On Altruistic Garbage Picking at National Level, Charitable Head Shaving, Hard Existentialist Questions, and Nightmares of Teeth Falling and Dogs Jumping Off Balconies

I sought out Oana Brătilă while in Bucharest in 2011. I found her on the internet while I searched for people and organizations that managed to do positive things. She was part of an organization, Let’s Do It, Romania!, that advocated for a clean Romania. As I traveled by train across Romania I could not ignore the amount of trash that littered the entire country. It was moving to me that a group of youngsters wanted a clean Romania and tried to do something about it. I sent out emails to all the organization’s leaders, and Oana responded. We met twice on that day. First at a tucked away spot, then later in the day we went together to a theater performance that took place in a bus that drove around midtown, and after that we sat on a park bench by one of the busiest areas in the city, Unirii Square.

Oana Brătilă: So, do ask me…
Ella Veres: Well, I believe it’s July 7th and we are here at a nice café on a terrace and they’re sprinkling a mist from time to time. You’ll soon hear its hissing.
O.B.: Do you like it? It’s quiet.
E.V.: Sure, sure, and I’m here with Oana and now she’ll tell us what is Let’s Do It, what did they do and what shall they do and what is Oana doing with Let’s Do It.
O.B.: We started Let’s Do It Romania two years ago, in the fall of 2009. The project was initiated in Estonia, three years ago. We were several people around the country who were pleasantly surprised of what happened in Estonia. They mobilized themselves and in one single day they cleaned the entire country.
E.V.: Which country is much smaller than Romania…
O.B.: It is smaller, and it was interesting to find out that garbage is everywhere because they shall do it in Austria too, and you’d wonder what is there to clean in Austria?! But alas there is what, because we clean areas in nature, we don’t do cleaning inside cities, so in Austria their cities are clean, it’s okay, but if you go into the woods and so on, you find garbage. You know the saying: Fiecare pădure e cu uscăciunile ei/Every forest has its dry wood, probably there are there too people who throw about garbage in natural areas.
As I’ve said several of us were impressed by the Estonians, and at that time I was writing on a PR blog and together with another writer, we posted an entry about it, just to put out there the idea, which led to a conference! And a speaker presented what happened in Estonia thanks to the social media, and how great would be to have this happen in Romania too. And from the right side of the room several piping voices eagerly agreed and during break I went and told them I’d like to help too. There were just four people then, with me five, and since I’d just graduated in Communications and PR, I could be active in that area. At that time I was deep in twittering, facebooking, blogging, so on.
At the beginning we had a zero budget, zilch, everybody was volunteering. We had no sponsorship, no one knew about our initiative. The first months when we went to present our plans to various companies, they declared us crazy, such plans, to clean Romania in one single day, were not feasible. We’d tell them about Estonia, they’d say, "Estonia’s not Romania, our people won’t come out to do garbage cleaning." It was strange that everybody had this same reply, “The others won’t come out to do it.” I’d tell them, “Well, if you come out, and if all those who say the others won’t come out, come out, then everybody will end up coming out!” Unfortunately we got used to saying we won’t move a finger because of the rest of us.
So we started with zero budget, but we said let’s campaign on line, on Facebook, on Twitter, where you didn’t need money, just human resources and time. We created a cause on Facebook, Let’s Do It, Romania! to clean our country. The advantage was that online people are very open to such initiatives, and when they see someone getting involved in such actions, they join. So it grew organically. The cause reached 10,000 members in two months, and it kept on growing, becoming the largest cause in Romania which helped us a lot. With this we managed to reach sponsors who though they didn’t trust that the project would roll on in September, still it was a good promotion for them to have the 60,000 cause members see that they were supporting our cause. Others, when they saw who was already sponsoring us, wanted to do it too, and so we succeed. The greatest pride we take in this is that from zero we grew into something big.
I joined this movement not out of ecological reasons, the rest of the team were part of eco non-profits dealing with cleanliness, with recycling, so on. I’d never been part of such activities but I was very much attracted by the social involvement aspect. I’m one of those people that never wanted to leave Romania. I’m not one of those who said, “Fuck all this!” and left for another country hoping it would be better there. So wanting to stay here, I actually did it out of selfish motives, to improve my life here. Others don’t understand that being part of such projects they don’t fight for the planet at large, but for themselves, to have a better life. Many said, “Why should we clean after others?! We don’t throw garbage about, why should we do the cleaning?!” I’d reply, “Okay, but if you have guests over at your house and they leave behind garbage, what do you do? Live amidst garbage since you didn’t generate that garbage? In the end you live here and you have to clean for yourself, not for others.”
I wanted very, very much for the project to succeed because what I feel that Romania still needs is for people to gain trust in themselves, and in those around them, because Romanians don’t trust each other. “The project won’t succeed because the others won’t get out.” But we managed to gather 200,000 people, which was an extraordinary beginning. Sure, compared with other countries this was a much smaller population percentage. In Estonia it was 12% if I’m not mistaken, much better than our 200,000 which out of 20 millions, is 1%! [Laughs] But it was a beginning.
This year we hope to get out 500,000, and slowly, slowly, even more. What’s important is that people saw that it is possible, and they gained some confidence. [Birds chirp loudly] Often times I’d cry out of frustration, feeling that it wouldn’t work out. I went to various festivals, and I’d see how much trash people left behind. I’d give them a sticker with Let’s Do It, Romania, and they’d peel it off, stick it on their bags, and the rest of the support paper they’d throw on the ground. I’d be stunned, “Okay, you understood that the idea is to do some cleaning, so what are you doing then by littering?!”
Well, there are beautiful initiatives but you run into ugly obstacles while trying to turn them into reality and you have to find the strength to not let them demoralize you, because there will be moments when you give up, thinking nothing will come out of it, you’re just losing your time, and there’s nobody joining you, and so, what for?! and so on. But at the same time during this process of trying to do something good you bump into people who are very, very cool. And you realize that it’s worthwhile for those few ones. Then you realize there are many, many cool people but they are isolated all over the country, and they don’t know about each other. Here you are, one small denizen, surrounded by crappy people, but over there, there is another person as cool as you are, but who doesn’t know you exist. So practically thru this kind of projects you manage to gather all these people together, and when many cool people get together it’s an extraordinary feat, because they can accomplish very many things together.
They only have to realize that each of them counts, and adds up.
We have the same problem here with voting, with social responsibility. They don’t go vote because anyway so and so will get elected. And so nobody goes to vote because so-and-so will get elected anyway. Whereas if all of them would go and vote, they could elect someone else, and so on. But this is the mentality, ‘Oh, it makes no difference one way or the other,’ when actually it matters very much.
So in the end for me this project was important because besides cleaning the country from its garbage, we also managed to demonstrate that there are many super-cool Romanians in this country who if they meet each other and unite can do good things.


E.V.: But how did this play out practically? You decided that on such and such day you’d all go out pick garbage, rain or shine?
O.B.: Yes, we decided that September 25th was cleaning day. Over all it was good weather, but see, it’s hard to announce, “If it rains, we cancel it.” If it rains where?! It’s very hard to have a sunny day in the entire Romanian territory. Were it to be storm and heavy rain in 90% of the places, of course we’d postpone it for the next week.
We communicated very actively. We were able to promote our campaign on TV. We kept on announcing, September 25th National Cleaning Day. It would have been way uncool to postpone it since it got imprinted in people’s mind.
And I should add that people didn’t remember it as Let’s Do It, Romania.
Oh, we had problems at the beginning, ‘Why is it named in English?! This is Romania! Why can’t you call it something else?!” So we explained to people that it was an international project, there already had been a Let’s Do It Estonia, Let’s Do It Latvia, Let’s Do It Lithuania and we adapted that concept here, but in the end we announced it as National Cleaning Day September 25th, so no one would have issues with it being in English!
