Moldova’s future

Today, I want to share with you a story from my last trip to Moldova. On the bus from Comrat to Chisinau, I met a young man. He looked quite ordinary, but after talking to him for a bit, was quite extraordinary.

Moldova is going through quite a rough patch. Many of the young people are leaving to work not only in Russia but in Spain, France, Romania and many other countries. They are looking for possibilities that they cannot find in their own country. This leaves behind a nation of very old and very young people. The 20 to 50 year olds seem to have fled the country in large numbers.

Meet R., 22 years old. Has completed 4 years of University and is waiting to hear where he can start his three year placement that he has to complete before he can be a cardiologist.

He told me that he would like to do his placement in Comrat, because he liked it there. Coming from a formerly Ukrainian family, and having completed Russian school in Moldova, R. speaks Russian better than he does Romanian. He likes Gagauzia for its Russian connections and has been there many, many times. In the future, he wants to stay in Moldova, because he sees that his country needs young, able workers. He told me Moldova needed good doctors, so he was going to stay here to help people. Apparently cardio-vascular diseases are the main cause of death in Moldova…so he is on his road to becoming a cardiologist. It was so inspiring to hear his story on the scenic bus ride from Comrat to Chisinau. It was so heart-warming to hear of a young man who wants to stay in Moldova despite having many more opportunities, a lot higher pay, and probably better equipped hospitals if he were to go abroad. No, not this man. He wants to stay in his country to help build it into a better state.

More Moldovan’s should start to think like this. I know it must be very difficult, and it is probably impossible for me to understand how almost an entire generation can leave a country, but R. inspired me to put his story out there. To tell the world that Moldova’s not doomed. I am sure there are many more who think like R. Who want to stay in Moldova to build up a workforce, to create a better country.

DSCN5818

DSCN5819

hitch hiking

I particularly remember talking to a friend of mine back in Newcastle about an upcoming trip he was going to do. He was going to join a hitch gathering and hitch his way down to Spain with a group of people. My response was somewhere along the lines of: wow that sounds great! Aren’t you scared? I would be too scared to go hitch hiking!

Yet here I am a few weeks later…

I have been talking to people who hitch hike, and have talked particularly much to a lad from Sweden who has been hitching for 6 months straight. I became more and more intrigued and even started thinking about hitching my way from Vienna to Newcastle in the summer to get back to Uni.

The only experiences I had of this were on this trip so far…both of which were accidental. 1) a friendly person I had asked directions from in Corfu at the beginning of my trip took me to where I went to meet my Couchsurfing host, and 2) a lovely man in Bitola, Albania took me from the National Park back to the city.

Maybe it was those two accidental, yet positive experiences that stopped me from freaking out when all the things that happened today happened…

I took a bus from Tirana, Albania to Shkodre, Albania in the hopes of catching the 3pm bus to Ulcinj, Montenegro from where I will take one of the many regular buses to my destination of Kotor, Montenegro. Sounds easy enough, but don’t forget, I’m in the Balkans.

I didn’t think much of it being sunday, or easter for that matter, because Albania is a mainly muslim country that doesn’t celebrate easter and everything works as normal on sundays…

So I get to Shkodre and ask where the 3pm bus would leave from…

First shock: There is no 3pm bus, but there might be one at 4pm…but nobody’s sure. I should go check if the bus is parked in the station by the stadium. If it’s there it will go, if it’s not there, it won’t be going today. I walk to the bus station by the stadium and ask around for the Ulcinj bus. Nope, not happening today, but I can take a Taxi (for twice the price) I leave the place, thinking about it..but not really wanting to take a Taxi…maybe I’ll spend the night here?

I head back to the place my Bus dropped me off where a man asks me if I want to go to Tirana…no thank you. Another man asks me about Ulcinj. YES! Thank you. The bus leaves at 2pm from across the road.

GREAT. I go to walk around the old part of town and the pedestrian area.

