Day 1 – 30.07.2022

Written by Valts Rozentāls

This is my second year coming to Bögöz in Székelyföld (Székely Land). Some say you cannot visit the same place twice. It is true, the very idea changed my perspective about the place even before leaving. This year we got the same Orga team as last year – everybody knows what to do and how to get it done. Fifteen kids will be traveling with us to Bögöz, three of them visited Bögöz in previous years – twelve are coming for the first time.

Bögöz must wait – we missed our take-off slot as the plane personnel had to re-seat 1/3 of the plane, almost everybody from our group. It seems that they tried to fix trim and mixed the youth and adults. This event put us on the next available slot 45min after original take-off time. If that wasn’t enough – landing slot was also on hold because of bad weather over Romania. This even set us off for about two hours. The flight itself and also the landing were calm. We arrived at Sibiu Airport around 14:50 local time, it was hot – rainy summer day type of hot. Some puddles on the ground implied that there was rain not so long ago, but now the heat was back. Rain turned out to be our companion for that evening and the following day also. The bus ride was as swift as it goes on these roads and in no time, we arrived in Bögöz.

First – some information about ground rules and water shortage here. Even if we were a little bit upset about the rainy weather, the locals were waiting for it since spring. Rain was not a common occurrence here this year and it depleted the ground water reserves. This would also mean to keep our showering times at the minimum.

The kids of Bögöz were also here so we wanted to jump right into having some fun as the clouds got darker and darker with each passing minute. Shootout was a good choice; the kids could be mixed throughout the line and start to get to know each other. We could manage but a few games and it started to pour down on us. The long-awaited relief. But it was okay – it was dinner time anyway. Irenke had cooked and it was delicious and nutritious as always. Amazingly she can accommodate all our needs – be it vegetarian or some intolerances.

Meanwhile the rain had stopped, and we could go outside again to play some more. The ground was wet, so we decided to play 5on5 with passes only. Four teams, everybody plays with everybody, teams mixed – kids from Munich together with kids from Bögöz. Basketball does bring them together, both had to use every bit of imagination they had to communicate and play together.

Only thing left was the feedback round to reflect what we have already seen, experienced and define personal expectations for the week ahead. Just like last year, the first one was slow, and the youth didn’t trust to fully commit themselves to express themselves. No worries, though, it would get better every day.

Day 2 – 31.7.2022

Written by Valts Rozentāls

First full day in Bögöz. We start off with an early practice before breakfast. Today it should be hotter and not as much rain as yesterday, so we want to take advantage of the cool morning air. Everybody is still a bit sleepy, but that changes once we are done with the warmup. One cannot escape the power of blood flow. Practice consists of some games to keep the fun going and basic drills to develop foot work, ball handling and layup finishes. Now everybody is hungry, and we can enjoy well-earned breakfast.

Right after, we have some free time and prepare to go explore the village. Our local guides are Orsi and Vanessa. They showed us their school and preschool, places where they spend time together, the local church, a stadium. This will come in handy on Friday for the scavenger hunt. Coming from Munich, this really is a small place, and it has its own feeling and charm. Things that we take for granted in Munich, are seen differently in Bögöz. What we consider basic infrastructure is a commodity here. Water shortage due to draught, lack of or old drainage systems, lack of streetlights, broken or non-existent roads, the train going to each direction just three times a day. A stark difference. It really shows how big of an influence a good infrastructure can have on one’s life. But the people are also more friendly and ready to help. They are curious to know what brought us here, are talkative, want to present their way of life. Life is also more simple and slower, though – one must work very hard for it, literally.

We end our walk by having lunch together. A quick side note for our readers – youth prepare most of the breakfast and lunch for themselves and others. It’s always five people having to do the service. Anyhow, now it’s time for some fun and team building.

