Stronger Together

It has been a long week, and I feel as though a lifetime has passed between my writing about getting settled in Targu-Mures last week, and my return to this city last night.

I left for Cluj on Sunday, the city where the majority of my fellow Fulbrighters live. Our mood was generally happy: we found each other in restaurants and cafes and bars, went to the theatre, I found a medical history museum.

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Medical history museum in Cluj

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The view from a secret cafe

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The theatre on a Monday night

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On Tuesday night at 8:30, I arrived in Bucharest for an election night party hosted by the US Embassy at the Hard Rock Cafe. I traded gossip with and teased the other Fulbrighters while we danced and drank and ate. Live entertainment kept our minds off of the election. “I feel good,” a friend told me.

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Mihai showed up!

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Romanian boy band

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One of the most surreal moments of my life

The momentum of the party died a bit when an academic Skyped in to explain the electoral college. I sat down for the first time all night and switched my whiskey out for coffee. I chastised my friend for obsessively refreshing election results too early. We waited.

The mood grew more and more somber. The Romanian guests had mostly left. The staff of the embassy watched, dumbfounded, as state after state was called. I colored Montana red. “Smile!” someone shouted. I couldn’t.

At 5am, I had to leave to get on a plane back to Cluj. I reached for my phone every few minutes and then started to feel dizzy. At the security checkpoint, an airport staff member noticed my party swag and asked, “Clinton or Trump?” I pointed to my Hillary pin and explained that we were hoping she could still pull through. I stopped checking my phone and nausea overwhelmed me. “I don’t think I can get on this plane,” I said. I made it, in the end.

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Beginning of the night v. morning. Yikes.

I didn’t look at the news again until I had reached Melanie’s apartment and taken a shower. And my heart broke again and again and again. A young woman I consider my sister is worried she won’t be able to move to the US as she had planned because she’s muslim. Close friends worry they won’t be able to afford medication for serious conditions. Here in Romania, friends are concerned about the economy and our proximity to Russia. In short: people I love are seriously worried about their lives and livelihoods.

Over the course of the day, I thought I wouldn’t come home, that I would stay in Europe after my grant ends in July. I thought about the absurdity of the world: I had been awake for 36+ hours, watching a celebration of democracy devolve into a scramble to find a way to preserve any good we have accomplished as a nation before January. Tuesday night I danced and drank and smiled. Wednesday morning I cried.

Melanie offered me a bed for the night, and I accepted it–to be with friends and Americans, I thought, was important. And I’m glad I stayed, because even as we realized disheartening truths about our country and cried and became delirious from lack of sleep, we found comfort in each other as we talked about the good we are capable of doing.

I am lucky to be here in Romania with intelligent and compassionate and worldly people. Even as I approached hour 40 without sleep, positivity started to creep in again. We found good food, and our questions turned from “What has happened?” to “What can we do?” And even though my heart still breaks, spending time with these people brings me hope.

Maybe I’ll come home in July and maybe I won’t, but I do know that I will fight for love and education and rights in the United States. I am so grateful to my friends who kept me strong through election night, and to my friends in the United States fighting the good fight. I am still processing, but I know that hate will not win.

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