Wednesday, 31 October 2012


When we work with the children here in Romania, it isn't always with the orphans, or the under-privileged ones, or the special needs kids.
When we can, we love to do something with the local kids from our village and the surrounding villages.
We were able to do just that this summer when we arranged a two week holiday club for them during their school summer break.
We wanted to provide something for our friends and neighbours of all ages, it wasn't just the children either, if adults wanted to take part they could, so we told them that the age range was 7 to 77!

Having the idea of doing it though was just the easy part. 
Setting the two weeks up proved to be much much harder to do than we had realised that it would be.
Our event would be entirely free for the kids to attend, the funding that enabled us to do this came from the proceeds from having some wonderful volunteers join us from America and Ireland, during the preceeding weeks.

We set about making all of the necessary arrangements, by firstly trying to speak to our local Mayor about hiring the Community Centre in the village, but without much luck. We had a meeting with her in her office, and explained carefully what we wanted to do. She seemed supportive and told us that she would speak to all of the people she needed to speak to and would start making the all of the necessary arrangements for us, before calling us back.
Well, of course, we didn't get a call (after all it is Romania!) and the many messages we left for her went unanswered. 
We were then informed by a friend that we actually needed to speak to our local priest as he was the person who runs the Community Centre.. So, Ali went and knocked at the priest's door, which is only a few metres up the street, only to be told a number of times that he wasn't available. After another week or so though, there was a knock at our door. When we answered, the priest was standing there, dressed in his formal black gown, as if he had just come away from the church up on the hill. He had heard that we were trying to see him, so he thought he would come to find out for himself what it was that these 'Mad English' wanted from him.
He sat down at our kitchen table, refused coffee or other refreshment (which told us that he wasn't planning on staying long) and Ali set about explaining to him in her fluent Romanian what it was that we wanted to do. At first he greeted the idea with some scepticism, and asked us for re-assurance that it was a non-profit making venture, and also for full details of what we would actually be doing, on a day by day basis. Ali explained as best she could, with the Priest interjecting an awful lot, not only to clarify things for himself, but also making it fairly obvious that he hadn't set aside much time for this meeting. After about ten minutes he called the meeting to an end by telling Ali that a formal written application would be required. That written application would have to explain in detail exactly what our plans were, what each days activities would be, and who would be running and helping out during the two week programme. He went on to explain that once he had received the written application he could then consult all of the other interested parties who needed to be involved in approving the application. He listed the  'interested parties' tapping a finger for each one, and he soon ran out of hands! The list included the Mayor, Church Wardens, the village hall Caretaker, the local Police, and also seemed to include most of the grandmothers in the village too!
As he left he shrugged his shoulders in that typically Romanian fashion. It was as if he was still asking himself what it was we wanted exactly and displayed an apparent disbelief that we were actually going to do exactly what we had just described to him. It also seemed apparent that he didn't actually want to take on the burden of the additional work it meant for him.
Anyway, after Ali and I had discussed the priests visit for about an hour, Ali set about composing the required written application. 
Now, speaking Romanian fluently, as Ali does, is one thing, but writing Romanian in a formal fashion (as was required in this instance) is an entirely different, and much more difficult task. Ali did her best though, and when she had finished we took our draft application to some Romanian friends, who very kindly read it, checked it, and then completely re-wrote it for us!
It was then delivered to the priest, who seemed a little surprised to actually be receiving it, but 
the following day there he was at our door again, this time dressed in immaculately pressed black trousers and a very bright white short-sleeved shirt, he had a large black 'man bag' in his hand within which he had our formal written application.
We invited him in and this time as he sat down at our kitchen table, he accepted our offer of refreshment, so we knew we were in for a longer visit than the previous one. He laid our application out on the table and started to explain to Ali that what she had written would simply not suffice. Without explaining exactly why 'it just wouldn't do' he told Ali that, together, now, they would write it again.
So, that is exactly what they did. This time the Priest seemed to be much more enthusiastic, it was as if receiving the formal application had convinced him that we were absolutely serious about running this programme in the village. No-one had ever done anything similar to it before, the Community Centre is usually used just for weddings, or elections.
The Priest began to dictate to Ali, telling her precisely what he wanted the application to say. Ali struggled to keep up with him, but did her best to write down every word that the Priest dictated. This process was taking an age though, as quite often the Priest would change his mind about how he wanted to say something, or the order he wanted the application to run in, and often Ali had problems understanding what it was that he actually wanted to be written down. I began to realise that it wasn't only us or our friends who found this task difficult, it was new to the priest as well!
Eventually, he realised that it might be better for him to write it all himself, which he proceeded to do, but only with a great deal of deliberation and mind changing before, after what seemed like hours, he finally handed over a piece of paper with a large amount of writing on it, interspersed with a mass of scribbles and corrections.
Ali took it from him, started to read it, asked a number of times for clarification, and then set about typing it up on the computer ready to print out, with multiple copies, of course, so that every one of the 'interested parties' could have their record copy (which I suspected would become paper for lighting fires quite rapidly)
Once Ali had finished and handed a draft of the document for the priest to check and approve, a number of copies were printed out and then a very small, but quite formal  signing ceremony took place. Ali signed on our behalf, and the priest signed on behalf of the village. Once that was complete, the priest started heading rapidly for the door gesticulating animatedly and telling Ali to go with him, which, of course, she did, rushing out of the door behind him, closing it quickly behind her as she left.
I had no idea what was happening so I just stayed home and waited, knowing that Ali would re-appear at some time and tell me all about it.
It transpired that she was taken all over the village to hunt down every one of those 'interested parties', so that everything could be explained in detail to each one of them, and each could read and check the written application and be given their copy of it. This included visiting the Mayor at her house, waiting for the Police to arrive at the Priests house for their consultation, and even trudging about in the fields looking for a number of the other people who had to be consulted, after all this was a work day!
Eventually, after hours of me not knowing where Ali was, or what she was having to do, she arrived back home and sat down, exhausted, to explain it all to me. 
We had succeeded in booking the Community Centre, but we would have to pay for it, which came as something of a surprise as we had been led to believe that such community events could be held at nil cost, and that we would have to take electricity meter readings so that we could pay for the electricity we used, which we did expect.
But, at last we had it. The building was ours, we knew where to get the key to allow ourselves in and to set up for the event. Great! We were ready!
We went down and had  a look around and the Hall was just what we needed. A nice big open space, plenty of tables and chairs, a small stage, plenty of light and easy to get to. It was perfect, except for one small thing, it doesn't have a toilet! 
In all or our deliberations we hadn't even thought to ask that question, we had just assumed that there would be one there. 
As anyone who ever spends any time at all with children will know, a toilet is a relatively essential thing to have around. It seemed that this one 'small' oversight on our part would completely scupper our plans, and after all of the hard work that Ali had gone through to make all of the arrangements, it was a real disappointment.
John and I took Ali to the village bar, (which is just over the road from the Community Centre) for a quiet drink and to consider our options, which included maybe incurring even further cost of hiring a portable toilet, if we could even find one!. 
Gica and Nutsi, who own the bar, greeted us in their usual friendly and enthusiastic fashion, but also quite quickly realised that we had fairly weighty things on our minds, and asked what our problems were. When we explained, Gica, as he very often does, quickly came up with the answer for us. He would leave the cafe toilets unlocked and any of us could come and use them if we had the need, and as they were literally a minute's walk from the Community Centre, it really was the answer we needed.
So that was it, we had the Hall, we had our dates, we had toilets, all we had to do was get the children to attend.
We composed and printed some flyers and posters and spent a day going around our village and all of the villages in our Commune (District) handing them out and pinning them up on any vacant space we could find in bus shelters, village cafes, lamp posts, etc, etc.
We went to one small isolated village, Cozia, up the hill and through the forest, down a rough dead end track, and parked the car. As I pinned posters up wherever I could find space, Ali went to the cafe where she could see a number of local woman and children sitting talking to each other and looking over in our direction, suspiciously, trying to work out what these strangers to their village were up to. Ali explained, showed the poster to the lady who owned the cafe and asked her to put it up, which she agreed to do readily, then suddenly one of the young girls sitting at the table started speaking in very good English;

