Poets, Poetry and a Pandemic

Poets, Poetry and a Pandemic

We need poets and poetry more than any time before, today when we are faced with a worldwide pandemic because poets have more heart in their hearts and more life in their poems than these are pandemic statistics released daily.

We need poets and poetry to help us escape from the present, apparate ourselves to a time where all is well with the world and amour’s heartbreak or the familiar in nature are enough to fill our daily thoughts.

Poetry, much like a warrior in disguise, is a shot of strength and optimism hidden under a shabby, fragile clothing.

In a time when the focus is on the outer world, poetry stirs emotions within ourselves, shifting our focus inward, even for a brief time; releasing emotions, tensions, and fears.

In a world focused on living inside walls, poetry brings back images of nature, this millennial reminder that, no matter what, life survives, life goes on, life is beautiful.

Poets Poetry Pandemic
Poets, Poetry and a Pandemic

During a time when life seems to stand still, yet hours do stretch beyond the norm, leaving us out of tune with the passing of the day or of the week, poetry is the portal we can use to escape the cabin fever, the lockdown pressure, the endless thoughts and questions swimming in circles through our mind.

During times when life focuses on harsh reality, on stark colors, poetry is a lyrical rainbow. Like any color, perceived as a different shade by each individual, poetry leaves space to interpretation, something we do crave during times of pandemic, when scientists seem to be having it black on white. Death seems so technical these days, so sterile. Poetry is the colorful glass we can look through to connect with the world on an emotional level again.

Poetry ~ and books ~ are the only needed luxury during a pandemic.

Stay safe.Stay same. Read a poem.

As always, find my books on Amazon.

Altars, Shrines and Christian Symbology

altars shrines Christian symbology

I am sure that, no matter what your Faith in God may be, at some stage you came across Christian altars or shrines and asked yourself what is their symbology.

Recently I had a Twitter chat with my good friend and fellow author Jessie Cahalin. You may know her as the fantastic supporter and bubbly personality behind Books in my Handbag Blog. We discussed traveling under #lockdown and where we went via the books we read and via our WIP (work in progress).

And that’s when I realized that both my travels led me to a church.

My current read is Death du Jour by Kathy Reichs, whose books I’m hooked on. This specific novel begins with Tempe Brennan digging (how else) for a corpse buried more than a century ago underneath the floors of a Montreal monastery.
My current WIP begins in the church of Putna Monastery, a Romanian Orthodox monastery built and dedicated by Stephen the Great during his 47 years of ruling of medieval Moldavia.

I entrust you with a short passage from my WIP:

‘The first monk hurried towards the altar. The second one, still throwing glances at the silent graves left behind, broke his pace. Growing on each side were the two massive columns that supported the church ceiling, just before the crossing. The wide space seemed now shrank by shadows. Fighting the urge to turn his body sideways and squeeze through, he closed his eyes and entrusted his spirit to the powers above.

Ahead, a whisper of pardon brushed his ear, an auditory sign that his leader had just passed the crossing and had kneel to pray at the altar by the icon of Saint Mary, the spiritual patron of Putna Church.’

Patricia Furstenberg, High Country, WIP

So I went over my research notes…

Altars, Shrines and Christian Symbology

The word altar originates in Latin altus, a raised area forming the focus of sacred ritual or worship. An altar would be usually erected and placed within a building or an area dedicated to a deity.

A shrine is alto the focus of a sacred activity, but can be anything from a small niche where a holy object is placed (a statue, a cross, an icon) to a place of pilgrimage.

Altars, Shrines and Christian Symbology

But be it altars inside a place of worship or a shrine on the side of a rural path, natural or man-made, they are sacred and symbolize ways of spiritual connection with a higher energy and are places of meaning and power. A safe ground.

Many see an altar as a the universe in a nutshell, reproducing in a small scale the sacred tradition it represents, the focus of the spiritual world. The way a heart is at the (symbolic) center of the body, the hearth the center of the home, such is an altar at the center of the spirituality it represents. Its sacred point.

Altars, Shrines and Christian Symbology
A modest shrine in Village Museum, Bucharest

An altar also symbolizes the place where a holy act is performed (in Christianity weddings or funerals are performed before it), or where an individual may become holy or is united with Christ (through baptism).

Candles and incense are placed on altars, symbolizing light and the promise of a Kingdom to come, of further life. And also a reminder that we do not need our earthly possessions in the afterlife.

