12.26.06 0 °F
Entry # 32 A –First Week in Romania
Saturday, December 2
Up at 5:30, with crowds of people still moving about the streets having not gotten home from last evenings parties. The taxis were all taken, so I asked the angels and within 10 seconds, my cab arrived. I did not know my terminal so the driver called on his cell phone and confirmed I was to go to terminal #2. I was at the airport in 20 minutes.
I found after I arrived that I was in the wrong terminal but as my flight wasn’t for 3 hours, not that big of a problem. (Just a well I got there early, as you will see). I walked to Terminal 1 with the twins (my luggage) and found a line for Air Madrid. After one hour in line, I noticed that all the people were really short and Spanish looking. After another hour in this line, I determined that I was in the line for Ecuador instead of Bucharest.
Made it into the correct line where a huge crowd had gathered in a disorderly mess. Luckily, I did not loose my place in line as they asked everyone to back up and form one line. Made it to the front. My baggage was 5 kilos over so I had to go pay an excess baggage fine. ($45 dollars, which was cheaper than if I had mailed it home). I think I will carry the stuff from now on and risk the fine, instead of running around trying to mail stuff home. Also if I load my other backpack with the heavy stuff, I may still be okay.
When I was going back to pick up my boarding pass, after paying my fine, I saw a sign for a US Air flight to the US for Filadelfia. I wanted to take a picture of it, but they wouldn’t let me. The closer to the US I get, the more rules there are for air travel.
I had the row to my self until Barcelona, and then two Romanian men next to me for the 3-hour flight to Bucharest. Crowded but okay.
Looked out at one point and I could see snow on the mountains. As we landed, there was quite a haze, partially because it is cold and the weather has settled and partially because there is quite a bit of pollution in Romania.
Before landing, I noticed lots of farming communities with houses only along the roads. It appeared that the farms were in very narrow strips with no outbuilding other than those that were clustered at the roads that border the farm plots. I will see if I see the same pattern when I am on the ground.
Landed at 4:20, which was just about dusk and 1 hour late due to air traffic hold ups in Madrid. No issues with exchanging money or immigration. Found the Global Volunteers who had been waiting 4 hours in the airport. They some how had my arrival time wrong, but luckily my team leader was coming in close to my delayed arrival time. One volunteer, Lauren, was arriving outside the pick up window and would need to make her own way to the hotel.
We will be a small team of only 5 for this week, 3 the 2nd week and only 2 the final week.
Hotel Caro is very nice, very modern and lovely.
Dinner at 6:30 with Bernice (team leader from SF), Manuela (Country assistant for Romania), John and Sandy from Boulder, and finally Lauren from NJ, but currently residing in Tuscany, Italy who arrived late and had an adventure finding us.
Saw pictures of the children and have already spotted a real cutie. Tomorrow, an early breakfast, meeting and then a 5-hour bus ride to our town, Banca near Barlad our major city and on the far side of Barlad is Tutova, where the hospital and clinic are located. We will be working in a failure to thrive clinic. The children are not technically orphans but have been removed from their families or released by the families, as they cannot care for them. The children tend to come in underweight and malnourished. They are then placed in foster care (one of the EU requirements before Romania joins the EU on Jan 1, 2007) as soon as they are healthy enough and a suitable home is found. Several of these clinics have closed around Romania, preparing for the EU transition.
Sunday, December 3
The alarm rang way to early this am (7:10 am), but as I had already packed, I was at breakfast at 8 for a 9 am departure. The first one in the restaurant, it had an amazing spread of yoghurt, cereals, eggs plus all the trimmings and wonderful pastries. In the middle island were cold cuts and a wonderful selection of cheeses. I restrained myself based on the weight I put on in Spain.
Long story short, we all had a hard time getting up and by the time Lauren made it to the lobby, it was 9:20. We left close to 10 in very foggy, damp cold conditions and headed northeast out of Bucharest.
We chatted for the first hour of the trip. Lauren is writing a book about her former career in the NJ State Police for 15 years and her decision to quit and subsequent move to Italy. This is her second GV placement.
John and Sandy own several small resorts in Estes Park and live in Boulder. They have done many GV trips in Eastern Europe and China.
