In southern Transylvania rests the Jiu Valley. Starting in Petroșani and traveling west, you will move along with the Jiu River. If you look on either side, mountains stand guard. Continuing on, many of the same wildflowers that can be seen in Michigan may consume your vision as it did mine: Yellow Sweet Clover, Chickory, Ground Ivy and more! Moving through Lupeni, our city of residence on the weekend, you will eventually reach Retezat. This amazing national park houses many streams, log bridges, rocky paths, and awe-inducing waterfalls. It’s natural resources do not stop here, but also once inhabited the Jiu Valley just below the surface. However, the easily extractable coal is running out and mines continue to close. This loss of jobs means less youth and educated individuals desire to stay. Efforts are being made to attract young people to the area, but populations continue to decrease.
Just south of Lupeni, you can see Straja. The majority of my time in Romania will be spent here. During the winter, this small town sports a ski hill, but during the summer months this mountain is home to VIAȚA, our adventure camp. VIAȚA translates to life, and this is what we will bring to the Romanian youth. Earlier this week we finished part of our orientation at the camp. This allowed us to gain an understanding of all different elements of the high and low ropes. Try balancing a team on large teetor totter like platform, while two team members switch to opposite sides. Not so easy! Activities like this emphasized the importance of communication and team dynamics while others taught trust, overcoming fears, and encouraged participants to empathize with each person's experience. Most importantly we learned a deeper meaning of what this camp means to many of the kids in this country. During the era of communism, one in three Romanians were informants for the government leading to a heightened distrust of neighbors. This distrust of strangers continues to be a part of society while these activities force participants to trust and rely on others.
During this first week and a half, we have also taken the time to get to know the people. We joined local children in a trash clean up of the Jiu River and celebrated with a picnic and waterfall hike in Retezat. I predominately talked with one girl who was particularly good at English. She, like many other Romanians, has dreams of traveling and living elsewhere.
We also traveled to Hunedoara and Cluj-Napoca to learn more of the history of Romania and to see the culture of one of its most prominent cities. Throughout the trip we were blessed by the kindness of the Romanian people. Not knowing the country or the language proved to make travel difficult at times. Sometimes we happened upon a mostly fluent English speaker, who guided us in the right direction, but we were not always this lucky. This did not stop them from trying to help us. I could ask where the bus station was, but outside of hand gestures, I understood very little of their responses. One woman we met on the bus figured out we were going to the castle, so she gestured for us to wait, and found us a cab and explained everything he needed to know. Without her, we would have gotten very lost on a long walk or attempted to find a cab on our own. Not once did someone refuse to help us when we asked even if they did not understand a word of English. A friend of our bosses even allowed us to stay the night and show us around Cluj and a nearby salt mine. The generosity is astounding.
I am so grateful I am here, and I am so thankful for everyone’s support that helped me get to where I am. I look forward to experiencing the beauty of this country through its people and its nature and sharing it with you throughout my trip. If you are interested in reading my mission and vision statements, feel free to read them here: https://crwm.org/about-us/our-missionaries/caitlin-strikwerda. If you would like me to send you periodic updates of my trip, email me at email@example.com or leave a comment below.