Wednesday, October 7, 2015

IVHQ Naploli Italy

Nearest and dearest thing to my heart is volunteerism. I have always been drawn toward helping others. In college, I flew to Tanzania to volunteer with Cross Cultural Solutions in an Elementary School. Guatemala City swiftly followed and I worked in an orphanage for three months. This year I was able to volunteer for IVHQ in Cusco Peru, World Vets in Romania, and now I am volunteering for IVHQ in Naples Italy. 2016 is going to be an even better year for volunteerism. I am very excited.

Oh Italy - I am not sure what I expected. Napoli is an old, dusty, dirty city. The alleyways are grey from exhaust fumes from cars and garbage is tossed carelessly everywhere. The mob is still HUGE in Italy and for years they controlled the garbage collection in the city. Or they were *suppose* to control the garbage collection. Instead they just left it to pile up around the city.... eventually the army was called to remove all the waste.... In some ways, the city itself looks like it has not changed in centuries. In other ways...... the honking horns, the constant stream of humans on the sidewalk, the high-end fashion shops, the hustle and bustle reminds me of New York City.

Italians really do live off Pizza and Pasta. No lie. Carb-Capital of the World - I would say that Italy is going to add thirty pounds to my physique .....  But my volunteer-placement is on top of a very steep mountain. An ancient old farm that belonged to Certosa di San Martino, a Monastery that was built in 1368...... I cannot explain to you how lucky I am to be working on that patch of land. We are building a garden on the side of the mountain to teach children where their fruits and veggies come from. Basic agricultural education for children of Italy.

Walking around the acres and acres of land that surround the Monastery. Everything is overgrown but everything is edible..... Walnut trees. Fennel. Lettuce. Olive trees (the harvest is this weekend). Grapes. Hazelnuts. Apple trees. Oranges. Limes - They even have a mini-farm for the children to meet domesticated farm animals. Chickens, ducks, geese, donkeys, rabbits and sheep.... I am just in love with my placement. I am so excited to get dirty at work today. We are turning the soil to make way for the new garden.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Athens Greece

In college, I remember reading about the Parthenon. I remember reading how Lord Elgin stole a ton of marble sculptures and sent them to the British Museum in early 1800s. I remember reading the controversy as to whether or not those sculptures should be returned to Greece. I never really imagined that it would matter to me one way or another (as long as the sculptures are safe in a museum, who would care). But I know now, those sculptures belong to Greece. Seeing that Lord Elgin hammered out the Centaurs, the Giants, the Amazons, the birth of Athena and took them back to Britain with him. Thievery. Lord Elgin took a Caryatid from the temple and replaced it with a cement column! Those pieces should be returned to Greek soil ......

The Parthenon. What a place!..... I never realized that it watched over the entire city of Athens. The Parthenon sits on a mountain and acts as the center to a very large clock. You can walk around the base of the mountain, around and around, always knowing where the center is. I found that to be quite amazing. I never once got lost. I spent hours in tiny allyways shopping or exploring but I always knew which way my apartment was.
Originally when I said that I was visiting Greece, people worried me "The economy is bad. Crime is an issue. The gypsies will get you." - I am SO happy that I did not listen. Greece has been the highlight of my trip. It was incredibly cheap, safe enough to walk alone at night with tourists.... I never felt threatened. Greeks are so warm and welcoming. I walked into a store front to look for a new purse, ended up ballroom dancing and drinking all night with the owner.

And the food. For real - I could live off Greek Salad for a year and I would never get sick of eating it. Fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, basil, feta cheese, olives, olive oil, salt, pepper. Mmm. Spent the week trying to track down the best Salad on the Plaka. Decided that God's Restaurant near the Metro Station. So good.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Brasov and Dracula's Castle

Made a lot of great friends during the World Vet trip. But one volunteer really stuck out. Her name was Sue. A veterinarian from Boulder Colorado. She was the first person that I connected with at the airport. Late 50's, silver hair, clear blue eyes. Short with a genuine smile that really felt good to be in the presence of ..... Sue had also flown into Bucharest a few days early (just like I did) 

Half way through the week, Sue asked me if I would be interested in traveling to Brasov with her ..... "You and I are both flying out on Tuesday morning and there are all these castles and churches in the Transylvanian mountains...." .... She said "Transylvania and Mountains" in the same sentence. I was IN... 

Normally when I travel, I make all my own plans. I research and I plot out the locations that I want to see. But since it was her idea and her trip, I wanted her to see all the things that her heart desired. So I just planned on keeping her company and planned on splitting the costs.

Rasnov Fortress. A citadel built on the route of the invading armis which were passing through Râșnov. The only chance of survival for the inhabitants of the area, was the refuge inside the citadel. Compelled to stay there for decades, the people of Râșnov and the nearby villages turned the fortification into a dwelling......