Bernice our team leader is from San Francisco and has taught college and is currently leading up to 3 trips a year and taking care of her 96-year-old mother in between.
Manuela is our local coordinator while Mihalla is in Minnesota for country manager training. She lives in Barlad the closest major city to Tutuva that has our clinic. 27 children between birth and 5 are resident in the clinic.
We stopped at a McDonalds for lunch mainly because it had western toilets. I managed to get locked in the toilet because I was unaware of the system. In order that only paying clients have access, you have to buy something and at the bottom of your ticket is the access code. You punch it in as you enter the stall and then when you use the button to exit. I had just entered the stall when the last women exited. I found out later the code was 1001.
I had ordered my standard McD meal of double cheeseburger, small fry and orange drink. I added a coffee latte that was okay, but pretty tepid. We all went to the ATM to withdraw some money.
After we left lunch, the sky cleared slightly and we could see the fields we had been passing. Mainly grapes in this region, we began to see little stands on the roadside with plastic jugs full of juice. It was local wine and we asked to stop so that we could buy some. The driver knew of a good place so we ended up stopping and pulling into a compound. A rag tag assortment of dogs met us including a husky, two young puppies and a poor mother dog that looked the worse for wear. The tasting room had large plastic containers for white or red wine and some bottled cabernet, merlot and pinot noir. We were given completely full glasses of wine as our samples. The group ended up buying a 5 Liter jug of both white and red for a whopping 30 new Lei (about $10).
Along the side of the roads, it was not uncommon to see horse drawn carts and we passed a farmers market with local grain grower displaying their grains in piles on burlap sacks on the ground.
The buildings I have seen so far are a varied assortment of very old, some built around 1940-50’s and some very modern. The small villages remind me on Anatevka from Fiddler with little yards behind low fences.
I have seen a number of cats and dogs all outside and looking cold and hungry by US standards.
The people that I have seen are well protected from the cold, usually with hats or bandanas. After months in the tropics/temperate areas, the moist cold is as expected. I definitely did not bring enough warm clothes. We will definitely do a little shopping on the way back to the hotel tomorrow. Lauren did what I did at the start of my year and left her shampoo and toothpaste at home, John and Sandy need an alarm clock and I need the standard Kleenex, washing powder and now for Romania, sweat pants and shirt and possibly another shirt or two
The clinic is in Tutova that is farther South than Barlad, the major city, and our hotel is on the other side of Barlad. We will have about a 15 minute ride each way to get to the clinic where we will work from 9-4, with 2 hours for lunch.
Our Motel Gianni appears pretty new and we each have private rooms. In addition to the GV supply room with two computers and a separate meeting room, they have a sauna and Jacuzzi ($5 for 15 minutes) and they also offer a massage service. They also have laundry services that are economical and a full service restaurant and bar. We are rather isolated at the hotel, but I think we will be able to get cabs into Barlad if we want some evening entertainment.
Tomorrow, we will get a list of excursions offered by the local travel agency for weekend trips. John and Sandy leave next weekend, so it will only be Lauren, Bernice and I. After the first weekend, it will only be Bernice and I.
When we finish up our time at the clinic, we will take the train back to Bucharest. That will be a fun bonus, as I love short train travel.
We had an early dinner with the tv in the restaurant blaring above our heads. I asked Bernice if it would be possible to have our table moved to the opposite part of the room for all of our future meals. It will be done as of breakfast tomorrow.
Off to an early bed time for blogging and very welcome sleep.
Monday, December 4 – Angels all around me!
I had spent a little too much time with my new book last night, the Historian (about the Dracula legend) so 8:00 am came a little early for me.
Did I mention that my bed has pastel, plaid seersucker sheets? The texture is very strange to sleep on and under.
I sent 5 pairs of socks, nightclothes, 2 tops and 2 pants to the laundry, asked the housekeeper for a new bulb for my bedside lamp, and to see if they could fix the strobe light in my bathroom.
What a busy day we had! Breakfast at 9:00 and then we went up stairs for the traditional GV exercises of what are our team goals and what makes a good team. Mine were to spend time with the children, to make a difference and to learn more about myself. (COTU strikes again!)
