Monday, August 28, 2006

Mr. Steve goes to the Romania!

Hello everyone, this is Steve again. With the exception of the short week in July spent in New York, I've been in Bucharest for nearly 8 months. I will be visiting our home in Greenville, SC for Christmas, but I just won't be there long enough to get to the dentist. So, a couple of weeks ago I made up my mind and asked one of my coworkers to help me out. As usual, nothing in Romania goes smoothly.

Plan A - You can lead a Steve to the dentist, but you can't make the dentist show up.

On my first attempt, one of coworkers named Gabriel (we call him Gabby) made an appointment with his dentist. He made an appointment for 5:00 pm on a Thursday. The good news was that Gabby's dentist was a short bus ride from our apartment. The bad news was that Gabby's dentist didn't show up for the appointment! I arrived at the place at 4:45 and Gabby met me there. The office was closed and a note was on the door that said "Will return at 4:oo". There were two other men waiting who had appointments before me, and they didn't know where the dentist was. Since it was almost 5:00 and we didn't know where the dentist was and if he was coming at all, Gabby recommended that we call it a day and head home. Even if he did show up, there were 2 other guys there before me - so I thought that was good idea to say the least.

Plan B - Mimi to the rescue, again!

As you may know from previous blogs, I've been giving Mimi, a Romanian woman who lives close to us, a ride back-n-forth from work. Mimi is helping me to speak Romanian better and I'm helping her with her English. Mimi also helped me finish up the speeding ticket ordeal and she would help me again here. When I told her what happened with Gabby's dentist, she told me she would make an appointment with her dentist instead. According to Mimi, she has known her dentist for many years - she was a good one (and reliable too, I hoped).

Over the weekend, I got a phone call from Mimi's son Paul, who speaks english fluently. He told me everything was all set for Monday after work and Mimi would go with me. After work today Mimi and I headed out towards the center of town where her dentist has her office. The place is in a very old neighborhood near the city center as you can see from the first photo on the left. Some of the nearby buildings are well over 60 years old. That's my car there and Mimi is on the porch. She brought her dentist friend a plant too.

From the porch, you can see right into the office. The doors and windows were wide open and the dentist was working on a lady when we got there. I told Mimi to tell the lady being worked on that she wouldn't be in the picture! The equipment appeared a little dated (as if I'm some sort of dental expert), but everything was very clean.

Soon it was my turn, so I had Mimi take control of the camera. The dentist spoke some english and didn't have any problem at all with the picture taking.

Apparently Mimi wanted the dentist to check on a small problem she is having, so she hopped in the chair after I was finished. After a quick check, Mimi will be coming back on Wednesday (bummer for her), but I'm set until at least March for my next regular cleaning.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the visit to the Romanian dentist. Oh, one more thing. You're probably wondering how much it cost? For the cleaning and checkup, the total cost was 960,000 lei (about 35 bucks). Not bad, eh?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Sunday Afternoon

We seem to have developed a new Saturday or Sunday afternoon habit. The weather has turned cooler (80 degrees and cool breeze) and we have been heading to the park.

There is a nice little terrace restaurant with a smooth loop of asphalt right in front. They typically play American music from the 80s and back so Steve and I sit and embarrass Maria by singing along! Then we end up telling stories about something that happen when that song was popular.

We can either walk or take the tram to the restaurant. It's about 1.5 mile so, depending on how much time we have, we take the tram some. They have these great shade trees and comfy chairs and Maria can rollerblade while we watch.

This is a picture of Steve ordering sodas and mici (little beef sausages served with bread and mustard). Once we sit down the smell from the grill drives him to order these and since you order them by the number he can get the exact amount to satisfy his hunger. He is simply amazing at the Romanian language.

Maria has gotten much better on the rollerblades and she is getting faster and faster. Today she made a friend at the next table and together they went around the loop several times. When she tires of skating then there is a small park right beside the terrace and she can swing until they bring the check and we're ready to head for home.

