We went to Sibiu this weekend.
The trip was primarily to meet members of Sibiu Ballet Company, who would like to do something to help support the Special Needs Centre that we work at, or even to do a performance to raise some money for them. They are really lovely people and we had a great time with them.
While we were there though we also had a little time to relax.
When we have had city breaks in the past, relaxation during the day happened by finding cafes frequented by the locals, not the tourist ones, and sitting in them and just to watch the world go by.
That's exactly what we did in Sibiu. We found a cafe overlooking the beautiful main town square, went in and sat down at a table in the window. We drank great coffee, chatted, and watched the world go by as people went about their business in the square in front of us.
As usual we talked about the people we could see and speculated occasionally about what they might be doing or where they might be going.
After a few minutes a pair of street sweepers came into view, a middle-aged woman and an older man. They were both dressed in dark coloured waterproof jackets and trousers with high visibility bands around the arms and legs. The woman was brushing hard at the cobbles, really having to make an effort to get the dirt and cigarette butts out form the cracks between them. All she had to work with was a Besom Broom, you know like the famous 'witches broomstick', which seemed to make the work twice as hard as it needed to be, but she just kept on going without resting, really working the broom into the cracks between the cobbles.
Road sweepers throughout Romania use these brooms, but most are sweeping tarmac or smooth paving, not ancient cobbles.
As I watched I thought about the road sweeping machines that they use in other 'better developed' cities in the world and wished that this poor lady could have one. Then I realised though, that if the city of Sibiu did have one, she would probably be out of a job and it would be the man she was 'working' with who would probably be driving the machine around the square and making a nuisance of himself among the many pedestrians.
|Piata Mare, Sibiu|
His task this day seemed at first to be one of just leaning on a floor brush next to a wheelie bin, and watching as the woman swept and swept at the rough paving, occasionally making a comment or pointing at something she had missed. He stood watching her for about ten minutes, then suddenly he leaped into action. He took a shovel from his wheelie bin, swept the pile of dog-ends and litter that the lady had made up into the shovel and then almost ceremonially emptied the shovel into the wheelie bin before tapping it on the side and then throwing it and the brush inside. He then strode off, at pace, pushing the wheelie bin towards the other side of the square.
I craned my neck around to look out of the corner of the window and I could see that another lady was on the other side of the square brushing just as vigorously at the cobbles over there. Once the man arrived next to her, he took his brush from the bin, leaned on it and stood watching her, just as he had been doing when I first saw him.
|Another lady, completely different place, same hard|
work, similar broom.
I looked back at the first woman and she was still working her broom furiously, making neat piles of rubbish, and I suspected that she might be trying to get far enough ahead of her task so that the man didn't have any time just to stand and watch whenever he returned.
As she brushed I saw a young man walk past her and then casually discard a cigarette end onto the paving where she had already brushed, not even glancing at the woman, or caring that she was working so hard.
It was then that it struck me that this really is a never-ending task for these ladies, and a task that would never be finished.
As a story I think this is also indicative of Romanian life generally. there are so many fit and healthy old ladies in our village, in their 80's and 90's they always greet us with a cheeky grin, a happy hello, and often a risque comment too! They are so full of life. The women are on their own, they are all widows, there are no men of similar ages.
It was Ali who pointed it out, and stressed that it is no surprise. After all it is usually the women who do all of the hard physical work, spending all day bent over, planting or picking or weeding in the fields, and then return home at the end of a long hard day to cook, wash, clean and raise their children.
They live a life that has kept them a lot fitter.
The men tend to supervise, just as the male road sweeper was doing.
Either that or they spend their time in local bars smoking, drinking coffee, beer or Tuica 'doing business,' or just talking about what needs to be done at any particular time of year. They might even discuss the big issues of the day, and of course, all will have an answer to them that no-one else has thought of.
Even the younger women who work long hours in bars, cafes or offices in the City have to return home to do the cooking, cleaning, etc., so modern day life hasn't changed things greatly.
So it's no wonder that it is the ladies who have the longevity, they have been kept fit all their lives by the amount of work they have to do, whilst the men live a far less healthy existence.
It is the women of Romania who are the power houses, who break their backs to try and ensure that their children, and their men, are fed, clean and presentable, and women have lived this lifestyle here for hundreds if not thousands of years.
The same is true in other less-developed parts of the world too, and I know that I am generalising and that this isn't true of all men and women, but from my observations of everyday Romanian life, it is the way the great majority of women live.
It's the woman who are the real power.