E-mails from Ed
Edgren in Romania:
From Ed February 25, 2003:
had the opportunity last night to pass out the literature on Friendship
Force International and make a 10-minute presentation to the Rotary Club
There appears to be solid interest.
In addition I had very strong interest in the Rotary Club
assisting us in providing computers through Bob Langford and his efforts
with Bridge Builder to Blind schools.
The club here will arrange a meeting for me with the school
superintendent and I will introduce them to Bob via e-mail.
wage for a university graduate teacher is $150-200 so you can appreciate
This is a highly educated population in the cities and a 1920's
life style in the country.
Last weekend I saw only one tractor and perhaps 30 horse or oxen
drawn wagons during a trip 120 KM from here that took over two hours due
to 2 lane roads and poor road conditions.
All caused by the communist dictator who was overthrown in 1990
and then followed with corruption by elected officials since.
Ed February 28, 2003:
people over here are well educated, but very poor.
A factory worker makes $200/month and a teacher $150/mo.
Bread is $0.30/loaf, sausage is .20/link and oranges are .25 each, but good Romanian wine is $3.00; I
will survive. I am in
constant conversations, when not working, about what America is really
like. Driving through the
heavy pollution this morning I realized how truly blest we are as a
Ed March 7, 2003
dimineata from Rumania, with the t in the second word as the ts
peace be possible for all nations as this is a subject for discussion
frequently at dinner with my hosts.
The joke on the Romanian news over here is that the marines in
Romania (evidently 1000)near the black Sea had been attacked by two dogs
who infiltrated their camp; nationality of the dogs is as yet unknown.
We had a good business week with considerable
opportunities to transfer my business knowledge and operating techniques
to the General Manager and his Directors.
ELPRECO has a huge database but, they seem to have been too
concentrated on learning Oracle’s system
(big bucks spent here). It
has paid off however as they have dropped from 1500 people 5 years ago
to 600 in the factories now and have a profit.
The company was sold by the government (remember that until 1990
there was no private enterprise in the semi-communist state);
dictatorship is more accurate. Now for the twist. The
majority stockholder is a Romanian holding company that is controlled by
Broadhurst (?) Investments in NYC that manages pension money for
universities. I think this
means I am also working for Yale and Princeton.
My Romanian is slowly developing for the key phrases: Da, Nu, Buna Seara
(evening), La reverdere, multsemesc and my favorite “Vorbiti engleza”.
Even the janitress returned my greeting with a smile when I came
in this morning. By the
way, it is 8 AM now and I think there is an 8 hour time difference.
Besides the concerts on Friday night my entertainment to limited
to walking the new 5 story department store where each department is a
different company and they rent the space. And I watch TV.
Sorry Marge, but not only do I have CNN but also BBC World,
German TV, 3 Romanian stations including one that only has Romanian
singers and dancers in folk costumes which everyone tells me are seen at
parades only, German TV, Italian TV including MTV from Italy with tight
tee shirts and short short skirts, National Geographic, Discovery,
Animal Planet where the main theme seems to be animals eating other
animals, Euro/Swiss, HBO old plays although I did see parts of 6 Feet
Under one night and occasionally MSNBC at some odd hours.
It is back below freezing this morning and no one remembers it being
this cold so late in March. I
now have an electric space heater in the TV room in the apartment
($40/month rental plus utilities) as it was too cold to sit without my
jacket on. I confirmed that
teachers make $150/month and professors in the $2-300 range while civil
engineers may be up to $600 if they work for a private firm; half that
if for the government. Because
all apartments were sold to the tenants after the 1990 revolution for a
small amount of LEI and inflation has made them the only asset of value,
the college graduates are getting married at a young age so they can
afford to rent an apartment themselves.