We mix the teams together. Bögöz and Munich kids must find a way to communicate together and win the games and overcome challenges to get points. It’s all about little fun games with the purpose to think outside the box and work together. Who can come up faster with a good strategy on the spot? Energy is high and everyone does their best to contribute to their team’s success. In the end, there is a winner, but the real win is actually the experience gained and the friendships made.

For the next action we split the groups. One group was training on the court, while the others were discovering traditional Szekler wood painting. They use it everywhere and originally it developed by painting on furniture. So, they are keeping the tradition alive and educating people about it. Our kids did the motives seen on ceilings of the local Bögöz church. The church itself was built around 1200s, but the motives are a bit younger than that.

Now follows the evening routine – dinner, shower and feedback on the day. We had planned to sleep outside, but there were two reasons we decided against it – recent sightings of bears lately and rain overnight in the weather forecast. The choice not to sleep outside turned out to be a good one as around 02:00 it was just pouring rain outside. Dodged this one.

Day 3 – 01.08.2022

Written by Valts Rozentāls

Enjoy the free time and breakfast. We have a long day ahead of us and we must stay flexible – there is a chance for rain, but we hope it won’t come true. Right after breakfast we have a game day planned in Székelyudvarhely against teams from Vendor. One game for boys and one for girls.

Boys went first. Game turned out quite good and both teams could take something out of it for them. The opponents from Vendor were not in full strength due to some players being on vacation, they were also one year younger. The Bögöz Team (together with Hellenen) won the game and took many great lessons from it. We worked on many basics such as spacing in five out formation, cutting and filling and pushing the ball forth on fast breaks. We saw some deficiencies and decided to work on them in following trainings.

The girls‘ game clearly went one way. We didn’t only bring more skill on field, but also a larger number – unfortunately Vendor girls only came with six players. Still, this was good for the Bögöz team building and development. The girls played together nicely and showed Bögöz girls how to work on their basics in a game.

After the game we went for a pizza not so far from the swimming pool. It had rained recently, and we were not sure if the weather was good enough for a trip to an open-air swimming pool. After lunch it turned out to be just fine and we went for a swim. Because of the weather changes there were only other four people there, so we got basically the whole place just for us. The water was colder than usual, but because of the hot air it was very refreshing and enjoyable. We got a quick shower of rain while in the pool, but we were happy that we were wet already. Fun times.

Next action was to go home by train, and we came up with the grand idea of putting up some techno-music and dance to it. The great thing about dancing in public is the freedom that comes along with ignoring all the stares and just having fun without a care in the world. If you are lucky enough – somebody might even join in. It’s also a good way to pass time as we must wait for the train. It might be on time, might be later, rarely – but people say it might even be earlier than supposed to. Bögöz is two stations away from Székelyudvarhely, the ride takes about twenty minutes. The most exciting thing though is the sight of passing by landscapes. Once that evening light hits the pastors on hills… it does become magical.

We end our day with a practice session and dinner. Feedback round had to be sacrificed for sleep as everyone was very tired of all the activities and excitement in the past days. We will just get it done in future.

Day 4 – 02.08.2022

Written by Valts Rozentāls

We took the learnings gained in yesterday’s games and tailored our morning practice around deficiencies we were seeing on the field. Defensive basics – footwork, proper individual positioning and 1on1 defense. We had to get more ball stops and deny easy drives to the basket. This went well, although we noticed that some variance in skill between the groups were hindering us to move on with the practice at the desired tempo. We finished on point as we still had to get the nutritious breakfast in and take part in two hours of a traditional Szekler dance lesson.

This year the instructor was a different one, it was a teacher from the school we would visit later today. As the originally planned person cancelled the evening before, it was nice of him to jump in and teach us the basic steps of this traditional dance. One could at once notice he was in the business to educate people. Very clear spoken and even used French to break some of the language barriers we had. Otherwise, it would be translated for us. He got us up to speed very fast, by splitting the whole dance in smaller parts for girls and boys and then bringing it together at the end. Not only that, as he did not have a music box with him, he was singing all the time! Spectacular demonstration of skill – singing loud in rhythm and dancing at the same time.