"This sounds great"

She went on to ask all about the activities that we had planned and told us that she and two other friends would love to join in to help improve their English. We explained that helping to improve English was one of our objectives for the week, but that apart from the plans we had for the first day we had no formal plans. We wanted the children who attended to be part of the planning for the subsequent days.
There followed an animated discussion about what this particular group of children would want, which was primarily to use Theatre and Poetry to help improve their English. This led us down a whole new avenue for our planning of the event, but Ali promised that she would find some plays and poetry for them to work on together.
Then the mother of one of the girls asked what was an inevitable question;

"How much is this going to cost me?"

Ali explained that it was entirely free. That we were doing this only because we cared, and that we would like to give something back to the community who had welcomed us with open arms, and had done so much to help and encourage us since we had arrived.
The explanation though, was greeted by furrowed brows, and disbelieving glances between members of the listening audience.
Something being 'free' here in Romania is a difficult concept for the locals to understand. There is a deeply ingrained mindset that 'you don't get anything for nothing'. So, they always assume that there is a cost involved somewhere. This led to us having some wonderful, quite animated conversations with the parents of the children when we were finalising the arrangements. It took us quite some time to convince them that it really was free, and that there were no 'hidden' costs that they would have to bear. All the parents had to do was provide their children with a packed lunch.
For two weeks we would keep their children entertained all day long and they could have some free time to themselves. 
Wherever we are working, giving the parents that free time is as important to us as our work with the children is, we always try to plan things to provide a benefit to all involved, not just the children.
So there we were, everything was arranged, our community had been informed as well as we could inform them, and we could do no more, until the first day of the Holiday Club arrived. 

