This is a day full of emotions for me, mainly happy ones! For me, the Iron Curtain ended on Sept 12th, 1989 when my son was born. I lived in Communist Romania for a lot of 1988-1989. I was one of the few Americans banned from entering the country for a time in 1989. Today i'll share a little info on what daily life was like there and our getting out of the country. The next blog will be about getting into Romania after being banned.
Romania is a country filled with immensely talented, hard working and sincere people. The actual land is beautiful and diversified, It's been challenging, to say the least, for Romanians to have dealt with communism and corruption. What's funny is everything bad was blamed on former dictator Nicolai Ceausescu and his wife Elena for years, even after they were executed. The reality was many others were part of that corrupt state and the corruption was rampant. For example, it was hard to get a service or even medical care without ponying up a bribe .
It's hard to describe daily life in Romania in the 1980's. While supposedly the severe rationing of food and products was to pay off foreign debt, it seemed more about exerting control over the population and getting people to snitch on others for a little extra. First off, there was a lack of almost everything. Sugar, meat, oil, eggs, flour were rationed. Even hot water was rationed .They didn't have individual hot water heaters. Water was heated for the whole community and heated for usually only an hour a day. Then of course were the endless lines. What were people lining up for? Most of the time, they didn't know. But because most everything was scarce, if people saw a line, they'd get in it on the hope stores might release something they didn't have. Romania was a police state and police questioning was a common event, especially if you went anywhere at night. Plus they had the dreaded secret police that really did Ceausescu's bidding.
Over the years as I've listened to people that left Romania and other Eastern European Countries during the Cold War era one of the first things they is share is their trip leaving the country. I can fully understand why. It was just that hard for a citizen of those countries to leave and that day was not only joyous but also stressful knowing the state can just not let you out, change their mind. So on this date, I'll take a page from them as I share my ''Getting out" story of my then pregnant wife, now ex-wife, and me.
After an event-filled and stressful summer, the day we were waiting for arrived. We were leaving Romania! Romania had granted permission for me to marry my wife and finally issued her a passport, The US Embassy was quick about granting her a green card, so we hoped everything was set. My wife was 7 months pregnant at the time and because medical care was so bad in Romania we were trying to get to California before the birth of our son.
For good reason, we thought we might have trouble at the Bucharest Airport, but surprisingly this time they let us out with no incident. Our travel plans were to go to Zurich in the evening and then the next morning continue on to California.
We made it to Zurich but since my wife was a Romanian citizen,we needed to stay in the airport, because she did not have a visa for Switzerland. We stayed at a hotel at the airport that was set up mainly for people with visa issues. While we were in the hotel room, my wife's water broke and there was nobody to be found in the reception area, The door leading to the airport was locked. I looked at the phone in the reception area and dialed a number listed on it. It was somebody in the airport, and I quickly tried to explain the situation. Luckily they understood immediately and an ambulance was sent. The ambulance took us to the nearest hospital, in Bulach, and our son was born a few hours later. Believe it or not, it didn't seem stressful after what we had gone through that summer!
I went to the U. S. Embassy in Zurich the next day with a photo of my son, a few hours old, and paperwork from my wife and the hospital. I was there to get him a passport. The first person I saw inside was a Swiss citizen working at the Embassy and she instantly told me "Just because you're an American doesn't mean your son's an American, too!" Just as I was asking her to let me speak with an American official, an American man appeared. He knew my name and told the lady they knew all about me and to just get the passport for my son. He told me he had learned all about my ordeal in Romania and seemed genuinely surprised and glad that we had made it out. I got the passport . We had to wait ten days to come home because flying can put too much air pressure on a newborn's ear. And soon enough we were home in California!