Standing in a dark church holding on to an unlit candle I was surrounded by old women 2/3 my height and twice my width. This is where I was at 5am, April 4th, 2010 when the voice of a priest began to chant from behind the golden colored wall in the church. As one dim light appeared from the same location all of the small bunicas(grandmothers) around me became restless. The light grew brighter and the voice louder when a great movement of these short, dark figures around me enclosed in on a point several feet in front of me. Finally the light appeared at the top of a long candle held by a white bearded priest. The bunica’s short stature worked to their disadvantage as the light was held up just out of reach of their stretching, candle holding arms. At the priest’s willing he brought the candle just low enough to appease the stretching arms and thus lit up the entire church with the help of several elders passing their lights to the others in the church, including me.
Even though it was 5am on a non-caffeinated Sunday morning I felt wide awake after stepping outside the door to the sharp teeth of the biting cold Maramures morning. That morning it seemed as if spring had not yet sprung but it worked to my advantage in shocking me awake, enough to carefully observe some of the traditions still kept in that part of the country during their most important religious ceremony. The ceremony didn’t stop or start in that church at 5am in the morning, but as the church rapidly turned from dark to light I stopped for a moment to consider the significance. I didn’t know exactly what the significance was at the time but I could easily tell that it was a significant moment for everyone involved.
Soon after arriving in Romania I learned about Maramures. I learned that it is a place where some of the deepest Romanian traditions are kept. I also learned that it is home to the famous “Merry Cemetery”. My visit to Maramures introduced me to beautiful landscapes, beautiful life, and beautiful people. A fellow Peace Corps volunteer in Botiza openly welcomed me into his home without even knowing me very well, showing me the kind of hospitality that many of us volunteers have received from Romanians.
The 4 full days I spent in Maramures were an even mix of relaxation and activity, with days balancing between reading-time and beautiful country hikes. Even though it was a bit chilly, one of my favorite parts of the day was starting a fire in the soba before it got dark. What more could I ask for in a spring break? Delicious Romanian food. We were not at all let down by the food, eating our hearts out on snitel, pasca and cakes after the long Easter morning. I can't finish the blogpost without mentioning the midday walk that we took to the edge of town only to be stopped by a neighbor that we sat with, practiced our Romanian, watched his kids play soccer, and of course drank horinka.
First Picture: Looking down on Botiza from a nearby hilltop.
Second Picture: Looking down on Easter morning service in the cemetery above the church.