Second shock: At around 1:30pm I go to where the bus is supposed to be to be told that there is no bus at 2pm, but that there was one at 1pm and another one at 4pm.

I walk around a little when the man that told me about the 1pm bus comes to get me. He knows a guy who’s driving to the border. He can take me for E7. After a little hesitation I agree.

Once we get to the car the man was very eager to show me his passport with all the stamps for Croatia and Bosnia and Montenegro as if he was making sure that I knew that he does this often and that he’s not going to kidnap me.

Thanks man, I appreciated that.

Third shock: He leaves me at the border, telling me a bus will be at the other side. Of course, there isn’t. So I am standing on the Montenegrin side of the border with my backpacks. Not knowing the language or anybody. Only that I want to get to Ulcinj and then Kotor. After some waiting and contemplating hitch hiking I see a bus crossing the border. I ask where they’re going and if they’ll take me. Ulcinj, and yes.

Thank you.

Fourth shock: After finally having reached Ulcinj comes my next shock. Although the buses are supposedly frequently travelling between the Montenegrin coastal cities, the next one will leave at 19:35. It was somewhere around 14:00…

I was told to walk to the traffic lights to maybe get a lift from there.

So off I go, still not really realizing that I am actually going to hitch hike…by myself.

After standing and walking along the road awkwardly a car actually stops. The elderly man asks me if I wanted a lift for a couple of kilometres. He seemed friendly, so I got in the car. After being offered sex, I politely ask to get out of the car…which was absolutely no problem. Somehow the man still seemed friendly, I don’t know how to explain it, but it seemed like he was just asking to see if it was possible, without really meaning to be rude or creepy. He was a little creepy after that though. So I got out at a restaurant that was along the way.

I ask there whether there will be a bus to Budva or Bar any time soon, but nobody seems to know. They tell me to stand by the road and to wave if I see a bus, it’ll stop and take me.

After waving at some cars and getting some waves in return from drivers and passengers in cars a car does actually pull over after 10 mins. or so..maybe not even that long. A young man gets out and asks me where I want to go. Remembering the tips my new swedish friend had given me in Kosovo a couple of days before I answered with the same question. He and his friend were going to Budva. PERFECT. I asked if they’ll take me. A couple of seconds later I was in the car shaking hands with Dorian and Florin. Two friends on their way to Budva to have a coffee.

This is actually the longest leg of my journey, so I am very happy to have found them. This was seriously a great hitch hiking experience. After the initial minutes of feeling awkward, the rest of the journey was very natural. I even wasn’t really scared when Florin thought that he had to drive off the road because this bay looked too beautiful. He wanted to take pictures. We spent a couple of minutes looking for a path among the cliffs, but went back into the car when it started to rain.

Once we reached Budva they wanted to have coffee with me, but I said I wanted to know when the buses left first, so we went off to find the bus station…none of us knew where it was. We stop to ask a woman walking on the street who promptly gets in the back seat with me, because she was also heading there. So the four of us are driving towards the Budva bus station; the two girls in the back terribly squished, because I had my big backpack by my side (another one of those tips my new friend, and all the forums, seem to be quite persistent about).

Dorian is even nice enough to escort me to the ticket counter to ask when the next bus will leave, because I don’t speak Serbian.

I was a little sad to hear that the bus will leave in 5 minutes, since that meant I wouldn’t be having coffee with my new friends. After saying thank you and shaking hands to say bye I was on the bus heading to Kotor.

I want to take this opportunity to say thank you to the two guys for taking me with them and for making my first proper hitch hiking experience a great one, and to say I am sorry to my mum for having done the one thing you told me never to do…

3 things you MUST bring with you when you travel

Besides the obvious passport, visa, hard currency, camera, and curiosity and patience…

  1. A large shawl

I don’t care if you’re a guy or a gal, you need one of these! My large pashmina a Pakistani friend gave me has saved me on several occasions. The weather can turn without much announcement in many parts of the world. This large shawl can keep you from getting completely soaked, keep your ears and neck warm or even work instead of a jacket sometimes. On top of this, it can double up as a blanket on bus or airplane trips or as a towel if need be. You can turn it into a picnic blanket and a head/shoulder covering when entering churches, mosques or other religious places.