The project had two stages: first we mapped out the garbage in the territory. We needed a lot of volunteers for that, hundreds of them. They went with their cars and GPS on various routes and wrote, “Here is a pile of garbage this size, at the so-and-so coordinates.”
Only in nature, since in the cities there are paid people who do the cleaning. Though many citizens thoughtlessly blame it on this when they dump their garbage on sidewalks, there is a paid staff to clean after them, isn’t it? It’s very hard to change their mentality over night.
But when you go have a picnic in nature, no one is paid to clean after you and it is your responsibility to have the decency to pick your scum after yourself.
We tried to cover all counties, but it varied since we didn’t have evenly-distributed human resources, we had no sponsors. People paid for their car gas out of their pockets.
E.V.: But how did this play out? Tell me about your September 25th day, how you got up, dressed…
O.B.: On 25th?
E.V.: Yes.
O.B.: After we finished the mapping, we had a digital map on the internet with focal points. You registered on the site and signed up for cleaning a particular pile of garbage. A team had minimum five members, and I said, ‘Well, I shall pick these piles nearby Bucharest.’
Actually we went to Prahova River area, in Ploieşti County.
At nine in the morning you had to be at the town hall or other designated location. You’d wake up, put on heavy boots, not sandals or dainty, high heel shoes, jeans, boots, not like now, [She wears a cute red dress with polka dots.] since you went to garbage pile areas. So jeans, boots, and a T-shirt with Let’s Do It Romania! written on it. We hopped in a car and went to the town hall where we had to wait for the mayor to get up, though he was supposed to be there at nine o’clock. We met other teams and we waited until the guard called the mayor. Finally he came, his alarm clock didn’t ring, whatever, Romanian style. We were lucky he showed up, there where places that they didn’t bother. Anyway, the mayor checked you on the participants’ list, gave you gloves and plastic bags. We managed to get 90% sponsorship for gloves and garbage bags, but the gas was again paid out of the volunteers’ own pockets.
People spent about €600,000 themselves on gas, gloves, bags, so on.
And we went to find the piles according to the GPS coordinates.
For me it was a huge shock. The day of 25th September was not how I expected it to be. I expected to go back home happy, “Oh, what a huge accomplishment!” But I arrived home dispirited, demoralized, almost in tears, because as I said I’d never been part of eco initiatives, and I never did garbage cleaning. It’s one thing to hear how dirty is the country and another thing to go and see it for yourself. When you see piles of garbage with all kinds of unimaginable things… We even found IDs! We thought of taking them to the owners to slap them in their face, put them to shame since that was undeniable proof that they were the ones that threw that garbage.
E.V.: Maybe they were robbed and the pickpockets dumped their IDs…
O.B.: Yes, one can’t know for sure. But there were piles of garbage by the fields that peasants were working on, and we saw them throwing their garbage as we were gathering it! Imagine the feeling we had. Horrible. The worst way of saying, “I don’t care!” That’s what they were saying by throwing more garbage. I’d ask them, “Why are you throwing it here?” They just thought that it was normal to throw it while we were picking it up. They gave no answer.
True, in many places there is no infrastructure. People don’t have their garbage removed in the village, so they dug their own garbage dumps, but they are not ecologically made, just mere improvisations. Some are holes in the ground, some are mountains of garbage piling on the soil, and it started small but gradually everybody threw their garbage there, and so they got used with it, “That’s the village dumpster.”
They are not aware that what they are doing is damaging to the environment. This is how it’s always been. That’s how they live their lives.
I tell you, it floored me. After I worked for so long on that project, I was super optimistic, “So many people joined and they’re all coming to clean Romania!” But once you get out there and you see how much of it there is, because besides the piles of garbage we had mapped out digitally we found more of them in the field, and you realize that what you’re doing—we had 6,500 piles registered, and we collected about 550,000 large garbage bags—a nd when you realize that this is actually a very small part of what it’s out there, it hits you. [Laughs] You have moments in which you think, “It’s nothing you can do. This is how things are.”
But I preserved my optimism, since this was at least a matter that you could really do something about, because in this country there are so many things going wrong.
For example it’s the death of me what goes on with the health care system. When I hear what people go thru in hospitals and so on, it kills me. But what kills me even more is the realization that I cannot do anything about it. That I, Oana Brătilă, a mere little denizen, I can’t change the health care system. However I could do something in this cleaning enterprise, and anybody could do something about it. We can always get together and do some cleaning, we can pick up a pile or two. We can do more than just sit about complaining, which does nothing.
There were many naysayers, as I told you, “Why should we gather? Why should we clean since it will readily grow back?!” I’d ask them, “Do you wash your plate after you eat? Or do you eat again from it, soiled as it is, instead of washing it?” Lots of excuses.
The biggest one being, “It’s useless, we are what we are. It’s impossible.”
I hope this year will be better. And I do hope that after we do again the mapping out we’ll discover that there are fewer piles, and the piles of yesterday didn’t grow back again.
Because garbage attracts garbage. If you see a pile of three empty beer bottles you throw yours too, thinking, “Anyway, someone is gonna pick them all up.” Well, were you to be in Austria, in Vienna, you’d be embarrassed to do that since it’s clean, but here, you think, “What does it matter?! There are three bottles already in the pile…”
I do hope that where we cleaned last year nothing new appeared again.
What I’m also happy about is that we had an impact on the authorities. This year they gave a law against barbecuing! People are not allowed anymore to barbecue wherever, but only in designated spots. Hopefully now people will abide by the law, because unfortunately there are laws and fines, but they are not reinforced. It’s rather hard to post a policeman at every corner. In the end it boils down to common sense, to decency.
Maybe they should mediatize several cases until people become afraid. Unfortunately we have to resort to fear, since nothing else seems to work. We’ve tried doing some educational work thru the school system. It’s very sad. Once, as I walked on the street, a child threw his garbage on the sidewalk and I told him it was not nice. Well, his father was about to slap me, why was I meddling, so on. In the end it matters how you’re raised at home, and if the new generations start on the wrong foot, it’s harder and harder to make a change.
E.V.: But how did you schlep that garbage? You put it in your car?!
O.B.: In our case the mayor gave us a phone number of a gentleman who came with a horse wagon, and we went from pile to pile. There were big piles and smaller piles. Unfortunately on the roadside there are so many of them. If you travel around the country, the South is filthy, but in the North, in Maramureş, Bucovina is beautiful. I’ve been this summer and I was so pleasantly impressed, I can’t tell you enough about it. How much does education matter! In the same country! You go in the North and as if it’s a different world! As soon as you go to the South, you go on the road or by train, by the train tracks is all garbage! It makes you ask yourself, how they do it. Do they throw garbage out of the window?
I can’t explain myself how they do it.
So there were smaller piles and you could fit several of them in a garbage bag, but there were also large garbage holes, that, as I said, would demoralize me entirely, and they would fill ten garbage bags. We picked about 60 bags the ten of us, we split in two teams. And we’d call the uncle with the wagon and he’d take them to the town hall where the garbage trucks from the sanitation department were to further pick them up.
But on other routes where there was no one to gradually take them from our teams, volunteers piled them in larger mounds for later when sanitation trucks were to take them to the ecological landfills. Some were taken to recycling centers. We had some bags in designated recycling colors since there were dumps with only certain type of garbage, like construction debris. They throw everything somewhere else, you know, just to get it out of their own yard.
Then we went back to the town hall, reported how many bags we gathered, tick off the piles we managed to clear away, and we went home.
All in all, it was about four hours.
That was what saddened me, because the naysayers were harping so furiously as if I forced them to do it every day. “We’re talking about 4 hours a year! You go one day in a whole year for four hours and that’s it!” “Oh, it’s my birthday!” whatnot. “In the evening you can still go party! This is to be done in the morning, on a Saturday morning! You don’t go to work, or go out to party.” Everything was conveniently organized, but well, if you don’t want to do something, then you find millions of reasons as to why not to.
E.V.: What did you dream that night?
