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Piece of Romania
Peter Kyle's Romanian Glass
What is your item? This glass, that I was given when I worked for a charity that ran an orphanage in a very remote village in North Eastern Romania. The living conditions in the village were hard -we didn’t have running water and very basic amenities. I started there when I was 19 in 1990 just after the Romanian leader Ceaușescu had been executed. Even though the village was small the orphanage had about 500 children in it who ranged in age from babies to late teens and early 20s.
To give you an idea of how tough the conditions were in the orphanage, on my first visit I was in a group of about 20 aidworkers and when we entered the kid’s living quarters several of my colleagues threw up. So yes, the conditions were very bad. But I ended up working with the charity for many years helping it grow and improve.
The other group of people who I got to know well were the staff. Some of them were the incarnation of evil but fortunately others were lovely. One remarkable group were the women from the village who would come to cook and care for the children. On one of my last trips these same women presented me with a set of glasses and a decanter which are popular in Romania as they drink Tsuica (pronounced “Streaker”) from them. Like the living conditions this is a tough, often homebrewed spirit, that strips the lining of your mouth! And this glass is from that set, so I've had it for about 30 years now.
Why is this item important to you? I'm not a very sentimental person, I have to say, but the memories I have from that time are formative and this glass helps keep them alive. When I hold it, I can visualize every one of the women that worked there. I can see them walking out of the kitchen after a busy hot lunch service and lying on the grass to cool off. God knows how they made enough food to feed everyone as they had virtually no budget and few ingredients.
You know, working at the orphanage taught me an awful lot about myself and what I wanted to do with my life. It was very real. I saw the best of humanity but at times also the worst.
The only bit of my life I’m remotely sentimental about was the time I spent around Anita Roddick at The Body Shop. In fact, the charity I worked for in Romania was founded by her and that is why it was in such a remote place. There were a lot of charities in Romania helping orphans at that time, but these were geographically more accessible. It was the very essence of Anita to find the most inhospitable and challenging place to want to make a difference in. I developed a lot of my skills and drive from working with her and that project.
If it were destroyed, how would you feel? Even though I’m not sentimental I do take care of the things that link me to different parts of my life. Most notably people. But, of course, I'd hate to lose something which is a direct connection to a really important and formative period for me.
I’m still in contact with a lot of people I met in those days. Former orphans, who I helped in a small way to fulfil their potential. Thanks to technology, they find me on social media. I can see their lives unfolding and many of them have been to university and have families of their own. Caring families with the kind of love that they didn't get as children. Sometimes they’ll ask me “do you remember those days?” and I’ll say “of course, I have a piece of Romania in my flat always”.
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