Sommer and Lindsey in Romania

Sommer and Lindsey are traveling to Romania for two weeks in summer 2009 to report on the status of orphanages, 20 years after the fall of communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Their project is partially funded by a Meadows Exploration Award. Sommer ’08 graduated in December with degrees in journalism from Meadows School of the Arts and history from Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences. Lindsey is a senior marketing major in Cox School of Business and a photojournalist.

How do you say ‘Carpe Diem’ in Romanian?

An update from Sommer on their site Romania Revisited:

Our first full day in Romania started in a church. Well, technically it started in the hotel dining room where we had hot dogs (not so great) and raspberry tea (AMAZING) for breakfast. But then we headed to the church where Livada Orphan Care’s (LOC) foster children attend. It was my first church service ever so it was a cultural experience on several fronts.

We arrived a bit late so we had to slip into the front row, but that was probably for the best. The entire service was in Romanian and we had to rely on the hand gestures and facial expressions of those on stage to figure out what was going on. When it was all over, we asked the LOC founder and president – and of course, handy-dandy team leader – to summarize what was preached during the sermon.

The theme of the service was ‘Carpe Diem.’ Specific to the church, it was about seizing every opportunity to serve God, but more generally it’s just about seizing every opportunity. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I think that theme fit our trip perfectly. That was the theme of our trip, pretty much. That and ‘Don’t let on that we’re crazy.’

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After the service, we visited the children in the LOC foster homes and spent time interviewing a few of the children (they spoke great English). We really connected with them, and luckily Lindsey and I were able to visit them again later in the trip. And then we met even more people when we had a pizza dinner with the Romanian translators with whom we would be spending the next week. They all practically became family to the American team. It’s amazing how quickly a group can grow together. I think that’s a testament to how long the days were, how many obstacles everyone had to hurdle together and how genuine everyone was.

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First impressions

An update from Sommer on their site Romania Revisited:

You know what is fun to do after spending nearly 20 hours crossing the Atlantic? Ride a bus for another six!

No, seriously, our six-hour bus ride from Bucharest to Targu Mures was a lot of fun. That is because the 12-member Livada Orphan Care service team (members were mostly from Allen, Texas, but also from San Antonio and a small town in Illinois) made for really great company. We all spent a good time telling embarrassing stories, sharing random facts and introducing ourselves at the front of the bus (I found out that Lindsey might be wanted in Copenhagen) and then we all dozed off.

But before Lindsey and I both fell asleep in the poorly ventilated but very large bus, we soaked in enough of the Romanian countryside to make some late night observations.

Watch our “First Impressions of Romania”

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Once upon a time …

An update from Sommer on their site Romania Revisited:

Our trip to Romania was an adventure. I promise.

In fact, I’m going to prove it by recounting the most exciting moments of our two-week trip. Accessing the Internet wasn’t so easy in small Romania towns, gypsy villages or on sleeper trains, and finding the stamina to post after long days of day camps and baby hospitals was more difficult than we thought.

But no more excuses. Lindsey and I have brought out our journals that we so religiously updated (right, Lindsey?) and we’re sharing our profound observations and deepest thoughts. Get excited. And we’ll also keep everyone updated on our efforts to get our stories published. Trying to get major papers interested in an international story reported by two twenty-somethings fairly new to the turbulent field of journalism – that’s an adventure in and of itself.

So let’s start from the beginning.

The most exciting thing about getting there was when we almost didn’t. Our Delta flight from Atlanta to Amsterdam was delayed by more than an hour, so although Lindsey and I enjoyed watching The Reader on our flight, we couldn’t help but think about how difficult it was going to be to catch our next plane. We were scheduled to land at 9:40 a.m. Our flight was set to leave at 10:05 a.m. Could we do it? I thought we could.

So the minute the plane landed and the seat belt sign was turned off, I jumped out of my seat, grabbed our luggage and – got stuck standing behind a million other people trying to get off the plane. I secretly cursed them all in my head as Lindsey made conversation with the couple sitting in front of us. They felt compelled to tell us that we should never book flights so closely together. Thanks for the tip.

