Government Corruption and Romania

Jeffrey Sachs appeared yesterday on my consciousness radar and I’ve started consuming him. I just watched this engaging talk about his most recent book “The Price of Civilization”. I loved to see the word “virtue” (a personal context which will become more clear when I complete and release my Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance project) in the book and video title and I loved to hear an academic, especially of economics recognize and highlight it.

One core theme that came up was the legalization of corruption in American politics. As I was listening to this talk I thought about the corrupt state of Romanian politics and I actually found comfort. Romanian politics and its corruption are immature compared to their American counterparts. They are more visible, more simple, more direct … and therefore (should be) easier to identify and deal with. They are not hidden behind an enormous body of government, libraries of legislation and vast economic empires. Romania is, still, a beginner in these domains and the corruption should be easier deal with.

If nothing else then this elaborate lecture indicats that Romanian corruption is not as unique or severe a problem as it is often made out to be. I suspect that it is actually a lesser problem. I suppose a ruler of some kind gives measuring context.

 

Walking Away From the King

I’ve donated to a Kickstarter  project called Money & Life. You can read more about why I donated to it on my personal blog. I am continuing to take in any existing video content I can find and I arrived at this too-short video … which touches precisely on the movitation for Cutia Taranului. I invite you to watch it and head over to the Kickstarter project page and make a donation. I really want to see this film and I want it to be available for many others to see.

 

This is the video that introduces the project:

Community First?

When we came to Romania I was socially drained. Despite recurring creative attempts, I could find no way to partake, contribute or benefit from society while living in Israel. As a result I came to Romania wanting to be left alone. I just wanted to retreat to our own place in the village, to create a self-sustainable life and forget about people.

Yet very shortly after we arrived here we started meeting beautiful people. People who shared our life values, who are on their own paths of exploration and discovery, people we could relate to, people we were drawn to (people who were English speakers … so instead of my Romanian getting better, Andreea’s English got better). I am not saying that Romania is made of up just these people, it isn’t, they are still a minority. But they are the people who kept appearing in our life. This took me by surprise.

Still, once we moved out to Bhudeva, we landed in a fairly reclusive lifestyle. The people are still there, but more distant and though the bonds are strong we see less of them. My Romanian is still coming along slowly because we spend most of our time here 🙂 Andreea is naturally socializing more then me through her interest and work with Feminitate and the fact that she is a native speaker.

When we moved out to Bhudeva the one thing we (I more then Andreea) wanted was to build a new house. That didn’t work out, and still hasn’t. We have begun numerous experiments including composting toilets, hugelkultur raised beds, natural poultry keeping, natural beekeeping which are fascinating and going very well. Yet very soon after we moved out we came to a sobering realization about self-sustainability. There is no such thing. Sustainability can only be achieved through collaborative effort. To put it more simply … sustainability can only be achieved in community. Yet community was a mystery to us (me more then Andreea).

Then came Cutia Taranului and spread its wings. It takes up much of our time and attention. Andreea spends much time on the phone talking to peasant families describing to them the project and then guiding them into it when they choose to join. She is also constantly monitoring and making sure that information flows smoothly between village and city. I have been very busy setting up all the technical aspects that she uses to contain all the information and vibrant energy that the project has created (and when need or opportunity present themselves I too speak about it) . Then we realized (it was more of a surprise to me then to Andreea) we are building a community. Though we are using technology to do it, it is a very real community where real people are connecting in real life around real needs … with real food!

Though I still feel an egoistic need to be in house that will better support and embrace us, we don’t even have plans drawn out for one. However we seem to be very busy building … of all things …  a community 🙂 I came here from a modernized, advanced, western-cultured country yet with a heavy load on my shoulders. I am now living a much simpler life in an immature country (there’s no way around it, as a country, as in an organized society, Romania … sucks) yet I feel at home amongst my neighbors and touched by a growing community of people all over Romania who’s values seem to much more aligned with mine. So much so that I feel that, working from the stomach up, there is a We, I am part of it … and We can do some great, sustainable things for Romania together.

To Find Our Place

“One of the most joyous things we can do is to find our place, the land where we belong. Having found our place, we snuggle into it, learn about it, adapt to it, and accept it fully. We love and honor it. We rejoice in it. We cherish it. We become native to the land of our living.”

