Monthly Archives: May 2012

Ghoom Monastery, cremations, toy trains & Babas


Rode a ‘Toy Train’ to Ghoom Monastery today …. this is a big deal here for Indian tourists … It is a very old, coal fired train from the 1800’s 🙂 Wherever the train stopped, people lined up snapping pictures! Historically a significant train … transported both people and tea crops in this mountainous region for well over a hundred years … I am becoming quite accustomed to being the only Anglo around in this rather remote part of India, although I am sure there must be more of me around. I just have not seen many if any …. There are however, many Indian tourists from all over the country, who come to the mountains this time of year to enjoy the cooler weather and the place is bustling … Hundreds of jeeps daily crowd these tiny mountain roads, loaded with people, bags piled high …. Normal 8 seater vehicles with 15 easily snuggled in … a common sight, are the many local men and women carrying very heavy loads on their backs, of all manner of goods … not hard to figure from where the Sherpa abilities stem …. apparently the Nepalese account for about 20 percent of the West Bengal population base …. These are hardy rugged mountain people, accustomed to lugging loads on steep paths and roads in high elevations!

Posting a picture of Sanjay (not my guide Sanjay) and his lady Tehmina. We have enjoyed each other’s company at all our meals at the Windamere … met at the airport in Bagdogra, chatted up a storm, not knowing we would end up at the same hotel in Darjeeling! … They are from Delhi, and Mumbai … Sanjay is a deep sea oil exploration engineer, Tehmina, a lawyer. She attended a boarding school in Darjeeling from ages 8 to 16 … forty years ago! The education system is apparently very good here, due, to the systems set up during the British colonist years which still stand today …. many parents, who can afford to do so, opt to send their children here for schooling. Tehmina’s parents would visit frequently, staying together at the Windamere … It is obviously a nostalgic journey for her. Only one nun from the school remains from her years here, but did remember her! Today she is meeting up with old school friends who still live in Darjeeling. Tehmina has such a beautiful accent, a most charming way of relaying a story, and both have such a great sense of humour, that I could listen to their stories all day and never tire! But on to the rest of my day …….

Sanjay, my guide and I met up at the Ghoom Monastery later in the day … there was a funeral blessing taking place in front of the monastery, body on a flower strewn platform of sorts, family standing around the body, friends sitting on bleachers alongside …. the cremation followed, set up behind the monastery … We waited in silent respect for the service to finish …. I opted out of watching the cremation itself, although Sanjay said I was welcome to watch if I wished …. an education in how Buddhism handles death, he said ….. Strange day.

As I got ready to head for dinner, heard lots of commotion outside my ‘cottage room’, unusual as this is a very very quiet spot in a very noisy Darjeeling!! …. walked into the restaurant a bit early (at that point, I was the sole guest in the restaurant), to find lots of security staff combing the place, tv cameras at the ready, excited expectant staff all waiting for the arrival of a special spiritual ‘Baba’ who would be staying at the Windamere for a month (this is a very small private hotel, probably chosen for it’s isolation and size) … I was briefly on camera, asked what country I am from and if I am a follower …. couldn’t quite admit I had never heard of the fellow ….. In typical white garb, not looking spiritual much, in my opinion, despite the long black hair and beard :), he came in for dinner with his troops, ate and left, all before Sanjay and Tehmina joined me …. No dawdling about … eat and run! ….. I quickly snapped a picture before anyone caught me, as I had been advised, no pictures allowed! Have I said before, that I am a natural born rule breaker?? Baba, apparently, will be hosting functions and healing sessions etc. at the hotel and elsewhere all month in Darjeeling. Yes, strange day indeed ….

Long day of travel tomorrow in West Bengal to Gangtok in Sikkim … Wondering what kind of roads we’ll find, especially given the recent rain 🙂































Tanzing Norgay Day!


Upon arrival in Darjeeling, checked into the chintz decorated Windamere, perched high above “main street”. This British colonial era hotel has been here for close to a hundred and fifty years …. the pictures, artwork, framed letters, some dating back to 1845, period piece furniture, all scattered throughout the hotel is like a walk through history. It is far from a typical hotel …. more of a series of rooms in a very large cottage …. very charming and very British, right down to afternoon tea served precisely at 4 pm! Tea, yes, that would be Darjeeling tea ….. delicious.

May 29, 1953 is probably not a date that automatically stands out to most of us from North America. It seems my first full day in Darjeeling coincides with “Tenzing Norgay Day”!! Still stumped?? He is rather a local hero in these parts! Sanjay my guide and I walked to the Himalayan Mountain Institute, where there was a celebration just breaking up beside the museum dedicated to Tenzing … Yes, that famous Sherpa who scaled Mount Everest with Sir Edmund!! ….. Although there is still doubt even within the climbing community here, that perhaps Mallory did indeed make it there first! Unless the infamous letter to his wife is found at the top, which is highly unlikely, the record will stand …….. Norgay and Hillary it is! A large statue of Tenzing Norgay stands proudly in front of the museum …. A monument at the foot, bears some of his ashes. The museum was fascinating … what a change from gear used 60 years ago to the plush supplies and insulated clothing, tents, sleeping bags, climbing supplies and boots of today!

Tenzing was born into the Sherpa community in Nepal, but eventually made his home in Darjeeling, hence the national hero status he enjoys here … Rightfully so ……. He became the head of Darjeeling’s Himalayan Mountaineering Institute, contributing much to Himalayan expeditions his whole life. Most of my pictures below are of his extended family, friends and many friends living here, dressed up for the day, celebrating all over town!I In the late afternoon, I walked over to a concert held in his honor … the festivities continued into the evening … thousands milling around …. the younger generation enjoyed posing in their celebratory clothing.