It makes for a fun afternoon for all of us. Now two more days of laundry and packing and we're off!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Metro Ride - by Maria

Sometimes when you get on the Metro there is either a gypsy girl or an old woman. The gypsys are beggars who are originally from India. When they beg, they sometimes sing a song or usually they just ask for money. If they're on the metro, they usually stand at a pole. And after they sing or beg, they walk from one end to the other end and stop in front of people to see if they will give them money. There is usually a gypsy woman with her baby in front of Mega Image, the local grocery store, to beg when each person comes in.

On Wednesday (yesterday), Mama and I were going to Cora. We ride the metro two stops to "Republica". I usually stand at one of the poles that are on the metro and if there's a seat Mama sits down. Across from Mama on the other side on the first seat of the row, an old gentleman was snoozing. Mama later told me that I looked kinda sad today, actually I was just tired from gymnastics. I was watching the man sleep and all of a sudden he woke up!

He looked right at me and I looked back at Mama to see if she saw him wake up. Then I turned around and he was handing me something. I took it and when I looked down at my hand I saw 2 - 50 banis which is 1 lei! He must have thought I was a gypsy girl and he had slept though the begging!

As we were getting off the metro, holding hands, and I looked back one more time - the man was looking at me with a confused face. Mama and I laughed all the way to Cora!

Anyway, I got away with my money!


The Lord sent us encouragement in the way of our Vonage phone yesterday!

Call 1: Granny called and chatted about Jill and stuff in general. This is encouraging in it's dependability. She calls everyday just to check in with us. I like that!

Call 2: Allison called and we discussed homeschool stuff and what is going on here and there. Also talked about our upcoming trip. Always a huge boost in spirits when you talk to Allison, those who know her understand!

Call 3: Pa Andy and Grandmother June. Not sure what they said since Maria answered and did all the talking. I just think it's so COOL that my Grandparents are embracing technology and calling us in Romania!

Call 4: Pastor. This is another person that is always encouraging to talk to. I think Steve really appreciated this call. He needed to hear from an American Christian man this week. I couldn't have asked for a better one to call!

So thanks everyone for your thoughts and prayers and the calls!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A Typical Day

I wanted to give you a glimpse into a typical day for the Juttons in Bucharest. I'm going to use military time because that's what our digital clocks show in the apartment. This was our day yesterday. Fairly typical!

0530 - Steve and Dana get up and have prayer and Bible reading time

0600 - Steve makes Dana's coffee and packs his lunch. Dana checks the email and weather. Maria lies in bed pretending to sleep but actually reading!

0630 - Mimi calls Steve to let him know she is downstairs. This is a Romanian co-worker that rides with Steve to miss the hour commute by public. Steve then gets to quiz her on the Romanian language during the ride. Dana gets out the school books for the day. Maria continues to read.

0700 - Dana starts breakfast. Maria gets up and dresses. We sit and have breakfast then clean up the kitchen.

0730 - Maria's hair is put up in a bun and we head out to gymnastics practice. We catch bus #330 or 335. Then we change onto the tram, either #16 or 40.

0800 - Arrive at gymnastics and change into leotard. Maria goes to practice, Dana returns home to clean or do laundry.

1000 or 1200 - Practice is over. On Mon, Wed, Fri they finish at 1000 with a 2.5 mile run. On Tues and Thurs it goes until 1200 and they work equipment.

Until around 1430 - We get our school work done and eat lunch whenever we feel hungry. Lunch is usually a piece of fruit, cheese, some form of protein and maybe chips or a sweet.

1430-1600 - Free time. Sometimes I walk to Mega Image, our grocery store and buy last minute things for supper. Typically the Granny calls at some point during the afternoon to tell us that she has no news! :)

1600 - Steve arrives home from work.

1630 - Steve goes for his run.

1700-1730 - Supper, time depends on if Steve ran and how far.

1800 - Haircut time. Maria and I cut Steve's hair and then they cut mine (sorry, Beth!) He actually did great.

1830 - Walk to Piata. Last night we found a watermelon for $1, fresh peaches for a peach cobbler, and fornetti for the Mama, and icecream for the rest!

1900 - Baths for all of us. This is odd since we rarely all bathe on the same evening or morning! Some days we don't have hot water, some days no cold - either way that means no bath.

1930 - UNO tournament with Mama as the "big loser" every time! We have no TV that is suitable to watch here so this is what we do in the evenings. We also spotted this rainbow out the window. See picture below.