O.B.: [Laughs] I don’t know. I didn’t manage to sleep much. I was very stressed out. Not because I was exhausted by work. I did work a lot, but… At that time I quit the job I had because I was all stressed out. I couldn’t sleep. Some of my friends would say, “Oana, you look like hell! What’s going on with you? You look like a zombie!” I could hardly sleep.
I was also part of another project of voluntarism, I was busy with managing a website. I was very, very busy, like you’ve said that you feel you’ve overextended yourself. So was I then.
Now, when I’m about to launch in new enterprises, I watch myself because if I get stressed and unwell, then I can’t help others either. So then, looking like hell, not sleeping, I decided I had to give up something, and since believed in this project, and I felt that I also got energized from it—it was a give and take, we received so many appreciative praise, bravos for doing this, so many sweet emails of thanks that we did this work. It helped us very much, we needed them, especially when all this was done as volunteer work, without pay, we needed this encouragement. Plus, I’ve learned very much from this project.
So I decided to quit my job. The advantage was that living in Bucharest I could stay at my parents. I still live with them, but I move out next week. So I had where to sleep, what to eat, and I said I could abstain from other expenses just to make sure the project turns out well.
So I quit and worked only on Let’s Do It!
I invested body and soul, and not only that I was an unpaid volunteer but we also would give our own money to make certain things happen. I’d have been broken hearted were it to fail, because I also needed to show myself that I was right in trusting this country and its people, and were it to fail, I think I would’ve broken down. I don’t know if that would have made me leave the country. I don’t even want to think about it.
For me the most important thing was to show others that they have what to stay for in this country and regain confidence. Were I to be proven wrong, it would have been really sad. Fortunately, 200,000 people, for me, are extraordinarily many. I don’t think about it as 1%, but as 200,000, since I figure I didn’t expect babies to come pick garbage, or the elderly, only the active population. I was so very happy that 50% of the participants were children and pupils, it’s so important that from this young age they wanted to come out and understood, so on. We received many photographs and videos. I sorted them on counties. The feeling is extraordinary when you see pictures from that day from all counties, schoolers with flags, happily smiling, showing their garbage bags, from the entire country. It was an extraordinary feeling.
E.V.: And what did your parents say? When they saw you coming home dejected?
O.B.: My parents were very supportive. During that time they were at our countryside home, where they go in weekends, to have some quiet. They wanted to volunteer there. Unfortunately the village mayor didn’t show up. They went and gathered whatever they could, but not very much.
Well, thing is, my father is a pragmatic type and he didn’t understand very well what I was doing. He kept on asking me, “Okay, and when do you get a job?” after I barely quit my job! He understood the idea of the project, he’d never throw garbage about, but there is his kind of people too, who indeed respect the environment, don’t litter, but don’t agree with working for others. I managed to get him out and do some cleaning, but he didn’t fully understand why I was doing this. But they were very supportive. Imagine that I lived on their money for several months, after I quit, and they were okay with it, they understood me.
Besides in September I did another crazy thing, I shaved off my head, I don’t know if you read about it on my blog?
A few hours later.
E.V.: We’re in the bus stop here waiting for the theater in the bus to arrive and Oana made me a butterfly and she explained to me how did she get into butterflies. How’s that, Oana?
O.B.: My boyfriend makes me origami cranes whenever he meets me, even before we became a couple. We became lovers after I shaved my head. [Laughs] I don’t know if it has any relevance, but it was proof that he loved me no matter what. Even bald headed. There were many gossiping mouths after that experience, you can imagine. People who said that we disfigured ourselves, so on.
I’d like to teach at a kindergarten, or in orphanages, in children’s social services. I had a first attempt after we shaved off. A lady from the Oncology Institute invited us to talk to the children there, especially to the girls that were very scared that they had to shave their heads. Being sick with cancer their hair fell off dramatically, and the emotional impact was much harder if you put your hand in your hair and a clump of hair detached from your head, than if you shaved your head and knew that in awhile it would grow back, and everything would be again okay.
But the girls were very, very scared of the idea of shaving off their hair, so we went the three of us, all smiles and happy giggles, to show them that you could still be cute and simpatico without hair on your head, and the reactions were great, “Oh, look how cute they are! Oh, see it’s okay…” But it’s hard, because it’s one thing that you want to shave your hair, like us, who wanted to help some people, or if you just wake up one fine morning and feel like shaving off your hair, and it’s another thing if you have to shave off because you have cancer.
So they invited us to encourage the girls. But it is very hard to encourage someone who might not… Okay, they have chances to stay alive, but they also have an equal chance not to stay alive, and for me to go and say, “Don’t worry!” it was emotionally charged.
But I did it. I felt I helped somehow, in the end.
E.V.: Wait a bit, let’s go back in time, why did you shave off, so I understand. There were several of you?
O.B.: Sure. The first was a girl who wrote on her blog, she had long, long hair, up/down to her bottom, and one fine day she thought, “What if I cut off my hair?” She wasn’t contemplating shaving it off, just cutting it short. But when you have long hair, it doesn’t matter much if you only shave it off or you cut it up to your chin, the impact is equally hard. It changes you very much. So she asked for opinions on her blog, and some readers said yes, others no. In the end she said, “Ok, I’ll cut it off if I receive a donation that I can further to a social cause.”
An hour later on a bench in a park on Unirii Square. As it gets darker mosquitoes intensify their attacks.
E.V.: [Yawning after the bus ride.] So: group hair shaving.
O.B.: Yes, she wrote on her blog. Well, she just said it on a lark, she didn’t think that anyone would make her an offer. But she got a sudden comment, “I offer you €2,000.” Signed Mr. G. They got in touch and she cut her hair. Not shave it off, just short.
E.V.: Wait, so they both were to shave? Or he’d shave her, or how?!
O.B.: No, only her.
E.V.: So they went together with Mr. G at the hair salon?!
O.B.: She went with Mr. G, and before going inside Mr. G. gave her the money in an envelope. Both making sure, what if she cuts her hair and then Mr. G is gone! And he stayed there too, since he didn’t want to give her the money and she’d run with it! [Laughs] So he waited for her, she cut her hair short, everything’s fine. But as I said she didn’t shave her hair, only cut it short, a bit shorter than mine now, crew cut.
E.V.: Did Mr. G take the hair with him?
O.B.: No, no. There was no fetishism involved! You can imagine there were all kinds of commentaries. I don’t know what she did with it. I took mine home, as a memory keepsake. But then later I thought, “It’s silly, what should I do with it?!” I threw it away. Some leave it at the hair salon. Well, this was happening last year, in July, last year.
E.V.: And what did she do with the money?
O.B.: I don’t remember now, but she scanned some receipts, proof she put on her blog, so that no ill-meaning comments aroused that she kept them for herself, though in the end, so what? What would have been the problem if she kept it? It was her hair, her business, but anyway, to prove that she fulfilled their agreement she posted the proof.
We were many girls in the end. Some money went to the Grigore Alexandrescu Children’s Hospital… Oh, I remember now: she donated to specific cases: one boy who needed a more sophisticated wheelchair, and to children ill with cancer. As if there are more and more of them by the day, or maybe there are more and more mediatized cases.
There were a lot of questions about Mr. G. Why didn’t he just donate the money directly, why did some girls have to cut their hair off for this?! I think he didn’t want to play God, and choose to whom the money should go. This way he said, “Look, I give them to you and you choose where the money ends up.”
Well, this happened in June. In August, I hear two more girls cut off their hair. They asked if they could cut off their hair too, and Mr. G agreed…
E.V.: And he gave €2,000 to each of them?
O.B.: Yes, same story. So then at the beginning of September, again a group of girls cut off their hair, the third batch now…
E.V.: And each new one got her €2,000?
O.B.: Yes, yes. Same way, in an envelope before they went into the hair salon. It was rather spooky. They’d meet in front of the hair salon and he’d go shave their heads! No, no! I’m joking. [Laughs] And as I was reading I thought, “You know, I’d like to do this too.”
