A Volunteer's Diary

Romania 2013

Friday 26th July 2013

Woke at home with Imo got a train to Gatwick and met the others there – Pat (in charge of the White Cross Mission), Ana (Pat’s adopted Romanian daughter), Jean (a friend of Pat’s who regularly visits Romania) and finally Maria (the social worker accompanying us). From there we flew to Hungary, Budapest and got a taxi to Romania – five hours in length; the journey was hot but spacious and without much trouble except queuing due to road works and a horrific crash scene. We slept and then listened to music, observing as we went the day fall to dusk around us. Road trip as it was we saw many a sight whilst passing through the two remote and countries presently unknown to us. In Hungary the flat land was a noticeable feature, boasting many agricultural scenes and vast expanses of bright sunflowers all pointed toward the 32 degree sun. From the limited viewing of the car window we noted many stalks nested precariously on telephone poles. Crossing the border we left a vermillion, orange and pink sunset welcomed by a huge moon set high in the sky. The transition between the two countries was evident but not obviously noticeable. We had left the land of fields and classic bird house like chalets to enter a country masked in dark. Susceptible to the eye however were huge out of town shopping centres, warehouses and streets decorated with bright fluorescent signs. ‘Paradise’ nightclubs, bars and grey car parks lined the streets with the roadside restaurants seemingly ever filled with Lorries and truckers. One felt propelled into the world of Oryx and Crake in the Pleeblands, based it seemed on the films showing American downtown cities. That is to say it did not have splendour. We passed many religious establishments and pretty old fashioned churches. Only on reflection does it seem absurd that this is an unfair reaction gained of such a beautiful country. I could not help continually picturing what this world was like in the reign of Ceascuscea. Finally after a long journey we arrived at the guest house. Exceeding any expectations gleaned by the website it was a wooden, modernish pretty Sylvania chalet. We were introduced to the staff there, Ella a charming young Romanian who spoke English and was in charge of the Guest House, Gabi the cook and Christina who was at the centre with Anna. Supper comprised of a minestrone type soup, pork with potatoes and an apple cake pudding, ended with a cup of gold old Earl Grey. Now we sit writing in bed at 2am, teeth done and unpacked in our home for the next two weeks. Currently residing in the Honeymoon suite I have decided I will be happy here. So far all good, now comes the hard part.

Saturday 27th July 2013

It is the rocking, moaning, the erratic unpredictability that struck me first with the Spital, Bratca. Swamped by a sea of ‘children’ all wanting to touch, all wanting attention, the only viable emotion to be felt is a sense of horror/disbelief. These ‘children’ all older than my seventeen year old self, have been overlooked and traumatised to the place of no return. It is unlikely they will leave or ever retain a sense of everyday normality. Mirrored all over the centre’s grounds is the reflection that mankind has lost its morality.

After a thick and muggy slumber we woke to a sunny view of a luscious field with a chapel in the corner, surrounded in the horizon with a ring of the Carpathian Mountains. Breakfast boasted a whole array of food from eggs to toast to honey to cheese to meat. Typically English I had fried egg and then honey toast with a banana. Wanting to experience everything I hoped for the cheese and ham/salamis to appear at lunch for I am not sure how well they jell in the morning! After breakfast we changed into our long skirts and headed to Bratca. There we found a market filled with heaps of gypsy clothes and stalls of food. Too hot to stop we wandered through with the promise of returning the next week. I rather felt transported back to Brick Lane, Landon, where a good fashion eye, time and patience are needed to have a hit. From the market where I ‘carried the watermelon’, we made our way to the solace of shade in the shape of Paulina’s house. Paulina and her family looked after Anna after she left the centre before adoption in England. Paulina lives with her daughter Adie and her two beautiful girls Agnes and Stefania. Never have I seen a more beautiful child (dark skinned with deep dark wide eyes and thick curly dark hair) and a more serene baby – not one cry was heard. I truly felt welcome into their home. They were poor gypsies but extremely happy and wonderful people; offering us coffee and exclaiming over the new clothes given by Pat. A sure sign of kindness they apparently are a rare exception in Romania, a family who love animals and has pets – even if they are cats! Paulina’s family are all gypsies which in Romania has huge repercussions; there is an intense divide and discrimination between gypsies and the Romanians. Although Adie has gone to university and has a degree in childcare she knows she cannot find a job there, hence why she is trying her luck in London. Stefania was passed around the room and with inquisitive eyes searched every person with her deep brown eyes. Agnes was delighted by the bubbles given to her by Pat. Wondrously she gazed at them with a smile and surprised face – utterly amazed. After this visit, leaving Anna with her family we made our way to the Spital. Driving through the gates we saw many a sight. There were young adults running to greet us and grabbing onto the bus, there were those sitting under the trees in the shade outside slightly less mobile and lots of washing drying on the lines. As we opened the bus, fully equipped with our shirts we were met with a sea of young adults. A feeling first of intimidation shot through my veins. These late 20 and 30 year olds resembled children all differing but all physically a product of their past. Totally harmless but the majority all reaching out touching you and grabbing for your hands will take some getting used to. Some arrived shaking our hands and mostly waving with ‘ciao’ as a greeting. Soon we were latched onto particular ones: Imo on her right a quiet girl who picked up all the litter from the floor and us both holding his hand was a girl. She for me was the hardest part of the encounter – yellow teeth, an open wound behind his ear with a facial twitch and would randomly hit her head. Of course it cannot be faulted but the daunting part is the unpredictability and the sheer need of attention that causes them to swoop in on you. An example of their unpredictability, ‘adult A’ went inside and suddenly came back out with a razor, violently sheering of her hair until she was left bald. The grounds around the Spital were beautiful and the building itself exceeded our expectations. It was clean, tidy and not smelly but basic, it seemed appropriate and not a bad environment. On entering you walk into a round light room with 5 dorms coming off it. Right in the centre of the room was a pit filled with broken glass from the pulled down roof – at one stage a man walked across it with only flip flops as protection. The Priest in charge was not there but we met Stella, who spoke a little English. We then proceeded on a tour. The dining room which led to the kitchen was simply an open empty stone room as in summer they eat outside. Then we went to the ‘mobility room’ where Maria, Imo and I will be working, well equipped with many toys. Next to that was the office and finally were the dorms. They were very clean and tidy with 4 to 5 made beds and wardrobes. They were nice and light – actually colourful and bright. After the tour we made our way to the car, past those outside and the blaring Britney. On the way a tall and strong man gripped onto my arm at first I was a bit startled until I was informed he could not see. This was the realisation – they are not at all dangerous but just like children who are unaware of their actions or strength. And just like children all they want is the sensory affection and attention that they never previously have had. Getting into the car was a struggle and it had to be done swiftly so they do not try to get in. As we drove away a type of relief set in, as bad as that sounds. Although it was not dirty we still felt flustered so peeled off our shirts and lathered the hand gel on with strong use of the wet wipes we had cleverly bought! Back at the wonderful guest house we (Imo and I) went upstairs and had a relaxing moment on the balcony absorbed on the view and our experiences. Lunch was where we met Amanda and Paul who were there to film the guest house. Lunch was delicious. It was a vegetable tortilla then pudding, an unknown but nice freshly made cake. At lunch we discussed the issue of discrimination of gypsies in Romania; hugely discriminated against mainly because of their Indian/Pakistani background. In medieval times Romania used to be full of huge estates which the gypsies would work however when they broke up there was no place for them and then started to wander from place to place to find employment. Their typical dress is long skirts – explaining the looks gained at the market at first, before it turned to interest that we were not only foreign but English. After lunch we all made our way to Pat’s own house. It was a beautiful typical Romanian house, up a long track past a farm with chickens and cows. The interior was small but extremely comfy as Imo and I found when we collapsed from fatigue! The house was cool but filled with the promise of the stifling heat outside. Struggling in the heat but eventually reaching the hill above her house we had a 360 degree panorama of an expanse of green and trees. Before leaving we all sat together under the cherry tree and consumed much welcomed cold drinks. Pat’s house she bought for only £1,000 – talk about good value. This followed with a supper of starter: coleslaw and pastry filled canapés, main: battered pork and mashed potato and pudding: coffee cake. The conversation turned to us and the invitation by Adie to attend the village disco. We were unsure at first imagining a village hall packed with people but accepted as to experience everything. Once ready Pat then drove us to Adie’s house with our curfew set at 12.30 (although most don’t arrive until about then or even later). At Adie’s again we felt welcomed but immediately underdressed; heels and a full face of makeup were a far cry from our very badly prepared daytime looks. To such an extent on arrival Adie offered me makeup to wear. Once there we were introduced to her cousin and then we left and walked to the party where we met another cousin. When we arrived at the ‘No Limit Club’ a surprise was in store. This was by no means a meagre disco but a club hidden in the depths of the rural town. As it was only 10pm we were first there and paid our entrance fee of 5 lei each. We continued our night at the club which turned out in the end to be surprisingly fun. We had a good night dancing and meeting Adie’s friends - extremely enjoying the good English remix songs. It was a good experience and even at one point a wedding party came in to enjoy a dance, apparently a gypsy tradition. To our dismay it was time to go so we said our goodbyes and went to find Pat with the promise of return next week. An evening well enjoyed.