2000 - Bed time for Maria

2030 - All is dark in the apartment. Yes, we really do go to bed by 8:30pm!

We leave next week for our trip to Barcelona, Nice, Rome, Naples, Malta, and Palma De Mallorca! That should be worth several posts.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Paying the Speeding the ticket

Steve here: Now, as Paul Harvey would say, is the rest of the story. Those of you that have read this blog and kept in touch with us may already suspect that paying a speeding ticket in Romania (ridiculously big and inefficient government) would not be an easy thing to do. You would be correct...

Bank? C.E.C.? huh?

The officer who gave me the ticket was really nice. He even knew English, or so I thought. When I asked him where to pay the ticket, he said you can pay at any C.E.C (sounds like "check"). Of course, I had no idea what a C.E.C was. He then said "Bank". I said great, sounds simple of enough. Dana and I agreed that on Monday, she would take the ticket to the nearest bank and pay it. Well, on Monday afternoon, I got the phone call from Dana at work. She and Maria went to the bank and after waiting in line for 15 minutes were informed that "Nu" (No) they couldn't pay the ticket there.

After speaking with my Romanian coworkers, they informed me that the C.E.C was a special bank that is similar perhaps to our Federal Credit Union in the States. Ah ha! So we printed out the addresses for the nearest C.E.C's to our apartment. I told Dana I would get the ticket and find the C.E.C after work.

C.E.C. to C.E.C.

I was happy when I figured out that one of the C.E.C's was within walking distance from the apartment. So, I got home at 4pm, got the ticket from Dana and headed out. I found the C.E.C after a short 5 min walk, so I was happy...for the moment. I went in to the C.E.C and got fussed at immediately. Apparently, I didn't shut the door completely and the air conditioning was on. Due to my rudimentary language skills, they had to repeat the command about 3 times (getting louder each time as if that helps me).

After closed the door, I walked back and forth trying to read the language on the different service windows in the C.E.C. None of them said anything about speeding tickets (called "Amenzas" in Romania). I finally asked a nearby non-English speaking Romanian and realized that I couldn't pay the ticket here. Fortunately, a nearby English speaker bailed me out and told me I could pay the ticket at a different C.E.C which was about 1 mile away. So I walked quickly back to the apartment, got my keys, and headed back out. I parked near where I thought this C.E.C was. I was pretty close, and with a little help from a Romanian at the nearby bus stop, I found it. Things were looking up as there was nobody in line there. I asked the lady at the window and she gave me the bad news. It turns out that you don't pay tickets at the C.E.C at all! She then told me to go to this different place which is basically where you pay taxes and fees in my section of the city - and she added that they close early - of course!

So, I hopped back in the car and found what I thought was the building about .5 miles away. I went in and the security guard said I was in the wrong place (of course). He told me the building I needed to find was in the same complex, but about 1 block away. So, after some more walking I finally found the correct building! Unfortunately, I went in the wrong entrance. Another friendly Romanian helped me out and pointed me to the correct entrance. He also gave me the bad news - they were closed for the day.

Doing the right thang...

By this time, I'm starting to wish we had just bribed the cop like most Romanians do. Romanians will usually offer to pay the cop a fee that is less than the ticket. Then, the cop will take the money, put it in his pocket, and tear up the ticket (they don't make good salaries here). But, of course, we had to do the right thing.

Anyway, taking no chances, I went to the place anyway to make sure it was correct. I entered the building and found a helpful security guard. She confirmed that I was indeed in the right place, and that they opened at 8:30 the next morning. She even gave me the correct room number, or at least I thought it was....

Paying the ticket, day 2.

After breakfast with Dana and Maria, I decided to try to get there a few minutes early just in case. When I got to the tax place, there was a HUGE line of about 30-40 people already waiting at 8:15. I really wanted to get this done because in 48 hours, the fine actually doubles if you don't pay.

Many of the people were clearly unhappy, so I tried to listen in and see what I could pick up. Based on what I could understand, I think the majority were there to pay parking tickets. If you read the last post, we've been seeing alot of police in our area - and this is the result. The people were really aggravated. Many improvements have been made to our neighborhood, but unfortunately the improvements (better fences, new playgrounds, etc) and taking up places where people usually park.

