Climate change 101

Here we go, a yarn about the biggest challenge we have to face as a human population. Somehow everyone knows about Climate Change and somehow not many seem to be doing something about it, I'm not talking about quitting your job and actively going out into the world starting movements or going down the street yelling "the end is coming" nah, just incorporating the fact that our planet is facing negative changes because of our lifestyles, into everyday life.

Most people shut off straight away when hearing about the impacts of climatic changes. This is not surprising as in general our life is flooded with an abundance of bad news, we can't evaluate them all and try do something about them, so what do we do? We just put them in a corner of our brain where they slowly wither away and continue living in our world which already is stressful enough. This can't be the way. We have to face those issues, just like how we have to face our own thoughts, our commitment as temporary visitors on this earth to keep it in the same condition as we found it, or the need to face each other with dignity and respect. Your not reading an account of how bad our situation is but my believe that we can move into a future where small conscious adjustments can have an immense impact on our quality of life as well as a future that is shaped by less rather than more, by opportunities being accessible for everyone rather than a few, a change of perceptions to community rather than me and the will to keep our environment as lively and diverse as it is so that future generation have the same freedom to play, explore, recuperate.....just like us. 

The time to blame greedy corporations for sucking the life out of the planet is over, we support them by buying or using their products/ services. Sustainable options sprout out of every crack and its on us to give them water, to shine on them with our choice that we have every time we purchase, choose or consume anything. 

You wouldn't believe how much rubbish/plastic we find in even the remotest areas all around the world. You wouldn't believe how many people already start suffering under the influence of climate change. Nothing on this planet disappears, it just changed its location or had a phase transition and therefore is not visible for us anymore e.g. the petrol we put in our car doesn't just "disappear" but actually it just changes location and state from under the earth to into our atmosphere. 

What can we do every day?

  • Buy local, seasonal, ethically wherever possible.
  • Use less plastic e.g. try not using single use plastic like straws, plastic bags or coffee lids; instead try use reusable containers/bags when shopping (no packaging/zero waste supermarkets popping up everywhere, have a look if there is one around you or buy from farmers markets); try use glass or metal water bottles that you can reuse. 
  • Secondhand is the new new, there is so much stuff already in this world why not buy something preloved, you can actually find anything from clothing to cameras. 
  • Talk about it, with your family, friends, colleagues, you will be surprised how many people already think about those issues but might not know how to start, find solutions together and have fun with it. 
  • Don't stop here, let this be the first step to a more sustainable lifestyle or a start to more research, just don't get caught up in the abundance of knowledge readily available today , the importance is using that information. 

Those ideas above would already be a great start. Try incorporate some of those game changers in your thinking, in your everyday activities, often they need less getting used to as you think and mostly they won't even be inconvenient, it just a matter of getting used to planning a little ahead e.g, taking a cotton/canvas or backpack with you in the morning in order to not take a plastic bag in the supermarket. 

Lets all be real here, you knew all this before, its a small step for us but as a collective we can make a huge change. Let's walks this road together, let's start thinking, let's show interest, let's gain knowledge, let's act towards a sustainable, brighter future. 

On the fast lane through Romania

The time in Kosice drained us, in an environment of struggle, people living in hard conditions and a constant strange tension in the air that I would nearly identify as negative but has glimpses of hope shining through, that surrounding leaves someone having to spent more energy on keeping oneself motivated, positive and hard working. The saying that you are the average of the people you surround yourself with seemed increasingly fitting. We were ready for new horizons and lucky enough to just create, rewrite our future a whole lot easier than people at Kosice. We left with a hightend spirit of this fortune and were eager to spread it, be it to people or nature, they both need it. 

Romania is the next stop. Through our great friend Toby we had a contact in Cluj-Napoca, from there Julia made a quick trip to London for work and I was keen to explore the Romanian highlands. Our host Catalin was the nicest dude, offered us a well needed shower, we ate a typical Romanien dinner together and he had some sweet world views. The view from his flat wasn’t bad either.

Since I just had a few days till Julia got back I headed straight towards the mountains the next day, destination Moldoveanu Peak. It was a fascinating drive along many small villages, fruits and vegetables stalls started to appear everywhere on the side of the road, mostly older ladies selling leftovers from their garden. You can't get more sustainable than that, every single time I had an internal battle if I should stop again and buy more or just have a chat with the ladies, often I did. 