Sunday 28th July 2013

We woke today feeling exhausted. Breakfast was fried courgettes with the array of meat/cheese. After breakfast with a change of clothes from Imo into a more lengthy skirt we headed to Beznia for church. The church we attended was a Catholic Orthodox which originated from an Orthodox who wanted to break away from the traditional route. This gave an entirely new experience for us. We were a little pleased to learn that it was shorter than the more traditional Orthodox! As we entered the warden kissed our hands and as we proceeded into the building where we had to contain our laughter while kissing portraits of Jesus and Mary. The church was colourful with many paintings and a sort of shrine on the wall to the Popes of previous years. In the service the Priest Romeo rarely showed his face and with his back to us the service continued only with singing. We were not given communion during the service as only the children apparently are sin free. The women of course were only allowed to sit at the back of the church behind the men. It was ironic to watch the daughter of the Priest refuse to say a word or even concentrate with a sullen look masked on her face during the whole service. The promised hour long service slipped into a lengthier process met with exasperation and possibly a slight nodding off from Imo and I. After the service we made our way outside and were entertained by a 19 year old and the Priest’s daughter who spoke English. He was intensely keen on our monarchy and the new Royal baby was a hot topic. Whilst leaving we noticed the gypsy family begging outside the church. Lunch back at Casa Delereni was pasta with salsa sauce which we were ready for after a much needed hour sleep. Lunch was followed by a trip to the river near Bratca for a ‘splash around’. When we reached the river being a Sunday it was extremely busy so we continued until we found a nice shady and empty space. Maria, Imo and I dipped our feet in sitting on rocks in the shallow river whilst Pat sat on the bank reading. Finally we returned home with a quick trip to a CD shop deciding we would need further consultation from the vast array of choice. Supper was chicken drumsticks, fried potatoes and vegetables with delicious homemade ice cream for supper. In the evening Maria, Imo, Jean and I played a good couple of rounds of Happy Families with Ana observing. Finally we fell exhausted into bed.

