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  • Writer's pictureAnnamaria Nemeth

Things are heating up

There was another piece of my childhood which really affected me. As I was growing up in the austerity policy era, living conditions were really harsh.  The government introduced the Rational Eating Program, so that the very basic needs of our existence had to be rationed. Food was scarce and rationed to the degree that lines at the stores started in the middle of the night to ensure that we had food for the next day.


I recall standing in lines all night with masses of people, all of us getting restless. We stood in separate lines. This one time I remember I was waiting at the meat store for poultry. The doors opened and suddenly people pushed forward and were actually going through the windows. I was in the front of the line and all I could see as I looked up was pieces of glass falling. I felt a hand grab me and pull me out of the madness. It was my mom. “We do not need that food that bad!”she exclaimed, and we left.


Sadly the rationing was devastating for everyone. The resources were all outsourced and all the production of goods was exported. Electricity was shut down daily, leaving the city in darkness; the whole country as well. Gas was also shut down. Since we cooked with gas stoves, this left us without the ability to cook.


Medical care was also difficult to obtain. I recall having a tooth pulled without any numbing or medicine to ease the pain. I still remember being held down as the dentist extracted my tooth. If you were sick you had to get to a doctor’s office early and take a number. If they got to you, they did; if not you went back  the nest day in the hopes that you would actually see a doctor. Now, of course , there were ways to get around this if you were able to bribe everyone. But my parents did not have the resources to do that. The health care cuts were felt by many.


However , this is one place where I will give credit to my father. He was a master of the ins and outs of the black market that was booming. He became very resourceful in providing the basic needs for our family. We never went hungry. At this time he was working for a company driving a dump truck. He would go to various places and smuggle out goods which he then would trade for food. He would do everything he could to provide for us. But then he was good at being resourceful. Remember, as a child he had had to take care of his mother and siblings. He’d had to learn the ways of the streets. Sadly, those years shaped him and made him who he was. If we start looking at how our environment shapes us, we learn so much about a person.


Living during Ceausescu's regime was a very difficult time for my family and the people of my country. Everything was getting harder and harder with incomes being lowered and prices increasing. We also had to live with governmental control of the people, the rise of poverty, and our resources becoming less and less. People were becoming restless. The ethnic discrimination was increasing and, hatred was on the rise. For the first time fear of the government became real as people who dared to speak up were disappearing.


My mom was working so much to meet the production demands and expectations, not just of the government, but those which the factory placed on its workers. As a result of these new laws and expectations, workers were only paid if they met the companies’ goals. Hence the wages earned were only paid if the workers met the predetermined goals. Here, too, my mom was wise and good with money. She was able to work behind the scenes and participate in a form of gambling between the factory workers where she was able to gain extra earnings which helped to pay our bills. My parents were very resourceful; they always provided.


As the situation in the country got worse and worse so did my dream of a revolution. I was talking about it all the time until my parents asked me to keep quiet so as not to draw attention to ourselves. This was really hard for me. The power cuts were becoming the norm, as was a severe lack of hot water. We perhaps only had hot water a couple of days a week. We had begun to heat water on the stove to take baths. But this too had to come to a stop when we only had gas for our stoves a few hours a day.


We were continually bombarded with political propaganda: on the radio, on the television, in school, everywhere. My disdain towards leaders and authority figures grew. Being harassed every day with brainwashing propaganda was so hard to live with for an independent thinker and rebel like me.


Things had leveled out at school for me but I knew I would not have a bright future if I were to remain in Romania. It doesn't mean I started liking school. I just survived to get to another level, whatever that might be . I learned to play the game and still be me. School was the biggest brainwashing ground of all.  No wonder school was of such a huge significance to the government. Everyone had to perform and live up to the highest expectation. And if you did not, you were an outcast. Add to that the ethnic discrimination and you had a breeding ground for discontent and hatred. People were learning to just survive, and fear ruled the country at all levels.  


All I could think about was how do we as a people divided come to a commonly agreed upon goal and overthrow our government? Something had to change. Little did I know that as all this was going on my father was planning an escape and I might see a different future .

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