It was a long walk to the house of Stefanut Valeria in Maramures region of Romania. A widow of 92, her husband had died many years ago and she has no children. Valeria survives on the vegetables she grows, her chickens and honey from her bees. It had been a hard year when we visited in October 2019; the rains had flooded her plot and she had received some vegetables from the government to help her survive. She said she had money, but it was not much use to her. The nearest store was 2 km away, she couldn't get there and they had no food. The resilience she displayed was remarkable. When we arrived she was bent over pulling up parsnips from her small plot of land. When she tried to straighten up she was still bent double.
With the help of a long stick she made her way through the gate to her front garden, grumbling about the chickens that darted around. "Kill them all" she said. They are a nightmare to get in at night and a fox took one the other day.
The area in front of her house was very tidy. She swept the leaves from the bench before sitting down, her face showing the pain she felt in her body. She'd had a fall a few days ago and said she looked ugly with the scars on her face. She said that there was something wrong with her body and her bones ached. She was tired of life.
The Romanian photographer that took us to visit her, gave her a photograph he took on his last visit. "Throw it away" she said, but she took it, looked with interest and hung on to it. Printed photographs are valued by this generation.
We asked about her family; was there anyone who came to see her? She has a nephew, but he hadn't visited for a while. "He has his own problems". His house had burnt down and people in his village had helped him to build a new house. He had offered to take her in, but this was not possible for her. "Who would work the land?". Having clung on to this plot of land through the war and the Communist regime, she felt a responsibility to work it. It was unthinkable to abandon it. Land ownership was both an an honour and a responsibility.
I sat alongside her and reached out to touch her hand. She was clearly moved and said I had warm hands, hers were cold. She said she must get on with her work so we wished her well and walked away. No one spoke for 15 minutes after that. We were all lost in thought.