Monday 29th July 2013

We woke today with mixed feelings of the day to come. Breakfast entailed herby croquettes, mini omelettes and my favourite banana and honey toast. Too hot and nervous for Earl Grey we retired upstairs to get ready. We drove to the Spital with mixed emotions – probably mostly trepidation. Having bought food on the way for lunch we were all ready and had our routine mapped out: to assess three young adults before and two after lunch. Thankfully when we arrived they did not make too much of a fuss of us. We had some holding our hands and then proceeded into the room, Ella there at first to settle us and translate (us being Jean, Maria, Imo and I). For each one we started with throwing a ball, bouncing a ball and aiming to test their gross motor skills, and then we set them colouring, testing their fine motor skills. To finish we tried to get them to copy letters and shapes from the decorations on the wall; while Maria filled in the form noting medical, social, communicative observations. To start we had ‘adult B’ a sweet 25 year old, she loved playing with the ball and colouring very much – she got very excited! It was lovely to see how attentive to the colouring she was. ‘Adult B’ was happy and enjoyed playing with us but could not talk, only making excitable noises. After her we saw ‘adult C’ which was a bit of a shock. He was a boy always opening the gates who had a twitch in his right hand which clapped like a flipper onto his other hand. The reason why he was a shock was simply that Imo and I had seen him and thought he was a less able due to his twitch but he was being presented to us on the first day. We noted that he was left handed and when concentrating his twitch became minimal. ‘Adult D’ came in came in next. He was one that looked his age, tall and strong. He was very bright and precise gaining the epithet ‘the architect’. He knew that ball was played outside so therefore coloured inside. ‘Adult D’ was very good at shapes and always knew what exact colour he wanted. He loved his picture being taken and wanted one of him colouring. After this we left for lunch. On our way out of the building we had to wait by the door to get the key, we were all standing by the door in a circle with Jean behind us when suddenly we heard a shrill scream and shout ‘Maria’. We all turned, heart beats quickening to see a man holding Jean in a bear hug strongly gripping her arm. Maria and another helper prised him off Jean and then we realised he was trying to prise the banana out of her bag. Quite shaken we returned to the car and drove to the river for lunch: a homemade pretzel bread roll and crisps. As the temperature was very hot we went to the bar for a cold drink in the centre of Bratca. When we went back and arrived at the centre it was very easy to get back to our room and Stella bought in ‘adult A’, the one on Saturday who had viciously shaved her head and had a history of erratic violence. She enjoyed the ball but her concentration was not held throughout as she kept trying to converse with Maria. At last when we tried to take her photo she suddenly switched and became agitated. After it was taken she sank to the floor rocking and would not get up. At this point Imo and I went next door to get help. Mixed up in the nerves of ‘adult A’ it was lovely to see ‘adult D’ drawing shapes and words for ‘adult B’ to colour in. With the help of Ica (the person other than Stella in charge) ‘adult A’ left the room. Maria then worryingly told Imo and I that we should not leaving the colouring pencils out as they would be an easy and sharp object to grab… After her we had a 46 year old woman. She had trouble with the ball (a possible eye stigma?) and did not want to colour. Stella said that sometimes she remains in bed for weeks at a time. This marked an end to our taxing first day of work. When we left ‘adult A’ came running over to use and followed us right out of the gates which we found a little daunting. We realised as a result of today and the banana episode that when we were in the room it was fine just when in the corridors we were more vulnerable hence the suggestion we needed to be more swift on our entrances and exits. We then went back to the guest house feeling very hot looking forward to a swim at the Count Dracula hotel. Pat needed the car to pick up Ana so instead we went briefly to Paulina’s house to pick her up and drove to the hotel to know where to go. When we returned it was supper: starter was meatballs, aubergine dip and coleslaw, main apple and pork with rice and then pudding chocolate cake. After supper, still feeling very hot we decided to go to the hotel for a swim. Maria, Imo and I had drinks by the pool and had a nice relaxing swim. The pool was not too deep but very refreshing! Luckily we got the pool half price as we arrived at 8pm only two hours to closing. When we got back we had lovely showers, got to perfect temperature and had an early night – or so we thought. Suddenly Imo found a flying storm beetle on her bed and more under her bed. Imo got very distressed killing them all while I collapsed hysterically laughing. Our whole floor was shiny, covered in sticky bug spray. Maria came to the rescue, sifting and debugging our whole room. Finally we made it too bed, now hot and sweaty with the sound of bugs crunching under books resonating in our ears.

Tuesday 30th July 2013

Woke up today both of us feeling utterly drained of any energy. We were practically falling asleep at breakfast. I felt sick and queasy this morning but forced down fried egg on toast and a banana, willing the potassium to settle my stomach. Today was an intimidating situation when we arrived at Bratca. First when we parked outside the gates the residents started coming towards us and through the gates right to the car. Finally ‘adult A’ came running toward us at full pelt our hearts literally skipped a beat. We made our way to the room with no problem and were given tea and coffee. When we were ready for the first person Maria went to look for Stella and quite a scene unfolded. After a while our signal of two knocks was heard and we opened the door for Maria but ‘adult A’ had barged in front. Then Maria tried to stop her but ‘adult A’ attached herself to the door frame so that all was visible to us in the room was two hands clinging onto the frame. This continued until Maria shouted ‘Jean just shut the door’ then all we heard was silence. Finally Jean ventured ‘Maria are you okay?’ – no reply – ‘Maria?’ Then a strangled ‘yes I’m fine’. Eventually we got her back safe in the locked room, the centre of our unfurling horror story. The work itself went well but those around seemed more boisterous. There were many situations of harsh banging on the door, heart stopping moments with the door rattling and the key moving in the lock. Hands were also repeatedly being thrust through the open window and wire mesh, hanging there and seemingly disembodied. At one point the door was pushed violently until it swung wide open with a girl standing in the shadowy opening, staring with wide eyes at the room. We started the day with a female ‘adult E’ who was very in our face pointing at us, who gave me a strong hug through excitement but would not let go until Maria prised her off. Today we were much more ‘back office’ filling in the form with less interaction. Second we had a very silent girl who by complete chance had the same birthday as me! Lastly we had a blind man before lunch, ‘adult F’. He very much liked feeling various objects we gave him and the musical instruments. He had one strong characteristic, in English, he kept singing ‘Frère Jacques’ and ‘If your happy and you know it’. He was very content sitting/singing and clapping. Thankfully on our exit today there was no one banging their head against the wall whilst simultaneously groaning. However we were unnerved by the ‘HB’ branded next to some of the names – High Behaviour, those more violent. At a café in town we got lunch and a drink. We tried to use the loo their but we got chased by a big dog with another trying to get at us through its cage. Returning to work the children advanced but this time hoped in the car in front and drove with them down the drive. The first one we saw was ‘adult G’; she has been extremely active and affectionate, even getting us chairs without asking. She has been given many responsibilities at the orphanage and had been cleaning every morning. She is a child considered for being put in the farmhouse; the children who are more able are put on one of the 5 owned farms and taught to look after themselves and animals as a step before introduction into society. She could write her own name and constantly pointed to her teeth – we think she wanted a dentist of sort although her teeth were white. Last we had a man who did everything well although on the HB list. After the day of work in a double locked room surrounded by the unknown we retreated to the haven of our home and sanctuary of our stay. Still feeling odd and both exhausted we headed upstairs. After an hour of relaxation we left with everyone to go to the farmhouse. It was a building with a veranda, a clean and tidy interior housing 10 adults. Around the farmhouse they have a vegetable garden and tend to the cow and pigs, there were also four freshly made old fashioned haystacks. This was part of Romania that is obviously key, it is traditional and medieval. They have old fashioned haystacks and an abundance of horse and carts which was nice to see not only as tourist attractions. Those at the farmhouse were sweet and enthusiastic; most of them have jobs for example picking plumbs. One took a liking to Imo and I, she enjoyed dancing a lot and clapping with our hands. Another young man was Jean’s ‘toy boy’; he looked after her and gave her a rose. It was great to see Pat interacting with all of them – a remarkable women, calling them all darlings, giving them her bags to look after and kissing them, all the while with shouts of ‘Muma pat’ here there and everywhere. Pat gave them all photos of themselves from a previous visit and finger puppets; it was humbling to see how much they were enjoyed. These were the most receptive and it was amazing to see what a small environment with care can do. Some of the adults were not chosen by Pat to go to the farmhouse but those who donated the building requested those they were assigned to. For example the girl holding our hands could not talk or walk previously but thrived in the environment and can now talk and walk. It shows that a right environment can make all prosper. It was a nice afternoon/evening that we all enjoyed together with the sun resting on our backs. Shortly it was time to go. We arrived back and had supper, soup resembling chicken ramen, chicken stuffed with potatoes and a curios concoction of cereal, fruit and icing for pudding. After supper we had a spectator’s sport of a storm brewing across the valley. In the distance a red setting sky with visible torrents of rain. We all loitered happily on the blustery balcony with Imo and I’s spirits particularly high due definitely to over tiredness, time then to retire to bed.