There is a road going to the start of the track already at 2000m elevation, I though not bad just 500m elevation left. However the road was still well under snow and they just started clearing it now so I had to start from under the Bâlea waterfalls. There was also a gondola going up to the higher inaccessible carpark but who knows me just a little knows that this is not an option, similar to how we always take stairs instead of the lift, little wisdom from Arnold. Off I went ...

First view from just above the waterfall

The track was wicked winding its way higher through coniferous forest till I popped out on top where shrubs, rocks and still a decent amount of snow ruled. The snow was actually covering most of the track all the way up to the lake where the tunnel starts. Everything still seemed to need some time to wake up from winter sleep. 

An hour later I noticed the huge cloud coming in and decided to settle for Vânătarea lui Buteanu, a peak just 50m shorter then Moldoveanu with sweet views over the vast plains running out from the Făgăraș Mountains. 

On the way down I stopped at the house on the lake and to my surprise, it was open. A few lonely tourists sitting having buffet breakfast and at least 5 unenthusiastic staff walking around looking pretty busy which again, surprised me. Then it happened, I saw an old hand-drawn map on the wall with a track going all the way along the ridge. As it turns out the Făgăraș Mountains have the longest continuous ridge in the Carpathians, about 70km long and for most parts even a trail running along it. Needless to say that I will be back!

The next day I did another run from Mănăstirea Turnu up to Cozia mountain with some trails being quiet hard to follow (I think I made some wrong turns though ;), mapsme once again made the trip a lot easier. The Turnu Monastery was build 1676 and is a great place to visit, lots of monks roaming the place with most of them looking pretty close to enlightenment. The surrounding forrest has a great atmosphere, I didn't see a single soul on the whole track apart from when I was running along a ridge I saw a beast of boar not far in front of me but he went pretty quickly into the forrest again. The Carpathians actually boosting with a huge population of carnivores, you can find brown bears, wolves, lynx and other wildcats. Majestic stags, snakes like the viper and the golden eagle are also roaming around. Pretty sweet. 

With batteries fully charged I went straight to Craiova to pick up Julia from the airport. 

Next stop Serbia! 

Lifting blankets

The next week was filled with growth, us as human beings improving communication on many levels with a group of people that is not easy at times to interact with, our knowledge base concerning cultures/ ways of living,  the power of opinions, prejudice and how your own thoughts shape the world around you. Nothing new about those topics but seeing them in real life together with a minority that mostly lives well under European standards makes you question them in a different light. 

On our second day we visited Lunik IX again, this time with our cameras. We heard about other photographers/ journalist coming here on a regular basic so the last thing we wanted to do is creating an atmosphere where the people here feel like they’re in a zoo. Respect and dignity. Therefore we didn’t just start taking pictures, we talked first, had a look around and started thinking of how we can capture the atmosphere in an honest way. Many people from the day before recognised us, not long after we got there we noticed that it was a holiday for the Roma, a day to listen to loud music and enjoy themselves. Obviously the two of us were easy to spot, within half an hour most people that didn’t know us from the day before knew some white guys with cameras were here. A few men, clearly in charge of the music, waved to come to them, we obliged and walked, with our drop of constantly changing children that followed us right from the start, towards what seemed like the community center. On the second floor of that building which was looking over the main square was the music area, two massive speakers surrounded by a bunch of men. First things first we got invited to have shoots of vodka, can’t really say no, down they went. A few jokes later we started taking portraits of several people and promised to bring print outs the next day. 

“Alles klar?” , I looked around looking at a middle age men smiling, thats how we met Marek. He is in charge of the music whenever there is something to celebrate and we heard that he even records some songs, plays guitar and piano, and even better talks some German. It turned out to just be a few words but it was the best communication so far, quickly he invited us to his flat, it was in one of the two blocks that had running water. We talked as much about the situation in Lunik as the language barrier permitted, got offered coffee and they were happy to be in front of the camera.  

After Marek showed us around the area and took us to a look out spot nearby from where you could see most of Lunik. He told us some pretty horrible stories about the destinies of some unfortunate families. 

