Since the Fourth of July is this week I started to think about my own arrival in the States and what it means to me to live in the US. I was slightly over 5 when my parents, after waiting and bribing and filling out lots of paperwork, finally got approval to take a vacation outside of Romania. In Communist Romania, like all other Communist nations, you did not get to choose where you went on vacation outside the country without the goverment's approval. I am not talking about just getting a visa. Instead imagine being prohibited from that trip to Cancun or whatever your destination of choice is (not due to an embargo for one specific nation) but due to the fact that the goverment controlled your every movement. My parents applied for a trip throughout a few of the Eastern bloc nations, not easy to get approval for but not impossible, with a last stop in Austria before their return, almost impossible to get to a non-Eastern bloc country. They got this permission with the caveat that they leave me behind, what better collateral to ensure that they were not yet another couple who would not come back. My parents told almost no one, especially me, that they were planning on not coming back (to protect themselves from being potentially exposed as well as to protect the people they were leaving behind - this was punishable by jail time). I remember my parents leaving, standing in front of our aparment building and waving as their car drove away.
I was not privvy to their plans even after they left, in fact I spent 2 years with lots of instruction from my mother's aunt (who in her 60s took me in) and her daughter as well as many other relatives learning to tell all who asked outside this circle that my parents were on vacation. This is what I told the teachers at school and my friends....they knew it was not true but really did not want to expose themselves with the knowledge of what the truth was. I spent time learning English, private tutor who smelled of brandy and often fell asleep during my lessons so pretty much all I could say at the end of these was "hello my name is Juliana Badescu" and a few other British accented phrases. She was nice and her excessive blue eye shadow always made me smile. I spent time writing letters and asking why if I was really good, finished with the best grades in my class could I not be united with my parents ? My mother said those letters asking this and telling her how well I was behaving broke her heart when she got them. How do you explain that a system is so awful that the only option is to leave everyone and everything behind to hopefully bring your child out of it to that child? To this day my favorite President is and will always be Gerald Ford, not for the fact that by all accounts he was a decent man who truly wanted to do a job well that he never even aspired for, but because it was his visit to the Romania to lend them money that led the goverment to reduce some human rights abuses (those that could be easily identified anyway) including not keeping minor children from their parents who had left.
No one was allowed to accompany me...that's right an 8 year old child on a plane headed for a foreign country and no one was allowed to accompany me by the Romanian goverment. I bid a tearful farewell, with a secret happiness that I was going to see my Mom and Dad, to my family. They bribed the stewardess to take care of me and I got on a plane headed for America. If it shocking to hear of bribes as a daily occurrence at every level, well then you have never lived outside of a democracy. Bribes in places like the US happen without the frequency that they do in these other places,and not as a routine way to work with everyone from the cab driver to the highest level of an institution.
America...a land so much talked about, with reverance in private and scorn publically, that it held it's own pull for me....the main attraction of course being that I just wanted to be with my parents. None of the flight staff on this Romanian airline did a thing to help me, they ignored me for the entire ride. Social butterfly that I was I spoke to almost anyone who would talk to me on the plane including one family who had a little girl, who only spoke English to my only Romanian, and they in many ways saved me. Our plane was delayed in Amsterdam and the really unpleasant flight attendants told me to get off the plane with the other passangers, for the entire 5 hour delay. Yes, an 8 year old child who spoke only Romanian was asked to wander the airport....I can only say maybe they were tired since they were not allowed to disembark at any of their destinations because of the number of them that kept defecting or maybe they were just not nice people. The family I mentioned took care of me, bought me chocolate and ensured that I was not alone. I often get asked if I was scared...I do not remember being anything but excited by all I saw around me and that soon, so soon I would once again be with my parents. We got back on the plane and we were off to New York, city of Kojak (reruns were on in Romania too..who loves ya baby?), tall buildings, a brand new car my dad had written about that was big and silver (Buick LeSabre 1975) and of course my parents!! I do not remember sleeping but am sure I did, I played backgammon with my little friend and read my book until I saw it ...New York...as we circled the island of Manhattan...just like on TV only the buildings seemed taller. I had arrived ....JFK...Eastern Airlines building....