Darjeeling’s historical Raj splendor is still somewhat in evidence here, but it is the Tibetan, Nepali and Bengali character that makes up the ambiance of this area for the most part. Looking around at the population, I feel more like I could be in Tibet or Nepal, or what I imagine them to be 🙂

How cool to end up here for Tenzing Norgay Day …….
























Darjeeling …


The road to Darjeeling, I am about to learn in short order, was basically a cart path at one time, that has been graveled and tarred in a few spots 🙂 but certainly not widened! After a two hour flight from Delhi, arrival at Bagdogra, I am met by Santosh, who advises that we will be on the road for at least three hours ….. At that point, I thought, well, 100 or so kms, why the 3 plus hours?? I rarely read my itineraries and sometimes I just should!! …. So, onward to Darjeeling, a town perched precariously on a hillside, deep in the foothills of the Himalayas … it is highly possible I would not be here in Darjeeling, had I known the road conditions, but glad I didn’t know …… there is my winging it theory at work, albeit, overtime …. After holding my breath for far too long, my knuckles white, strained and exhausted, I exhaled, let go, put my faith in God, and finally got into the amazing scenery surrounding me … I could not, would not, ask Santosh to stop for pictures, so have barely a picture to share of the most awe inspiring scenery I have yet been exposed to in India! …. Just a few shots of the road in places where it was undergoing repairs and Santosh was forced to slow down! When I realized Santosh turns to me in the back seat with each attempt at conversation, giving me his full attention, eyes off the road in the process …. a road of sidewalk proportions, consistently curving up a steep mountain!! ….. well, needless to say, I remained quiet for the duration of the 3 hour climb to Darjeeling!!

Darjeeling has been sitting in and out of misty clouds since my arrival, so no good pictures of the stunning scenery except through a haze …… Wish we could have stopped enroute yesterday but not on that “road” 🙂 …. If you use your imagination in one of my pictures, you can see the tip of Mt. Kanchendzonga, India’s highest peak at 28,169 feet …. On a clear day, it’s view dominates Darjeeling but alas, not in the cards for me as Darjeeling is normally under cloud cover this time of year ….. Will see, as I am here for a few days yet … Might be lucky …..
















Now what was I saying about ‘Mango Season’ ?? I had a platter of the most delicious mangoes ever, delivered to my room just now …. All I did was mention to my waiter earlier in the evening, how much I loved the fruit!!! Voila ….


Back in Delhi!



A few days of lounging around the pool, a few swims, a massage or two, savoring the fine restaurants of this awesome hotel in the centre of New Delhi, The Taj, (rates on Expedia were fabulous this time of year so well worth booking!!) and I am ready to hit the next stage of exploring India …. A month here last year was far too short a time …. my visa ran out, otherwise I could easily have lost myself here for months! …. So I was thrilled when my friend Madeline suggested a yoga and meditation retreat in Rishikesh! ….. She had me at ‘India’, as I read her email 🙂 We meet up on the 6th so am off on my own to the foothills area of the Himalayas for a snoop around. Took a taxi to Khan Market area and India Gate today and yesterday … Noticed the trucks unloading boxes of mangoes … looks like I lucked in to the season! …. This country is so chaotic, crazy and colorful …. I love it! ….. only this time, instead of temps in the teens, they are now in the mid forties!! Provides, ummm, a rather organic workout for the olfactory system, as I walk along the streets ……..















Pa Pa Romania … Hello Delhi


Leaving behind another beautiful country I have fallen in love with … I must be the easiest traveller in the world to please 🙂

I will miss the rolling hills and hillocks of Wallachia, Transylvania, Bucovina, the agricultural flatlands of Moldavia, the lush heavily forested regions along the Carpathian Mountains, remote villages, historical medieval towns, mythological vampires …. Oh no, not vampires!! …… there never was a real Draculian vampire as Bram Stoker’s novel from the 1800’s suggests and that set so many imaginations on fire, but there is a bit of a touristic component to keeping the myth alive and well in Transylvania 🙂

There was, however, a blueblood Count Vlad Tepes, son of Dracul … Dracula literally means, son of Dracul, the dragon being their family crest and symbol. He lived in what is now one of Europe’s last remaining inhabited medieval towns, Sighisoara, during the 14th century and was well known as Vlad the Impaler. There is a museum and a restaurant set in his old family home in Sighisoara’s town square . Enjoyed a nice spot of tea there after walking the old cobblestone streets of the town and of course exploring the old fortified church on the hill! ….. The Count’s method of dealing with enemies and particularly, Turkish invaders, was to torture and impale them with stakes …. lovely man …. Brutal times, brutal punishments in Europe over the centuries …… man’s inhumanity to man knows no bounds. So, hmm yes, no vampires, but there are many species of bats in Romania!!

The Romanian language (Latin base) is lovely to listen to ……. not at all harsh as are most Slavic languages in this part of Europe …….. sounds somewhere between Italian and Portuguese to my ears at any rate …. (the Romans were here at one point in history and I do note a similarity in features … Alex said it is a possibility that Romanians share bloodlines with the old Romans … not sure about that one, but it could be possible). The country is still behind most European countries economically, even though it has been in the EU for over five years. Alex jokes (sort of jokes …) that it is a contest on any given day, whether Romania or Bulgaria is at the bottom of the EU heap! Most live on incomes of between $500 – $1000 dollars a month … on average. Petrol is more expensive than in Canada although food, shelter, clothing are cheaper by far except in Bucharest! Still, it is hard to get ahead in this country with that kind of income disparity from the rest of Europe.