On that morning we went down to the Hall early to set up our planned activities for the day. This included a variety of craft activities, as well as some songs and rhymes in English that we could all learn together, and Ali had copies of the plays and poetry she had found online for the girls from Cozia. We unloaded all of the boxes containing everything we needed from our car, arranged the hall to be as sociable and as interactive as it could be, laid materials out, and placed bottles of water and plastic cups for refreshment on a separate table at the front...........and then we waited, it was all that there was left to do......wait for the children to arrive.

Ali, John, and I as well as an Irish volunteer who was still with us, propped ourselves as casually as we could on tables, on the stage, on the front steps of the hall, and we waited.

The allotted time for the start of the day arrived......and it went. 
There were no signs of any children arriving from anywhere, noticeable though, there were no children playing in the street either, which is where they would normally be.
We have become used to this in Romania. An agreed time for a meeting is always extremely flexible. As an example, if you are waiting for someone to arrive and phone them to ask them when they will be with you, their answer is almost always;


To the English speaker, this sounds great, but in Romanian it has the same meaning as the Spanish 'Manyana'. They could arrive any time in the next 10 minutes, two hours, the end of the day, or even tomorrow, you just don't know!
So, we waited, but we were all getting more and more nervous as the minutes ticked by without any participants appearing. 
After all of the pain of making the arrangements, after planning all of the activities, after putting all of the materials that we needed together, after researching plays and poetry as we had been asked to do, after making arrangements for the toilets, after arranging the hall, after going around all of the villages to publicise our event, surely the children would come........wouldn't they?

After about 15 minutes we saw one father, walking slowly up the road, holding his daughter's hand. They were in no hurry, we weren't even sure that they were actually coming to us, there was certainly no apparent concept of them being 'late'.
Eventually they paused briefly at the door of the Community Centre, before stepping inside.
they both looked at us, we looked at them, and then Ali went over to greet them.

"Buna Dimineata!"

The father said hello in return and then asked for re-assurance that he had actually bought his daughter to the right place, it was so empty. After saying yes he was in the correct place, with a small nervous laugh, Ali got the father to provide name address and phone number so that we had emergency contacts if (and hopefully not) they were needed. Whilst he was filling our form out for us two more children came in, each clutching lunch boxes tightly under their arms.
One group, the girls from Cozia had still not arrived though. It was already over 30 minutes past the published start time and they still hadn't appeared. We were really disappointed. They had seemed so enthusiastic and Ali had done a lot of internet research to find the English language plays and poetry that they had asked for.
However, we swallowed our disappointment and set about singing some songs with the few children we had, to get them warmed up and fully involved in the day ahead.

'Morning has come, night is away, rise with the suuuuuun, welcome the day'
'La la la la................'

We were singing a  song that the Director of The Waldorf School had taught us when we were teaching English to the children there. Wide arm movements tracking the movement of the sun, standing on tip toe to signify it's height. It is a great song for getting children going in the mornings.

Suddenly the door opened again, and there stood three slightly older girls, looking red in the face from exertion and breathing heavily. It was the girls from Cozia. At first we were worried, thinking that something had happened to them, but they quickly explained that they had been unable to get a lift to be with us, so they had decided to walk down the hill and through the forest, but they had got lost on the way, which had made them late. They were so apologetic, but we were just so happy and relaxed to see them. We sat them down to recover their composure a little, gave them each a drink of water, and then got them up to sing and join in with the rest of the day.
That first day passed quickly, but very successfully. The kids made mobiles of their names out of paper, plastic, and string using water colour and crayons. Clever huh? Because it helped us too to learn their names.
Another child had joined us at lunchtime, to help us sing more songs, and to make fish from A4 paper, colouring them brightly with water colours and crayons and then hanging them on string. John and I made an 'aquarium' backdrop for the front window of the hall while the kids also made seaweed and before the end of the day we created the 'aquarium' in that front window to hang all of the fish, weeds (and a bag of chips that I made....get it? and chips?) for all of the locals to see. 
We also had two young boys in the group for whom I had made paper aeroplanes, which was a mistake, because the rest of the day for them was a riot of chasing John and I around the hall to try and 'spear' us with those planes, whilst Ali worked with the girls from Cozia on their plays and poetry, and our Irish volunteer worked with the other younger children drawing and painting.. It was great fun though, and as we left and locked the hall up behind us that evening, we looked at the window with the aquarium in it, and at the adjacent window with the name mobiles hanging in it, and considered what we had all done together during the day to be a real success. 
We had great fun doing it and even though we had only had 7 children attend, they had also seemed to have fun.
The decorations in the windows had bought the hall to life, with a riot of colour. What Is normally a drab building without life had suddenly seemed to have woken up from it's slumbers.
We also had the mother of one boy, who we saw standing in front of the building just staring at the mobile that her son had made. When Ali went over to ask her if everything was OK she just turned and said, with a look of wonderment on her face;

"I had no idea that he knew how to write his name".