Wednesday 31st June 2013

Today we started optimistic and rested until at breakfast Jean goes ‘oh well now you are getting to the more violent children’ – helpful! I had a simple breakfast of toast and honey while Imo embarked on the platter of meat. After getting reading and buying lunch at the shop we made our way to the Spital. We parked inside the gates so we did not have to walk through the grounds and made our way swiftly to our room. The first two we had today enjoyed the bubbles hugely. The second in the day was a happy woman who loved the bubbles so much she wanted them blown in her face and all over her hands; appreciating the feeling with a shrill laugh and enthusiastically tramped out the ones on the floor. As she entered she picked up a kangaroo toy, put it under her arm and kept it there until the photo where she poked its head out. The next girl ‘adult H’ was one who would prosper well at the farmhouse. She was clear and succinct and again knew to play ball outside not in. She did not want to colour but play football energetically, brandishing it in her photo. The day around the room was calmer; we had less banging on the door. This could possibly show that Pat’s theory that the wind made the adults more boisterous could be correct. After ‘adult H’ we had lunch in Bratca, the same as usual with a follow up of ice cream sundae bought by Jean – a special treat. The woman in the bar spoke English and we determined that she had lived in London, when mentioning Cornwall she said how her housemate had a friend called Mumma Pat there. It seems the whole world knows Mumma Pat. At the subject of the Spital she had a note of sadness and had a very wise view on the matter. At the age of 25 she said ‘it wasn’t us, it wasn’t. It was the parents fault. Why have children if you do not want and love them?’ It seems the sadness of Ceausescu’s regime tends to follow you everywhere, even in the most unexpected places. Back at the centre ‘adult E’ had almost become the new ‘adult A’, keen to communicate she comes right up to your face and points right at you always always with the exclamation in Romanian. First we saw a happy woman keen to communicate; she loved praise and seemed to tell the time writing the number 2 down. She sadly had poor vision and like ‘adult F’ sang ‘Frère Jacques’. This song was taught to the orphans we found out, by the first volunteers 20 years ago. Amazing how they have retained that information for more than 20 years! Lastly we had the girl from Saturday who held Imo’s hand and methodically picked up the little from the ground. She had a chunk out of her left ear and seemed very capable to occupy herself, spending ages getting her colouring just right. She displayed clear dexterity taking out and putting back in the crayons to the pot in a very specific way. That was finally the end of the day and it was little after 3. We returned to the guest house in high satisfied spirits. We came into a beautifully transformed building. Christina had arranged the dining room with a flourish, all of the napkins were neatly folded and tables set in the way the house would look if there were real guests! This was in preparation for Paul and Amanda’s promo video. Then Christina happily bustled out in a white robe ready to give Amanda a massage! An afternoon spent in bliss with Paul, Maria, Imo and I basking in the sun on the veranda chatting and eating watermelon. Imo and I were so tired we slept from 5pm until 7pm and when woken by Anna thought it was breakfast! We were so disorientated. Supper tonight was mixed but overall yummy with amazing freshly caught trout and giant couscous. The evening later was filled with fun as a result of Amanda and Paul’s filming. After filming we played a funny game of Happy Families with Maria, we were overly energized and she could not string a thought together let alone remember all of the families. Next we played with Ella, Jean and Pat. This was seriously amusing with Ella’s inability to pronounce ‘chalk’ and her over competitiveness. Refreshed after our sleep we drank tea and guzzled chocolate all night.