A new dishwasher (no Maytags here as only eastern European models
are available) may cost a month’s salary so it is very tough getting
started with married life. And
we all thought we had it bad when we were first married 6, 16 or 46
years ago. The one bright
note is that mortgages have finally been introduced by 10 banks in just
the last two years. Previously
you had to inherit your granny’s flat when she died.
There are numerous office buildings, apartments and even a Roman
Catholic church in unfinished conditions due to bankruptcy or simply
stopped until more money is available from the owner of
When I arrived and changed $50 into LEI I became a millionaire since the
exchange rate was 32,500 LEI/ $1.00.
Inflation has gone up since 1990 and in the last 4 years from
13,000 LEI to this level. The largest coin is 1000 LEI and the smallest
bill is 2000 LEI or $0.06. Food
is a mixed bag, if will excuse the unintentional joke, as the bread is
very good for $.30 a loaf, cheese local is $.50 for ½ pound and a very
good Romanian wine at $5.00 is Feteasca Neagra, Dealu Mare region of
Romania and current bottle 1999. You
might check out your specialty wine shops.
It is something like Pinot Noir. Unfortunately the fruit is badly
bruised as it is trucked in here from ports further west and the roads
may not be as good as the Baja off-road race.
I assume I told some of you about my trip last
Sunday to the Danube, southern mountains of Transylvania and an active
monastery. This weekend I
hope to be gone two days to Braslov which is in the Carpathian Mountains
and close to Bran Castle and German Lutheran Saxony medieval
interpreter and her husband will take me if the weather permits.
Please forgive the length of this e-mail, but I am current with
my work load for two hours and decided to sneak this one in.
My last weekend in Romania I hope to spend in Bucharest as I have
a meeting scheduled with the director of a college for the blind
students and the hope to involve Dallas Friendship Force in providing
PC’s for them in some manner. With
love to all,
March 11, 2003
Anca, my interpreter and her husband Ion drove me
500 KM roundtrip from Craiova to Braslov for a weekend in ski resorts,
culture and 13th century buildings.
The entire trip was on two lanes roads that are full of
chuckholes requiring an average speed of 30 MPH and often stopping just
to roll the car through the hole. When
we stopped for gas, at $.85 per liter or about $3.40/gallon I went into
the store. Imagine an
upscale 7/11 that had wine, beer and all the necessary spare parts to
repair your vehicle if it breaks down enroute.
No tow trucks in this country.
One of the American exports I noticed for sale was Playboy in
Romanian; we really have to work on our national image in this country.
We stayed in a skiing village at the training lodge of NCH Holding, the
Romanian company that is majority stock holder of my company.
And NCH is controlled by Broadhurst Investments, NYC, which
invests for US pension funds. We spent 2 hours at Peles Castle, built for King Carol I.
400 stone masons and wood carvers took 39 years to build this
castle. Nixon, Ford,
Gaddaffi, Arafat and now I
have visited it. Look
this one up on the web as it is beautiful.
Also visited the 13th century city center of Braslov with a huge
gothic church called the Black Church (Biserica Neagra) because of a
fire that stained it centuries ago.
It is a Germanic Lutheran church and I hoped to attend service,
but fortunately I was late. They start at 9 AM and the doors are kept closed until 1:30
PM. We visited Bran Castle
of Dracula fame and the best part was the village outdoor shops selling
hand made goods. Enough of
Random observations after 3 weeks in Romania must
include the following.
parents bought their apartment in 1991, when the government sold all
of the apartments (95%) to the then inhabitants. They paid an enormous sum of 150,000 LEI for a 3 room plus bathroom apartment of
approximately 400 square feet.
Today that amount at 32,500 LEI per $1.00 would buy a snitzel
dinner and an average bottle of wine.
Now you have some feel for their inflation.|
we drove through the farmland outside the cities on Saturday we had
to slow down for all the horse drawn wagons taking families and
their barter goods to the small villages.
No other cash income is available to these people, but I must
admit that were more fully rounded than any Romanian I have seen in
the cities; excess weight is not a problem with any children.|
tragic scene since I have been here.
