As promised in my post on Zoso vs. Lets Do It Romania, the Woman and I most definitely participated yesterday and it went over simply fabulously.
I had to laugh like a loon because the people we went cleaning with started mocking Romanians who think like Zoso. Hey, they brought it up spontaneously, I swear! :D
If you read the original post, you saw I got an incredibly sweet and kindly informative comment from a member of the Let’s Do It team and I thank her from the bottom of my heart. The entire thing from top to bottom went exceedingly well.
I sincerely apologize for not doing my research beforehand, as I see that Let’s Do It began a few years ago in Estonia, which you can read about here. If what I remember is correct, Romania is the sixth country to participate in “Let’s Do It” and is by far the largest country ever.
The basic premise is that thousands of volunteers assemble to clean up garbage (rubbish) all on the same day, which was yesterday in Romania.
Yeah it was hard to drag our ass out of bed early on a Saturday morning, especially when we had found out the night before we were designated to go way the hell out in the countryside and several members of our team quit as well.
But once we got to the mall, which was the staging area, the energy there was phenomenal, as was the turnout. The number I heard bandied about was ten thousand people showed up in Cluj alone. I didn’t do a head count but it was quite a crowd for sure.
I ran into a few people I knew and everyone was in fantastic spirits. I had been confused as to whether or not we were going to have to buy our own gloves and garbage bags but the volunteers were handing them out by the armful. We also all got one super nice premium for Romania, a free T-shirt.
Since the Let’s Do It people are non-profit, it was a corporate sponsor which provided our shirts, in this case Nokia, so their logo was on the back. I’ve done volunteer work in Romania before and the volunteers are given T-shirts only for the duration of the event then have to be given back at the end, so free T-shirts was quite nice.
Instead of trying to guess at which sizes to make, all the T-shirts were of the “XL” variety, leading to some super cute pictures I’ve seen of kids wearing their enormously over-sized “Let’s Do It Romania” shirts. Aww…
The shirts also gave everyone a uniform, which like all uniforms, builds camaraderie and team spirit. In most cases, people were in larger groups and had already arranged their transportation. Due to last minute defections, The Woman and I were on our lonesome with nary a bicycle between us.
In yet another demonstration of good karma, we got pair off with three other people and headed off to form “Strike Team 58794” to head way out into the countryside to pick up garbage.
Two of the people in our team were brother and sister and the driver was the fifth guy, whom none of us knew prior to 20 seconds before we got into his car. It turns out he had quite a nice and spacious “Jeep” or SUV so the Romanians were quite relieved to be riding in such comfort on our long trek.
Hilariously, even though the four Romanians in the car were all locals, I was the only one who had been near to where we were going, so I got to sit up in the “shotgun” seat and navigate.
The actual conversation (in Romanian):
Driver: Oh Iara? I’ve lived here my whole life but I have to admit I’ve never been there.
Me: Oh well, I’ve been there. In fact, I know exactly how to get there from here, including a shortcut on some back roads.
(all Romanians eyebrows rise)
Driver: How is it an American knows where Iara is?
Me: Oh well, I used to know a guy who played for their football (soccer) team.
Hehehe… you right remember that lovely town from my story about the Saddest Soccer Game Of All Time. Oh mercy, how ironic and now we were going there to clean up garbage.
Iara, for all its rustic charms, is actually a comuna, which has a few thousand residents, a bar and a couple of stores. And an intersection. Where we were going was two villages beyond that, to an extremely rural area.
Some of the roads were rudimentarily paved with asphalt but others were bumpy, jolting rock and dirt roads where we could barely drive faster than a goat could walk. I know everyone in the car was thinking thank god we’re in this big Jeep with good ground clearance and not some old beater sedan type car.
I mean we were way the heck out in the country, encountering all the usual Romanian rural treats, including yes a flock of something crossing the road (in our case, super cute piglets), rascally dogs running around, old ladies with head kerchiefs and glinty-eyed peasants sitting on wooden benches who give you a hard stare as you pass by.
At one point we were crawling around the side of a rocky, mountainous pass just beyond the village of Masca (literally “The Mask”) and realized we’d been driving for hours and were close to our objective but we just couldn’t find it.
Therefore by general consensus we called a rest break and clambered out of the car to stretch our legs and attend to personal necessities. Although we had found Iara easily enough, the problem was we were trying to find an illegal garbage dump somewhere out in the middle of nowhere with no fixed address.
All we knew was the exact GPS coordinates and we had a printout of a satellite view from Google Earth from 2003. I won’t digress into an analysis of GPS in this country here but let me say that Senor Google Maps works a heck of a lot better in urban settings in Romania than it does in the countryside.
The Woman’s phone has a simplified Google Maps “app” on it with GPS and while it helped get us close, just was unable to give us close enough coordinates to help pinpoint a garbage dump.
I’m standing next to the car, the phone in my hand to see if I can get more satellites when a local Filthy Vagrant gypsy approaches us in a rickety wooden cart pulled by a horse. He is extremely tanned from being outside all day and his eyes have a slightly glazed tilt to them.