  1. An unlocked phone

This might seem obvious, but make sure you have an unlocked phone on hand when you go to travel. Save all the important numbers on the phone, not the sim card and make sure you have numbers of hostels/couch surfers, embassies and whatnot saved. This phone can be as shabby as anything, as long as it can call and sms you’ll be fine. Getting local sim cards is cheap and easy.

Most of the world is starting to have wifi-hotspots, so I would also recommend taking your smartphone with you so you can keep in contact with your loved ones at home via whatsapp, skype and your blog.

  1. Flip flops

Make sure you travel light and bring as little clothing as possible, but don’t forget these babies. In the summer heat of some places these can keep your feet nice and airy and are a good alternative to your sneakers or hiking boots every now and again. They will also save you from attempting to get rid of fungus on your feet that you might catch from showers in hostels. They are also a comfortable alternative to walking barefoot into springs, fountains, lakes or rivers.

EXTRA!

Personally, I always take a diary with me when I travel. Bus journeys are always a good time to reflect on thoughts, feelings and experiences that have occurred in the last couple of hours or days. I have so many pages filled with messy, squiggly writing and sketches. Even if I don’t look back into the journals regularly writing things down by hand is my way of working through things. I get my thoughts and feelings in order like that. It’s very different to writing on the computer…which I do a lot for this blog now too.

How to get from the (Buharest-Athens) bus station to the city centre in Athens…or how not to do it.

Let me start off with saying that you should bring good shoes if you try to do what I did in Athens. I didn’t wear my hiking boots, so I got blisters. It’s my own fault.

Anyway.

I arrived somewhere in Athens at around 8 o’clock in the morning. I had no idea where I was. I just knew, I didn’t want to take a taxi to the city centre. I’m sure there’s a bus to somewhere. I set off to find a bus station, which I do very quickly. After waiting for a while and witnessing some funny secret cigarette sales the bus arrives. I, being as stupid as I am, got on to buy a ticket, but was told I had to get it at the kiosk. Of course. Whatever, I’m not going to wait another 15 minutes for the next bus to come, so I shoulder my backpack and start walking to where the bus took off.

If I walk along the bus stops I’ll get to where I have to go, right?

Yea, if I would actually follow the bus stops…
Somehow, I lost them…I don’t know how. But I followed the road signs to a square that was actually on the map in my little “South Eastern Europe” guidebook.

Inevitably, I got quite lost…looking up all sorts of streets I suddenly saw something that looked like it would be a large square. I walk towards it, and lo and behold there was a large square filled with cars, mopeds and tired pedestrians.

There was even a metro station!

I skip down the steps to the metro station, because I still had no idea where I was. After consulting my trusty map and the metro stations I conclude that I was one station away from the city centre.

Despite carrying a 10kg pack and my little backpack converted to a frontpack-with my water, passport and money in it-I decide that it’s not far enough to pay the E1,40 ticket. I head back to the square and go to look for the street I need to take. After a short couple of minutes of looking around I find it and am on my way to the Acropolis. It wasn’t until I had the first ruins infront of me that I realized that I was smack in the centre of Athens.

So to conclude…I could’ve just taken a bus that would have dropped me off exactly here, but I decided to spend quite a long time walking, searching and getting lost in this city with a 10kg backpack. I still think I made the right choice.

What’s your travel style?

Recently I read the following on a travel forum:

trees are made with roots, people with legs.
we are meant to wander!
and wonder, with both senses of the word!

Immediately, I was inspired to write a post about this coupled with the daily prompt from a couple of days ago: The happy wanderer.

