I don’t know if there is a more symbolic gesture of hospitality than giving someone a glass of water, on a very hot summer day , while in heavy traffic, in one of the resorts on the Black Sea coast.
And I don’t know if there is something more symbolic than throwing it in someone’s face.
The first is the dream I came back home with, after six years, after leaving Romania. I was thirsty for good news, for signs that I had been wrong leaving it, that there was so much I was missing by being away.
The second is the reality.
I was coming back from the emergency hospital where I had brought my neighbour’s nine year old daughter who had high temperature.
I stopped my car beside a PARKING SPOT in front of a pharmacy, with my blinking lights on, without obstructing anyone’s way (at least 20 cars passed by without any noticing us). I was waiting in the car for the mother to buy the medication for her child who was dosing in the back.
When the horn of a car behind me made me look in the rear mirror. The woman driving the car was making gestures with her hand for me to move away. I waved her with a smile to go by me, but she pointed that she wanted the spot where I was, so I shrugged my shoulders and smiled.
She gets out of the car, approaches and opens my door to tell me to fuck off and let her get that spot if I don’t use it. I say I obviously am using the space and that she should find another spot. Her friend comes out of the car and enters the pharmacy.
Next thing, the driver woman goes back to her car and comes back in a hurry with a paper cup in her hand and throws it in my face, with a lot of other unrepeatable words.
Before I realise what had just happened, she drives off in a hurry leaving her friend behind and me with my phone trying to keep a proof of this incident so I don’t think it’s just a bad dream.
As minutes go by – me wondering if my mind is playing tricks on me or any minute now I will wake up – I begin to realise that despite the intentions, that glass of water had cooled me down…
Cooled me down of any doubt that I had valid reasons to leave my native land; cooled me down about any fake excuses that it’s the Communism or some other abstract ideology who kept this people in the dark; cooled down any hot air balloon that would carry me back soon to return.
They say that a continuous use of certain habits in a nation leads to the creation of a gene that will be carried by future generations. I am afraid we have passed that moment when we had a chance to define ourselves, Romanians, as kind, caring and hospitable people. We have exercised for too long this anger and frustration towards the other, the sister or brother beside us – as if the car in front of us is responsible for all our troubles.
There are so many things I treasure about my Transylvanian upbringing but I am certainly ashamed of the gene that is being formed in our DNA as we speak – throw the glass of water in the face of you neighbor if you meet him/her on the road rather than offer it to him/her to quench their thirst. That way, your ‘friends’ will think you are ‘cool.’
As the shock cooled down, I realise I have to thank that woman for reminding me that, even carrying this gene, I still have a choice to let it express itself in my behaviour or redefine myself as a New Romanian: aware of my past and my faults but strong enough to recognize them and realize that my neighbour and I have more in common than differences. That a glass of water is for calming someone’s thirst not for expressing my frustrations. That there is not such thing as “my spot,” but our world that we should learn to share.