Leaving one small village we pass two teenage girls
soliciting in 20 F. weather along the road.
My companions indicated this is the only way some have to
lakes have been fished out by the peasant population living near
them as there was a severe drought for several years starting 5
years ago. Ion is a
sport fisherman and only some high mountain streams still have trout
in them; lower streams have been polluted by industry over past
Craiova, a city of over 310,000, I have found only 5 good
restaurants, and have eaten a dinner meal in 3.
The dining room has 10 or 12 tables and I seldom see more
than 2 or 3 tables occupied. And
then almost entirely with business men and occasionally with a young
man impressing his girl friend.
Dinner for 2 with a good wine is 500,000 LEI or $15.00.
At 320,000 LEI per day for the average employee income the
citizens simply do not eat out.
But there is a 24 hour McDonalds at $1.50 for a cheeseburger
near the university.|
apartment I am living in is 300 square feet and rents for $40/month.
Since take home pay after taxes averages $145 this does not
leave much for utilities, food and certainly no entertainment.
Even though the excellent concerts I have been attending
Friday night cost only 30,000 LEI or $.95 for a reserved seat.
At times there are almost more musicians on stage than in the
200 seat auditorium.|
tax including all social taxes reduces net pay to $145 average.
And as a carryover from the communist days all employees not
managers must also pay 1% of gross income to a company “union”
that provides a spokesman to management.
Only last year did Elpreco (my company) eliminate an extra
payment each month based on years of service; again a carryover from
the communist era.|
news on Romanian TV. The
Marines we have stationed on the Black Sea have required for their
training exercises that beaches used by local fisherman to beach
their boats be closed to the fisherman.
Since these fishermen have no vehicles they cannot beach the
boats at a distance and bring their catch home.
We do create problems inadvertently is seems.|
the winter from November until February my company shuts down and
all employees not essential are laid off including my interpreter
whose regular job is import purchasing; no business means no
purchasing. There is a
small social payment at this time for the unemployed.|
are very warm people and so my hope is that their optimism will
permit them to transform from a government controlled economy to
free enterprise, but it is difficult for them to see the potential
so far. Under the
previous regime they could not complain out loud, but were fed and
housed. Now they can complain, but their living expenses results
in no savings. |
have just been introduced in the economy, but 5 year loans for
housing are at 18%.|
I hope my efforts in
management will be lasting and help the employees as well as the
company. La revered.
March 17, 2003
My travel plans are to return Tuesday, 25 March via Frankfurt on
Lufthansa and I anticipate no problems irregardless.
Hope I did not lose any of you with my weighty discussion about
the economy over here. One
last item. I found the
official government tax page and converted to dollars it is as follows:
At $56/month (no zeros missing) the rate is 18% and at $308/month
and above the maximum is 40%. Now
what were you saying about your taxes?
Attended my 2nd art show and saw
beautiful needlework that had been completed on commission.
A work 24x18 of a full basket of bright flowers framed had sold
for $300 and took 6 weeks fulltime to complete.
Someone has money in this country.
Having gone too many weeks without a haircut my
friends took me to a frizeria for my cut.
The frizer (?) spoke no English and since my Romanian spokesman
looks like Matt Lauer of The Today show I was a bit concerned.
Everything came off OK, but hope Marge recognizes me next week.
Now I really look Romanian since I am wearing dark clothes at all
times and am attracting no stares as I walk the streets.
Perhaps Romanians are just too polite.
No Protestant churches in Craiova so I went to a
Romanian Orthodox service Wednesday night; 86% of Romania is Orthodox.
I reflected privately in the back of the standing only crowd as
the prayers were led by 3 priests in bright robes.
They did bless me as they circulated among the parishioners 4
times, alternating oil and holy water.
After the service I did share in the communal bread, but passed
on the jug wine and plastic cups. I met a theology student who was serving the church and
bought a choral tape from the church.