She left, walking up the road hand in hand with her son, both wearing broad smiles on their faces. She was also brushing his hair with pride, praising him loudly for what he had achieved. He was the first to arrive the following day, and he arrived early! Just a she did on every subsequent day.
To tell the truth, we had helped him to draw outlines of the letters of his name, and he had cut them out, coloured them and hung them on string. Of course, we never told his mother that, but by the end of our time with him, he knew how to write his name without any help from us, along with a lot of other things.
That first day had been a real success, despite the lack of numbers attending, and we went home relaxed, happy, but totally exhausted (after a beer at the bar of course!).

The rest of the days of those two weeks seem in hindsight to have passed so quickly. Each day we had new craft activities that the children had thought up for themselves, we had more songs, and Ali worked with the girls from Cozia on their plays and poetry, and inevitably, of course, there was face-painting.

(At this point, dear reader, if you haven't already given up, you may like to read another of my blogs on the trials and tribulations a 'mature' man from the UK has with what should be, a simple task.
This time though, I didn't make the mistake of allowing the children to paint my face!)

Each day the numbers of children grew, as word went around that we were all actually having fun.
At some point too I also decided that I would do something with these children that I had done with the children at The Waldorf School, I made up a very simple American style marching song for the younger ones to learn English numbers with.
You know, the type of song that you see in American movies, with young recruits jogging up  a trail and their drill sergeant leading them in a rousing song in time with their movements.
Only mine went very simply;

1,  2, 3, 4,  5, 6, 7!!
...8,9,10, and 11!!!

Hup, 2, 3, 4........hup 2,  3, 4'
12, 13, 14, 15
16, 17, 18, 19
and 20.....20.....20..........20!'

I lead the singing, of course, giving myself the role of drill sergeant, as in my modesty I have to say that I fit quite naturally into that role, and the children followed me around in a circle, marching in step with me and repeating each line as I sang it.
On one day, during our lunch break, we found ourselves sitting at the cafe, surrounded by all of the children.
When time came for us to return to the hall and continue our fun activities, I led those children out of the cafe, over the bridge across the stream and down the road to the Community Centre, single-file, stamping our feet as we marched, all of us singing our marching song, very, very loudly and with some vigour.
The other residents of the village all came out to see what the noise was about and watched us, incredulous, eyes popping out of their heads, having absolutely no idea what was going on. When we all got into the hall we just collapsed in a fit of giggles at the looks on the villagers faces.

By the time we had finished our two weeks with the children we had nineteen in the group, with some other odd ones who came and went.
At the end of each day we hung everything the children had made in the windows at the front of the hall, and at the end of each day it seemed as if the building itself was coming more and more to life and getting happier and happier.
We had always intended that at the end of the camp, we would hold a little show for all of the children's parents and for anyone else from the village who wanted to come and see what we had been doing. Having the girls from Cozia working on two plays though meant that this would become a much more formal occasion than we had envisaged that it would be at first.
We told all of the parents, and anyone we met in the street or the cafe that we would be holding this show on our final afternoon, hoping that we would get a fair crowd to attend. 
We weren't to be disappointed.
On that last day we had a small crowd of parents, grand parents, friends and villagers waiting outside the hall, ready to come in for the show. We had to swiftly put out more chairs, there were so many who wanted to attend.
As the crowd was waiting, the mayor drove up the road in her little red car, and on seeing the group of people in the street she decided to stop to find out what was happening. She knew full well of course, because we had made sure that she received an invitation, as did the priest and all of the others who had helped in making the never ending arrangements for the Summer Camp to happen. She mingled amongst the crowd, shaking hands with some, laughing with others and having seemingly quite serious conversations with the rest, it looked almost as if she was electioneering.
I walked over and asked her into the hall, but she declined, and swiftly went back to her car and drove on up the road to her house.
We thought it a little strange at the time that she didn't stay, nor did the priest or any of the other organisers attend. It was only later that we learned that we had upset the mayor by 'by-passing' her to make our arrangements with the priest, and that this had got us embroiled unwittingly in some local politics. We have just tried to carry on as normal since and ignore it.
The show went so well, and was received by our audience of about fifty people enthusiastically. We had an exhibition of all of the craft work that the children had done, we performed the songs that we had learned together, we did our marching song around our audience, and the girls from Cozia performed their plays as our grand finale with their faces beautifully painted in the way they had practiced during the weeks before with the face paints. One of those plays was a funny and friendly representation of shopping in our local shop/'bar/cafe with two of the girls dressing up as Gica and Nutsi, who I have mentioned previously. It was a shame that they were both too busy to be there, they would have enjoyed it, but we told them all about it later, and showed them the video too.
As we finished, to a great round of applause from our audience, there was an air of disappointment that it was all over.

