Now that I have five days to go before I leave Romania, I realize I haven’t written much about what it is I do when I’m not getting thrown off trains or eating plates of seafood the size of my head. So here’s a day in the life of the average volunteer.
We’re off to the orphanage by 8:30 am so we can be there by nine. It’s a nice walk along quaint cobbled streets. We pass a church with gold spires and usually several dogs who lay there, staring at us forlornly as we walk by. One time, one of them moved.
Once at the orphanage, we change into scrubs and get ready to work. We stay until noon. This is a crucial time for the kids we help. We’re giving them attention and interaction they desperately need if they’re going to catch up with other kids who’ve had more advantages in their lives. In my room, I stretch the children’s limbs to keep them from getting stiff or atrophied. I also love singing to them (the Beatles are a favorite, as is the Irish folk song “Carrickfergus”), and tickling them. By now, I know what each one likes and dislikes, so we usually have a pretty smooth day together. In addition to playing with the kids, I usually chat a bit with the nurses. None of them speak any English, but they’re always so friendly and patient with me. They’ve become good friends.
After the orphanage, we have a bit of a break until lunch. On Mondays, I go straight to the hospital after we eat–a long walk up a hill to a forbidding concrete building. There, we ask for “copii fără mamă” (children without mothers) whom we can entertain for the next three hours. Sometimes, we are turned away on all eight floors, which is discouraging, but more often than not, we’re allowed to hold and change babies, get a game of monkey-in-the-middle going, or show the kids a movie on our laptops. We’re there to keep them distracted from the fact that they are cooped up in the hospital, more than likely in pain, and alone. I can only hope it helps.
Another three nights a week from four to six, I’m at the apartment at Tomeşti, which I’ve already talked a little about. My kids at the orphanage are constant; they’re unlikely to be adopted or fostered, so I always know who I’ll see in the morning. That’s not true of Tomeşti. I’ve seen some of my boys put in foster care and some get adopted for good. Every time I arrive to find that someone is gone, it breaks my heart a bit, but I know that it’s better for them.
Today was my last day at the apartments. Usually, we go outside for a while, but the weather was cold and overcast, so we made do indoors. I tried to sneak in little moments with each of my boys. They love to be chased, and will hide under one of the cribs, screaming, as they hear me approach. The oldest boy, whom I’ll call Andrei, loves to put my heart necklace on his head like a crown and proclaim himself “rege” (king). The babies are content to sit in my lap while they play with Legos (or in some cases, try to take Legos from the other boys).
I’ll miss their cute little voices, clamoring around me as they yell, “Vreau cai!” (I want to play horsey!) I’ll miss the way one of them dances to Disney songs, swaying back and forth excitedly. I’ll miss seeing Andrei carry around and give kisses to the babies. I’ll miss watching them grow into well-adjusted young men. I almost started crying tonight before I left. Andrei wouldn’t let go of me–he’d heard what I’d said to the nurse about it being my last time. I had hoped to get out of there without any of them knowing, just giving them kisses and saying “pa pa” (bye bye) like any other day. Having him know that we probably would never see each other again was saddening.
But I’ve had these moments with them. I’ve been a part of the most formative times of their lives. I’ve been happy about each little success they attain. I’ve felt my heart breaking at one of my children passing away. I hope I’ve shown them the love that they’ll eventually receive from kind, caring families of their own. I know they’ll forget me, but I’ll never forget them.