David Gal-Chis
David Gal-Chis
Romania 2015
Ciao! My name is David and I am just another 19 year old who has been incredibly and undeservedly blessed. An immigrant from Romania, I will be returning to my hometown Oradea to work with the Charis Foundation to improve the lives of the local community. Read More About David →

The Meaningless is Meaningful

Looking at what I’ve written so far, I’ve realized that, while I have covered big life concepts while talking about everything, I haven’t covered very well how I am doing and what I am learning throughout all of this. That is, I have written a lot about the work that I am doing, but I haven’t yet been able to cover very well how I am maturing as a person. Thus, if this is to be a true travel blog, I must also cover how I am growing! In short, like a sprout. In long, like the way that I like to write. I say we take the long route, because it’s more fun.

Before really starting, I think it is important to reiterate that the amount that I have learned and grown already, if it were to all be written down, would probably fill a big book with big pages, tiny margins, and even tinnier font. Actually, it would probably fill a 32 volume encyclopedia, especially the way that I write. Sadly, I’m pretty much the only person I know who reads encyclopedias for fun. I mean, I’m OK with that: that just means that there are more weird people out there that I haven’t met yet, which brings an anticipation and excitement to life that paints it in color. In color, like every single building in Europe. In fact, I have seen more clash here than in a medieval war zone and a jousting match combined. Color mania. I see now why Europeans stereotypically wear loud colors: that’s what they know. Those are the colors which painted their childhood and later their adult world. But style as well though. More people dress like hipsters here than at Belmont, which I thought was pretty impressive. I walked into the mall, and the merchandise was all on the Bruin Incoming Freshman Checklist of things to wear. The style was duly noted and appreciated. Speaking of style however, let’s check out the buildings though. The architecture speaks to me, especially after studying many of its themes with the illustrious Dr. Byrne at Belmont. I have formed so many opinions on it and seen so many beautiful and unique structures that I’m not even going to try to cover it. But there is something very interesting which can be seen in a lot of the buildings right now: they are literally falling apart. In Romania, the most popular building style is plastering. For those of who are lost, think the texture, feel, and look of the White House. It’s probably different from your house because Americans aren’t about that life. Well, in Romania, most everything is plastered up. Only the really modern buildings usually are not. That helps to give it it’s old, European feel, but it also means that after a certain period of time, the walls start chunking off if not well preserved, leading to warning signs and nets on some of the buildings. „Watch out for falling pieces of WALL!” Really puts a spring in your step and the fear of God in your heart when you walk in front of a church like that. But it’s not just some of the churches: it’s a large percentage of the buildings. That was one of the things that surprised me the most when coming here. I knew the food, the language, the culture to a large extent, the way that people are here, most of the rules, social and otherwise, and so on and so forth, but when coming from the well-manicured, glassy glory of modern American architecture to the depth and weight and history of classical European structures, I was surprised that so many of the buildings, even in the middle of the city, were not well preserved and thus things looked old and torn down sometimes. The problem comes from the fact that the Romania is still recovering from communism. Believe it or not, communism is an architectural style here, and outside of the Romanian Parliament building in Bucuresti, it pretty much is strongly disliked by all. “That building looks really communist” is actually considered to be a technical term by many. There is a certain heavy style to it that your eyes can pick out after a period of time. Something else I’ve picked out though, is the mentality of many people here during this recovery period. Things aren’t going super-great. People have to cut a budget. Where do they cut it? Not the electric bill or water bill: maintenance. And thus we have not-America.