As they left, clutching all of the craft items they had made, all of the children, and a number of the parents asked when we would be doing it again, and we promised that as soon as we could, we would. 
Maybe next time though it will have to be in a different hall in a different village. After the upset we had quite innocently caused with the mayor, we may not get the support and co-operation in future that we received this year.
Maybe we will even find another hall which is complete with a toilet! 
Like the one in Cozia maybe! 
After all, it would only be fair to give the stars of our show an easier time than having to walk through the forest to reach us every day again!
The following day we went down to the hall, and we thoroughly cleaned it. Walls, floors, windows and window cills. no more dust, no more grubby hand prints (which weren't from the children anyway) and no more footmarks on the floor. 
The only acknowledgement we received after our hard day of cleaning was a demand to hand the keys back immediately, so that the hall could be made ready for a referendum to be held three days later. None of the village officials offered thanks for what we had done with the children, or for how clean the hall was when we handed it back, which was much cleaner than it had been for years. This is Romania though, and that sort of attitude is only to be expected. If we had been asked to do run activities for the children, and not have volunteered our services, it would have been different.
As we left the hall though, one of the children's mothers came back to us to ask us for copies of some of the photographs we had taken during the week, she wanted to make us a special 'thank you' certificate for doing what we had done.
We didn't need thanks, but we gave her the photos later anyway, we had enjoyed the two weeks as much as the children had, and we will be doing it again, somehow, some way, without (hopefully) causing any upset next time!
Our rewards come from seeing the children who were at our camp in the street every day. Whereas in the past they would see us, many would say nothing, and pass quietly by, some might have given us a quiet, formal greeting in Romanian;

'Buna Zuia'

Now we get cheery waves, laughter and always accompanied by;

'Good morning'
'Good Afternoon'
'How are you?', and lots and lots of giggles.

It's all the thanks we need.



Thursday, 25 October 2012


Just a few snapshots that Alison took last night of the fountain in Deva. The fountain was completed this summer and is situated in front of The Casa De Cultura, Deva It 'performs' it's light and music show very evening to the delight of the many families who just come out to sit and watch.

See the whole slide show on YouTube


Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Tuesday, 23 October 2012


What is so good about Romania?

This is a question we are often asked. Why do three Brits want to come from the land of 'milk and honey' that Britain is perceived to be and come to a country like Romania?
How can we be that crazy?

The really sad thing is that the people who most ask us this question are Romanians themselves.

I don't think I will be able to explain it fully in words, it is a country that needs to be experienced by others from these more 'affluent' countries for it to be fully understood. It really is more about one's own feelings more than it is about simple logic, and maybe, not everyone will appreciate it. However most of the visitors we have had from all of these 'more developed' countries, including the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Taiwan, and the Philippines have seen what we have seen, and they have felt what we feel. 
In our words they have gone home from Romania, with a Romania shaped hole in their heart's that can only be filled by returning one day.

I can also say, without a shadow of a doubt that what follows is not true of all Romanians. We have a number of Romanian friends who have returned home from other countries to settle back here with their families, and they are more appreciative now of the real truth of Romania by their own direct comparison, and they are very proud Romanian's.
There are also a small number of younger Romanian's who are also steadfastly proud of their country and demonstrate it by doing the simple things, like driving Aro's and older Dacia's, being satisfied with and proud of these older Romanian models rather than hungering for the BMW's and Mercedes that so many yearn for.

A lot of the younger Romanians we meet though express a wish to do nothing more with their lives than escape the country to the 'riches' of the West.
I have even heard one on Twitter recently who said they 'hated' this country.
Well we don't hate it, we love it, so when asked we give a simple answer, life here, at least in the place we live is 'Real'.

I honestly don't know what it is that young Romanians dislike so much about their own country, to me it is so sad, and it is as much a mystery as it is a mystery to them that we actually WANT to be here. 
I honestly can't explain why those Romanians show such a callous disregard for their country, particularly in the way a number of them are prepared to leave litter and spoil beauty spots here without worrying about what others coming along behind them will find. I am dismayed by those peoples lack of respect for their own country. I really don't understand it.
Maybe it's the lack of development, maybe it's the lack of decent roads, maybe it's the perceived corruption, maybe it's just the 'maybes' of a 'grass is always greener on the other side' way of thinking. 
Maybe it's as simple as the glamour and the lies of Hollywood movies that they have seen and believed in as they have grown up.
I simply don't know.
It may also be that these people believe what they hear from others who have returned after short stays in western countries with stories of the fortunes that they have earned. Stories that are quite simply lies, designed purely to make those people out as some sort of hero for going away and coming back 'rich'. Lies because in our experience many of them seldom do come back richer, they return to the same lives they had before they left, perhaps even worse off, living in homes that their families have fully owned for centuries, houses that their families actually built for themselves, and going back to scratching a living out of whatever they grow and can sell.
Any who do bring money back seem to use it up very quickly and go back to wishing to return to make more.

I honestly don't understand why these people can't just stand back and look at their country and see it for the beautiful place it is, so full of promise, with so much potential, and stay here and help to build it, not just for themselves but for future generations.
In our little way, I hope that we ARE doing it, I hope that we are helping to get the message out about how beautiful and how wonderful a country Romania is, particularly by comparison with the 'more developed' countries.

