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Jerelyn Talbert

‘I know many women here that are so successful. They’re really smart … and really should be proud of themselves. But no one gives them a hoot because they’re not rolling in the dough with some kind of business.’

I met Andras in Danbury, Connecticut. I met him in a restaurant. He wanted to know what am I eating. He was very charming and friendly and talkative, and I liked his accent; I liked it a lot. Anyway, we chatted a bunch and then he asked me on a date. Two nights later we went out to dinner. He had gone to the States to work, to make some money, like everybody else. He had a tourist visa so he wasn’t really supposed to be working. It was illegal.

When he got into New York City, he didn’t know anybody. Nobody. He just had a backpack and enough money for a week at the YMCA. He needed to get a job quick, so he went to the phone book looking for Hungarian names and started calling. He said, ‘I’ve just got here and I’m all alone, I’m Hungarian, can you help me?’ One guy said, ‘Yes, I have a friend who has a painting business in New Fairfield, Connecticut. I know he hires a lot of young Hungarian guys and he has a place they can sleep and they work for him.’ Some kind of good opportunity for the boss, not for the people.

He went to work painting with them and it was ridiculous pay, way below minimum. But they took care of them and he got a place to sleep. Andras saved every penny he made, he didn’t spend it. Finally, what he started doing was taking cheap cars and fixing them up with some friend he knew that had a garage, and then he’d sell them. With every car he may only have made $100 or $200, but it was more than he was putting away with this crappy amount the guy was paying him.

He was working on a very beautiful home and the owner was watching him every day, seeing how he was working, just to check up. He was impressed with Andras really working, not sitting around. This guy liked Andras, his personality, and said to him, ‘You know, I’m just starting up a new company, and I really need somebody to work where we ship out the clothing in big boxes.’

So Andras started out in his warehouse, folding the clothing, putting them in boxes – did that for a while and this guy’s watching him. Andras could do double, triple the amount anybody else did, was always working, working, really hard. Then he got the supervisor of the warehouse position, and within maybe two to three years he was in an office over ten, twenty employees. He just… boom, boom, boom… worked himself right up, because of his total initiative. He took on everything. Didn’t have to be told what to do, worked every minute, hardly sat down… The guy was just so impressed with him he ended up as production manager.

He ended up with me as well. I met him down the line a few years. He had a pretty good job and he was doing very well. I went several times to the company where he worked. They wanted him to stay. They hired a lawyer to get him immigration working papers. In the meantime, there was a guy that was quite a bit older. First he was Andras’s boss, and then Andras was his boss. He was angry Andras was making double what he was making. He was at least ten years older and felt pushed over that this foreigner, this immigrant, was taking his job and this wasn’t fair. Well, he called up immigration, complaining to them. The lawyer, the woman that was doing Andras’s legal papers, she said, ‘I don’t know if this will work, but maybe if you guys got married it would help.’ We quickly got married, in March 2000. Didn’t work. The company screwed it up. Andras was sent back to Romania.

We’d bought a big rental property together, and it was Andras’s savings that went on the down payment and my credit rating that got him the mortgage. The house was 30 minutes from where we were living, with eight apartments in it. Every month we got unbelievable rent. His friend bought it from Andras so he got his money back. I’m the one that went to the closing and did everything, because Andras was already in Romania. When he got back here it was a couple of months and then he had a nice big lump sum.

I really thought the marrying thing would work. If I’d met Andras when I was, let’s say, in my late twenties or middle or early thirties, I don’t know if I would have moved to Romania. I might have just said, ‘See you later, alligator.’ When I met him I had already done 15 years at the hospital and I felt like I could move somewhere; I could learn another language. I was ready for an adventure, like something different in my life.

Before I met Andras I’d been working at a state psychiatric hospital for the state of Connecticut. I was a rehabilitation therapist, a state employee. It was a live-in facility for psychiatric patients, not a day programme. Before that I was a pilot. I went to school to become a pilot at 18, but was finished with that at about 25. My mother got ill and I went home to take care of her.

What was it like when you first got to Csíkszereda (Miercuria Ciuc)?

Andras had kind of glossed it over. I had all these photos of pretty fields where I could ride, and of course there were no pictures of all these beat-up fences, rundown houses and potholes. The best buildings in the town, of course those were in. He found a few, the városház, the town hall… and I thought, ‘Oh, the town looks okay.’

Anyway it was really funny. He made a huge effort to fix up the family house because it was pretty much a disaster – he retiled everything, repainted everything, new kitchen, new bathroom before I arrived. I sent my furniture over and it was put into the home. Then I came later. When I arrived all my pictures were on the wall and it was my things, which was really a smart move of that guy. I’m not kidding you, I walked into everything being mine and it was all sparkling new. The whole inside of the house and outside was all painted.

The yard was typical Romanian style. That means like nobody had a lawnmower in this whole town. I don’t even think Romania had a lawnmower ten years ago. We had a container and you could put everything in there. We brought over the lawnmower. Oh, is that the thing! All the neighbours looking: what is this machine? We had the only nice lawn. Everybody else’s would just get really high and then they would kossa it, meaning with a scythe. They would cut their lawns with a scythe, can you imagine? Then, of course, what do you think? Everyone wanted to borrow our lawnmower. Now they’re running around with their lawnmowers all the time and it looks great. There were funny things like that. Big difference in the way it was when I moved here and the way things are now.

Csíkszereda is in Transylvania in the Carpathian Mountains, and it’s considered the coldest spot in all of Romania – another thing he didn’t tell me; I didn’t know about that one either. God! The town is 85 per cent Hungarian, Székely. This area was Austro-Hungarian Empire at one time. It was given to Romania and all the people...

Harghita County