If I were to describe . . .

If I were to describe the businesses in Romania, no matter if they are state or privately run, in one word, I would say they are “inefficient”.

The landlady and I went to the natural gas company today, E-ON. I’m sure they are aptly named, it takes an eon to get anything done there. After showing receipts to the fellow behind the desk who consulted with his computer for what seemed like an eternity (I’m thinking, does this guy know how to use this thing?), he turned to us and said that there was 84.86 lei still owed on the account. Remember the zucchini story? Well, that amounts to $25.72. Our gas was turned off because of $25 while our upstairs neighbors haven’t paid their bill for 3 months! I missed paying $25.72 and we are the ones who are getting our gas turned off. Oh, and we had to pay $31.58 to get them to come and turn it back on. While we were at it we went ahead and paid the bill that we haven’t even gotten yet.

Once we got the paperwork from the fellow behind the desk we went to the cashier’s desk. After we finished paying the remaining $25, the current bill, and the fee for turning the gas back on, we headed back to the fellow behind the desk to get the work order processed for the “team” to come and turn the gas back on. Even though there was a long line that had continued to grow while we were at the cashier’s desk, we were able to “cut” in and get that last bit of paperwork done. He told us it would be 24 hours before the “team” would arrive to reconnect us.

There are several things that may help you see how things work (read: don’t work) here. I observed a lady asking someone who was waiting if she could pay her bill for gas AT the gas company. He told her no, she’d have to pay at the bank. Interesting. You can’t pay your gas bill at the gas company. Ok. Paying the gas bill must have been the order of the day because while we were in line at the cashier’s desk, I watched a man pay his bills on two different apartments. Hmmm, interesting. So, you can’t pay your gas bill here, but he just paid two of them. He was also 4 months behind on one of his bills. The cashier asked if his gas was off and when he replied in the negative, she told him to be thankful because he deserved to have his gas turned off according to company policy.

About 5 minutes later a lady comes in and asks the guard near us if she can pay her bill here, he tells her no, she must pay at the bank. Ok. I’ve just found the source of the rumor. [Caveat: Every company, especially those that handle money, have guards. Think of them like security. This fellow was from the Rosegur Security group, a popular and large security company.]

The next lady comes in and asks the cashier if she can pay her bill here. Do you know what the cashier said? Yes. Aha! So, if you really know what you are doing, if you know your name (or the name of the owner of your place), your address, and that  you need to pay your bill you CAN pay your natural gas bill AT the natural gas company.

They came today, to turn on the gas, a few hours earlier than predicted. Paul said it took him (one guy, this is their “team”?) all of 30 seconds. Thirty seconds, most likely less, to turn on the gas and it cost us $31.58. THAT is pretty good money, if you ask me. If it really did take him 30 seconds (minus any driving time between “jobs”) that’s $3,789.60 an hour. No wonder they are willing to turn off the gas for a $25 lapse.

The thought has crossed my mind that it might be because the owner’s last name is Eju-Konem. That is not a Romanian last name. Could they possibly be profiling? Our neighbors who owe somewhere near $300 to the gas company have a last name of Barna, a “normal” Romanian name; and the front neighbors? Who knows how much they owe, but their last name is Lazar, also quite “common”. It’s just a thought. . . absolutely no proof whatsoever!

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More adventures?

Saturday morning, early, Paul woke up with some intestinal disruption. Oh boy! That started 18 hours of visiting the bathroom frequently for him before the vomiting started up. He pulled a muscle while vomiting which caused him some severe pain for more than two hours (from 2am to 4:30am) It was about 4am when he called his parents asking if they knew something to help him.

The darkest hours are always at night. It doesn’t matter if you are facing a headache or an upset stomach they both seem exaggerated at night. Have you ever felt completely helpless when you think about medical care? Maybe in regard to money, thinking you can’t afford it. But what about thinking you won’t receive adequate care? What about thinking you won’t receive care, let alone adequate? At that crucial hour when the night is the darkest as I sat and considered whether or not to take Paul to the emergency hospital here in Cluj or to load up the car and drive west to Hungary, I felt helpless.

Recently, I was awoken by the buzzing of my cell phone as it vibrated on the night stand. A friend was calling who I knew might need medical care. Yep. She was experiencing severe head and neck pain from a recent chiropractic visit in Hungary and was advised by her State-side doctor to get an MRI done. I had to take her to the emergency hospital. There is no other choice here in the middle of the night. We were met with immediate disbelief that my friend needed anything since she walked into the emergency room. Once they finally called a doctor she interrupted at every chance she could. She didn’t understand Noelle’s English (I’m not sure how much she understood). Eventually the doctor wanted to know who I was and called the guard to come over and escort me to the “waiting room”. I was only in the entry of the emergency room, and she was angry  at me without cause. Noelle received inadequate care. She wasn’t able to have an MRI done until 9 the next morning, and then they charged her double what they had originally told her.

