When I lived in Romania, I met many interesting people with interesting stories because Romania was just coming out from under Communism when I was there. The revolution was in 1989. I arrived the next year. There were buildings that had been completely destroyed by bullets. The Romanians had wanted out of Communism badly! The Reasons are numerous. They are so numerous that I am going to have to make this into two blogs to keep this one from getting too long. Communism completely destroys countries, and the world needs to know. Romania now has the fastest growing economy outside of the orient, and things have improved since I first went there. Thank God they got away from Communism because it destroyed the country, and they had a terrible time getting out.
There was no food in the stores under Communism and even after I arrived. If you wanted to eat, you had to grow it yourself or go to the mountains and forage. Most people had pigs in their yards because pigs were easiest and cheapest to raise. Most of them also had a garden. Even if they lived in an apartment in the city, they tried to get a garden spot in the country and went there every weekend. Others went to the mountains and picked berries and wild mushrooms. If you wanted milk, you had to find someone from the village who had a milk cow and buy milk from them. The Romanian women were extremely creative and capable and were able to make whipped cream, yogurt, butter,lard for cooking oil, homemade soap for hands, body, hair, dishes, and clothes, jam, sugar from sugar beets, etc. They even grew wheat and took it to the mill and had them grind it into flour for them to make bread. Even if there was no food in the stores, Romanians refused to starve.
One man told me the story of how his father rose early in the morning to go to the dairy to stand in line in the ice and snow to get milk. If you got there first, you got milk. If you didn’t get there first, the milk might run out before you got to the front of the line, so your family would have to do without. His father had become an old man, but he was still standing in the line every time the family needed milk. He had an extremely bad cold one morning, but he went anyway because the family needed milk. He didn’t need to be out in the ice and snow because of his bad cold. From standing in that line, his cold turned into pneumonia and he died.
The lines were horrendous! There were lines for everything. There just wasn’t enough of anything. You stood in line for bread. You stood in line to buy chicken. You stood in line to buy rice. You stood in line to buy eggs. You stood in line to buy gasoline for your car. If you wanted to buy it, you had to stand in line. These were extremely long lines. At times, you were in line all day, and other times, all week. The lines were unbelievably long. Under Communism, they had money, but there was nothing to buy with the money.
Besides the food problems, there were other problems too. If you made the wrong person unhappy, you were taken away in the middle of the night in a van they called the duba. If you were taken away in the duba, you were never heard from again. In America, if you are arrested, you are allowed one phone call, and you call someone to come and help you, but not so under Communism. If you were taken away in the duba, no one knew if you were alive or dead. You may just be in prison, but no one knew.
You could not move freely in your own country. You were constantly watched by a secret police called Securitate. If you were approached by Securitate, you had to do whatever they told you to do or you may be the one taken away in the duba.
Even if you were married, it didn’t mean that you could live with your spouse. Your life was to serve the Communist party and do whatever they wanted. You were not only expected not to worry about the lack of food, but also not to worry about your personal life. If you were a teacher and they needed a teacher at a certain school, it didn’t mean that your wife who was a doctor would be living in the same area as you were if they needed her elsewhere. If you wanted to see your wife, you had to be granted special documents to travel to the other part of the country to visit with her.
If you lived in the apartments in town, there was a communal water source and a communal heat source. If you lived on one of the higher floors, the water just couldn’t reach. You would be in front of your building with a bucket getting water from a faucet outside, and then have to carry that water back to your apartment. However, there was another problem, sometimes, that elevator was broken, so you would have to traverse the stairs with your bucket of water. If the elevator was out because of electricity, that also meant there was no lights on the stairs. Imagine going up 9 or 10 flights of stairs in the dark with a bucket of water.
Since the apartments were heated by radiators, it meant water was used also for the radiators. If hot water came through the radiators in the winter time, it meant there was no hot water for baths. You would have to heat the hot water on the stove and carry it in buckets or big pans to the bathroom. If you had hot water for baths, your apartment was freezing. Children would be doing homework in coats, hats, gloves, boots, etc.
The people in the city living in the apartments were considered the more modern people, and so luckier. The Communist government was trying to doze all the houses in the villages and build apartment buildings, but there were still many houses in the villages. The houses in the villages were different from the apartments.
Some of the villages didn’t have electricity, and some did. None of them had gas. Most of the houses in the villages had wells in the courtyards where the people got their water. If there were faucets in the house, they were lucky. Since there were no radiators, it meant the houses had to be heated with wood. Many houses had beautiful terracotta chimneys that heated the houses. They were beautiful, but hard to maintain. You had have large amounts of wood delivered to your courtyard, and all winter, you had to stuff that terracotta chimney, night and day, to keep just one room warm. Your house may have had several rooms, but in the winter, the whole family often ended up sleeping in one room because they didn’t want to stuff more than one fire. It was too hard to do it otherwise.
If there were no radiators, it also meant there was no hot water coming for the baths. If they were extremely lucky, they could get a hold of a device from Germany called Yonkers, but the borders were closed, so very few Yonkers could get through. A Yonkers is even better than an American hot water heater. With an American hot water heater, it is full of hot water, but if there are lots of people in the family, and all take a bath one right after the other, eventually, the hot water runs out, and they have to wait for a while to let the hot water heater heat up the water again. With a Yonkers, it is continual hot water. It is much smaller than a hot water heater, and all you do is turn the water on and let it run through the Yonkers to get hot water. However, even though many people have them now in Romanian, most people didn’t have access to this under Communism because the borders were closed. If you wanted to heat water without a hot water heater or Yonkers which is how most of the people in the villages were doing, there was a special hot water heater that you could stuff wood into it and heat the water. You had to start a fire in your bathroom hot water heater and wait, and then have a bath, that is, if you were lucky enough to have water piped into your house.
If you were heating your house and your hot water with wood, it stood to reason, you also had to cook over a wood stove. In the apartments, they had gas stoves, but there was not gas in the villages. The only people in America now a days who cook over a wood stove are the Amish, a religious sect that doesn’t believe in modern conveniences.
As far as transportation, most people didn’t have cars. They traveled from town to town in trains, and often the heating in those trains was messed up. The heater may blast you out of your compartment, and you spent your time trying to keep the window open to cool the compartment off. That is, if you could get a seat in a compartment. Many had to stand in the hallways because there weren’t enough seats.
If you lived in town, there was a bus system for you to use to take you to work and to the store. However, those buses were always broken. If you depended on the buses to take you anywhere, you would be late or not get there. You had to walk to work if you didn’t have a car, even if it was clear across town, and most people couldn’t afford a car.
I am going to end this blog here, but I am not finished. I learned an enormous amount when I lived in Romania. Since I came the year after the revolution, I lived through a lot of this with them. American missionaries were flooding into the country. I went as a university professor/missionary. Look for the next blog that continues talking about the what Communism did to Romania.