I have a problem, I don’t know how to call it otherwise, but I feel all the time compelled to help people about, and I feel frustrated when I can’t help them, that’s why I was telling you I’m frustrated with the health care system. So when I can help, I am frustrated. If you can help, you should help. So I said, “Oana, you have the opportunity to receive €2,000 and donate them. What will you do?” I haven’t cut my hair since I don’t know, second, third grade! My mom would take me constantly to the barber’s to cut my hair short and I’d always come out crying.
E.V.: Why would she do that?
O.B.: I don’t know. My father too always keeps his hair short. Maybe they thought it’s more comfortable that way. Well, when I grew up and I had the right to decide, I said, “No. I want to let my hair grow!” So I didn’t cut it off anymore, and when I’d go for a trimming, I was always desperate, “Don’t you cut more than a centimeter! Just the tips!”
[Siren wailing on the avenues of Bucharest]
And as I was thinking about cutting it off a panic attack overwhelmed me, “No, I can’t do that! I waited so long for my hair to grow!”
E.V.: How long was it, Oana?
O.B.: Up to my waist. It was work, because my hair grows very slow, it was work! Anyway, after that panic attack, raised by the mere idea of cutting my hair, another bout of panic overwhelmed me, “Why do I panic over the idea of cutting off my hair short?! It’s only hair!” And the second wave of panic defeated the first one. I realized, “It’s unnecessary to be so scared, in the end hair grows back. I have the occasion to help someone who really needs that money. No use panicking about hair. Okay, I’m gonna do it.” I emailed Mr. G, “I want it too.”
He said he’d hit the bottom of his money chest by now, many other girls had written him. Mr. G was not a Gigi Becali or a Bill Gates, or whomever rich man. He probably had an amount of money he wanted to donate without him deciding to whom. He said he had little money left, and there were many girls, and didn’t know what criteria to employ besides how short we were willing to cut our hair.
The last batch of girls cut it to 0.5 centimeters, and they looked cute to me. I saw their pictures on the blog. They were all writers, journalists, PRs, savvy in the blogosphere. That was the surprise, because working in communications you’d expect one to do her utmost to look presentable, cute, and people were very surprised that we shaved our heads. It was also a way of showing them that it doesn’t matter actually, you can be successful in the PR field even if you have a shaven head, because right after I shaved it, in a week or so, I was on TVR 1 talking about Let’s Do It! and nobody bothered about it. Let’s be serious.
So I wanted the same, 0.5. But he said, “It’s not possible!” So we were negotiating. I’ll never forget that night! He said I should cut it to 0.1 which was almost 0, and I got to 0.2 and I was jumping about the house, happy that we arrived at an agreement.
Alas, as I was washing my hair the next day, and drying it, I started to cry. “Look how beautiful is my hair! Why would I want to cut it off?!” As if I loved my hair more than ever. Eventually the day came. I don’t know if you saw the video when they cut my hair at the salon? All thru it I was beaming, obviously in shock, not realizing what was really happening. First she clipped my hair in a pony tail, then she cut that off. That shook me more than when she pushed the razor blade machine thru my hair, chuck chuck chuck! My hair was gone. And it was alright. At no point did I feel that I was sorry. I don’t know, it was okay.

Only this constant need to do something kind, to help out is frustrating. I constantly feel the urge to involve myself in a thousand things and I can’t help much. It’s a strange feeling.
About two months ago there was a craze throughout the country about stray dogs. It was decided in the parliament that stray dogs would be euthanized, and animal rights associations rallied up, “No! No! No!” I’m a big animal lover but I don’t like seeing these dogs on the streets, wretched and suffering. I went to a few meetings and I tried to explain them that a solution has to be found so that… These people are the kind, how should I put it, have blinders, tunnel vision. All they know is to get out in the streets and protest and holler against animal killing, but they don’t think about that there are God knows how many animals out on the street suffering worse than if they’d give them an injection and stop their suffering. I didn’t manage to see eye to eye with them. I told them, “Okay, instead of going out again marching, protesting to prevent this from happening, knowing too well that it’s useless since you’ve marched before several times, wouldn’t it be better to go and talk to the authorities to make sure they euthanize the dogs by the book at least?”
The problem in our country is that euthanasia is not done properly, by giving a lethal injection, nicely, without suffering. No, here hingherii/the persons in charge/workers/flayers grab them, throw them in death holes, let them bite each other to death, and so on. So I tried to convince them, “Better talk to a veterinarian or an animal rights association to be present and supervise the euthanizing than go into the streets marching to stop this when it will happen anyway!” I didn’t succeed.
They organized yet another street marching, without any results, and I felt awful again.
E.V.: And what are they doing now?
O.B.: Euthanizing them.
E.V.: But I still see loads of dogs on the street.
O.B.: Yes, indeed, aplenty they are. Now we’re getting to the issue of those with earrings/markings that supposedly have been fixed. There are rumors that they don’t fix them, but just pocket the money. They just insert the earring and put them back on the streets. But in the end it’s a matter of lack of civilization, because the dogs are indeed multiplying. The people who live in houses and own dogs let them loose when they are in heat, and even if the bitches give birth in their yards, they take the puppies and throw them about the city. Instead of spaying their bitches, they throw them puppies about the city and they multiply.
So in the end people are scandalized that there are dogs that bite them, without realizing that they are the ones responsible for this situation. Really, we pride ourselves/put on airs that we are a European country, and so on, but we have this habit of solving everything by sweeping the filth under the rug, “Let’s rush with euthanizing them and the problem will be solved.” No, it won’t be solved! Until there won’t be a law that makes spaying and neutering mandatory, and reinforce that law, they’d keep on throwing dogs back in the streets.
E.V.: Well, should we get back to your opinions on health care?
O.B.: Oh, my opinions… If you go thru the hospital system… I’ve lately certified as a P.F.A., persoană fizică
autorizată/self-employed person. After we were done with Let’s Do It, I was approached by a firm to work for them, an international company based in Czech Republic. And to avoid paying taxes in both countries, which would have been exorbitant, they suggested I should get a P.F.A. certificate so we could sign a collaboration agreement. It was a struggle! I went to various offices to register and I ended up at the Health Insurance Bureau to insure myself in case something happened to me and I ended up in a hospital they shouldn’t charge me with millions of lei.
Well, the other day when I went to pay my quarterly bill they stunned me with asking 3 millions to pay retroactively for the year that I took off between my undergraduate and Master’s program. During that year I had no income, so I asked them, “Since I had no income where was I to take the money to pay that insurance from?” They said, “This is what the law says.” Such answers îmi taie macaroana/cut my macaroni/leave me speechless. They have no logic. Sure, perhaps I should have gone home and studied that law, but I ended up paying the 3 millions. And it would be alright, were you to be sure that when you go to the hospital you don’t catch other diseases or they misdiagnose you.
In Scandinavian countries they pay 54% in taxes, extremely high, but they are happy to do that because their hospital system is irreproachable, and they go there with confidence. Here we work under the table avoiding taxes because we don’t feel like paying for something that we know we won’t get in the end. So it’s a vicious circle. On one hand the state doesn’t have the money to modernize the hospitals because people work under the table, on the other hand people work under the table because they know it’s not worth giving their money away because they’ll be stolen/pocketed and end up somewhere else/misused anyway.
It’s an unbreakable vicious circle. Maybe we could break it by again organizing activities that unify people and make them trust those around them, otherwise…
Well, another example: A few months ago a friend asked me to publicize her case thru my social media outlets. She didn’t feel well, she had muscle pain, dizziness, and so she went to two different hospitals in Bucharest and they diagnosed her with cancer. A nasty cancer that could be healed only going for treatment to Vienna. You can imagine how it feels to have such news hurled on you. She was finished. Only to end up going to Vienna to find out that actually she didn’t have cancer, but some lighter illness for which she got treated and she’s alright now.
