12.26.06 0 °F
Entry # 32 B – Second Week in Romania
Saturday, December 9 – Transylvania – Sunny, just as I had hoped!
Out of the hotel by 9:30 to begin our walk to the Black Church. Currently an active Lutheran Congregation, this church survived a huge fire in the 1600’s that pretty much decimated the city of Brasov and turned all the statutes on the outside black. They are currently housed inside. This site is also known for having over 120 Ottoman carpets that are hung from the balcony and in front of the banks of pews. Very Lutheran, the pews have wooden back supports that completely separate people sitting next to each other.
Post cards bought, we ambled down the pedestrian walkway and did a little more shopping. We had purchased some of the wonder cream, Gerovital, from the pharmacy last night and arose refreshed and much younger looking (at least to ourselves). Having tested the wonderful stuff, we bought more as gifts.
I also happened across an accordion band on the sidewalk and bought a CD as my Romanian music sample. I found a small coin purse and a Romanian flag, so all I have left is to find the Romanian photo album. Lauren found several antique stores so we both had several bags, or rather Marius, gentleman that he was, had several bags to carry.
We went into the Star Market – the largest department store in Romania, where Lauren bought a wonderful brown hat and I found a towel for my last henna treatment on the road. Outside the store was a large fruit market where we bought a pomelo, pomegranate and this large (apple could be pear, might be something else) yellow fruit that we will eat next week. (The yellow fruit turned out to be an apple/pear that was not completely ripe and therefore, not very sweet).
Lauren and I wanted some more soup so we ended up at the same restaurant as last night for meatball soup and beet salad with freshly grated horseradish. Yummy! On the plaza outside the restaurant, we found several kiosks where I bought a pretzel and Lauren found large, freshly made and decorated gingerbreads.
Then it was time for us to get in the car for our short trip to Bran Castle (commonly called Dracula’s Castle). In reality, he never lived in this castle.
Bran Castle was the summer residence of Queen Marie of Romania in the early 1900’s and straddles a mountain pass. It was key for guarding the pass and being perched up on the mountain, it had excellent views on both sides. It was quite a climb up the hill to reach the front door. The Castle was filled with small rooms, each with open fireplaces or stoves. The many winding staircases and inner balcony and walkways made it very interesting to see. It had been restored to the time when Queen Marie was in residence.
We stopped for a brief coffee before we got back in the car that was wonderfully hot, but very strong for me. Not sure why I am so surprised that it was already very dark by 4:45, therefore, we didn’t get to see much of the countryside.
The Alexandros Hotel had good reviews in the LP book and was MUCH NICER than our hotel from last night. Very clean and modern, we looked forward to our evening.
We went to find the internet, as we have not had it available lately at the hotel. We found an internet café and by the time we exited, my stomach was not feeling well, so I decided to make it an early night. Marius and Lauren gallantly walked me back to the hotel (which was not necessary, but they insisted) and they went off to dinner. I spent a quiet evening reading and listening to my Ipod. Upon later review, Lauren and I decided that our stomach fuzziness might have been due to the amount of cabbage or root veggies that we had eaten in the last two days. I think mine was also off due to the coffee I had late in the day. I have been drinking nothing but decaf tea since South Africa.
Our room was very hot, but thanks to quick thinking Lauren, she opened the door to our balcony and we both had a good nights sleep after that.
Sunday, December 10 – Transylvania – More sun, thank heavens!
First stop – Peles Castle (Pronounced pell esh) The former residence of the monarch of Romania – Carol I – in the 1900’s, the first castle with central heating and electricity. Very nice, magnificent staircases and the inlaid wood paneling absolutely AMAZING. Lauren felt it had too much wood, but there cannot be enough real wood for me in a castle. With a staff of 100, it might be doable. When you come to Romania, Peles Castle s a must see in my book.
After the castle we had coffee or hot chocolate on the patio of another complex of buildings in full view of the castle. There were several 3 star hotels on the same grounds and it would have been nice to stay there.
On the outside of the gates, we went through another gauntlet of kiosks. At the completion of this shopping trip, Lauren asked that I get ready for a chotchkie intervention with her to prevent further shopping forees.
The last official part of the tour was to take a cable car up the mountain in Siniea. It only got us halfway up the mountain and to the bottom of a chair lift for a ski area. NOT A SPECK OF SNOW at this point. We did have greats view of Peles Castle on the way up and down. I could have missed this part and not felt slighted.