What’s your travel style? Are you itinerary and schedule driven, needing to have every step mapped out in advance or are you content to arrive without a plan and let happenstance be your guide?

 

This is strange to write about, because I feel like my style is always changing…I seem to have two different kinds of travel.

  1. Work and travel

What I have done all my summers since 10th grade is work and travel. I would pick a country/region I wanted to see and then figure out what I was going to do there. It was important for my mum, and for me, that I didn’t just do ‘nothing’, that I was gaining work experience. I made sure to do jobs that I enjoyed (I am very proud to say that I have never had a job that I have not enjoyed doing!) Since this time I knew I wanted to help countries develop, and I thought that education would be the best way to do this. So I made sure to find programmes that would get me into this field of work.

So far, I’ve done the following:

  • I lived in a rural Romanian village for two months planning and running a summer school for the children. I was able to do this through the Austrian Embassy in Bucharest who run several programmes in this village.
  • Some kids and I worked together to create a play (pretty much from scratch) within the SOS-Childrens Village of Bucharest, Romania
  • I worked in a public school and a learning centre in Rural Nepal
  • I went to Oslo, Norway as part of the Summer University to take a course in Development and Globalization
  • I worked in an orphanage in a small town in Moldova for two months the summer after I graduated high school and was able to travel to areas of the Ukraine I hadn’t seen before either.
  • As part of my research for University, I was able to come back to Romania to get to know Bucharest from a very different angle.

What I have to say about the work I have done is that I was very, very lucky to have the opportunities I had. Many of them were due to the contacts my parents had with the embassy and certain people in high positions in certain companies…but also, I didn’t earn any money for any of these jobs. Mostly I was paid in smiles, food and lodging, and work experience.

Something I would never do is pay those $2000 prices to work in an NGO in Nepal for 2 weeks. There really is no need to pay that much. Life in Nepal is incredibly cheap. When I was looking for a place to work in Nepal that was EXACTLY what I wanted to avoid. I had been looking at places to work at for years in Nepal. Only when I found FACE Nepal did I feel like the price I paid was appropriate for what I was getting. And it really was. Nobody’s really making a profit there, except the people who benefit from the NGO. The programmes are incredibly volunteer driven, and I would recommend it to anyone.

  1. Going back to the same places

Some people might not understand why I like to do this, but I tend to go back to the places I have visited (several times). From what I have experienced, it is different every single time. The place changes, but I also change a lot. Over the last couple of years I have changed so much; my world views, my education, my political standpoint, my clothing style and the number of piercings I have. All of these things shape me as the person I am becoming. And I hope I will never stop changing. It is incredibly interesting to go back to the same place for different reasons. You get to know so many different faces of the same place; you get to see new things that you didn’t know existed. Because of this, I am very glad I went back to Romania for my research. The week before I left I had quite a negative episode, because I felt so silly for going back to Romania. My university colleagues were going off to India or Ghana, places they’d never been to before, and I went back to Bucharest…bleh. But boy am I happy I did. I got to know this place in SUCH a different light. It was truly an enriching experience. And it is not an experience I could have had in a place I had not seen from the point of view of someone who knows the beautiful side of the place. Had I gone to a city I had never been to, to do my research I would probably have a very different image of the place than I have of Bucharest.

  1. Long haul bus journeys-local style

It is only recently that I started visiting places without a real purpose other than seeing the place. I used to always have a purpose in the places I visited. A reason to be there other than the city itself. Yes, I would go sight-seeing, but the purpose of my visit would be a sports tournament, my job, visiting friends, etc.

I am still not sure how much I like going to places simply for the sake of going to them. It’s what I have ahead of me now though. 4 weeks of travel, for the purpose of travel. I hope I meet lots of interesting people, and that I get to live somewhat like a local. It’s what I love about the type of travelling I have done so far…living with locals, being able to truly feel what the culture felt like. I don’t know how much I’ll like jetting (in slow buses…) across city and country borders to see as much as I can in as little time as possible. Who knows, maybe I’ll find a place I like and I’ll stay there for 3 weeks working with an NGO or something. Probably not, but we’ll see what the next month brings for me.

