- Where time has no end

“The Land of Wood” it was once called, and with good reason. Around 1900 about 90% of the whole Maramures region was still covered with forests. Today this small enclave in northern Romania is one of the most isolated regions of Europe and, and even within the country is considered to be poor and backward. It is said that the clocks here measure not time, but eternity.

Those who go into the villages near the Ukrainian border find themselves transported to another epoch. There is hardly ever a car to be seen; instead bicycles, oxcarts and horse-drawn wagons set the rhythm of day-to-day life. In these remote areas people keep to themselves, far away from the rest of the world, as has been the case for centuries. Even during the Ceauşescu years Maramures remained isolated: The villages were so hard to get to that collective farms didn’t seem to make sense there and the farmers were allowed to keep their own land and cultivate it as they saw fit. To be sure, they had to turn over a large part of their harvest to government authorities, but otherwise they were left alone. This can still be felt today. The simple life of the rural population – almost everyone here lives from agriculture – is dictated by the change of the seasons and a myriad of traditions that are passed on in almost unaltered form. And this happens despite the fact that nowadays radios and television sets are finding their way into the houses and cottages, and the first tourists with curious glances are beginning to stroll through the villages.

But the people of Maramures don’t let this influence or bother them. They are still self-sufficient and work hard to get by. Many women still make the clothes that they and their families wear, and many an older villager still wears the traditional shoes of pig leather, the so-called “Opinci.” Clothes are washed in the river – summer and winter.

A rural idyll? It casts long shadows. Jobs in the local area have become rare. In recent years most of the nearby mines, previously one of the most important income sources for the inhabitants of Maramures, have been closed because they were no long profitable. This has been especially hard on the young people, who are now forced to earn their living in other regions of Romania. Many of them hire themselves out as seasonal workers and come back home in late autumn loaded down with corn, sugar and rice – the goods of daily life, which they energetically barter away all winter long. Others never return home.

Nikolaus Scholz ©