We began our 5-hour trek back to Banca at 2:45. As none of us were very hungry, we had decided to possibly stop for coffee once and maybe some soup. I Ipoded again and rested and when I opened my eyes, found that we were surrounded by very dense fog. At some points, Marius was driving very slowly and keeping close to the side of the road. I was pleased that he was driving.
We made it home by 7pm just in time for dinner with Bernice. It was lovely to be home and back in my own room.
On the whole, the tour was fun, but we both felt that we paid more than we received. It was a new experience to have to pay for the room for the driver/guide and also cover his meals and admissions to the sights. I will ask more questions before booking a tour the next time.
Bernice told us that she had gone to the clinic both days from 9-4. The babies spent most of their time in the cribs, as the staff was busy doing the once-a-week deep clean. Sunday had only a skeleton crew so the babies were pretty isolated all day. Bernice finally took the loudest criers out for an airing and a portion of the toddlers got out for a short video session. Not as we would prefer, but it is what probably happens frequently when the volunteers are not around. None of us feel that the staff neglects them, but it is a fact of their limited staff, space and resources.
Monday, December 11
Up at 7:45 to leave at 8:30. Tired, as I knew I would be, but we were still looking forward to the little faces and I planned to spend as much time as possible with the mobiles.
The toddlers had been put in the room that traditionally is used for the mobiles so I joined my troop of mobiles with Lauren and her non-mobiles. The morning went pretty well without too many crying fits.
By lunch we all were feeling our weekend especially Bernice with her 7 day straight of time at the clinic. Lunch turned out to be cold soup, huge sandwiches and pomelo that Lauren had bought at the market in Brasov. The pomelo was amazingly sweet and in good shape. Lovely to find that, as most pomelos I have had outside of Thailand have been small, tasteless and rather dry.
I took the mobiles for the afternoon into their regular room. There was one toddler (one of the numerous Andreea’s) that had not been taken into the toddler room, so I took pity on her and brought her in with us. She was definitely a toddler who had spent a lot of time with boys, so she was pretty aggressive and threw things. Everything was fine until she chose Marian’s head to repeatedly pound her toy. I scolded her loudly by saying NU (no in Romanian) and put her back in her crib for time out. Poor Marian had huge tears by the time I got back to him.
When I went to check in with Lauren at 3:40, she looked exhausted and rather pleased to get ready to leave for the day. We changed diapers and most of the pampers and supplies that we had brought last week had been used up over the weekend. We would make another trip to the Penny Market tonight for more diapers. I also intended to buy an electric kettle for the staff/volunteers. While they have a wonderful kitchen, the kettle will help people, both staff and volunteers, get hot cups of coffee.
In addition to going shopping, we stopped by to see Gabriella, a nurse in the city who has facilitated volunteers who want to send money to Romania to sponsor one of the kids. Lauren was interested in helping the 6-month-old twins, Vasili and Daniel, at some level, but also wanted to know that the money will go to whom and for what it was intended. More information was needed from the Dr. at the hospital, because children when are at the clinic, it usually means that they cannot be placed with either their family or extended family for some reason.
Lauren was a godsend with her Italian because it meant that we could ask questions of the staff. Lauren had found out that the staff could use a dish washer (possible her friend Robert from England can help on this one). Other Romanians have said that to really help a child or young person in Romania, sponsorship of their education can make a huge difference in their lives. Previous volunteers have sponsored schooling and in one instance, paid for eye operations for a pair of sisters with crossed-eyes.
We got home exhausted and went to dinner early. Thank heavens we did because by our traditional eating time was, every table was full.
Tuesday, December 12
Still feeling the result of our weekend, rising and shining was difficult again this am. Lauren ended up leaving her prescription glasses on the breakfast table and I found that I had left my water at home.
The toddlers were still in the mobiles room, so I took my kids into the toddlers’ room briefly in the am. I didn’t feel that we could invade Lauren’s non-mobiles again. During the am, several men arrived with cement and tools to clean up around the windowsills and doorframes from the newly placed windows and doors. The windows and doors are all metal construction with very good insulation. I imagine they have made a huge difference to the warmth of the rooms and keeping the weather out. Soon the toddlers came back into their regular room, so I put my mobiles in the rolling seats and they drove up and down the hallway.
