Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Arrival in New York

The flight was long and amazing. Everything around me was a source of wonder. I felt like a princess when the stewardess would cater to my every whim - in 1978, flying was a real class act, people actually dressed up to fly and were treated with respect, not condescension as it is often the case today. The food was equisite and served with stainless steel silverware, real napkins, glasses, and marvelous little containers filled with food. I did not have to stand in line to be told often times at the head of the line, "sorry, we just ran out, come back tomorrow." I could not believe my eyes! I looked around with fear, wondering when the police would come to pull us off the flight or ask for our papers. Uncle John had managed to bribe one of the border guards with a carton of Kent cigarettes so I can keep the modest diamond ring that Jean had given me. Cigarettes were a desired commodity money during communist Romania, along with soap, shampoo, chocolate, pantyhose, and makeup. The most popular brands of cigarettes were Kent and Chesterfield. Twenty dollars bought a whole carton. Some jobs required just one package of Kent, others an entire carton. This bribe required more since it involved keeping our own property, a $100 gold ring. Visits to doctors, lab work, and other medical interventions required both bribes of money and commodity money. Twenty-four hours later and after stop-overs in Hungary and Germany, we arrived in New York. I was penniless, hungry, thirsty, bewildered, tired, and apprehensive. What have I done? Where was I? Who were all these people? Will I be able to survive on my own? I have no money, no home, no job, no family, no friends. I wanted to run back home to my family and everything that was familiar and made me happy. But I was 8,000 miles away, separated by a vast ocean. I did not even have 10 cents in my pocket to buy a soda or make a phone call. Jane and Bill were my salvation now, I was clinging to them for dear life. After going through customs and having my meager belonging rifled through, we boarded another flight bound for Mississippi. I watched in horror as the lights started to disappear and all I could think of was, where is the city, where are the lights? I grew up in the city of Ploiesti, over 650,000 inhabitants and I was moving to a town with a little over 3,000 citizens. We landed in Memphis were we boarded yet another flight to Golden Regional Airport (GTR), a small local airport servicing three adjacent small towns, located in the middle of cow pastures. I was totally depressed and crying by now, doubting my sanity and wishing that I had listened to my daddy who had tried valiantly to warn me that I should not go with such high expectations to a strange country and state that I knew nothing about. He said that my high expectations might turn out to be a big disappointment. How was I to know that I would leave a third world communist country and trade it in for a developed republic with agricultural, deep south flavor? Once we landed at GTR, we embarked on a two hour drive through lone highways to the Johnson's farm in Woodland, MS. The ranch house was modern and luxurious by any Romanian standards, with indoor plumbing, running water, flushable toilettes, electricity, and lots of space. Jean's closet was as big as our kitchen. The darkness was scary but the soothing sounds of farm animals was calming. Mr. Johnson did not say a word and offered everyone hot chocolate except me. I was too bewildered to care or even have an opinion. I was finally in the land of opportunity, free of communist oppression, and all I wanted to do was to go back home to my poverty and my family.

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