Bună ziua, Romania!

The first thing that strikes you about Romania is that it’s stunningly beautiful. The second is that like many beauties, it’s complicated and has a troubled past.

Caught for centuries between the possessive affections of Germany, Austria, Hungary and Russia, Romania spent 50 long post-war years in an abusive relationship under repressive and autocratic communist rule. From 1965 – 1989, dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu’s  policies almost bankrupted the country and kept its people dependent and impoverished until it emerged blinking into the blaze of modern Europe a mere 20 years ago.

Oh, what they’ve seen — three beautiful farming women from Rasca.

Think about that. Virtually every Romanian over the age of 30 has a vivid memory of empty shelves, food rationing, security police “visiting” their homes at night, the collectivization of their land, and 22 hours a day of state television dedicated to poems about their fearless leader. As William Faulkner said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”  And nowhere is that more apparent than in Romania, where the majority of urbanites live in the loathed, butt-ugly Soviet bloc apartments that ring the outside of every city, even the lovely historic towns of Transylvania.

Enchanting old Cluj Napoca…

Meanwhile, the majority of rural people struggle to farm productively without a state Big Brother monitoring their every move. “We’ll pretend to work and they’ll pretend to pay us” was the ironic farming catch phrase under communism, yet under democratic rule, agricultural productivity dropped 90% in a decade. Unlearning communist stagnation seems to be harder than you might think.

Indeed, there are really two Romanias. A member of the EU community since 2007, Romania is a country of 19 million people: 50% living in sophisticated, developed urban areas and 50% living as subsistence farmers on land they just recently reclaimed from the state, clawing out a meager living on long, narrow plots of fertile land, driving horse-drawn carts, and herding their animals on communal pastures.

Gypsies (or Roma people) and Hungarians, shepherds and dairy farmers, the rural half of Romania seems centuries removed from the urban half– a fact that is both lovely and confounding.

Rural life in Romania is so challenging that millions of young people have moved to other EU countries, leaving older people behind to do the hard work of farming. It is in these rural areas that Heifer is working to improve nutrition and increase income through livestock projects and community development … and where I happily spent most of my time.

Now for the question that’s been on everyone’s mind: Yes, I did spend all my time in Transylvania. No, I did not see any vampires. And obviously, I will now be living for thousands of years in my own personal coffin.

I’m gonna live forever …in the Carpathians of Transylvania!

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Heifer International, Photography, Romania, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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24 thoughts on “Bună ziua, Romania!

  1. Cindie

    I always think of rough living conditions as being in Africa or Latin America. But look at this, Europe has some places like that, too!

    • I know — and in July, I’ll be traveling to Appalachia in our own country to see the poverty in our own back yard!! I was amazed at Romania both in its beauty and its lovely cities, but also in its rural poverty! Thanks so much for writing!!

  2. I am enjoying my trips with you. I had never seen anyone milk a sheep!
    Thanks for what you are doing.

    • Coming from Uganda, I’m surprised at that =- but I’m sure you’ve seen them milking goats. Sheep actually survive the cold winters better and the people love using the wool — something you don’t have to worry too much about in Nyaka!! (and the people prefer to eat sheep – they only use goat milk to make cheese. isn’t it funny how different cultures are in their food preferences??)

  3. Fascinating. I remember Then Husband talking about Bulgaria and the people’s struggles to overcome the mindset of Communism.

    • I think Bulgaria had a past more like Romania than Hungary, which has flourished more easily after communism. I really think you can’t underestimate the effect of having been told everything you can and cannot do for 50 years … it kills something in your spirit and makes
      you passive in a way that is difficult to change. So interesting to think about and grapple with!!!

  4. Romania and Albania are high on my list of places to visit! I’ve been to many of the former eastern bloc countries and loved them, something I found inspiring about the post-soviet state of mind – hard to explain exactly, but maybe an appreciation for things taken for granted elsewhere. Hope I get a chance to go soon…

    • I haven’t been to many former eastern bloc countries, but Romania was enchanting even while it was very poor in the rural areas. The people are getting back on their feet but it’s awfully hard when you’ve only got 2 hectares of land, no animals and no technology. I’m really glad Heifer is there and working to organize opportunity for the communities!

  5. Oh Betty, what a hard life some people have …

  6. Martha Radatz

    Thank you for introducing us to yet another fascinating culture. Reminded me of driving through rural Poland.

    • Martha — you’ve been so many places! I’ve never been to rural Poland, but I suspect it’s fairly similar. The only thing is, the Romanians apparently had a harsher regime under communism than Hungary, for sure, and perhaps Poland, too. Having had all your land taken away is really debilitating to the character of the people, and you can still see it in their faces … it was a fascinating trip!!!

  7. I can see the stories in the faces of the people you photographed. Beautiful photos.

  8. Once again I must complement you on your story and your pictures. I had no idea life was so hard in rural Romania since the fall of communism. I’ve also never seen a sheep being milked before.

    • I’ve never seen a sheep being milked before either — but I can say with some certainty that I’m now QUITE accustomed to it.
      They grab them by the tail as they come thru the chute into the pen and milk ’em in about 30 seconds. And then make the cheese
      right there on the sheepfold about 2 hours later, so they don’t have to refrigerate the milk. It’s amazing!
      But yes, life in rural Romania is hard — and I can’t wait to write more about it. SUCH gorgeous countryside!! So happy to hear
      from you, Rosie!!

  9. That post was an instructional one. I guess not many of us have seen Roumania, much less the milking of the sheep.

    As a child we spent summers on a farm, where I learned to milk goats. I imagine the experience is not that different.

    • Ronnie — Not too different at all — in fact, there are goats in the flock and they just milk ’em right along with the sheep. So the cheese is mostly sheep and a little goat. (can’t believe you’re such a farm girl!!)

  10. Betty, your photos are as great as your written content. So, what kind of camera, lens, and editing program do you use? Are you just an amateur with knack or did you learn how to take these colorful photos? (Rebecca)

  11. Thank you SO much, Rebecca!! I use a Canon T2i … and I bought a GREAT Tamron lens that’s 18 -270 mm… i love it so much because I never have to switch back & forth between my zoom and my regular. I use picasa to edit … not exactly terribly high-brow but i know how to use it, and since i’m a bit of a techno-dunce, that’s worth its weight in gold!!! I am so happy you like my photos — that means a LOT to me!!

  12. Beautiful people from different part of the world.. I love how you capture their faces, seemingly showing their openness and sincerity, which is result of your willingness and gentle spirit to reach them out thus makes them comfortable for being captured even in close angle.. Thank you..

  13. You are so welcome, Life & Everlasting!! I love taking photos of people and always try to show them pictures of themselves so then they really start laughing & relax. I love it when I capture what I think is their true spirit and beauty — that’s my favorite thing ever!!!

  14. Pingback: Vote Betty Londergan! | Heifer Blog

  15. Adventures in Kevin's World

    Ahhh… Romania. My October 2010 visit was challenging, as Romania is not always ready for tourism.
    But with time and perspective, it’s one of the most incredible trips I’ve ever been on. I probably think more about Romania than anywhere else I’ve been. I enjoyed reading your posts about this amazing place.

    • Wow, you’ve been around, Kevin — I have to check out your blog! Thanks for the link and yes, Romania definitely has stayed on my mind, too! I loved the countryside (mostly in Transylvania) as it was like something right out of Sound of Music — and the people (and FOOD!) were incredible. I was really lucky because I was being taken around by Heifer people from Romania so I wasn’t really a tourist … and that was so special! Thanks for writing!!

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