As a way of portraying different aspects of life in Romania over the last nine months, and feeding back on the experiences I’ve had, I’m going to write a series of “a note on” posts focusing on a separate topic in each post. Coffee may seem like a slightly odd place to start this series, but bear with me.
If you’ve spent much time around cyclists you may have noticed that we can get pretty serious about a good cup of coffee. Whether it’s Team Sky riders pointing at the coffee machine on the latest video tour of their infamous bus, weekend club riders ordering that double espresso or trendy fixed riders waiting for a flat white in Shoreditch – the coffee matters. The same fate of coffee snobbery had befallen me whilst cycling and studying in Sheffield, only pandered to by the opening of boutique café Tamper Coffee. I took just one packet of coffee with me when I flew out of Luton last September, and it looked like the coffee love affair was about to take a hiatus.
It was to my delight, then, to find people on the team I was joining that were equally serious about coffee, most notably the Swedes. Thank goodness for that, I might have sacrificed having running water where I was living for the last two months I was out there, but coffee is a big deal. The Swedish have this great invention “fika”, a kind of suped up coffee break accompanied by at least one kind of cake. The need to uphold this cultural tradition, and to keep the caffeine levels of the team topped up, means there is a fairly constant supply of nice coffee from Sweden or the UK. Addicts? You decide.
The most important point I want to make about coffee, though, is the impact it has had on my working day. I worked predominantly on the greenhouses team, installing and helping to maintain greenhouses to promote self-sufficiency. This often involves visiting the families we are working with, to see how they are getting on, and if things are going well it’s quite common to be greeted with an enormous smile, and invited in for a coffee. I remember this as quite an awkward affair in the first few months. But by the time I’d learnt enough Romanian to keep a basic conversation going it offers the perfect opportunity to build relationship, beyond discussing the progress of their tomato plant seedlings. Although the Roma people are much maligned by the media, often with good reason, at the end of the day they are just people. Perhaps very different to what might be considered “normal” but still kind, loving, funny people. And by spending more time with them in these situations I got to see a more gentle side of the people we work with. I’m looking forward to seeing more of this, and more coffee, when I get back in the autumn.