Carnaval de Nonformal – one week of blood, sweat, tears, chaos, exhausting work, no sleep and magnificent joy – Julius

But let’s begin in the beginning…

During the first two months in my project, the Carnaval used to be some kind of far away phantom, which blurry outline you are barely able to see. Time passed and the end of September came and the phantom came closer, lost its blurriness and grew – slowly but steadily – even larger.

Then it stood before me – a colossus, a monolith – like a steep  rock who wants to be climbed, like  roaring waters awaiting to be crossed.

Threatening, full of opportunities to fail but also plastered by hundreds of different ways to succeed.

That’s enough pathos for today.

The Carnaval came closer – two weeks to go. The general attitude somewhere between ‘a deer in the headlights’ and ‘everything’s gonna be alright’. Sitting in the office, drinking a coffee, dicking around on the internet, drinking a coffee again, having a chat, and so on, and so on…

While some of us were working all day – and especially – all evening, others took a more relaxed approach. I won’t lie and will admit being more part of the latter than the former group. Despite uttering some more or less qualified criticism about different flyers and posters from time to time, I was mainly busy with drinking tea and thinking about the method I needed to organise – the Living Library.

Drinking a coffee, making a to-do-list, drinking another coffee, thinking about the meaning of life, listening to some music, writing down some thoughts about my project, drinking a tea, having an inspirational chat, making another to-do-list, changing all my plans and calling it a day.

Probably I should explain first, what the hell a ‘Living Library’ is about.

Basically it’s like a real library, where you rent books, read them and return them after a specific time – there is only a little distinction, instead of books you rent people, instead of reading them you talk to them and – of course – you aren’t allowed to rent them for weeks but only for half an hour or so. The so-called ‘living books’ should represent different groups, who may face discrimination and should be varied in age, sex, cultural background and so on.

The goal of this method is simple, it is to promote dialogue and understanding between people who belong to the ‘majority’ and people who don’t.

So the week of the Carnaval started, and while others were outside doing street animation, joining the flashmob or just spreading information, I sat in the office – working, because time was running short.

Monday: The poster is finished, it just needs to be printed and distributed. The last details are arranged with the Museum of Art (where the ‘Living Library’ will take place). Nice location there, nice art and even nicer people. Meeting with my first local volunteer, Alina. Worrying about the lack of ‘living books’. Going to bed too late.

Tuesday: Riding my bike around the city to distribute the posters. Looking in the box, being happy. Going to different places to look for ‘living books’, only to come upon closed doors. Improving my concept. Sending many e-mails. Still worrying about the ‘books’. Writing the rules for the Library.  Getting the rules translated into proper Romanian (thanks Claudia!). Making phone calls and struggling to speak Romanian. Working until late in the night.

Wednesday: There is less and less time, I start becoming nervous. Luckily, our dear president Andreea helps me, and by the end of the day she is able to organise a quite impressive amount of ‘living books’. Still not reason to feel relaxed, the level of stress remains high.

Thursday: Some new ‘books’ for the Library. The weekend comes closer. Still a lot of stuff to do. Designing the ‘Designing the Living Library Cards’. Awaiting the weekend.

Friday: I definitely feel more relaxed again. Getting the chance to wear a fancy monk costume to participate in the meditation workshop. Meet again with the local volunteers in the afternoon. Check with the museum if everything is still right. Going to bed full of anticipation for the next day.

Finally, the weekend: I go to the museum, meet with Alina and Bogdan, my local volunteers, prepare the front desk and the talking area. Then the first ‘living books’ arrive – exciting books – a policeman, a member of the Roma minority, a member of the Ukrainian minority, a woman who works in a prison, a protester against the Roşia Montană project.

The day wasn’t particularly busy but every visitor seemed to enjoy his or her visit. I enjoyed the afternoon, too, especially because my local volunteers did a great job and helped me where they could. On Sunday we even got more ‘living books’ in the Library, a priest, a former drug dealer and an Afghanistan veteran. The number of visitors were very low though, only in the afternoon, when Andreea helped again and asked people to come, it got really crowded and people even needed to wait for a book. So the ‘Living Library’ was a success in the end.

After the last visitors left I went to the the ‘World Café’ to slowly calm down, while discussing about different aspect of communities and society in general. Before the fire show, the last event of the Carnaval, started I enjoyed a well-deserved cool beer, while the timid beams of the autumn sun were shining on my face. Although it was a stressful week, I really enjoyed the Carnaval de Nonformal and think it was a great experience.

Mulțumesc frumos to everyone who participated!

Julius Hirseland