I love to hear about the way different people travel. What’s your style?

Transnistria and its money…

The only money that you can change in Transnistria are US$, Euros, Russian Rubles, Ukrainian Rubles, Moldovan Lei and sometimes British Pounds.

So if you’re stupid like me, and you only brought what you thought you were going to spend in Moldovan Lei, and the rest in Romanian Lei, you need to go looking for an ATM. Finding them isn’t actually that hard, but finding one that (a) has money in it, and (b) doesn’t have technical difficulties at the time is a little more difficult. In the end I resorted to going into a bank. The first one didn’t recognize my card, but the second one did.

If you decide to get money out of a bank in this country, make sure you are patient, have a lot of time and don’t get worried too quickly. Have your passport, registration card and your bank card at the ready.

It took around 30 mins. To get some money, because the woman behind the counter had never seen an Austrian passport before. She had to check it out several times, ask her colleague and then make some phone calls before she could continue with the tedious data entry process.

The funny thing was that she couldn’t actually hand me any Transnistrian Rubles. She could only take out US dollars from my account, and then would have to change the dollars into Transnistrian Rubles. This really is a strange country.

Moldova’s independent regions: Transnistria and Gagauzia

Moldova in itself is a tiny landlocked country squeezed between the Ukraine and Romania and has played a role as a buffer between Europe and Russia. The country is incredibly split in this aspect of its politics…should they go towards a future with hopes of entering the EU, or should they start to make closer ties with Russia again?

Two areas where this debate is no longer necessary are Transnistria and Gagauzia. These areas have made their decision to join forces with Russia.

Transnistria

Transnistria is often called a de-facto state, but I am going to just call it a country. It has been working independently since 1990, a year after the fall of the Soviet Union in Moldova. It has its own parliament, government, judicious system, currency, university, flag, culture, and border patrols. Every Transnistrian resident has a Transnistrian passport as well as either a Moldovan, Ukrainian or Russian one.

Mostly Russian in heritage, the people feel a strong connection to Russia and thus are eagerly awaiting the recognition of the sovereignty of their state. From talking to Transnistrian teenagers I heard that many in their country are angry that they haven’t been recognized by the world because so many other states have. The example they gave me was Czechoslovakia and the creation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia when the country decided to split up. Transnistria has been an independent country for over 20 years now, and is still not recognized. In their point of view this was because of it’s strategic position as the border between the EU and Russia.

Having said this, within the country there seem to be two different views on independence. Due to the poverty in the country (with an income of around $US 150 per month and 2-bedroom-apartment prices between $US 80 and $US 150) some Transnistrians believe that their lives would improve if they were to become part of the Russian Federation again. The other part of the population wants to be a sovereign, independent state that can make its own decisions.

If it were to be its own country though, one thing they would need to focus on is options for youths, because one of the questions I asked the teenagers I talked to was whether they enjoyed living in Tiraspol and whether they wanted to continue to live here when they were done with school. As a response, I got that they did enjoy living here for now, but that they wanted to leave this country when they finished school. The most common answer was that they wanted to go to Russia.

Tiraspol is the capital and with its 200,000 inhabitants it is also the largest city of Transnistria.

As I walked out of the front door of the bloc I stayed in for the night and the cold, crisp air hit my face, I felt like I was sent back a couple of years to the time of the Soviet State. My new friend and guide, and I walked past trolley busses and huge, disproportionately large, empty boulevards to see the city centre of Tiraspol where statues and monuments overlooked the Sunday morning shoppers and market vendors. Past a Lenin statue and bust towards the University and the theatre until we reached Vadivostok park; half of which consisted of concrete roads that went through grass and patches of trees, while the other half consisted of old theme park rides and two gated playgrounds: one in Soviet style and the other in European style…this immediately made me think of the split of opinion of the nation…ironically the European playground was completely empty, while there was a small number of families in the Soviet playground. Foreshadowing?