Lauren had a chance to speak to Ramona, a former country leader and interpreter for Bernice when she led a team in Iasu (pronounced Yah sh) 5 years ago. Ramona is a lawyer who is currently living in Brussels with her Romanian husband. She was home on vacation, but says that she always comes back to the clinic to see the orphans. As I had mentioned, Lauren is interested in sponsoring a child/children from the clinic. From various conversations we have had, it is obvious that sponsorship can be done, but it takes planning and the help from a local person in Romania. In the past, some volunteers have gone through a foundation, which is no longer an option. Others have gone through private people who will accept the money on behalf of the family and if necessary, will make sure that the necessary supplies are purchased and given to the family.
So much of the sponsorship depends on if the family or foster family will be able to be located once the child leaves the clinic. While the family or extended family is always preferred, some are so poor there is no way that they could take back the child. I had heard before I came that it is not uncommon for some of the gypsy families to pick up their last child from the clinic and drop off the new one. The children also come to the clinic with some medical reason, sometimes only malnutrition, but usually with multiple problems. Anemia is the other main cause for entrance to the clinic. Until the child is well enough and of a certain weight, they are not eligible for either placement back home or into a qualified foster family. The irony of the situation is that if the family takes the child back, they only receive a small amount of money from the government, where as, if a foster family take the child, they receive money for the food, clothing and other support for the child.
According to Ramona, adoption is not a common practice within the Romanian community. Fertility is not a problem and therefore, most families would rather have natural children than adopt. Usually, adoption only happens when a family who has had a child, loses the child and the woman is beyond childbearing age. The EU insists that countries take care of their own and therefore, Romania no longer allows international adoptions. Many of these programs in Romania have already been shut down, and while there are no plans to close this clinic, there is no guarantee that this program will continue either.
For the last two days, we have been lunching late to accommodate the noon bottles for Bernice’s the two-month-old twins. I helped feed one of the little ones, Denisa today and I could tell how tired I was by my level of impatience. Grandma Bernice clued me in to the technique she uses with Denisa, the smaller of the twins, that keeps her eating and not drowning in the milk.
Today when we arrived in our dining room, the soup had been placed in our bowls as had the coffee and it was totally cold. As I entered the room, I could tell we were probably having cabbage soup. The first bite told me it was fish soup. Both Lauren and I took it outside for the dogs that also turned their noses up at the offering.
During the afternoon, Lauren and Bernice had an appointment to see Dr. Delia to find out about the specific children and to learn about the sponsorship opportunities. I was on mobile duty again with the little racecars in the hallway. Even little Sylvia, our weight challenged little pumpkin, was racing up and down. I always find her standing in her crib and yet she is reluctant to walk on her own. This week, I have been putting her between my knees with her feet on the ground and quickly, I can open my knees can open because she is standing on her own. Little faker!
Two stops on the way home for more pampers for the little twins and supplies such as toilet paper, milk for the cereal for the non-mobiles and baby wipes for little bottoms.
I admit, prior to arriving at this placement, I was not looking forward to changing diapers. After 10 days, I am not finding it that bad not even the real poopy ones. I guess when you have been pooed on by so many things during the year, a dirty diaper does not appear so daunting.
Wednesday, December 13
Slept well and felt refreshed for my day. Today the new things included an intake of two new babies, one 3 months (Paula) and one 4 months (Crina). The 4 month old has a sister in the clinic, but we are not sure who it is. The 3 month old seems very small and underdeveloped and probably has some inherited genetic disorder.
Today we also had hot soup and coffee for lunch. We brought the items with us from the kitchen and because we waited to bring it with us, the temperature was better.
Lauren only has two days left at the clinic after today and was beginning to feel the pull of her life in Italy, but also a profound sadness about leaving the twins, Vasili and Daniel.
During out time together, Lauren (42), Bernice (76) and I have been having wonderful single women discussions and Lauren is teaching us flirting 101. Ladies, you will know what I mean!
Lauren is fascinating and living a life that most of us can only dream about. At 42, she is living in Tuscany and finishing the editing of her first book. A former NJ State Police officer for 15 years, her book chronicles her life as an officer, the death of her only son, and how she made the transition from the US to Italy. She is currently dating a handsome Brit who has a villa in Tuscany and she travels extensively in Europe and back and forth to the US.
