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Making a whip out of poo in Romania

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This is a travel writer 2018 competition entry


"Face din rahat bici". Elena's frown thawed into a warm grin at my confusion. "It means 'to make whip from poo' - to make little go long way. We Romanians are good at this, we had no choice". She thrust a greasy mici into my numb hands. The balmy roll of minced meat was a perfect remedy for the Transylvanian winter which slowly dissolved into darkness outside. The train coiled through the valley, away from Rasnov where Elena found me, cold and lost. 

The medieval town of Rasnov, before the snow storm arrived

*

A grey, leaden haze was heading straight for Rasnov. Dense clouds tumbled over the Carpathians, swallowing the peaks ino obscurity. Rasnov fortress, perched on a rocky cliff above the medieval town, was the first to be sucked into its dreary depths. The town's Hollywood-style 'Rasnov' sign, which hangs beneath the fort, became a flickering apparition from within the mist.

The lonesome crunch of my steps in the snow broke the deserted silence, reminding me I was alone. No one else was mad enough to wander the town now; it was like an apocalyptic movie set. Rick Grimes could have easily leapt from any shadow. The inky sky promised a barrage of snowflakes. They began falling like fluffy lead pellets, eventually suffocating the cobblestone streets; pulling Rasnov's pastel-tinted buildings into a chalky murk.

The bus shelter provided meagre refuge. Slowly, the haze consumed what remained of the town. The clock tower chimed from somewhere within the fog's recesses... another hour had passed. Still - no bus. The 18 kilometers back to Brasov felt increasingly impossible with every snowy bullet that fell.

The mist begins to roll over the Carpathians

*

"Autobuzul nu vine acum", a voice barked from the mist. Its hoarse tone broke the silence. Elena's silhouette emerged from the shadow, briskly swiping snow from her black leather jacket. She quickly decided I must be a tourist, instinctively switching to English. "Brasov bus. Not coming". Her frosty stare pierced colder than the breeze. Snow settled atop her meticulously combed hair. Her powdered face was white as the snow; her scarlet lipstick conspicuous like blood on lace. Something about her commanding presence placed her in a Soviet military uniform in my head.

"Come, we go to gara. Train... to Brasov". Waving me over, her arms flapped in a confused frenzy. Her gold rings shone from her fingers like beacons. Something compelled me. Ws it her insistence, the bitter twilight or sheer curiosity? Perhaps all three. Suddenly, I felt my legs struggling to keep up with Elena's march. Her thick black boots stamped crater-sized footprints in the snow as we headed for the 'gara'. 

Elena stomped through the fog, swinging her bag with authority. Something about this starnger intrigued me. Who is she? What is her story? Whoever she was, I was trusting her to get us back to Brasov. 

"German?" Her head snapped in my direction awaiting a response. 

"No, British. From England", I replied. 

Elena's mouth grew into a thin smirk. "Ah, Queen and tea". With a half-suppressed chuckle, Elena pushed on through the snow towards the train station.

The faint outline of a train track unfolded through the haze. A tiny single-carriage train sat upon the track. Its matchbox size and rickety wheels conjured up cliched images of Soviet Eastern Europe. Elena carved her own path across the tracks and leapt up onto the train. With a military-like wave, she summoned me to follow.

*

The train squeaked and rattled its way towards Brasov and Elena's rigid gaze melted into the warmth. The track unfurled through the valley like a runaway ribbon. From the train's refuge, the wintry Transylvania which had seemed so threatening earlier began to adopt a savage beauty. Petrified tress shivered in the wind, their bare branches twisted like contorted limbs. Sugar-dusted peaks popped in and out of view, velied by the rolling mist. 

The Romanian flag is swallowed by the impending snow storm 

Elena gently unwrapped another mici from its foil. I insisted that she kept ir for herself but with the affection of a nurturing grandma, she clasped my fingeres around it. Her lips spread into a genial smile. "If Ceausescu taught Romanians one thing, it's how to share. No matter how little".

As the Romania I'd become pleasantly fond of sank into darkness outside, Elena pulled me into the old Romania, a country plagued by its former Communist dictator. "We waited in long line for hours, all day for food. Sometimes bread was all we had, for whole family. We made that little go long way".

I'd learned about Ceausescu's Romania during my A-Level history. He had grand plans for his country. But who were the only people that seemed to benefit? The Ceausescus themselves, of course. He destroyed countless homes and displaced many families to build his ironically named 'Palace of the People' in the capital, Bucharest. The vulgar lump of concrete still stands today as the world's second largest building (after the USA's Pentagon).

"Sometimes we had no water running in our homes. Every night, electricity was cut. There was not enough for everyone", Elena continued. I remembered reading a fact about Ceausescu's palace, that ironically it uses the same amount of electricity annually as a small city. 

"But we managed. We must. We are still here - Ceausescu is not. He did teach us how to share and how to make the most. For that, we should be thankful". Her mouth spread into the same warm smile again.

Suddenly, I realised that the half-eaten mici was still in my hand. I looked at it intently. It was no longer a greasy roll of meat. It became a testament to Romanian tenacity and above all, the kindness of its stoic people. Elena found me at that cold bus stop; she took me under her wing and shared what she had with me, a stranger. I'm thankful that the bus never arrived.

When Romania's cold front melts away you see a nation which has survived the toughest times by uniting as one. Elena showed me how you can triumph through challenges by putting your faith and trust in others, emerging all the richer. As Romanians say, you can indeed 'make a whip from poo'.

Lost in Elena's words, I nearly missed the train jolt into Brasov. But that didn't seem to matter.

Calm after the storm: safely back in Brasov after the snow had passed


In order to provide no entrant with an unfair advantage, Student Travel Writer 2018 competition entries are edited for grammar only - stylistic choices and headlines are solely the work of the writer in question and not of The National Student's editorial staff.                       

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