I must say, I did have my fill to some degree, of the many many many painted monasteries and old fortified towns and churches that Alex dragged me to 🙂 ……. All in all, I will still miss trekking up hills, in the pastoral settings of the villages and towns to these old fortified churches ….. They hold a lot of charm today but in reality, life was one violent siege after another in those far gone centuries, hence fortifications! My preference would have been to enjoy more visits with the townsfolk in these villages than view their temples of worship. Much as I enjoy history, and the structures attached to the stories, my preference is to mingle with the local folk in whatever country I find myself in. Fortunately, got a bit of that in as well. Aah, and the children ….. My sole reason for choosing Romania as a country to visit in the first place! I feel sad for their lot in life …. but happy that I was able to give them some love, comfort and sorely needed attention and that there is a steady stream of volunteers in their lives to do so. I have always believed that it is up to the able to help the least able in our world. I heard from Mihaela that another group of 7 are arriving soon. That kind of news can make my day.

Had a long travel day …. not always the best connections on these points tickets … Left Bucharest at 4:00 am May 24 and arrived in Delhi at 1:00 am. May 25!! So, here I am, in a totally different environment and culture yet again …. Posting my first picture in Delhi …. A view outside from my 7th floor window … on that note, I am off for a swim, an Indian head and foot massage and catch up on a lost night of sleep. Very hot here .. Temps in the low 40’s.

Sad news also as I opened a message from Mihaela in Birlad …. Apparently 6 month old Marian was returned back to St. Nicholas last week … His dad had taken him to Iasi for tests for ten days and also I suppose, to determine if he could handle caring for the child …. guess not. I often think that the one flaw God made, was allowing anyone and everyone the ability to procreate ….. Not everyone is a good parent, or in this case, a parent of any kind. Some people just f—, birth and abandon. I had high hopes that this little munchkin would have a home finally. I think of his little old man face, peering up at me from the crook of my arm, happy as a lark as he watched me with those old soul eyes. Little Marian, what’s to become of you? I hope some volunteer will take to him as I did, and give him comfort and love. For some, that is as good as life gets ……. Honoring the little dude today.





La revedere to Alex Nagy and the back roads of Transylvania, Wallachia, Bucovina


What a marvelous ride, Romania evolved into! It is unlikely I could have ‘planned’ a better finish to an amazing month! Alex Nagy was a great mate to have along as my guide to his mysterious country. Hard not to get a good glimpse of someone when you are together for so many days in a row …. we became, if not best buddies, at least friends and our goodbye was just a tad sad for me ….I will miss his passionate dialogue, his sense of humour (even though it is tinged slightly in what I have termed, the dark Romanian edge), his knowledge of just about everything …. one of those jack of all trades kind of guys …… A German/Hungarian ethnic background, dating back hundreds of years, creates a bit of that stubborn attitude, although must admit, Finnish folk aren’t exactly exempt from that prevailing attitude either 🙂 ……… but he is just so darn likeable, knows his history and politics so well, never mind everything to do with the wilderness and outdoors …. that it was easy to ignore the contentious stubbornness 🙂
I do notice that a serious stoic kind of contentiousness, appears to be somewhat of a Romanian characteristic! Smiles do not come easily to those 50 and up! I think that has everything to do with the communist regime the older generations have grown up under. Those 35 and under appear to have a more naturally cheerful disposition. A politically stressful life obviously makes living a carefree happy life hard to do. Alex shared much about life here after WW2 and I am still reeling from what Russia under Stalin, did in this part of Europe, right through to the early 1960’s!! Seven million Ukrainians alone, were murdered during and after the war … Never mind those deported to die in Siberia, including his own Russian countrymen, millions of them!! Romania lost almost all it’s intellectual and middle class due to Stalin and Hitler’s systemic murder of anyone they deemed inferior …. racism taken to extremes. One quiet evening, while staying in a medieval village, Alex showed me a documentary on his laptop, produced in 2008, of the atrocities during and after the wars. This country suffered deeply and in many ways, is still in transition from that period in history, never mind from the communist era. Unfortunately, most politicians in Romania today, are made up of leftover corrupt communists or the second generation raised by that first guard of communists ……. Living in North America, we come to know everything about the Jewish holocaust, but little about the other 20 million people killed during and after WW2. I need to sit with myself, reflect and absorb the month, the overall experience, what I have learned on so many fronts. Romania is a country steeped in many layers of history. Good thing I have a few days in Bucharest before flying to Delhi! This whole month, even though I had to preplan some of it …….. does reinforce a lifelong love of winging life, with minimal planning …. too many plans often equals too many expectations, and too much rigidity with little opportunity for spontaneous delights to present themselves …. intuition, a trusting hopeful heart, a positive flexible attitude …… they are my loyal guides …. still, there will always be bloops and bleeps, good and some not so good ….. part of the travel tapestry.

The children of Birlad ….. what can I say ….. My time was but a blip in an ever revolving door of strangers in the lives of Emanuela, Sami, Marian ( both little M and big M), Luca, Maiastra, Alina, Delia, Cleo, Lavinia, Ion …. but that same period of time has changed me irrevocably. I know friends and family wondered about my timing … that big 60th birthday would happen on foreign soil, far from my family and friends. A decade ago, at my 50th birthday party, I realized a tad late perhaps, that I am not overly fond of large parties in general, and in my honor, hardly at all! The surprise birthday dinner in Palm Springs this past February, was the size I am most comfortable with 🙂 and it ended up a beautiful evening, surrounded by those I love. I am thankful to Sarah, Margaret, Linda O., Mickey and Gordon for organizing the surprise and knowing me so well, being there for me! I love them dearly.