Since I am having trouble finding any Lutheran churches I gave
him the CD from our church by our choir of Mendelssohn’s Elijah.
I went back Sunday for the liturgical service and in the first 30
minutes there was a prayer sung by the members without books where the
women and men alternated verses. Very
beautiful even if untrained voices.
Finished my package of spaghetti and jar of
mushroom sauce Thursday night along with a glass of favorite wine. This is a major accomplishment on my part as I have no micro
wave; they are not in common use anywhere in Romania it appears.
The public has a general concern about the health aspect of using
a microwave for their food. And I am not sure if the old wiring in most apartments could
handle the wattage required.
Early Friday AM we had 10 cm. of snow (4”) and it
had all melted by 3 PM. Went
to my last concert Friday night with Anca and her supervisor in
Purchasing. Two very good
pianists from Bucharest were guests’ soloists and so the ticket price
shot up to 40,000 Lei or $1.40 and well worth it!
Anca and Ion took me shopping Saturday for my last
week and my list included the following: oranges at $.39/pound, bananas
at $.46/pound, 16 oz. of Craiova beer at $.26/bottle and two grilled
chicken legs for $1.41. The
cash allowance they gave me has covered all my living expenses.
Saturday night went to a birthday party for one of
Ion’s friends when at the university.
Visualize a 10ftx 15ft. living room with 12 of us sitting on
chairs or the floor, a 17” TV on against one wall with the sound down
and an old tape deck playing jazz as background with speakers and
everyone talking. I thought
I was home for Thanksgiving and even the parents of the birthday boy
said it looked like I was enjoying my new family.
My present was limited to my very last lapel pin of a Texas
cowboy with an American flag and “Dallas” underneath him. An
instant hit. We started
with beer and home made wine at 6 PM, appetizers of salamis, cheese,
cocktail type sausages, slices of cucumbers and tomatoes and bread at 7
PM. At 8 PM it was chicken
legs followed by small filled éclairs and creamed cakes and ending up
with ice cream at 11 PM. Too
The best part of being over here then followed when
I can be the unofficial ambassador from America.
We played a Romanian version of 20 Questions. I would say something; they all understood my English.
This would be followed by their 20 questions of me. We talked
about Bush, Iraq, taxes in both countries, space shuttle, assassination
in Budapest compared to JFK, genetic modifications of our chickens and
opportunities for women in USA, family size, health benefits for new
mothers in Romania (up to 2 years with pay), new auto purchases (cash
only here), corruption at all levels of their government compared to
ours, USA Diversity Lottery Visa (2 cousins of one couple had won and
immigrated to Chicago), new business opportunities for these young
professionals (26 to 29 years old) and on and on.
It was great fun.
Sunday after church I was picked up by my company
driver and his wife for a walk in their huge park.
I had admired a tape he was playing in the car and he indicated
it was a recording by his wife. I
learned she had been trained as a profession pop’s singer, and made the
one tape, but the local “Mafia” required money to get her career
started and thus it ended. They
made a CD for me of 8 love songs she recorded including the one I
recognized, “My Way”. They have a 4 year old son who stays with her mother to
attend kindergarten 40 KM away, she is attending the university to get
another degree and works days as a social worker with unmarried
gypsy mothers providing guidance and 9 months of financial help.
Cally, I don’t know how you do it either.
This will probably be my last e-mail as I depart
Friday for a training lodge in the Transylvanian Alps to present what I
am doing here to 10 other companies owned by the Romanian holding
company of Elpreco. Saturday
I should have a meeting with the chairman of the holding company and
then Sunday AM I will meet the Director of the College for Blind
Students. Hopefully I can
play tourist Sunday and Monday AM before departing for Frankfurt and a
layover and return Tuesday. I
feel I have been truly blessed for this opportunity and thank Marge with
all my heart for supporting me in these efforts.
Back to Articles