george hancockstefanI came back from a two week trip through Romania and Turkey.  It was a great trip visiting old and new churches and monasteries, and meeting in a four day conference with Baptists from around the world. I say old churches and monasteries because some of the churches and monasteries I visited in Romania were from the Medieval Era, while the seven churches of Turkey are mentioned in the book of Revelation 2-3 – Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea.  I visited Ephesus last year, and this year, I spent four days in Izmir, which is the ancient city of Smyrna, known for its place in the book of Revelation, but also because Polycarp, one of the earliest Christians martyrs, died  a martyrs death in that city in 156 AD at the ripe age of 86.

Inevitably on trips when you want to accomplish a lot, in the afternoon your legs are telling you that a taxi will get you there faster, and you end up taking taxis.  At the airport in Izmir, Turkey, after the attendant at the information desk explained how the train will take me to the subway station and from there I have to transfer again; I decided to take a taxi.  After a few minutes, I asked him why his meter did not work, but he spoke no English.  I found out that he charged me close to double.  (Exiting his taxi on the middle of the highway was not the best strategy in starting my trip). However, in the same city, I was looking for the address of a Christian bookstore that was exceedingly hard to find and the taxi driver asked at least 10 people how to get there.  I was glad for his skills and for his perseverance.  I found the bookstore and I was glad for the items that I purchased.

One afternoon, while some of my traveling companions were visiting a palace, I decided to leave them and visit a famous building in downtown Bucharest.  I had borrowed 60 lei from my friend – a bill of 50 lei and a bill of 10 lei.  The exchange for the U.S. dollar was slightly over 3 lei.  In the past years, there has been major confusion in the international press regarding Roma and Romanians.  Some Western countries have legislated against Romas, only to have the press mistakenly write that the legislation was against the Romanians.  This legislation against the Romas is because they are known as expert thieves.  Many Romanians are very upset because they are mistakenly identified as Romas, which means Gypsies.

I waited for a taxi and I was so glad when I saw that my taxi driver was a Roma. Many Romanians may be prejudiced, but I am a different kind of Romanian!  I speak the language, I am pretty good at math, and his taxi meter was working. The distance the taxi took me was 11 kilometers (about 6 miles) and took about 15 minutes.   I sat in the front of the cab, we had a nice conversation, and I was very happy that he was my taxi driver.  At the end of the ride he tells me that the ride was 380 lei.  I thought that he was joking and I said, “You mean 38 lei!” “No,” he said, “I meant 380 lei. I am a private taxi driver and I charge 35 lei per kilometer.”

I get out of the taxi cab to point to the other taxi cabs which have the inscription 3, 50 lei/km. However, the taxi that I was in had the inscription 3 50 lei.  There was no comma and the taxi driver insisted that I have to pay 380 lei.  I tell him that all that I have is 60 lei and I give it to him, but he insists that I have to pay him 380 and he was taking me now to a place where I could get more lei. He gives me my 60 lei back and without looking I put them in my pocket.  I get to the exchange and the attendant tells me that I was in a scam taxi cab.  They intentionally left the comma out so they can rip off customers.  Equipped with this information, I come back to the taxi and I am ready to magnanimously give him my 60 lei. When I took another look, I did not have 60 lei. When he returned my 60 lei, he switched the 50 lei bill and gave me a 5 lei bill.  Now we were arguing about two items – the fact that he already scammed me and the fact that he was charging me an illegal fee.  I gave him a bill of 50 lei and I started to walk down the street, only to be accompanied by this taxi driver who was shouting that I have cheated him of his fee and that he will call the police.  I stopped and I encouraged him to do so.  Seeing that he was not calling the police, I turned on to a different street and kept going.

I was so shook up and disappointed that I looked for a restaurant where I went and I had my favorite Romanian pastry and rested for close to one hour.  After this, I went to visit the place that I planned to see.  I marveled at its beauty and I was glad to have the opportunity to visit it.

On the way back, I took another taxi and this driver was the epitome of politeness and ethical principles.  The distance was 7 kilometers.  I gave him 25 lei (7 km at 3.50) and he returned to me the ½ lei. I gave him 10 lei in tip and I thanked him for a great ride.

I know that there are honest taxi drivers and there are honest Roma taxi drivers. However, the Roma young man who tried to charge me 380 lei on a ride that was 38 lei did not help his ethnic group or the city where he is practicing his profession.  At the same time, he sharpened my appreciation for commas and my ability to see danger in an empty space where money signs are inscribed!