Carol Deppe

Bhudeva Tour 2011

So we’ve planning for some time to summarize what we’ve done since we’ve moved out to the village 7 months ago so that we could share it all with friends and family – we’ve too busy working so we skimped on sharing. We kept putting it off till more stuff gets done but we’ve really slowed down and are proud to be doing less and resting more and these are the last hours of 2011 – so now seemed like a good time to do so. The list is really long and would probably tiresome for most people. Some of the things we’ve already written about extensively (to which we’ve added links in the text) and some we will write about in the coming weeks and months as we’ll spending much more times indoors. This post will be a visual tour of the house and around it so it will probably touch on most of the big things. A lot of the stuff will be revisited with more detail – so if there’s anything that interests you please do stick around 🙂

The images start yesterday morning when we awoke to the first real snow – the kind that stuck out an entire day and then some. The first thing we saw when we opened the door were of course (left to right) Indy, Loui and Harry excited to express their love and for breakfast:

Then, we looked up and a our winter-wonderland came into view.

And this is what it looked like outside

Half of the barn was converted into a residential palace for the poultry (ducks and chickens). The dogs are always passionate about helping with the flock because they are dying to get at their food (they love it even though they can’t digest it  … their poop is simply filled with yellow corn … which the flock take apart and eat … so in the end it doesn’t really matter).

The flock is kept indoors either because of weather (rain or fog … pour visibility gives hunters an advantage … and we’ve already lost a few chickens) or in this case because a new chicken has been introduced to the flock and we want her to get used to the place.

The other half of the barn is an improvised workshop.

In the barn attic we have wood stored for future projects. We decided to purchase a lot (6 cubic meters) so that it would season (dry) over time and be better suited for furniture use (yes, almost all of our existing furniture was built with green wood, we couldn’t get our hands on dry wood – this here in the Transylvania region of Romania knows for its abundant woods). Please excuse image quality – it’s pretty dark up there … and it was a hell of a job hauling all that wood up there (much easier to send back down).

The garage is still an ad-hoc storage space with everything from cardboard boxes, dried corn cobs (which we use for lighting the stoves), dog food, chicken feed, sacks of whole wheat (hung from the ceiling so the mice can’t get at them), one new barrel we managed to get our hands on for future rocket stoves, insulation materials and on and on.

We’ve summer kitchen (small one-room structure) into a winter pantry. We insulated the windows and placed in it a small radiator on the lowest setting to keep it from freezing. It’s got sacks of root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, parsley, celery, beetroot, onions, one last pumpkin) along with walnuts, white beans, a 120 liter plastic barrel with cabbages preserved in brine on top of which are a few pots (mice can’t climb the smooth metal surfaces) containing smoked meats.

Then there are the shelves containing … well loads of stuff … we made loads of preserved cooked vegetable-dishes (called Zakuska), pickles of various kinds … we’ll write about everything we made including recipes.

Then there is the freezer which contains lots of frozen vegetables, meat and backup bread (in case we are too lazy to bake any or don’t get to the village to buy some).

And finally a refrigerator lying on its side used as a mouse-proof storage box for everything that … well needs to be mouse-proofed (vegetables, dried fruits, cereals, wheat, corn-flour … and assorted things).

To complete the tour outside the house there is the humanure hacienda (which still isn’t dog-proofed) and the hay piles we are sinking because the dogs like to climb up and oversee their territories from up high.

The wood pile which includes scrap wood from demolition work, some uncut logs and some cut logs awaiting chopping.

Loui (the little puppy is growing and taking up a dominant position in the pack) popped into the frame as he heard something in the hill behind the house … he ran off and shortly after Indy and Harry joined him … they are odd bunch but they are definitely a pack … it’s sometimes amazing to see their instincts throw them into organized pack behavior.

We keep chopped wood in varying degrees of dryness stored in piles along the perimeter porch of the house.

Which concludes our outside tour and brings us to the house. You walk into a small hall (approximately 3×2 meters) which we’ve converted into a kitchen. In front of you is the door to our bathroom (used to be a pantry)

to the right our living room

and to the left our bedroom.

In our living room the large couch (left of the image) is a new one we built and Andreea temporarily furnished with a temporary mattress, some pillows and fabrics we purchased to make the final furnishings (we also got a sewing machine … so Andreea has her hands full on these winter days). The other “couch” is an old traditional Romanian bench again with Andreea’s superbly improvised furnishings. It too will be replaced by another home made couch. We still don’t have a table – so for now we have a tree stump.

We built two large shelves with large counter-tops to hold all of our books. The LCD screen is for the time being in the bedroom because we spend more time there (it’s very difficult = much work and much wood to heat both rooms … so during these cold days we spend most of our time in the bedroom!!) but it’s place is on the left-hand shelf unit … and it’s Christmas 🙂

Though the walls were painted fresh white, this room suffered from a very smoky stove … so the walls are … well an elegant smokey grayish color 🙂 This is culprit stove which Andreea sealed very well with heat-resistant silicon:

The bathroom is a very small space (1×2.5 meters) – we are very proud of the optimal use we’ve made of it. Front and center is a washing machine:

On the right is our hot-water boiler (wood-based with electric as backup) and our composting toilet.