We continued returning each day talking to different families and returning to ones we had seen before. Slowly we started understanding the dynamic about living here and that even the community within wasn’t as strongly weaved as thought, a sense of true compassion for their peers living besides them seemed to be missing however the family bond was strong. It didn’t seem like anyone had to go hungry.

On our last day we got a great insight through an interview with a resident, she lived there for 17 years and has seen many changes. In general she says, it improved. The population in Lunik decreased rapidly in the last 10 years which made the living quality better. Many of them moved to England, Belgium or the Netherlands for better opportunities getting work. Entering some of the apartments we actually were surprised as they looked immenlsly better than thought by looking at the run down blocks with missing windows in the stairways.

The interview was made possible through the translation of the community centre which was situated directly in Lunik, half funded by the European Union and the other half by the city itself. Martin was our contact person, he needed some serious convincing to help us even though we are reaching out for the same people, trying to spread the story of how it is living in Lunik as well as brightening up the everyday life of people living at times a dull, unspectacular lifestyle that screamed melodies of wanted change and passed opportunities. It felt like Martin was missing grit, little internal drive to keep on trying implementing change in this world where appreciation for his work was little. We had a talk with a women who lived at Lunik for the last 17years, she told us about great change in the number of people living here, 7000 down to 3500, that the school inside Lunik is looked down upon as a special needs school where they play more then learn. Two living blocks that the city deemed unsafe to live in where closed down, most people moved into other neighbourhoods but the once that wanted to stay close to their family build tiny sheds just outside Lunik. Very poor living conditions, especially in winter has even lead to the death of children due to cold. 

Already before this interview we got invited into many houses, made friends and also had to prove ourself in front of angry young men. We witnessed great housing initiatives to give families a kick start and give them the chances they deserve. 

ETP Slovensko has set up a micro loan project to give the families and small kickstart, building of the houses is done mostly by the families themselves with occasional help by a builder which leaves the cost much lower. In Rankovce a program is in place were local women create handbags and sustainable wood chip blocks for income. 

In the end we noticed, once again, how all of us sit in the same boat, some have a rougher journey then others, ride waves as big as abandoned housing blocks that with their falling stones of aging decay close the barrels of life till it all collapses on you, but some, ride it out, stick up to their fears and can’t does to defy expectations, they create their own reality through actions and thoughts. We are hopeful for the future of Lunik, we are hopeful for this world being able to straighten up from injustice and unsustainable ways of living, but it won't happen by itself, the change has to start from within ourselves. Lets make it happen. 

All or nothing

Our heads full of revolution from the Euromaidan we came back, highly motivated, to start telling the story of the Roma people.
Our contacts were not available yet, waiting is not our strong point, we decided to take the luck in our own hands, in New Zealand we would say “just winging it”. On our first day we went into the infamous and pretty much official Romani ghetto in Kosice, Lunik IX.

 Lunik IX

Lunik IX

We wanted to get a feel for it, are the people really as aggressive and inhospitable as we got told or is there a prejudice in the public of Slovakia just how it is observed often with poor minorities that for decades lacked the right integration into local society? 
Armed with a polaroid camera we dived in and were able to give something back straight away, show people the power of photography, a frozen piece of time that can not be altered, therefor a true impression of how life is at a given moment.

It was a big success, soon we were not only surrounded by children but also three men, which quickly dressed up to have a picture taken. Many different people came and left, we laughed, we danced (a lot), sang, did cartwheels, handstands and ate, to me still unknown, unripe fruits from a tree.

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Three hours later we left, exhausted, but with a much better understanding about their life and a first step closer towards a meaningful exchange on which we can tell an authentic story about an ethnic minority very rich in history and culture but with a past that sadly has not been too great at all. History is riddled with devastating stories and hardships the Roma people had to endure to be here in the first place. To this day it seems that most of them still haven’t been given the best chances to integrate well into the local societies of where they now call home. If we take the middle of all the estimate we saw it should be around 10million Roma in Europe, the reason of why they left their homes of Northern India and Pakistan is still unknown. No matter where they went the role as societies outcast living in the outskirts seems sealed, even after living in countries for several generations.  Our next days will be focused on unpacking some of those, to us, mysteries, in order for everyone to understand each other better, because in the end of the day, we are all made out of the same materials, external factors have shaped the way we behave and had a huge say in the opportunities that we found along the way, let’s all appreciate this fortune while leaving a world of prejudice, let’s fill our pockets with compassion, a healthy mix of smiles, authenticity and open mindedness. 

