It was a sunny Saturday at Pro Vita, a relief after days of rain, when we chose to have a carnival—a day later than originally planned because the priest didn't want kids to be given candy on a fasting day when they couldn't eat it. We had planned the carnival for over a week and kept it a secret from the kids as we built our games, made our booth signs and gathered prizes. We marched up to the playground, arms loaded with the goods, set it up, and presto—a carnival. It was great to see what we had been working on actually happen and happen well; and I enjoyed the kids at my booth, the Hook A Duck booth where they had to fish for little rubber ducks floating in a wash tub. A note about those ducks—you don't just go out and buy stuff because you have no money, so you use what you have. And if the little ducks you do have don't float, you create little boats for them out of the bottoms of disposable plastic cups. And when the hardware store doesn't have screw eyes for hooking, you jab unfolded paperclips into the tops of the duck heads. Oddly, it all worked. I learned a lesson with this experience because, as a typical American, my first response is to go shopping and buy better ducks, but I was expertly coached by our director and by Eustacia who embraced the make-do way of life.
It was in the middle of it all when Melanie, one of the directors, came through and announced we had been invited to a wedding later that evening. Father Tanase, the founder of Pro Vita, is the priest at the church in Valea Plopului, the next village over. He would be performing a wedding and thought the volunteers would like to see it. He also invited the Belgian boy scouts, a troop of more than 30 high-school aged boys from Brussels that had moved in to camp up by the woods and to help clean up various messes. And to drink, apparently.
So, after we cleaned up our carnival and cleaned up ourselves—washed off our face paint and dressed appropriately as guests to a wedding—we set out to follow the leader, Ciprian, son of the priest, and walked to Plopului. It was a 25-minute walk down the main road, and we formed a sort of parade of Americans and Belgians, a bit of a spectacle.
The Belgians tended to sing camp songs spontaneously, so we asked them to sing as we walked. They agreed with just one song, something you could walk in step to like the marches soldiers sing in war movies. Something like, "You're walking down the road in Romania...your left...your right..."
When we arrived at the church, the service had already begun, so we sneaked into the back quietly and found places to stand or sit without causing a disturbance. Ciprian led most of the boys up to the front of the church (men are segregated to the front in Orthodox churches) and the ceremony took place in the middle.
There were at least two priests leading the thing with two more deacons or the equivalent, all wearing colorful robes. They burned enough incense to smoke out all of Romania, and they took turns singing from a book they were passing around. The wedding party consisted of the bride and groom, an attendant a piece and a small gathering of family and friends, all standing in the center of the church. On either side of the small group were young men holding evergreen trees to represent an eternal relationship, and the main doors were open to let in the sounds of the village. Here is a shot of the ceiling—every surface of the interior is painted like this:
I understood not a word of the service, but after this and that, the entire gathering followed the priests to the front so that everyone could kiss each of the four icons—Jesus, Mary, and others I couldn't identify from my spot in the back. Then they all met again in the middle, held hands and sang a song with such gusto you could tell it was a celebration. I was particularly impressed with Father Tanase's singing, so enthusiastic and loud you could imagine him belting out his favorite anthem or bar tune. He likes to be heard, I think.
A woman from the party walked around to everyone and offered us a piece of chocolate from a box—we had to accept to avoid offending her, but who would refuse? And then we all slipped out to the church porch ahead of the bride and groom. The couple is not permitted to kiss inside the church but are presented outside in front of everyone and invited to kiss outside. You don't want to be stuck behind them at that time or awkwardly trying to leave through the doors at the same time.
After the kiss, the wedding party met in the street (dirt road) and walked together to the reception hall with two men playing accordions behind them, and we all kept our distance in the rear, not having been invited to the party. What a mob we were. We started to leave when Ciprian asked us to wait because his father, the priest, wanted a word with us. The big man—big in stature and big in personality with a traditional beard flowing down across his chest and long, dark hair gathered in a ponytail—came out to greet us all in Romanian with Ciprian serving as interpreter. He put his arm around me and joked about my leaving Eustacia there without me for three weeks (someone had told him about our change of plans), and he scolded one of our younger volunteers for sitting inappropriately inside the church. She was wearing a short dress and had her legs casually crossed in sort of a revealing way. He did not approve and did not spare her feelings in telling her in front of us all. Poor girl, although when you're in a conservative country and invited as a guest to a conservative church, you might stop to think about how you dress and sit while you're there, don't you think?
Just as we were about to head back to Valea Screzii, Father Tanase motioned for us to follow him down the road to his van. He opened up the back doors and gave us each a huge cheese roll he just happened to have with him, a donation from a bakery, I assume. We said good bye and went our separate ways, and the return parade began. This is the front of the village church as seen from the road:
For some reason, the Belgians decided not to follow us, so we hit the road on our own. About half-way home, the regional bus to Starchiojd stopped ahead of us, and we recognized Georgian, a young man from Pro Vita who was sitting in the front seat waving. He was friends from the driver and got him to stop for us to give us a free ride back. Relief! This is the view along the roadside—mind the horse poo on the road from all of the horse-drawn wagons that travel that way:
It was a wonderful experience, and I was so glad for the impromptu invitation.