|12 Jul 2012|
|WM Summer 2012 edition|
“Buna! Sunt Catalin!” Standing in the theater classroom at school, I heard a husky little voice announce his name in Romanian. I looked down at a face full of freckles and combed amber hair. In front of me was a six-year-old boy with a toothy grin and shining eyes. His outfit, comprised of a white shirt, black blazer and blue jeans rendered the sight of him rather endearing.
This complete stranger wrapped his warm little arms around my legs. Catalin was one of thirty other Romanian children invited to the American International School of Bucharest that afternoon for a Christmas party. A dozen classmates and I had been volunteering with Romanian Children‘s Relief, a non-governmental organization aimed at helping Romanian families and children living in dire circumstances such as poverty and abandonment. Many of the wide-eyed children at our school had traveled over dirt roads from their homes in orphanages or small villages, with limited living space and no running water. While these children only traveled an hour or so, our school was worlds away from the Romania they knew.
I could tell the warm classrooms, papersnowflakes taped across windows, andglistening Christmas tree sparked immense curiosity within Catalin. Yet I couldn‘t begin to comprehend the situation and background of these children, overlooked by Romanian society because of their ethnicity or lifestyle. Catalin‘s circumstances were as complex as the pattern woven in Romania‘s traditional textiles. Though curious, my questions would have been an intruding needle, pulling out the pattern‘s yarn just to analyze his situation. Instead, I simply took comfort in knowing that for this one afternoon, he would be able to enjoy Christmas as any child should. It was a moment of sheer serendipity when smiling Catalin stomped towards me on his little legs to announce his name.
The weekend before, each member of our volunteer group bought snow boots, small toys and sweets for one child who would visit. While shopping, I had carried a small piece of paper with Catalin‘s name on it, not knowing that aweek later, he would find me first and embrace me before he even learned my name. The week before we met was proving to be the typical week of any busy junior in high school. I was exhausted, overworked and counting down the days until the liberating dismissal for winter break. Meeting Catalin pulled me away from myself, and my notions of what being a Foreign Service teenager was about. I was able to look beyond the privileges of traveling and attending an international school.
I realized that as a young diplomat, my focus should be on service and connecting with those in my host country outside of the expat community—the real Romania. Amidst crayons and cookies, Catalin and I became inseparable. As the time rapidly unraveled, I heard Catalin‘s soft, irresistible pleas: “Stai cu mine, stai cu mine!” “Stay with me, stay with me.” In spite of a limited Romanian vocabulary, I understood his request. I stayed with him for as long as I could.
Growing up overseas, nearly every country or city in which I live seems to plead the same: “Stai cu mine! Stay with me!” I heard it in the deep clanging temple bells of Japan, and in the chatter of tropical birds in Australia. I saw it in the waves lapping onto stretches of coastline, sending salty messages to my destination overoceans. I wish I could fulfill this plea, but therumble of a jet plane and the bitter scent of cardboard boxes stacked in a hallway beckon me to leave. How can I leave a place that is pleading for me to stay? How can I say farewell to new friends who change my perspective and inspire me? To have time cut so cruelly short? Yet, if I had not left the comfort of my previous homes, I would have never met Catalin.
Leaving means new opportunities and experiences. It doesn‘t have to mean abandonment. Instead, leaving provides the possibility of reunion, and the joy that comes with it. Upon returning to such people and places, this joy causes you to wonder if you ever truly left at all. There is no need to plead ‘stay with me‘, if what you give to others will stay with them.
Class of 2012
Read the entire WORLD Magazine Summer 2012 edition here.