It’s late November and mornings are cold in Transylvania. The heat of last night’s wood fire has faded, and though the sun glints off fresh snow on the mountaintops it hasn’t yet reached the floor of the valley. I pull on a wool hat, force myself out of bed and dash across the courtyard and into the farmhouse kitchen. A wood fire hums in the tiled oven and the radio plays traditional Romanian, all dulcimers and violins. My host, Eugen, steps in from the cowshed with a pail of fresh milk and sets it on the stove to warm. More family members join us with a greeting and soon I’m warming my hands on a cup of thick Turkish-style coffee.
My visit to tiny Sinca Noua was arranged through Village Life, a Bucharest-based NGO. Run by Alexandra Vasiliu, a Romanian with a Canadian connection, Village Life helps rural communities develop sustainably through an approach called community-based tourism.
At a celebration in the village of Poeinita, her back to the heat of a soba (a tiled wood-fired furnace), Alexandra toasts the community partners who first took Village Life from idea to reality years ago.
She explains how Village Life helps rural communities design their own projects and access a tourist market that would be otherwise beyond their reach. The goal is truly participatory economic development; the vehicle is a home stay that offers an authentic experience for visitors, a supplementary source of income for families, and a validation of the pride they take in their heritage, lifestyle and living traditions. It’s an exchange where each participant gains.
If Village Life is about sharing, it makes perfect sense that the kitchen was the heart of my experience. It’s where my hosts proudly held forth about the active folk traditions of their village, like the fire wheel ritual that marks the beginning of Orthodox lent. It’s where we fought the first chill of winter with polenta and melted cheese, plum brandy, and ciorba de pui (chicken soup) with hot pickled peppers – all a casa and wonderfully fresh.