smiling, hugging and singing with people who are homeless

Finally.
Finally I had my meeting with Marius from the NGO I am working with for my dissertation.

I had my meeting at 9, and after the debacle that was last nights lack of internet, I actually found my way to the social centre without any problems. Well, any major problems. I couldn’t find the door and had to ask a neighbour where the entrance was…that was a little embarrassing seeing as I had actually walked past the entrance before…

Anway.
I walk in, go to the office to speak to Marius who is quite happy to see me and show me around the entire centre.

I am left in a room half an hour later with 6 other men. One street and social worker and 5 beneficiaries of the centre. It was around 9:30 and everyone was getting ready for the daily meeting.

I found out that this atelier was a newly established programme of string-therapy (Creating of string art) for men who have lived on the streets and are HIV+. I spent my morning there and had some interesting talks with the men.

Lunchtime! I remember this kind of food…I gained quite a bit of weight in my 6 weeks of working in an orphanage in Moldova run by the same NGO…I’m glad I wont be eating at the centre every day. Not because the food is bad, but because it’s super fatty. Yea, there’s the me that cares a little about what she looks like…sorry.

I get introduced to the 50 or so people who are present at lunch and am asked to give a short introduction about what I want to talk about with the 18-35 year olds.

Of course, I begin by apologizing for the abysmal state my Romanian is in…having said that, I feel a LOT of it coming back already; and although I never learnt grammar, I understand quite a lot of it.
phew.

I gave a short introduction that was followed by some questions. YES. THANK YOU. That means some were at least a little interested in what I wanted to find out! YES. So learning/education/survival skills are an interesting topic not only for academic researchers like myself, but for the people that the questions are aimed towards as well.

Now there is an hour of break time without any activities. I go outside to try to have some informal chats with some people where I find out some very interesting and quite positive things.

A man, 28 years old:
Has spent a couple of days (at this point..has been there before, many times) as his ‘holiday’ from work. He is working in the kitchen of the most respected and high class hotel Bucharest has to offer.
I said this was a positive example, because this man has found a job through the NGO. From what he told me he enjoys the job but likes to spend time at the centre. The rest of the time he lives with family, or on the street.
This is just an example of how wages in Romania do not always allow for a decent standard of living. This man works in the kitchen (cutting fruit and vegetables. Yes, not a great job. But a job nonetheless) of the best hotel in town, and still cannot sustain his existence by it.

After singing some religious, romanian pop and gibberish renditions of english songs with him and a friend of his who quite skilfully accompanied us all on the guitar (learnt at the social centre) it is time for activities again.

I go back to my newly made friends of the string therapy room and continue to talk to them about all sorts of things. Among them, school.

Man A, 28 years old:
He was in school for 3 years and says he enjoyed it. He is able to write and read quite well. Not quite at the average adult level, but at a level where he can take notes and understand what he is reading. He said he enjoyed school quite a bit. He has been drawing and learning how to draw  at social service centres for the last 9 years.

Another man I talked to had been to school for 5 years and has been on and off the streets since he was a child. He did not enjoy school a whole lot.

These short, informal conversations made it very clear to me that there are several people who are willing to talk about this topic to me, and that there will be very many different stories to be heard. There will be many different opinions which will hopefully lead to great discussions and interviews.

My day today was very interesting and leaves me to wonder how my first research session tomorrow afternoon will go.

Romania is a democratic country.

Since I cannot start my research until monday I decided to do something super touristy and to take the free walking tour of Bucharest,  which by the way, I really recommend to anyone!
Close to the end of our tour we walked towards revolution square (piata rebolutiei-the place of culmination of the romanian revolution in 1989) and began to hear microphoned speeches and songs. As we get closer we begin to see people holding romanian flags and flags from a political party. Romanian elections are coming up in November,  so I might get to see more of these rallies.

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As we continue our tour they begin to sing.
I felt like I was walking through a communist rally.
The songs all sounded like they came out of that era…both in style and lyrics.

It was a very interesting contrast for my evening, where I went to the national festival of cinema and propaganda (the first edition).
Although it was very interesting,  it was hard to pay attention to the entire 1.5h long discussion that followed a movie, because very complex issues about the agrarian revolution of 1945 were being discussed very rapidly.
I think it’s safe to say that I only understood a very small percentage of what was being said.

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Graffiti-the symbol of a young and upset emerging middle class?

Today I had planned to visit the school I would do my placement research in before heading into town to get a sim card and unlock my phone.

I ended up spending a lot more time at the school than I had originally planned. The principal was not in because she’s at a conference, but will be back on monday. So I e-mailed her about a meeting as soon as possible.

Consequently I moved on to the middle and high school building to meet my old teachers which is always lovely. Back when I was in high school our class and many of the staff had quite a close relationship and keep in contact over facebook, e-mail and of course visiting.