Because of the politics in the state run hospitals and clinics, there is a huge undercurrent of discontent. It’s usually the newbie that’s put on the night shift, or one the manager wants to punish for some unknown or unreasonable thing. The doctor that came to admit Noelle had a huge chip on her shoulder before she even spoke to us. Maybe we interrupted her smoking break?

In the end, Paul took some Tylenol AND was able to hold it down and he slept for more than 3 hours straight. Sienna had woken at 4 ready to face the world and without a care, not understanding the gravity of the situation. She laid with me on the couch and finally settled down around 6. As I laid with her and tried to calm her, I watched the room begin to light up and my whole perspective changed. We can make it until daylight and then we can reassess to see if we really need that hospital visit.

I woke Paul at 8 to make sure he was doing ok and then went to call his parents (since he had called them at 4 in such a state) to put their minds at ease. Then I went back to bed until 9:30 when Sienna woke.

That lingering feeling of what will we do in a serious emergency is still in the back of my mind. Living in Targoviste we had access to Bucharest where there are several private hospitals. Plus there was an American couple, both doctors, working in Bucharest. They were available at anytime of the day or night by cell phone. They have since left the country. We are close to Hungary where we would receive much better care, but what is our plan when it comes to a grave emergency?

Even though we don’t have gas for hot water (see the post: When I was a little girl . . .), we are thankful that we still have running water, even if it is cold — that means you can still wash hands and flush toilets. So far, the rest of us (Sienna and I) haven’t been infected with anything, and we are praying that the Lord will protect Sienna especially.

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

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When I was a little girl . . .

When I was little I used to dream about what it was like to live in the “good ol’ days” and I used to wish that I had been born in those days. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t. This weekend we are experiencing what it’s like to live without natural gas. Now, you might wonder what normal stuff is impacted by living without natural gas. I’m learning new things every moment.

First I’ll tell you how this came to be. The dollar had been steadily climbing in power here and we were so excited to see our dollars stretch further than they ever had before. We received a natural gas bill a couple of months ago that had a previous bill on it that I was sure I’d paid. I chose not to pay for that part, but only paid for the current part and went home to investigate. Much to my surprise I could not find a receipt for the previous month. When we received our bill from last month not only was that previous bill on it, but also the bill that I had just paid was on it, too. They were now saying that we owed them something close to $200. I paid the current bill and put as much on the bill as I possibly could at that time. For some reason our support hasn’t been as steady and we’ve seen some pretty low months.

Just yesterday (now you should know that the gas bill has not yet arrived) they came and turned off our natural gas because the account is (according to them) $200 in arrears. We were not aware that they were turning off the gas. The workman didn’t come and talk with us, he didn’t knock on our door, he didn’t call, he didn’t let us know that the gas was being turned off. We came home and found the paper in our PO box telling us that the gas had been turned off and it will cost $30 dollars to get it turned back on (plus they are charging us  $30 because they had to turn it off). All in all, we think there is a delay between where we pay (everything is 90% cash system), since we pay at a bank or a “paypoint”, and the natural gas company.

There is no way to resolve it until Monday morning (at least that I know of).

So, what normal things are impacted? Well, no scrambled eggs for breakfast and no hot water to wash up those dishes. No skillet surprize for lunch and no hot water for a shower. Keep thinking of other ways . . . there are more.

I think that if I had the choice of not having something between the three main utilities we have (natural gas, water, and electricity) I’d choose natural gas. We have running water; we’ve lived without it for 2-3 weeks at a time. We have electricity; we can heat water in the microwave and in the crockpot. We have running water; we can still easily flush the toilet and wash our hands. We have electricity; we can keep the fans blowing and have lights and computers on. We’ve also lived without electricity (I don’t remember the longest period), and it’s inconvenient. No, living without gas is not convenient, but if I were going to choose an inconvenience, I’d choose to be inconvenienced with natural gas.

By the way, since I’ve grown up, I no longer have those silly wishes about the “good ol’ days” since I kind of know (putting all my experiences together) what it would be like to live without natural gas, running water, and electricity — no thank you.

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There are days . . .

Wednesday was a hot day for us. It’s been hot for quite a while, not that I’m complaining, you see we had weeks and weeks of rain and we didn’t think it was going to ever stop raining.