Free time in-between the events was used by youth to play some pickup games on the court outside or play some board/card games together with Bögöz kids. It’s always interesting to see how they communicate with each other and how mutual interest in playing games bring people together.

For this evening we have planned to visit nearby village Galambfalva (the commune center Nagygalambfalva, previously one commune with Bögöz until break off in 2004) and present the game of Basketball to them and the work we are doing through it. Recently they had renovated a small gym at that school and are planning to build a proper sports gym with basketball court. They also have an outdoor basketball court in the school’s backyard. This could be an opportunity to grow the basketball community around the Bögöz and strengthen our roots. We had a meeting with the school principal, local coaches and everybody that was interested and showed up. We played some exhibition games to show how exciting our game is and to portray our love for it. Afterwards we presented ourselves and the project to the parents and everybody present. The principal of the school showed us the school – it is small, grades one to eight. Afterwards some more freestyle activities for youth and conversations for adults.

Two of our girls left earlier as they got an invitation to visit the home of one of the Bögöz girls they had made friends with. They would meet us later at the train station as they decided to stay together with the group and not spend the night. It was nice to see the friendships develop in the group and the mutual trust they put in each other.

For some reason the train schedule was not quite right. We did our best to arrive at the station on time, or at least what we thought was on time. We ended up waiting more than an hour for the train to take us home. Thankfully Irenke kept food warm until we arrived.

Day 5 – 03.08.2022

Written by Valts Rozentāls

We get up and prepare for the upcoming day – there is a girls team coming down from Szentgyörgy for a practice session and a game. The boys from Vendor would also visit again for a practice game. Fun time let’s go.

As we have about 30 kids taking part in the practice, we make it basic and fun so everyone can take a part. We start off with some warm-up for muscle activation and coordination, then add some dynamic stretching. Then we decided to split the kids in four groups and do different shooting contests, this is also a good preparation for the game afterwards.

The girls played first. Opponents had good technical skills but were taken out of the game early by the fierce and relentless game of the Hellenen and Bögöz girls. This just went to show once again that will and energy can separate the skill. We could see a nice development in the team play – much more passes, faster transition and altogether better spacing. As always, satisfying to see that players take the practice lessons and implement them into their game.

The same would go for the boys. Vendor boys came in the same roster as yesterday, but also, they had adapted and played better basketball, just like the Bögöz team. Better spacing, more passes, faster game and greater team spirit. Totally different from the game on Sunday.

Afterwards we still had some time left and decided to split the kids (those who wanted to play) into smaller groups and spent the rest of the time playing a 3×3 tournament. At this point we had had no rain for the past days, and it just kept getting hotter – shower time after the activities and the walk to the train.

Evening program was simple but exciting, dinner was planned outside, and we would setup a projector for a movie night. Irenke cooked one of her homemade, delicious stew-like dishes: potatoes with baked cheese for those who do not eat meat and with sausage for those who do. What she does in-between is a tasty mystery. If you are not a getting a second portion of it, something is wrong with your taste buds. Between us – everybody did.

The name of the film is “Isteni kéz” or “Hands of God” directed by László Barna and written by András Ifj. Petróczy and Ágnes Sós. The story revolves around Csángáló, the world-famous gypsy violinist of the Szászcsávás Band. He now lives in a small Transylvanian village and even if the glory days of the band are behind, they are still going around and playing on bigger stages. Though, he suffers from Parkinsons and can’t keep up with others, therefore the band leader Dumnezeu, with a broken heart, expels him from the band. There might be a solution with an operation for Csángáló, but for him the only help can come from God, therefore he refuses to go through with the surgery despite family and friends asking him to do the opposite. Instead, he puts his faith in his grandson Bálint to learn from him and continue the tradition of violin and music in his family.

This is kind of an independent film, and the director is traveling around to present his work. We thought he could not make it today, but at the end he managed to arrive for the last part of it. It was a great experience for the kids to meet somebody who had created a documentary masterpiece. This is another experience to see the film, meet the person who created it and even ask questions about the process and people in it.