The earliest altars were places of sacrifice and therefor were open towards the sky so that the smoke of the burned offerings would rise up, up towards the gods the altar was dedicated to.

The first altar mentioned in the Bible is the one built by Abraham after his arrival in Moreh and his sighting of God, and the purpose was to lead a life of faith.

Location ans shape of an altar

Altars are positioned east because that is the direction of the rising sun, symbolizing, the resurrection, although this was not the case in the very beginning.

Extremely simplified, in Catholic Church the altar, centrally located in the sanctuary, is to be the focus of attention in the church.

In eastern Christian rites the altar has a broader sense, including also the area surrounding it, the entire sanctuary. The altar may be referred to as either the Holy Table or the Throne. Here the altar is found behind an iconostasis (altar screen, usually made of a number of icons).

Altars have a rectangle shape, similar to a table yet never refereed to as a table, which symbolizes the table used during the Last Supper.
Although first Christians celebrated Mass on the top of stone tombs in the catacombs, the first altars were built of wood because it was cheap and readily available. Later, altars became built of stone. There is an extra symbology to an altar built of stone: it signifies Christ Jesus, the Living Stone or the cornerstone.

Altars, Shrines and Christian Symbology
A modest shrine on the road in Brasov

More symbols found in churches or shrines

Bread and chalice:

The bread and chalice represent the Last Supper and remind us of Jesus breaking bread with his disciples. These are symbols we use during Holy Week, Săptămâna Mare or Săptămâna Patimilor, as well as during the receiving of the holy communion or during weddings. The bread represents Jesus’ body, broken for us, and the chalice / cup represents His blood, sacrificed for us. 

The loaf also reminds us of the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with five loaves and two fishes and the words he spoke to his disciples in Matthew 4:4: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Candle and Light:

So close connected with Christianity, a burning candle is a symbol of spiritual illumination and of the joy of witnessing God’s omnipresence. It also symbolizes symbolizes light in the darkness of life, holy illumination of the spirit. Lit in times of death, it signifies the light in the next world, representing Christ as the light.

Yet its brief time reminds us of ow short our life is and is also a metaphor for the solitary human soul.

Its components also have great meaning:

  • wax – pure flesh or humanity,
  • wick – soul, light – love, divinity,
  • flame – godhead,
  • fire – obedience,
  • heat – humility.

Cross

The cross is the universal symbol for Christian faith, a constant reminder of Jesus’ death for our sins and of His joyous resurrection.
Here are some of the crosses that appear in churches today.

Altars Shrines Christian Symbology

Crown 

The crown reminds us that Jesus is King of kings. The crown also represent the crown of thorns that Jesus wore on the cross and the crown of glory given to Him in Heaven.

Circle / Halo

The circle has no beginning and no end. In Christian faith it symbolizes love that knows no end; a commitment or promise (wedding rings), and eternal life (the halo)

A cross and halo symbol on a porch in Village Museum, Bucharest

Christograms

Christograms are monograms for Jesus’ name.

Altars Shrines Christian Symbology

And another quote from my WIP, this time involving a Christogram:

‘Above, the eyes of God and of the saints painted on the church’s dome watched them, their right hand fingers raised in the benediction gesture and spelling Jesus. The index finger points upward, forming an ‘I’. The middle finger curved to form a ‘C.’ The fourth finger crosses over the thumb to form an ‘X,’ while the little finger was curved too, shaped as another ‘C.’ ‘IC XC’, the Christogram, a monogram of Jesus Christ.’

‘Stay here, my son. I’ll take this sin upon myself alone,’ whispered the first monk before disappearing inside the altar.

Patricia Furstenberg, High Country, WIP
IC XC’, the Christogram, a monogram of Jesus Christ

Dove:

The dove is a traditional sign of peace especially when carrying an olive branch (another sign of peace, according to the Ancient Greeks).
The Bible tells us of the dove that returned to Noah with an olive branch, a sign that the storm had ended, flood waters were receding, and solid ground – and hope – were within reach. In the New Testament, a dove descended on Jesus at his baptism.

Fish 

The fish was the secret code word / sign used by early Christians that were meeting in secret for fear of Roman persecution for the their Christian Faith.
The Greek word for fish is Ichthus, which is also an acronym:

Iesous
CHristos
THeou
Uios
Soter

This means “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.” The fish reminds us of the miracle of the five loaves and two fishes, and how Jesus called his disciples to be “fishers of men.”