True, we also know a few who have actually returned with enough money to start their own businesses or to build themselves new homes, but they are very rare and only a very few.

When we are told by young Romanians what they hear from other young Romanians about what they have 'achieved' while they are away, we usually just smile and shrug our shoulders. We have learned though bitter experience that to try and refute these claims or explain the realities of this 'other' life is futile. Our words often fall on deaf ears simply because our audience doesn't want to hear the truth, they don't want to believe that there isn't something 'better' out there for them to go to. So, in a very Romanian way we often just shrug our shoulders and leave them to it.

We have tried, so many times, to explain that the greater amounts of money that these people believe they can make in 'more developed' countries also gets eaten up in higher costs for the ordinary things. How the costs of coffee, beer, cigarettes, food, rents, etc, etc are all so much higher and take a much greater lump out of the money you receive than they do here in Romania.
We know that salaries in Romania aren't very high, an average of 350 Euros per month for a teacher or a doctor for example. We also know that costs of living here are rising, but not as fast as in other parts of Europe or the UK. By comparison though, the basics of living here are still also much cheaper than other countries.
The net national debt is also much lower in Romania than in many many other countries and it wasn't all that many years ago that this country owed nothing internationally.

However all of this talk about financial comparison isn't answering my own question, it is merely arguing what I see as a mistaken point of view that so many young Romanians have.
So many of our friends and the volunteers who have been
here want to record their stay in this way, with their
handprint on the end wall of our garage.

Life here is 'Real'.

What does that mean exactly?

We live in a village, but we are close to a city, Deva. Most of the people of this village still live life from what they can grow and breed to eat, making money occasionally out of the surplus that they grow and by bartering with their neighbour's. We are beginning to do the same, we have fenced off an area of our large garden so that we can plant our own crops and this year it bore fruit, literally. We succeeded in growing 3 months worth of potatoes, a chest freezer full of cherries, onions we are still eating, our own garlic, and so many apples that once we had bottled about a ton, the only thing we could think to do with it was make cider! (not that I have any objection to that!). Next year we will start earlier, do even better and grow more, we may even get our own chickens for eggs. 
We might stop short of keeping our own pigs though, and yes we do sometimes hear a pig being slaughtered for meat in the village, but that is what 'life being real' is all about.
We also have neighbours, real neighbours. 
In the UK we had people who lived next door, but they weren't neighbours. They cared nothing for us or our welfare, they cared only about themselves, and yes, we did try to befriend them and show that we cared, but to no avail. When we did try we were greeted by an attitude that we were freaks and in one case outright antagonism, so like everyone in the UK does, we gave up, and lived our lives entirely separately from people who were only living a few feet away.
Families too in the UK aren't the close-knit groups they once were, family 'ties' are getting weaker as sons and daughters move on, move further afield. Divorce and family separation are also contributing greatly to this. I'm sure that all of this is as true in other 'Western' countries as it is in the UK, but it isn't so true here in Romania.
If we stay home for a few days and our neighbours don't see us, they call on us to see if we are OK, or they tell us off for not coming out when they do see us.
I know that if we needed help, we could go to our neighbours and get it. We wouldn't have doors shut in our faces and not everybody requires some sort of payment, they would do it because they are our neighbours and because they are our real friends.
It's also true of our friends who live in the city, if they don't see us they call us to see if we are OK, if they think we need help they offer it without being prompted in any way.
We get those offers from so many here, so many more than who would have genuinely meant it in the UK.
As a result we are prepared to do the same for them, whenever, and however we can.
Family ties are also much stronger here. At particular times of the year, particularly Easter and Christmas, sons, daughters, cousins, aunts and uncles gather from wherever they are in the world to be together at the family home. A phone call on the day doesn't suffice here, not on it's own anyway.
So, in a nutshell, that's what we mean about life being 'real', genuine mutual respect, genuine sharing, genuine neighbourliness (probably not a real word but it says what I mean), genuine unconditional friendship, genuine love.

Not a lot else I can say.
Anything that you would like to say?


Saturday, 20 October 2012


When we are with the children on the programme with Volunteer Romania, one of the things they love most is Face Painting
It doesn't matter where we are, or which group we are working with, if we open the back of the car and the children see face paints amongst the goodies we have with us on the day, that's it, they will nag forever for us to start painting faces, and usually, at some point during the day, we give in.
Now, before  I came to Romania to work with the children I had never painted a face in my life. Being the father of two daughters it may be a sad and guilty omission on my part, but if they were somewhere that they could get their faces painted, I left it to others far more expert than me to do a good job of it.
I also think that this is a task for women, not men. Now calm down all of you, it's not that I am sexist or anything, I am just a realist. From an early age onward's, women are looking at themselves in mirrors and painting their faces in some way.
I can hear the howls of derision out there in the ether already from thousands of enraged ladies who don't spend too much time doing this, so I will admit that some spend more time than others and some have more success in doing this than others. However, the basic fact still exists that, in general, women will have had more practice than men at painting their faces, so they are better suited than men to this task with children.
So, imagine how I felt when on one of these occasions when we had about a dozen children all  screaming at us that they wanted to have their faces painted and Alison pushed a face paint set into my hand and sat a child down in front of me.
I looked at the child, fresh faced, healthy pink skin, and an enormous grin in anticipation of the masterpiece that I was about to produce upon her already very pretty face. I smiled back, trying to project an air of confidence and some optimism that I might be able to achieve something worthwhile and that wouldn't scare her too much when she looked in the mirror. She had come to me an Esmeralda, I didn't want her to leave as a Quasimodo.
I gulped, held my breath, smiled again and asked;

"So? What would you like to be?