Also went to visit, Bran Castle. Commonly known as "Dracula's Castle" (although it is one among several locations linked to the Dracula legend). The first documented mentioning of Bran Castle is the act issued by Louis the I of Hungary in 1377, giving the Saxons the privilege to build the stone citadel on their own expense and labor force. In 1438–1442, the castle was used in defense against the Ottoman EmpireIn 1920, the castle became a royal residence within the Kingdom of Romania. It became the favorite home and retreat of Queen Marie. The castle was inherited by her daughter who ran a hospital there in World War II: it was later seized by the communist regime with the expulsion of the royal family in 1948.

Last but not least, was Peles Castle ...... The foundation was laid for Peleș Castle in 1873. Several auxiliary buildings were built simultaneously with the castle: the guards' chambers, the royal stables, even a power plant. Peleș Castle became the world's first castle fully powered by locally produced electricity. The cost of the work on the castle undertaken between 1875 and 1914 was estimated to be 16,000,000 Romanian Lei in gold (approx. US$ 120 million today)

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

World Vets Romania

Since I was a kid, I have always had an fascination with helping non-human creatures. My Grandmother used to love to tell this story about how I would spend hours hanging out with slugs in the garden (I can only imagine that I was a very imaginative child) - In highschool, I nursed baby bunnies and baby birds back to health. As an adult, I fostered dozens of kittens and numerous dogs. In the present, I AM that crazy-person that everyone calls when they find a random animal on the street. Last year, a friend called me and said, "A pigeon followed me home from work today. I don't know what to do with it. Can you take it?"

Makes a ton of sense that I would be drawn towards an organization that works with animals. World Vets travels the world offering free vet-care to animals in need. At first, I was not sure if they would consider me for a position. I am not a Vet-Tech and have little medical training. But it seems that my history with animals landed me an "Assistant" position.

Met the World Vet Team at the airport on Saturday morning. All the volunteers eagerly piled into the Transport van and drove three hours to the small town of Galati. Many of the volunteers slept during the drive. Many of them had flown over 24 hours to reach Romania. (these are just a few of my 'patients', do not worry, they are not dead just waking up from anesthesia)

Our team started work on Tuesday. I remember thinking, "Why aren't we volunteering every single day?" .... UNTIL we actually started working - 14 hour days are exhausting. Mentally and Physically. The space that we were working in had been abandoned for a few years and it needed to be cleaned top-to-bottom for surgery. My job was the Recovery Room. The first day, I shadowed a talented Vet-Tech. But later that evening, the Team Leader asked if I would mind taking over her job: Injections and catheters for the rest of the week. Needles, blood and feral cats do not work well together - Not to mention, giant dogs with muzzles. So much work. Exhausting work.

167 surgeries in three days. Many were the pets of locals. Others were homeless animals from the street. The small town of Galati was SO thankful to have free Veterinarian care. All day the locals stopped by the clinic with gifts. Homemade pottery, garden vegetables, bakery goods, fresh cut flowers. Even the Mayor stopped by to commend World Vets for volunteering in Galati...

Volunteering and Exploring Bucharest

Volunteering has always been near and dear to my heart. I have volunteered all over the world with all different organizations: Cross Cultural Solutions, IVHQ, ect... This time I decided to branch out and try a new organization called World Vets. They are an organization centered around offering free spay and neuter surgeries to low income families and whatever-street animals they can nab off the streets. With over 500,000 stray dogs in Romania, it is a country that is in dire need of vet-care.

I flew into Bucharest a few days earlier than the Veterinarian Team so that I could play "Tourist" in City Centre - City Centre is the oldest part of the city, consisting of many churches and historic buildings. Sadly most of the city was ruined by World War II bombings and what wasn't ruined in the bombings, was later demolished by Communism ...... My taxi driver was my first introduction to Romania. He was so nice that he unplugged the Taxi Meter and offered to drive me from place to place for free. I figured that it was too good to be true, but it wasn't..... He drove me around for two hours playing tour-guide, I tipped him 20 USD, it was a great introduction to the city.

Everything in Romania is quite cheap (it is about 1/4th of what our dollar is worth), I had many choices when it came to finding a place to stay. I decided on a private room at the Little Bucharest Hostel right in the middle of the City Centre. My room was on the fifth floor. I had to carry all my luggage up never-ending flights of concrete stairs. But the VIEW was WOW! So worth it - Copper rooftops and dozens of historic buildings that went up in the 1700s.

There is so much history in this city - But like I mentioned earlier, so much of it has been lost. During the 1980's, Romania became increasingly anti-religious with the Community movement. This movement meant that any monument that reminded the people of their traditions and past had to be razed to the ground or, at least, hidden from public sight. This was the case for churches, which carried a lot of symbolism for Romanian people, and which started to be demolished one by one, along with entire neighborhoods. Seeing the architectural massacre, a group of people tried to convince the Communists that it was better to simply “hide” the churches from public view. A major contribution to winning this argument was a technique developed by construction engineer Eugen Iordachescu. He enabled entire buildings to be literally moved from one location to another, sometimes hundreds of meters away from their original location. Eugen saved dozens of churches this way.

Friday, September 25, 2015