It took us what seemed like ages to get off our plane. Despite literally running through the Amsterdam airport, weaving in and out of throngs of people, and even catching a ride on one of those golf cart things, we didn’t quite make it.

Of course Lindsey and I put our game faces on, and we called the Livada office to let them know of the change in travel plans. Then we wandered aimlessly during our three-hour layover, admired the wooden tulips and talked about how exhausted we were.

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The baby bite

An update from Lindsey on their site Romania Revisited:

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This is probably my favorite story from the trip. Sommer and I spent one morning at a baby hospital. While we were there, Sommer put down her pen and paper for a little bit (slacker!) to interact with the toddlers. (I guess they are kind of difficult to interview. I was still working, though.)

Here’s how the attack went down. I’m taking pics of other toddlers in the room when all of a sudden I hear Sommer yell out the name of the Romanian caregiver that visits the hospital every morning to help the nurses take care of the children.

“Rodica! Rodica!”

I look across the room and see Sommer pointing with one hand to a child that is biting her shoulder while her other hand is holding the toddler. Being the good friend I am, I burst out laughing. Sommer, why didn’t you pull the child away from you? I know, I know, you thought a chunk of your shoulder would’ve gone with the toddler if you pulled her off of you.

Too bad I had the 10-22mm lens on my camera. Would’ve made a great photo. But I did get the some shots of the damage.

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Site update and new Twitter

An update from Lindsey on their site Romania Revisited:

If you’ve clicked on the Stories tab on our Web site recently, you might have noticed that we updated it. Now, you’ll find a quick rundown of the cities we visited with a short description of what we did when we were there and the people we interviewed. Check it out. You might find it interesting. Promise to post more entertaining stories (and maybe even a pic or two!) in the coming days.

Oh, and I almost forgot to mention. We have a new Twitter account set up just for this project! Follow us at twitter.com/ROrevisited. Why didn’t we do this before we left? That’s a great question. I can’t believe that I didn’t think of it, being the Twitter lover that I am. I didn’t even come up with the great idea after we returned. That honor goes to Clayton, our magic Internet elf (a.k.a. webmaster). Thanks, Clayton! But my question is, why didn’t any of you smart people following us on our blog, Twitter and/or Facebook think of this?

Dinner calls.

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Immersion in Romanian culture

An update from Sommer on their site Romania Revisited:

Lindsey and I ended last week on a sort of bittersweet note. We parted with the American Livada team as they headed home (which admittedly made me want to go home, too) and all of our new Romanian friends to travel to Timisoara. But after meeting our most hospitable and generous hosts Benny and Romona, the homesickness has sort of faded.

Yesterday was amazing. We immersed ourselves in the culture in different sort of way – mainly due to our Romanian hosts. We took a walking tour of the city and visited all of the landmarks. Benny pointed out all of the monuments that trace back to the start of the Revolution in 1989. We went into a church that was particularly important to sparking the revolution, and met a church member who was there as the revolution unfolded. He told us firsthand what he witnessed and how he felt – oral history at its finest.

We had authentic Romanian food for lunch and spent nearly three hours comparing cultures and sharing stories. Romona told us the story of how Benny proposed to her. It was a bit intense for my taste but very romantic (or at least creative) for the two of them.

He recruited four of his friends to dress up like SWAT team members and a police officer (guns and all) and barge into her office. The friend dressed as the officer arrested her and read out the charges – then got her to sign a paper of admittance that really had the proposal. Benny was dressed like one of the SWAT men; he took off his mask and bent down on one knee. So after everyone was scared out of their minds, the lovey-dovey stuff began. It was a charming story (that I’m probably not doing justice).

After lunch we met with Masha Cernicova, a well-known journalist in Timisoara and National Correspondent for different newspapers in the country. She was also Pro Rector of Tibiscus University (where Harry Morgan – Benny’s father – taught) and now is teaching communications and journalism at the Politechnics University.

