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Volunteer AbroadVolunteer Overseas

Emma Hatherall - Classical & Medieval Archaeology in Romania

A quick game of table tennis

Coming through the arrival gate of Bucharest airport a wave of relief and excitement rushed over me as I spotted the A4 Projects Abroad sign in the line of people waiting. Rushing over I was met by the ever so friendly Leo and another volunteer Kate who was awaiting the arrival of her boyfriend. Waiting for two other volunteers who were to arrive on the same day I listened to Kate's stories of the wonderful hospitality and fabulous time she was having. By the time we left the airport I already felt part of a family and couldn't wait to meet the people I would be staying with.

The three hour drive from the airport was a great, albeit slightly scary introduction to Romanian driving and a perfect way to see the varied landscape of the Romanian countryside, from the dry dusty streets of Bucharest to the luscious green mountains of Brasov. Arriving tired and hungry at my hosts’ house I was immediately supplied with a hot shower and a pizza within 5 minutes of walking through the door.

I quickly became friends with the three other girls I was staying with and joined them that evening for a drink at Deane's, an Irish pub in the centre of Brasov and the starting point of many a volunteer night out! Here I met some of the other volunteers, some whom had been there for a few months to some that had been there just a few days.

Boats on the Danube

The next day myself and Cloè, a fellow archaeology volunteer, were greeted by Alex who then walked us round Brasov picking up various other new arrivals on the what seemed like a short trek to the Projects Abroad office for our induction. After meeting Mircea and Josef, who had the arduous task of looking after me for the next four weeks, we then headed out for a quick tour of the city and were taken out for our first slice of traditional Romanian cuisine known as salmale (rolls of mince wrapped in cabbage).

Having opted for an early night we awoke the next day ready for our trip to the dig site which was to be my home for the next four weeks and Cloè's home for the next two weeks. My curiosity was building as to what the site was going to be like. We had been told that it was going to take all day to get there, we were going to Popina Bordusani, a small island on the river Danube and we would be staying in small metal huts, but still we had no idea what to expect.

We were picked up by Josef in a taxi and taken to the train station. After several hours on a train and changing trains in Bucharest on the way, we then arrived in a place called Fetesh where we hauled our bags about a mile down the road to the bus stop. After a further 30 minutes on a bus we were then greeted by several Romanian fishermen and small wooden boat! Crossing the Danube on a rowing boat in the heat of the afternoon sun with three fishermen chatting away in Romanian whilst spitting sunflower seed shells over the side was truly an experience I shall never forget, especially when this was followed by a horse and cart ride over narrow dirt tracks through a forest.

Dig site

Having travelled by almost every mode of transport possible to get there, we were then faced with the daunting prospect of only the very basic facilities for the next few weeks, these included a non-flushable outdoor toilet, showers heated by the sun (luckily the Romanian summer is very hot so cold showers were not a problem!), and electricity for just a few hours every evening. If you had seen the reactions of Cloè and I when we were presented with the toilet and also that of Josef's when realising he only had electricity for a few hours a day then you would have realised that we are not the kind of people that are used to 'roughing it' for long periods of time!

It was the next morning when we got stuck into the archaeology. Having to get up at 5.30 in the morning was the hardest part of a usual day, although a large cup of coffee usually did the trick in waking you up! It was an advantage being based on the dig site, this meant no daily travelling, and having to work under direct sunlight meant that work stopped every morning before 11am because of the heat and started again in the evening at around 6pm. This left the rest of the day free, but it was usually occupied by some of the best naps you will ever have! When you were blessed with a boost of energy though after all the digging, there was plenty of fishing, short walks and table tennis to occupy your time.

Having to work until 8.30pm most evenings on the island meant that dinner was eaten rather late but true to form the archaeologists always made sure there was alcohol readily available at the ‘bar’ which consisted of bottled spirits on a small log table for people to drink while they waited for the evening meal to be served. The evening meal was a feast of leftovers from lunch, along with any extra fish or meat that was brought to the island that day by the fishermen and any other passing guests! Some examples of these evening feasts included a selection of barbequed meat, freshly culled goat, fresh lobster (my personal favourite!), and fish that had been caught that very morning.

Fishing at Popina Bordusani

Within the first week we had learnt the general site etiquette, been shown how to handle a trowel and record the different layers of sediment, and had become supporting stars in a Romanian television production! To top the week off we then spent our first weekend at the coast, spending some time sunning ourselves by the Black sea and taking full advantage of having a flushing toilet again!

Time flew by though, and on the Sunday we were soon being driven back to the train station for the long journey back to the Danube, accompanied part of the way by a young man sporting a picture of crucified Jesus inked into his back! The first week had been particularly hard, especially being in such a remote area where not all the volunteers spoke good English. Despite this everyone had made a real effort to get to know us and not only did I get a crash course in Romanian, but I had soon made some very good friends.

By the end of my second week I had said goodbye to my French companion Cloè at Bucharest airport and been able to spend a short time in the city itself. When I had first arrived, everyone had told me that Bucharest was not worth spending much time in compared to the lively city Brasov, and having spent the day wandering around its busy, dusty and streets I could see how they had come to that conclusion. The beautifully ornate architecture of Brasov widely outshone the high rise, concrete structures of Bucharest, although their underground trains were much more inviting than those of the London underground!

The Black Sea coast

After a long journey back from Bucharest on what had to have been the slowest train still in use (we were overtaken by lorries!), we were once again met by one of the fishermen who took us on a short visit to his home allowing us to meet his mother, before rowing us back to the island. I was surprised at just how busy the small village of Bordusani was as night, having seen just a handful of people under 25 in the village throughout the daytime, by 10pm it seemed like a large party of teenagers and young adults had appeared from nowhere and taken to the streets! The atmosphere was wonderful and everyone was much better behaved than the people you would usually find out on the streets of the UK at night!

In the blink of an eye it was the end of my fourth week and I had to say goodbye to the island. Despite having to live without all the home comforts I was used to, I had really enjoyed being able to spend so much time in the great outdoors, despite the numerous mosquito bites that I had acquired! And was going to miss the people, the animals and even the outdoor showers I had shared my summer with.

Luckily before returning home I was able to spend my last weekend in Brasov with another host family, and just in time to catch the festival of the stag, which is a Romanian music festival held in the centre of the city. Being able to catch up with some of the volunteers that had been there when I arrived and finding out what their experiences had been like, despite them being very different in many ways, I found we all had one major thing in common; we had fallen in love with Romania and didn’t want to leave.

Emma Hatherall

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