She half leaped out of her chair, bouncing with excitement as she shouted;

"A tiger!!!"

My first thoughts were 'Oh no, I'm leaving'.
I looked at her oh so pretty face, I looked down at the face paints in my hand, and I had absolutely no idea how I could blend both to achieve anything that looked even remotely like a tiger.
I looked around me, towards three volunteers who were already busily applying paint to little faces (and who were all female, I might add!), then towards Alison who was doing the same, all with a lot of chatter and giggling, and all well advanced with the task in hand.
Briefly, Alison glanced in my direction, and she must have immediately recognised the chagrin in my face, the pleading in my eyes, the silent 'HELP ME!'.
With a slight sigh, and that little knowing smile she has when she can see that I am just a mere man and I need help, she placed her paints on the table next to her, excused herself for a moment from the child she was with, stood up and walked over the few paces towards me.

"What's wrong?", she asked, still with that patient, virtuous smile.

"This one wants to be a Tiger!", I whispered, hiding my words behind the cardboard packaging containing the face paints. Alison knew straight away from my tone of voice, and the look of panic in my eyes that this meant that I had no idea of where to begin, so she took the packaging from my hand and turned it around slowly so that I could see the printing on the front.
There, in glorious technicolour, and perfectly clear, was an illustration of a child's face painted to look like a tiger, using the colour's that came in the pallet in the box, and all I had to do was copy it.
She looked at me again, with that slight, patient, knowing smile. You know, that smile that only a woman can use, that smile that says more than a thousand words, and on this occasion meant things like;
'Don't you think I've got enough to do!'
'Use your brains Douglas!'
'Come on! You're supposed to be Arty'
'Typical man, never reads the instructions!'
etc, etc, etc, .....sure you get the point.

Sheepishly, I studied the illustration and made a plan from it as to how I might create something that came within a million miles of it, and started to apply orange paint to the child's face.

By the time I had finished, about twenty minutes later (all of the others were managing a rate of about one child in five minutes!) I thought that I had achieved something that looked like a cross between a manic marmalade tabby cat and road kill, but when I showed the little girl the end result in the mirror, she seemed happy enough, and didn't run away from me screaming in anguish and terror. As she left, I breathed a sigh of relief, but it was short lived as a little boy leapt into the chair in front of me and shouted;


This time I thought to look at the box, and sure enough, there was Spiderman, just like a tiger............... only with a spiders web instead of stripes.
Now, it is fair to say that some of the volunteers achieve better results than others, as can be seen from the pictures here, and I have actually learned that sometimes the best results are achieved when you give the children the face paints and let them paint each other. Your simple task then is just to be on hand and watch to make sure that the paints don't end up everywhere!
I learned this one through painful experience, when after applying this strategy to an afternoon's face painting, I got the job of cleaning up afterwards. It only took me an hour!
There is one warning though that should be given, and that is about allowing the children to paint your face!
There are no 'mixed' results here, there is just a mess. Yes, one child asks if they can do it, and being a nice person, you say "Of course" and sit back in the chair ready for another masterpiece to be created upon your visage. (In my case you might call it an 'Old Master')
At that point a riot begins, as you end up with about ten children all trying to paint your face at the same time, brushes poking into your eyes and disappearing up your nostrils, your mouth filling with paint, your hair ending up a sticky mess, and the results can be seen here. 
My face is never a pretty sight at the best of times, but when 'enhanced' in this way it becomes the thing of nightmares, or of horror movies (but maybe I could get a job as a Glam Rock star!). All of that paint also took about a week to wash off!

So, please if you are an expert at face painting, or even just a woman, wouldn't you like to come and make the children happy in this way?

Wouldn't you like to come and just make me happy by taking the task away from me?
Save me! PLEASE????????????? (After all, I am only a man!)


Thursday, 18 October 2012


Volunteer Romania have now added Gift Vouchers on their site!
Such a fantastic idea for a present from a caring person to give to a someone who also cares!

Voucher prices range from £10 to £1000 and can be redeemed (only by the named recipient) in return for the cost of participation (in part or in full) in this great programme working with orphaned, under-privileged and special needs children in here in Romania.

A really special  and thoughtful gift.

