<< Part 3:
We’ll get to the part where I’m in a dress soon enough… But first update yourself on the story so far in my previous blog ‘Happy Faces in Romania‘.
Our first week on camp was much less intense than we’d feared. We spent most of the day hanging out with our room-mate Zahra and would teach two 1.5 hour long English classes (one at 10 am/one at 3pm). We spent most of the time in between and afterwards watching all five seasons of Breaking Bad, while Zahra went through Game of Thrones and frequent naps. About the only other time we crawled out of bed was when we heard the shout of ‘la masa’, which meant it was meal time (direct translation: ‘the table’).
Yeah, life was easy
In the evenings we’d usually head over to the house where the other volunteers lived, to chat and have a few beers, but it was during these nights that we found out that camp life was pretty different depending on whether you were an international volunteer or a Romanian. While our typical day would be perfectly comfortable for a lethargic slug, the Romanians worked much harder and for longer. When we weren’t teaching English, the Romanians held classes and workshops of their own and when we were teaching, they would be cleaning the camp. They would serve the meals, including ours and had to be on camp from sunrise until way beyond sunset.
It was clear that the Internationals were receiving some kind of special treatment among the volunteers. We quickly realised that it was an attempt at making us feel comfortable and happy with life at Happy Faces, but why should only the internationals be treated like kings? Well, Happy Faces was billed as an ‘English camp’ and having international volunteers in a small Romanian village was less common than a teenage girl using the rear facing camera on her iPhone.
While it may seem great at first, it quickly became awkward and felt extremely unfair. I’m sure that the overall intentions were good and there’s no doubt the camp would be better with the internationals there, so this was their way of making sure that we were happy and wanted to stay.
It makes sense, I get it!
Ironically though it was this special treatment which we had the biggest problem with and on a few occasions we considered leaving because of it. The other staff, Romanian or not, were our friends and living it up while they played Cinderella felt wrong.
Despite regularly asking to help, we were assured that if we did try to help, we would probably just get in the way and the staff didn’t have the time to train us properly and less still to clean up our mistakes.
We eventually got used to that just being the way the camp was run and would try to help out wherever would could. We did also find out that some of the other staff were being paid and not volunteering, which in my view makes things different. The workload did get a bit more even as the weeks went by, but it was always hard to shake the impression that we (the internationals) were the poster children for the English camp and the special treatment never felt anything other than uncomfortable.
Queen for a Day
In the evening there were activities for the whole camp, such as a karaoke night, a movie night or a school disco. Typically we didn’t have much interest in these and would sit in the house draining a few beers, waiting for the staff to come over after it had all finished. However, when we heard that on the last night of camp there would be a Talent Show, we had to get involved.
A few of us sat around at dinner trying to come up with an act we could all do together, but after a few minutes of slow realisation it sank in that I’m just a useless and talentless bastard who needed some cake to make himself feel better. I’d given up on the idea altogether until all those hung-over Saturday afternoons lay in bed with my mate Dan watching RuPaul’s Drag Race on repeat came back to me and finally came in useful… We should do DRAG!
We all laughed about it and sat around suggesting which girl band we might be. I wasn’t sure it was actually gonna happen (or if I really wanted it to) until 15 minutes later when I found myself wearing a long red dress, getting my nails painted and gossiping about boys. We borrowed the dresses from Zahra (I wore it better – just sayin’) and couldn’t find any heels big enough to fit us and we had to make do with flip flops, but we still rocked them.
Our song was Beyonce – Single Ladies (was there really any other option?). After a few minutes coming up with a dance and mime routine and with much help from our make-up artist Andreea, that was it. The group was set.
Zahra, Papi, Rick and I were looking fabalusa and ready to show those bitches what we got.
I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure how it was gonna go down. Romania is a deeply religious country, there are more churches here than schools and hospitals combined and you certainly don’t get a ‘liberal vibe’ from the place. So performing a drag show in a bar might not go down particularly well, but doing it for an audience of school kids, teachers and parents… Fuck it, YOLO!
Walking over to perform, we saw one of the kids in drag, he must have been around 12 or something and it turned out he had planned to do the same as us, on his own, same song, everything. So instead of competing we joined up and performed together. Massive respect to that kid though, he had balls!
The music came on, we hit the stage and worked it like vegas showgirls. The kids all laughed throughout and at the end there was massive cheering and applause. It went down great and the whole camp seemed to love it. No complaints, only a small queue of kids and staff wanting photos with us afterwards.
Now I know what it feels like to be Beyonce for a day.
La Revedere, Papi!
The fun didn’t last long as the next day we woke up to find out that one of our closest friends on camp, Papi had been suddenly sent home, without even having the chance to say goodbye and another two of the Romanian staff, Andrei and Gabi would be leaving later in the day.
We were obviously really upset because we’d become so close to all of the guys and them leaving so suddenly was a shock. The rest of the camp was visibly upset too as we walked around and spoke to the remaining staff to figure out what had happened. As it turned out Papi was still in town, waiting for a bus at the bus station, so Rick, Zahra and I went out to go and catch her for a small meal and a proper goodbye.
A Little English Goes a Long Way
We all went out that night to have a final drink in town with the two guys who were leaving. We took a lift to the bar with our friend Mircah, squeezing six of us into a five seater van to save trips. Unluckily for us, we got pulled by the police on the way and it looked for a while like we were gonna get a 500 Lei fine, which is a lot in Romania!
But when the policeman walked away to write the ticket, Zahra came up with a plan. The policeman came back and she started speaking to him. Very quickly. In English.
The general level of English isn’t very high in Romania and this guy was no exception. Whilst he knew the basics, he was still overwhelmed by an Indonesian girl quickly throwing lots of apologies and questions like ‘Is everything ok?’ and ‘we just arrived today, what is the problem?’. I couldn’t believe it actually worked, but it did! He let us off with a caution not to do it again… and then he let us carry on driving… With six people still in the car…
Welcome to Romania, huh?
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