Then we had a Romanian language lesson with Manuela. As we started, we needed some supplies from the resource room and as I was searching for white board markers and large paper, came across a dead mouse where the oatmeal was stored. The motel was very apologetic. Later discussion resulted in us tossing out any of the zip locks that had any mouse teeth marks at all. We can’t have the babies eating tainted oatmeal! We made a list of the office supplies we still needed and the recommendations from the previous team was to bring juice, yoghurt or boneless chicken breasts to the clinic as the children don’t normally get these treats. (The note said it made a change from boiled chicken livers! As most of them are anemic and malnourished, I guess liver is good for them, but YUK!)
Before we left the motel, we prepaid for our massages for tonight. Only 28 RON (new lei), we were looking forward to our hour on the table. We were told that the masseuse was able to speak English.
After our lesson, we loaded into the bus for lunch downtown at the Alona Cafe. The menus were in Romanian, and as we had not discussed any food words, we had Manuela order for us. I ended up with a great veggie soup and a ham and cheese salad. (Salad in Romania does not include lettuce, simply the other ingredients listed.) It really was very tasty. We ordered fresh fruit salad for dessert. YUMMY!
We were finally going to go to the clinic that we had heard so much about. Similar to Peru, these children are not orphans as most of them do have parents. The parents simply cannot take care of them. The clinic is associated with a small hospital with 70 beds, 30 for the failure to thrive children, 20 for pediatrics and 20 for adults.
We met the director, Dr. Delia, who was a lovely woman and who had good English, but felt more comfortable with the translator, Manuela. We saw the emergency room, about 10X10 with three beds including a delivery table that the Dr. admitted should be in a museum. They see anywhere from 5-10 births a month, and the mother and child are moved via ambulance to the 900 bed hospital in Barlad (about 5 minutes away) within an hour of the birth.
Then we saw the lab and while they have some of the machines, they do not have the necessary supplies to complete all the tests. (i.e., they have three one-step blood machines for monitoring blood sugar, but they cannot afford the strips at $1.50 each.) There blood work machine has the capacity to run up to 100 tests, but they only have the ability to run 16 different tests.
Next we saw the men’s ward, with three patients, 12X12 room with 6 beds. The woman’s ward had 12 beds and 20 patients. Doing the math you will find that this means that 8 of the bed has two occupants sleeping head to foot. They were in for chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, diabetes, pulmonary issues, etc. I asked her to tell them for us that we hoped that they would get better soon, and she said that they would as they would all want to be home for Christmas. The ladies were sad to see us go and asked us to come back.
Next, the land of the children. We walked out of the adult wing across a yard and past a nice fenced playground with swings and outside toys that had been funded by GV money. We could hear them before we saw them. Through the door we could see a very small room with about 12 toddlers and one nurse. Sweet faces through the door and at the first sight of opening, Florin was out into the hall way like a rocket. I can tell he is a little monkey and was very happy to see us and anxious to touch hands and play.
Next we met a pair of twin boys who had TB and toxic hepatitis. I am assuming Hep C that has no inoculation. I am not sure if we will get to play with them.
Next we saw the newest babies, twin girls who were less than 2 months old. Very sweet.
We visited several rooms, each with about 5 wooden cribs approximately 2X3, with one child each. The children are separated into several groups including mobile (they can crawl or walk but are smaller than the toddlers), the non-mobiles (self explanatory) and the special needs children.
There are 6 special needs cases. Alessandra has brittle bone disease and although she is 3 years old, is no bigger than a non-mobile. Ramona is a pale 2 year old that needs a kidney transplant. The clinic can only afford one dose a month and she needs a dose twice a week. Samuel is a lovely downs syndrome baby of about 2 years. Zorin is a toddler, has crossed eyes and probably some other brain injury or learning disability. Andrei, a 4 year old, has some brain disorder and while not intentionally mean, due to his size and weight causes considerable damage to the littler guys. Abel, under two years old with crossed eyes, otherwise appears fairly normal. Matiste (not sure of this spelling) is a toddler-sized girl who cries a lot. She is often by herself.
Most of our hearts melted with at least one of the children and my current favorite is Samuel, a downs syndrome baby with a delightful smile. A little shy are first, but as soon as you touch him, he beams and giggles.