Flame 

The flame represents the Holy Spirit.

Fleur de Lis 

The Fleur de Lis is the lily and a symbol of resurrection. The white and pure lily represent Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. The three petals represent the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

INRI

These letters were inscribed on the sign that hung over Jesus when he was crucified. It’s short for the Latin phrase meaning, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

The Lamb and the Shepherd

David described God as his shepherd, and Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd, watching over his flock. The Lamb is a symbol for God, sacrificed by God, our Shepherd, for us. But the Lamb is also a reminder that we are all part of God’s flock, of how God cares for us, goes with us wherever we go, seeks us out when we are lost, and protects us.

Triquetra

The triquetra represents the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is seen to form the Carolingian Cross and the Celtic knot.

Water

Water symbolizes baptism and thus a new life, born of the Holy Spirit. Water represents cleansing and healing.

Some churches are cut in rock

In Ethiopia there are over eleven churches cut in rock dating as far back as 12th century BC. They have secret passages connecting them with secret crypts and grottoes dug deep into the adjacent hills.

Such is the Chapel of Daniel the Hesychast near Putna Monastery.

Such is the Chapel of Daniel the Hesychast near Putna Monastery.

Shrines

Have you ever walked past a shire in your travels? They are often placed along roads in many Christian countries, but even in homes as well as holy buildings.

Shrines are often dedicated to Virgin Mary or to various patron saints important for a specific community as a special time. And such is a Christian grave, with its tombstone and flower offerings.

Altars and shrines are often decorated with candles, flowers or incense, as well as images of deities or saints.

I will leave you with this quote: ‘“Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists.’
― Joseph de Maistre

Have a blessed Easter!

Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore

Plants are deeply rooted in Christianity and Romanian Folklore, this positive blend of cultural creations and ancient spirituality. Plants have been used as cures, in ritualistic traditions and for magic spells for centuries, all over the world. Let’s discover how a few of these herbs and flowers got their names in Romanian folklore, the legends behind it and their connection with Christianity.

Flower Sunday, Floriile or Palm Sunday

A special Christian celebration is on Palm Sunday: the day of Flowers, Floriile, Goddesses of Spring. Flora, in Roman religion, was the goddess of flowering plants and was the patron on month April. In Romanian folklore April is called Prier (from Latin aperio, to open, correlated with the opening of the buds’ leaves), and May is called Frunzar (leafy) and Florar (flowery).

So if you know someone whose first name is that of a flower, send them your best wishes on Palm Sunday, on Florii Day.

Palm Sunday - flowers of Easter Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore
Flower Sunday, Floriile, Palm Sunday

Sfintele Paști, Easter celebrations and Flowers: Wood Anemones and Violets

The wood anemones are Easter flowers and legend says that they sprouted from the earth wet by Jesus’ tears and that Saint Mary shared them to the four corners of the earth, at His request. Wood anemones have various nicknames in the folk tradition that symbolizes their strong correlation with Easter: the White Flower of Easter, the Flower of Blessed Friday, Easter’s Bread.

Folklore tradition calls for picking the White Flower of Easter this time of the year and decorating the Easter table with it as well as taking it to church as an offering on Good Friday. It is seen as a blessed flower.

Violets, too, are Easter flowers with a somehow mellow connotations. They represents young girls, children, metamorphosed into flowers. Is it pain, premature death that causes this? Certain is that violets are made into little crowns placed on the graves of young maidens or lads.

Plants and Christianity in Romanian Folklore

In Romanian folklore there are numerous plants named after Christian holidays, saints, Virgin Mary, and so on, depicting popular belief in the plant’s incredible powers in aiding the body and the soul.

  • Plain hogweed is called earth’ cross;
  • blue anemone hepatica is warrior’s cross;
  • orpine or livelong is Heaven’s Table;
  • bugleweed is God’s Mercy;
  • Mock Orange is Heaven’s Tree;
  • Sweet William is Priest’s Seat;
  • Rose Champion or Rabbit’s Ears is Saint Mary’s Belt;
  • begonia is Angel (îngeraș, probably due to the resemblance that popular imagination created between the angels’ wings and the plant’s leaves);
  • sage or Sage of the diviners is Virgin Mary’s Hand;
  • maidenhair fern is Virgin Mary’s Hair.

