Lost and Found: A Reality Check in Brasov Romania
The overnight train was not a “sleeper” train — and yes, there was a difference. The difference was that instead of actually sleeping at any point between Budapest and Brasov, I watched the sun rise over the dewy Transylvanian fields with my head resting stiffly against the cold window. I flicked through the photos on my DSLR, and my tired eyes teared up as I looked at the faces of the friends who had been my world these past weeks, knowing that these images would soon be all I had left of them. As we rolled up to the station, I tucked the bulky camera body and lens into my handbag, double checking its other contents as I did. Passport, wallet, phone — check.
The overnight train was not a sleeper, and I will forever blame that fact for what happened next.
I have no recollection of the Brasov train station, nor how I found the local bus to my hostel. I vaguely remember counting the stops, alighting at the recommended one, and walking for a good five minutes in the direction in which I deliriously believed my hostel to be. Then I remember reaching for my phone and having it hit me like a gust of icy wind — I didn’t have my handbag. The adrenaline rush made everything a bit clearer from there. The clearest certainty of all was that I’d left my bag on the local bus.
At the end of a day of grave mistakes, I had lost nothing and gained something truly immense–a realization that most people in this world are just like us.
“My pictures,” was my crazy, sentimental first thought. Not “my money,” “my phone,” or, most logically, “my documentation.”
As I stumbled around town, failing to find my hostel, returning to the bus stop, searching blindly for the hostel again, irrationally boarding a bus with the same number as before, exiting two stops later when it was clearly the wrong vehicle, finding myself in an even more unknown part of Brasov — it was those faces, those memories I refused to give up that would not let me believe my bag was gone for good.
In the part of this story where I’d pick up if detailing it in a job interview, I finally made a plan: I would go find– the police? The bus station? My belongings? …coffee, actually. The plan was to find coffee. Coffee would mean clarity, people to ask for help, and possibly internet and map access. Mercifully, Brasov is every bit as coffee-obsessed as I am, so within a few minutes I’d happened upon a hipster-approved bike cafe and was asking an old barista for a giant latte and directions to the nearest police or bus station.
It took only hours in Romania, with its reputation for pickpockets and poverty, for me to realise its reality of exceeding kindness.
In the same moment the said he spoke no English, I remembered that my Romanian phrasebook was in my lost bag. I nearly crumbled. A voice from behind me asked, “Which do you need, police or bus?”
Sleep-deprived, stressed, I rambled an explanation of my situation.
“Do you have your bus ticket?”
Entirely to my surprise, I did.
“Your camera and money… they must be gone,” the man, who’d introduced himself as Vali, warned me as he pulled out his phone to call the bus company. “But there’s a chance that someone would leave your documents, and that’s what matters.”
A rapid Romanian conversation and a stoic Romanian face. My hope dissolved like the sugar in my coffee as the conversation dragged on without a hint of a smile. But as he hung up, Vali declared, “It’s all there. Someone turned it in to the bus driver. You can meet him at the station.”
Whether from the exhaustion, the relief, or the caffeine I’d been chugging, I was suddenly dizzy. “Which way is the station?”
It was just around the corner, but Vali, claiming it was a welcome excuse to delay returning to work, offered to drive me. On the way, he taught me how to say thank you (multumesc), and once my bag was back firmly across my body, he helped me find my hostel and then insisted on treating me to another coffee at his favorite nearby cafe.
So many times before I left for that trip, people had asked me, “Aren’t you scared?” and “Haven’t you seen Taken?” I told Vali about this, and he laughed.
“You did get taken! You got taken out for coffee.”
In the weeks to come, Vali and I would meet a few more times — to tour the non-touristy side of Brasov, get drinks, and chat. Thus, the next face in my camera became the same person who’d helped me retrieve it.
We’re so constantly fed negativity in the media that we sometimes start expecting the worst in people. Even Vali, as he layered one act of kindness upon the next, did not expect someone else to have done the same by turning in my camera and money. Yet at the end of a day of grave mistakes, I had lost nothing and gained something truly immense– a realization that most people in this world are just like us. I don’t know a person in my life who wouldn’t have turned in a lost purse, so why would we all assume that a stranger would steal mine? It took only hours in Romania, with its reputation for pickpockets and poverty, for me to realise its reality of exceeding kindness.