So, I had gone out to the store and on my way home I decided to stop by the farmer’s market near  us. I went into autopilot and realized it in time to backtrack a bit and get to the market. I’m trying to make a left hand turn into the tiny parking lot (if you can call it that) and I had noticed that there was a police car behind me. He got on his loud speaker and said something, I assumed it was about keeping the flow of traffic going. Right about then I was able to make my turn and he turned on his lights and siren and followed me into the parking lot and parked behind me. It was all of about 40 feet from the road to where he stopped.

I realized that he was there, pulled up behind me, but not really sure if he were pulling me over. I’d already parked and gotten out and was locking the car when one of them spoke to me (there were two officers). I didn’t understand what he said and he asked if I spoke Romanian. “Yes,” I said. He repeated his question. “Why did you make a left hand turn over a double line?” I looked, and said, “I didn’t know it was a double line.” The other officer filled in, “No, but it is a solid line.”

The first one wanted to know if I had a driver’s license. “Of course I do,” I replied. I handed him my Arizona driver’s license. He wanted to know where I’m from. I thought it was obvious. My name is April Lawrence, not Maria Popescu.  I cleared up the confusion by stating that I was an American. Then he wanted to know where I lived and I told him my address here in Cluj. Then he wanted to see the paperwork on the car and my temporary visa.

He finished off by telling me that I don’t respect the laws and that he wasn’t going to do anything, but he could take my license away.

I shakily thank them and put my paperwork  away while they go on their way.

Next I had to deal with the questions from the people inside the farmer’s market. What did the police do to you? they all wanted to know. Nothing? I was so shaken up and even a bit angry that I didn’t think about any good response. Angry because every day I deal with reckless drivers, speeding drivers, and others who just do stupid stuff and yet it’s me who gets pulled over for crossing a solid line on a little street in the middle of a quiet neighborhood. I don’t park where I’m not supposed to park, I obey the traffic laws, I don’t (deliberately) run red lights, I don’t speed by someone recklessly and honk as I go by, I don’t back up in the road, I don’t park in the road, I don’t pass where it’s not allowed or not safe to pass, I wear my seat belt, I have my kid in her car seat strapped in, I am considerate of other drivers; all in all I’m a better driver out there than most (99%).

I was angry because while they are doing their job to pull me over for crossing a solid line I know there are others that all they have to do is flash some money and they are “acquitted” of their “crime”.

Just so you don’t think that I’m still angry, I’ve gotten over it. I understand that if they don’t pull me over when they see me crossing a solid line they wouldn’t be doing their jobs and I just have to trust that God will make sure they will do their jobs when they see someone who is reckless. In the meantime, I drive  like always, respecting the laws.

To make up for it (I guess) there were two very nice behind-the-counter people. I had to stop off at a pharmacy to get some calcium and the store for some water and bread. The guy at the pharmacy understood that I spoke English and I was able to find some good calcium. The lady at the store laughed at my joke and made one herself. As insignificant as that sounds it’s not. Being able to make jokes in a foreign language is not easy. Try it the next time you’re learning one.

We’ve really been pinching pennies this month (actually Romania doesn’t have a penny) since our “salary” was more than $1,000 lower than normal. The dollar had been nicely growing, but has recently fallen some. We’ve taken great pains to only spend money on the food that we need and to pay the bills that need to be paid right away. It’s been interesting to see God work. This is the first time we’ve had to tighten the belt this far. Are we starving? No. But we’ve cut back on the extras — you know what I’m talking about, there are people in the States right now that have had to cut back. They’ve had to tighten their own belts, they’ve had to cut out extras in their own spending, they’ve had to choose to stay home instead of go somewhere to save the gas; you should know that you are not alone.

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The Corn Dog Days of Summer

When you move to a country that doesn’t have everything that you grew up with, you begin to miss those things. No, we didn’t have Root Beer floats every day, but because you are somewhere where Root Beer is non-existent you miss a float. Sure, you try the Coke float (actually Pepsi is better), but it still isn’t the same. So, you get some of that Root Beer extract from the store (when you visit the States) and you learn to make it with mineral water and some sugar syrup. And you perfect it so that when you  need to make a batch you know just what to do, the right proportions, etc . . . and it turns out better every time.

It’s the same with other things, like nachos, but you can’t perfect it because you can’t find what you need to do that perfecting, so you just give up on it. Plus, nachos aren’t that healthy.  ;-)

Now corn dogs, that’s a different story. There is one brand of hot dogs here that actually taste like hot dogs. They are really long, much longer than dogs in the States and that might be because the mini baguettes that we buy for the buns are longer.  :-)

So, it’s taken some time, but we actually been able to get better and better at the corn dog process. One thing that we knew we needed in order to use the least amount of oil as possible, but get the right height for the dogs was a special pot. Thankfully, here they have a specific pot for making coffee. They put the water, coffee grounds, and sugar in it and boil it. It can be a bit gritty towards the bottom of your cup — I don’t drink it.  But they are great pots for corn dogs. I found one that was a nice height and not too wide. You can see that this one has a pouring spout for when I decide to make coffee (not any time soon).

