Victoria Waldthausen - Creative & Performing Arts, Drama in Romania
Writing this article was like savouring the last piece of birthday cake: you want to enjoy every delicious bite before the last rose made of icing melts on your tongue and before the last crumb of chocolate disappears from your plate.
But thankfully birthdays are one of those glorious events that you know will come again in a year, so the sadness at the last sight of wrapping paper, at the candles blown out, or at the last piece of cake devoured, remains only for a moment. This article, however, truly is the last one I am writing of my experiences in Romania, and with my stay ending in December 2012, these words have lingered at my fingertips ever since.
Now, immersed back in the real world, I long for the freedom I felt in Romania, for the hills of Transylvania, for the beautiful autumn foliage, for the winter nights filled with friends and vin fiert, and the snow that is now covering the beautiful city of Brasov. I never knew I could long so much for the friends I made and the experiences I had—all in only a two-month timespan.
So what is the final story I have left to tell?
Part of the Romanian drama project, in addition to teaching, is gathering the volunteers and putting on a play to perform for the orphanages around Brasov. After some brainstorming, we decided on a classic: Beauty and the Beast. Good morals, funny costumes, and a happy ending. It can’t get much better than that (although, I may as well admit that we didn’t have dancing dishes or a French-accented candelabrum, taking inspiration from the actual fairy-tale rather than looking to Disney for ideas).
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. English-speaking volunteers putting on a play for children who don’t speak English? Sounds like a recipe for disaster. With a lot of (sometimes tedious) practice and coordinating of schedules, we rehearsed a pantomime that would be accompanied with a Romanian narration, first learning stage directions in English, before venturing to the Romanian version of the story.
Working together on Beauty and the Beast, and having the additional challenge of familiarising ourselves with the Romanian language, taught us how important it is to work together and really listen, even to a language that was new to us. We learned how to pick out certain words so that we were acting in accordance with the narration, a skill that didn’t just help for the performance, but also for everyday life in Brasov.
The greatest reward, of course, was seeing the smiles on the faces of the children (most of whom were under the age of seven) when we had finished performing and when Ali, our narrator and translator, asked them questions pertaining to the play. We all know that Beauty and the Beast teaches us to look past a person’s exterior—past the superficial aspects that many societies have instilled in us as being important—and to instead take the time to discover a person for who they really are. Hearing these kids, many of whom have an unknown future, talk so optimistically about the importance of seeing and appreciating a person for who they are, was one of the most touching moments of my trip.
Meeting volunteers from around the world
And where better to apply a moral like this, than with a bunch of volunteers from around the world who are thrown together and, almost by default, become friends. In the one, two, or three months that you spend in Brasov, you may get to know more about your new-found friends than you ever thought was possible, and, at least in my experience, learn to really appreciate what they can bring to the programme (and, if you’re as lucky as I have been, to your life even after the program has ended).
Of course, it always depends on what the volunteers decide to bring to the programme. Most approach the experience positively, and full of energy and ideas. Trips like this are not just altruistic experiences, but also opportunities for them to see a new part of the world and to get to know cultures different from their own. They are a way for volunteers to open their minds to the traditions and customs of people in a new environment.
For others, whether it is intentional or happens naturally as a result of distance from routine, it can also become an adventure of finding a part of themselves that may have gotten lost in the chaos of every-day life. Being forced out of our comfort zones can be the best way of rediscovering the bits and pieces of our selves that have gotten lost in the rubble along the way.
Life after volunteering in Romania
I have now settled back in at home, a place I am always very happy to come back to. However, the nostalgia of two-months well spent remains. I think fondly of my time in Brasov, of the good days, of the exhausting days, and of the freedom—sometimes scary but, when looking back, always worth it—I had to do something completely new and different.
I may not be in Romania anymore, but memories bring their own kind of magic. They are special because you tend to always remember the good ones: the kids you taught and the appreciation they showed when you left, the friends you made, the late nights, the laughter, the host family that you never understood but felt a connection to nonetheless.
What has all of this taught me? Probably that while savouring a last piece of birthday cake is always a moment of complete enjoyment, the knowledge of its yearly return makes it a memory that is quickly forgotten. The memories of this unique experience, however, will provide me with stories for many years to come.