There are so many cases like hers. But you don’t even need to know other people’s bad experiences, it’s enough when you need to go yourself to a state hospital and when you look around you literally feel that you’ll get out of there with more diseases than when you came in. Well, I never lived in a different country, so I complain of what I experienced here, I’m sure others countries have their problems too, but here even in private hospitals they ruin your blood work, your tests, so on. It’s very strange what happens here. It’s sad.
We complain that everybody leaves the country, but actually only those who have money can leave. If you don’t have money to go for treatment to Vienna…
When I went to the Oncology Institute most of the kids were from poor families. 90% were from families not with an average income, but from dirt-poor families, because the rest of them struggle somehow, borrow money, and go abroad. But when you have a zero budget, the situation is cruel. We organized a campaign to bring them some TV sets. We made the kids write letters to Santa Clause and we posted them about the internet, and some people donated their TVs.
E.V.: Speaking of going abroad. How did it go down when you applied to a London college?
O.B.: Oh, yes, yes, [Laughs] This was two summers ago, when I applied to six programs in London, in February, March, after I studied my choices in depth, examined them closely on the internet. I wanted very much to go for a Master’s in New Media, but there wasn’t such a program in our country. As I said, I’ve never wanted to leave my country. The idea was to go for a year or so to get my Master’s degree and then come back. And even this wouldn’t have been my wish, were we to have a decent program in that field. We had an optional course in blogging, but I was the one who taught the professor, because it’s one thing to practice it and another thing to barely skim theoretically on the surface and then teach about it. [Laughs] But England is a different story, being the most advanced European country in this field. I found seven universities and I applied to all of them, filing my essay and recommendation letters online. Was it on line? No, no I have a flashback how I went and mailed them, yes, yes because I had to send also copies after my TOEFL exam. I had to go to Craiova to take it because in Bucharest it was booked for months ahead, full for spring and summer, full until the fall. So I went to Craiova with a friend.
Beautiful town, Craiova, one wouldn’t expect it.
Then I got my answers in the mail: they accepted me to all seven universities. Huge happiness! But the one that I really wanted to go, scheduled a phone interview. I have an inexplicable phone-talking phobia, maybe it’s from some unresolved childhood issue… Not only I dislike talking on the phone, but I also had to speak in English. Not that I can’t speak the English well, but I was nervous, “What if the connection is bad? What if I won’t be able to hear him well, and I’d have to scream, ‘What? What? What?’ ”
I envisaged all kinds of embarrassing moments.
Well, let me tell you, I could hear him better than when I talk to someone in Bucharest. It was such a nice interview, maybe half an hour long. It flew by. He asked me what books I liked to read, projects I’ve been part of in the past, my future plans, and I remember I wanted to make sure not only that I was the right candidate for their program, but also that this Master’s was a good fit for me. Because he told me, and I knew it, that it wasn’t going to be cheap. Plus London is an expensive city. So reassured that we were a good fit for each other, I went to talk to my folks. Well, the conclusion was that I wouldn’t be able to go because I didn’t have enough money. The Master’s was €6,000, £4,500 plus €1,000 monthly expenses. Sure, there was the option of working there, but still I needed startup money. And since the Master’s was only one year long, full time, from morning till night, there wasn’t really enough time for also working at a job. My folks couldn’t take another loan, they already had one on the car, so what was I to do but cry, get upset, be frustrated. They had very small scholarships, they gave you £1,000 just to get you started, but nothing else monthly. And from the Romanian side they helped you only if you went to study serious subjects, such as economics, medical field, not communications.
So I said I’d stay home with my parents one more year, dreaming I’d be able to gather the money. [Laughs] But then as I got involved with various social causes and volunteering projects, I realized there would be no money next year either. So I said, “Let me enroll in a Master’s program here in Social Media Online. Let me follow my new passion, my second passion, Social Studies.” But only three students enrolled and it got canceled. Then I went to the Political Science Department for courses in Local and Regional Development Politics.
Unfortunately the classes were not hold on a regular basis, the professors were busy with being on TV and didn’t make it to teaching us. At a certain moment we found out there was another course we had to take, but even the professor didn’t know about it. He thought he was supposed to teach it the next term. And then he said, “Let’s teach the entire course in one session over a weekend!” Which weekend I couldn’t go because I was traveling, so I missed the entire term material in one shot. It was a pretend course, an utter disregard, so I didn’t go that term, or the next one. It was a painful experience for me, because I was always conscientious. During my undergraduate studies I got a scholarship, in high school always won first prize, top student… Well, in the end it was a proof of courage to give up on the Master’s idea altogether. I’d never thought I’d take such a step. But I never wanted to be a student just in name, just for the sake of a degree on paper, I could have just taken it easy and smoothly sail thru the exams without problems, I have enough brains, sure thing, but it ended up feeling a useless endeavor.
I said I would rather spend my time in a constructive manner, doing something real. Useful. So I stopped attending classes altogether. I haven’t shown up at their tests. I have to inform them that I’ve dropped out. [Laughs] I’d better go tell them I’ve withdrawn before they get to kick me out first. It was still useful, I had a discounted student public transportation card.
Rather disappointing.
From what other friends tell me this is how the Master’s programs are usually here.
I’m not at all up in arms about our education system. At high school and undergraduate level, I think we’re well educated, the curriculum is okay, though some professors could use more motivation. Whenever we go abroad we are smarter and more knowledgeable than kids from other countries. But at graduate level there are problems, we’re not evolved enough yet.
E.V.: I’ve heard complaints from other students too. Unbelievable what professors get away with here. Anyway, you posted on
your blog that you even considered turning tricks to gather money for London, to turn to prostitution. What were your thoughts then?
O.B.: [Laughs] Well, I was joking, brainstorming with my friends, right after I got the acceptance letter, and before I resigned to postpone it for a year. How the heck could I gather €10,000, since no matter what job I could find I wouldn’t be able to make that kind of money, so the answer was to launch my prostitution career, and we were refining the plan, weighing the choices. “Well, being an escort is not exactly prostitution. Only smart, stylish girls do it. You don’t necessarily have to have sex. You just go out to restaurants, parties. They are dressed smartly, they speak elegantly.” “Yes, but you can demand their extra servicing, so it’s a more classy, luxury prostitution.” “High end. It’s highly paid, thousands of Euros!” We were joking, to be sure! God forbid, it never crossed my mind seriously. When I wrote about it in a moment of frustration, I was just being facetious, used my trademark irony.
What’s the use of getting upset about anything since it doesn’t help one bit… In that vein…
Well, one fine day after that my mother calls me to come home immediately, she’s desperate, she’s ill, she’s about to die, she’s about to only God knows what.
I got super scared! I was at a friend’s. I jumped into a taxi! I was very, very scared because a week earlier we went with my father to the countryside and my father woke me up at dawn to call an ambulance because his blood pressure was huge, 18 or so, and he was about to die, and he had to give me the credit cards’ pin numbers, and to show me where the life insurances were stored. You can imagine waking me up like that! I was about to faint first before him. He called an ambulance, and we went to the nearest town hospital.
Those were the most horrible moments of my life. I didn’t even know if to cry or what to do. The mere idea of him dying knocked me off. So imagine, one week later, when my mother called me panicking, I got equally scared. I thought that probably my father fell ill again and also my mother succumbed under the pressure, and I’d go home and find all three of them, all three, since I also have a little dog, [Laughs in trills] that I love as much as I love them. She’s old, she’s 11 years old and is predisposed to heart attacks, so I said to myself, “You’ll see! You arrive home and find them all fainted on top of each other in a pile!” since no one was picking up the phone anymore.
E.V.: Why? Does usually the dog answer the phone?
O.B.: [Laughs in trills] Oh, my goodness.