And on the left is our shower stall – also home made with wood protected by yacht lacquer and a home-made drain built on a wood frame with a pond liner surface (much more on this project in a future post).

Our bed was one of the earlier woodworking projects as sleeping well (and healthy – on the floor there are humidity problems) was high on our list of our priorities. We want to add two dressers and a headboard – though that will wait to next spring.

The cabinet was a huge relief when it was finally completed (doors will be added eventually) since we finally had an accessible, orderly and safe place to store our things. Together with the living room shelves this is where almost all our (non-kitchen) stuff is stored. The stove (on the left) was our first experiment at rocket stoves and it has worked out great. It consumes much less wood (due to very efficient – high temperature burning) then regular stoves and because it is built from firebricks it has lots of thermal mass (unlike metal) – which means it acts as a battery and stores heat which is radiated into the room over an extended period of time. We’ve had subzero temperatures for many weeks and we light it twice a day for a few hours (it needs to be fed regularly) and we have a very warm room all day and all night long.

… and there is the LCD screen sitting on another traditional (and very elaborate) Romanian bench which will also be replaced in the future (it stinks of old and dying … and we are not so passionate about antiques – so it will probably not have a place in the house).

To put all of this in perspective it helps to revisit what all this looked like when we got to work in June – this is what the wall (behind the screen) looked like then:

I particularly like the views across the house – from the living room to the  bedroom

… and from the bedroom to the living room.

They give me a sense of wholeness that … feels good 🙂

Some other things you can’t see in the images:

  • We have running water … we started writing an ongoing series of posts about that process.
  • We use almost exclusively home-made ecological soaps (the rest are ecological, not yet home made).
  • We consume almost exclusively local produce … most from neighboring farmers (we don’t even visit the local market much) … even an excellent home made wine.
  • We’ve planned a beautiful hemp house that we couldn’t afford to build – but are now looking at an Earthship as a more feasible approach to construction for us. You can see what an Earthship construction process is like in this beautiful animation.
  • We’ve collected many seeds for our first food growing efforts in the coming spring – we are planning to try methods that are very different from local traditional practices. Everyone here has tilled the land and we haven’t … so we are pretty committed to our experimentation 🙂
  • We’ve arranged 200 meters of access road to our property with 40 cubic meters of stones.
  • We’ve collected huge piles of hay from a field and transported them home with a horse and carriage.
  • We’ve witnessed the slaughtering of pigs and have had to slaughter one of our chickens that showed signs of illness.
  • Andreea’s website Feminitate is nearing three years of online presence and will soon cross 1 million page views.
  • Andreea has attended and supported two home-births (both without a midwife present) … one of which I attended as a photographer.
  • Andreea has produced in collaboration with a close friend and fellow-doula a weekend Doula course which has been taught once in Cluj with excellent feedback … and a second (and maybe 3rd) course is booked in Bucharest this coming February with women in other cities taking an interest.
  • I can follow a conversation in Romanian but I don’t get enough practice to speak fluently … though I manage a bit here and there.

The last 6 months have been some of what of a race as something had to get done before winter set. We made it, with the grace of mother nature, in time. There is still endless work to do … but we can now find a pace that is pleasant and healthy. We have a home to live in and hopefully will have a much better home in a few years. We have grown stronger in mind, body, emotionally and spiritually.

In less then 3 hours this year will come to an end. It isn’t a significant event to us. Many times we don’t know what day it is and we have arrived in a life where for the most part it doesn’t matter. Whenever we get tired and need to rest we make it a weekend – regardless of the day of the week. We haven’t been to the city in weeks and look forward to not going there for many more weeks. We go there to take what we need and rush back to our little corner of the world and work to make it better and better.

Andreea had plans for us to go to the village to see the local firework display but those plans have changed. We have both showered. We had a wonderfully simple meal of rice and lentils, home made pickles and beetroot. We are in bed in a warm room in a clean house. We will soon hold a cup of dark red home made wine and, like many other days, watch something – a movie or a few episodes of Weeds … and then go to sleep … until tomorrow morning … when the calendars will show a new year but we will continue living our peaceful, abundant and constantly improving life 🙂

We feel blessed (and tired – which are not mutually exclusive) and wish you all find your own passionate paths of inspiration 🙂