Gloria Gery's
Romania Journal


December 4, '04


December 4, 2004

Sunday Evening in Barlad, Romania

Hello from Barlad, Romania. It's Monday evening after my first day "on the job" and I wanted to update you about my experiences so far. I arrived on Saturday after a long set of flights from Hartford through Chicago to Warsaw and then Bucharest. Uneventful but long. I was met at the airport by my host from Global Volunteers, Ramona, and her husband, Daniel. They are a young couple -- about 25 and are delightful. They took me to my hotel and left me for the afternoon and then we had dinner. I couldn't just sit around, having never been to Bucharest, so I hired a "car" and driver who turned out to be a young theology student. The reason I put "car" in quotes is that the passenger seat was halfway down and I had to hold on to the side to sit up straight and see. It was an old car built in Romania. He just bought it for $2,000. It was quite an adventure. He drove me around this city which is an odd and not very attractive blend of Communist concrete block buildings and old French baroque buildings. Romania has been friends with the French for a long time, hence the architecture. The city is not attractive... and the vestiges are clear of 45 years under communist rule 'til 1989 when Ceausescu, the horrible dictator, was shot on Christmas Day.

Babies R Us: After their baths the twelve non-mobile babies are laid out on a quilt on the playroom floor. Some are in seats, some on Boppy pillows and some on regular pillows. They roll around and it's like juggling plates! They are fed here and I sit in a chair (bad knees!) and pick them up, play with them, talk and sing. It's a wonderful handful!

Ramona tells me that there are tremendous differences in the last 14 years as evidenced by are goods in the stores and cars on the streets. Ceausescu bankrupted the country and destroyed much of the spirit. He built the People's Hall which is the second largest building in the world after the Pentagon which is filled with gold and marble. I'll visit it before I get home. My guide took me to the cathedral where mass was going on.... women kneeling face down and men standing. It's always amazing to me to see the devotion of the women and the presence of the men who are probably equally devoted, but who show it differently.

Sunday, Ramona and Daniel took me to the railroad station to take the four hour train trip to Barlad. Usually there are teams of between 8 and 20 American volunteers, but I am a team of one. So the orientation and team building was kind of truncated. I pretty much get along with myself and didn't think I'd be arguing with myself about my role. In any event, they told me we would have lunch at the railroad station: McDonald's. Not my favorite... but "the best" available at the station. The train was rather old.... many of the "old" women in black and long coats and babushka's and limited teeth were in the aisles. We shared a compartment with a young man who was reading the Romanian issue of Playboy and kept looking at me... possibly a resemblance to one of the photos? In any event, he left at the third stop and we continued to share with a very old man who was eating what smelled like garlic bologna that he bought from a deli with a 12 inch long four inch high roll. Not Atkins-friendly, but it smelled great! He didn't share.

I should mention that I brought along four suitcases (two were carry-ons) with the two large bags weighing 68 pounds each. Global Volunteers said "if you want to bring anything, here's a list". I overachieved! The bags were filled with baby clothes, diaper cream, baby wipes, iron, folic acid, gummy vitamins, thermometer's. fruit roll ups, etc. They are still in the bed in my room and we'll bring one bag tomorrow. It was a huge effort to put them on the rack over our seats and we looked like true Romanian gypsy's. Ramona's brother met us in Barlad to help carry the luggage and we piled into a small cab with the trunk full and "open". Children were begging all around and I had all I could do to honor Ramona's orders "not to give anything to them" because "they become very aggressive". The poverty here is overwhelming.. It's probably not worse than Vietnam or Cambodia, but because the buildings are drab and nothing is green... and the sky is grey and itís 45 degrees instead of 80, it just seems worse.

We got to my "home" for the next two weeks. It's pretty limited... very small room... very low platform beds and no dresser. Itís very clean. Pretty drab since the lights are 25 watt bulbs... I tried to buy others today but the larger ones don't fit in the lamps. So tomorrow I will buy a larger lamp. Entertainment in the evening is limited to reading.... so the lamp is essential.


Home: This is my Hotel Maldova hotel room: sparse, but clean. Limited lighting and low beds (bad knees again!), but I am comfortable.

View of Barlad from my hotel room window: Communist architecture lacks a certain appeal. Things are very grey and the philosophy was that everyone should have like facilities. Makes Levittown look terrific, doesn't it?

The town is drab .... very limited... modest is size and scope. Most of the architecture is the same. I am eating at the hotel and we have to order things like an apple a day ahead. Food is o.k. since Ramona orders grilled food so it's not too "greasy" for me. We eat alone in the non-smoking dining room since the regular dining room is so smoke-filled that I couldn't possibly sit there. Second hand smoke is the biggest health risk here to volunteers. Also, the tap water is not safe to drink.

So... here's what I am here for. After showing me around the city, getting me Romanian money (27,300 Lei to the dollar), and feeding me with Bulgarian Salad (cabbage, carrots, olives, cheese, etc. - very Atkins) for lunch, we took a taxi the 15 kilometers to the hospital where I am working - a clinic for children who have been abandoned and who are classified as failing to thrive. Walking into the clinic is cheery since Global Volunteers has painted and furnished it.... but it's overwhelming: 35 children (including three three-year olds). All the babies are in cribs five or six to a room. Lights are dim or off to save money on electricity. I will detail more in a later journal, but I have never been clung to so much in my life.


Vioral and Elena in their New Sleepers: I brought 26 new sleepers with me and the staff dressed the kids up with them when I arrived. The older ones are washed so many times that they pill and are rough to the touch.

I couldn't hold more than two children at once and they just grabbed and held tight. they are beautiful and many are twins (8 sets) . Parents, some of whom are gypsies, couldn't handle the twins and just left them at the hospitals. Many were very tiny but are being fed enriched food and are growing. They get changed only every four hours so rashes are predominant.... the state only provides for one bottle of milk with rice a day per child so global volunteers pays for food.... Dr. Delia is a 43 year-old woman doctor in charge of the entire hospital plus has another job. There is also a pediatric unit which I haven't yet seen. Only so much in one day. I haven't had this all sink in. Four hours flew by.

Tomorrow I have my first full day. I'll write again.

Hope this isn't too much. I feel so privileged to be able to do this. The need is so huge. It filled me up entirely today.

Good night from Barlad.



December 4, '04