And I arrive home, I ring the doorbell, then I get in and I see my mother with a haggard face. But I sensed movement about the apartment, so the dog was okay, jumping about, and there was light in the bathroom, so my father was okay too. But my mother was distraught, crying. I asked her, “What has happened, mother?” and already seeing that everybody was just fine, I started to get aggravated realizing that there was nothing wrong and yet she called me saying she’s about to die! “What have you written on your blog? You’ve started practicing prostitution!” “My God! Have you gone crazy?! How could you believe such a thing?!” “But why have you written that?! How could you?! Other people read it, what will they imagine about you?!” “Mom, any sane person realizes it’s just a joke!”
So sit about explaining them an entire half a day, my mother crying, how could I write such stuff. Yes… “I kindly ask you change what you wrote!” [Laughs] I didn’t.
E.V.: But does she read regularly your blog?
O.B.: No, no, no.
E.V.: Then, some kind neighbor?
O.B.: No, no, that would have been bad… After what happened to my father, I wrote it up on the blog. That’s how I unburden my mind and get relief, I just throw it out there.
I don’t know what’s going on with me, I haven’t written in two months, I’m blocked… But I wrote about that day’s experience, starting with how they woke me up to its happy ending, because at least this time the health care system worked. They found he had problems with his colon, so on, and they did a check up and they discovered he had a polyp, that could become cancerous, so they could operate him.
So I was musing on the blog about how life goes, after bad comes good. He escaped a worse illness when he had feared high blood pressure.
And someone called, my father doesn’t say a word about anything that happens to him, he is a cold nature, on the surface, introverted, doesn’t like showing to other people when he suffers, so he didn’t tell anyone in our extended family about the ambulance and so on, but my aunt got to read about it on my blog. I knew that at times she goes on my blog, but I never thought that would cause problems. Well, my father’s brother called my father, “Man, are you alright? Why didn’t you tell us anything?!” And so, father found out from where the news had leaked, and he threw a fit, why I was writing about him. I told him I didn’t write about him, I wrote about my feelings, in a situation that included him, but the posting was not about him, it was about me, if you please. The blog entry stayed on the blog, even if he pestered me to erase it. Yes, that’s how it went. So then he started to read more, and called my mother, “Come and see what your daughter wrote on the blog!” He’s not above throwing mean things about. He’s a kind man, but he worked in the army, so on, and he’s behaving in this military style.
But let me tell you, apropos of good things that happen in Romania, like it happen with the ambulance and my father’s illness. Well, same way, a year ago, we went with friends club hopping and someone stole my wallet with all my documents, with all my money, little as they were since it was right after I quitted my job.
I was finished, floored, drowning in tears, so on, my mother was pestering me to go to the police to get a new ID, but I, “No, no, no! Maybe they mail me my documents back!” I was still hoping, still hoping. After two weeks some boys brought me my wallet! Well, the money was missing, there was about 200,000 lei, but otherwise everything was there. It didn’t even matter if they were the ones that stole it, since I didn’t expect them show up at my door! I looked thru the peephole and I saw my wallet in their hands and I said, “Oh, my God, they’ll pull out a knife, ‘Give us your money if you want your documents!’ ” [Laughs in trills] But it was alright when I opened the door. I have a lot of faith, trust in people. They were my age. They said their girlfriend found it in a garbage bin, whatnot.
Two years ago I lost Dolly, my little dog. I was away with my parents and I left her at some relatives. But they somehow left the gate open and the dog ran away. The next day I came back from the vacation because of her. We had barely left the day before. Crisis, tears flooding, I couldn’t sleep all night. We went asking around my aunt’s neighborhood, and people said, “Oh, every day a lady walks by with a white lap dog,” like mine was. And we knock on her door and there was Dolly. The lady said a long story how she got my dog from some Gypsies in Obor Square, where they found my Dolly, and even if it looked to us that she was the one who actually found Dolly and didn’t return her, it didn’t matter, because we were so happy that we recovered her, that we said, “Sărumana, bogdaproste!/Heaven be praised! May you be blessed a thousand times!”
Same with the wallet, even if they’d stolen it from me, at least they had the thoughtfulness to bring my documents back, otherwise it would have been a big pain. I had everything in it, from student ID to driver’s license, credit cards, everything was in that wallet.
E.V.: Well, Oana would you tell me what you love most about Bucharest, and what you dislike about Bucharest. Were you born and raised here?
O.B.: [Laughs] Yes, I was born and raised here. In all sincerity the only thing that ties me down to Bucharest are my family and friends. I’m not a fan of this city. After last year’s failed attempt of relocating to London I even looked for some job in Cluj, to change scenery. But I get attached very strongly, though I love meeting new people, and I then get attached to them very quickly too, though I stick to my old friends too.
[An interlude here with a box of cigarettes fallen on the park walkway, a man looking for cigarettes, I don’t remember exactly, but it was yet another of Oana’s attempts to helping someone.]
O.B.: Oh, this city could go to hell. It’s too crowded, too dusty, dirty. Unfortunately, this is the mentality. Last month right here on Unirii Square someone littered and I called his attention, as I always do, out of a good habit I’d say, only to be told that, “They clean anyway over night.” Indeed, they do clean during night and indeed during night it’s clean, but after that in the morning in less than two hours it’s filthy again! So in the end what’s the use that it’s clean during night when no one walks the streets in the darkness, while during day it’s a carpet of garbage?!
It’s kinda strange to say that Bucharestians are dirty since 90% of the city population is made of people that come from other towns, so what then happens to them? Do they change upon arrival? I’ve been asking myself for a long time now, if Bucharest changes people, if there’s some vibe this city gives out that makes people change. You come from Transylvania where everything is super clean and okay, and as soon as you arrive here you become totally changed.
Well, I told you just about everything that was on my mind.
But I do dislike this! I can’t stand the crowds. I’ve got a driver’s license since I was 18, so five years ago. Well, I drove only three times during 4 ½ years. I’ve started driving again only a few months ago, and only because my father wanted me to do it very much. He had some savings, but not enough to go pursue my Master’s, because we raised the issue then, if I wanted a car or the Master’s. I said the Master’s, but in the end there wasn’t enough money anyway for that. He wanted very much I should drive. He bought me a car which sat for a long time in front of the apartment building until I gathered my courage. I’m very afraid. I’m afraid not only because there are quite a few mad drivers here—true, there are many agitated people here. I’m an agitated person too, but I’m not aggressive. I’m restless, I don’t have patience, I can’t sit still, but then I surround myself with calm people so it soothes me down—but here, when you’re waiting for the green light at a street crossing, not more than a millisecond passes and they start honking why don’t you bolt away right when light changes. So you lose faith, you get demoralized if this happens repeatedly.
And the traffic gets extremely agglomerated/jammed. You have to be patient because at rush hours it barely moves. Plus all drivers are in a hurry and brazen. And then all the pollution and the dust they create, well, it’s another story. I drove last week from our country home to Bucharest, but driving outside Bucharest again is a different drama.
I’m involved in a campaign to encourage bicycle riding, but that’s yet another issue. [Laughs]
I don’t like that we’re talking about problems and negative things, but bicycle theft is thriving in this city. I don’t know how it is in other towns, but in Bucharest you can’t store your bicycle in front of the building or in the stairwell because they steal it. And it demoralizes me to get down five flights of stairs with my large bike, because it doesn’t fit in the elevator, and then when I come back to carry it up those five flights. So I don’t feel like riding my bike anymore, because I’m floored by the idea of the trips up and down the stairs. So…. But at least they started marking bicycle lanes. This is a good sign, things are changing. New generations are coming, they want to change things. I hope it will be better. I am optimistic by nature, it’s not like I just sit and criticize, I get involved, I try doing something, and when the occasion arises and you can make a difference, then why not?
E.V.: Well, you’re saying you get attached. Why? What qualities do these friends have to make you commit to them?
O.B.: Oh, that’s rather demanding of you! [Laughs]
E.V.: Why?!