Welcome to the rest of the world. I have realized since coming to Romania that I have had a lot of preconceived notions about life in general. There were just so many things that I took for granted growing up in America. I can’t begin to count the things that are different simply because it’s not America. If you look at an upcoming sentence ask why, the answer is “It’s not America.” I had to pay a tax to go to the bathroom and pay extra if I wanted toilet paper. If it’s not curvy, it’s not a road. Built like a Jeep matters in Romania. People are good drivers here, probably because they are required to pay attention here. People don’t nod or say hi to each other as they walk past each other, maybe just because it isn’t the American South. Everyone walks, bikes, or uses public transportation. There is doing something in real-time and then there is doing it in Romanian time. And Romanian time includes calling four friends about it, making seven connections, not planning anything, asking people for directions along the way, stopping to see family along the way, making sandwiches for the road, buying water because oftentimes the AC depends upon your ability to roll down the window and water fountains are not necessary in public spaces, packing vegetables, bringing a present when you go, and being chill about your community-centered way of life and the adventure which is every day. Roads, buildings, stores, and pretty much anything doesn’t need a big and loud label and sign. The roads aren’t necessarily planned before or together with the buildings, even on new constructions. If you want to live somewhere that has a paved, drivably wide road to it, you have to pay extra. Water fountains should be modeled after Old Faithful. The metric system (expected that one). Government and religion together are not taboo (Oradea has a part of the taxes paid budgeted to go to the furthering of religion and religious activities). There doesn’t have to be a toilet, for the toilet to be a toilet (some of you will understand what I mean). When there is a toilet, it can be as small as economy permits. Girls and guys don’t have to wash their hands in separate areas. Sparkling water should cost as much as normal water, and if you ask for water, you need to specify if you desire non-sparkling water. Things written in English don’t have to be written correctly grammatically. Romanian subtitles. No need for a dryer if you have a balcony. You don’t buy phones on phone plans, because phone plans are rare, because people use SIM cards to keep track of their minutes and they are charged based on the minutes used. So, put away your iPhone because you might be either foreign or rich or way too concerned about your image if you have one, because buying an iPhone outright is more expensive than you would think. People can usually tell when someone is foreign. You might have to pay someone a bit extra to do something right. Large percentages of people buy food at public markets. You know everyone at the market on a first-name basis. The sidewalk was meant to serve as the parking lot, actually. There might be a roundabout instead of a spotlight because it is better for European traffic. 4-way stops are no fun: pick another number if possible. If you can’t walk, you take public transportation. If you can’t take public transportation, you’ll bike or phone the family. If the family can’t take you, you phone a friend. If your friends can’t take you, you’ll call to see if anyone you know knows anyone they know that is going there during a certain time period. If that doesn’t work out, you probably won’t go. You might take the train instead of driving from one city to the next. There are anti-begging signs put up by the city. Every city probably has a statue in honor of Romulus and Remus. You might be up-to-date with the current politics of the area by the time you arrive where you are staying, coming from the airport. State-funded, under-funded orphanages. Your country still has a living king who has a heir and the country is yet seriously considering becoming a monarchy and not staying a democratic state. You might not have ever heard of 73% of the car companies whose products just drove past you. If McDonalds has a classic Romanian food Mcified on their menu... If you pay 25 cents for a desert two times bigger and ten times better than what you might find at Panera... If people have never before heard anything negative said about Obama, but can quote great American scandals off the top of their head... If people know the exchange rate for five different currencies off the top of their head... If you find out that people got the history wrong for the Bran (Dracula’s) Castle because historians think that Vlad (Dracula) Tepes probably didn’t even live there and definitely didn’t have any significant impact on the history of the fortress... If people make jokes about Americans only knowing one language... I mean, I’m 100% sure that no one reading this that has only lived in America all of their life can even being to imagine what life is like in not-America. It’s-not-America is a reason for things when you are not in America.

