As Project Iceberg continues to unfurl at a steady clip, I am continually finding myself in new and interesting places, meeting people that cheer my soul as I see them stand up and exercise their full rights as citizens in a democratic country instead of waiting around for politicians or the European Union to hand out gifts.
Yesterday I had the good fortune to meet some people from the local chapter of Food Not Bombs (Hrana Nu Bombe), who organized the first edition of what they are calling the “Autonomous Market” in an old, decommissioned synagogue here in Unicorn City.
Some of their members and other volunteers brought in clothes, books, magazines and other items, all for the purpose of being given away or exchanged to absolutely anyone who wanted it. Other members cooked and prepared a large amount of completely vegan (i.e. no meat and no cheese) food, again all free for the consumption of anyone who wanted or needed it.
If you’re in Cluj and you want to support these people or just follow along with their activities, their Facebook page is here. There’s not much else in terms of an internet presence as they do most of their organizing and communicating the old fashioned way, face to face or by telephone calls.
I’ve never been to a “Food Not Bombs” event in the United States but I have been to a number of “soup kitchens” or “food banks” and other places where food and perhaps other items are distributed free of charge to those in need. The massive difference is that in America people feel compelled to dole out a large dose of cheer along with the food and the clothing and yesterday there was virtually none of that in sight.
It’s a little disconcerting to be handed food by a sullen-face girl with bright blue hair who then yells at you to not throw away your plate if you want more food later but at the same time nobody can doubt the honesty and integrity of these folks. Amongst the pile of donated items were several Playboy magazines, none of which were very old, and it was refreshing to see those. No American event would ever allow people to donate those “just in case” it somehow irreparably damaged a homeless person’s psyche.
The old abandoned synagogue (called “Transit House”) had at least one working electrical outlet and some of the FNB/HNB folks plugged in a boombox. The music tended to lean towards angry, riotous punk/rock numbers, which wasn’t much to my taste but they did put on a couple of songs with a beat and I saw a couple of people tapping their toes. I couldn’t help but wonder what those long-departed Jews would’ve thought if they’d seen what would become of their house of worship but I think they would’ve approved in the spirit of tzedakah.
I used to be a vegan/vegetarian chef so part of me wanted to weigh in on what might perhaps be some more flavorful options for future cooking events but I kept my mouth shut because the food they did prepare was abundant and nutritious and the piping hot potato and carrot soup was enthusiastically welcomed by people who live on the streets in this cold and snow. Certainly it was a pleasant surprise to see such a repast prepared in a country where most folks seem to think that eating copious amount of meat is mandatory.
The FNB/HNB group may not be for everyone, with their anarchist music and vegan cuisine but absolutely nobody can fault them for not waiting around for someone to do something. Instead, they organized themselves (loosely, as befits their beliefs) and brought in a metric ton of clothes, items, games and food and distributed it all completely free of charge without making it a media spectacle or indulging in any Misery Pimping. For that, they have my complete respect.
I know a lot of people here in Romania and I know about their daily struggles and I also know that one of the hardest things to endure is feeling like you’re surrounded by selfish, corrupt thieves and that there’s no one else around you who is doing positive, good things to make this a better world to live in.
But I will tell you what I tell everyone I know – open your eyes. There are good people out there, right now, right here in your city, people who volunteer their time, people who donate food and clothes, people who exchange books, people who give their energy every day each in their own way to make this a better place, right here, right now.
You are not alone. And with all of us working together, Romania can and will be a beautiful country to live in, not just for me but for everyone, even the poorest and neediest among us.