Mayi and Rodika live side by side in the beautiful country of Transylvania. But one girl is Hungaria

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Mayi was not going to give up so easily on her first friend.Mayi lived in Transylvania, which means “across the woods.” Transylvania was not a country or a state; it was more like a state of mind, which changed often. From time to time, this region was part of two different countries. Sometimes it was the southern part of Hungary, but just as often it was the northern tip of Romania.

In Transylvania, Romanians and Hungarians lived as neighbors, side by side. But they didn’t always get along.

Mayi didn’t know any of this, being a very young Hungarian. She lived in a house surrounded by a big garden and a tall fence. There were no children to play with, so she played alone. Oh, sometimes Grandmother played with her, by crocheting and watching, but mostly by telling her not to run and jump so much. Mother played with her by taking her for a walk in the park to visit the swans. Mayi had to wear white gloves, white socks, and pink ribbons in her hair, and she couldn’t touch the grass.

Mayi’s two funny uncles played with her, too. The one with thick glasses read stories, and the one who smelled of toast teased and made jokes.

But most of the time Mayi played her own secret games, making magic by twisting the fingers of both hands, one on top of the other, until they looked like pretzels. The magic kept her safe from the witch who lived in the dark, damp cellar, from the arms of the weeping willow that reached down to grab her, and from the wolves that lurked behind the trees, howling hungry aoooooo’s that only she could hear.

One day, through a loose slat in the wooden fence, Mayi saw people move into the house next door. Soon a little girl appeared. She was somewhat bigger than Mayi, but still a person nearly her own size.

Mayi was very excited as she waved and called in Hungarian, “Hi, come here. Do you want to play?”

The girl said something that sounded like “Gruschnikov skitankro.” Then she pointed to herself and said “Rodika.” Mayi raced home to get help. “There’s a girl at the fence, but she talks funny. I can’t understand her. Can she come over to play with me?” she asked.

“No,” said Grandmother. “They’re strangers.”

“Romanian strangers,” added Uncle Glasses. “They don’t speak our language. How will you talk? It’s rude to point.”

Mayi ran back to the fence; she was not going to give up so easily on her first friend. But Rodika was gone.

The next morning, when everyone was out shopping except for Uncle Toast, Mayi and Rodika met again. They held each other’s hands through the opening in the fence and sang songs, each in her own language, and knocked on a big snail’s shell to make him come out. Then Rodika waved and motioned for Mayi to try to squeeze through the fence.

The opening was small, but then so was Mayi, and she started to come across, using her two thick pigtails as shields, with Rodika pulling. All at once, she was stuck.

“Ouch, this hurts!” Mayi cried, but she could go neither forward nor backward. Tears were spilling freely when Rodika ran into her house and returned with her mother.

Together they managed to pull Mayi into their garden without major damage to her or the fence. Her scratches were cleaned, cookies were served, and the two girls played happily until they heard voices from the other garden getting louder and louder, calling, “Mayi, where are you?”

“Oh-oh,” said Mayi.

“Uh-uh,” said Rodika. They ran to the front, through the big gate and back around to Mayi’s house, holding hands and skipping to show they were hardly scared.

When the family heard Mayi’s story, there was a lot of laughter. “That was very nice of the lady, to get you out. Did you say thank you?” asked Grandmother.

“They sound like lovely people,” said Uncle Glasses.

“Please don’t go through the fence next time. Use the gate. And ask permission first,” said Mother.

“They just didn’t want a Hungarian stuck in their fence. That’s why they removed you,” said Uncle Toast. “Here, girls, have some lemonade.”

“Can we get rid of the fence?” asked Mayi. “Rodika and I don’t need it anymore.”

And sure enough, they didn’t.

My Transylvania
...from the author

I was born in Transylvania, a place that many people think is not real. It’s smaller than the state of Pennsylvania and its history goes back to ancient Roman times.


Map of TransylvaniaToday, Transylvania is in the northwestern corner of Romania in Eastern Europe. But sometimes in the past it has been part of Hungary, Romania’s neighbor to the northwest. Hungarians and Romanians have lived together in Transylvania for hundreds of years. About seven million people now live in Transylvania, including between one million and two million Hungarians.

When I close my eyes, I see tall mountain ranges covered with beech and oak forests, high plains where sheep and cattle graze, deep gorges, silent black lakes, narrow twisting roads, hold-your-breath scenery. That is my Transylvania.