When we were finally let in, I was thankful that the speeding ticket room was different than the parking ticket room. The security guard last night did indeed give me the wrong room, but I was close. After getting pointed to the correct room, I entered. The lady there was in a foul mood. It could be due to the large number of people paying tickets adding to her workload, but I wasn't sure. I just knew she wasn't happy. She fussed at another woman in front of me and made her leave the room with nothing (uh oh!). When it was my turn, she took the ticket and entered it into her computer. I then tried to pay, but of course, this is Romania. There is a different room for actually "paying". This room is there just to log you in only! Without any pleasantries, she initialed my ticket and sent me downstairs.

I once again happily passed the long line where the parking ticket people were waiting to pay. Why the parking ticket and speeding tickets are separated, I don't know, but today it worked fine for me. In this room, a friendly lady took my money. She gave me a receipt, stamped of course - they love stamps here in Romania.You get stamped receipts in Romania for anything that is remotely official, even when you buy gas and at some grocery stores like Selgros, where we shop. She told me to keep the receipt. Yahoo!, it was over...or so I thought.

When I finally got in to work after fighting through the worst time of the morning commute, my coworkers informed me that I wasn't done yet. Good grief! Apparently, I had to notify the police that I had paid the ticket and give them the original receipt and keep only a copy. Problem was, there was really no agreement from the Romanians on how to do this. We finally decided I would go to the Post office and mail it to the downtown police station certified mail. One of the Romanians, Daniela offered to ride home with me for help at the Post office.

Mimi saves the day

As it turns out, we would not need to go to the Post Office. I have been riding home with Mimi, a middle-aged Romanian women who lives near our apartment. It's actually been pretty cool, because Mimi has helped me with my language skills tremendously. She speaks some English, but not alot - which forces me to use Romanian. Well, Mimi and Daniela got talking when we left work. It turns out that Mimi actually paid a speeding ticket before. She said you can give the receipt to ANY policeman. So, when we saw the first parked police car on the way home, Mimi jumped out, spoke to the cop and gave him the receipt! According to Mimi, everything is all set! Whew!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Stupidity Tax

When we first came to Bucharest I hardly ever saw police cars or police officers. We would discuss how if they would give out more tickets then people wouldn't be as likely to speed, run red lights, or park on the sidewalks. In the last three or four months there have been several construction projects in our Sector. They have put in parking and blocked the sidewalks to prevent parking. We have also noticed quite a few officers on foot giving parking tickets and in patrol cars. We kept mentioning that this was all wonderful!

When I was riding the bus on Friday this gentleman got on at a stop and stepped up next to me and asked something. Well everyone around me starting either getting out their ticket or their abonament card, which lets you ride for one month. I realized what he was doing and quickly pulled out my card and he said, "bine", which means "good". My first police interaction went well and without me having to attempt to speak!

Now to the "stupidity tax"... when Stephen and I first starting handling our bills on the computer, the program asked you to categorize all expenses so you can track where your money is going. This was great until I had a library fine and he had a speeding ticket! There didn't seem to be a pre-programmed category for these so we came up with the stupidity tax. This is a tax you pay when you blatantly refuse to recognize authority.

On the drive home from church today, Stephen suddenly braked hard and stopped in the middle of the road. When I looked up a police officer was flagging us over to the side of the road. Through broken English and Romanian, Steve figured out that he had been speeding and was getting a ticket. He was doing the equivalent of 45 mph in a 30 mph zone. The fine was about $15 USD. You have 48 hours to go to any bank with the ticket to pay it. We spent the rest of the ride home trying to figure out which of the signs are the speed limit signs. Usually the traffic is so bad that speeding isn't a problem.

On a completely different note: Our Pastor Shane went to Iraq last week with two other men from our church to visit missionaries. They are members of our church here and their son is Maria's Sunday School teacher. When they went through the border control into Iraq they were requested to go into the headquarters. Obviously they were a little nervous. The top ranking official asked Shane to step into his office. He asked him where in America he was from then started telling him how much he and his countrymen loved Americans and President Bush and how much better things were for him and his family. He said he was very glad we had come and that he liked us very much. This isn't the kind of thing you hear on our nightly news in the states!