Thursday 1st August 2013

After a breakfast of chips or fried potatoes we made our way to the shop to buy lunch. This was our first day without Jean and we made the decision today that we would try to finish our allocated five before lunch. After having parked in the gates greeted by the friendly known faces we made our way into the room, with a friendly escort from ‘adult A’ holding our hands. At first Imo laughed until she also was subjected herself. The first we saw was a 27 year old man who in reflection was not the most able we have seen. He did not speak unless proclaiming ‘no’ and was very stubborn. He also had poor motor skills and was slow and easily distracted. However he did have the remarkable feature of an obsession with ears, frequently reaching to touch Maria’s ears. After an easy first assessment Maria went outside to find the next appointment. At this time we were isolated in a locked room while hearing Maria outside shouting ‘no ‘adult A’, no’. At one point after letting Maria out of the room we were not swift enough with the door and saw, to our dismay, the mint green hue of ‘adult a’s’ t-shirt with arms outstretched running at full pelt toward the open door. The second arrival told a sadder story she appeared to be blind in one eye and had a tremor in her hands with the addition of multiple scars and cuts on her forearms and hands. This adult showed the most signs we had seen of visible past trauma, was confused and bewildered but did have short burst of excitable behaviour. ‘Adult I’ was a great astonishment. He was tall and had no visible impairment. He also wore a cool Milka cap which I personally coveted! We were all very impressed with his behaviour; as he walked in he had a shirt full of pretzels which he left on the chair and frequently asked to have them bought to him whilst colouring. ‘Adult I’ spoke Romanian with clear gestures, could write his age and numbers without prompting. He was an expert at colouring he even knew what colour to do for the lips and did Ariel’s hair blonde, he also showed off playing one handed catch! We were all delighted with this new found prodigy and put multiple stars next to his name to be referred to the farmhouse. When the bright and assertive man finished he gave us his drawing of the Jungle Book to show Muma Pat. This we accepted, also with the many Teletubby drawings that were posted through the door from ‘adult D’. Instead of ceasing there we carried on, endeavouring to finish before lunch for a free afternoon. Next we had a female who burst into tears as soon as Maria called her over. This was later explained to us by Pat’s wealth of knowledge. When they were children in hospital the only contact they had was with those in white coats, this meant that those not in white coats were a cause of suspicion. We ended today with a female who had the first signs of rocking we had encountered. We supposed she had had a broken right wrist as it seemed not properly set. Like many of the others that day she had no speech but copied the sounds we said. She surprisingly could write her name, numbers and shapes and enjoyed to do so. After her we were triumphant – we had finished for the day! After work we went to the Guest House to eat our lunch where we met Pat and Jean. To our slight disappointment we found out the story of ‘adult I’. He had already been in the farmhouse for about three years but had asked to return to the Spital because that was where he had grown up. There goes our theory of the Spital as a physical enactment of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Not the new found discovery that we had thought! After lunch we made our way to the Dracula hotel and had a drink or two there. We returned to a supper of Somali and pork – Pat’s favourite. It was delicious! (The Somali is stuffed cabbage of meat and rice.) Pudding was a surprise of a homemade birthday cake for Jean’s upcoming day. Today it was also decided we wanted to do a charity skydive for the White Cross Mission – the first plane dive! After supper we played another game of Happy Families with Jean, Pat, Cornelia (Ana’s friend) and Ella. We had an early night to bed and read before sleep. This was our last day with Pat and Jean.

Friday 2nd August 2013

All went without hiccup today, until we got to the room at the Spital – the key was nowhere to be found. As the crowds around us grew ever bigger, we hastily we shut ourselves away in the staff’s storage room where we looked for the key in vain. Maria then went back to the car to find the key while we remained in the room closeted with the residents clamouring on the other side. Finally the key was found and we returned to the sanctuary of our room drama over! Meanwhile ‘adult F’ stumbled into the room and sat contentedly on a mobility machine where he sat very quiet in the corner. Imo and I found this very amusing as often he would accidently overbalance and I would have to rush to right the apparatus! First in today was ‘adult J’, she practically took Imo and I’s breath away. She was beautiful - dark and sultry looking with a short haircut. Not to mention the perfectly sculptured and striking cheekbones. The features of her face were composed in such a way appropriate of a fashion commercial model. She had the masculine, quirky look akin to designers such as Yves St Laurent or Prada. The only sign of reality was a missing front tooth, symbolising I thought the inner story of suffering and sadness. It is humbling in a place like the Spital to find a lot more than normality, a hidden jewel. Humbling but simultaneously dis-heartening. She had a bandaged left wrist and disabled right leg causing stilted moving, she was another rocker. She seemed in great physical discomfort. ‘Adult J’ clearly had understanding but it was masked by a nonchalant attitude of un-enthusiasm, effortless in manner. She was slow and quiet, if even slightly confused but a change overcame her when we bought out the bubbles. Today was without a doubt the bubble day. Suddenly off came the mask and suddenly a graceful sense of wonder overcame her. Showing intense dexterity for a prolonged period of time she replenished the bubble liquid and played with the bubbles. Maintaining her show state she blew the bubbles with such precision and care and was kept intrigued for a vast amount of time; totally encapsulated by the simple idea of soap and water. It was a complete breath taking experience. After her we had a male which Imo and I noted was on the ‘HB’ list. He was strong and boisterous. Suddenly after a couple of minutes with inexplicable agility he dropped to the ground and started eating the crumbs of the ground, which took us by surprise. He performed well at all of the tasks given and with a slight relief we moved on. Then we had sweet and curios ‘adult K’, small and round with dark hair. She was interested in her surroundings and was limited with everything but again loved the bubbles. Moving on we saw the girl with the big tummy who always presents her hand for holding. She had poor vision, facial scars and we thought possibly over medicated as she dribbled a lot. Alike to ‘adult K’ she could catch but not throw and immensely enjoyed the bubbles. Lastly we had another ‘HB’ case that again was male. He had a slight problem with his arms; it seemed he could not extend them. His voice was deep and raspy. He was we noted, happy to communicate with others, giving musical instruments to ‘adult F’ who was still in the corner. After him we felt a deep sense of satisfaction as our first week of work was over! We made our way after leaving for a drink at the bar and then on to the Count Dracula hotel to spend the rest of the afternoon in bliss. There we had lunch - a club sandwich with chips and for tea at around 4 had amazing Nutella Crepes! After lunch we all lounged by the pool and spent our time fluctuating between the pool and sunbathing/reading. In the evening Amanda and Paul arrived in the mid-afternoon themselves for a swim. Eventually the evening wore on until Ella arrived to take us back to the Guest House, where we met her husband. Supper was stew and mash potato with pudding of ice cream. To end the evening we strived for an early night while reading.