After the film, some of the kids want to stay up a bit longer and enjoy the night sky. It’s so clear and full of stars, a rarity in a city polluted by light, but here in Bögöz…it’s just there for one to admire and sink into. There is a saying: “Do not forget to stop and smell the flowers.”; somebody said something like it about my remark – “But they are always there”, in Bögöz: “Just because it’s always there, doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate its beauty.”. Well, it rubbed off on all of us and that’s exactly what we did next day.

Day 6 – 04.08.2022

Written by Valts Rozentāls

“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars and see yourself running with them.”

– Marcus Aurelius “Meditations” –

We decided to skip the practice, let the kids sleep in and do a feedback roundtable instead. Somehow the broken schedule at the start of the camp was pulling itself through it and we had to adjust either on the fly or move some stuff around. Summed up, the kids were happy with the new plan and so were we.

Interesting development in the feedback roundtable – it was calmer and more often than not, we would hear only one person speaking. This was a pleasant experience – the kids had not only grown individually and but also together as a group and just after a few days they held themselves accountable and demanded respect for each other.

Breakfast and go! Hiking trip. Which I personally find a spectacular activity to indulge in while visiting Romania. The nature here is just… go visit it, you will understand. There are places in the landscape I did not even know were missing in my life. Just pure, raw beauty. On our way to Székelyvarság we make a brief stop in Zetelaka county at the Zetea lake, part of Târnava Mare River. Breathtaking spot. Afterwards we continue to Székelyvarság, the biggest scattered village in Harghita county (if not in all of Romania), area coverage is about 77km² and the population is only a little bit over 1500 people. To get there we must turn down to a dirt road and make our way to the start of the trail.

Once we arrive at our destination the commando is to get enough sun screen on and let’s go. It is very hot, and the sun is burning. We must endure the heat until we get deep enough into the woods as the trees would present us with shade. A true gift in the heat of the bright summer sun. We would even encounter a small waterfall with ice cold water, a nice place to take a picture or just to cool off. Not long after we get to a camping place where the bus drivers have already brought the grill down and are preparing the charcoal. All we have to do is amuse ourselves with some group games and chit-chat until the meat and grilled cheese are ready to satisfy our hunger.

Afterwards we do continue further to a watchtower and there it is, the whole county at our feet. It’s a staggering sight to behold – all those fields and woods, but this is only one village. Only a bit over 1500 people lives here. Just mind boggling.

Psychologists say that best rewards are the ones you receive randomly and after hard work. The hard work part was behind us – walking on a day as hot as this one. Now it was a time for a “random reward” – a downhill ride with a tricycle! So much fun and nobody skipped it! Some went faster, some slower, but everyone indulged in the action of racing down the hill on a tricycle. Pure joy.

Now it was time to leave this day behind us and get back to Pension where Irenke would await us with delicious dinner like every evening. I secretly think she holds us as her grandchildren, there is no other explanation.

Sleeping outside. There is always something magical about it, this hasn’t changed since I was a kid. My hope is that this will become magical for our Hellenen youth, too. We put up some blankets beneath the sleeping bags on our outside court. When is the last time you slept outside in the middle of Transylvania on an open basketball court? Exactly.

First, we do our feedback round. The group has become even more solid. They share their experiences and opinions, agree and disagree. Then something happens that according to Sandy and Miri has never happened before – kids ask for OUR feedback. Not only that, they even want to thank us directly, now

and there with majestic two-finger-claps. We could not be prouder of them and all the development they have made in the past days. This is the part where the coaches and Orga staff think to themselves – that’s it, we hit the spot just right this time.

One, two hours ago, where it was just getting dark outside, we could have not really imagined what we were seeing then. From mostly cloudy, the skies had turned into a clear ocean of bright, beautiful stars. Not a single cloud covering them up. It’s just one of those days you get it all. If that wasn’t enough – shooting stars. Tens of them, it felt like the sky had put up a show just for us, sometimes so bright it could be mistaken for a lightning strike or fireworks.