The common vervain, its Romanian meaning translating to God’s Arrow, is considered a holy herb, bringing wealth in the house and predicting the future too. It is believed to have grown first on the Mountain of Transfiguration and the plant can only be picked by fairies, Sânziene, who bring offerings before collecting it: bread, salt and a silver coin. It is believed that this specific plant helped heal Jesus’ wounds.

On the other hand Lunaria annua, honesty plant, is called the Plant of Thirty Silver Coins, Judas’ Plant and many banish it from their gardens.

Lunaria annua, honesty plant, is called the Plant of Thirty Silver Coins, Judas' Plant - Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore
Lunaria annua, honesty plant, is called the Plant of Thirty Silver Coins

The White Lily and its Symbology in Iconography

The white lily, Lilium Candidum, is believed to be Virgin Mary’s flower who is depicted holding baby Jesus with one arm and a white lily in her other hand. White lily is believed to be the first flower to ever be cultivated by humans and is associated with purity. Archangel Gabriel is also depicted offering Virgin Mary white lily after the birth of Baby Jesus. Saint Joseph is also depicted as holding Baby Jesus and a white lily as a symbol of purity and of Saint Mary.

We can clearly see that Virgin Mary is highly revered not only in the Christian Orthodox Church, but also in Romanian folklore. Yet by eighteenth century Carol Linnaeus), the founding father of modern scientific biological nomenclature, discouraged the practice of attributing names of saints to plants, a sign that scientific terminology was on its way towards gaining autonomy from the ancient naming practices.

Poppy flowers is believed to have been initially white. They turned red when a few drops from Jesus’ blood fell on them, underneath the cross. Since then poppy flowers are red, in remembrance of His sacrifice.

Basil in Christian Tradition and a Spell too

Basil is also a herb with deep christian connotations. It is associated with Jesus, Saint Mary and God. Romanian folklore says that basil first sprouted when Jesus was born, but also that it grew when Saint Mary wept by the Cross.

If maidens place under their pillow a strand of dry basil received from a priest, on the night of Boboteaza, Epiphany night,6 January, also considered the coldest night of the year, they can dream of their future husband. If they don’t dream that night they can try again on Sânziene Day, on 24 June.

On the same night maidens can take a handful of basil and go to a river, a running water. They dip the basil in water and then they wash their faces with it so they will be liked and loved by lads.

Basil and its role in Christianity and Romanian Folklore, Saint George’s Day, 23 April

To keep its holy powers basil must be planted on Saint George, on 23 April, and harvested on 14 September, on the day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It is then hanged by icons till it dries.

Basil is considered holy because it has the power to turn water in holy water, agheasma, used in Christian churches.

On Easter, Christian believers wash their faces with the water in which they kept a basil, a red painted egg, and a silver coin – to be liked and loved.

On Saint George and Saint Andres old women hang basil tied with a red ribbon on the stable’s door so that the cow’s milk will flow on and on.

basil - busuioc - Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore
Basil, Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore

Siting under the shade of a tree

Myrrh, smirna, with its waxy branches and thorns, give us a resin that changes color from yellow to reddish, scented when burned and bitter to taste. Its scent a smoke are said to induce meditation and prayer and warn off any evil spirits.

Fascinating is how the effect of this resin spilled into the Romanian language. We say a sta smirna, meaning sitting quietly, or tacut smirna, meaning really quiet, as one would sit in meditation, which is exactly the effect of burning myrrh, smirna.

A branch from the bladdernut tree, clocotișul or clocoticiul, tied around your waist is said to warn off any evil spirits and no hail will bother you in your travels either.If you take these twigs to church on Easter Sunday their good powers will increase tenfold. Very long ago, before a woman would embark on a long journey she would fashion for herself a necklace made of young twigs of the bladdernut tree and wear it around her neck to warn off evil and not get lost Her courage will also increase, that she would be amazed by herself.

Also warding off evil spirits is the mugwort, a plant said to protect against pandemics too, so wear some around your neck.

Without any doubt, we can observe now everyday plants and flowers in a different light. From a sacred meaning to the scientific one, and through their legends, plants are so much more than they reveal to us. Don’t you think?

I hope you enjoyed reading about Plants in Christianity and Romanian Folklore. Do return for more herbal folk tales.

