Învatare (Learning)

There’s something so light about working with children, like fresh air for the soul. They don’t have any of our prejudices or hates or ignorance. They’re new, and everything is wonderful to them. It makes me excited to walk to the orphanage every morning.

Things just keep getting better, because we’ve recently started work at our night assignments, as well. After our work at the orphanage, we can either volunteer at a nearby children’s hospital or visit the orphanage’s group homes to play with the children there. I’ve chosen the latter.

After a twenty minute bus ride out to Tomeşti, one of Iaşi’s many green, flower-strewn suburbs, I found a thirteen-year-old boy who writes his own raps in Romanian and wants to be a police officer someday, and five “little brothers” who have come to the group home under different circumstances, but will eventually leave for one of two reasons: they’ve been placed in foster care or adopted.

These children are worlds away from the ones I care for at the orphanage. But both are equally provided for. I’ve always had a healthy level of respect for nurses and caregivers, but in the past few weeks, I’ve come to see them as saints. The three nurses I work with at the orphanage are so endlessly kind to children who can’t see them, can’t hear them, will never be able to function on their own. Some would say their work is going unnoticed. But I see the way their charges respond to touch and loving words: iubire (love), scumpo/a (dear), drag/a (darling). I’ve read some of these childrens’ backgrounds; an adult would break under the things they’ve suffered. But it makes me feel better to know that they’ll never have to feel that pain again because of the caring people in their lives.

The women at the group homes are no different. As Teo says, “It’s like being a single mom to seven kids.” Tonight at the Tomeşti apartments, the nurse played Cops and Robbers, Lego, and watched the thirteen-year-old breakdance to Tupac, even though she probably goes through these same iterations daily. And she did it all with a smile on her face.

I’ve learned a lot of things since coming to Romania: Romanians really like French fries in their sandwiches (surprisingly good, try it), my favorite baked good is something called a covrigi polonezi (a Polish twist dusted with sugar and absolutely soaked in honey that melts in your mouth), and pretty much everyone smokes here (not so good, especially when it comes to young kids). I’ve gotten better and better at speaking to people and punching my ticket on the bus. But I’m also learning something that will serve me the rest of my life: what it means to be human.

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Beautiful bridge in Podu Roş, the neighborhood in Iaşi where I live.
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