Saturday 3rd August 2013

It was a blessing today to have an hour extra to lie in. After a pyjama breakfast and shower we made our way in a relaxed fashion to the market. On the way we saw the Priest Romeo who kindly invited us to his house for a drink the next week. The market due to our relaxed time was packing up but we did see a horse and cart, again! The heat had risen dramatically again so we made our way over to Adie and Paulina’s. It was very nice to see them and kind to have us. After this we made our way again to the Dracula Hotel where we had lunch and swam. With the weekend and sun it was packed so we had a little trouble finding beds but eventually we did. We came back in time for supper and chatted to Ella before everyone arrived, we were growing steadily nervous about the disco! After Ella’s supper of mushroom soup, mashed potato and pork and fruit salad we retired upstairs and got ready. Ella then came and picked us up and we headed to the club. Again at first there were not many people there but people shortly arrived and we had a very good night dancing and just having fun! Eventually at around 4am we got back to the Guest House and crawled into bed.

Sunday 4th August 2013

We woke today feeling fresh as daisies, if a little tired. We spent the morning reading and then around 12pm Ella, Maria, Imo and I went out. First stop off was the touristy shop nearby on the main road which resembled an Aladdin’s cave of tacky gimmicks – my idea of heaven. Here we bought our presents (there are some nice things!). From there we made our way to the mountains to explore. We passed a famous monastery with crowds flocking to it for a famous service happening that day. It was part of their two week land celebration where for that period of time they eat no animal products. As we steadily climbed higher we began to encounter beautiful views. As we drove deeper we passed through forests with amazing filtering light and saw flocks of sheep cowering away from the sun under huge trees for shade. We carried along the road we were on until it turned into a track and then became non-existent. Finally we had to turn back after getting momentarily stuck. After this we went back to the guest house for a quick lunch with cute Christina! The afternoon we spent on the veranda doing jobs in the sun. For supper the starter was an array of meat, main chicken, rice and vegetables and pudding a yummy type of cake. After supper we were filmed by Amanda and Paul about our reaction to the Spital and our thoughts. It went well and already made us feel a little nostalgic and again apprehensive about our work tomorrow.

Monday 5th August 2013

So tired! Not ready to wake at all this morning. Breakfast was as usual – honey and toast. We set off to the Spital in good time and again started with a little drama. Instead of a few around the car as we parked today we had a whole ring surrounding us including infamous ‘adult A’. We knew the day would not start well when ‘adult C’ did not rush to meet us at the gates! To start Maria got out of the car while Imo and I waited putting on our rucksacks. There were more crowding round on the passenger side so Imo decided to move over to the driver’s side which proved to be problematic. The backpack in preparation on her front, to guard from the grabbing hands, had made her wedged between the seat and the wheel. She was immobile and stuck. We were in hysterics. At this point she focused on her rucksack and unawares to her one of the young adults had opened the door and reached out to touch her leg. Taken by surprise without meaning to Imo screamed loudly in suprise, never have I seen a face as crushed as his. Then it continued as ‘adult A’ by that time had moved around to the driver’s side of the car and was ready to welcome Imo. She met her in the middle and pulled Imo in for a tight hug and repeated her name over and over in her deep, gruff voice. We again could do nothing but laugh. Finally we managed to extricate ourselves from the car and made our way to the room. This was a tough short walk, just before entering the building ‘adult J’ was sweeping up broken china and was screaming/groaning like I have never seen; clearly less sedated than on Friday. Finally we made it to the room; still audible was the tormented ‘adult J’. To our alarm the list today had three ‘HB’s’ on it and the first presented was one who we all found a little creepy. We had wanted staff in with us but there was a miscommunication, so we were left in the room alone. At his first entrance he grabbed Maria’s water bottle and then again later, I could not prise it off him. He had a non-committal attitude and suddenly walked out of the room without warning or even a photo. We did however succeed in this later. Next we had the female from the first Saturday who had a twitch and frequently hit herself in the head, this time she had a painful black eye and still the wound behind her ear. She later succeeded in totally stealing Maria’s water bottle. We soon found that if Friday was bubble day that this was the day for musical instruments. They all much enjoyed them – well those who stayed longer than three minutes. Generally they shook the rattle and then used that to hit the tambourine. After her we had another female. She rocked violently back and forth and again like the others had no interest in engagement. She remained unenthusiastic but again enjoyed the musical instruments. In the middle of the assessment we heard our code of two knocks on the locked door and a shout ‘Maria!’ As we thought it was staff we opened the door to a happy ‘adult G’ who had cleverly worked out the code! She wanted a colouring book so we gave it to her and made sure she had been brushing her teeth with the toothbrush we gave her. Next we had ‘adult L’ the severely handicapped boy who shuffles on his hands and arms. He had a whole body twitch and feet bent to the sides. He was not interested again but did direct himself to a walking aid. Finally we had a 56 year old man who used a Zimmer frame. This was shocking as he was not only older than us but my whole family. After we thought we had finished, as we had done 5, we looked at our clocks and it was only 11.20am so we decided to assess more. I think we soon realised that the more physically damaged, the less interactive therefore the less time they took. First we had a male who could only communicate in a rasping voice and enthusiastically used the musical instruments. To our shock after him a smiling woman walked in. She was the exact same who everyday sits next to the door and rocks/wails violently. However today she was smiling and even laughing – loving the feel of the squishy ball. After her we had the banana incident boy. He was intimidating so Ica stayed with us but actually he turned out fine and enjoyed all of the activities. Lastly we had ‘adult M’ who was probably was the worst case we have seen. She was 26 and in a wheelchair with her whole body twisted and looked probably about 5 years old; she was tiny. Throughout the assessment she merely covered her face the whole time and sat motionless. This marked the end of our day so we left for lunch. As we drove away we saw the harrowing sight of ‘adult J’ who had to be physically restrained by staff from running out toward the car. That afternoon we remained at the guest house while Maria, Paul and Amanda went back to the Centre so they too could experience it. That evening we were lucky enough to have a ride on a horse and cart! We were taken on a tour of the main roads and countryside. It was a good experience and worthwhile as we got the change to survey the views first hand and at a slow pace. It was also good as we had now experienced something both integral and cultural about Romania. It felt ironic travelling on a horse and cart while cars zoomed past you at high speed, on a main road. We had a delicious supper tonight of cannelloni beans with a tomato sauce and sausages. After supper we started to type out the forms that we had written during our assessments. I finished my amazing book and went to bed, excited for our lie in tomorrow as Amanda and Paul were going back to the Centre for the morning.

