Wednesday, 27 February 2013


We went to Sibiu this weekend.
The trip was primarily to meet members of Sibiu Ballet Company, who would like to do something to help support the Special Needs Centre that we work at, or even to do a performance to raise some money for them. They are really lovely people and we had a great time with them.
While we were there though we also had a little time to relax.
When we have had city breaks in the past, relaxation during the day happened by finding cafes frequented by the locals, not the tourist ones, and sitting in them and just to watch the world go by.
That's exactly what we did in Sibiu. We found a cafe overlooking the beautiful main town square, went in and sat down at a table in the window. We drank great coffee, chatted, and watched the world go by as people went about their business in the square in front of us.
As usual we talked about the people we could see and speculated occasionally about what they might be doing or where they might be going.
After a few minutes a pair of street sweepers came into view, a middle-aged woman and an older man. They were both dressed in dark coloured waterproof jackets and trousers with high visibility bands around the arms and legs. The woman was brushing hard at the cobbles, really having to make an effort to get the dirt and cigarette butts out form the cracks between them. All she had to work with was a Besom Broom, you know like the famous 'witches broomstick', which seemed to make the work twice as hard as it needed to be, but she just kept on going without resting, really working the broom into the cracks between the cobbles.
Road sweepers throughout Romania use these brooms, but most are sweeping tarmac or smooth paving, not ancient cobbles.
As I watched I thought about the road sweeping machines that they use in other 'better developed' cities in the world and wished that this poor lady could have one. Then I realised though, that if the city of Sibiu did have one, she would probably be out of a job and it would be the man she was 'working' with  who would probably be driving the machine around the square and making a nuisance of himself among the many pedestrians.
Piata Mare, Sibiu
His task this day seemed at first to be one of just leaning on a floor brush next to a wheelie bin, and watching as the woman swept and swept at the rough paving, occasionally making a comment or pointing at something she had missed. He stood watching her for about ten minutes, then suddenly he leaped into action. He took a shovel from his wheelie bin, swept the pile of dog-ends and litter that the lady had made up into the shovel and then almost ceremonially emptied the shovel into the wheelie bin before tapping it on the side and then throwing it and the brush inside. He then strode off, at pace, pushing the wheelie bin towards the other side of the square.
I craned my neck around to look out of the corner of the window and I could see that another lady was on the other side of the square brushing just as vigorously at the cobbles over there. Once the man arrived next to her, he took his brush from the bin, leaned on it and stood watching her, just as he had been doing when I first saw him.
Another lady, completely different place, same hard
work, similar broom.
I looked back at the first woman and she was still working her broom furiously, making neat piles of rubbish, and I suspected that she might be trying to get far enough ahead of her task so that the man didn't have any time just to stand and watch whenever he returned.
As she brushed I saw a young man walk past her and then casually discard a cigarette end onto the paving where she had already brushed, not even glancing at the woman, or caring that she was working so hard.
It was then that it struck me that this really is a never-ending task for these ladies, and a task that would never be finished.
As a story I think this is also indicative of Romanian life generally. there are so many fit and healthy old ladies in our village, in their 80's and 90's they always greet us with a cheeky grin, a happy hello, and often a risque comment too! They are so full of life. The women are on their own, they are all widows, there are no men of similar ages.
It was Ali who pointed it out, and stressed that it is no surprise. After all it is usually the women who do all of the hard physical work, spending all day bent over, planting or picking or weeding in the fields, and then return home at the end of a long hard day to cook, wash, clean and raise their children.
They live a life that has kept them a lot fitter.
The men tend to supervise, just as the male road sweeper was doing.
Either that or they spend their time in local bars smoking, drinking coffee, beer or Tuica 'doing business,' or just talking about what needs to be done at any particular time of year. They might even discuss the big issues of the day, and of course, all will have an answer to them that no-one else has thought of.
Even the younger women who work long hours in bars, cafes or offices in the City have to return home to do the cooking, cleaning, etc., so modern day life hasn't changed things greatly.

So it's no wonder that it is the ladies who have the longevity, they have been kept fit all their lives by the amount of work they have to do, whilst the men live  a far less healthy existence.
It is the women of Romania who are the power houses, who break their backs to try and ensure that their children, and their men, are fed, clean and presentable, and women have lived this lifestyle here for hundreds if not thousands of years.
The same is true in other less-developed parts of the world too, and I know that I am generalising and that this isn't true of all men and women, but from my observations of everyday Romanian life, it is the way the great majority of women live.
It's the woman who are the real power.