 “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Hamlet : Act 2, Scene 2.

 We love kids, their curiosity is contagious, the middle finger we just noticed later ;) 

We love kids, their curiosity is contagious, the middle finger we just noticed later ;) 

 

 

Travel back in time

Our journey to the Ukraine started with a long  queue at the boarder crossing where sun heated asphalt was melting underneath our feet. By now we have left the blistering cold behind us to sit like frying meat in the hot afternoon sun. I wouldn't want it any other way. 

Cars were searched elaborately but when the overwhelming chaos of Sabine's underbelly swept into the officers faces they surrendered in trying to search through every bag. And so we continued our venture to find out what a country spits out when the old east and the new west drown inside each other. We drove through villages and couldn't sate our eyes on this seemingly time capsuled place. Holes in the streets gaping open like craters in the desert made it difficult to ride faster than walking speed. Lone chicken and lost cows wandering the road sides, old neighbours having a comfortable chat on a lazy afternoon, horse carriages taking goods from A to B and old houses skinning their broken shell off the walls. 

Life seemed so simple here and yet its magic mesmerised me. 

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Quickly we came to the decision that we wanted to see more of this country that was holding so much more in store for us. We booked an overnight train that would take us through a hot Ukrainian night and depart us into the waking hands of it's proud capital. The train ride was long and hot. Trapped air breathed in and out by hundreds of people, a late sun light covering the bunk beds with a golden sheet and finally the long awaited cool kiss of the falling night. 13 hours later we would awake to yet another hot morning filled with endless opportunities of an unknown city. 

We shared the compartment with a Czech man who invited us friendly to sit with him. The heat lurred him into taking off his shirt and the blank matter of the moment exposed his figure of comfort. In a conversation lost in translation we understood that he had a house and family in Kyiv where he was born but his job would make him travel 42 hours on this rusting old train all the way to Prague every other month. There he would spend two months working before he returned to his family in Kyiv for one very short but long awaited week.

My first impression of Kyiv was different to what I expected. What exactly I expected I am not sure of but the centre, the heart of this newly reborn place had the face of a young person, energetic and modern, undergone an effort to shine. Just around the next street corner though your curious eyes would find the evident footprint of the past despite the radical effort to deminish the traces of it's communuist history. In the aftermath of the bloodful Euromaidan, more than 2000 monuments had been taken down and more than 400 cities and villages woke to find themselves with a new name. A wave of reforms washed over the country and he who didn't listen could be punished with a prison sentence reaching up to two years. You can sense they don't take it easy, the responsibility to make the winter of 2014 count, to make it so the heavenly hundered didn't die for no good.

A touching exhibition was placed on the Maidan sqaure, the once blank canvas, the silent witness, that counldn't help the blood shedding of its people who were fighting for a just leadership.

We were intreguied to find more of the old Kyiv, to see more of what was before the new generation was opening its gates to the west. So we took the train and rode to the last stop on the line. This was more like what I had seen with my imaginary eye, maybe a little bit ignorant to the county's recent past. But here I understood, this was the missing link between the peeling houses and horse carrieges in the villages and the modern centre of this city.

Here we wandered over old fashioned markets, old women peeping out underneath their faded head scarfs with their sun dried faces. Selling milk in plastic bottles sitting in the sun that would turn sour in a blink of an eye. 

 

It was a mesmerising feel in the air, like touching history at its fingertips and putting the ends together. I loved the experience this country left me with and would return any time. 

 

 

The big mountains

After 4 days of "lazy" farm life we decided it was time to get active again. The mountains were calling us and so we listened.

We continued our journey through Slovakia going all the way up north - the high Tatras. It says the highest peak is only to be reached with a local guide or for members of alpine clubs. Well, if you know Johannes, you will know how this story continues. I decided to stay out of this one - which was probably a life saving decision. 

