When I first started telling my family and friends, that my next travels would take me to Romania, many did not understand. To them Romania was just another country in Eastern Europe and as for many westerners, the word “Romania” brings up pictures, and for some, memories of communism and poverty. Except for the vast tourism, that has brought us Dracula and stories of Transylvania’s vampires, is there not more to this overlooked and forgotten country in the east?
With these prejudges in mind two months ago, I boarded a plane in Copenhagen bound for Bucharest, determined to re- or de-confirm this thought. My first though when leaving the plane was the resemblance of that small little airport in Bucharest to Kastrup airport in Copenhagen. After just an hour and a half in a plane, I was still in Europe, and I have been reminded of that fact every day so far.
My first realization when arriving in Braşov was that this city is so much like the Western Europe I know from home. Everywhere you lookyou will see billboards, malls, McDonnalds, KFC, H&M and plenty of other food chains and clothes stores. Even the nightlife is similar to home, with StradaRepublicii’s never-ending choices of smaller and bigger bars, cafés and clubs.
However. During my time here, I have been lucky enough to experience pockets of the real Romania. – Hidden under all the western bits of culture you first notice when arriving in the city.
Place yourself in the center of the old German part of the city, once called Kronstadt, on PiaţaSfatului and you will see the gigantic Black Church or BisericaNeagră towering over everything. Right there in the midst of that enormous square and its numerous cafés and restaurants the church stands tall above all else. This picture is for me reflected in everything I experience in Romania. Everywhere you go on the road, you will see small crosses on the road or graves. After every corner you turn there might be a chapel for the local people, beautifully decorated, with gold, carpets and various drawings.
Even when on the bus, on your way to work, you might notices your fellow passengers making the sign of the cross when passing a church on the road. Some doing it only once and some going at least three or four times.
During the year, several festival and parades can be observed right from you bedroom window as the many parades, like in times of Easter, takes place on the bigger roads and in the center.
In addition, not only the strong sense of religion hooks your attention, when travelling in the city and beyond. On the street, a horse driven cart might trot by, right before you reach the local shepherd with his flock of sheeps. Go a little further and you might run into a pack of dogs, or just a single one, roaming the streets for food and shelter.
Already, after these small seemingly unimportant differences in the everyday life in Brasov, we are so far from what you might experience in the west. There you would never pass a trotting horse on the main road and think nothing of it.
Paint yourself a picture. The town of Brasov, divided into three sections, with the old Schei-quarter on one side, with its snorkeling streets and roads going up and down the hillside, reaching the gate and wall of the old German part of town, once called Kronstadt. Here the red-roofed houses cramp together in the small space, still finding room for minor gardens and terraces. On the opposite side, the city melts into the new modern era, with its big apartment blogs and factories dominating the scene. All around this lays the mountainTâmpa. A mountain surrounding the city, with its small white dots, scattered around on the mountainside, representing the remains of the old towers, placed all around the original city. Here you can experience what I have discovered to be the biggest beauty of Romania. Its nature and wildlife.
The first week I was here, the most frequent story I heard, was the story of a man being eaten by a bear, who decided to take a stroll through the city and then eat the man lying on a bench, sleeping. In addition, I was told of wolves roaming between the trees!
Life in Brasov has, so far, definitely been different then what I first imagined.
This city is at first sight, just another city in Romania, but get to know the people and you will discover a hidden and, to the west, completely forgotten issue. The establishment of Braşov and of Romania in general in the rest of the world. Many of the local people here lack that sense of nationality that I for instance know from my own country. Overwhelmed by the rushing development into the modern age, the old culture and traditions vanish between billboards, McDonalds and international clothing stores. Thus creating the picture of a country with no real identity.
However, look closer and you will discover what I have seen so far. The rich culture, the religion,the traditions, the nature and the wildlife and most of all; the people who still believe in a country known, not only for Dracula and Transylvania, but for its rich and flaming culture, still burning after the flood of the 21st century.
India. Coming here is a dream come true...
From the age of seven, I have longed to visit India. I don’t know why. I just know I would like to discover this amazing country which is very different from my home country, France.