O.B.: Well, this is one of my problems. If you ask me to tell you a joke, I go blank, even if I’m sure I know hundreds of them. Maybe I can email you my answer?
I seem to see the best in people, and I get attached, forgetting that every person has his own interests at heart, that the majority are pursuing their self-interested goals, but I get attached, even if it’s a new person, if there’s chemistry, I get attached.
I love people, that’s all, but I also love animals.
That’s how I am, loving/affectionate.
E.V.: Your mom is like this too?
O.B.: Yes, yes, I take after her. I inherited from her my cheerful, sunny disposition, always smiling. It matters how they raise you. She always said when I was small, “Smile, be joyous.” It helps. At times I have my moments of depression, my low points. Right now I’m in one such spot, I’m discontent with what I do. I feel often that I’d like to do something important, meaningful, have an impact.
Well, now I got a job, soon I’ll move in with my boyfriend. I grow, I evolve, but I feel this constant need to do something for society, for the world. I’m no Mother Theresa who would starve herself in order to feed poor children, so on, while she lives in a nun’s cell without needing anything for herself, bla bla bla! No, I’m not like that. I want to help but at the same time I want to buy myself a new dress from time to time. I’m an absolutely normal person, and I think that’s where the entire problem starts, because on one hand I’d like to keep this job, get my salary, this job is alright, doesn’t do any harm, for let’s face it, there are many harmful jobs that harm society, but on the other hand it’s not a job that has an impact. And I don’t like this feeling, of just living my life, I was born, I went thru school, I finished college, I enrolled for a Master’s, each day I go to work only to come back home, at a certain time I shall get married and have a child, so on. It’s rather hollow and pointless, I don’t think our reason/mission/fate/purpose on this world is just this.
E.V.: What about your mom?
O.B.: Mom goes to work, then home, home, work, but my mother didn’t have a choice. My mother was only 18 years old when her mother died, and when also her father died she was just 30. Mom grew up in the countryside. She was a smart girl in her youth. She managed to go to college in Bucharest and got a scholarship, so she could live in Bucharest, at a dorm, but still, within her modest conditions she got married, gave birth to me, and now works.
But my mother is an extroverted person too, she’d like to travel more, see more. I can’t say she had bad luck with my father, for without my father I wouldn’t be here, but well, my father being more indolent, set in his ways… Now I send her to beauty parlors, to see her enjoy life. She’s waiting to retire this year, then things will be okay. I told you they have a house in the country with a very large garden. She likes taking care of flowers.
E.V.: Would she like to travel abroad?
O.B.: No, no. She didn’t even manage to visit our own country. She was very happy this year that she managed to persuade my father and we’ve been to Bucovina by car for two weeks. She came home delighted. But she too could have taken her driver’s license and gone wherever she wanted, but that’s how it was. She had to get a job to work. It’s hard for her, what can I say? She comes home miserable from work, things don’t go well, at times her salary is late with three months. She’s an engineer. They offer industrial equipment, excavating tools, for hire I think. I don’t know exactly what she does, office work with documents, contracts, but she works long hours.
It’s a private company, but it doesn’t do well.
It’s very sad to think that I have a larger salary than my mom’s. Just thinking that mom worked for more than 30 years and I’ve worked for less than a year and my salary is higher than my mom’s, makes me feel very bad. I don’t think it’s normal, and so on, but that’s how it is. So when I’m dissatisfied with life and feel entitled, I realize that I should feel less entitled since in the end I’m just 23 years old, I have my entire life ahead of me to become a Bill Gates and do charitable work globally, but I just put a lot of pressure on myself, I don’t know who or what or when has this pressure been set in motion/activated/unleashed, but this is how I feel lately, that I want a lot more from myself. I reign myself in and say to myself, “Look here, you’re only 23 years old, take it easy.” Right now I should feel nice because I have many friends who couldn’t find work, even my boyfriend, it took him a year to find a job, I was lucky. Volunteering helped me, you make sacrifices while you work without being paid, but if you do a good job, it’s valuable, not so much for your CV but because you get connected.
E.V.: Okay. Now Oana could you tell me some of your dreams? A real dream, can you remember a dream you had that you can’t forget? Or a nightmare?
O.B.: Well, I didn’t have a certain dream that I can’t forget, but I have a recurring dream. I didn’t look it up in the dream dictionary, to interpret it. Every week I dream about dogs that jump off from balconies. If you can tell me what this means…
E.V.: Does it scare you?
O.B.: It scares me very much. Or I dream that my teeth are falling off. [Laughs, always laughs, lovely peals of laughter] Actually I read about the one with the teeth falling off. [Sirens are wailing] It’s about fearing vulnerability, of how others perceive you, and I indeed have this problem.
E.V.: But it’s the same dream?
O.B.: Well, the dream focus is on how my teeth are falling off, it doesn’t matter what else happens around that.
E.V.: When do they fall off? When you’re about to bite your food, or when you smile?
O.B.: No, no, no, they merely fall off, suddenly I feel them filling my mouth.
E.V.: Do you wake up?
O.B.: No, I can’t wake up. I wake up when it’s time to get up, but it’s strange because I’ve started to think in the dream, “Am I dreaming?” And then I think, “No, now it’s real! My goodness, now they really fell off!” Perhaps you’re studying dreams? Or maybe you hoped for something more interesting?
E.V.: It’s very interesting. It doesn’t bother you in the morning that you dreamt it again?!
O.B.: Well, it became part of my nightly itinerary, I constantly dream this. Maybe the fact that I think about how I constantly dream it makes me dream it again. But my actual problem is that I don’t sleep very well. I go to bed with lots of ideas buzzing in my head. I’ve tried to write them down on paper, to quiet my mind, but I can’t. Right before falling asleep lots and lots of ideas start buzzing in my head, so I don’t have a restful sleep because of this.
E.V.: Are they creative thoughts or worried?
O.B.: Both. Well, when it was with the euthanizing of dogs, each night I’d think about finding a solution, what should I do? you know, because during day you get busy with work, so on, but at night, exactly when you’re about to quiet down, instead of resting your brain starts thinking about the things you didn’t have time to get to during day. I don’t know why the teeth though…
E.V.: But the dogs, do the dogs come into play?…
O.B.: Yes, sure.
E.V.: What kind of dogs?
O.B.: All kind of dogs. Not necessarily mine, but mine too. It might have started with my tomcat, I had it, when? Oh, dear, 10 years ago. He fell off the balcony. I was very, very, very, very frustrated. I kept on telling my mother to stop letting the window open because little Tommy would jump out of it, but my mother insisted that he wasn’t stupid, he wouldn’t jump. Until she was proven wrong when he did jump …
E.V.: From a window?
O.B.: After a bird probably, from the kitchen window. Maybe he wanted to jump over into the balcony, because when we heard him meowing he was on the water pipe drain, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but here apartment building balconies have a pipe sticking out, like a spout, for the water to flow down when we wash the balcony floor, or it rains. And he was holding onto that spout and we went to fetch a broomstick but when we came back he already fell off. We went to pick him up from the sidewalk. Apparently he had only a broken leg. But though we operated his leg, in a few months he went berserk. He’d jump and jerk his head about. None of the veterinarians we consulted knew what to tell us. Clearly he had cranial lesions from when he had fallen down. We didn’t know how to keep him going. I kept him under a coverlet on my bed, but in the end he died. It was horrible.
I get attached very much, be they persons, or pets. I’ve had my dog for eleven years now, you can imagine she’s like a brother, like a sister. After you lived for eleven years in the same household, it’s an emotional attachment. I think that’s why dogs jump in my dreams from balconies. I never heard of a dog jumping from a balcony. Another dream is dogs flattened, smashed by cars. That’s one of the fears I have when I drive, especially outside Bucharest, because if I see a dog on the road, I close my eyes, I turn my head away, or doing this while I’m driving, is rather dangerous.