Friday, 1 February 2013


I have written a lot in previous Blogs about our aim to be as self-sufficient as we can in every aspect of our 'new' lives here in Romania.
It's been something I have been thinking even more about recently, as with Spring approaching we need to set about preparing the ground and planting our early crops.
We did so well last year, even if we were finally beaten in the end by the enormous amount of weeds we had, so we have been talking about how we might be able to manage our garden in a better way to achieve even more over 2013. Those plans are now firmly in place and with the warmer days we have coming over the next few weeks we will be implementing them, with full confidence that they will succeed, on the basis of the things we learned last year.
However, I have realised while I have been thinking about it, that 'self-sufficiency' goes so much further for us than just being able to grow our own crops, or do the work around the house ourselves, or chop our own wood.
The main reason we live here is so that we can continue our work with the children through Volunteer Romania, and attract as many people as we can, from all over the world, to come and help us with that work, and, as we like to say, 'create smiles'.
The fees we charge for our programme's with those kids are all calculated on an entirely non-profit basis. We charge exactly what it costs us to run the programme. We made the decision to do this last year to try and attract as many volunteers as we could, because it is so important to us that we keep the great work that volunteers do with the children going.
If there is any money ever left over from running our programme, we use it to fund other little events, such as the free two-week summer camp we held in our village last year.
It means that we live off of a very small pension, and that at times it can be very hard, but that is also a spur to greater self-sufficiency in many different ways.
This year we have even been burning scrap wood left over from building the extensions to the house instead of buying logs. The scrap wood has been lying around for years anyway, just going rotten, so it made sense, and it saved us money.
This year we will also be felling some self-seeded Acacia tress and some old Plum trees so that we have proper firewood, next year, or preferably the year after.
It also means that we don't have an advertising budget, so we rely on the kindness of the many many friends we have made on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc to help us to spread the word about what we do.
We also use Skype to speak to people internationally, simply because it is free, and find as many ways as we can to recycle, re-use, help ourselves rather than relying on others, etc. etc
It all helps to keep those costs down, and keep our fees amongst the lowest in the world for a fully supported programme such as ours, and hopefully as time goes on, that simple fact will attract more and more people to visit our beautiful adopted home of Romania.
We also use free websites where we can and here is the great feedback that one very special lady gave us on Volunteer Abroad following her visit to us last year. She is planning on returning as often as she is able and we are so looking forward to having her back with us. 
Even our website is entirely Do-It-Yourself. 
Ali had to learn from scratch how to write a website, and she has done a great job.
It may not be at the cutting edge of internet creativity, however, it is clear, it is simple, it is informative, and it works so well.
The work Ali does on the website and the things we do to promote Volunteer Romania using social media seem to be working too. This January the website has had over 1000 hits. 
A sneak preview of the 'new look' website
In the early months of 2012 we got between 15 and 20 hits a month. I can imagine that there may be an expert out there saying "Is that all?", but remember we have had no money to do this, or to advertise the site, it has been done simply through our own hard work and effort and with help from those friends we have found who support what we do.
At the moment Ali is entirely occupied with the task of completely re-designing the website, with a brighter, fresher much more appealing aesthetic. Hopefully that will be launched over the next few days, but she does find it hard having to use the 'free' software that is all that we have available, as at times it can be slow, and occasionally just lost everything Ali has done in a day through no fault of her own. It's all we have though, so she perseveres, and (most of the time) she just keeps smiling.
So keep an eye out for it, it will be published soon and we will shout it out loud and as far as we can when it is.
Those low low prices will remain the same though.
All we need to see is a few more of the people who have looked actually deciding to join us, it would be great and the more the merrier.
It would even be an enormous help just to
print this new poster out and display it
where you think it may get interest.
Please let us know if you do, we would
love to say thank you.
We are realists though and we understand that times are tough all over the world, and even those who would like to come may not be able to simply because they can't afford prices even when they are as low as ours.
We are small but we want to grow so that we are able to do more and more with the disadvantaged children we work with.
So if anyone reading this would like to help but can't actually come to Romania, how's about following on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and helping us to spread the word far and wide about what we do here, by sharing our messages about our mission, by re-tweeting, or just by chatting to us?
We would love to hear from you.

Volunteer Romania

And don't forget Holiday Romania if you would just like a cheap holiday or would like to come and discover this wonderful country for yourself.