So when I arrived in India, it was an important moment for me. I have seen lot of documentaries and films about India, I have read many stories about this destination, but it was more exciting to put my foot in India! I felt so many emotions …
Last year I had spent one month in Indonesia, and I think India is similar— crowded streets, multicolored monuments and buildings, many temples, roaming animals and lush greenery. In both countries, women and men are principally dressed in very warm tones! It seemed an oriental influence, an Asian spirit when I took the taxi in Madurai for the first time. I was surprised not to find a seatbelt in the taxi…in France it’s mandated by law, so it’s as much of a reflex as for me to put my belt on as it is for Indians to toot their horn!
Then, I discovered my lovely family, Latha and Mercy. They were so kind and warm to me, I’m very lucky to meet them. And I find Indian people generally smile a lot.
In the West, India is famous as a destination where some tourists are shocked or troubled by the differences in culture. For me it wasn’t a shock. I’m just touched and happy to be here. Maybe because I always wanted to go in India, I don’t know. And what’s more, the sun is here! For French nationals like me, it’s a treat in December!
I think Madurai Messenger will bring me good knowledge of journalism as a career, but I’m sure India will be a wonderful experience for myself and a good means to open my spirit, again and again!
By Adele Eude
Journalism volunteer - Projects Abroad India
My experience of women’s rights in Togo has been mixed. The majority of women seem to spend their lives cooking, cleaning, going to market and sitting outside their houses with their friends, talking.
I have met women with no education whatsoever, who cannot speak even the most basic French and for whom the concept of a life outside the daily routine of the family home is strange, even intimidating. These women are beautiful to watch – the way Pascaline, a ‘domestic’ at Mama Togo’s house, washes clothes, cooks food, carries water on her head, has a unique elegance to it that I have never seen replicated elsewhere. She has been doing this kind of work all her life – the movements she makes when doing the housework are an essential part of her being.
I have also met women who want to make a life for themselves beyond the home, but are restricted by the opportunities for work there are in Togo. The main jobs for women seem to be running small shops or market stalls, hairdressing and dressmaking. Lea, another ‘domestic’ at Mama Togo’s house, is doing an apprenticeship in dressmaking. When I ask her about her work, her face lights up – she clearly enjoys the independence and camaraderie she experiences with the other girls at her workplace.
Then, I have met women at the top of their game. I’ve met lawyers fighting against injustice. The directrice of ASFEEN is a kind, formidable and dedicated woman who knows how women are treated in Togo and has a clear vision for how they should be treated. It is a great privilege for me to be working with ASFEEN to promote women’s rights. The office is tiny, housing just three highly committed and knowledgeable individuals, three desks, a cupboard and two computers. The difference they have made to the women of Togo belies their stature, however. At this very moment, they are working on a project that involves finding young girls who are being forced to work at the Grand Marché, and finding a way to send them to school.
Even from my limited experience, however, it is clear that ASFEEN face a massive challenge. As part of my small contribution, I have created a little sketch for children at local schools to act out and then discuss, which depicts a woman who is being mistreated by her husband. In both the schools I have done the project with, the children picked out woman’s main problem as being that she always cooked spaghetti for her husband and she hadn’t washed his clothes. Their first reaction wasn’t that the woman was deserving of respect as a human being, but that she had to earn it by being a perfect wife. We did manage to talk round the subject and eventually came to the conclusion that “la femme n’est pas un objet, mais une personne”, but it took a lot of hard work.
I have been thinking a lot about the role that women themselves might play in improving women’s rights in Togo. Some of the children I did my project with yesterday said they thought it was up to the woman to denounce what her husband was doing and stand up for herself. In principle, I am hostile to this idea – the man should respect the woman in the first place and should be denounced by the rest of the world if he doesn’t respect her – the woman should not have to educate her husband on how she should be treated. Reflecting on what I have seen here, however, I think the children have a point. ASFEEN and organisations like it can light a fire in the women of Togo, and give them a goal and a purpose. But it is the women themselves, the strong, beautiful and skilful human beings, who I think have an important role to play in making better lives for themselves.
