Romanians experience custom corn cutting, culture

The four guest workers from Romania relax in air-conditioned comfort for their interview: (from left) Vlad Suteu, Florin Rogojan, Cierian Cisleanu and Valentin Bocan. They plan to return home in November. Jerry Engler/Free Press. Click image to enlarge.

The four young Romanian men here to work for Mike Meisinger and Ron Suderman in custom corn cutting for the summer paused in puzzlement when asked why they wanted to come to the United States.

The room is quiet for a moment, and the interviewer thinks maybe they didn?t understand the question with their limited understanding of English.

But they understood. The question bewildered them. Finally, Cierian Cisleanu spread his arm to answer for the four: ?Who wouldn?t want to come see the U.S.A.? Everybody in Europe would like to. We wanted to see a new place, another culture, and meet people.?

Meisinger added that although he is required to pay them at U.S. scales so as not to bid jobs away from Americans, they are still making in six months about what it would take a year for them to make in Romania.

Cisleanu, 27, and his companions, Vlad Suteu, 31, Florin Rogojan, 27, and Valentin Bocan, 36, come from an Eastern European city called Brasov, with a population just under 500,000 people.

They had never done farm work before and did not know each other prior to this adventure.

But their toughest adjustment hasn?t been that they are in a new culture, involved in farm work, or have gone from a highly urban environment. They nod in agreement that the toughest thing has been American food, they said.

Too spicy.

Also beef is a rich, heavy meat to them after being used to eating only pork and chicken, they said.

?We can eat less than half the beef an American would,? Cisleanu said.

The most explanatory word about their diet at home was ?soups.? They also eat potatoes there since World War II, they said, because the desperation of the war drove them to eat what formerly had been considered a livestock food.

?We eat a lot of vegetables,? Rogojan said.

?We always feel filled up here,? Bocan added. ?Everything here is huge.?

?Yes, your trucks, your combines?everything is big,? Suteu said.

?But there are no villages this little in Romania,? Cisleanu said. ?Your towns and cities are big geographically (in area), but they are little in population. Our cities grow up, not out.?

The men said that like most Romanian city dwellers, they live in multi-story apartment buildings.

?It is always noisy there,? they said.

Meisinger said the Roman?ians moved into the trailer they occupy west of Casey?s General Store on a Sunday, a day in Hillsboro normally as quiet as it ever gets.

They all had been required to serve in the military, they said, and acknowledged some excitement about Romania becoming a member of the European Union this year.

But beyond that, they declined to talk about politics.

?Just people meeting people,? they said.

In Romania, Suteu is a policeman, Rogojan is a security guard, Cisleanu is a sales manager, and Bocan is a general merchandise shop keeper.

They are all married. Only Rogojan has a child, a 2-year-old daughter. They became quiet when asked if their wives would like to come here. Meisinger said he thinks the men miss their families.

Meisinger said all four of them have turned into very good custom corn-cutting workers.

?They know how to work, and to learn,? he said

Meisinger and his father-in-law, Suderman, went through an Oklahoma placement agency through the U.S. Department of Labor?s H2A program for foreign workers?not to get cheaper labor, but because local workers are getting more difficult to find.

The Labor Department sets the pay rate.

Meisinger said local workers and young people are too tied up with their own activities to commit for much help in the corn-silage custom-cutting season that normally begins in June in Texas, and extends into October.

The Romanians arrived in June with Meisinger compelled to wait into July for the Texas harvest delayed by rain-soaked muddy conditions. They will leave for home in November.

To be able to drive the eight trucks used in the harvesting activities, the Romanians first had to pass Kansas commercial driver tests, so the time delay was well used, Meisinger said.

The tests run into the hundreds of questions, some of them tricky for native English speakers, so they needed help, he said.

The four Romanians said their country can get very hot too, similar to here, but Meisinger said air-conditioned trucks and cutters offset heat anyway.

The cutting crew works six days a week with Sundays off.

The Romanian men said they are used to other people being around them in their homeland.

Romania has 22 million people, Meisinger explained, and it is about the same size as Kansas.

Asked what they would do when they leave for their homeland, all four Romanian men replied that they would go back to doing what they did before.

But all four remarked they would always remember what they experienced here.

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