DSCN5897

DSCN5894

DSCN5890

DSCN5880

DSCN5874

DSCN5865

DSCN5859

DSCN5850

DSCN5846

The country really did feel like the last part that was left of the USSR. It is a very strange place to be. It feels like its own country, but then again, I didn’t get a stamp in my passport on my way in. In some ways it feels like a normal small eastern European town, while in other ways it seems very Russian…that might be because everything is in Cyrillic and no one seems to speak anything but Russian.

Gagauzia

This region in the south of Moldova is not quite as independent as Transnistria. There are no border controls, they use the same currency as Moldova and the people have Moldovan passports. However, the region has some political autonomy and has made it known that if Moldova were to enter the EU, they would become an independent state…backed by Russia.

Although this city is a lot more welcoming than Tiraspol was, people still seem to only speak Russian. There are some signs written in the Latin script (mostly road signs), but most of the shops and advertisements are written in Cyrillic. As I go on my search for an ATM..because obviously all exchange places are closed on a Sunday afternoon…and since I had to give 100Lei to the border guard at the Transnistrian border (a separate post on my border experience is coming soon) I didn’t have enough to get me back to Chisinau. Anyway, as I go on my search for an ATM I find out that everyone assumes you speak Russian, and only a very, very, very small minority of the people actually speak Romanian or Moldovan. Anyway, at least I get to see a small part of Comrat, the capital city of the region, before I get on another bus to go back to Chisinau.

DSCN5899

Chisinau, Moldova

I had forgotten how beautiful Chisinau can be. The church with the golden roofs, the parks in the city centre, and the cathedral on the main road (Str. Stefan cel Mare).  I spent a lovely morning in Chisinau with an old friend.

Here, have a look!

DSCN5817

DSCN5826

DSCN5815

DSCN5811

What I enjoyed the most of this short stay however was something that cannot be photographed…or at least I can’t take decent pictures of feelings like that. I arrived at the main bus station of Chisinau at around 5:30 in the morning. The sun was up, but the streets were empty. The only people that were on the streets of the city at this hour were the street sweepers. They reminded me of a children’s book called Momo by Michael Ende about a girl who needs to save the world be getting it’s Time back. Awesome book. But back to Chisinau.

After walking around town this early in the morning, at around 7 o’clock I wander back to the market place where shop keepers are at different stages of setting up their stalls and some early-bird shoppers are already out getting their daily groceries. This feeling was just amazing. I walked along the different parts of the market for a whole hour. There is so much to discover! Whatever you need, you can find it at the Chisinau central market…be it knives, or forks, fruit, vegetables, chocolate, meat and cheese, bread, shoes, underpatns. You name it. You can probably get it there.

If you haven’t been to Chisinau…or any of Moldova for that matter yet, go! Yes, it’s an incredibly poor country with what seems to be the highest rates of slavery in Europe,but it’s also the country that is home to the famous Monasteries [insert link] and to amazingly calm, untouched nature. It is a country of agriculture with bustling market places and friendly people…for the most part.

 

 

American Vagabond, an opinionated review.

Sunday, the 23rd of March 2014 One World Romania Film Festival: American Vagabond.

I was so lucky to see this movie! I had seen the trailer a couple of months ago and had been waiting for it to be online to watch. I really wanted to see this movie about a young boy, who once his parents found out was gay ran away from/got kicked out of his parents’ house to go live on the streets of San Francisco with his boyfriend. It was only on Saturday that I realized this movie was playing at One World.

I had to see it.
And I was not disappointed.