We finished our tour and walked past the largest toddlers including another Andrei who is 4 and potentially quite a handful. The hospital had recently received money and they totally redid the kitchen that is wonderful to behold. With the next grant, they will most likely destroy the two sections of the hospital that was hit the hardest during the last earthquake. (Romania seems to suffer every other year with earthquakes of varying severity.)
Our time was limited today so we had only a few minutes to go back to any of the rooms. Both Lauren and I went in with the babies for a few minutes of cuddles. We had to leave too soon and there were some tears as we left. I promised Samuel that I would see him tomorrow.
Most of us had a little something that we needed at the store so we stopped at the Penny Market. This seems to be a chain in Europe and is similar to our Target. We had noticed that the clinic did not have toilet paper or hand towels at the sinks. We bought juice, but held off on the yoghurt and chicken until we can clarify with the clinic. We had to get back as Bernice had a massage scheduled at 5pm. Lauren and I are scheduled for after dinner.
Lauren and I went to the restaurant for coffees. Most of the group has found the coffee to be uniformly weak and usually tepid. We found out that even when you ask for cappuccino, you get a powdered coffee packet and possible hot water from the espresso machine. I opted for hot chocolate, but they only had white chocolate.
We then went up to the GV resource room to read the journals left by the previous teams. Each child has a folder with their diagnosis and progress reports, but a separate book with entries from the last teams telling us where they left off with each child. Most books have a picture of the child as well so that we don’t arrive totally ignorant about the children. Most of the volunteers have left their email addresses in the books asking future teams for updates.
Samuel has not only downs, but also anemia and rickets. He is not sitting up very well yet, but continues to make progress. The little face that won my heart last night we thought was Dimitri, but it turns out that his real name is Marian. I can’t remember all of his specifics, but will make sure to meet him tomorrow.
Finally dinnertime, we met John and Sandy in the restaurant. Bernice was late, due to the massage, and the waiters brought out our salads (tomatoes and cukes) and a wonderful procuitto pasta dish. By the time we were finished, still no Bernice.
Just as dessert arrived (chocolate and mint ice cream), here came Bernice. She had had a lovely massage, but was a little confused as the masseuse did not speak much English and she had asked Bernice to pay an additional $30 in US currency. The hotel owner had been adamant that we prepay for the massage and that she would pay the masseuse. It was up to us if we wanted to tip any extra. Considering we paid $15 for the massage, a $30 tip was a bit high. Bernice was not bothered about it. Lauren and I requested further clarification from the owner who returned to help us from her house behind the property to investigate.
20 minutes later, she came back to say that the masseuse had said that Bernice offered the money as she was so pleased with the service. At this point, my heart was not feeling good about this situation. The owner was in a bit of a delicate situation and did not press the issue. She did confirm that no more money was to be given to the woman and Lauren told Bernice that we would split the tip with her. The owner left and we discussed the matter between us.
Lauren was still game and knowing what to expect, she indicated that she would most likely give her a good tip. I told the ladies that my heart was not feeling good about this situation and said that at this point, that I would happily forfeit my money but that I no longer wanted a massage. I asked Lauren to let the masseuse know when she saw here. Lauren went to tell her she would be a minute or two, and I went back to my room. I was feeling a bit like a coward, as I did not plan to go to the woman myself and tell her that I would not take the massage. I checked my vibes to see if I was to go out and approach her myself and was told no. I checked to see if I was being a coward and was told yes.
Lauren knocked at my door within 3 minutes and told me that she had also decided not to go on the massage. As she entered the room, the woman, in perfect English said that the price was 28 lei for 15 minutes and that the hour price was higher as she would be doing 15 minutes of energy work and 15 minutes of other things. The long and the short of it was that neither of us felt that the woman was being honest with the owner or us. It seemed to me that the woman had taken advantage of Bernice’s kind heart and innocence. Lauren said during the exchange, she felt that the woman was shaking her down. As I look back on it, I can tell that my angels were helping me in this. Had I been the one to go into the room (which was the original plan), I probably would have ended up feeling bullied and might have ended up giving in to a massage that I did not want with a person that I did not trust. THANK YOU ANGELS! I am complete with this.
