It must be wildly inappropriate to talk about a Romanian winter as this much hyped heat wave continues to grip the UK, giving us a glimpse of a real summer, as well as something else to moan about. But I’m going to anyway.
I’d heard fabled stories about long, dark, tough Romania winters on both of the previous occasions I had visited NetWorks before heading out long term last September. Tales of living in the same thermals and not washing for weeks, frozen fingers fumbling on office keyboards and battling through for the arrival of spring. What I imagined to be at least partial exaggerations continued over the induction weekend, “brace yourselves” was effectively the message. And it was hard to take seriously with mild temperatures lasting into early November.
A sudden shift in the dominate weather pattern was enough to bring the first snow, and the first heavy snow in mid-December. This was officially cold, freezing in your nostrils, breath condensing in your bedroom of a morning, 6 layers of clothes, cold. Winter had arrived. It’s not so unbearably cold that it hits you immediately, and the shift is almost a novelty to begin with- but twelve weeks later when it’s still snowing at the beginning of March it really begins to wear. Fortunately as a team we were able to get through with a combination of grim determination, deep sarcasm in morning meetings and vast quantities of firewood. I now have axe wielding skills to rival Gimley.
This is also very challenging time of year for the families we work with, although some will have made some provision to have wood to burn in their homes, other more vulnerable families may be constantly faced with the threat of running out. This is a serious problem when day time temperatures can hover around freezing for weeks at a time. We do have wood which we hand out to those in desperate need, but choosing who to give to is far from easy. We also try to make sure people are not dependent upon us, which makes the task even harder. Luckily one of the things I have seen in abundance working with the Roma is resourcefulness. Cycling out to the forest with nothing more than a simple axe, and returning with a weeks’ worth of wood skilfully balanced on the sloping top tube is a regular occurrence. Despite this I really struggled at times knowing that when I left the community at the end of the day I could go home to a fire and a big plate of food, leaving these people we were trying to help in such tough conditions. Of course if we lived the same way as them we would struggle to do the work we are doing, and they would have survived many winters before I’d even heard of Romania, but it’s still a hard one to fathom out.
The bad news is that the winter we’ve just had was fairly mild compared to some years, who knows what the next one will bring. The good news, I should be there to see it.