We left the church, drove the YUGO, & attempted to follow Moises, who didn’t seem to know where he was going – we hadn’t gotten around to eating dinner, & I was as hungry & tired as I’d been so far on the trip.
Finally got to our hotel around 11:30 p.m. – the Hotel Dacia… I wasn’t sure if it was because of my cloudy eyes, the moonless night, or what… it was dark… even inside the Hotel… as though the lightbulbs were all 30watters that emitted only a yellowish light, making it hard to see any depth or details…
As we headed into the poorly lit lobby towards the check-in desk…something grabbed my eye… at the side of the lobby, seated in a faux-living room set up, were about 5 guys, surrounded by several scandalously dressed women… obviously prostitutes or ‘call girls,’ higher end than what I’d seen on the road to Oradea… BTW: it wasn’t the women that caught my eyes… it was the guys standing next to the couch holding Tommy Guns. Yes. Real, ‘20’s style Tommy-Guns, like you’d have expected to see Al Capone’s guys using in The Untouchables
What the heck? Who’d these guys think they were, mobsters?
Then it hit me – from the time that the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the communist & communist supported governments had been toppling… Romania’s own dictator, Ceaucescu had been executed in 1989, & with him, the Communist government & economy tumbled into chaos… over the succeeding years, one of the organizations most successful at filling the economic void & paving a road out of communism was the Russian mafia… & here they were, with business flourishing, in the lobby of the hotel I was staying in.
My brain clicked into high gear as I realized what was happening in front of my eyes. A local arm of the Russian mafia was running a pseudo-brothel at the largest hotel, (esp. for tourists) in all of Oradea… & though I was tired, it didn’t take a genius to figure that there MAY have been other illegal activities going on… the kind that would need a couple of conspicuously placed Tommy Guns for protection & muscle. I prayed, silently & fervently. The fear I felt was tangible & ominous.
Upon arriving in the room, I told everyone what I’d seen, & asked Moises WHAT we were doing in the same hotel as the MOB… … he explained:
It was such a common thing to him – how he described it was like I would describe the existence of blackjack tables in a casino back home…
At midnight, Moises helped us call for pizza – Fearless Leader ordered the biggest one they had, with “everything.” (NOTE: we were in Romania. What does EVERYTHING mean in Romania? I didn’t even know what EVERYTHING meant at home…) Within about ½ hour (Domino’s Pizza would have been proud,) our delivery guy showed up with the pizza. He spoke some English, & asked where we wanted him to put the pizza. Fearless Leader pointed to the dresser… so Pizza guy opens up the box, & dumps the pizza onto its crust on the dresser… & takes the box with him, presumably so that it could live to fight another day… & be re-used. We sat with no napkins, plates, utensils of any kind, looking at the pizza sitting on the dresser.
I took a look to see what EVERYTHING meant in Romania – turns out I couldn’t identify many of the objects on the pizza… but there were a couple of creatures with eyes – I think they were fish of some sort… smelled fishy. A couple of fried eggs. Onions. Peppers. Olives. Various meat-type products. Hmm. I could pick off what I didn’t want.
Went into the bathroom to find something we could use in place of napkins… & found that the toilet paper was… less processed than I was used to… it had what looked like toothpick-sized pieces of wood in the paper… NOTE: be very, very careful when using…
There wasn’t anything to drink to wash down our EVERYTHING pizza… & we needed something to drink. Moises had told us that we should avoid tap water, as it would wreak havoc on our intestinal systems… So, Nate (the guy traveling with me & Fearless Leader,) decided that he was going to go down to the lobby & see if there was a Coke machine or something.. I voiced my objections, after all, the Mob was downstairs, but the guys were thirsty, & Nate was going. I couldn’t stand the thought of letting him go downstairs alone, so over my better judgment I went with him.
We took the elevator down to the lobby & headed to the front desk. No luck – there were no soda machines anywhere nearby, & all the stores in the neighborhood were closed, (like you could have gotten me to head outside anyway,) He pointed us towards the bar – & thought that we might be able to find something there. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Mob, the women & the guys with guns were nowhere to be found…
We walked into the room where the bar was… It turns out that it wasn’t a bar, per se. It was a strip club. And the reason we hadn’t seen the mob in the lobby was that they had relocated to this room. Great.
