Facebook Hill

Petruț Călinescu

With a population of just over 10.000, Poienile de sub Munte is the largest village in Maramureș County, Romania. A recent census shows that, compared to the 2000s, the population has increased a little – while nationwide it is dropping, and rural areas are undergoing a constant depopulation. It only takes a visit to notice something unusual: The streets are full of people, there is a ceaseless coming and going. People carry, pull, run, push, ride, work or go around doing their daily business. It’s quite a few kilometres from the village centre to the outskirts, and even there, it’s still crowded. To the south there is the edge of Valea Cvasniței, where homes are crowded into each other on either side of a narrow street which sometimes can’t even fit a single car. That is where both phone signal and electricity stop. The houses go on into the mountains, some reachable by foot in ten minutes, others in one hour – assuming you walk with the mountain people’s long, heavy stride. Until a few years ago, the road was only accessible to horses and wagons. Recent works made it practicable for the sturdier SUVs as well. Suddenly, having a powerful car became a necessity for many. For a few years, the younger villagers have started to work abroad, but most of them are only away in season. They are too bound to the agricultural calendar to break away completely. In these photos, I followed a small community living in the hills around Poienile de sub Munte, a 30-60-minute walk from the village. This scattered settlement has no name and isn’t even on any map. Some call it Dârdila’s Hill, after the name of a former owner, but the young call it Facebook Hill. Here, in the tallest point of the area, you get 3G and Internet signal. It’s a place with a view, so people also come for a barbecue and, on weekends, post photos of young people having fun. Many of them also have houses down in the village, but there’s no room for a garden or animals there. That is why many of them prefer to live up here, despite the hardships. Here you can keep many cows and grow onions and potatoes – not much else can be cultivated in this soil – fighting the boars for every patch of cultivated land, which needs to be surrounded with empty beer cans and tins strung on wire fences, rattling in the wind or at any touch, to keep wild animals at bay. I’ve never heard anyone complain about life here, though conditions are almost primitive. It’s so beautiful in these hills that people don’t seem to have had their fill of the view yet. For the younger locals, things are starting to change. Now that the road leading up to the top is more or less practicable, they’d need SUVs, but one costs several thousand euro. Something, anything, with the steering wheel on the right since those are cheaper, as long as it can navigate the tough roads. No one makes money here – work is strictly for survival. So, over the last few years, they’ve started to go work abroad seasonally, mostly in the UK, in construction and greenhouses, picking produce. It is hard to believe their children will continue to live as their parents have been. Cin Dumitru, 13, who spends most of his time up at the sheepfold with his father, tells me he’d like to become a border guard. Or anything else, as long as he gets to drive an SUV. The story has no narrative thread, other than the normal flow of life in a small isolated community. I will continue to go there in the following years, to observe the changes in its midst.

 

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