Her life in Italy sounds intriguing and foreign at the same time. A great conversationalist and interested in human nature and everyone’s story, she has shared so much about her life with us. Lauren is totally integrated into the village near Lucca and spends time helping her neighbor who owns and runs the local animal shelter. Village life in Tuscany goes at a slower pace than most of the world and she finds time to share coffee with the gasman when he comes to deliver her propane, bikes into the village for her staples and up until recently, every three months had to go to the immigration office to extend her visa. She has finally been granted residency, which has allowed her to buy a car. Without residency you can buy a house, which she did, but you have to be a resident to buy a car. She still travels back to the US 2-3 times a year to catch up with family and friends. Her friends ask if she will return to the US permanently, and she indicates she will probably stay in Tuscany. She says that her standard of living is higher in Italy than it would be in the US.
She has opened my eyes to many things that I had not considered. She says living in the foreign country sort of turns you upside down, but once you become used to it, you seem to be able to take on anything. HMMMMM? Is it time for me to be upside down?
Thursday, December 14
Off to a late start today as we stopped by the Posta (post office) for post card stamps for all of us and to mail a package for Lauren. My stamps were about $1 each and the post cards are on their way. The package acceptance office would only be open between 10-12 two days a week, and since we were there at 9am, we chose not to wait.
Bernice (76) of Japanese/Hawaiian background is amazing. May we all look that good and have that much energy at 76. Bernice lives in San Francisco, one of my most favorite cities in the entire world, is a retired community college teacher and comes from a grape growing family in Lodi, California. She is very active as an international volunteer and life long learner. She has two grandsons whom she has taken on Elderhostel trips and has led GV trips in Poland, Greece, Romania, Tanzania, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana….
She loves all things baby, but especially the twins Larisa and Denisa (premature and only 2 months old), and within two weeks has brought them from fussy babies with diaper rash and irregular sleep patterns, to a pair who both take their entire bottles, clean bottoms and good sleepers. When awake, however, they scream until Bunica Bernice (Grandma Bernice) picks them up. As soon as they feel her hands, they quiet. As soon as she puts them down, they wake! What clever babies!
The immigration officials will need to check her luggage as she arrives in the US, as there may be two little stowaways among the dirty socks!
Bernice now has the other two new babies to contend with as well, who are taking precious time away from her first loves. Paula, little elf baby (the one that we think might have dwarfism or some other genetic condition) is taking a lot of time as she is so small, has not settled since the move and has difficulty breathing, eating and sleeping. Corina, the other baby, is doing better and may even be ready to go into the non-mobile room, as she is so accomplished and alert.
I admit it! I love the mobiles the best at this placement. Funny, I thought it would be the tiny babies, but I love the concentration with which they play and their attempts to walk and crawl. Sylvia, Marian, Mirella and Mihaela have my heart and most of my attention. I am not sure how I will accommodate all the other kids that I may need to share my time with next week and not spend my entire time with my 4.
Each day I try to get one of them up first and have some special time with them. With the exception of Marian, my only boy, who is highly distractible and possibly a little ADD, the girls seem to like the special attention and get frustrated when I have to put them down to assist someone else. Today, I spent time with Sylvia. She is the pudge, 18 months old, stands in her crib, scoots on her butt and can race up and down the hall in a supported rolling walker chair, but has not made the leap into free style walking yet. When you grasp her hands and try to assist her to walk, she sags to the floor in a sit. This week I have been holding her between my knees while I am seated in a chair, with her feet on the floor. After she gets settled, I can spread my knees and she is essentially free standing with some leaning back on the chair. Bernice and I have a commitment that we will work with her next week to see if we can’t get her ambulating under her own steam.
Part of her issue is that she is so passive, that there is nothing that entices her to stretch herself. When offered a toy, she reaches for it very tentatively and slowly and examines it minutely and quietly. When a toy is whisked out of her hands (usually by Marian), she doesn’t stress about it and waits for the next toy to drift into her perimeter. She like to come to me, so hopefully, if Bernice has her and I call to her and am in close and comfortable proximity, she will take that important first step. Expect a report during the final week.
Marian is also at the brink and where it is simply a matter of time before he puts it together and begins to tear around on 2 instead of 4 appendages. He will be an easier walker and we will try to get him up and moving next week.
Tonight we had our usually stop at the Penny Market for diapers that should last through the weekend. Lauren also stocked up on candy for all the aids, and special treats of cheese, sausage and bread for a little celebration with the staff tomorrow.