Well, and if the company is right – sleep likes to hide. I am sure to say, that most of us slept a bit less than necessary, some not at all. This would be a challenge for our future selves, this night we decide to enjoy the magic of starry night and each other’s company, and some just start a practice session right after at 06:00 when the first rays of sun appeared.

Day 7 – 05.08.2022

Written by Valts Rozentāls

Well, well, well – aren’t these the consequences of our decisions? Half asleep we move through the sunrise. At 08:30 it’s clear that the day will be really nice and hot. This is why we have to get going and play the planned 3×3 tournament before noon, then we have planned to visit the local church and skip some hours of the burning sun. The tournament goes well, kids had to draw their teams and they ended up fair which we could also see on the field. Despite the lack of sleep, the energy was high, and we could see beautiful basketball. Add some old school hip-hop in the background and the feeling is there. 3on3 in hot sun on asphalted outside court with a boombox, doesn’t get any more And1 in early 2000s than this. Back to the roots.

Time to visit the local protestant church, built in the 1200s, recently renovated. Pastor went with us and told us stories about the church’s historical background. There are still partly paintings on the walls, some parts are lost. The ceiling is decorated by motives painted on wood, the ones we discovered on Sunday. There is a small balcony and its whole structure is also made out of wood and painted accordingly. Expert craft. The pastor explains the paintings we can still see, and the messages conveyed in them. Hungarian history, this is an old nation with a lot of it. It takes time to translate what he is saying, and the church is cooling us down – some fall asleep. Body takes what it’s due. In my experience, only movement and exercise can keep one awake in situation like this. First – lunch.

Now it’s time for the Scavenger Hunt, as opposed to previous years, it has been moved to the end of the week and not on the first day. There are multiple reasons for that and the main ones are that kids have already grown together as a group, they know each other, and they have learned how to communicate with one another. This should make it more fun and less frustrating. We split up in four teams, everyone gets the same 18 tasks (take a picture exactly as described in each task) and two hours to complete them. Rules are simple – one point for every completed task and if there are two teams with tied score, then the most creative pictures win. Now, I won’t go into the details of all of it, but at the end everyone came back in time, and no one completed all the 18 tasks given. Though, we had a split first place, so at the end the winner was decided by the most creative pictures taken.

Another evening outside with the tasty stew from Irenke. Also, the last evening. This night we will be going back home. After the dinner, honoring of the game winners are planned, but before we get to that – there comes a surprise from the parents and the community of Bögöz. They want to acknowledge the work Sandy and the people of Basketball Leben have put in this community over the years thus arranged a small surprise. Traditional Szekler hats made out of hay, with blue ribbon around it – signed by all the Bögöz kids. Now we were Szeklers, we became one of them, not only in our hearts, but also in their eyes.

After congratulating the winning teams of various games this week and individual prizes for individuals that showed exceptional development and care for others – this was in no way related to basketball but rather the kids’ character and behavioral development -, it was time to say our goodbyes. Always an emotional occurrence, I guess, up till the goodbyes everybody thought this week will last forever. I wish it could. Now we are left only with our feelings – the week was too short, some things stay untold, some things stay undone, some things stay anticipated, but not felt. This is one of the mysteries of the Bögöz camp, it is never enough, and memories will live in our hearts forever.

The only thing left is to pack our bags and indulge in the last activity – night basketball. While the kids do the packing, Sandy and Miri set up the lights. The kids would play until it’s time to go home. This time we would leave Pension at 01:00 in the morning. Two busses, just as we came. Irenke wakes up just to wish us a safe trip and hug us. Our grandmother in Bögöz, the one we never knew we had. We arrive at Sibiu airport at dawn. Everyone is exhausted, and we pull our strength together to get through the last stretch of our journey. Viszontlátásra Transylvania, it was great. We left everything we had for you, upon plane takeoff – everyone is asleep.