So, at some point in the last few months, despite my natural inclinations, I did have to resort to some organizing, albeit a bit on the last minute side, to accomplish my goal of starting a new decade doing something meaningful and helpful for the least able in our world. The fear that I would not have enough love to share, that I was not really who I thought I was deep in my heart, put that plan on ice for too long! I finally decided to stop dreaming, talking, planning, worrying about possible issues that might be a hindrance, and just do it! … and so I did! The abandoned children of St. Nicholas Pediatric Hospital in Birlad, Romania, unwittingly became my helpmates … so who really helped whom?? On a wing and a prayer, I continue along on this journey of the heart. That I once thought I would not have the capacity to love orphans, is a long gone memory. The well is endless.

“Every day holds a series of great possibilities. Today you can encourage someone, today you can make someone’s day brighter, today you can heal a broken heart.” Dr. Phil Nordin










Malancrav Village, Transylvania


Last night, stayed at another MET restored Saxon village home, dating probably hundreds of years …. Will surely miss all this history when I am back home again …. Pictures tell a better story than my mind is currently capable of … Managed to find some gypsy peers today …. Alex has a rather typical European and certainly a Romanian attitude towards the Roma Gypsy …. ie, something similar to what most Canadians harbor towards our Native Canadians …. Ummmm, that would be a touch of racism perhaps? I have developed, over many years, many experiences, a far more compassionate, accepting attitude …. being fully aware and prepared for and knowing well in advance, that most gypsies are indeed light fingered in crowds and yes, they often beg …. I had fun with the group in a little village despite Alex “tut tutting me like an old lady”, and had me wondering if we had experienced a role reversal?” …… Alex provides much laughter daily :).





















Street traffic in rural Transylvania and Moldavia


Everyday sights for me these past few days …… Alex enjoying puppies at B&B in Sucevita. At one point, when Romania was to join the EU, it was stipulated that horse and cart had to disappear from the roads …. well, that had to be reneged …. this is how the majority of farmers transport goods, supplies, feed for animals grazing on summer pastures and for just plain getting around in rural Romania! … There is no money or indeed need for any other kind of ‘vehicle’ …. EU had forgotten their own agricultural roots that are still alive and well, if not exactly thriving in rural Romania.



















Lakes, Castles, Bicaz Dam and Gorge, Homestay with Maria, Lazlo and family in Lazarea


Alex and I have fallen into a comfortable rhythm as we bump along on roads that could use a bit of maintenance, to say the least … We are like brother and sister, albeit, a much much younger brother 🙂 as we discuss life, love ….. families, and oh yes …. most definitely, politics!! … Seems he is as passionate about his own country’s politics as I, of mine … We have had some rather heated discussions (oh my, but this is so much fun for me as I usually get a “don’t get so excited about issues” from a certain someone, so it is great to be able to lose the reins 🙂 …… But strangely enough, in these last days, I, for perhaps the first time in my life, have moved into the somewhat unfamiliar territory of the listener 🙂 I thought I was going to enjoy a little look around rural Romania for my last ten days here, so imagine my delight when Alex showed up in Bucharest!!! From the moment he opened his mouth, rambling in excellent English, I knew I was in for a rare treat … For those who care to google, Alex did a half hour advertising gig for Romanian tourism nine years ago on “Passport to Adventure”, an American based travel show …. saw it on his laptop the other night.

There is a lot of corruption politically in Romania as I am learning and, it is far worse than I thought …. I wish Alex well, but it make take a few years for the old former communist guard to fade deep into the political forest, and allow for totally fresh politically sound, honest movers and shakers to take over …… At least in my own province, the economic wheel for all of Canada, the worst that can happen is that our new/old provincial government goes on what was a major vote grasping, promise-laden campaign, and lurches into a major spendathon, keeping Alberta in the red ……. that is not even on the same scale for concern as are the concerns facing Romania!! …. Here, most, if not all the politicians have become millionaires (at great cost to Romania) since the fall of communism and of that infamous and brutal firing squad execution of Nikolai and Elena Ceausescu on December 25, 1989, most, perhaps naively thinking that would put an end to both communism and political corruption in Romania! Alex has some theories about that but am a little uncertain to voice them ….. hate to get him in trouble 🙂 ….. But it does appear to be, after hearing this from varied sources within the country, that one corrupt form of government was indeed simply replaced by another …. Democracy made no difference in the corruption levels ….. Had no idea! …. There may be a revolution here yet again …. I suggested to Alex that it may be a good time to lead the charge …… 🙂














Exploring the backroads of Transylvania ……


Crashed in Bucharest for a few days …. kind of nice actually, to just walk around and not worry about the little kids although I must say, they got under my skin to a larger degree than I could ever have anticipated ….. with every other volunteer post I have participated in, the children had parents to go home to every night and that …. makes all the difference in the world! All the volunteers here end up being temporary mommies and daddies …. you would need to have a heart of stone, to not have that affect you in some way …. there are currently five other volunteers, young people in their twenties, heading to St. Nick’s as I type and hopefully, they will love the children as deeply as I came to do ….. it is the best one can hope for. I was but a ripple in their pond and monthly, new ripples appear …. is it enough to give them some kind of comfort in a world that has basically abandoned them for having been born “imperfect” …..