Patrici Furstenberg on Amazon
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Medieval Horns, a Dark Staircase, and Amazing Photos from Sighisoara

medieval horns, dark staircase, photos of Sighisoara

Welcome to our journey through medieval Sighisoara as we discovered it not so long ago. So far we climbed the Clock Tower and visited the house where Vlad the Impaler was born. Let’s explore some more and see what are these medieval horns adorning one of Sighisoara’s oldest houses, as well as climb a medieval staircase to Sighisoara’s hill for more amazing winter scenes and photos.

The City Square, once the center of medieval life

The City Square, within easy reach, is a must-see. All around there are the houses that once belonged to the noblest families of Sighisoara.

Glimpse from the City Square towards the Clock Tower, Sighisoara

During medieval times, City Square was the place in Sighisoara. Food markets as well as public trials took place here.

A look from Sighisora'a city square past the house where Vlad the Impaler was born, towards the Clock Tower

Also, the pillar of infamy rose here as well, where public hangings took place. And if you were part of the city’s nobility you could witness the executions seated at your dining table, not mingling with the peasants in the square.

medieval staircase Sighisoara photos

The Stag House

The Stag House showcases an authentic late renaissance – early baroque architecture as well as authentic stag antlers.

The Stag House showcases an authentic late renaissance - early baroque architecture as well as authentic stag antlers.

The Staircase Way, Strada Scarii, is the way towards the medieval staircase of Sighisoara, for great views and amazing photos

Strada Scarii, Umweg, sign

Turn left at the Stag House and you will see a stone-paved street winding towards what looks like a covered entrance. Dare you go in?

The Scholar’s Stairs

The Scholar’s Stairs are 175 covered steps leading to the School on the Hill and the Church Hill. Built during the 17th century, the stairs protected the school-going children during long winters.

“Scara acoperita construita in anul 1642” = the covered stairs, built in 1642:

Strada Scarii, Scholar's Satir, Sighisoara, with inscription:  "Scara acoperita construita in anul 1642" = the covered stairs, built in 1642:
Looking down past the covered Strada Scarii, Sighisoara
Bottom entrance in Strada Scarii, Scholar's Sairs, Sighisoara
Strada Scarii - dare look down?
dare look down?

Finalized in 1619, the first and smallest building of the School on the Hill went by the name of New School, Naye Schull. It was only in 1793 when the main school building finally rose.

This medieval staircase of Sighisoara was one of my favorite places to visit and take photos of. I imagine it holds a multitude of stories, spanning centuries.

The Church on the Hill

The Church on the Hill, devoted to Saint Nicholas, is a symbol for Sighisoara’s history, being the most iconic landmark of the town and one of its most valuable architectural building. It ranks third in size between all the Gothic churches in Transylvania, the biggest Gothic church in Transylvania and the whole of Romania being the Black Church in Brasov.

medieval city Sighisoara. The Church on the Hill
The Church on the Hill

Historians have discovered that the church, built in 1345, was raised on top of a Roman chapel dating back to 1200. Here, on this hill, was the safe place where the people who lived in this area before the Saxons’ arrival would have gathered in case of invasions.

The Church on the Hill, Sighisoara, looking up

The church’s bell tower would have been the tallest building, most probably used as a sighting spot.

The Church on the Hill

The Church on the Hill as we know it today was first mentioned in 1345 in a letter stating that the people of Sighisoara were loyal to King Ludovic 1st and have built a church dedicated to Saint Nicholas.

The Church on the Hill and statues guarding the church's roof

Somehow, these statues guarding the church reminded me of Notre Dame of Paris.

Yet the church that first used to stand here was later turned into a crypt.

Behind the Church on the Hill is the Evangelic Cemetery on the Hill.

Here, trees as old as the fortress itself guard the tombstones of some of the first Saxons settlers. Their headstones carry the inscription of their name as well as that of their occupation.

In a secluded area, lined up as for parade, are the graves of a handful of local soldiers.

medieval city Sighisoara. Evangelic cemetery
The Evangelic cemetery

In their youth, they probably attempted climbing the fortress’ walls or its towers and chased up the School’s stairs in the last minutes before the bell rang. Until the Great War started and they went to fight, to defend their country, not knowing that the last time they will see their native Sighisoara will be from the top of the hill, during their endless sleep.