Again, I do not know much about cinematography, but this movie touched me somewhere deep inside. It stuck with me and despite having been talking to many people who are homeless over the last week and quite a bit a few years ago, despite having read many stories, biographies, after having watched Children Underground, despite having seen people who are homeless on the street for my entire life, this movie shocked me. It’s quite different to read and hear from different sources that anyone can be put into a situation like this faster than you can think, but it was this boy’s, or should I say man’s (?), story that enraged me. It made me upset, it scared me, it pissed me off.

The only reason James had to go through all the hardships he went through and will probably have to face for the rest of his life was that he was gay. The only reason his parents no longer accepted him under their roof was because he loved another boy.

How, in today’s society, can something like this be a cause for homelessness? How can homosexuality be seen as something so horrible that you send your own child away to live a life of begging, stealing, poverty. Of hiding from the police, of scavenging for food and change.

Maybe it was the voiceovers with the scenes of where James and Tyler lived that made me cringe inside, maybe it was the story of these two individuals, and maybe it was because I have spent so much of my recent time with people so similar to them. I am not sure what it was exactly, but anyone who is interested in documentaries or homelessness should definitely watch this movie!

Something else that might have caused my closeness to this film is the fact that we were able to have a Q&A session with Susanna Helke [inert link to website] at the end of the film. It was amazing to see this woman in the flesh, and to hear her perspective on making the film. To hear that it took her four years to create this masterpiece, that it almost couldn’t have been finished because of certain situations James had gotten himself into…namely jail. It was great to hear about the hardships she saw and endured to make this movie. Truly inspiring.

If you are interested in these kinds of films, make sure to check out my new documentaries [insert link to tab] tab.

Europe’s most Illuminated Gutter (Part 3: Drugs)

One thing that I could not get around in my interviews (even if I didn’t ask about it) was drugs and drug usage on the streets. This is definitely a very important topic when discussing homelessness.

In my last post I quickly talked about Aurolac and how it used to be the spitting image of children who were homeless in Romania. I think this image is still upheld, despite the shift in drug usage among children, youths and adults who are homeless. People are still seen to sniff out of black plastic bags, but the more prevalent and dangerous drugs they are using now are what they call legal drugs. Nobody really knows what they are, but they are some bio pharmaceutics that can be legally bought over the counter at pharmacies once you reach the age of 18.

The major problem with this drug usage is that you need syringes to get high. Now, because many of these people are on a constant, or almost permanent, high they would need lots of syringes. Syringes are expensive…and why should you waste money on something that you could use over and over again? Now if each person had their personal syringe that wouldn’t be such a big problem, but since syringes are a communal good that is shared throughout the canal HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis are prevailing diseases.

I have also heard that drugs are the main cause of death on the streets. Overdose or drug related incidents have caused deaths of friends of every single person I talked to at the social centre.

But, drugs also equal money. I am here to destroy a very common misconception…people who are homeless are not poor. Yes, they live in what might be seen as inhumane conditions, don’t have enough to eat and cannot pay medical bills, but when it comes to money, they are not poor. One man proudly told me of his begging and stealing days in Western Europe where he would make E40 or E50 every day for three months. After that, he would come back to Romania and spend all that accumulated money (around E4000) on drugs…within 2 weeks.

As a drug dealer, even among the poorest of the poor, making E25,000 is quite a quick thing. It doesn’t take years to make that much money. Only a couple of trips to foreign countries and some good drug deals and some lucky golden necklaces that were stolen.

To put this in relation to Bucharest prices, I saw an advertisement the other day for a 2-bedroom apartment that was for sale close to the train station. It was for E35,000. Working for a couple of months on the streets could get you almost an entire 2-bedroom apartment in Bucharest.

I’m just going to leave that there for you to make up your own opinions.

I was told repeatedly, by several people, to not give money to the people that are begging, because they will just spend it on drugs. I was told that it’s better to give them food or some tea or coffee. Either way, someone who needs drugs is going to find ways to get them. And after having a man explain to me, in very much detail, how easy it is to steal something from unsuspecting, but also suspecting, victims, I wonder if it makes a difference whether you give beggars money or not…