We also had a final dinner with Lauren at a new restaurant, ARCADIA, with Gabriella, Nastashi (our driver and his wife, Sofika) and Manuela as our guests. We have found that most likely due to the time of the year, restaurants don’t always have everything on the menu. Tonight, we had decided on our favorite beet salad with horseradish, stuffed cabbage with meat and rice and papanash donut for dessert. The beets they had, but the others they did not. We did not find out all at once that our desired dishes were not available, so the poor waiter had to keep appearing to tell us that we had to select again. His final time, he slunk up to Gabriella and admitted that he hated to tell us, but our dessert option was not available.
We had a wonderful time hearing from Gabriella about the health and childcare systems in Romania and her work at the family planning clinic and as an advocate for the children at Tutova.
It was a fun evening and a lovely celebration to see Lauren off. We got home late and the morning found us all slow to get to the breakfast table.
Friday, December 15 – Last work day for Lauren
A late start again after a short night and then a trip to the bank so that Bernice could exchange money to pay the first two weeks of transportation costs. Bernice says the budget part is the hardest thing about being a team leader. The budget is in US Dollars and the Euro (which Romania is not currently using) and we are paying in RON – The new Lei for Romania. While Romania will enter the EU on 1/1/07, they will hold on to the RON for another seven years and then make the conversion.
We arrived and I had a list of pictures that Lauren wanted taken with her favorites, the twins Vasilei and Daniel, Andrei and Ramona. I had the mobile 4 in the walkers in the hallway and Bernice had her twins. Crina was being impossible and was not willing to stay in her crib, so we brought one of the little baby chairs that vibrates for her to try. It worked like a charm and then Bernice only had potentially three fussy babies to contend with instead of 4.
It was a short morning as we were so late. We were all surprised to see Zorin and Abel, the two little boys who had eye surgery yesterday, back in their cribs today. Other than the one red eye each, neither of them looked or acted like they had been in surgery yesterday.
At lunch Lauren cut up all the goodies and she invited the staff to come and join us. She also worked with the nurse on duty to label a box of chocolates for each aid, nurse or teacher who helped at Tutova in the clinic. As you might imagine, all of the treats were very well received.
Lauren and I had our last lunch time walk and Lauren told me all about the foundation called Wade’s Heart that she will set up with the proceeds from her book sales. The foundation will fund projects/workshops or camps that will give kids that aren’t normally heard an opportunity to express themselves. The aim of the foundation will be empowerment, networking, brainstorming to increase confidence and self-acceptance in young people.
Our afternoon sped past as we got the last pictures that she requested. The mobiles again were rocketing in the hall way and I spent some time with each of them in my lap. At one point, as I went past Andrei (the 4-year old with aggressive issues) who was alone in a room, I saw that he had managed to remove the carpeting and was proceeding to lift the tiling underneath.
In the past few days, I have also been around Annamaria, the little girl with some mental problems and learning disabilities, who has the habit of sticking her hands down her throat and regurgitating her last meal or two. At times she is in a walker and you know what she has been up to by the smell. She shares a room with 5 of the non-mobiles and occasionally when you go in to get someone, the smell overpowers you. The staff members are saints! They efficiently work with these two children who might well be neglected because their behavior problems, with grace and kindness. There are kissed and cuddled and a gentle when they handle them. We look at them and try and imagine their future and the lessons they bring to us.
A day to go down in history!!! We did not stop at the Penny Market on the way home! We had massages waiting. I took the pre-dinner one, as Bernice wanted to shower ahead of time and Lauren prefers the last one so she can go right to bed.
Lauren accepted the offer of a ride from Natashi tomorrow to get directly to the airport. The only rub is that she must be up and ready to leave at 4:30 am! She probably won’t go to bed and will sleep in the car.
Bernice and I will miss her tremendously next week. All the babies and the staff love her and she is so lively and engaging, she can speak to anyone and it truly interested in them. It will be a quiet week. I will attempt to keep up her exercise program for the non-mobiles and promised to keep her updated on the progress being made. I will also be in charge of writing the daily journal for the team (of 2) for the week, as Bernice will be doing the weekend entries.
I have decided to take my full weekend away from the clinic. While I will miss my special babies, I know that I need a break, a sleep in, and time to catch up on my blog. Bernice will most likely go to the clinic on Sunday and I know that the aids asked if she was coming.