Next thing you need are some shish-kabob sticks, the wooden ones. We found that using one whole stick per dog was a little too much leverage, so we break the sticks in half and cut the dogs in half. Like I said, the dogs here are l-o-n-g.

Then you boil your dogs, drain, and let dry. I dipped the dogs in corn starch to help dry them and to help the batter to stick. For the batter I use:

  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup corn meal (actually corn flour works better)
  • salt
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup butter milk or sour milk (I used some Kefir in my milk)
  • a bit of oil — not much

First, I stuck all my dogs with their sticks, then I dipped them in corn starch and rubbed off the excess (all the while the oil is heating until when you drop a bit of batter it starts sizzling), then dipped them in the batter and fried them up.

Paul had found a package of mini turkey dogs at a clearance sale because it was almost to it’s freshness date and we used those, too.

WARNING: If your child does not regularly eat hot dogs or other foods with nitrates and nitrites, he/she may have an averse reaction to them. Sienna didn’t go to sleep at night until really late every day we had either corn dogs or hot dogs.

Because of the strong effect that hot dogs and corn dogs have on Sienna, we won’t be making these puppies for a long time.

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There have been a few things that have changed for me since we moved here in 2005, but one of those things that stumps me the most is a new place I sweat.

I’ve looked in the mirror and seen it — sweat droplets on my upper and lower lips! Incredible. It’s not as hot here as Phoenix, where I used to live, and yet I have sweaty lips here. I don’t get it. I had no idea.

What a phenomenon!

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Zucchini and Flowers

I never would have imagined it!

We went shopping the other day and came across these beauties you see to your left. Good-lookin’, black zucchinis were priced at 9 RON (lei) a kilogram. Now, before your mouth hits the desk, that’s about $1.20 a pound. Not too bad, except it’s about $1.20 for one because they were so nice and heavy. I decided to look around more and see what else they might have that could be used for a substitute, 9 RON is considered a little pricey here.

I found these beauties — well, unfortunately, produce grown in  Romania doesn’t seem to have very nice “handlers” and ends up  badly bruised. It actually looks like they let a group of kindergartners in with little kiddo hammers and beat them all, nicely! For some reason those nice dark-skinned zucchinis aren’t grown here in the country, they have to be imported, hence the hefty price. These light green ones, on the other hand, are widely available here and they aren’t called zucchinis, so they are priced at 1.59 RON a kilo or about $.21 a pound! I find it so amazing that it’s the same thing — zucchinis — yet, because of the import tax (or just the name) they raise the price.  (Note: the green zucchinis pictured to the right are not the ones I bought and therefore do not have the hammer marks from the preschoolers.)

Now, lest you think I’m complaining, I’m not! I’m only surprised that they can be the same thing, in essence, and be priced so differently. Speaking of taxes — we have what’s called  the VAT (value added tax) which is similar to sales tax. It’s been 19% since we arrived in 2005. But the first of July it went up, 5% and they also cut all state-paid employees’ salaries by 25%. I think that’s more than a 30% pay cut! It’s really sad because the state-paid employees (like doctors, dentists, teachers, postal workers, etc . . .) are already paid really poor salaries.

Ok, on to what I’m really here to tell you about — flowers! I’ve been waiting and waiting for the flowers to bloom in the garden. We’ve got some gladiolas and calla lily, something called queen of the night and a couple others. So, here’s some flowers! To the left are some of the glads and the calla. Yes, those are leaves on the ground. Our poor cherry tree is sick and drops her leaves regularly. She’s put on a pretty good batch of cherries, Paul picked some today! The glads have blossoms on them now,  and the calla is looking a little bigger. The neighbors glads are already blooming, so we’ll get to enjoy two batches!

These are the morning glories that had to be planted in planters because the ground was too hard to dig up between the brick spaces. There are three that aren’t viney like the usual ones — I don’t really think they are morning glories — they are red, yellow, and orange! The regular ones are blue and pink and purple and I’m excited to see what other colors! I know some of you are saying — hey, morning glories are weeds — yes, they can be, I’ll agree. But I was hoping that they’d just take over and cover that whole fence and block the view of the barky dog next door. Unfortunately . . . they didn’t.

Well, I’m sure you’re practically bored to tears now, so I’ll sign off. Maybe tomorrow I’ll post some pictures of two “fruity” girls!

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