Lauren and I decided to take a sauna instead and we spent a hot and steamy 15 minutes in the box that helped me get over the last of the cold that I developed in Spain. During this time, Lauren regaled me with tales of her experiences in a Turkish bath in Istanbul where a woman with naked, pendulous breasts and a towel around her waist, exfoliated her with a rough cloth and basically stripped off her bra and undies. (It is so hard to know what is the appropriate attire in these cases!!). Considering that Lauren had been unaware of the exfoliation process, and had assumed that she was only going in for a steam, you can imagine her surprise. Apparently, the woman’s breasts swung around a lot as she worked and at one point caught Lauren in the face. I am amazed she did not leave with bruises.
I ended the day with a lovely shower in my bathroom where I no longer have the strobe effect, and then typed my blog in bed with my new bedside lamp illuminating the scene. It was a good day and I am looking forward to tomorrow.
Tuesday, December 5 – First day on the job
Up at 7:00 for breakfast at 8:00 for departure at 8:45. We had to pick up Manuela at 9:00 after her two classes in the morning. School in Romania is from 7am until 8 pm with two rotations,
7–1 and 1-8. A very long day for teachers who may teach early and then late in one day.
Orneta the hotel owner had heard about our massages and wants to arrange for a different masseuse to come later this week for free massages for us. We appreciated her going this extra distance for us.
We arrived at 9:30, just as everyone was getting the second bottle for the day. Apparently the daily schedule at the clinic is:
7am first bottle
9:30 second bottle
11:30 – oatmeal
2 third bottle or cream of wheat
4pm we leave
4:30 second meal
6pm fourth bottle
8 pm fifth bottle
John and Sandy with limited time are trying to get to every group as much as possible. They took the first shift with the toddlers and had them until 11:30. We heard that they are very exhausting and should only be done in 1-hour shifts. I started with the mobiles, Bernice went with the new 2-month old twin girls and Lauren was with the non-mobiles.
My group began with Mihaela – quiet dark eyed little girl who enjoyed walking around with a plastic ball in each hand. She liked it when I picked up a third ball and touched mine to hers. Not wanting cuddling and content on her own, she only had one major meltdown in my first 30 minutes.
Next was Slyvia – a large eyed, light brown hair, square headed pudge who was dressed in a blue suit that had huge pantaloons that made her look like a blue pear. While she stands well in her crib, she seems to have a weight in her butt and shoots and crawls a little bit, but make no effort to walk or even pull up on your fingers. She also is very vocal, will make a fine addition to any opera chorus she goes for and most of her vocalizations are happy and shrill. Only one melt down with Slyvia, but it brought the stork like bespectacled nurse to my room to see if I was abusing the children.
Next came Mirella – a petite, sylph-like dark eyed charmer who will be a great actress. She has the pouting lower lip look down, but had a good day with me in the corner in a bouncy swing with music and light when the right button is pushed. Very sweet and a very good walker when she is not in the chair.
Finally – little man Marian who has a smile that will melt any heart. Crawls like a fiend and zeros in on any interesting toy currently in the hands of any other occupant in the room. Very happy and lovely smile. This was the face that I saw in the camera that won my heart. What a cutie!
At 11:30 I exited the room and assisted briefly with toddlers before we went to lunch.
This morning the therapists were working with most of the special needs babies so we did not have the full range today. There are several children who appear to have some autism, one with some cognitive delays and possible brain damage in addition to the others that we saw yesterday.
The nurses and aids that work with the children all day are also the ones that warm up our lunch and cart it over the hospital where there is a lunchroom. Lunch today was huge sandwiches, a very tasty veggie soup with carrots, bread and fruit. We had also bought coffee and asked them to make it strong, as most of the coffee we have had has been pretty weak. I augmented with biscuits and more fruit. Traditionally, any part of lunch that is left over is taken back to the clinic if it would be appropriate for the children or staff. Any other left over go to the 5-6 dogs that live in the compound. Both John and Lauren did a little feeding and when they were too slow, the black and white dog helped himself to the food and little bit of their hands.
We had some time, so Lauren, Bernice and I struck off down the road for a short walk. The sun had finally come out and we decided to take advantage of it, as it may not come up again. I realize that we are in a valley with rivers so the amount of fog we have been experiencing is not unexpected.