So, here I am, currently in Humor Monasterie in Bucovina, Moldavia somewhere in Romania!! On Monday morning, Alex Nagy, man of many hats … wilderness guide, mountaineer, full time employee for Search and Rescue, Romania, travel guide for a local travel agency, and for the next eight days, a part time guide and driver for a Canadian lady, wishing to explore the back roads of his country … that would be me! …… Alex is also a history buff extraordinnaire …. my mind is swimming with Romania’s historical lore and loving every moment of it, even if most of it blows out shortly after it blows in 🙂 ……. have landed in some kind of crazy travel heaven …. exploring medieval towns … villages, painted monasteries, fortified churches of every description, town squares dating hundreds of years! Apparently HRH Bonnie Prince Charlie, together with renowned Romanian poet, Mihai Eminescu have formed a trust to restore these old medieval villages to their former lustre …. it is a monumental task, but I was thrilled to sleep in this first village of Viscri, that Charlie signed on for and indeed, I may even have slept in the same guest house he toured! Walter, the owner, is of Saxon/German heritage, has had family living in the village of 400 people, for over 800 years!!! Historical heaven, as I said …. more later ….. enjoy some of my pictorial review of Viscri and area, including the little guest room in a house as old as any I have had the pleasure to visit. Walter, who speaks excellent English, laughed heartily when I told him I may develop gypsy fingers when it comes to all the old weavings, pottery, and various handworked goods in my room ….



















Last few pictures of Birlad


Got up early one morning to catch a few pictures of my surroundings from the past few weeks …. The market outside the hotel, where I caught a fellow buying his dinner … Live chickens. The Roma gypsies and one of their homes, quite ornate buildings, scattered throughout the country … They often dress in the colorful clothing of their Indian ancestry ….. the women leave their hair long and braided as do women in India.










Bidding adieu to Birlad’s Babies ….


On my last days at St. Nicks, I walked along main street, looking for bubble makers for the kids … made for delightful fun for us all!! The smallest squealed, the older ones tried to catch the bubbles …. Stephan, my trusty six year old assistant, ran in to help …. these simple pleasures of childhood … not always available for these little ones of Romania’s placement centers! The children appeared more subdued, my last day …. They sensed, as children always do, when someone will be leaving …. this revolving and steady stream of volunteers is what they know and they have adjusted to goodbyes on a monthly basis. The concerns I voiced before coming here have not left me ….. I know the value of consistency in a child’s formative years. Perhaps that consistency is what Coca, Mihaela, Dan, their daughter, Delia provide …….. Delia goes regularly on days off from school, to read to the children, feed them and just play …. she is their big sister! The children, in a very short period of time, have woven themselves into my heart and saying goodbye was far harder than I had anticipated. A few short weeks ago, they were strangers. My goal of living from the heart continues … It is rarely an easy path ….

Mihaela, Delia and Dan had me over for a delicious chicken roast dinner for our last meal together …. they live in a two bedroom flat, as do most people living in the cities and larger towns of Romania. Most buildings are from the communist era …. Lots of concrete …… houses are the norm in villages. For the slowly emerging affluent business owners, professionals and politicians, the suburbs, even in small town Birlad, are developing rapidly enough and there is a scattering of large homes and more on the horizon … times catch up with everyone I suppose.

As I waited for Dan to pick me up on the weekend for the long drive to Bucharest, I realized I had left my moccasins at the hospital …. I grabbed a cab, picked up my slippers from first floor volunteer room ……. stood for a moment, sorely tempted to run up the two more flights to see the children just once more …. took a lot of restraint not to do so …. It would have been cruel to stop for only a few minutes …. expectation would have been high to have me take them all to a park, as I had been doing all along in the mornings …. I could not do it, just to satisfy my own selfish desire to hold the children once more. Sad morning for me.



















Happy birthday to the best son in the world!!






Twenty five years ago today at 3:44 pm, Tim entered our lives, full of vim, vigor and hungry as a bear coming out of hibernation! My concern was that somehow, I would not possibly be able to love another child as deeply as Sarah …. Oh my, the silly worries I carried for naught …. Love, as I have discovered, is like a river, or a bottomless ocean, that keeps endlessly flowing … aah May 13, 1987 …. the miracle of life, our darling Tim was born! ……. exquisite …. A special kind of joy. I honor my son today.

I had been raised observing my mother dispense love to some of us and seemingly none to others. Strange what seeps into the psyche of a young child during those formative years … Mother tried her best and was such a good mother in so many other ways, but loving six children equally did not come easily to her …. She had been an only child herself. Many many years later, sitting in Calgary at my kitchen table, with tears in her eyes, she shared her own childhood with me and I came to understand the ‘whys’ of my own childhood and learned to forgive and love her deeply in the last decades of her life … I miss her always and love her essence and always will ….. it lives on in my sisters and I and in our own children and grandchildren … the invisible thread that ties and binds us in family hood. Subconsciously, mother’s behavior during those fragile early years, had settled deep inside and became the root of my own fear that I would not have enough love for everyone ….. that love has limits and what a relief it was to let it go, twenty five years ago today! Sounds silly now to even think that a reasonably aware and intelligent, thinking woman would even entertain such a thought, but I did. Tim, unknowingly, and unwittingly, was instrumental in clearing away the early childhood conditioned fog and debris. It happened in the blink of an eye, holding a newborn Tim in my arms …… Love flowed and never let up.

Missing Tim on his special day … hope my FaceTime on the ipad works tonight so I can call when my family are all out for dinner to celebrate his day! … See their faces if not hug them in person.

Springtime in Romania


Explored Iasi, a two hour train ride away last weekend, and it’s myriad of monasteries, churches, attractive architecture, bucolic parks, university buildings and grounds. It is Romania’s largest university town, in it’s poorest region. Walked everywhere, inhaling the atmosphere and the fresh spring air! …. This is backtracking somewhat from my journal entries, but forgot to jot down what a joy it was to explore another part of this country and at this time of year! Calgary seems to frequently miss out on one of the most glorious seasons ….. melodious song birds, wildflowers, potted plants in bloom along boulevards, patios and balconies ….. the bright lime green of early spring growth everywhere, sidewalk cafes chock full of folks enjoying afternoon coffees, cakes and hefty mugs of Romanian Ursus beer …. It is just such a delightful swish of spiritual fresh air …. I didn’t realize how much I needed a break from both the children and the hospital, until I had been on the train for well over an hour and had unconsciously let out a big heaving sigh, startling the passenger beside me ……. but by late Sunday night, my thoughts meandered back to these dear little needy children ….. they all could benefit from simply being held snugly for hours every day …. Those little hands grasp mine like a lifeline and perhaps that is what a volunteer indeed is to these children … Delia, Alina, Ion, Luca, Sami, Marian ( big and little one ), Gabi, Maiastra, and on Thursday, one year old Lavinia joined our troops, who is another child with down’s syndrome, cleft palate issues and sleeps more than anything else … much like a newborn.
