While talking to the principal, an interesting idea came about. He mentioned seeing more Graffiti around Bucharest and he wondered out loud, and thus made me think about, whether graffiti could be seen as an indicator of a growing middle class. Seeing as graffiti is stereotypically drawn by revolting youths, it could make sense that an emerging graffiti scene could indicate the growing of a young middle class that is upset and isn’t afraid to show it.

Something else that’s quite unique about the Graffiti in Bucharest (or at least something I haven’t seen to the extent I can see it in Bucharest) is organized, commercial graffiti. Yes, there might be quite a bit of the colourful text and images on walls that can be seen in many places, but there is also a lot of commercial gain from graffiti, like advertising. I remember back before the Radiostation Radio Zu became a thing, the tag of “Who is Zu?” was all over the place. And I mean everywhere. Today while walking around I saw a lot of the same 100% tags or a certain website I don’t remember.

Is Bucharest a forerunner for guerilla marketing or are some companies simply avoiding the rising prices of advertising space by taking to the streets? Do they think they will reach a unique, new, different demographic with this kind of strategy?

Whatever the reason is, I like this trend.

Some may say that Graffiti is not beautiful, that it messes up buildings and makes cities ugly, but I disagree. Yes, the tagging isn’t always pretty, and often ruins some buildings…but when you can see that time was spent to create images the size of buildings, or even just tiny stencils on the sides of buildings, or on traffic light poles make me smile more often than not. Especially in grey towns like Bucharest, I welcome the colours of the graffiti artists.

This reminds me, I need to visit wallers wall again…
I am not actually sure what it’s called..but it’s a wall off of Mageru covered in spray paint murals that regularly change. My friends and I used to make it a regular part of our city tours back when I lived here…there was always something new and exciting. Sometimes we were even able to witness the artists go to work at occasions like the street festivals that used to block the entire street by putting up small stages, markets and living room furniture. 

memory vs. reality

I finally arrived! I have made it!

Bucuresti! Draga Mea! I-au fost dor de tine!

Let me start at the beginning.

I arrived and didn’t have to wait at passport control. I handed my passport over and receive a lovely smile and buna ziua from the border guard. What an honor. I walk on to the baggage claim and wait a couple of minutes for my bag to arrive. Thinking I was too late to catch the 12:00 bus anyway I walked to the ATM, got some money out and headed towards the bus station..which was pretty hard to find because either (a) I’m apparently no longer able to find signs or (b) the construction obstructed my view. Now because I’m usually pretty good with directions, I am just going to say that (b) is the correct answer.

Anyway.

I finally find it, and the bus is still there! oh my! I must get a ticket fast. So I go to the little hut give the woman 10 lei and receive 1 lei change and my ticket in return. The bus was already leaving but the driver saw me and stopped to let me on. I flashed the driver a smile and a nod mouthing ‘multu mesc’. and began packing my wallet, change, ticket and jacket into my bags before I sit down.

Ah yes. Lovely Bucharest. The stench of cars, the sound of car horns and the views of broken fences. Just as I remembered. Or is it?

Before leaving, I had thought about how much Bucharest must’ve changed since the last time I saw it. And it had. It definitely had changed. The taxis at the airport alone! They have an electronic taxi calling service that makes sure you don’t get those cheating, super-expensive taxis you used to only be able to catch from the airport! That’s development right there. (I later saw that the same system is in place at the train station. I was seriously impressed by this.)

Back to the bus. Everything seemed grayer. I don’t quite know why…but the DN1 between the airport and Otopeni looked grayer, emptier, almost abandoned. This used to be a bustling stretch of land. Hmm…Closer towards the Baneasa Airport and the town however, that changed, and I recognized Bucharest just like it was…except with less traffic. But then again, it was around noon. Which was never a rush hour.

Driving in to down-town Bucharest was exciting although I didn’t get to see much. The bus went straight to the train station. A place I didn’t visit much.

The last time I was there, I remember it being night, and dark, and filled with strange people. That day, and today when I actually walked through the place, I saw that it was very different. It was still a little dark, but filled with travelling people, restaurants, trains and a vending machine filled with BOOKS! Yes, a vending machine for books. AWESOME.

I walked towards the house that I would meet my possible future flatmate. I found it straight away and waited there because I was quite a bit early. I had no problems with this because it was a lovely, warm and sunny day. I got my book out and started reading.

After having helped a man park his car and a couple minutes of waiting my flatmate came and showed me my room and the rest of the house: a house built in 1860.

I quickly settled in and then started to take a walk with my new colleague towards the market, the closest supermarkets and then through Cismigiu Park to Piata Romana where she went off to do her own thing and I walked down to Unirii and back up to Romana to walk back home.

Everytime I think of or walk past Cismigiu Park, I get  Hotel Chismigiu by Vama Veche stuck in my head. Seriously, listen to it. Also, on my 18th birthday, before I went out with some friends, I played this Vama Veche song on repeat.

3…2…1…lift-off!

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Today’s the day to take advantage of the free wifi at the vienna airport.
The only flight that seems to be leaving from this entire section od the airport is mine…pretty coolio.