See them here



When we drive along the main roads now there are obvious signs of how quickly Romania is changing and moving into the 21st Century.
Not just with the roads themselves, or the new motorways, or the number of cars, or the new building developments that are occurring everywhere, but also with what is happening on the land on either side of those roads.
Farming methods are changing, and they are changing perhaps more rapidly than anything else in this beautiful country.
For me, and many like me, who love this country for it's beauty and it's tradition, it is a real dilemma.
A large part of the beauty of the country comes from it's unspoilt nature. For hundreds of years farming has always been done on a small scale. Even the farming co-operatives of communist times were relatively small, and consisted mainly of individual family plots that were worked in unison, not enormous fields.
Individual families have used small plots of land to grow what they needed for themselves to eat, and then to sell any surplus at the daily markets in the towns. This is the way it has been literally forever, and it has greatly affected the way the countryside looks, because it hasn't been spoiled. Largely it is the land that is available that has been worked, not land cleared for the purpose. So, there are small triangles bounded by trees, streams and roads that are cultivated, and narrow strips of land that are planted, clear areas between hills and mountains and hillsides themselves. Land is used for what it is most suitable for as well, it isn't changed to make it suitable for another need. 

We are surrounded by such families. Our neighbour's in our village largely live this way
People who farm like this also want 'progress', I know. They want to make their very busy working days easier, just as anyone would do, so when new innovation becomes available, and they have the money for it, they use it.
That is why there are large numbers of ancient small tractors used by these 'family' farmers, and they trudge and trundle out  to the fields morning and night, towing their trailers, or with homemade implements for ploughing, raking, clearing, or seeding, hanging precariously from the back.

However, there are also still a large number of families who rely on their horses to do the same, and horses towing carts can still be seen in their hundreds on the roads around the villages, as well as in the main towns. They are one of 'the' sites of Romania, and at this time of year, Autumn, the horses are looking fat and well fed in readiness for the coming winter. Once they arrive at the fields those same horses will be hitched up to whatever is needed that day, to plough, or clear or carry, or pick produce from the fields. 

Horses are utilized here in just the same way as they have been for thousands of years, as man's partner. producing vital food.

Farming is almost entirely organic too, as everything that is used comes from what you can make yourself. Fertilizer's for example come from the animals that are also kept to feed families with eggs, milk, cheese and meat. There is very little money for shop bought insecticides or fertilizers so every family uses their own home-made recipes when they need pest control.
But, those enormous fields are arriving, with their enormous tractors and farm implements, and their 'more modern' way of doing things, but also employing less people because of greater, more 'efficient' mechanisation.
This only adds to the dilemma of people like me, who love to see the countryside for what it is now,and to see the small scale traditional farming methods that are used. 
Why is it a dilemma? Because we know that producing sufficient food for all of the people on this small planet is becoming a more and more difficult thing to do. Also the knowledge that Romania is a very fertile country, with enormous plains between the mountains and going down towards the Danube, and that with large scale 21st Century intensive farming methods, Romania may just be able to feed the whole of Europe. To achieve it though, Romania has to pay the heavy price of possibly destroying much of what gives it it's beauty, and changing a way of life that has succeeded in this country for hundreds, if not thousands of years.
It is also true to say that a number of the young people of Romania don't want to live life in the way their families have done for so many years before. They are being lured by the 'riches' and 'glamour' of the West. This is a subject worthy of a book on it's own, not just a simple Blog like mine. 
However, there are also a significant number of younger people who remain, who are staying at their family homes, moving into the villages, and who are maintaining this way of life. Hopefully, they are enough.
'Progress' has to come, but surely we have learned from other places all over the world that progress mustn't come at the expense of what is already here and working. Surely we have to realize that 'traditional' isn't a bad word, particularly when that tradition works on a family by family basis, and those traditions have to be protected, they have to be encouraged to remain.
The rewards for 'progress' are potentially enormous, but the cost of seeing these traditions whither and die because of this 'progress' may be too high, and may just destroy the Romania that we know and love, and destroy a way of life that has existed for thousands of years.

There is one thing that I can watch and count that will tell me exactly what is happening, and this was shown to me by a good Romanian friend. It is the traditional haystack. These are simple affairs created by a long pole standing vertically, supported by smaller poles, tripod fashion. Grass and weeds that are cut from the fields by hand are then stacked carefully up around the poles to dry and mature, ready to be used as winter feed. Once stacked they form a distinctive, elegant shape, a shape that is recognisably 'Romania'. 

These traditional hay stacks are my measure, as they disappear, I will know that a way of life that has succeeded for so long is dying with them. 

They are already being replaced by the enormous, ugly, plastic wrapped rolls of hay and straw that we see in the West, which can only be moved by even more large machinery.
At the moment there are only a few of the enormous barren fields here, like those that are seen in the 'more developed' parts of the West, and they have only arrived over the last few years, but they are arriving, and they are arriving rapidly.
This is a country that needs to be seen as it is now, and the traditional way of life needs to be maintained, encouraged to thrive, if Romania is not to be lost forever.