Gabi and Maiastra Join our troops or rather re-join …


Posting a few pictures of the faces that greet me every morning …. Delia was in the national newspaper again yesterday. A local journalist from Birlad is her godmother …. she came by last week, took some pictures, wrote an article and voila, the local paper publishes a full page story with pictures and the national news also grabs it. Delia is the only neurologically normal child in my ward but obviously, her physical capabilities keep her from participating in most of the normal physical developments of a one year old child. Apparently there is a couple from New Zealand who are currently trying to raise funds to help her and possibly adopt her …. this story varies, depending on who shares it with me …. would be nice for this dear sweet child. Little Sami appears to show excitement when he sees me now and has stopped pulling my hair and throwing toys at me ….. a bit of kind discipline and attention was all it took …. I could easily spend my whole day teaching him but I am the sole volunteer here and stretched thin as are the nurses. He still hesitates going down the three flights of stairs, but has totally conquered going up …… but the anticipation of the hospital park and grounds gets him excited enough daily that he is at least, not fighting me going down the stairs.

Seven year old Marian could so use full one on one time, and I do the best I can, but it is hard. I hate seeing him just laying around in a crib all day …. it breaks my heart. Hopefully Dan will come today and carry him down the three flights for me so I can at least push him around in a stroller to add variety to his day. Tummy massages are great and he loves them, but nothing like being outside in the sunshine, listening to all the various song birds, watching the leaves rustle, hearing dogs bark, people chatting …… Luca, I load up into a walker … yes they are still legal here in Romania!! …. and he wheels himself up and down the halls, laughing as he goes …. he cannot walk yet, so I am not really allowed to take him outside but will see what today brings … maybe a stroller ride for him as well ….. I wish there were three more of me here!!

Cleo was very responsive the past few days …. she is off the medication they had her on, which helps …. she is a dear sweet soul …. my interaction with her is limited to feeding her a bottle of milk, talking, singing and massaging her tummy, arms and legs …. she loves the massages best! … funny thing, that human touch 🙂

Two month old Ion developed a lung infection and for the time being, is in an intensive care sort of room down the hall, in a mini oxygen tent, a little plastic style box that covers his head. Not sure if he will be back in our wing before I leave. When allowed to go into his room, I have made my way to where he is daily, talking to him, and gently stroking his back …. I always believe the intent of the words and touch carries through even in a semi comatose condition …. Wishful thinking? Perhaps, perhaps not ….. his color is coming back and he seems to be resting peacefully at the very least.

Six year old Gabi, a twin, whose sister was placed in a foster home shortly after their birth … Gabi, not so lucky … she was deprived of oxygen during the birthing, left neurologically challenged, and the “placement center” is now her home and has been for her whole life …. she gets shuffled back and forth between Placement Center and St. Nicholas …. she arrived yesterday. Their parents already had two girls and apparently did not want to add any more females to the family! …. this concept is so foreign to me that I can scarcely type it down!

Seven year old Maiastra is one of triplets …. her brother was born first and kept by the parents, her sister was placed in a foster home some years ago, but Maiastra, last born of the triplets, was victim of oxygen deprivation, causing extensive neuro damage and the parents turned her over to the placement center for care, basically abandoning her. Seems nothing short of a perfect baby is acceptable to some of these people that have the gall to call themselves parents! Both Gabi and Maiastra are from the Roma gypsy people, migrants to Romania from India during the 1500’s. It is easy to see the Indian features in both girls. I came back from lunch break yesterday to find them in our little “home” which sits at the end of a wing of the hospital …. our three little rooms that are now filled to overflowing.

Today I will learn more about these two young girls …. slept badly last night and wondering where the energy will come for the day ahead …… enjoy the faces that greet me every morning and try and match them up to the names 🙂 Coca is my ward angel and the only full time paid Global Volunteer at the hospital. Into the mix of pictures, I have added young Stephan, whose little three year old brother is in hospital regularly for some kind of psychiatric evaluation and therapy. He is staying in the room next to wing, with his mother, grandmother and brother ….. parents and extended family are allowed to stay with the children for minor illnesses when in hospital. They sleep in the same bed with their children. Like all six year olds, he was quite bored sitting around and has followed me around everywhere the last few days and indeed is a big help with Alina who he has taken a shine to, loves carrying her around …… he also helps we with Luca when I am maneuvering him around the hallways in his walker. Stephan is just one of those absolutely and totally delightful, helpful children …. again, our language barrier keeps us from regular day to day conversations, but he is bright as a whip and seemingly understands whatever I say to him …. go figure ….. he jabbered away to me this afternoon as I left, waiting for an answer, so of course I said “da” … yes in Romanian … good answer, it produced a smile and off he ran, happy as a lark …. probably asking if I will be there tomorrow …. good enough for me 🙂 Love these kids ……

















Our smallest leaves today ….