I’m excited and a little nervous, but mostly excited.
Everything’s as sorted as it’s going to get before actually starting my research ^^ so all I can do now is hope dor the best. I can’t wait doe lift-off.

The wrath of CDG

If you are a frequent traveller you probably know what the CDG means and what I am talking about when I will say that I will just vent about my experiences there today.

Before that though, let’s start at the beginning.

I regularly fly between NCL and VIE, but generally have my stopover in DUS simply because it is ususally faster than anywhere else. This time however, I decided: No! It’s faster to fly via Paris. Let’s book it! It can’t be THAT bad. I had heard the many rumors about this supposedly abominable place for transit, but thought nothing of it because people tend to overreact when it comes to travelling…my personal opinion.

My flight from Vienna to Newcastle via Paris-Charles de Gaulle was fine. Yes, the airport is extra expensive, doesn’t have free wi-fi and didn’t seem to have any food for purchase, but overall it wasn’t as bad as I was expecting.

Today however, my view of this so called ‘airport’ has drastically changed.

On my way to Vienna I had a sto-over of around 3 hours that I was already dreading. But let me tell you, do NOT, I repeat, do NOT plan to have a fast stop-over in Paris. Never book a flight that gives you less than 1h20 for transit. What I didn’t realize the last time I travelled was that I was very lucky. I didn’t have to change Terminals. I mean I did, but not really.

TODAY however, I got off my plane and started walking and walking and walking..for around 20 minutes until I got to the first screens that would even tell me where I would have to go. All is good, Terminal D. Okay, let’s go. I keep walking down an escalator, down a flight of stairs, some more corridors and then I am standing infront of a metro-type gate. YESS. I get to take an airport train. Okay, I thought..Good enough. From my experience in Barcelona I knew that they’re ususally faster than the buses that travel between terminals.

I take the train.
I get off the train.

Down another flight of stairs and after another 10 minutes of walking I reach a security checkpoint.

YES! I have reached the terminal! PSYCH!

After walking past the checkpoint I reach a man guarding a door….that leads to the outside.

“Madame, where are you going?”
“Terminal D”
“Okay, blue bus. please wait here.”

So I wait a couple of minutes until the bus comes.

In this time, I see a woman who was on my flight from NCL to CDG frantically walking up to the man, who very calmly also asks her where she is going. She points at a flight on the screen that is already boarding. She had a 1h layover. the plane was already boarding, and she wasn’t even half there yet. Not because she walked slowly or got lost. NO. simply because the distances are SO far in CDG.

I hope she reached her flight.

Anywhoo, the bus comes and we get on it. 11m later we reach Terminal 2D. I get off am asked for my ticket, and start the next part of the journey. I follow the signs of D40-D60 and am brought to a passport control. I walk back 2 times to the screens that tell me which gate I leave from to make sure I’m not goin the wrong way. Why do I need to go through a passport control? I decide it’s the right way and pass the control quite quickly. Then I reach the doors: definite exit.

GREAT

So I officially touched French ground. Does this count as me having visited Paris? ^^

I keep following the sign and am now mingling with families and other travellers checking in until I get to my gates where…you guessed it! ANOTHER security check. I take my boots off for the nth time today to finally reach the waiting hall for terminal 2D.

I truly understand why people loathe this airport. Although the airport staff isn’t the most smiley bunch, they were nice enough at all the different checkpoints I had to pass on my way to reach my boarding gate.

All in all, it took me over 1h30m to get from my landing gate to my departure gate.

sheesh.

I guess I was really unlucky with the gates and terminals this time around…like I said before, the last time I had my transit there I got to my departure gate a LOT faster…it took only around 30mins.

10 Day Countdown: Don’t be afraid to do something that some people might not classify as being “safe”

This is what I took away from my last meeting with my supervisor before I head out to Bucharest to conduct my research. Of course, among other things, but this is what is sticking with me.

The courage to think outside of the box. The courage to to push boundaries, and the courage to put myself in academically challenging situations to learn the most I can about the educational lives of homeless youth in Bucharest.

They live behind the margines, so I will think beyond what is ususally done.
They create spaces outside of the law, so I will attempt to push my research as far as I can.

This does not mean I will be putting myself in dangerous situations. It does not mean I’ll be looking for trouble or anything like that. It was just a reminder to go out of my way to find the truth. It was a reminder to emerse myself in true ethnographic culture…without harming myself or the name of my University and of course, without crossing any ethical boundaries set out by my University and the ESRC.

Let’s see where this will take me.
Let’s see where this will go.

10 days until my journey starts.

Martisor

Happy 1st of March. It is today that the Romanian’s celebrate the coming of Spring: Martisor.

Red and white ribbons are given as gifts. Often a small token of luck is attached to accompany you through spring.

This was one of my favourite days back when I lived in Romania. Everyone just seemed so content. The darkness of winter was coming to an end. The slush that is supposed to be snow that had accumulated on the streets was melting and the first flowers of spring would fight their way through the grey watery snow that laid on the sides of the road. 

O Primavara fericita tuturor!

Martisor