Friday, August 11, 2006

There she was just a-walkin’ down the street…

Maria and I arrived back in Bucharest on Wednesday afternoon. Praise the Lord we made it through Heathrow before the terrorist threat, so the security wasn’t to "red" alert at that time. We might have panicked having to travel without a water bottle!

There have been several changes in our sector since June. The best, according to Maria, is the new playground that is about 50 yards from our apartment. We have already gone twice.

Also watermelon is now in season and costs around 1 USD for an average sized watermelon. So I guess we’ll be eating watermelon until the next crop comes in!

Yesterday was Maria’s first day back at gymnastics and the girls and coaches seemed happy to see her. We had brought back rhythmic equipment and presents for everyone so that made for some chaos and excitement. Another new addition at the gym is a puppy. The mean dogs seem to have disappeared and this cute, friendly puppy has claimed the gym as home. Everyone stops to talk to him and since Maria and I are back I guess he’ll soon be bilingual!

We got a warm welcome from my friend, the produce lady, at our local grocery. For those who have heard the story this is the lady who asked me what kind of tomatoes and I looked at her like she had two heads! When she weighed and tagged our produce yesterday she smiled shyly and said, "hello". Yes, yes – the crazy Americans are back!

Our last new surprise today is the buses we ride to gymnastics are now brand-spanking new! Talk about a treat. They must be new to the Romanians also because no one knew how to open the door at one stop. It was quite amusing. And when I got on the last bus after dropping Maria off at practice the radio was on and as I stepped up I heard, "there she was just a-walkin’ down the street"…

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Camp Living Water Update

Hello everyone. After a couple of really quiet weekends in Bucharest, I headed back to Camp Living Water to help with the preparations for their first camp this week. The first group of orphan girls will camp there on Wednesday, so you can pray the week will go well for all.

I drove up on Friday with Steve M and another couple (Paul and Laura) who are volunteering. They are a neat couple. They were married about 1 month ago and are now backpacking through Europe as part of an extended honeymoon. I think they heard about Camp Living Water and the Mather family through friends. With their flexible travel plans, they are going to stay at camp for the next two weeks. On Saturday, we built another platform that will be used to mount a large tent for the orphan girls to use. It went together well, and we quit with plenty of time for supper - that's when things got interesting.

A very strong front came through Romania on Friday and Saturday. Some locations even had tornados! As we sat around planning supper, a huge wind came up - followed by a downpour and lightning. Paul and Laura's tent was immediately flipped over. While they ran out to try to right their tent, I saw my tent was about to fly away. I got there just in time to hold it down, but the rain-fly flipped off and most of my stuff got wet. Meanwhile, Steve M. was holding down the dining canopy and watching all the fun. We all held on through the storm and got totally soaked in the process. Camping in the rain is so much fun!

On Sunday, it was time for me to go. Scott and Cammy showed up with two of Cammy/Steve's daughters Sarah and Rachel. We did a few more minor things before I took off that afternoon. I kind of slacked off with the camera this weekend, but I do have some bonus photos from my two previous trips to show you. Enjoy!
Handcrank wells are pretty common in the Romanian countryside. Many of the small villages do not have running water. Nearby the camp, the water table is really high, so some wells just require you to hand dip your bucket! At camp, we get our water from a nearby spring that flows right out of the ground. Someone had just stuck a pipe into the ground to make it easier to fill your container, but that's all. It's our free "Artesian" source, ha ha.

Motorized farm equipment is nowhere to be found on the fields near camp. The vast majority of farmers gather their hay the old fashioned way, cutting the hay with scythes and carrying it on wagons.

For my final pic, let me lay out this senario. As you know, horse pulled wagons work pretty good for transportation, rains. These carts are open, so when it rains you get wet. Unless, you do this!
Apparently this tricked out wagon is a "lower end" model, according to a friend. Some of the "high quality" ones utilize Volkswagen frames, upgrading from the typical Romanian made Dacia.

So that's it for now. Dana and Maria will return tomorrow! I'm pretty happy for many reasons, one of them being that I won't have to do all the "heavy lifting" on this blog by myself anymore. We'll see you on our next post!