Our Borders: Nineteen Eighty-Four

I stood on the windy bluff above the Danube, at the foot of the monument. My heart was racing. What if I forgot the words?

Galaţi, Romania, 1984

Galaţi, Romania, 1984

My mother had bought my outfit weeks before that cloudy autumn day. The polyester clothes smelled like new toys: the white shirt, the black pleated skirt, the white knee-length socks. The colorful Romanian coat-of-arms adorned the buckle of my brown plastic belt, and also the blue rectangular piece of cloth sewn on my left sleeve, and the small badge pinned on my shirt. The night before, my father had shined my black leather shoes. My mother had starched my white pompons and fastened them to my white plastic headband. That morning, she put a transparent plastic ring in my pocket and a folded red scarf in my backpack. Continue reading

Our Borders: Lost at Sea (1983), Part 3

Photo by Mikhail Chizhevsky (2005) - Wikipedia

Bulker at sunset
Photo by Mikhail Chizhevsky (2005) – Wikipedia

Radu Codrescu, his wife, Florina, and their friend Iulian were safe for the moment on board Sunshine, a Kuwaiti-owned handysize coal bulker operated by a Bulgarian crew. But if Captain Nicolai reached his cabin and called the Romanian border authorities in Mangalia, things were going to change for the three fugitives. Continue reading

Our Borders: Lost at Sea (1983), Part 2

Night came early on Sunday, August 21, 1983. Somewhere in the middle of a stormy Black Sea, three Romanian fugitives—Radu Codrescu, Florina, his wife, and Iulian, their friend—held onto the sides of their deflated orange boat, riding up and down strong waves, wind buffeting their faces, dark skies closing down on them. They called to each other, laughing and saying silly things to each other, trying to stay together and alive. Continue reading

Our Borders: Lost at Sea (1983), Part 1

I was six years old in 1983 and I was living in Galaţi, Romania. One winter afternoon, I was standing with my father in line at the grocery store, packed between dark, heavy woolen coats. Neon lights buzzed and flickered above our heads. The woman behind the counter wore woolen fingerless gloves and a sleeveless jacket over her white uniform. Behind her, stacked plastic crates, most of them empty. We were far down the winding line, but I could smell the bread. My stomach rumbled. Continue reading

Our Borders: Radu’s First Escape Attempt (1982)

I first met Radu Codrescu (name changed for privacy reasons) in 2001 in Redmond, Washington, soon after I started my software developer job at Microsoft. Radu also worked for Microsoft, but we didn’t meet there. Some friends introduced us down an aisle at a grocery store. Radu was tall and athletic, a middle-aged man with graying hair and a smile that seemed to say that there was no problem in the world he couldn’t solve. At first I assumed that Radu had arrived in the U.S. the way I had, with an H1B work visa and a plane ticket from Romania bought by Microsoft. But soon I learned that his journey to the States had been a long and dangerous trek. In 2002, we sat down for a series of interviews about Radu’s past. By then, just one year into my career at Microsoft, I had started to explore journalism as a hobby. Radu and I continued our conversations in 2006 and in 2013. Continue reading