Firefighters, trucks and hoses fill the village square amid screaming children. And a strange white substance floats on the wind, clinging to bodies and clothes and piling up in a mountain on the cobblestones.
At first glance, it looks a bit like a disaster zone.
But on closer inspection, the screams turn to shrieks of delight. The children run toward the white spray and hurl themselves into the mass of foam.
As a foreigner at this spectacle years ago, I was initially a bit disturbed and concerned for the children's health. However, the foam turns out to be mild bubble bath. And this has become almost an annual event in our small town now.
The volunteer firefighters come to the square during some special occasion and fill it with a huge cushion of foam. Then the children romp in it.
Is there anything more aptly called "clean fun?"
I stand back against the a railing and watch, though I can't see much with my eyesight, just a white blur and the wriggling shadows of the children. There is a slight distance between me and the other watching parents.
I am a foreigner and that "odd lady who teaches English and grows herbs." I'm a reasonably well-tolerated modern version of the village witch. They even call my house the "Gingerbread house" because it has red-stained wood siding and white window frames. It also stands at the edge of town near abandoned land.
I have mixed feelings about this community, which has not so much taken me in as allowed me to exist in a foreign land. There are a few people in town--now after 12 years--who might come up to me and talk, if they were here. But most who know me won't and I cannot see them, so I don't even know which of them is present.
I am not the only one who suffers from the cold edges of this community. Many of the elderly are left alone and when I greet them in the street and stop to talk, they are at times bitter and at times simply astonished to be acknowledged.
Still I am glad to see that there are those here who struggle to build community. The firefighters are among them. They are volunteers in a country where volunteerism has a bad name--an aftertaste of forced community service under threat from the old Communist regime of a generation ago.
And now the firefighters have started this new tradition--one they care enough about that even though they were called out on a fire and an auto accident this very afternoon, they managed to come to the village fair as promised. We had given up hope and started for home when we heard about the accident.
We all came running back when the trucks came down main street and the children cheered as the sun touched the horizon. And I know they will remember this all their lives. The children will remember that the firefighters are good, not scary, and that they keep they're promises.
I have no illusions that this means the community will be healed of all the wounds of the past. There have been many. (It has taken 12 years but finally someone whispered to me that the reason we have no Roma in our town--except in my family--is that there were pogroms against them 20 years ago and they were all forced to flee.)
Yet community leans back and forth between exclusion and inclusion. This is part of a shift toward inclusion and community strength. It is somewhere to stand.