Den toten Gelded. Jedes Heldengrab ist heilige Erde. Alle storben dass uns Friededn werden. To the dead soldier. Each hero's grave is holy ground. They died so that we have peace. Sighisoara cemetery

“Den toten Gelded. Jedes Heldengrab ist heilige Erde. Alle storben dass uns Friededn werden” ~ “To the dead soldier. Each hero’s grave is holy ground. They died so that we have peace.”

The Monastery Church

Across the Clock Tower is the 15th-century monastery church with its tombstones, a Gothic-style holly place renowned for its sculpted altar. During the 14th century here was a monastery for Dominican monks and near it a convent for Franciscan nuns.

Sighisoara, Roman-Catholic church near the Clock Tower. house Vlad Tepes born
The Roman-Catholic church near the Clock Tower

Inside the Monastery Church 35 old oriental carpets were discovered – proof that Sighisoara had economic ties with Persia.

Gothic window detail emphasizing vertical space
Gothic window detail emphasizing vertical space

The monastery was first mentioned in 1298 in a document signed by Pope Boniface the 8th. In the place where once the convents stood, now rises a Roman-Catholic church.

Medieval Sighisoara. The place where once a monastery for Dominican monks and near it a convent for Franciscan nuns once stood.

Lower City: Romano-Catholic Church Saint Iosif

This beautiful church was raised at the end of the 19th century in the place of a medieval convent for the Franciscan nuns.

For a true journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara try to attend the Medieval Festival of arts and theater – during August.

More spectacular views of our journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara

Sighisoara view from the top of the Clock Tower
Sighisoara is a colorful, charming medieval city
A typical  pointed roof viewed from the top of the Clock Tower, Sighisoara

Today, over 200 people still live in the medieval citadel of Sighisoara.

Medieval Sighisoara with its colorful houses
Medieval Sighisoara with its colorful houses

And plenty of birds too.

And we also saw a cat with gamboge eyes, in winter:

And an immortal doggy:

I am sure that, in the midst of winter, this street makes a perfect sleigh slide:

journey medieval city sighisoara

The significance of Sighisoara City

Searching beyond its gray rampant walls shadowed by a tumultuous history, and remembering its Saxon merchants and shepherds, as well as its prominent, Draculesti leaders (Vlad the Impaler and his father before him), a journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara is sure to unravel the fortress’ high status. To this contributed its perfect location, at important crossroads between the roads connecting Moldavia with Wallachia, and Transylvania with Western Europe.

Although they did not leave their mark on the fortress’ walls, during the Late Middle Ages 95 students from Sighisoara went to study abroad, in Viena and Cracovia, spreading the fame of this fortress.
The two evangelic churches, the Monastery Church and the Church on the Hill, also showcase proof of the rich cultural center that Sighisoara became during and after the 16th century. Painters, sculptors, woodworkers, masons, and organ builders arrived here from Salzburg or Tirol to work alongside the local baroque sculptor Elias Nicolai, as local architecture and even gravestones still stand proof.
General Melas of the Austrian army, who defended Napoleon Bonaparte at Marengo was born near Sighisoara.

The Orthodox Cathedral

Located across Tarnava Mare River, in the ew, Lower City, is the Orthodox Cathedral I must include. Look at its perfection, unlike a snowy castle reflected by icy waters, it is a place of emotional warmth and rich traditions.

the Orthodox Cathedral reflected in a frozen Tarnava Mare river

I hope you enjoyed our journey through the medieval city of Sighisoara, looking at strange horns on buildings, at a dark staircase and snapping some great photos in between. Its history spills into the present in an enchanting way, and this is a place to visit more than once, a town that reveals more secrets with each trip.

I, for one, can’t wait to go there again.

If you like castles, a medieval staircase or two and photos, although not of Sighisoara, you might like to visit Corvin Castle.

If you like all castles, then visit Peles Castle too.

For more stories and adventures, do check out my books on my Amazon author page.

Rafik’s Journey in Silent Heroes. The Afghan Desert

A story of deep humanity and thrilling action, Silent Heroes has impressive locations, like the Afghan Desert.

Rafik is the youngest character of Silent Heroes, a brave boy of about eight years of age with a big heart. He is an Afghan boy who takes a physical journey, but one of self-discovery and growth as well. Rafik is like any other civilian caught in a war zone. He is uprooted from his home village and what he does, traveling on a mission, is out of an instinct of self-preservation and desire to help.