E.V.: When it was September 11, you’re too small to realize that people…
O.B.: No, I wasn’t too small… On September 11 it was very interesting because we were watching the news on TV at school. The first airplane already hit the first tower, and I called a friend, I think I was in seventh grade, and I called him to see if he watched, and as we were talking on the phone, they showed live how the second airplane hit the building. Wow! But you can imagine I didn’t understand all the political problems, all the implications.
E.V.: I mentioned it just because then many people jumped out of the windows.
O.B.: Oooh, I don’t think my dream is because of that. Though I watched many video clips with the poor people jumping out of the windows. No, see, it’s rather strange that when it comes to dead people the emotional impact is not as strong as with animals, because my head goes about how animals are helpless, humans at least have the possibility of rescuing themselves from any situation. An animal can’t ask for help, maybe that makes a greater impression on me. Same goes for social causes, people who need help move me. But overall being that impressionable is rather a defect than a quality. It’s frustrating.
E.V.: So what do you do to stop it?
O.B.: I can’t do much. I try to detach myself, saying, “This is life, we all get born, we all gonna die, harder or easier.” But after awhile you start asking the hard questions, “If there is God, then why doesn’t He help them?” and such. It is hard. Then you start thinking about karma. But when for a long stretch of time you do just good deeds and only bad things happen to you—I had a two-month period that one bad thing after another befell me, and I couldn’t understand why—you can’t continue believing in karma. “If I do just good, why do all these evil things happen to me?!” You start asking questions…
E.V.: But what bad things happened to you, may I ask?
O.B.: Sure. Well, right after I got on a monthly plan with Vodafone I received a message from them that I have to pay 8 million lei, because they cut off my phone service and I had to pay 8 million lei to have it reinstalled. I thought initially it was a joke. I called to clarify and it wasn’t a joke. I had to pay a €500 bill! Whereas before I’d usually prepaid €3 a month. So you can imagine receiving a €500 bill it bombs you! But I was quite unworried at the beginning, being sure it would be solved. Well, after I called and they told me, “No, the system has validated that amount of money, for your internet traffic sessions.” But I know about internet, to download 500 MB in a matter of minutes is not possible physically. But the system validated that data, I had nothing left to do. I was on the phone with them for a month. At times some of the operators agreed that something weird had happened, but in a few days I don’t know what they did to him, I hope they didn’t fire him, because another one would call saying I shouldn’t make waves because it was useless, I had to pay.
So in the end seeing I have no choice, I borrowed money from my parents, I paid and shut down my account with them. It was a huge amount of money, it hurt me very much. That kind of money is the salary for several months for some people. But the situation ate at me so much, and I was so troubled and saddened that I felt I called upon me more negative things by simply being so upset. I saw how my behavior changed towards my dear ones, I became cold and oversensitive, even with my boyfriend. I got upset out of nothing, and not like I got annoyed and quarreled, no, the opposite, I’d get depressed and cry my eyes out for half an hour and I’d not be able to get out of that mood. As if I was wallowing in it. It was easier to sit and cry instead of getting over it. I’d tell myself, “Listen, Oana, you’re healthy, you have a family. Money should go to hell, in the end it’s just money, in time you’ll get it back.” But I just couldn’t get out of that state. Until I said, “This is it!” I borrowed money from my parents, paid off the bill, and I now pay it back in installments to them. But when you’re a person who wants to help others and then you see that others don’t grant you the same good will when you’re in the hour of need, it’s demoralizing.
E.V.: I know what you’re talking about with these mobile phone companies. When I first came here in 2009 I thought I’d go crazy with them, the thievery they practice! And you never get to talk to someone in authority, only riff-raff who gives you the run around. In America it’s not like this. Don’t you have access to the Better Business Bureau, something to menace them with?
O.B.: There’s nothing you can menace them with. I sent a complaint to ANCOM, the Consumer’s Bureau…
Passer by: Do you have a cigarette, Miss?
O.B.: No.
E.V.: I think we have an entire box, Oana.
O.B.: Oh, God! I forgot about it and I think he saw it, that’s why he asked. Oh, what an ugly gesture of me, as if I lied on purpose to him.
E.V.: Well, maybe he comes back.
O.B.: Oh, how ugly of me!
E.V.: And?
O.B.: Well, they wrote me back last week that there’s nothing they can do. My problem with the bill was actually that they said that I had to pay that amount of money because I used that much internet traffic, but they couldn’t tell me on what websites I went, or what I have downloaded, or what had happened. And I said, “Well, could you give me some clear evidence since you ask for €500, not €5? When I make a phone call there is a record saying, ‘You spoke with this number for this amount of time.’ So please give me a similar record for the internet sessions.” “We can’t do that because then we’d invade the privacy of the consumer.” And I replied, “But this means that you can charge me with €1,000 and I can’t say anything about it!”
They wouldn’t say yes, but this was the truth.
So I sent a complaint to ANCOM, asking if they really can just charge you an arm and a leg without any record, and they said, “This is the law.” The same thing like when with the health insurance, when I had no income to pay for the coverage, “This is the law.” I don’t know who makes these laws, but it’s a sad reality. Yes, this is how it was with Vodafone, a huge swinish/piggish trick. A week after I’d canceled the service a girl called me, “How is it possible you canceling our service after only two months?” “Well, ask about around your Vodafone offices if you want to find out.” It was a swinish/piggish trick to pull, especially that I was their client for ten years as a prepaid. But as soon as I switched to a plan, and they had the occasion to swindle me and pull a fast one, they did. My bad luck.
But the harshest heartache is when you have a hardship yourself and no one extends help, though you so often helped out others. Sure, those poor Vodafone workers were just hired there, but I could never work in a place that would ask me to stop being myself, or stop caring about people just because this is my job. Sure, we don’t talk about situations when you are about to die of hunger, so you need that job desperately, that… well, alright, I might understand, but when you’re just looking for a job, I’d avoid this kind.
That’s why after I graduated I couldn’t… I had several options, Political Communication included. I said I would not be able to work in that field because in politics willy-nilly you had to lie at some point. To cosmeticize the truth, make reality better looking. I couldn’t live with a guilty conscience knowing that I lied to people. That’s why I tried to find an income source working on social projects. I don’t know how is abroad but here there aren’t many non-profit organizations that can pay their staff. Which is a sad thing, because these organizations that try to do good things should be encouraged by the state to further their activities, but somehow it’s not happening so. When we started with Let’s Do It many people said, “Oh, you’re taking money from your project’s funding. You are not real volunteers.” Which was not true! We really were volunteers. But were we to get a modest monthly amount of money for the hard work we did, I don’t see why they were so hateful. But this is how they are used, this is the Romanian mentality. Non-profit staffers should not be paid. But slowly, slowly it shall change.
E.V.: Thank you.
O.B.: With all my heart.
E.V.: Mosquitoes are eating us alive!
This interview has been recorded on July 7th 2011 in Bucharest, Romania. This spring, almost two years later, I’ve reconnected with Oana during the editing of this text, over the internet.
Let’s Do It, Romania!
cleaning campaign will reach its fourth edition this Fall on September 28th. She is still a fervent supporter, though she doesn’t work on the organizing team anymore. She now is excited about her representing Lucia, a promising Romanian singer and works on a project with Habitat for Humanity.

New York
April 28th, 2013

Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, engineering social change being one of them, I’d be grateful.

1 comment:

  1. Da, la tara nu ai cum sa-i condamni pe tarani ca nu-si arunca gunoiul unde trebuie sau ca nu fac reciclare, pt ca pur si simplu nu au unde in alta parte sa-l arunce, in afara de gropile de langa sosea sau campurile de pe langa casa. Nu au nici macar toaleta in casa(tot wc-ul din lemn sau carton din gradina), apa curenta, robinete, canalizari, etc. Taranii au trait foarte greu si inca sunt populatia cea mai suferinda din Romania. Frumos, gestul domnisoarei, deci mai exista speranta!:)