Turns out, America is not the norm in this world. It comes as a shock to some, and although it wasn’t a shock to me, because I expected it, I’ve pretty much rethought my whole life through the lens of not-America and I’ve grown a lot because of that. I have listed what may seem like a lot of superficial things there, but because I’m the kind of person who never goes out of deep thought/analysis mode, I can say that the way that I see the world has truly been changed and that I have seen the reality behind what I before took on belief. More than that, I have had to live the reality behind my belief and prove it every day. I used to believe that the meaningless is meaningful when it comes to relationships. Now, I’ve seen it, that the little things, maybe even the irrelevant things, make the biggest difference to people. Spending time with them, having fun with them, joking around, just doing life with someone is huge. I’ve seen it with children; I’ve seen it with adults. I used to believe that working hard and doing your best, especially having a good attitude about it, results in people respecting you and liking you, but I’ve never seen that before like I did doing manual labor here in Romania with the fellas. I worked with one guy one day, and he wasn’t even necessarily that open of a guy, but by the end of the day, we were buds, just doing construction work together. I used to believe that people who were in need were thankful when they received help. Now I’ve seen it like never before. I used to believe that systematic racism could be overcome. I never had that problem in America. But now, I’ve seen it happen. I used to believe that most of the problems that children have are directly associated with their desire to be loved. I’ve never seen it before like I have now. I used to believe that the material wasn’t necessary for happiness. Easy to say when your entire country is among the richest ten percent of the world’s population. Now, I’ve seen that first hand, now I’ve lived that. I used to think that family was more important than anything else in this world. Now, being with them all, I’ve seen that in a way that I never have before. I used to believe that hearing people out was 100% more important than speaking, but after some of the things that I have heard just listening here in Romania, I now have felt the truth in that. I used to think that being the servant, you would become the leader. I have never seen that like I have serving people here in Romania; the way that people respond and the respect given is shocking. I used to believe that people are the same everywhere. Now I know. I used to believe that children are the same everywhere and in every situation in life. Now I know. I used to believe that not feeling like my opinion was needed was good. Then, I talk to old people and realize they have their needs and desires too, I see myself in their place, I realize what old people are like, I realize more fully what old age is like, and I grow to have compassion and love towards them to an extent that I never have before, and now I know. I used to believe that being vulnerable first in relationships was hugely important. Now I know. I used to believe that respecting the culture was huge. Now I know. I used to believe that I could learn a lot from children. Now I know.

So many beliefs and so much faith have been required, but now my faith has become sight, proved in my very experience, which is a beautiful thing. I have a worldview and an understanding of the world based on all of this, but I was wearing third-culture-kid glasses, and Romanian glasses have proved simply to throw a different tone upon everything, increasing the color and definition in which I see that worldview. It’s like zooming in on the details and learning to appreciate every one of them after taking a broad view and understanding the detail’s place within the greater structure. There is an increased depth and I am truly getting to understand what I believe, who I am, and what the world is like much, much more. Maybe my observations have seemed chaotic and maybe my choices of the numerous beliefs which I have seen shown in reality have seemed at random, but each one of them represents a story that impacted my life, that helped me to understand myself and the world around me better. I’m simply choosing to point out a few large strokes and overarching themes that play a important role in the masterpiece being painted on my heart. The purpose of all of this may not be immediately evident, but it is just so that you can see me as I am, with small numbers of large paragraphs, seemingly random observations, and threads of deep thought woven into it. There are some experiences that are not very easily packaged, categorized, and organized and my trip is one of those. What may seem meaningless if viewed from the detail perspective becomes incredibly meaningful when viewed from afar.

Such as the camp that the Charis Center hosted for the orphans at Caminul Felix on Saturday. I worked for a good part of the week on the most central structure of the whole camp, whether as a blacksmith, a painter, or just a regular construction worker, which was the open-air roofed structure that you’ll see in the pictures. Doing construction work is not extremely glorious and may not seem like it is huge. Holding a camp for children may not seem like a big deal or like it would have a big impact on the children. Some might be tempted to wonder what the point is, but I guarantee if you ask those orphan children what the highlight of their summer was, they’ll excitedly overwhelm you in their cute Romanian telling you about this camp. An adult might view this part of my project and wonder what the point of the camp is if the kids aren’t learning more English or „doing something useful” whereas a child would view this as the best thing ever. I get the best job ever: doing both, because of the beautiful balance which causes the meaningless to become meaningful. It was so amazing though, getting to see my work with the children at Caminul Felix come together with my work at the Center in a way that further both of their missions, and consequently, mine as well. That’s what my project is all about: helping the whole person, not just the brain or just the heart, because last time I checked, you need both of them. That’s how I’m learning to see: with both my head and my heart, and it just floors me. Talk about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. So, you people love pictures right? PICTURES!!!!!!!!!








Until next time! 🙂

~David Gal-Chis

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