One grey morning I woke up to a quiet farm. The cats and dogs had gone, so had all but two of the horses. Danielle and I packed our few remaining belongings into the back of our truck, hitched up our trailer, and loaded the last two horses: Doru and Pintea. We said goodbye to the few people who knew or seemed to care about our departure. Finally, mid-morning, we set off down the muddy village street, bumping along past grubby yards and houses that needed painting, crawling along below the cold umber hills.
A few miles later, I realised that a box had been forgotten in my old tack room, and turned back. Three horse carts stood in our yard as neighbours and former employees took whatever could be carried out of the house and workshop, which was not a great deal. Little furniture remained, though the blacksmithing gear that I could not carry was both valuable and useful. I retrieved the box and set off for the last time.
Long hours later, after a slow four hundred kilometres on crumbling roads, we crossed into Hungary. Suddenly the roads became smooth, the towns and villages well cared for, the people Western. I had arranged a stop at a village guesthouse on the Great Plain, and we were welcomed kindly, the two horses finding comfortable boxes on a nearby farm.
The journey went on, slowly towing a rather poorly balanced trailer. Another night was spent in Hungary, then a night in Austria. A strange feeling overcame me: the realisation that I had been a complete fraud selling holidays in Romania. Not in a premeditated sense, since I had travelled so little that the contrast between Romania and neighbouring countries to the West had escaped me. But I had become an apologist for an ill-run and corrupt nation whose very own population, for all their faux-patriotism, cared neither for their heritage or their environment.
A year later I am sitting in a hotel room whilst away on a training course for my work and have a few moments to type a final post on this blog. My new life is a complete contrast to the old. I may work in an office again, however my employer gives me interesting and indeed challenging work, trusts me, equips me with the tools that I need, and pays me well. I have good, competent colleagues in whom I trust. This work brings out the best in me, and I am very happy with it.
I have a horse to ride in my spare time. Indeed, after twenty thousand miles in the saddle, riding as and when I choose is a welcome change. My back is well again - finding a chiropractor was nearly my first action when I stopped in the West.
Danielle and I are married now, and we have a modest but pleasant home. We can begin to lead normal lives after the many problems that Romania through at us. We can get on with life without being asked to pay bribes, without our every effort being sabotaged by the jealous and the ignorant, without our neighbours stealing from us.
Given the changes that took place in the world economy, we did not move a moment too soon. The tourist industry in Romania has slumped, and former colleagues report that the going is tough. Several no longer work in Romania at all. I feel sorry for the remainder, struggling on in a fragment of the Third World jostling like flotsam at the edge of Europe.
I suppose that the village did not seem so bad a decade ago. It was still then a fragment of an older world, where there existed memories of honour, where people still knew how to work after a fashion. But they were dragged down by their corrupt urban compatriots and became simple uncultured materialists. What a sad end for a people and a country that seemed to have such hope! It seems that nothing which I did made the blindest bit of difference to anyone whom I employed or worked with. I am sad for that. I miss the mountains and forests, the expansive views from the lofty ridges, however one can neither eat the view nor pay the bills with it, or even sell it profitably to tourists when almost each Romanian blindly trashed his backyard.
I do not need to say where we live or where we work. Suffice it to say that we moved on from the first place where we stopped. I did take down this blog for several months in response to abusive and libelous comments posted by certain corrupt Romanians. I suppose that these people regret that the opportunity to solicit bribes has passed. No, it did not prove possible to close down my affairs out there as I would have wished, however that is thanks to corrupt lawyers and real estate agents who obstructed me in the hope of largesse that I was not willing to offer.
Suffice it to say that Danielle and I now live in a better place amongst better people.
A friend visited the village recently. My former neighbours were drunk, Cornel's new employer hadn't paid him for several months and his wife begged for money, my looted former home is empty and ruined. (I had found Cornel a well paid job working with horses for an English employer, however his wife had incited him to leave that job because it involved lodging away from home on weekdays. So now they are nearly destitute. Again he is a sad alcoholic man with no prospects.) Of all the people whom I left behind, I feel regret for Cornel's fate alone, perhaps because I spent the most time with him and perhaps because (usually and at least when sober) he tried to be a good employee. But the place and the people dragged him down, who might have prospered in better surroundings.
Nearly ten years of my life vanished into that place. Almost a decade, all my savings, and more besides. Long years of stress and struggle for what precisely? Well, they made me stronger and more resillient, they gave me a better perspective on life, they cured what tendency I had towards depression. So I did not emerge destitute of hope or options.
Yes, Danielle and I live in a better neighbourhood now.