Another beautiful sunny hot day in Birlad, as I walk my familiar twenty minute stroll to St. Nicholas this morning, stopping enroute to pick up some kleenex and baby wipes ….. Coca, our local Global Volunteer nurse’s aide, scares me half to death as I turned the corner to the hospital ….. she came up behind me, grabbing my arm, with a squeal of delight to see me walking …. she had just jumped off a bus from Tutova, a nearby town ……. I think of Coca, as our wing angle ….. she is a darling sweet, kind soul and so good with the children. As we enter our wing of the hospital together arm in arm, we find, after a weekend away, the children all appear quiet and subdued … we both get busy, prepping for the day (neither of us speaks the language of the other but somehow we have come to speak the same language of the heart and work well together) …… shortly after a bit of organizing and as I am feeding little Marian his morning bottle …… ‘little tiny 2 point something kilo Marian’ who is six months old or thereabouts, I notice a gentleman hulking about patiently watching from the hallway ….. I remembered him from my first day …. he is, as far as anyone knows, the father of young Marian ….. he appears far too old to be a father (but I have noted that people here appear older than they really are and my host Dan, tells me that life expectancy is somewhere in the vicinity of 70 in Romania …… a diet high in meat doesn’t help!) …… Rumor has it that the government will pay a healthy supplement to anyone who commits to looking after their own handicapped child ….. and that quite possibly this father is considering taking on his child for that reason, but intuitively, I think that is not his only motivation. In six months, no one has ever seen the mother but apparently, this gent has come by often in the past six months. I observed him on my first day, before I got to know the children or anyone here really, and I judged him to be a very gentle soul, full of kindness and love for who we believe is his child. As I have come to know his son, Marion, I see some of that same personality in the wee one. When I held him this morning, Marian took forever to finish his bottle of formula …. at least three times as long as normal …. he kept studying my face, listening to my chatter as I fed him. I alternate between singing Finnish folk songs, nursery rhymes and telling him what a lovely child he is ….. it is a special kind of sweetness, as he watches me …. an old soul is hiding in those very expressive eyes ……. yes, premature, underdeveloped, physically and mentally delayed, I know!!! But I find Marion fascinating ….. I have grown to love him. I had no idea that he was being taken away this morning and as I saw Coca getting Marion bundled up while I continued feeding the other children, I asked in English, what was going on? ….. all she could say was “Marion go papa” ….. I asked “go where?” ….. a rambling of Romanian followed, none of which I understood, so I ran into the hallway, just barely catching Marion leaving with his father. With a lot of hand signing and me jabbering away with three words of Romanian mixed with tears, I showed him how Marion likes to be held close in your arms, near the heart with the bottle angled “just so” …… oh the dear man … thank God for this understanding gentle soul, but still, he must have thought me mad! But I believe through it all, on some level, he understood. I plunged forward, instinct guiding me, realizing I am breaking all kinds of protocol and despite the cool nature of Romanians in general, I hugged him tight with Marion between us …… he was probably as surprised as I, and tears came into his ears, mixing with mine. I kissed the little duffer good bye and turned back to the other little ones …… a funny kind of happiness tinged in sadness settled in for a good part of my day …… a few picture of young Marian below ……



The little ones …


“To love a person is to learn the song that is in their heart and to sing it to them when they have forgotten” …… or in the case of these little abandoned children of St. Nicholas Hospital in Birlad, Romania, those who have barely had the opportunity to hear even the first notes of their heart’s song, help them discover it.

My days in Birlad would appear to follow a predictable pattern, not a few days into my posting …… but every day, I start out with a hopeful heart that my impact will produce a smile, a laugh, a contented sigh, or really any kind of response from the children! These are not big reward wishes by any means, but It is enough …

Little tiny Marian (a boy’s name in Romania) weighs about 2.2 kilos at 6 months of age, snuggles into my arm when I feed him his bottle, with such a happy expression on his face, as though I am the queen in his life …… he is so easy to please …… love and attention, all he requires from me …… the nurses and aides tend to the daily grind of diapers, baths, food preparation etc. …… when I attempt to put Marian down in his crib, his kitten like cries start up ….. I pick him up and carry him around, nestled happily in the crook of my arm as I tend to the others as best I can while keeping him close. A little bit of juggling is always in order. Marian is happy as a baby can be:) I cannot leave him crying, not in my DNA to do so ….. he was a premature baby, a fetal alcohol syndrome child, as are most of the children in varying degrees and need human touch so very much ….. where is the education for teenagers on this issue? It is no great secret that the majority of parents of these abandoned children are indeed teenagers! …. It is my nature to attempt to dig for the root of a problem …..

The sweetheart of the ward, one year old Delia is so bright and so normal in developmental milestones mentally, but alas, she has stunted limbs which will make life that much harder for her and basically, she is unadoptable, if there is such a term …. everyone loves her but she continues to live at Sr. Nicholas. ….. I hold this little child and love is all I feel …. She is very very affectionate, making that easy to do! ….. I like to think I helped add to her vocabulary with “mamama and nananana” but I am sure this process was started long ago with other volunteers and I was merely fortunate to be the recipient to hear it with regularity but still, I did notice the surprise the nurses displayed as Delia “nanananaed and mamamaed” in addition to her dadadadas and da’s ( da is yes in Romanian ) …. I am a great baby babbler 🙂

Two month old Ion just eats, sleeps and snuggles happily in my arms as much as possible. It is hard to determine the extent of developmental delays sustained from his birth but, I know that some of those milestones at 2 months of age are just not there ….. the nurses try hard to make sure the children all “finish those bottles of formula” …. they celebrate with a “bravo” when a bottle is finished and I know they mean well, but when a good portion of the bottle is spit up shortly after feeding, I wonder hmmmm ……. I know they do not appreciate my taking the bottles away when the children purse their mouths, seemingly refusing another drop …. I have never believed in force feeding. But again, as a transient volunteer, it is not in my position to criticize or change the system. My job is to help out as best I can.

