two years. Two or three days of teadous journey separates them from their loved ones. And I confess. It is not easy sitting in the same sit for forty-eight hours. And I am just a lame tourist. Try dressing up your kids; try looking for their milk bottle, take them to the toilette each hour and be careful so he/she behaves properly. And of course try getting some rest in the same time. Old mothers over sixty with their swollen legs search up their sons who didn’t come home for Chirstmas and teenagers look up their parents whom they haven’t seen for years. And I could continue with the individual stories.
And of course all of this is not enough. Thanks God a second ranked EU citizen has to endure something more. For example crossing the Hungarian border when the patrol officers search all the luggage and you are lucky because you have a Hungarian name and you speak to them this way. Or maybe it is easier if everyone just gives 5 euros which the officer happily puts away in his pockets. After this only the Spanish border control could miss.
And I thought that this is enough sorrow for the poor guy busting his ass of in Spain, or his family looking him up. But it is not enough.
Now we turn to the first part of the title. “Alba neagra” only means black or white. It’s a simple game. There’re three cups and a small ball. The player has to guess under which cup is the ball hidden. And then the small mafia like system starts. The bus stops at the gas station. The fast talking guy approaches the passengers with his table and shouts that 100 euros can be won. One of his accomplices from the crowd actually wins the money. The guy approaches the naïve woman. He asks her if she has any money. I only have 80 euros, but I don’t want to play – says the unsuspecting player and shows the guy her money. Against her will, the guy grabs her hands and plays with her money. Evidently she loses. There is no room for shouting as four or five massive prison blokes stand next to the building. But this is the lighter case. Many stories circle about guys being surrounded by a group of these fellows who steel all of there money, which sometimes can be thousands of euros. Interestingly the Austrian police don’t know anything about this; the other passengers don’t do anything as they do not want to get in trouble.
The even more interesting fact comes now. I so happen to see that someone pays for the driver’s dinner. And it is one of the “goodfellas”. So even the driver is in all of this!!! He’s the one who takes the passengers to the proper gas station. This is where the fellas approach you and they can earn easily between 500-1000 euros a night.
I feel sorry for the poor guy working in forty degrees heat in order to sustain his family but in the same time I am not surprised about the image the country has abroad. Even the sign is only designated for passengers from back home and I’ve only seen the fellows playing alba neagra next to the Romanian buses. This can only be topped of by stories about Romanian guys beating the shit out of Moroccans in the suburbs of Barcelona. Who knows? Maybe a day will come when we will be seen as white and not black. But then again no one has seen Mother Theresa ascending to heaven, did they?
Kolozsvar (Cluj-Napoca), 3rd of August 2008