It was a really fascinating conversation about media bias in the States and in Romania and the role of media in Romanian culture. The best part is Masha is one of those people who tells it like it is. The American media did not do a good job reporting on the orphanges in the early 90s in her opinion, and Romania is not concerned about covering the orphans’ progress now. Disapointing for me, but her observations certainly match what I’ve deduced from conversations over the past week or so.

Today we’re meeting up with the director of another nonprofit to gather more information for one of our stories. And in the next few days we plan on finding Peanut, an orphan that I met three years ago on my trip with HUG.

We’ll be homeward bound on Thursday, but keep thinking of us until then (and after then if you really love us).

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Staying flexible in Romania

An update from Sommer on their site Romania Revisited:

This morning Lindsey and I split from the pack and visited the baby hospital in Ludus. The baby hospital is pretty much a place where parents can drop their kids off when they are “ill” (the explanation for the quotation marks is VERY interesting. Going to have to wait on that one) but they don’t always pick them up.

I got to speak with one of the caregivers who spends about three hours each day with the children. There are currently six under the age of 2 and six under the age of 5 (although children in the baby hospital can be up to 7 years old). Let me tell you – interesting stuff. And the babies were precious. I was good at holding them. Lindsey is better at holding her baby – the camera.

After the baby hospital our plans slightly changed. But you know what we are? FLEXIBLE. Because you know what you have to be in Romania? FLEXIBLE (the word even sounds the same in Romanian). So we ended up in the back of a Dachia car (the only car made in Romania and it’s built like a tank) for a part of the afternoon. But Lindsey and I are serious journalists, so no time was wasted. Lindsey whipped out the laptop (which she makes me carry everywhere) and began to upload photos.

We eventually made it to our next stop in Petelea at the Gypsy village. We struck up a conversation with a 17-year-old Gypsy girl who spoke pretty good English. She invited us to her house and treated us to authentic Gypsy pie. Good news is that it was very yummy (and the most authentic cuisine we’ve had yet). Better news is that neither of us got sick afterward! It was a great interview, and Lindsey of course took some great shots.

During the bus ride back to the office we struck up a conversation with several of the teenage Romanians who are spending the week translating for Livada, the nonprofit we’re tailing. We spent the entire 45-minute ride talking about Romanian life, American perceptions and everything in between. I’m really enjoying getting to know all the Romanians we’ve spent time with and the Americans who are part of the team. There is a great chemistry.

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Three days in

An update from Lindsey on their new site Romania Revisited:

Yesterday we accompanied Livada, a nonprofit based in Allen, Texas, as it held a day camp for children from a state-sponsored group home orphanage and then went to a Gypsy village for a similar program. Drastically different experiences.

We’re learning many new things and stayed up late last night to refocus and stay on track. Two weeks doesn’t seem like enough time to get everything done! Got to run now.

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It only took 24 hours, but we’re in Romania

An update from Sommer on their new site Romania Revisited:

And it’s like there is a story around every corner. Being a journalist is exhausting. I’m constantly writing things down. Lindsey is wearing a photographer vest that makes her look like Rambo. We’re constantly observing, asking questions, taking notes, soaking it all in.

But the experience is off to a strong start. And you’ll get more details later – when we’re over jet lag.

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En route to Romania

An update from Lindsey on their new site Romania Revisited:

Sommer and I leave this afternoon for Romania. We’re stopping in Atlanta and Amsterdam before we get to Bucharest. It’s going to be a fun run in ATL. We’ve got an hour in between arrival and departure times. I would write more, but I’ve got to get going to the airport now!

This looks more like a Twitter update than a blog entry. By the way, you can follow us at twitter.com/lindseyperkins and twitter.com/sommersaadi. No promises of how often we’ll update, but everyone who knows me knows that I love Twitter, so hopefully I’ll be on there a little.

See you across the pond!

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