Comment: On returning – a letter to the Romanian diaspora

Call me sentimental, but the image above broke my heart. Of all the scribbles on that lousy piece of paper, the one that ripped into me is not political, it’s not directed at Prime Minister and presidential candidate Victor Ponta, and it has nothing to do with voting. It takes on many other overtones, however.

It is indignant, because you wrote that at a moment when you felt stripped of your dignity. It’s despairing in its tone because you’re fighting windmills. And finally, it’s a very poignant cry for something that every human needs: a home.

If the word “Londra” weren’t written on that paper, I could imagine the same scribbles plastered all over a local sign. Except for that one exclamation, at the very bottom, in red pen. “Vrem Acasa!!!” (we want home!)

I understand the frustration of living in a place that, although hospitable, can never be like home. I understand the futility of imagining ‘what if’ you could live in Romania. I mean really live – not just survive – and benefit from good infrastructure, efficient service, and pleasant interactions because social norms dictate all of this.

It’s especially hard because the longer I live here, the easier it is to understand why you needed to leave. It’s even harder for you because you keep waiting for it to get better while you’re gone.

It won’t.

We’re not going to have a more competent Romanian ministry of foreign affairs if you don’t come back. We’re not going to have better infrastructure if you don’t come back. We’re not going to be more efficient or more ‘civilized’ if you don’t come back. And you’ve already noticed that you won’t get to vote…if you don’t come back.

But here is what you can do.
1. Find a job here.
2. Open a business here.
3. Open a business somewhere else and service it from Romania.
4. Get involved in anything here so that you can pave your way to an eventual return.
None of those are easy, but here’s the hardest thing you’ll have to do: Take a (big) risk on a big dream.
If you find a job, it probably won’t pay as much as the one you left. If you open a business you’ll have unimaginable headaches.

But let’s look at the flip side.

Do you really love the job you have now? Is it worth the pangs of nostalgia you get every time Christmas or Easter rolls around? Is it worth adding the word ‘distant’ alongside ‘relatives’? Is it worth missing your friends? Is it worth the genetically modified, chemically boosted, sugar injected everything that you eat? Is it worth the huge mortgage, rent, utility, or transportation bills you’re paying in your highly ‘developed’ city?

And if you really, really love what you’re doing now. Is it truly impossible to do it in Romania? Or is it just hard…and risky? Should I start listing all the quotes from wise people who’ve suggested that hard work and risk generate bigger rewards than anything that’s comfortable and easy?

That’s really the only difference between living in Romania and wherever you left for a better life. It’s harder here. That is a big difference to be sure, a deal-breaker even. But if the risk pays off, you’ll be infinitely happier. I should know, it’s what I did.

Here’s to happy returns,

Matt Sampalean, guest writer

(photo source: – photographer Ana Man)