It all started because I needed a way to get from Kiev to Skopje. I had heard from Onnik about the World Blogging Forum; that they were paying the travel and accommodation costs for all attendees. I was turned off by the language on the website: that they were only inviting “A-list bloggers” (how I loathe that term). But then, I needed the free flight, and I was looking forward to meeting more Romanian bloggers. (My last trip was too rushed to schedule any meetings.)
So that’s the story of my personal involvement. Now, the story about the World Blogging Forum itself. From what I understand, the whole thing was the idea of a group of far-too-attractive 20-year-old girls from the Romanian Association of Foreign Language Students (ASLS). Mihaela Draghici, the current president of ASLS, and perhaps the most ridiculously attractive of all the girls, spearheaded the event. Mihaela approached the Romanian government – specifically the Agency for Government Strategies – and proposed an event which would bring the world’s most popular bloggers to Bucharest for a meeting about the future of media. In doing so, the event would generate international buzz about Romania and portray the government as open and forward thinking. In the end, the Romanian government – that is, the Romanian taxpayers – agreed to pay $74,347.91. It should be noted, as far as federal budgets go, that is a very small drop in a very large bucket.
Still, the night of our arrival, surrounded by free food, free cocktails, and fawning beautiful girls, I couldn’t ignore the cough cough of my conscience. I remembered my visit to Hospice Casa Sperantei, of the absolute failure of the Romanian health care system, of all the Roma kids sniffing glue.
I remembered the little girl at the train station in Braşov. The girl who hadn’t showered for days, maybe weeks. The girl who couldn’t have been more than eight, all alone at the train station, just hanging out as if it were the most normal thing in the world. The girl who accepted my apple as if taking an apple from a stranger were the most normal thing in the world. If I were to adopt that girl, I remember thinking, to give her a home other than this train station, that would probably be more useful, more meaningful, than anything else I’ve done so far with my life.
Instead I boarded my train.
I thought of all the Romanians who told me that capitalism is only good for 10% of society. And here I was, surrounded by that ten percent. The privileged, the beautiful, the eloquent. We’re drinking mojitos, we’re mentioning the places we’ve traveled to, the languages we speak, we’re touching each other’s arms as we talk.
I tried, but I failed to ignore the cough cough of my conscience. This is my problem. I go out to a nice restaurant or a fancy bar with friends and I try to enjoy myself. But I can’t. And so I grow quiet and distant. And for the rest of the week: “you’re such a quiet person. Why are you staying in? You don’t like to have fun?” And I smile and I nod and I don’t know what to say.
And so I stayed in my hotel room drinking tea the next two nights. It’s not that I’m such a self-righteous funaphobe. (The size of my hangover a couple days ago suggests otherwise.) In fact, I believe strongly in the value of fun for the sake of having fun. I just couldn’t put myself into the right frame of mind. Besides, I had enough work to keep me up until two in the morning every night. Despite my own issues, the World Blogging Forum turned out to be very useful in several respects.
It was great seeing Onnik, and so wonderful to meet Parvana. Helge’s calm and eloquent analysis impressed me once again. I found a new friend in Erkan who says he will start covering the Turkish blogosphere for Global Voices, which I’m looking forward to. I had fun on KosmoShow with Jakub, Matthias, and Wael. (I did my best to badger Matthias into inviting Rising Voices bloggers to the World Economic Forum … we’ll see, though I don’t have high hopes.) And it was so great to finally meet Emin Huseynzade, Dario Gallo, Cyxymu, Dodi, and Zola. And so strange to meet them in the second largest building in the world.
There are dozens and dozens of lengthy blog posts out there about the World Blogging Forum. Ashley Corinne Killough, a Fulbright scholar researching blogs in Armenia, might have the most thorough coverage in parts one, two, and three. Chinezu seems like the king of guy I’d like to grab a beer with. His critical review of the forum is worthwhile. And Dani – one of the few (only?) male organizers – has a good post from the perspective of host.
Finally, even if I would have done things differently, I still can’t stress enough how impressed I am by all the work the organizers put into this. I mean, seriously, a group of 20 and 21-year-olds convinced their government to bring bloggers from around the world to Bucharest, and they even managed to convince their president to come speak
to at us. They showed a complete mastery of online marketing for the event. They took care of all the many details that go along with any conference which brings people from different countries, languages, and cultures. And I know they sacrificed at least a week’s worth of sleep in the process. I am certain that all of the girls are going to go on to incredibly successful careers. I just hope that they share their success with a larger percentage of Romanians.