Day 1 – Arrival

Written by Valts Rozentāls

Dear Diary,

This was a good day. As it usually is, when one finds oneself on the verge of new adventures and experiences. Romania – this is our adventure this week, for seven days we will be exploring part of the country through the prism of basketball – a prism that, as Miriam nicely put it, requires no words. For some of us this is not the first time coming to Bögöz, they have seen many sides of this part of the world – this won’t be their story. Story you will emerge into will be written by somebody who visits this place for the first time. This is a prism of  first time experience.

Our journey starts on a rainy summer Sunday at 8.00 in Munich International Airport. Meeting point is on the first floor of Terminal 2, in the hall just before security control. The first members of this journey are already present and as one would assume – it is always good to plan some extra time on journeys aside from the flight itself. Especially if the travel includes a group of 15 young adults out of a total of 17. Once everybody arrives, it’s time to say our goodbyes for the next seven days and move on to go through security control, border control and boarding procedures to get to our Lufthansa flight with the number 1664 from Munich to Sibiu. As it later turns out, as much as it was rainy in Munich – it would be as sunny and stale in Romania. For us – complete difference and change of pace, just as the country itself. We board our CRJ series jet precisely at 11.00 and take off shortly after. A little over one and a half hours later we find ourselves in another world.

I am not really sure what hit us first – the heat wave or the size of the Airport. To be honest, relatively good for a city with a population just over 155’000. Nevertheless, one piece building with two paths – arrival and departure – seems a bit small if you just left the monstrosity of what Munich International Airport is. Of course, this might just be a part of their job training, but the first contact shapes one’s vision of the country and it was a welcoming one. The airport itself might be an older one and not as modern as seen around, but people were nice and that is what counts. After a short stop at “whiskey charlie” we moved on to find our drivers – they would bring us to Bögöz.

As we had to make a couple of stops in between, we spent about three hours on the road. Putting hot weather aside – roads are smaller than we are used to in Germany and also in a worse condition, but they are mostly being repaired by making cut outs locally and filling the damaged parts with fresh asphalt. At one point the repairs were not finished and left open – this of course leads to slower traveling times as the chauffeur always has to be aware not to hit one of them. Other than that – a pretty solid drive with very beautiful landscape. There were some occurrences where we had to stop as somebody from the group got sick from all those ups and downs and on the side of the road the local man showed his readiness to help by giving us ice cold (literally – it still had ice block in it) water bottle. Very strong gesture. Moving on.

Interesting observations are the houses. Villages all seem to be very similar with houses being built at the street and then stretching away from it in a rectangular manner. Beside the house would almost always be some kind of gate for car access and the front fence would be quite large – so you can’t properly see over them and tell what’s inside. Usually it would be another building and/or a piece of land with a garden on it. Houses are also very colorful – many different colors could be observed throughout our journey. Another rather peculiar thing – the aesthetic and constructional states would vary greatly from house to house. There could be a new, modern house built in between some worn off houses, where one would question it – whether anybody can live in something like that and if it is even safe? Really, there would be one seemingly expensive house and right after it three in a very poor condition. Then again another expensive one. This particular observation could be made again and again as we kept driving through various villages and cities. Did not matter how small or big the city was – this phenomenon could be observed throughout.

Another interesting mention is the geopolitical situation. We find ourselves in a municipality that used to be part of Hungary, but after the second world war was separated and added to Romania. To this day inhabitants here speak Hungarian and children are learning Romanian as a foreign language in the school. At this time there are more insights to be made in the upcoming days to look at this particular case of people with one identity living in a country with completely another identity. Just something to keep in mind as a reader.

Not to make this too long – I have to make a stop here. Altogether very beautiful country from what we have seen so far. Many more things have yet to be seen, lessons learned and friends made. In Romania, Mugeni or how Hungarians call it – Bögöz.