With their home located near the SPCA in Grassy Park, Jeanette and Benjamin Jodamus provide a great base for animal care as well as other Projects Abroad volunteers in Cape Town.
After working with Projects Abroad for almost two years, the special host family treats volunteers like their own children, affording them the independence of an “open home” in which they can see to themselves as they please.
Although the Jodamus’s house boasts a separate section for volunteers, they spend a lot of their time with the volunteers, enjoying barbecues, lengthy conversations and all means of cultural exchange. “We love listening to all their travel stories,” says Jeanette, adding that she never tires of learning about new ways of life.
Jeanette and Benjamin view their role as holistic – providing not only basic care such as housing and food, but also the necessary psychological care for a young person in a foreign country. “Everyone has a story,” says Jeanette. “For some reason volunteers seem to trust us with theirs,” she continues, adding that she has spent many a night sharing tears and advice with the volunteers she has hosted. “We almost act as counsellors,” adds Benjamin, “but we really love it because we know that we have uplifted the lives of many young people, in our own way,” he continues.
On a lighter note, it is important for Jeanette and Benjamin that the volunteers have fun whilst staying with them. “Sometimes they wake us up when they arrive late from a night on the town, but we just laugh at their antics and go back to sleep,” laughs Jeanette. “There’s always laughter in our home when there are volunteers around,” adds Benjamin. “And our grandchildren really love them!” he adds.
Although the Jodamus’s mainly host SPCA volunteers, they have also welcomed human rights, surf and building volunteers into their home. “I once asked some volunteers how they felt about the travelling distance from their project to our place and they replied that it was worth it to be with us,” boasts Benjamin.
The Jodamus’s relationship with volunteers never ends once they have parted ways, with regular snail mail, e-mails and Facebook messages keeping the memories alive.
Thanks for being such a great host family, Jeanette and Benjamin. Our volunteers certainly seem to be happy with you.
A highlight for us this year has been watching the progress of six-year-old Nicolas Gerk, son of German volunteer Julia Gerk and our youngest 'volunteer' to date.
Although Julia and Nicolas began their experience as care volunteers, it was at a local primary school that Nicolas really started to flourish. We arranged for Julia to move over to the teaching project at the school, and Nicolas has completely come out of his shell, slotting into the preparatory students' daily program and forming friendships with children his age. It doesn't seem to matter to him that he speaks to them in German and that they answer in English!
Julia takes Nicolas to the surf project after school, where he frolics around on his board in the water.
It has been quite amazing to see how this German youngster has adapted so well to a South African routine that allows his mom to complete her volunteer responsibilities without having to worry about him.
It's great to know that we can cater for such a special duo. Keep up the great work, Julia and Nicolas!
I tried to have realistic expectations of India. I researched on the
web, read articles, assessed the political climate and learned all I
could about the history, customs and culture of these beautiful people.
Armed with all of that knowledge, I felt responsibly prepared and even
shed a few tears of momentary reluctance when I boarded the plane. Was
I ready for the stifling heat? Was a ready for cold showers and swarms
of mosquitos? What about laundry? I had never handwashed a load of
clothes in my life. Mentally, I was preparing for a rough ride.
But the moment I saw Amma's smile beaming at me from the front porch
of my new host home, my apprehension melted away into memory. Amma's
contagious laugh and open demeanor filled my heart with warmth and
suddenly I was glad I had come. Yes, I was an all-day buffet for the
mosquitos. Yes, doing laundry for the first time in buckets rubbed my
knuckles raw. My body didn't acclimate well either. I spent more that
one night writhing with a fever, nausea, cold sweats and the worst
stomach ache I've had in my life. Yet with all of those mishaps, I
recall many times walking, drenched in sweat to and my my project
hospital, with my heart so elevated with joy, I thought perhaps I
would stay forever.
Amma's home has become my home. I retreat there with joy in the
evenings and greatly enjoy every meal we get to share together. Our
nighttime card games, together with our Auto driver are filled with
laughter and multi lingual conversations about every and nothing. I
have lost a little of my heart to India and its people.