Tuesday 6th August 2013

We woke today at 10.30 am which was much needed. We came downstairs and had tea and Nutella toast – not too Romanian! We spent the morning doing nothing really but the time passed. After lunch we went to the Spital to work for the afternoon. The young adults were quite excited as there had been an arrival of lots and lots of clothes for them and they were all allowed to choose their favourites, hence odd combinations of many males wearing cardigans etc. As we drove up the drive we saw ‘adult A’ strutting across the ground, mint t-shirt, baggy jeans with a lovely girls scout rucksack on her back and a big plastic sack of clothes in her hand. It was a sight of pure determination. The first today we saw was a man who had a permanent headshake. He like so many others we suspected of self-harm; when playing with the rattle he often hit his head with it. He again with the next two we saw could not properly walk but did not have a wheelchair; for our assessment of motor skills it made it challenging. Next we saw the sad sad case of ‘adult N’; he was a small shrunken boy of 26. He was slumped into his chair, had soaked shorts and was blind. His hand was permanently pulled into a fist which fitted snuggly into his eye socket, once he removed his hand to reveal a black hollow space moulded to his hand. Lastly and most shocking of all he was completely emaciated. Skin and bone. I have never seen, and I suspect never will see anything like it. The knees were protruding and looked like large lumps of bone, barley keeping the two sticks of bone attached. There was not an inch of flesh it was just purely skin stretched across sticks of bone. He was clearly distressed and wanted to go, all of our attempts were made in vain. The final resident was another sorry case identical to ‘adult N’ but less to the extremities. He also looked emaciated and had heavy bandages covering both elbows. This was the most shocking scene we had witnessed, after we found ourselves in silence. When we left we had a swift exit and as we approached the car we saw ‘adult H’ brandishing happily the ball we had bought for her. We then relaxed for the rest of the evening until supper. Supper was delicious of chicken, mashed potato and stewed vegetables. After supper we played Happy Families (Imo, Ella, Amanda and I). This was highly amusing as Amanda could not remember a thing but was very competitive!

Wednesday 7th August 2013

Today, we hoped was our last day of working, if we did our five assessments then we will have finished! We had the morning as usual and left for the Spital. As we drove into the Centre the scene was normal, all sitting sprawled outside under the sun. As we settled into our room the first resident was bought in. This was 81 year old ‘adult O’. He was wheeled in by some of the more able residents and sat before us, slumped in his wheelchair. This possibly was one of the hardest accounts we have witnessed. This old man, older than many grandparents, was in a mental institution surrounded by those who are young, left for 20 years. We all found this encounter challenging especially Maria who when looking into his eyes became emotional and had to have one or two moments to collect herself. The point I found most heart wrenching was when he took Maria’s hand in his clutched tightly and kissed it. We all agreed not only was he extremely forlorn but seemed almost resigned to death. After this we had a big shock when a man resembling 26 walked in and said ‘hello, how are you?’ He said he had been to school at age 6 and could speak good English. He was the best we have seen and enthusiastically played ball and coloured. He also took great pride in writing; he wrote various things, not only his name but also age and date omitted to the Spital. Most potent of all I suppose was when he pointed to a cockerel on the wall and said ‘alarm clock’. He showed extreme skill and made us wonder of his origins and cause of institutionalisation. The one we had all been dreading – ‘adult P’ came next. As a recent transfer she is still frightened and has differing sides – happy and distressed. Hastily we bought in Ica who stayed. But luckily nothing of note happened except for trying to grab and steal the key and having a screaming outburst. The last two we had were both fine. The last, a man, was another sorry case sitting on the floor with strong evidence of self-harm. This marked the end of our assessments, 49 had been done. Having finished we left the sanctuary of the room for the last time and left our gifts in the care of Ica (where they all hastily used Imo’s lemon spray as deodorant!) With a melancholic sadness but feeling of accomplishment we drove out of the Spital gates. Leaving the hospital behind us we drove back to the guest house and had lunch. Planning to go to the river that afternoon with Ella we went to bed for a rest. However it went on for too long and we slept right into the evening! It was still very hot so we went quickly for a lovely and refreshing swim in the river. When we returned we had a delicious supper of giant couscous and vegetables, supper seemed quiet as there were no Paul and Amanda, only the three of us. After supper we had a quick game of Happy Families after which we returned to the laptop to copy up the forms. We all stayed up late typing them up and eventually finished. We had the whole of the next day to do as we chose.

Thursday 8th August 2013

After a breakfast in our pyjamas, we left to go to the gift shop again for last minute purchases. On the way back we had to go further than we thought back to the Spital as there had been a bit of a disaster. ‘Adult P’ had stolen the key from Maria and swallowed it whole. Therefore a prescription was needed from the village nurse, Ella’s mother. However as it was lunch the young adults were all inside. After this we met Maria at our usual bar for a drink. We had wanted to go swimming in the river after a quick lunch at Casa Delureni. But sadly this was not an option as the dam had been opened so the river was not only dangerously fast, but freezing cold. Hot, we went to the Dracula Hotel without Ella. We had a lovely swim and crepe where we reminisced about the trip and those we had worked with. We returned to the guest house for the last time. Our last supper was meatballs, cabbage and potatoes. We have been truly spoilt with all of the delicious food! After supper we tried Romanian palinka which was disgusting! We had then a lovely evening to end the two wonderful weeks.