Have you followed his journey so far? After arriving as an emergency at the medical facility of Camp Bastion Rafik ends up in the desert…

Away from his friends and their worry-free childhood.

children in Afghanistan -  silent heroes afghan desert

At his mother’s desperate request, Rafik leaves the false safety of his village behind yet his plans spin out of control and he ends up at Camp Bastion, later named Camp Shorabak, an international military camp in Afghanistan with a state the art medical facility.

Rafik should have only went from his home village of Nauzad to the hamlet nearby. Yet he is now further south, near Lashkar Gah city and fortress. The fortress is on the banks on the Helmand River, hidden from direct view by a hill. Lashkar Gah has a rich history behind it, once was even the winter capital of the Ghaznavidi Empire. It belonged to the same Turkish dynasty that conquered Afghanistan a thousand years back, bringing Islam along.

Rafik's journey - silent heroes afghan desert

Along these brown, rocky hills live farmers who breed sheep and camels, but Rafik meets none.

And he runs again… a little boy on a mission. I cannot hold his hand, he has to do it all on his own.

“A sense of foreboding took over him and his eyes shot open with a will of their own. A pair of grubby feet in dusty, old sandals and the edge of a filthy shalwar kameez appeared in his eye field as a menacing hand grabbed hold of his shirt collar, throwing him aside.”

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

Run, Rafik! Run!

“The boy stopped dead after rushing through the last row of doors, blinded and dazed by the bright daylight. His eyes hurt, his body overwhelmed by the outside temperature as if he had hit a solid, arid wall of heat and sand. ‘Where am I, where had they gone?’

Behind him, the vacuum noise of the hospital doors sealed the insides in an encased gigantic hangar.

Ahead, past the perimeter fence, the deadly desert. Five flags, barely soaring in the wind, rose to one side. One of them, bright red like his mother’s best dress, displayed a white cross with a snake. Past the five flags, two dark silhouettes were marching in a cloud of dust, heading towards an unkempt gathering of mud-walled compounds that sprouted along a field of opium poppy. Above their heads and heading north, two Harrier jets roar, having just taken off from Camp Bastion’s airfield, their wingtips luminous against the clear sky.”

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg

And Rafik is gone again. Is he one of the Silent Heroes, soon to get lost in the Afghan desert? Not the right time, as it is the beginning of the long, scorching, and arid Afghan summer. Here, over the course of the year the temperature typically varies from 35°F to 108°F.

“Behind everything and everyone, dragging his feet under the midday sun and with only a gush of wind for a company came Rafik. Now crawling, now running, now letting himself fall to the ground in an attempt to conceal himself, looking more like a desert dog than a human being. For each stride the men took trough the sand, the boy’s wobbly legs took two, yet he pushed on, his eyes on the twin menacing shapes, his attention wrestling an army of questions, his legs moving forward with a mind of their own.

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
Afghan desert military area - Silent Heroes
The Afghan desert is not your stereotype of rolling dunes and golden sand.

Where will help come from? What shape will it take?

“As he stood above him, the dog seemed twice as big as the child due to his shaggy mane, thicker around the neck, and his reassured posture. His shoulder blades moved accentuating his strong physique, yet for all that muscle he was as gentle as the moon. In seconds, the boy’s face was covered in slobber, the dog’s sandpaper tongue sliding all over the pale skin, doing a perfect job at cleaning all the dried-out blood.”

Silent Heroes by Patricia Furstenberg
military working dog

Desert symbolism

Because of their isolation, deserts often symbolize clarity and revelation. Purity too, as they are unspoiled landscapes. Yet the desert is a difficult terrain, threatening, challenging. It is a symbol for challenges, both physical and spiritual. It is a struggle calling onto the traveler’s deepest reserves.

Yet there is no adversity between the spiritual and the physical. Although deserts have been seen as the ultimate purging landscape by hermits, prophets, seers, the ultimate holy ground, it is the spiritual strength they enhance in humans that eventually augments the individual.

Thus deserts, through the personal conflicts they call upon, bring humankind the closest to heavens.

Rafik’s journey through Silent Heroes does not end here, in the Afghan desert, with the mere warm support of a friendly military dog. There is more for this young boy to encounter and survive to before he can call his home a home again. Before he can close his eyes and fall asleep feeling secure in his own bed.

Silent Heroes

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You might also like to have a look at these 30 Photos From Afghanistan That You Won’t See In The News.