Cup 42

Person: Mihaela Fabian

Drink: Cafe Americano in Den Haag, Netherlands

Before Cup 42 I had never given Romania much thought.
After Cup 42, I decided I needed to visit Romania so I did some research and swung through Bucharest on my way to Istanbul (I took this picture while there). Here’s a very quick history lesson:

After WWI, Romania was experiencing an era of prosperity. At the start of WWII the country wanted to remain neutral; however, a Soviet Ultimatum forced them to the Axis side. When the war ended the Soviet Union forced Romania into a social republic. Over the following decades the Communist government established a reign of terror over the country.   

In 1974, Nicolae Ceausescu took over as the Romanian President and began borrowing heavily to finance economic programs for the Socialist Republic of Romania. This left the country more than $13 billion dollars in debt. To solve the problem, Ceausescu began exporting agricultural and other industrial products to repay the debt. The plan worked economically but left Romanians in a dire situation—Ceausescu exports depleted the country of adequate resources to survive. In the 80’s, Romanians faced food rationing and frequent electricity blackouts to conserve food and fuel.

Mihaela Fabian was one of the many Romanians forced to endure the suffering and decline in standard of living.

We were sitting in the cafeteria at the Museon museum of popular science in Den Haag as Mihaela recounted the experience. As a young woman in school, she would be working on homework when the lights would shut off leaving her to finish the work in the dark and with food shortages, many staple items were unattainable. Mihaela shared a vivid memory of the first time she was able to leave Romania. The train station where she arrived  had bananas and beer for sale—she let out a cry of joy she was so excited. There were no bananas or beer in Romania.

It was clear that it was not an easy situation but she said close family ties helped her through it. Luckily life is much different now. The Romanian Revolution of 1989 brought an end to Ceausescu’s grisly reign and paved the way for a democracy that is slowly rebuilding the country after it’s rocky past.

As for Mihaela, she is no longer a young woman facing food shortages in Romania.

She is the wife of the Romanian Ambassador to the Netherlands.

My aunt Kim met Mihaela through the International Wives Club she joined when my uncle’s job moved them from Houston, Texas to the Netherlands. The club, which has a couple dozen ladies from all different countries and cultures, helps women that are new to a country meet other English speaking  women in the same situation. When my aunt told me about the group she mentioned Mihaela would be fascinating to talk with.

As luck would have it, one night while out to dinner we ran into Mihaela who was having dinner with a friend. My aunt introduced us and we set up a meeting for the following morning.  

I was forunate to grow up in a household where we never worried if there would be enough food on the table or if the lights would work when we flipped the switch. This made it difficult to grasp what Mihaela’s life was like growing up. It was even harder to try and comprehend how a ruler could allow his people to suffer in such a way (especially when a week later I visited Bucharest and saw the multi-billion dollar parliament building Ceausescu built during his reign).

I asked Mihaela if, during the difficult times, she ever imagined she’d be leading the distinguished life of a diplomat. She said she hadn’t.

Then she told me an older woman once told her she was lucky. 

It wasn’t a boastful comment. In fact, she immediately followed up with a disclaimer:

You pay a price for luck.

Mihaela endured difficult times, worked hard and made sacrifices to get to where she is today. In college, Mihaela studied psychology before becoming a speech pathologist for children with hearing impairments. There was great joy in her voice as she described years of working with the kids; watching their growth and development.

She explained the woman she was with the previous night was a former patient of hers. The young woman had lost her hearing when she was six months old because of an incorrect dose of antibiotics. This left her facing an uncertain future. Fortunately Miheala found her and through their work together, the girl developed the necessary skills to excel in high school and continue onto college where she is now working on an advanced degree in medicine.

Mihaela was filled with pride as she told the story and then said there are many other students she still stays in touch with. She was good at her job.

But then her husband became an ambassador and Mihaela knew she would have to quit her job to help serve her country.  

It is clear she misses it. While we were talking, two dozen preschoolers on a field trip ran past the window of the cafeteria toward the museum entrance temporarily stealing Michaela’s attention in the process. She loves kids.

But she also loves her country. Despite the difficulties it has had, Mihaela speaks of Romania with great affection and is grateful for the opportunity to show others what the country has to offer. She spends a lot of time meeting people and talking about Romania, which—between her warm personality and easy sense of humor—is a role the suits her. It didn’t surprise me when she said she made friends wherever she went.

We were on the topic of friendships when she casually said,

“We have to raise the potential of others.”

Mihaela sees the potential in kids and the potential in her country so she works hard to help both achieve that potential, and more. 

That is what I’ll talk away from Cup 42. We all have the capacity to help others find a higher level of success.   

Wether it’s helping young patients, serving as a diplomat for a Romania or befriending a Texan recently transplanted to the Netherlands, Mihaela helps people create a brighter future.

That’s probably why she’s so lucky.

It’s like the old adage that a rising tide lifts all boats; if you help make someone’s life a little better you make the world a little better—and that goodness eventually makes its way back to you.

The concept is simple but often forgotten. We get so wrapped up in achieving our own success we think we don’t stop to think about others.

Or worse, we hinder others’ success to make ourselves look better.

But achieving success that way won’t bring the joy I saw in Miheala’s eyes or the sense of accomplishment she radiates when she talks about her work. Success like that only happens when you’ve made the world better for someone else. 

That’s the success I hope to achieve. 

If I’m lucky.