Friday 9th August 2013

Last morning. We are very sad to be leaving our home for the past two weeks and a country so warm, welcoming and beautiful. It has been a most valued experience, an unforgettable adventure.

This morning we had breakfast and packed. Our bag luckily was 20.5kg so we were safe. Until the taxi came we chatted and read. Saying goodbye was hard. We did not want to go but we were invited back by Christina (more implored!). A desolate air of sadness enveloped the taxi as we drove through the Casa Delureni gates and again through the border control seeing the Romanian flag disappear into the distance. Our beloved Bratca and friends lay behind us, now separated by a country. The taxi then dropped us off at the airport and we went to find the correct terminal. The ride again was long and boring but fine – the drive, although 5 hours-ish, is not actually too much of a problem. Our bag, we found was overweight by 2.5 kg and with the price set at €14 per extra kilo we had no choice but to unpack. In the end we managed to take out 4.5kg into our bulging hand luggage bags. Finally after a browse around the airport it was time to get into the plane, for the first time in two weeks I was actually cold!

This marked the end of our Romania trip.



When planning for this trip of a life time I think it is safe to say that neither Imo nor I knew what to expect. It was hard to visualise and conceptualize our future experience as we could not assess the situation. We did not know what we would see, how we would feel or what was in store for us. We were as the saying goes, going into the deep end. I suppose some may say it was a risky choice or a scary thing to do but for us it never felt like that. The idea when first drafted seemed totally natural, why question it? Some have said it is commendable what we have done but to them I say it is commendable what Pat and the White Cross Mission have done. We simply filled in the edges and helped where we could. The gift of giving as described by Joan Simkins in ‘Ceausescu’s children’ is reacting and accepting ‘a simple and joyful impulse…kindness which reacts spontaneously to the distress and needs of others’. This is what Pat Robson has done and imprinted on the lives of so many others. The prospect to Imo and I seemed like any other, a challenge certainly but one to be accepted. I do not think that anyone could have predicted that this off the wall adventure would turn out to be the best two weeks of our lives. While many of our peers were lying beside a pool or sunbathing on a beach, Imo and I were about to make the most memorable plunge of our life.

In Romania we found many things. Our experiences literally could fill half a book but I cannot impress enough the most wonderful time we have had. In these two weeks it feels as though we were welcomed with open arms into a new world, a new society, a new place with such ease and warmth that we felt we belonged. Leaving Casa Deleneri at the end of what felt like a lifetime, was emotional just because for that time it felt like our home. In a strange and unknown country it feels as if we have found a place. The reason why its doors are not continually bursting full I could never explain. We further could never have expected to live in such luxury. We were there to work and to help, it would never have crossed our minds that we would have a lovely place to stay . I can honestly say I have loved every minute. There are those at the Guest House who can be so clearly picked out who made the place was it was – amazing.

The work entailed for us at the Spital was the most unknown element; this was our purpose which at first was shrouded in mystery. At first it was most certainly daunting but as it progressed and as we cracked down to work it became a pleasure. Skimming back through my journal I am filled with joy and mirth at the funny stories that have occurred and the reaction from all at the Centre. In the room, our sanctuary and safe haven where we undertook the assessments we received no outright negativity or violence but pleasure and a yearning. This yearning was exemplified by many of the young adults we had the pleasure to help – the yearning to try, interact and show off what they know. Some very little and some a great deal but whoever it was, mostly on the whole approached our assignment with great pleasure. The best summary I think for these ‘irrecuperables’ are that they are loving and affectionate. These young adults have experienced horrible pasts but on the most have come through and present shinning beacons of hope. They are exactly like children, generally happy although sometimes perplexed and unaware of their own strength. They are not spiteful or violent but just sometimes unaware. They are people. People who merely strive for the affection and attention, deprived from them in their upbringing. Nurture is everything and here that has been flawed - environment is key. This environment now is thanks to Pat and the White Cross Mission is loving and good. It exceeded all of our expectations.

I cannot begin to describe a reaction to this trip except bring on next year! I do not really have any other thoughts. I feel in these past few weeks my outlook on life has changed and I have gained a whole new wealth of knowledge. One’s life has a tendency to be safe and comfortable but I truly feel that at the age of 17 my eyes have been opened to a new part of the world and I have experienced something truly unique. I will take away a lot from such a short time. The most tragic part of the whole trip is that this zealous ‘experience’ is unnecessary and created as a result of an act by humanity. None of this was needed. There are many across the world that see darkness on our planet but do not light their candle. If everyone tried the whole world could be alight and the frightening shadows that occur be expelled forever. It has to be seen in action but the White Cross Mission has truly changed the life of so many. It has done something that not many would think of doing. It has tried and it has succeeded. In West Romania in that small part of Transylvania a bright fire is dancing.


Three years characterize a life. Pat was telling us the process of those mentally able put into an asylum. A perfectly able child but ill with possibly TB or bronchitis were back then, put into hospital by their parents to gain treatment. When returning after the allotted time the parents were not allowed to take their children unless their living standards improved; they had three years. This was common with gypsies. After the three key years there would be an assessment to decide if the child would go to the education or medical sector, the latter obviously if they seemed mentally unstable. Often the children had the nature but lacked the nurture. During these three years they were left in their cots with a bottle in the middle. While the workers smoked in the office the babies had no attention and did not develop speech or the ability to walk and were then therefore classed as mentally deficient. The nurture was non-existent. After being institutionalised they only got worse by learning the mannerisms and behavioural traits off each other, the prime example would be rocking. It is frustrating seeing the farmhouse, it shows that enough staff, smaller numbers and the right environment can change a person’s life. This is what they all need and it is possible, but it is expensive. To those in the West with more money than sense what would a £1,000 here or there matter? How much would it sting a billionaire? Think what it would do elsewhere. The White Cross Mission is ever still looking for its millionaire.

As always, those willing to help often do not have the resources, those who can often are not willing. And so the never ending cycle continues.

It begs the question: do millionaires need money?


White Cross Mission

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