We begin by asking him about where certain villages like Masca are in an attempt to get ourselves oriented with the printout satellite view map we have. Meanwhile I’m fiddling with The Woman’s phone to see if we can get the GPS to help orient us a little better.
So the gypsy in his cart was sitting there, suddenly coming across a group of five urban Romanians in a fairly luxurious vehicle, one of whom is talking about GPS and another is holding a piece of paper printed out from a computer.
Finally he interrupts all our chatter:
Country Gypsy: Okay, okay, forget all that. Just tell me the name of the place where you want to get to.
Driver: Uh, well it isn’t a place. Actually… we’re looking for a pile of garbage.
LOL oh lord I wish I had a photo of the expression the gypsy had on his face. He would’ve responded the same if we had said “we’ve come looking for magical fairy dust”, I do believe :P
The good news is finally we did find it and what a trash pile it was. Essentially it was an extremely steep ravine on the side of a mountainous, uncultivated hill and so therefore nobody lived closed by. It was a convenient place to throw trash for certain people in the area.
I’ve been in a lot of rural places in the United States and there’s a similar custom there as well. There’s some kind of human instinct that if it’s “out of sight” then it’s “out of mind” and therefore a steep ravine makes a convenient “chute” for the trash.
It was disgusting, smelly work with treacherous footing and I vomited within the first 60 seconds of starting work. Other than that though, we scrambled into action downright heroically. At the final tally we got 30 large trash sacks completely full, 8 or 9 of those sorted into various recyclable categories such as aluminum or glass.
Sadly, there was some trash we couldn’t remove because it was embedded into the earth or too bulky. And we also ran out of trash bags before we “harvested” as much as we could, and that’s despite the fact that we recovered several empty fertilizer sacks to use as garbage bags as well.
As any archeologist or detective could tell you, when you dig through someone’s trash, you learn a lot of very interesting things. Among other things, we found an expired ATM card from this year, which clearly showed it was somewhat recently discarded.
Also we must’ve filled five or six enormous bags solely with aluminum cans of Golden Brau beer. That was literally the only brand we found, meaning that it all came from one source. Another identifiable culprit was a drug store or medical facility because we found a ton of syringes and old bottles of medicine and boxes of pills.
All of the syringes I found (including one with a wicked needle still on it) were glass, something I’ve never personally seen before.
Probably the most odious of all trash dumping culprits was whoever was tossing enormous piles of soiled, used diapers in that ravine. Whew! Good lord it’s hard enough changing one diaper of a child you care about. Digging through soggy, disintegrating piles of someone else’s bulging diapers is a freaking nightmare. Mercy.
I have a personal philosophy that whenever you realize you are having a unique experience, stop and look around your environment for a souvenir. That way, later on when you see it again, it’ll instantly remind you of that time.
In this case, out of the pile of dumped medical supplies I found a tiny bottle with a strange script on it. I saw that it was still sealed and so whatever was inside was still intact and not contaminated by the environment.
I peeled off my filthy, stinking rubber gloves and brushed off some dirt and showed it to The Woman, who said it was some kind of aromatherapy oil. I gently twisted the cap and cracked the seal. Inside was the most wonderful, amazingly intense floral scent, like an entire greenhouse of flowers in a bottle.
Standing there on the slope of an enormous pile of rotting garbage amidst the stinking detritus of modern society and then having that one tiny drop of purity and freshness and good things was just heavenly, it truly was. I then closed the bottle and tucked it into my pocket and made it through the rest of the clean-up with no problem.
After we finished filling up all the bags we had, we stopped for a moment to chug some liquid, peel off the gloves and yes, just as Zoso predicted, take a few pictures. Why not? In the space of about 90 minutes we had hauled up a tremendous volume of garbage.
Furthermore, just as I surmised beforehand, the ravine was the natural run-off watercourse in the area and at the bottom of the valley we saw a water treatment plant. Therefore the chemicals and metals leaching from the garbage go straight towards people’s drinking water, which is criminal.
Then we flew home in the Jeep, this time a little easier because we took a longer but better paved route. As we approached Cluj from its western boundaries, everyone in the car said the same thing, “Ah, back to civilization”, which while crass is nonetheless completely accurate ;)
Once we got home, The Woman and I saw via the internet that the turnout had been tremendous and the enthusiasm was infectious nationwide. I bet you anything there’s more than a few Zosos out there today feeling guilty because they missed the bandwagon on something good.
I read tons of funny and amazing stories online and then this morning I met two other Romanians from other teams and heard their stories. Quite clearly, it was a smashing success. Seriously, three cheers for Let’s Do It Romania!
As The Driver in our group said when we were done, “Well we’ve all paid for a few sins here” and that was exactly the sentiment I think all the participants felt, to the better. Romania is a mind-blowingly beautiful country who has been misused and abused over the years and it was quite wonderful to treat her well again.
Cal me a hopeful fool, but a few more successful volunteer actions in Romania like this one and the government might actually decriminalize optimism! :P
And as a final bonus, if you look at the flashing link for Let’s Do It Romania on the sidebar, you’ll see it’s now changed to “We did it Romania! Romania is clean thanks to my help”.
Other blog stories (in English) that I’m aware of: