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Friday, April 30, 2010

A Crummy Few Days and One Glorious Evening

One of these pictures was taken by Kathy and one was taken by Andrea... see if you can guess which is which. :P

Well, that cough that I've been fighting won on Wednesday. By the time I got home from the hospital I was hacking something fierce. Thursday morning I knew the moment I woke up that I would not be going to the hospital. The first problem was I had no voice (as in no voice at all) and the second was that the simple act of bending down to pick up my socks sent me into a coughing fit. Oh yeah. As a person who never really gets coughs it was kinda novel... for about an hour. Then it was just exhausting. I spend the day in bed, feeling incredibly sorry for myself. Kathy had to go to the hospital in my place because, with every crib full of sick babies, Vera needed all the help she could get. Last week Kathy had bought tickets for her and I to go see the Oradea Philharmonic preform at the nearby symphony house. So I stuffed myself full of antibiotics, we got all dressed up, and off we went. (I'd like to add that Kathy did my hair in french braids around my head and I wore my adorable new shoes... I looked pretty fine, if I do say so myself.) It was absolutely amazing! It was in the restored symphony house at Oradea's school for fine arts and the musicians were very good. The piano concerto was played by a young man my age... wow. Just wow. (Why is it that all pianist, or wannabe pianists, have long-ish crazy hair?) Afterwards, a friend of Kathy's took us downstairs and we met the pianist, the conductor, and a few of the musicians. On our way out, we somehow got talking to this old man in the lobby. He is an adorable, old, Romanian gentleman. He was the conductor of the Oradea philharmonic for 40 years and has been all over Europe with various orchestras. We ended up walking home with him. The three of us walked down the street arm in arm, talking about music. It was amazing. He told us an old Italian saying: 'If you don't have an old person in your home, go out and buy one!'. He says that it's a pity he's old enough to by Kathy's father and my grandfather and that he wishes he was younger. :) Anywho, the evening ended with us intiving him over after dinner the next day (aka today).

This morning I woke up and discovered that my cough had transformed into the worst head cold I can remember having! Yippee. I feel fuzzy and slow and grumpy and sick. The only highlight when said old man (Domnule Raitiu) came over after dinner. He brought chocolate for the girls and flowers for Kathy and me. He really is the sweetest old man. He's going to introduce us to his ex-wife next week. I can't really describe him for you except to say that he is an true European gentleman. Tomorrow Kathy's church is having a picnic day in the country. I would love to go, but we'll see how I feel in the morning.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Hospital News and Talk of Marriage

When I arrived, Istvan was still asleep and he hadn't seen my face or heard my voice yet. He's still trying to wake up and figure out if he wants to be there or not.

Then I turned him around so he could see who was holding him. Every morning when I arrive, this is the face I get.

He loves being tickled. Actually, he loves pretty much anything. Now that he's feeling better and no longer has to concentrate on just breathing, he wants to be up and doing things.

Here I am with Sergiu (3 months old, but he was born two months premature) and Vera holding our resident twins, Darius and David (1 month). The twins both have a problem in their noses and throats which makes eating difficult. Their mother gave them up a few weeks after they were born, I guess it was just to much for her. They are in the hospital because of a cough that compounds the breathing issues.

This is our newest arrival, Sergiu.
Well, as you can see from the pictures, Istvan is doing much better! Although that means that he'll be leaving us soon (I can guarantee tears on that day) it means that he's able to show off more of his little personality. He almost four months now and whew, has he put on weight! That kid is getting down right hefty!
David and Darius are 1 month old and are just newly abandoned. You can tell because they still turn their head sideways when they're hungry (babies who are breast fed will turn their heads toward your body, but babies who are used to being fed from a bottle will just look up while opening and closing their mouths). Also, they are uncomfortable with being held by strangers or moved when they are sleeping. Again, babies in hospitals and orphanages are used to strangers picking them up and slinging them from place to place. Poor David gets so stressed out his little spine arches back. Apparently this is a common symptom of stress in young infants. What seems to help the most is just wrapping him in a blanket and walking around with him until he calms down and the muscles start to relax. Darius is just naturally more compliant, I think.
Sergiu's mother disappeared from the maternity hospital, leaving him behind. The poor thing has a terrible rash on him bottom that bleeds whenever we have to change his diaper or give him a bath. Poor thing. But pick him up, and he's happy as a little clam. So long as he's being held, life is good. But if you dare put him down, he'll loudly inform you just how much he doesn't like the idea. Kathy put in well: when she came in I was holing Sergiu and she said his eyes were just saying, "I'm perfectly content to stay right like this forever. Don't you change anything!" He was born two months premature and I think he must have suffered from malnourishment as well, because the poor thing is just so skinny. Not for long of course, Vera is very determinedly getting him fattened up again.
On another note, I received two blatant marriage proposals and one hint that marriage could be a definite option. Apparently, it's quite common for young women to come from Canada to find a husband in Romania. Say 'wa? And I mean obviously, volunteering in the hospital for six hours everyday is just a cover story... I'm actually desperately searching for a husband.
But never fear, the only Romanian man in my life is Grieshka the cat. He's good looking, intelligent, has very good personal hygiene, and to top it all off: he's wonderful with children.

Friday, April 23, 2010

End of My Second Week

This week has felt more like my first real week in Oradea. My 'real' first week just sort of slammed into me, it took me awhile to catch my breath. But I am now breathing again, and starting to find my nook in this strange place. I've never stayed in someone else's home for such a long time and the adjustment has been interesting. I gotta to say though, I'm getting thoroughly attached to Kathy and the girls (especially the girls) and it's going to be rough to leave. The tram and I have come to a agreement: I accept whatever happens and it doesn't give me an absurd amount of grief (today, the only calamity was that I couldn't get the door to open and had to race to reach the next car... while all the other passengers smirked at the ignorant foreigner :P).

Istvan's cough is getting worse. All the other babies had to be moved to a different room for fear they would catch whatever he had. The doctors started him on a new treatment today, and hopefully we will starting seeing results. But for now, the poor thing just wheezes with every breath and eating is really tough. The only thing that seems to help his cough is when he's held upright. (That makes me and him happy, because now I hold him from the moment I get there until the moment I leave.) Anytime he gets upset, or moves around to much, it starts a coughing fit and leaves him absolutely exhausted. Even in his sleep he coughs, sometimes so hard that he wakes himself up.

I spoke with a neighbor who told me some amazing stories from when the country was under communism. I'll see if I can't right some of them down tomorrow.

P.S. I made an album on facebook! :D It was quite a process because Kathy's computer only allows me to use the slow upload... which means five, individually chosen pictures at a time. *sigh* But they're up now. :)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


The last few days have been focused mostly on the hospital. I arrive there at around 10:30am and I leave at about 3:30pm. Once I reach the hospital, I climb the the stairs to the ninth floor (elevators are only for official hospital staff). First thing we clean the floors and tidy anything that needs tidying. Then I sit and read while Vera sews and the babies sleep. Then at noon, it's bottle time. After eating (which, for some, is quite a process due to various medical problems) there comes the burping and then, if they're old enough, its time for some fun. The oldest is only about 4 months, so fun consists mostly of talking and singing or walking around the room with them. At about 1:45pm, the nurse comes in to give them their shots... which leaves us with a some very upset little babies. 3:00pm is another bottle/burping and then everyone is ready to sleep. I change out of my scrubs and walk back down the stairs and make my way home.

One little girl, Melinda, is only two months old but she's already responding to music. Whenever I hum or sing something to her, she will smile if she likes it, or frown if she doesn't. She loves music from LOTR and old Irish songs... but gospel music gets a furrow between the eyebrows and a wrinkling of her little nose. A cynical person may say that it's just coincidence, but she consistently smiles or frowns for the same songs. Another little boy, Istvan, is really having a rough go. He's in the hospital due to a nasty cough. (Keep in mind that all the babies in Vera's room are abandoned.) When I first met Istvan, he would smile and look around.... he really loved it when we walked up to the glass and he could look into the next room. But today, his cough was much worse and he's struggling more to breath. After he has a bought of coughing he just lays there and pants, absolutely exhausted from trying to get enough oxygen, with his poor little face all red. His skin is very pale and I noticed today that he has a odd, unhealthy smell. He absolutely loves to be held though. He seems happiest when I hold him and he can look up at my face when I'm talking. Eating is very hard for him because he can hardly get enough air in without a bottle in his mouth, let alone with one. Please keep him (and all the babies) in your prayers.

Today I met with Vera's daughter-in-law, who is an American. She gave me some help in starting to learn Romanian and we chatted for quite some time. She walked me to the tram station and I got on what I thought was my tram. So I'm thinking over everything she had said and the tram is clacking along... then it turns off onto a different track and heads down a street I've never seen before. I was on the wrong tram! I got to ride through a strange part of the city, just praying we would pass something I recognized. Finally we did, and I hopped off and walked home. I gotta say, trams and I just don't see eye to eye. But, since I can't walk everywhere and the thought of driving here terrifies me, I shall just have to endure.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My Romanian Weekend

The outer walls of the church at the monastery were covered with painting of bible stories, saints, philosophers, martyrs, events in Romanian history... it was exquisite. This is a few of the front part of the compound.

The church in the background and a shrine to the Theotokos in front of it.

This is the little church at the university. It was transported from a village some distance from Oradea and placed on the grounds. The church itself was built in the 1700s. (I wasn't able to take pictures of the inside then, but next time perhaps.)

I had the most glorious weekend. I slept in Saturday morning (sleeping in for me is until 8:00am... the girls believe that if they are awake, I should be as well). Spent the first part of the day puttering around the house and enjoying the first perfectly sunny day I've seen yet. Then I headed out to meet up with a Romanian girl that a family friend put me in contact with). We had spoken the day before on the phone and she had invited me to attend the Saturday night service at the local monastery with her. We met, and then walked to the university because she wanted to show me their church. What an amazing (very small) building. We got there in time for vespers and it was nice to hear words and phrases that were vaguely familiar. After, I met a few of her friends here, who are part of SCORA (when translated into English, it stands for the Romanian Orthodox Students Association, or something like that). We then walked for about 30 mins to the nuns monastery just outside the centre of the city. I have never been to a place like that before. About sixty nuns live there, and the compound is about twice the size of my high school's entire property. It is encircled by large, white wall that is quite thick and about three stories high. The nun's cells are built into the wall, the set up brings to mind a motel. The railings are lined with flower boxes, and everything is painted a fresh white. The grounds of the compound hold the original church, which is so old people are no longer permitted inside expect on special occasions. There is also the new church, which they just completed. There are shrines to various saints scattered about as well. The compound is built on a hill, and we walked to the highest point and watched with sunset. We then went into the church for the service. The service itself lasted about 2 1/2 hours.... what an experience. The walls inside the church are covered with icons, both hanging and painted on the walls themselves. And yet, it doesn't look crowded. The church itself is quite large, with an intricately carved iconostasis. I don't have the words to describe the service. Standing there, listening to the nuns singing and the priest chanting, it didn't make a difference that I couldn't understand a word. I'm sorry, I really don't have the words to describe what it was like. (There was only one un-mystical experience. At the end of the service, we did a sort of circuit to venerate the icons and relics arraigned at the front of the church. I was going around, trying to venerate the correct icon at the correct time and still take in everything. Things were going very smoothly. Then I feel a tug on my headscarf just as a loud clanging noise breaks the absolutely silence of the church. My head scarf had gotten got in a candle holder that was hanging in front of one of the icons. And then I couldn't get unstuck! I stood there struggling to get untangled, clanging and banging the whole time. Finally, I was free. I struggled not to be embarrassed and to just concentrate on what I was doing. Then I reached the last icon. It was tucked into a dark corner and I didn't see that there was a plane of glass covering it. I bent to kiss it and my forehead bounced right off the glass! Luckily, it was in a dark corner so I figured no one could notice. I turned and sitting right there is an old nun looking at me with one eyebrow raised. Oops.)
We walked back with a whole group of her friends. It was so cold, but the sky was clear and beautiful. Everyone was talking and laughing and I couldn't make myself care about not understanding the language. It was just fun.

Sunday morning I got up and had to take the girls to their church, because Kathy had to go down to a high security prison to participate in a worship group who ministers to the woman there. The tram ride went without a hitch, as did the service itself. It was an Evangelical service that was almost identical to the services I've been to back home... just a little bit more reserved. There were a group of visiting Swedish bible school students and sang some songs (in English!) and did a little skit. One girl gave her testimony (with one of the Romanian parishioners translating) and I really enjoyed what she had to say. We then returned home with one of their friends, who is also from Canada. I made french toast with bananas and honey... yummy! The sun was so warm, we sat one porch in tshirts and just basked. I then ran inside, got ready, and headed out to meet up with my new Romanina friends. Every evening they read from the psalter in their little university church, so we attend that and then the whole group, myself included, walked through the city to reach the tallest hill in the area. It has stone steps built into it, with little benches for resting along the way. We hiked up to the top and had a snack while the sun set over the city. We watched a presentation on some one's laptop about their winter retreat at a monastery up in the mountains. Then they all sang Romanian folk songs, one guy recited some poetry, while I sat and looked over the city. Once it got to late and to cold to stay, we hiked back down and everyone went home. I don't have any pictures from Sunday because my camera batter was dead *sob* but I'm sure I'll be able to got back and take pictures.

P.S. Today was my first shopping expedition and we bought some amazing cheese. I'm not a big cheese eater, but this stuff is more like cream cheese. The farmers make it and bring it to the market just near the apartment. It's soooooo good!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Picture Day

Codi, Andrea, and I singing the 'Rattlin' Bog' song.
Me on the deck outside the apartment... behind me you can see the steeple from a nearby church.

The view from my bedroom window (which is also the view from the living room window :P).

The Catholic bishop's cathedral.

Codi playing our favourite game: dogs.

Today I stayed home from the hospital, just in case my stomach wasn't quite settled. I did some organizing and some napping while the girls were at school, then we went for a walk to the Catholic cathedral. What a beautiful place. They have this massive organ, and I'm hoping to go to a mass next month just to hear it played. Kathy says the choir there is amazing as well. I did take some pictures inside, but they didn't turn out so well. I shall take better ones another time. Afterwards, we just came home and played until dinner. And then played after dinner until bedtime.
P.S. There won't be very many pictures from the hospital because I'm not allowed to bring my camera inside. There was a scandal a few years ago when some British volunteers came and took some pictures during their stint at the hospital. On their return to Britain, they published the pictures with a story that talked about how awful the situation was in Romania for children, etc. After a great uproar, most of the foreign volunteer groups were kicked out of the hospital and foreigners are no longer to bring camera's on the premises. Kathy had to get special permission from the administrator in order to take pictures.
P.P.S. I watched the new Glee episode online... those were some of their best songs ever!!!! I must say though, the plot line is getting a tad ridiculous.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Not According to Plan

Today went exactly as I had planned, right utyg6grtfdddddddddddp until 9:30am... then everything just broke away and did it's own thing. I woke up especially early in order to catch Julia on skype before she went to bed. (That is still a funky concept for me: I'm getting ready to start today while they're still finishing yesterday.) I hadn't talked to her since I got here and so that was a really great way to start everything. The girls left for school, with Kathy in accompaniment, and I played with Grishka (their cat... who is completely adorable... he plays fetch better than our dog!). Then I headed out to meet Kathy at the 'banca' (bank) to cash in those pesky traveller's cheques. The lady had never even seen one before, and she was quite excited about the whole thing. (Her coworker was not so enthusiastic. I think she didn't appreciate us ruining her morning routine.) After that, we went to the money changing office to get the euros converted in lei. Then I came home and sorted out the donations from my own personal money, and everything was just peachy. The sun was shining, I finally had money, and the jeans I bought yesterday were a perfect fit. I decided then and there that I have been doing way to much complaining on this blog of mine and I should endeavor to write only the lovely things that happen to me. Then, I ate some chocolate. *INSERT OMINOUS MUSIC HERE* Well, long story short, the chocolate was bad. I spent the rest of the day lurking around the bathroom. Codi and Andrea, while being sympathetic, decided that my brain was the issue and we had immediate surgery in order to remove my brain with a tennis racket. Kathy phoned Vera and told her I would not be coming into the hospital today, and she may do the same tomorrow. By dinner time I was well enough to eat something, followed by dishes and playing 'gradi' (preschool) with Andrea while Kathy took Codi to basketball. We then sang some songs, read some books, and tucked the girls into bed.

Because nothing exciting happened today, I'm going to write a bit about Oradea... or at least, what I've seen of Oradea so far. It has the population of a small city, but when you're walking down the street if feels like a large town. All the building are made of old brick with red shingle roofs and the streets are narrow. Is some places the sidewalks are really only accessible on one side of the road at a time, and the side changes multiple times over the course of a block. In other words, you take your life in your hands whenever you try and walk on the sidewalk. Being a pedestrian here requires a certain aggressive demeanor and state of mind that I find rather difficult. The drivers will not give you an inch unless you absolutely demand it. But, oh, the architecture here! It just has an whole atmosphere that I can't really explain. The churches, the schools, the banks, everything. Even the buildings that are breaking down have a certain... something. I promise there will be pictures soon. I'm waiting for a sunny day to take them. Maybe Sunday.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I have written down Kathy's address and phone number to keep in my pocket, just in case. I also photo copied my passport, so then I'll have some proof of Photo ID.
Just in case 'yall were wondering. :P

Day 4: Gypsies and Money Troubles

When I arrived at the hospital, Pamela's mother had returned :) and so she was no longer with us. Toni had the room all to himself. That was nice for both of us because it meant I got to hold him the entire time I was there. The abandoned babies simply don't get held as much because the staff have too many things to do, and too many other babies to care for. Every now and again he would look up at me with this little smile on his face that warmed my heart and broke it at the same time. As I rocked him to sleep he kept opening his eyes to look up at me, as if he was making sure I was still there. Around 11:00am one of the gypsy mothers moved into our room because her baby was crying so much and the other mothers in her room were getting upset. The poor little thing (Dono, I think his name was) had a hair-lip and I thought he was crying because it was causing him pain. The poor thing cried for almost three hours. And not just whimpering, full out wailing. It upset my stomach to the point I couldn't even eat my lunch. Vera (the woman I'm working with) had such a headache. Finally, the mother picks him up and gives him his bottle and, lo and behold, he stops crying! He was crying because he was /hungry/! She just didn't feed him. I don't know why. Anyway, so after she put him down again he just lay there gurgling away to himself. And goodness, he has the most beautiful grey eyes.

After I got home (without running into any bullying ticket checkers :P), Kathy and I picked up Codi from school and we all went to the bank. I wanted to cash in some of my traveller's cheques, but the lady had never seen a traveller's cheque before. She then proceeded to tell that they didn't accept traveller's cheques in Romania! I just about had a panic attack trying to figure out how I would survive the next two months with no money (since I had converted all my money into traveller's cheques before coming here). But then she phoned the big-ish branch (the biggest in Oradea) who then told her to call the branch in Budapest, and they worked something out. So if I go tomorrow I can convert a limited amount but they will take 10% as some kind of fee. Kathy says when her mother came they took 20% for extra charges, so I count myself lucky.

We stopped and bought me a pair of pants (since I forgot to pack any pants in my suitcase) and the most expensive pair were the equivalent of $7 CA! Clothing is just so cheap here! So I'm going to go shoe shopping next week and I expect I'll actually enjoy it, for the first time in my life.

The rest of my time has been spent playing with Codi and Andrea... we have so much fun. I'll see if I can't post pictures tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Kathy and I went to the hospital today. She only stayed for about half an hour and then she left. I'm going to be working in the Preemie ward, with the abandoned gypsy babies. Today there were only two, Toni and Pamela, and tomorrow we'll be getting one more. Many of the gypsy women bring their children to the hospital and then never come back to claim them, and so they are left in the care of the nurses. After the children are brought back to health, if they're parents still haven't come for them, they are placed in foster homes.
Toni (who is in the picture) is about 3 months old, and loves to talk and sing... sort of. Pamela is about four months, but she was born premature and so she only weighs about 4 1/2 pounds.
I had a bit of an adventure on my way home. The tram system here (much like ours at home) runs on an inforced honour system. You buy blank tickets ahead of time and then a machine stamps them when you get on the tram. This was my first time on the tram and I was concentrating on not missing my stop, so I didn't take much noticed when someone brushed past me to get off the tram. It wasn't until the security got on and started checking people's tickets that I realized the person who brushed past me had swiped my ticket! The man didn't speak English so we both got off the tram and waited for his co-worker to arrive, a co-worker who he said spoke English. And he did speak English, after a fashion. I was able to explain to him that I /had/ a ticket, but then had lost it. He then communicated to me that I had to either pay a 24 lei fine, or they would call the police and I could pay 20,000 lei at the police station! Luckily, because we couldn't really communicate all the well, and I didn't have any ID for them to identify me with, they had to let me go with a rather mumbled warning.
I must say, life has sure been exciting so far.

Monday, April 12, 2010


Well, here I am. All in one piece with my luggage in tact. I had a few interesting moments (arriving cross legged in Amsterdam after not being able to use the bathroom on the nine hour flight from Vancouver) and met some really neat people. The service on KLM was phenomenal. Two full meals plus various snack foods and not just the skimpy cups of beverages, but full cans and bottles. All the movies, tv shows, and music was complementary as well. I arrived in the Budapest airport, gathered my bags, and headed out to meet Kathy. We recognized each other right away and let me say she is a wonderful lady. We gabbed away on the drive to Oradea and arrive at her apartment at around 11:00 pm (but for me that was only 1:00pm). Luckily, I hadn't slept on either flight, so I was more than ready to fall asleep after getting my bed set up.

This morning I met the girls, Codi (nine years old) and Andrea (seven years old). After they left for school I took a shower, which was heavenly after so much traveling the two days before. Then Kathy and I took a walk around downtown ('centru'). We visited some of the local churches and peeked into a couple of the stores. We picked up Andrea from her half day at kindergarten (which involved my first every ride on a tram) and after eating lunch, she and I played for a couple hours. I'm not sure which one of us had more fun. The we all walked around the corner to pick up Codi. I'm now writing this while the girls play with the crafts my mom sent them.
Tomorrow I will go to the hospital and meet the babies. Also on the agenda is shopping for pants. I managed to forget the completely when I was packing, so the only pair I have are the ones I arrived in. *sigh*

I think I'm going to love it here. Heck, I do already!!!!!!!!