[Side note: I’ve been home for a 3 weeks already! Just trying to spread out the blog post love]
While my last post might give you a good idea of what a day at camp looked like, it was specific moments that made the week worthwhile. Let me take you through the week~
Monday (47 kids) | There I was with Mom, Sylvia, Isaac and 47 Roma kids I hadn’t seen in a year and a half. I was in a place I love with so many people I love listening to those 47 kids singing their hearts out. Și mâinile mi le-nalț, și-naintea Ta vin. Mâinile mi le-nalț, și mă bucur în Tin’. I raise my hands and come before You. I raise my hands and rejoice in You. It was a sacred moment. Half of the experience was being back. It felt so natural to sit among the kids of Tigmandru again, sending smiles every which way. The other half of the experience was watching my family finally begin to understand what I’ve been talking about all along.
Tuesday (67 kids) | If you’ve ever seen pictures of the children of Țigmandru, you’ve probably seen Florina. Florina is a 12-year-old girl who carts her younger siblings around, giving them a smack in the head every now and then to keep them in line. After spending some time in Țigmandru back in 2013, I looked back at pictures of the choir tours in 2008 and 2012. They also visited Țigmandru. There was Florina, smiling back. Oh, and there she was again. Florina is in no less than a quarter of the pictures taken with choir members. She is the poster child of Țigmandru. And now I understand why…Florina is not someone you might call gentle. She has always been one of the hardest for me to deal with for that reason, because she can be aggressively needy. She likes to get her own way and she often gets it by pushing everyone else around. But on Tuesday, I had a very good moment with Florina. As the kids gathered together, I was cleaning the tables after they’d been water colored on. When Florina saw me, she came up and asked if she could help. So I gave her some paper towel and she set to work. After just a second, she decided paper towel wasn’t enough. She needed water. I told her that it was okay – I would finish up later – and I went back to work. A minute later, though, I looked up to see Florina walking into the room with two wet paper towels, one for me and one for her. She was not willing to do a halfhearted job. As I watched her scrub away at the tables, I was very thankful for Florina.
Wednesday (72 kids) | Wednesday was a crazy day. We were beginning to run out of energy (although the kids certainly had some to spare and shared it well), and we had revamped our schedule to accommodate so many kids. That’s how I ended up sitting on the floor with a tangled mess of embroidery thread on my lap and 25 kids surrounding me, demanding that they be the next to tell me which colors they wanted for their bracelet. I was feeling a little frazzled, and the concept of waiting in line and being patient was not one I communicate effectively with my shaky Romanian. Among the chaos stood Alina. Alina is a nine year old I met when I was in Țigmandru with the choir, and then spent a lot of time with when I was there for the semester. I often found her outside on the church street, where she lives, playing with Magda and her siblings and another little guy named Tibike. As I sat there, willing myself to get through with my sanity in tact, Alina saw my frustration. She told the others to be patient and then stood back patiently as well, never once asking to be the next. She has a way about her that is so wise and mature and empathetic. As I look back over the few years I’ve known her, I see her gentle spirit shining through in so many memories. She has always been there, but always in the background. She has never been one to tug and pull or cling or even ask for a hug. However, whenever I approach her she lights up. When I hug her she holds on for a long time. When I smile at her from across the room she smiles back so broadly, with a knowing look in her eyes. Alina is a special one.
Thursday (61 kids) | I looked out the window of the church on Thursday morning to see Isaac running around, being chased by 9 or 10 little people. They were all giggling as they ran, Isaac included. I could hear them through the window. Isaac surprised me that week. I was worried that he might not stay easily engaged during the camps, especially because he was not all that excited to come to Romania in the first place. But he found his place and his people, and it clicked for him just like it clicked for me. The moment that says it all, and that overwhelms me with gratitude, is when Isaac came up to me on Tuesday after camp and said, “Michaela, I found my Magda.”
Friday (64 kids) | There were a lot of good moments on Friday. The kids gave a program for the few parents that showed up, singing a Romanian song with such fervor that I got goose bumps and reciting Matthew 22:37-39, a Bible verse I learned with them throughout the week. But my favorite memory of Friday is the kite flying. At Interfaith Peace Camp in Harrisonburg, kite flying was always one of the best activities. The kids loved decorating their paper kites with hopes of peace for the world, putting them together, and then running around on EMU hill with their kites, hopes, and dreams flying through the air. I was very excited to do the same in Romania with the children of Țigmandru. One time this trip, I told Mom that everything in Romania is more rewarding because it takes a whole lot more time and effort to get things done. Making the kites took a whole lot of time and effort and energy and flexibility and thinking on our toes, but it was certainly worth it. The hour and a half before we began walking down the road with finished kites in was more than a little hectic. That image, though, of 64 kids running around an open field in blue and red shirts, beaming, with colorful kites dotting the sky, will stick with me for a long time.
As I said goodbye I felt very normal which, ironically, made for a strange experience. Maybe I couldn’t let myself go any deeper – the idea of never seeing those children again would be so hard to bear. Or maybe being there felt so natural that I can’t even imagine not returning. On the other hand, maybe I was too exhausted to feel anything. Regardless, as I said goodbye there was no heartbreak. It had been a good week.