Fragment of a Transylvanian Journey

bq. In 1993 (I think) I found myself travelling in Transylvania with a fundamentalist missionary named Gary Cox — a good man, though not my type at all — and Sandy Millar of HTB, who had two strapping young acolytes: [“Giles Wemmbley-Hoggs”:] for Jesus. I kept a diary, and stumbled across a fragment now when I was googling my hard disk for Lutherans. Here you are. (The Wemmbley Hogg link will kill half an hour very pleasantly, while it lasts, too)

We skirt around Oradea, down a road made of concrete slabs which passes about half a mile from the border of the flats. In the old days, says Gary, we would never have been able to do this,. For one thing, no foreign car dared leave the main road; for another, it went past a factory, which might have been considered secret. The factory itself is the usual vile first-world-war painting: grey and mud coloured.

Hitchhikers are frequent by the side of the road. Gary will not pick them up, for fear of muggings ad worse. An entire aid lorry was stolen quite recently, by a gang which flagged it off the road into a dead end.

We pass a typical Transylvanian village, so called: low houses in a long line down the road; a Catholic church and a shop of some sort. We pass our first bullock cart, in a village below a large hydro-electric scheme.

Gary points out the infrequency of private building here compared to Hungary: people simply can’t afford to launch into that kind of enterprise.

About five km from Cluj, on a straight stretch of road, we come on a cluster of cars and trucks. At first it is not clear whether this is a gathering or a crash. A youth with a bleeding face and a yellow patterned jumper is wandering round, mouthing furiously. Then we see young men tipping part of a car up by a shattered tree. It takes a moment to realise that the thing at one end of it is a girl of about eight, dead on what remains of the front seat. She wore red trousers and a blue jacket. Her body has turned round to seem to point at us. Her neck lies pressed against her knees: her head flops to one side beyond them; her face is slavic and unmarked beneath black, shoulder-length hair. There are no sounds of any kind to be heard through the windows of the van.

The portion of the car among the trees ends at the little girl. The front is nowhere to be seen until we pick our way around a parked truck and it appears in front of us in the middle of the road; a rusting lump about ten metres from the rest of the car. We are foreigners. there is nothing we can do. We drive on. We pass the police and ambulance on their way out from the city. Entering Cluj, a dead dog lies on the other carriageway, burst and steaming. Every pavement is crammed with parked cars. They seem to me to be great clanking Molochs.

Later, we pass through fine snowbound highlands, on our way to the quiet Transylvanian town of Turda. There is a market there: pigs carried in the back of small horse-drawn carts. Gary tells the story of a visit to Siberia, here the team had found an orphanage, in quite good shape, but with no boots or even shoes, for 120 children: they had been left out of the budget… In the end, the prisoners at the local labour camp were so shamed by this that a group of the prisoners started to work on their rest days, with the salary going to the children.

Fine peremptory manner of hitchhikers in these uplands. We have just passed our second Paddy Leigh Fermor flock of sheep, with two scruffy shepherds wrapped in sheepskin pushing them along. This road, from Cluj towards Turgu Mires, broke down into a dirt track eight years ago; there is less snow here, and on the banks of one river, a party of fishermen. They are too far away to see more than rods, and apparently centre pin reels.

We are bringing to Medeas the following: two grindstones for the mill that will save the people a fourteen km trip; a printer for the translator’s computer, so that the translations of evangelical literature can be more easily checked and edited; some money for for workers; a few tracts. A suitcase full of clothes and christmas presents, some for an aid worker down the road.

In the market, I buy a sheepskin hat for eight dollars, which does not seem a lot, but would on the other hand buy 80 kilos of potatoes. There is far more food than I had expected; potatoes, strings of Garlic; a huge pig market Everywhere you see narrow, steep-sided carts pulled by horses or donkeys, large enough for a 200 kilo pig or three small peasants.

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