Cleo who is mostly vegetative with so much fluid around her brain, that her head weight makes up half her weight or close to it ….. smiles occasionally but with mostly vacant eyes ….. all I can do
is stroke her little arms and legs and talk to her …. she does respond in her own way to the affection and my chatting …..

On Wednesday, four older children were brought back to St. Nicholas from a “placement center” about 20 km. away …. they are regulars at St. Nicholas but were at the center for check ups and the like for the week before I came. These centers are no longer allowed to be called orphanages ….. part of the bureaucracy since Romania was admitted into the European Union. It is highly unlikely that anyone will ever adopt these children, so they live in the “centers” .

Seven year old Marian is paralyzed from the waist down, is very small for his age, and severely mentally handicapped. I took him for a walk outside in a baby stroller ….. I simply could not watch him basically laying with little stimulation in a crib for another minute. Dan and I had quite the job getting him into it, but once in there, I pushed him around in the warm sunshine and he laughed, yes laughed, for most of the hour I had him outside. Yes, I broke the rules, and took him out of the hospital grounds …. I showed him trees, flower buds, flowers in bloom, a dog barking, leaves rustling in the breeze and I swear to God, he was in heaven … he laughed, he pulled on my hand as I showed him the bushes and leaves and connected with me …… Dan was not pleased when he could not find me as I was quite far from the hospital gates, but I was so thrilled with the response from Marian, that I kind of lost track of time and place 🙂 and would do it again in a heart beat. I have a strong tendency to break rules at times …….. I learned many years ago, that if an action has a good outcome, follow it. I may have to present a convincing argument to do so again next week 🙂

I took 6 year old Sami who has mild to medium down’s syndrome, to the hospital outdoor park ….. he squealed in delight with every new texture, every new sound, the sun on his face, the breeze in his hair ….. oh just everything. He refused to walk up or down the three flights of stairs on our first attempt (I carried him even as he struggled against me, uncertain about what was happening) ….. no elevators here …… but by the second day, after encouragement and lots of practice outside on a curb, he navigated the stairs brilliantly, trustingly holding my hand the whole way up, and asked only to be carried for the last few steps back to the hospital rooms (grunting sounds … he does not talk ….. I like to think if someone had the time for ‘one on one’ work with Sami, he would be able to speak, no matter how rudimentary!) ….. he has apparently handled stairs before in the past but not often and with just a little practice, he was able to …..

Aaah and little Alina, five years old, and another FAS child …. sweet as pie ….. loves having me brush her hair, sing to her, dance with her ….. I took her out to the hospital park as well two days in a row …… I had to ask permission from the head pediatrician to do so, for all the older children actually ……. they were not overly enthusiastic about it ….. apparently insurance issues or something …… No surprise here that I believe children need sunshine and fresh air as much as they do those bottles of formula …. they are so pale and in such need of outside stimulation and there is really no one there, short of volunteers who can possibly do this …. the nurses are stretched thin as it is. I am hoping I can continue taking them all in turn, outside this next week. Little Luca, who has a bad case of scabies at the moment, is next on my outdoor outing hit list 🙂 ….. he is a mentally and physically ( kind of go hand in hand really ) delayed three year old, does not walk yet, crawls, and is quite a handful, as I soon discovered … I took him out and let him crawl around ….. he had been banging his head against the crib in a repetitive motion and I could not bear it any longer …. he smiled as I picked him up and followed him as he scooted around in the two rooms that make up his home here at St. Nicholas. It as a delight to watch him happily going about discovering the toys, but oh boy, needs one on one attention big time! Aaah, and the scabies ….. presents a problem in such close quarters, so I understand the nurses’ concerns. So that rounds out my little darling motley crew ….. Will see what Monday brings …… late at night here in Iasi (pronounced Yash) in Northern Moldova ….. a two hour train ride from Birlad …..I arrived late Friday night …. Mihaela, Dan and their daughter Delia joined me for the day ….. a wonderful weekend to ring in my new decade of life ….. and a nice break from the hospital. Fresh air for my spirit. Hope my pictures of the weekend post okay and that there are not so many typos in this post ….. too tired to proof read and it seems my ipad does not have a spell check, or more likely, I have not discovered it 🙂 …. weak WIFI in this hotel
Love to everyone.






















Birlad’s Little Ones


As I walked to the hospital today, it occurred to me how beautiful this part of Romania is … Lots of green park areas to enjoy a quiet sit down in between the sometime chaotic job of, what was today, looking after eight children, ranging in age from three months to seven years … I guess the nurses all thought I could handle it and I suppose I did, whew, a mid day break in the park was in order! I have a newfound respect for pediatric nurses working with children having severe disabilities …. I find myself lost in thought at various points during the day …… what will happen to these abandoned youngsters without the steady stream of volunteers to give them that extra attention they so sorely need? ….. Mihaela and Dan are doing an awesome job keeping everything working smoothly … My hat is off to them! One year old Delia is certainly the little darling of the ward, bright as a star, charming everyone daily …. no limbs to speak of, yet she manages more than one would imagine …. Enjoyed a May 1st outdoor barbeque at the home of Mihaela and Dan’s friends, Sandor and Lumi. … (It was a national labor day holiday here, although we still did work at the hospital during the day) …. They have a beautiful garden, blooming with early flowers of all sorts …. The temps have been hovering around 30 C since I arrived last week and everyone is taking advantage of the weather …. From Bucharest to Birlad, people are enjoying outdoor picnic lunches and dinners everywhere they can. As I review my days, I realize how lucky I am and how heartwarming it is to be included and so welcomed in this small town community …. If I remember to take my camera tomorrow, will share some town scenes in my next post.