I am back in Romania. It feels more than a bit surreal to be here, made fuzzier by the jetlag. As my plane started its descent yesterday, I seriously thought I had boarded the wrong one in Frankfurt because the Bucharest airport I knew did not look anything like the one we were approaching. I remembered my first time landing at this airport, 20 years ago. Soldiers in their long wool coats and Russian hats lined the tarmac and stood inside the airport, with their machine guns poised. Nothing was automated or computerized in those days. Lists were written by hand; luggage was carried in on carts. Now I waltzed through a clean, orderly, and modern airport. Nothing was familiar except the colleague who met me to drive me to the conference site.
The gorgeous sunshine and blue skies made the journey a pleasure. We glided along new, smooth highways. Modern gas stations and fast food places were interspersed with handmade baskets and rugs for sale along the side of the road. And the cars! There were so many, mostly sturdy German ones, very few Dacias from the Communist era. Since it was the end of the work week, I experienced a new phenomenon in Romania – a traffic jam. We navigated spruced-up towns with colorful flowers adorning windowboxes and sidewalks. The Romania of my memory became visible once we hit the mountains: familiar haystacks, shepherds and their sheep, horsedrawn wagons laden with hay, beautiful carved wooden gates, women sitting on benches gossiping, widows dressed in black walking, men riding bikes home from work.
When we stopped to get some water, I thanked the clerk in the store by saying, “Koszonom.” My brain automatically opened up the Foreign Language Drawer and out popped the greeting in the last country I lived in – Hungary. I meant to say the Romanian “multumesc” but the wrong words came out. And then as I filled out my registration card at the conference center, I wrote out “Richardson Taryn.” I’d put my maiden name – my name when I lived in Romania and so I slipped back into that identity. I am changed with a new name but still the same at my essence, just as Romania is.
Thirty hours after my husband and I left for the airport, I arrived at the hotel, bone weary and brain fogged with jet lag. The excitement of catching up with my dear friends kept me going until bedtime Romania time. This morning, the first sound I heard as I opened my eyes was the timeless clip-clop of horses’ hooves pulling their wagon to market. I’ve come home. Some things, hopefully, will never change.