Even though we maybe share 15-20 words in each others languages, the
friends I have made and the relationships I have cultivated with the
nurses and staff of Booma hospital is something I will cherish in my
I am not sure if there is a secret to having the time of your life,
but I do know this: Leave your ideas of how the world is supposed to
work at home. Keep your mind open to new things and your tongue
craving for exotic flavors and maybe, before you know it, you may find
yourself dancing to a rhythm you never knew you loved.
A trip to India is not for the faint of heart or the haughty in
spirit. It is for the humble, the adventurous, the tireless, the brave
and most of all those who can love. No, I was not ready, but I am sure
glad that I came.
Midwifery Project, Booma Hospital.
Tomorrow i am getting the train to Beijing at 7.15am gonna be an early start especially as I'm going for some food with friends this evening, pretty excited to see beijing although it will be pretty rainy and humid. Im staying with a guy I met online (haha it's not as strange as it's sounds). The train is one and a half days and i know some people who are getting the train with me so it should be good fun. Through a website called couchsurfing you basically host people in your home and share travelling stories and you give them a gift but it makes accomodation cheaper and is a cool way of meeting new people. It's my first time trying it out but I've met plenty of people who highly recommend it :) So My host is 26 and is a chinese guy who works in Beijing he also helped get me my chinese visa which was real nice of him, so it's a bit of pot luck as to what your host is like but thats kinda the point of it :)
Last weekend I went to a small party in a restaurant/art gallery which was pretty awesome and I met a lot of people who I wish I had met before, when they asked me when i was leaving sadly my answer was thursday :( One guy even asked if seeing as I was teaching english here and was a native speaker if i wanted to apply for a job at his school, the possibility was exciting but of course I have a range of other commitments to meet. I think I might get some kind of teaching qualification after university so that I will be able to spend considerably longer travelling in the future :)
I've been preparing to go for the last few days saying bye to people and my family, getting souveneiur gifts given to me etc :) Its amazing when you about to leave a place how quickly your time runs out, especially because you want to spend time with everyone before you go :) But althouigh I'm sad to leave this incredibel country I am also excited for what is ahead. One of my good friends here highlighted a line in a song to me "good friends we've had and good friends we've lost, along the way". Top marks if you know what song it is. Really rings true when your travelling as you meet people who you get on with amazingly and the depart your seperate ways.
I met some travellers off to myanmar today which was nice they are taking 9 months for travelling and I envied them quite a lot, it gave me the first taste of the traveller mentality where you can just start a conversion and always find plenty of things to talk about. Of course i really ought to point out that this idea of starting new conversations with people is very unenglish behaviour and often you have to fight through your social english fears to do this. Other countries are much more comfortable with this concept than us but its nice to actually be able to do this here, if i try the same thing in Britain im greeted with the odd nod or mm and no conversation.
I am sad to leave this amazing country and it was wonderful to experience it at this time as Mongolia has a range of paths it can take but with the amount of development here it has the potential to become a developed country extremely quickly. Everywhere here there is opportunity and its a great time to be a builder here as there is so much development in the city. Ulaanbaatar is one of the only capital cities in the world where you can see the mountains from the centre of the city, but with the new devlopment im beginning to wonder how long that will last. Mongolia is country of extremes with a huge amount of technology in parts of the city and then very little in the countryside although it is beginning to rach the countryside especially to the people who travel to the cities fairly regularly. There is also the huge gap between the rich and poor and the inbetween does not seem to be happy in this place. I think in a country that has changed from communism to capitalism of course there is a period where everyone wants 4x4's and so they buy 4 or 5 of them, something which happens a lot here. It is only a matter of time until many people realise that this way does not create a happy reality and many begin to realize this perhaps there will be achange and a balance found. The huge investment from mining could be invested in infrastructure education and healthcare but with the entrenched corruption here it is extremely unlikely. The corruption problem is very interesting one person i was speaking to was talking about corruption as a bottom up problem, if the man at the bottom of the chain is willing to accept a bribe for something small, the man at the top will also accept a bribe but of course it will be a much higher price and a much bigger task. I think the problem is much more complex than this but it was an interesting observation. Corruption is difficult to fight and the ionly hope is the young people, but the principle of not being corrupt has to be so strong with a young person for them not to follow the way their boss operates and be corrupt, maybe it will be a slow transition but any transition would be good. Of course corruption isa huge problem in countries that have huge natural resources as many of you know this is known as the resource curse. This is one of the huge problems here and something that has to happen if Mongolia wants to take a course and become a well developed country with an equal spread of wealth.
