★ Viscri, Romania (May 2012)

I spent last weekend visiting a small Romanian village called Viscri, as part of a planning-trip for a youth-project that my sister is doing this summer.

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We left Brussels on Friday (May 4th) with the 10h20 Tarom flight to Bucharest. “We” in this case means: my sister Liesbet (the project leader), Vanessa (who was with the project last summer and will be going back this year), and me. After a comfortable flight, we landed in Bucharest where the temperature was a staggering 32° C. No time to take it easy, we quickly collected our luggage and jumped a cab to the bus-station. Our flight landed at 14h00, the bus-station was a 40-minute drive away and the bus left at 15h15. And the next bus was 2 hours later. The cab-ride was really hot, we hit a ton of traffic going around the city but in the end we made it to the bus-station at 15h05. And, hooray, there was still room on the bus for the 3 of us. We quickly picked up some water from a little shop nearby and took our places. The bus ride was going to take 5h30min, taking us from Bucharest, via Brasov to our stop in Bunesti (final destination of the bus being Târgu Mures). Once in Bunesti, we waited for a 4th person to join us: Melania, our translator and local contact (she lives in Târgu Mures and took the bus in the other direction). Around 20h, our host Dorin picked us up and drove us to Viscri. On the bus we had passed of couple serious rain showers and the skies were all but clear, we weren’t in the car for more than 2 minutes when the skies opened up again. The road to Viscri was pretty terrible, pits and holes all over the place and long stretches with almost no concrete left. By the time we arrived in Viscri, night had fallen and rain was still pouring down. We rushed inside Dorin’s place and out of the rain to have an amazing dinner (cooked by Dorin’s equally amazing wife Nina). After dinner we prepared the first meeting for Saturday and called it a day. We got our luggage from the car and headed over to a house on the next street where we’d stay for the weekend.

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Before we get into the rest of the trip, I’ll tell you a little more about the project. Coming summer, 12 Belgian youngsters (from 18 to 25 years old) will visit Viscri for 10 days and together with the youngsters from the village they will take part in various activities (sports, exploring the village and it’s surroundings, a dropping, play-days with the smaller kids from the village, redecorated a house that is now vacant and turn it into a youth-house where the local youngsters can meet and hang out). The project is also funded by the European Union, which allows us to cover travel and housing costs and to lay plumbing in the youth-house.

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A little more on the village itself now. Viscri is part of the Bunesti community with 4 other village and is situated between Brasov and Târgu Mures. The village consists of only 5 street and about 100 houses. The village has a fortified church that was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Most of the people in the village are farmers or work in one of the nearby villages and a group of women makes slippers and socks from sheep-wool to sell to tourists visiting the church. In the morning, herds of sheep and cattle run through the village on their way to the field and a single horse racing through the village completely unattended is nothing special. Dirt-roads, streetlights only every 200 minutes, people with internet access are a rare exception, the mail comes twice a week if your lucky?A completely different world. And the people are poor. Hearing stories about people that can’t afford to keep their 16-year old kid in school really puts your feet on the ground.

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Back to the project. On Saturday-morning we got up around 7h30, had breakfast at Nina & Dorin’s, directly followed by our first meeting at 9h30. The 4 of us met with a Tina (who lives in the village and has done similar project with others and with us in the past, she knows the youngsters from the village pretty well and is our contact “on the ground”). We went over the entire project together and prepared for the meeting with youngsters later that day. After lunch we met a small group from the village the soon-to-be youth-house.

By now you’re probably wondering how we communicated rights Because Romanians speak?romanian. 🙂 Well, my sister speaks fluently Romanian, we had Melania as a translator when needed and both Tina and Dorin speak English as well. In meetings with the people from the village, Vanessa and me would usually get a short translated summary (in English or Dutch, depending on who translated it) of the discussion and the outcome.

The rest of the day was more meetings: with the entire group of youngsters (around 15 in total) about what they wanted for the youth-house, with Dorin and Nina about food and lodging during our stay in the summer and with Tina about responsibilities and how the youth-house would be managed once we leave.

Sunday morning, we showered and had breakfast and then we headed out on horse & carriage to explore the village surrounding to find a suitable site for the dropping we want to organize in the summer. The first plan was to do the dropping at night but there have been sightings of a bear and a couple of wolves in the forest nearby so we switched it to day-time just to be safe. We took one of the 3 roads out of the village and took a left turn into the fields. Fields, hills, trees, forests, ?As far and as wide as one can see, so beautiful that it’s hard to describe. We rode around for a good 2 hours before we arrived on a plateau from where we could see Viscri and it’s surrounding villages in the far distance. Stunning.

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Before lunch we had another meeting with the group from the village to divide and assign tasks and responsibilities. Every activity we plan to do during the summer got assign to 2 youngsters from the village and a Belgian counterpart. And we also got a plumber from the village to come over to touch base on the water/sewage works we plan to do (turns out it’s going to be a lot hard than expected). In the afternoon we ran through the planning for this summer and made a list of things to do and people to contact before the summer. And with that, the working-part the weekend was over and we went into the village for a walk and to buy some handmade socks.

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Whenever we walked through the village, a couple of kids would flock around my sister. They all know Liesbet from the previous years (she’s been visiting the village for 3 years now) and the kids are all very happy to see her again. It was a gorgeous sunny sunday-afternoon and by the time we had walked 300 meters, we were each hold hands with at least one of the kids from the village, all jabbering away in Romanian about god knows what. Oh, and they like posing for photos. 🙂 We had BBQ for dinner and turned in early as we we’re all very tired and Monday was going to long day as well. (Pssst: If you’ve actually read this far into the post: Thanks :))

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Nina & Dorin drove us of the bus-stop on Monday morning. The bus was full up but we persuaded the driver to let 2 of us sit up front with him (Vanessa had to stand until we reached Brasov). 4,5 hours and 2 stops later we arrived in Bucharest. The drivers dropped us of right in front of the airport, which was great and unexpected since that isn’t an official stop for them and they usually just drop you of on the main road to by airport. Waited for check-in, checked-in, had lunch and flew home. Even though Vanessa en me sometimes felt kind of useless because we hardly understood anyone, it was a very productive meeting and we completed everything we had set out to do.

This wasn’t my first visit to Viscri but I arrived home with same feeling had I last time. The people there are so friendly and welcoming, they have so very little and yet they give and they share everything they own. All this makes me grateful for what I have, for my job, my education and the comfort I and we all have in our daily lives. For the experience I’ve had over there, for the hospitality and kindness these people offered us.

PS: The full set of photos can be found on my flickr-page.

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