BREB, ROMANIA--While strolling through this village in the Mara-mures region in the northwest corner of Romania, I ask Ileana, "How many live in this village?" Ileana has just come home from high school in the nearest town and is wearing brightly colored sneakers, blue jeans, and a pink sweatshirt with the word "LOVE" emblazed in sparkles across her chest. She is touring us proudly around her village.
"No, 400 families."
"How many in each family?"
"About 6 or 7."
On the large ornate wooden gate to the family homestead is the inscription: "Familie Hermann." All seven members of the Hermann family live in a three-room traditional wooden house. The house has a large porch, where the family eats, works, and sometimes sleeps in the warm weather.
Maria, the 82-year-old grandmother, sits outside the gate on a small bench and watches the villagers stroll home from the fields with scythes and rakes on their shoulders. She welcomes her daughter and son-in-law back home. It is spring, and the villagers are cleaning the fields in preparation for the summer grass growing. In the fall, they will harvest the grass to feed their animals throughout the winter.
On the porch, in the quiet of a late afternoon, as 9-year-old loanna is doing her homework, her mother, Raluca, works on the intricacies of beading the border of Joanna's traditional costume to be worn on Easter Sunday. loanna watches her mother pin the black velvet jacket to her skirt and load the needle with the gold beads to make the stems for the purple and red flowers. She sees how to turn the green rows into leaves. She shows her mother her school work, as equally neat and carefully calligraphied as her mother's beading.
Maria comes in from the gate and resumes shelling beans on the front porch. She doesn't do as much work in the fields anymore. Instead, she sweeps the house, tends to the flower garden, and helps with the two children. Maria takes the clothes down from the clothesline that stretches across the front of the porch. These handmade, intricately stitched works of art have been washed in preparation for Easter. Maria shows us the gown she will wear at her funeral. She wove the linen, and smocked the neck and wrists with traditional village colors. She is proud of her work. She takes her gown inside, along with all the other freshly laundered white blouses that men and women will wear during traditional events.
After Easter, most of the village will make the pilgrimage up the mountain accompanying the shepherds taking the sheep to summer grazing. The milking of the sheep is a defining village event, and precise measures are recorded to indicate each persons expected portion of future milkings. This is Stina, a serious celebration, and the villagers wear traditional dress for the feasting, drinking, and dancing.
Life in rural villages is physically hard and not idyllic. There is no privacy in the village, perhaps no secrets. There is no privileging of the individual over the family. The family functions as a unit.
The sense of belonging is irrefutable.
There is room for individual pride, however, and this is expressed as skill in raking a straight row, making the best plum brandy, wood carving, and doing embroidery. Everyone has an opinion on which family is the best at their craft. The Hermanns are recognized for their skill in textiles--particularly their embroidery.
The village has its characters: the most devout, the "bad boy," the lazy person, and the man who can't hold his liquor. This man, the village drunk, makes a trip to the psychiatric hospital in the town of Sighetu Marmatieti, when he gets out of hand. After a few weeks, he comes home quieter, and his good behavior will last for the best part of a year.
Outside of the village, in the "real world," we try to create a sense of belonging.
As a country of immigrants, we in America have sense of belonging that is scattered. …