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Johannes went for it and impressively conquered the whole thing and returned to the car in the dark, grateful for such a wicked mountain adventure. Below you can follow his accent.

The next day, we went on to some less deadly climbs. Not less scenic in the slightest though we decided hike up to Teryho Chata, second highest hut in the High Tatras, overlooking three beautiful mountain lakes.

The ascend wasn't too much of a challenge and we tackled it in three hours with stop and go to take pictures .

The path was pretty well done almost all the way up to the top which is why there was quite a lot of people. A bit too many for my liking. Hoewever the last third of the walk was covered in snow which made it hard to see where the path continued so I found myself broken into the snow hip-deep at some point. Survived. Again.

 

I am kind of torn over what impressed me more... the incredible view or the sherpas who carried goods of 100kg up that bloody mountain! I mean, what? They are the only 'sherpas' in Eurpope btw, delivering goods to the two huts and a few others scattered in the high Tatras. Locals have called them that for decades and they are very popular in the region.

On the very top we had to realise that all the lakes were completely covered in snow which was a shame. But a hot apple tea later, everything was forgiven and forgotten.

The hike was great and the views were amazing. Worth every bit.

The day after we continued to what the Slovaks call paradise. A national park south of the Tatras. We made our camp at the nearby castle where we met two climbers who spent the night, which was full of wicked lighting and thunder, in their car, just like us. The local boys were super excited about getting to know everything about our journey and I think they fell in love with Sabine a bit. To be fair... she is quite a catch.

We invited them for a coffee and had a nice chat with them as it's always interestig to hear things from a local's perspective. They invited us to go climbing with them but our schedule was set to head towards the Ukraine the same day. So off we went heading towards this exciting journey. 

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Community bonding

The following days we spent lots of time with Vigram. 

 

He showed us his various gardens that were scattered around Brno and of which he didn't pay for a single one, he takes care of them after telling the owners about his ideas. 

He is a networker (one time we walked through Brno bars to invite people to a reggae gig that he would dj at, instead of just leaving flyers at the counter he/we talked to every single person in the bar and invite them, needless to say that we spent more then half an hour just in the first small bar), not afraid to talk to people, not afraid to say what most people would just think. That's how he creates opportunities for everyone to help and for him to do what he loves, to live a life full of joy by growing plants that will sustain a healthy lifestyle.

Preparing plants in the grow room in his flat, they soon will be moved outside.

He wants to build highly insulated grow houses that make it possible to grow vegetables all year around. This great initiative needs support, fundraising video and ways to get involved will be up soon. 

Right now Vigram has three plots, is about to build his first two grow houses, lives partly in a trailer on his farm and does most of the work himself. Sometimes he does have friends who help out. 

 Any help welcome, no dress code. 

Any help welcome, no dress code. 

One of his future goals is to host volunteers who can learn how to grow organically and spread the idea of community based food production. We wish you all the best!

Hello Vigram

Catching up, from the 10.04.2018.

After exploring the Adrspach rock-formations we stayed a night in Pardubice, known for its chemical industry where Synthesia used to produce Semtex, at a young woman's place who we met on Couchsurfing. Was nice having a warm shower again and hearing stories from our host who used to live in Australia for 6years. We were both wondering why she had left Aussie to go back into "the city of industry" till we found out that she used to have cancer and only back in Slovakia did she receive the treatment she needed without going in debt for the rest of her life.

 Morning in Pardubice

Morning in Pardubice

The next day we were happy to see our car still where we left it after having heard the night before that the grandma of our host had her car stolen many times in this area. In the morning we had a look around the city but since we both aren't such city dwellers we spent most of our time in the library doing research and editing. Same day we made our way to Brno since Julia had to catch a flight to London for a few days doing work. 

 Brno locals

Brno locals

While reading up about the cultures of Czech Republic we stumbled upon the Romani people. Not knowing too much about them we went into the the museum of Romani cultures in Brno, fascinated and shocked about the history and current affairs of this ethic group we knew that we wanted to find out more and get to know some of them. Full of thoughts and energy we came out of the museum and while getting ready to drive Julia to the airport, knock knock, someone looked through the driver window.

"Hello, I'm Virgram. Do you need help".  

 Vigram 

Vigram