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The Punia 2006 All-Romanian Scientific Expedition To Sahara Starts

Autor: Cristian Stefanescu 08 Apr 2006 - 00:00
The Punia 2006 All-Romanian Scientific Expedition To Sahara Starts

When you leave for Sahara, never do it on a Monday morning, with a late Sunday stop-over in Rome.

Sunday evening all of Rome is asleep. It couldn’t care less that weeks of ascetic living lie ahead of you, and that you may long for the now nagging rain drenching the bloomed plum trees of Rome. So, you walk out for a stroll. It is too early in the year for a visit at Fontana di Trevi or at Piazza di Spagna, so you take cover in one of the empty bars and engage the bartender in a conversation he politely seems to be interested in.

Smoking inside public places is banned, so you are left with sipping low heartedly from the Italian beer, though you are sure it can’t be good, as Italians do not have a name for making it right. You can only hope that on your return trip the restaurants and bars would have opened their terraces, and so you would be able enjoy a better weather and finally, a cigarette with a glass of drink.

The bartender rests his head in his palms and gives you a look which seems to tell you that since you are leaving for Sahara, you might as well get soaked, in and out, of the water in abundance here. During my train trip to Palermo the rain keeps on pouring. There I am to join, on board of the Eurostar ferry taking us across the Mediterranean Sea, the eight biologists and archeologists which will make the Punia expedition of the all-Romanian scientific team exploring Sahara.

I have little things to tell of Palermo. I tried to discover the Al Pacino flavor and the one of the Sicilian mafia Clans, but I did not succeed. The 2006 version of the grandson of such characters is less concerned with family honor, as he gangs up with friends in bars, smoking American cigarettes and listening to Cuban music. I kept a vivid memory of the short customs official, who was not really tanned, and nor really white, with round black eyes and a moustache, and moved his hands around in true neorealist style. He seemed to be under a lot of pressure, as he stopped frequently from his work to talk over the phone in his 3 by 3 and yet 10 meters high office, shoving us all out.

We were Romanians and a couple of Tunisians waiting for the stamps on our passports. And looking at the Tunisians, and thus having my first contact with a world that will vacuum me inside its belly for the next four weeks, I could not escape my own stereotypes, though I did my best to push them away. So, I admitted to myself that I did not feel the faces around me were trustworthy.

So, good bye Europe! Our minivan, squeaking under the weight of the equipment it carries, had its own way to protest, disregarding the noble aim of our trip and the cash-strapped funding we had. Much of our money came from personal efforts; some had understanding wives, allowing them to use the family saving; others, like Razvan Popescu-Mirceni, the scientific expedition coordinator, took a bank loan.

Little or rather no understanding did we found at the various businessmen we approached; the purpose of an all-Romanian scientific trip to Sahara to study both natural life and historical artifacts eluded them.

"Where to?" I hear in the best Romanian there is. It was one of the members of the crew on Eurostar, which took us from Palermo to Tunis. But when entering the belly of the ship, like Pinocchio did inside the one of the whale searching for his grandfather, we found out that the whole crew was Romanian, 30 of them in all.

"This is not a ferry," explains to us Catalin Gabriel Carlan, the electrical engineering officer. "It is a Ro-Ro ship." When we first saw him, he was choreographing the placement of cars on the deck. Most of the Romanian crew is from Tulcea and Constanta. They worked here for the last months or years, and the lowest paid job makes one 1,200 euros per month.

Carlan shows us the ship around, and explains the differences between this one and the bigger German-made versions, with a ball-room and a swimming pool for the passengers, while looking at us from under his cap, as if willing to absorb through our eyes all of the Romania he left behind.

Translated by Anca Paduraru
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