I asked the bartender if he had any sodas… Fanta Orange was all they had. Whatever. I paid for it, & we headed for the elevator. About halfway across the lobby, I heard somebody yelling, “Hey! Hey!.”
We were being followed by two of the mob guys, & they each had a girl with them. I rushed to the elevator (didn’t run) & pressed the button, waiting for the elevator doors to open. By that time the guys had caught up with us. I pretended that I didn’t see them, & faced the elevator doors – one of the guys said, “You will take women.”
Nate had positioned himself safely on the other side of me, so I was between the guys, the women, & Nate. I said something smart like, “Oh, no thank you. We don’t need women.”
That evidently wasn’t the right response… the first guy stepped closer to me & repeated, louder & with more intensity, “You WILL take women!” Again, I answered him, saying something like, “Thanks anyway, guys. But we’re both married, so we don’t need women.”
Open door. Open door. Open door. And nothing.
By this time, I was facing the two guys, the women were hanging out all over & one of the guys with a gun was looking at us from across the lobby.
Once again, he repeated, “You WILL TAKE WOMEN.” I sighed. And prayed. And looked at the guy, trying not to look threatening, thinking that he was going to take me out, & whack me (or do some other Mob stuff,). I said, ‘Guys, I’m tired. No offense, but I don’t want to take any of your women; I just want to go upstairs & go to sleep.” The guy looked at us long & hard, & said… “Ok,” & turned away, & with the other guy & the ladies, headed back into the ‘bar.’
The doors picked that time to open up, so Nate & I jumped in & pressed the button to head to our room, Fanta in tow. Whew! I can remember going in the bathroom, shaking & crying. I prayed & thanked God for protecting me. I collapsed on the bed & slept like a log.
Moises arrived in the a.m. to take us around to the nearby sites where we’d be working with the local church that summer. He took us to Felix, where we met with Stefan, the guy from the American parachurch organization, the same guy that Fearless Leader had worked with at some point in the past. Stefan spent about an hour with us – took us to the hotel we’d be staying at, showed us a field where we’d be able to do our ministry stuff… as far as the other things we’d be doing, like visiting orphanages &/or doing work projects… we were told that those things weren’t ready yet, but that everything would be ready upon our arrival in August. Really? I asked a couple of questions, & was told, “It will all come together BUH-dee. This is what I do for a living…”
And then we were done. We’d spent less than 18 hours in country & now were headed back across the border. – & were on day 8 of our trip. I couldn’t believe it. (Well, by this time, I could. But I was incredulous.) Most of the questions that we’d had about that summer’s trip remained unanswered. Stefan was more interested in setting up tennis matches with Fearless Leader than with talking through details, & no one seemed to have a problem with any of the nebulous details except for me. At some point, it made me wonder if I was the one with the issue, the only guy that didn’t GET it. Why wasn’t anyone else bothered by the lack of details? And why would we go forward with the trip with so many unknowns? Esp. to a place that was so potentially wrought with danger?
Nate & Fearless Leader chatted away the trip back to Hungary in the YUGO while I sat in the back & stewed. Tried to figure out what I could do, should do about the trip I said I would help out with – & struggled through my own insecurities & lack of surety about my own identity… & wrestled with how I could not NOT go on the trip – & explained away the alarms going off in my head, things that I would now recognize as ‘red flags…’
I missed theBean. I missed my kids. I was tired, emotionally drained, & confused. I took solace that our trip back to Budapest would be a quick one, & that we’d be flying back to Frankfurt to meet with Johannes for a day.
That is just wild . . . And it certainly fits one of my favorite sayings that “you have to live it first if you want to tell about it later.”
Thanks for sharing your stories, very interesting . . .
what a trip to remember. I can see why this ‘mission trip’ is now infamous
TPT- Yes. Wild. And yes, live it to blog it…
Erica – the thing is, this was just the scouting trip – the actual mission trip, the trip that crystallized it all for me, that happened 3 months later.
Oh the humanity
there’s more???…the Russian mobsters weren’t enough deterint