The afternoon, the toddlers have a teacher most days, so the volunteers can focus on the other kids. Both John and Sandy and Bernice each try to spend some time with the TB twins with hepatitis and the tiny girl twins that were born about two months ago. Lauren spent time with 4-year-old Andrei, who is probably autistic and usually sequestered from the other children due to his erratic behavior. Several of the kids have scrapes or bites from Andrei. While large and a little hard to follow, he is not mean and really responded well to the individual attention from Lauren. She even got a hug and kiss last thing today. She will repeat the time with him tomorrow.
It is hard for us to understand at some level why many of the things are done at the clinic. Our American can do attitude and let’s fix it becomes frustrated when things don’t flow, as we would like to see them. We try to ask questions, but our Romanian is far from adequate. While we understand that the staff is limited in their time and ability to make real changes, the group had lots of suggestions on how things could be done. There are 6 rooms with cribs with high bolt locks on both sides of the door. The doors are glass fronted (not plexi-glass) so that you can see in and see 95 % of the room. At times, a child may be locked in the room by themselves, especially in the case of Andrei. As babies are being brought into the mobile ward, they may be alone for a while as another child is being collected. Twins are housed in separate cribs from each other and cannot even look through the bars at each other. Babies are not held when they are bottled, bottles are propped on towels or blankets next to the baby. Babies aren’t changed when the diaper is wet, only when it is poopy. We brought disposable diapers that will allow the urine into the next layer and help relieve the diaper rash, but the aids still diaper with two cloth diapers, rubber pants and two pairs of pants. The longer we stay the more we may learn, but I think when all is said and done, the staff is doing a marvelous job with these kids under difficult circumstances and inadequate money and assistance.
Diapering is done on a table in the hallway in a production line. First, unwrap the kid from the onezie, unsnap the top and remove the plastic pants. Take out the two diaper pins that hold the double folded diaper onto the kid. Drop the soiled diapers into a large bin. Clean the bottom. Many have diaper rash and we have A&D Vitamin cream and also some Desitin lotion. Lay out one diaper open once and put the still folded second diaper in the middle of the first diaper. Put the two diapers under the back of the kid and fold the tails of the diapers into a point. Bring them up through the kids’ legs and fold the tail over to form the waist. Pick up the open diaper pin and run in through the splotch of AD ointment on the wall to ease the pin through the 6 layers of diaper. Repeat on the other side. Put on the plastic pants and tuck them into the diaper on the back and around the legs. Redress the baby, kiss it on the head and send it on its way to either its crib or into the play room.
My afternoon was spent mainly with the non-mobiles including little Samuel the downs baby. He is so placid and sweet and watches you with light brown eyes. He has the cutest smile and loves to blow raspberries.
At the end of the day we tried to help with our last set of diapers and delivering the babies back to their rooms. There is no way around it, we are not as good at cloth diapers and I believe, one of the little escape artists had managed to loose one of the cloth diaper that one of us had just put on before we had even left the building.
Tonight we stopped for Lauren and I to make our deposit for our trip this weekend to
Transylvania. The price is high as it is only two of us and we will require a car, driver and guide for three days and 2 nights of lodgings for the 4 people. But after all, how often am I in Romania? I was also interested in buying some inexpensive sweat clothes to wear to the clinic. Most of the people today were urine soaked within the first hour. Somehow, I managed to stay clean and I intend to stay that way if at all possible.
Manual took Lauren and I to a shop next to the travel agency and I bought the find of the century - hooded sweat shirt and pants sets that were long enough for me for a mere $9 each. Olive green, but cheap! I bought 2 sets.
Dinner was chicken and for dessert, they only delivered three chocolate pancakes. We asked them to cut in half the number of desserts so instead of smaller portions, we only had 3 pancakes for 5 people. Not a problem, we cut them in half. (An example of our words not quite conveying our meaning in Romanian. More to come on this lesson, I am sure).
I was in my room early and found that my laundry was not back (HMMMMM?) and that my wonderfully constructed warm nest in bed had been dismantled, folded and the two top layers (the bedspreads) had been removed. I had asked for a second blanket, but it had not appeared before I went to bed. I donned by fleece and left my socks on, (I know, the fashion statement of the year) and went to bed.
I SLEPT WELL and did not rise until the alarm went at 7:20!