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Winning Battles, or, The Flag Story (Part 2)

It's becoming a week of sequels. Yesterday it was a second installment in the 'Why Did I Come Back' series and today it's a follow-up to the Flag Story I posted more than a year ago. Don't worry, I'm not running out of material like Hollywood, it just happened this way.

Unfortunately it took a while for me to follow up, don't forget that I'm Romanian too! But a few weeks ago I happened to look at the front of the student building from where the infamous flag was hanging and guess what, it was still there looking worse than ever. Truth be told, I'd been looking at it all along, a few times a week over the past year. It just pissed me off more each day but I kept thinking that there's no point in going there without a solution. And, because I didn't really have a plan, the anger just simmered week after week.

Last week on my way to work I thought, what the hell, I'll go by and see what tovarash Bodea has to say now that's he had over a year to 'think about it'. I walked to his office but there was nobody there. I also noticed there was another name on the door and wondered where I'd find Bodea's new office. I left vowing to myself that I'd be back. And then Saturday happened. After thinking about it the week before I realized that going back there empty-handed would be pointless. I wanted to bring a flag with me to leave that Commie no room for excuses. I found the Tricolor on Saturday at a souvenir stand on the way back from Sibiu. Now that I had the solution, I couldn't wait for Monday.

On Monday morning I put the flag in my bag and took a detour to the administrator's office. It was empty. Walking along the side of the building I noticed there were two doors open down along the other side. I walked in to the first one where I saw what looked like a mound of laundry against the wall of the room ahead and a lady walking towards me. I asked for the administration office and for Mr. Bodea.
"Oh, he's not here anymore!" One of the ladies said. "It's Mr. Salajan now," the other explained. Indeed, that was the name I saw on the door.
"Where do you think I can find him?"
"He was around not long ago, he should be in the area -oh, look, there he is now!" She said, pointing.
I turned and saw a middle-aged guy in sunglasses with a clipboard in hand walking by.
"Thanks!" I said over my shoulder, already halfway down the steps.

I intercepted Mr. Salajan, introduced myself, and then I asked him to come with me because I wanted to show him something around the corner. He also seemed pretty old school, but at least he was being amiable and that always goes a long way. We walked together a few meters 'till we got to the front of the building.
"This is what I wanted to show you." I said pointing to the sad excuse for a rag hanging from the flagpole. "I came here over a year ago and Mr. Bodea told me he never noticed it. I find it unacceptable that something like that is hanging there for all the passersby and drivers to see, its like a...a" I was speaking Romanian and the word for 'rag' just wouldn't come to me.
"Like a rag" He said, reading my mind.
"Exactly, and people say that the problem in this country is we don't have money. I think it's that we have no pride in ourselves. What's a foreign student walking by supposed to think about this place?"
"Yes, you're right," He said somewhat abashedly, "I wanted to change it, I have a lot of things to change around here. If you check the other locations I've been taking care of you'll see that all the flags are in good shape." He seemed a bit embarrassed and genuinely concerned.
"I've noticed actually." And it was true, the downton UTCN locations all had nice clean flags on their buildings.
"I want to bring the European and UTCN flags too," he said, "We have so many of them in storage from the graduation ceremony, I agree we need something better up there."
"Well, don't worry about that for now," I said unzipping my bag, "I came prepared just in case there was nothing decent on hand...or if it was a matter of money." I handed him the folded up flag.  He took the flag and looked up at me, surprised. "You're just giving it away?" He asked. I told him it wasn't a big deal and I just wanted to see it up there. He said he'd take care of it.

After thanking him for his understanding and cooperation I left, feeling like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I had taken this whole flag thing on as a personal battle and now it was nearly over; victory was within my reach but the last step would be up to him. I wondered how long it would take before he'd change it, thinking that a week wouldn't be the most unreasonable time-frame of expectation (for Romania). But Romania and its people are full of surprises. On the way to lunch I saw my flag, still creased in the places it had been folded,  blowing in the summer breeze. It was a beautiful  sight.

A chapter ended today. That flag had gnawed at me more than any flag should gnaw on anything or anyone, but that's because it represented so much more: It was a matter of civic pride, a story about the communist mentality that's still crippling this country, and about that old adage, "if you see a problem, fix it." I felt like I solved it all in one go. But thinking about it now, I see that the credit belongs to Mr. Salajan who, unlike his predecessor, chose to put pride and institutional mentality aside and to accept my rather bullish offer to help. Before taking my leave of him one of the things I'd said was, "Making this place better is just a matter of common sense and a willingness to work with each other."
"That's correct." He said. That picture is the proof that he meant it.


  1. Lol you gypsie activist you...well donme chapp .... Can you claim it as a tax write off. ? Humm nm they don't pay taxes there ;)


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