The Warmth of Freedom
Communist Romania. July 4th, 1976.
The same year that Nadia Comaneci won the Olympic gold medal for Romania and scored the 1st perfect 10.
I, along with 35 other sweaty college choir members, was singing the National Anthem in the middle of a very warm, unairconditioned hotel lobby in that country.
Tears welling up in my eyes like never before.
It was pretty edgy stuff back then. An American choir touring a country controlled by a severe Communist regime.
We had been there for almost 2 weeks by that time. Singing our way all over what was gorgeous countryside.
We were only allowed to travel where officials knew our exact location at all times. No spontaneous stops. No visiting with people who might want to talk with us.
Or so they thought.
Courageous Romanians would sneak up the back stairs of our hotels late at night. Just to talk to us. I spoke French, which was the 2nd language of the country. So even though most of them could speak only broken English, we could understand each other. I learned just how miserable most of them were. How they dreamed of coming to America. How repressed they felt.
The choir had spent one night with what the officials who were our escorts called “typical Romanian families”. Cute little cottages. Gaily decorated with quilts and flowers.
Now we learned that those villages were set up by the government just for tourists like us. To fool us into thinking that the Romanian people were happy. Well-fed. Content with their government.
Quite the opposite was true.
All we could do was listen. Tell them about another world. A world where individual rights were respected.
Not a perfect world but a better world.
They also wanted to buy our jeans. We had been told not to give or sell them. One kid did (of course). Got in big trouble as I recall.
I never sing the National Anthem now without thinking of that miserably hot day. When I was singing my guts out.
I don’t think I had ever been more proud to be an American. I didn’t care I was hot. I didn’t care I was eating tomatoes and cheese for breakfast. I didn’t care that all the clothes I had brought were smelly. Or that I was really tired of that one guy in the choir that thought he knew everything.
Romania was beautiful but I could leave.
Come home to an even hotter Arkansas.
No wonder there were tears in my eyes.
For me. For them.
Have a joyous July 4th. Revel in the warmth of good food. Friendship. Fire works.
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you guys were so brave! probably you didn’t even notice that part. This is a very good reminder that in spite of our contentious 1st world problems, we have it pretty good here in America. I love that photo of you!
No we didn’t think of ourselves really as brave. Just lucky to be having the experience. One of the neatest things that happened… One day I had on a kind of loose pullover shirt that tied with a rope. Kinda hippie-looking thing. Two ladies came out of their house – showed me that they were sewing and somehow got me to understand they wanted to make a pattern of my shirt. I guess I “bravely” got one of their shirts, put it on, gave them mine. Waited. They brought out my shirt, gave it back to me, etc. We all laughed!!! It was great! All with the official watching very carefully… Thanks for commenting Deborah!
Oh I LOVE that story!!! So human!! I so long for that kind of love and levity and sharing in everyone’s lives every day. I dare to dream!
It was very simple. But very moving somehow.
Amazing story- and wonderful to read. What an experience for you- and it seems you were lucky to have it as a young person. I too went on a singing tour of Italy when I was that age. However, Italy was nothing like that. The people were warm, the churches were inspiring. But even with that, I saw my life in the US through new eyes. Not all young people get that. Great post!
So glad you had the experience you did Virginia. I love that many people now seem to have experiences abroad, although the criticism of our own country is perhaps more evident. I learned a lot about myself on this trip. I actually extended it later that year, and lived in other countries. Switzerland and France to be exact. So very lucky. And of course a very different experience. Thank you for commenting and am delighted it was a “good read”. Happy 4th!