The Second Guest Arrives

April 9, 2009



I have known S from Romania for almost ten years. She was one of the first volunteers and I worked with and one of the best.

As a person with no skills at learning other languages, when I am around people who speak several languages fluently, I want to fall down at their feet and worship them. Similar to my daughter’s good friend, AnninaNokia (Annina’s husband works for Nokia but I have to say this because David likes to hear it), S speaks English with a slight accent and great fluency.

She is usually in the midst of a great hubbub of activities and projects, some involving good deeds, some involving self-improvement, and some involving her professional advancement. Along with whirlwind of activity, she is very intelligent and very charismatic.


S and F left Romania and emigrated to Canada some years ago. As in the case of Peru, I have a tiny bit of superficial knowledge about the country’s tumultuous history from reading. After World War II, Romania fell under the sway of the Soviet Union and suffered terribly under the Communist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and his wife Elena. From Wikipedia:


Nicolae Ceauşescu (pronounced [ni.koˈla.e tʃa.uˈʃes.ku]) (January 26, 1918 – December 25, 1989) was the Secretary General of the Romanian Workers’ Party, later the Romanian Communist Party from 1965 until 1989, President of the Council of State from 1967 and President of Romania from 1974 until 1989. His rule was marked in the first decade by an open policy towards Western Europe and the United States of America, which deviated from that of the other Warsaw Pact states during the Cold War. His second decade was characterized by an increasingly erratic personality cult, extreme nationalism and a deterioration in foreign relations with Western powers and also with the Soviet Union. Ceauşescu’s government was overthrown in December 1989, and he was shot following a two-hour session by a military court


I have never asked S about her childhood in Romania or about her feelings about the country’s history.


I met S about 8 years ago. She was one of the earliest volunteers I worked with. From the start I was struck by her intelligence and charm. From time to time, she told me what a good teacher I am and how much she was learning from observing me. I am very susceptible to flattery, so I was very suspicious that I was being manipulated.

However, it was quickly clear to me that she is an effective teacher, and it was clear that she was very kind and patient with the students she worked with. Ghandi has been attributed with saying, Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so if she was flattering me, she passed that test as well.


One of the classes I taught was Excel. My knowledge of Excel does not exceed the Dummies Guide to Excel level by a long amount. Occasionally, a student would ask me a question that far exceeded my skill and knowledge

I would pass the question on to S and in a day or two, she would provide an accurate and clear answer.


It is often the case that companies such as Microsoft and Boeing hire highly educated/skilled workers from countries outside of the United States and secure special work permits for them known as H-1B permits. In working with volunteers, I frequently met highly educated and skilled women whose husbands had come to the United States through such permits. Even when the wife’s educational background was equal to her husband’s, the women were seldom able to get work permits. Volunteering for the library as teachers allowed them to engage in useful, worthwhile, and interesting work.

In S’s case,it was clear that she chafed at not being able to get a job and exercise her skills fully.


Eventually, she decided to return to school and get a graduate degree in hope of getting a work permit and a job. She enrolled at the University of Washington in a graduate program in a program similar to an MBA, but slightly more slanted toward computers and data processing.


With her intelligence, charm, and formidable work habits, I expected S to do well in graduate school, but I lost touch with her. As I neared retirement, and thought about keeping in touch with Mary I thought of S as well, so I sent her an email and asked if she and her husband would be receptive to joining the mommies and RG and my wife and I for a weekend meal at the mommies’ house.

When I had last been in contact with S, she had told me that 1) she and her husband were thinking of buying a house and 2) she was thinking of having a child. I calculated she might be interested in seeing the mommies’ house and in meeting wonder child Random Granddaughter.

2 Responses to “The Second Guest Arrives”

  1. pandemonic Says:

    You have the most interesting friends. Perhaps I should get out a little more.

  2. woo Says:

    I remember Ceaucescu’s fall – seeing it on the UK TV news. His name was a by-word for evil, for the mantra that ‘absolute power corrupts absolutely’, while I was growing up and it felt miraculous when he was overthrown.

    Romania – despite now being part of the EU – still struggles with his legacy as far as I can tell. Decades of corruption and under-investment in infrastructure, not to mention the long shadows cast by his secret police.

    I hope S’s story turns out well…

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