Sweeeet, i will update you all when i leave Beijing and give my views on the "People's" Republic of China.
This week I had the pleasure of visiting Friendship House – a hostel for vulnerable boys. There are 14 boys staying at the home at the moment either because they no longer have parents, or because their parents are in some way unable to look after their children.
The boys range in age – some are 3, many are 10/11/12 and there are a few 14 year olds. The building itself is quite spacious considering how huge a ‘family’ lives there. It may sound strange to say family, but all the boys call each other ‘brother’ and they call the supervisor ‘uncle’. Some of the boys are actually biological brothers, but most are just such close friends it makes most sense to call each other ‘brother’. There is a really great sense of community in the house – a truly happy place.
We arrived at 4pm because the boys all go to school during the day. We wanted to be there when they came back from school and engage them in some organized activities. The placement is not a full-time placement as most of the day the house is empty, but care volunteers are encouraged to go regularly after their main placement.
The activity of the day was a fun English lesson. The children were taught how to play a simple game where you write the name of a famous person or an animal or a country on a sticky note and then stick it to someone's head and then they have to ask questions until they guess what's written on the sticky note. One said Nepal, another said Chicken and one even said Kangeroo! The children have to speak in English and the whole point is to improve their English vocabulary and also their confidence speaking in a group.
It was amazing to see how quickly they picked up the concept and how they were so keen to play. Of course some of the boys got a little too excited and they had to be calmed down a bit, but there is a real sense of sharing and community in the house.
As well as this game, we also played Chinese whispers which had some interesting result. I was positioned about half way round the circle and at one point Ram (who was sitting next to me) whispered in my ear ‘Cheese, apple, boy.’ Apparently the game started with ‘Cheese is not a boy.’
Care volunteer Marieke from Belgium even took some of the boys aside at one point and taught them a basic magic trick which they loved!!
When it came for us to leave most of the boys were very polite and waved or shook our hands. I’m constantly amazed at how polite and mature Nepalese children are. Their willingness to welcome us into their home and show us such kindness is incredible!!
So.. A few people have told me to keep a blog, as I wont get Facebook access in China and weirdly people are actually interested in what I shall get up to!
Currently it is seven past three and I am sat up recovering from illness, having stolen my brother's laptop (don't worry, he's away on a trip to Africa.). I have no idea why I'm not asleep yet, I am yet again excitedly devouring China guide books and websites and looking up domestic flights and trains and deciding if I can afford to visit various wonderful places (before you ask.. Seeing the Great Wall and Forbidden City is a must. I wont even bother mentioning those. It'd be like me going to Egypt and not seeing the Pyramids.) such as:
Although given I will be surviving on my saved up waitressing funds of the last 4 months I more-than-likely will have to mostly travel within Sichuan province. To be fair, it isn't that much of a sacrifice, there are such amazing things there, like:
That's all I have for now, I'll attach some pictures of the places I mentioned. Also, learning Chinese is HARD. I am seriously not a fan.. I can't associate the language with anything I've ever learnt before (completely new and different!) so I'm finding it hard to remember. My teacher told me about the Dragon Boat Festival that will take place whilst I'm in China, apparently it is to commemorate the heroic/patriotic death of a very renowned poet of old times. Locals throw festive rice cakes into Chinese rivers and race Dragon Boats (hence the name, haha) in order to stop fishes from disturbing his sleeping corpse. It sounds a bit morbid, I know haha.
Also I learnt an interesting Chinese idiom: "don't draw a foot on the snake". It means.. Don't add to something that's already perfect. (:
I better get some sleep, tomorrow I intend to brush up on Chinese history and current affairs..
I AM SO EXCITED!!!!
- Hadia ^^
Danxia - Beautiful coloured sand mountains
Giant Buddha statue in Leshan
Teahouse in Chengdu
Shanghai beach and skyline
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