Monday, 28 September 2009

Week 4 - Buses, Music & Dirty Dishes!

Hello Everybody,
Phew what a week / weekend, and the fact I'm only writing this blog entry tonight instead of yesterday indicates what a week its's been. I'm even going to overlook Liverpool's 6-1 Victory at the weekend (that one's for you Carl!), and get straight to the story of the week.

But first to a brief round up of hospital events. No bottoms were on view this week, and no unfortunate incontience issues, thankfully! There was however an unexpected visit from some kind of 'Centre for legal Justice' - who's job it is to review the human rights of pepole in institutions such as the hospital here. It was a very interesting visit, and the man and woman that came to speak with me and my colleague was very informative about what was happening across Romania, as the Goverment is being required to bring it's policies in line with Eurpopean law. It's a big job, but great to know that there are national bodies and laws, that are not only in place, but are being follwed up and the results and recommendations acted upon. To more practical matters, one of the patients had managed to steal two music flutes from our room, a few weeks ago, I suggested that perhaps the patient was simply wanting to get some early practice in for a Christmas concert... the staff didn't really agree! All in all, we are excited about the next volunteer coming out in 9 days time! Oh and for those of you asking about the kittens, they are still with us, and constantly cry for food and try and get in the house...

So now to the weekend adventures. After a much, much needed pizza and beer on Friday night me and Ali were sat in a nice little pub (Crama) having a beer, when there suddenly appeared a face pressed up against the window, the face was smiling and seemed to be swaying! One look towards each other confirmed our thoughts. It was a recently relased patient (a young girl with what I suspect to be moderate learning difficulties). She was stood at the window chatting away to us, in the middle of the town Friday night. Not quite knowing what to do, we spoke briefly with her suggesting she went home, but she refused to go home and simply stood for the remainder of the time we were there smiling, staring and swaying. We really felt uneasy and tried again to suggest she went home, but to no avail. We ad been joined by my good friend Giany, who took us to a 'Non-Stop' 24 hour bar in the hilsl above the town... some 2 beers and 3 sets of live Romanian music sets later, we decided we should return home, not at least because of the state of dress of the waitress, who was a pretty girl, but showing a bit too much of herself (top-half), in the kind of way, that when she appears everyone at the table just stops talking in some discomfort!

To Saturday, and I was excited about the adventure to Turda.. Yeah I said Turda, the place with the salt mines and the unfortunate name. I was not expecteing (but should have been by now) the fact that the bus just didn't turn up.. I mean the only bus there didn't turn up! I wasn't alone, and a friendly 28 year old Geography teacher was also waiting for her bus, to a different destination, which hadn't turned up either! (Now I know what you're thinking: wow you must have good Romanian to know what she did for a job...well, she spoke perfect English, had visited Manchester and had even lived in Liverpool for a short while!) Anyway, after a few moments of panic, I did the only thing possible... get myself to a place of sanity! Targu-mures was the closest such place, and to my surprise there was a bus just 35 mins later from there to Turda. I had beat my transport curse.. or so I thought!

I arrived in Turda one hour early than was indicated on the bus schedule... and called my friends Dan & Ramona... (the couple I had spoke with for a few minutes at Luton airport on the flight to Romania...). Dan picked me up and took me to his home, where Romona had prepared some food (very tasty soup with mamaliga). We had a quick chat and were soon setting off to some unknown destination (unknown to me), and arrived at what I believe is called the 'keys' -(that's the translation I think). See picture below.
There were so many beautiful hills around this town that I had never noticed, and it's not really in the guidebooks! (who needs a lonely planet guide eh!). After a quick introduction to a couple of their friends, me Dan & Ramona set off for a walk through this beautiful valley, see more pictures below.....

After the walk, Dan's friend had a BBQ going and were soon supplied with bread, tomato and mici (pronounced mitch). I think I got the Romanian spelling wrong! The entertainment didn't stop there, Dan's friend (who's name I forgot to write down), got a slide trombone, and horn out of his car and started an inmpromptu brass concert as the sun set.... Dan & Romona, took me home for more chatting and made me feel so at home I thought about moving in! (they were both ill with a 'gripa' - cold - but had insisted on me still coming to visit). After a good nights sleep, some much appreciated internet time, we decided we'd go to the salt mines of Turda, as there has been lots of construction going on since I was last there... The construction was still there, in all it's glory, and unfortuantely they are turning a wonderful natural cavern into a playground with hardly any space... they did have a 'treatment' space - as is common for salt mines to improve respiratory systems such as the lungs! But this treatment space looked like something out of 1970's space film.. get a load of this... (in the middle of a salt mine!) We returned to Dan & Ramona's place to have ice cream, pudding, soup, rice and sauce... I swear I was twice the size I was before I had arrived after eating so much - I love Romanian hospitality!). Though the size of my stomach was nothing in comparison to the size of the pile of dishes in the sink! I thought I better make my excuses to leave and catch the ONLY bus back home, before Ramona made me do the washing up! Dan took my to the bus stop, but was soon picking me back up again an hour or so later as the bus had eiether never arrvied or drove past without so much of a sign in the window! I returned to their flat insisting to Ramona that had returned due to guilt of not doing the washing up and that I could not go home without doing the washing up. I don't think she believed me! So I was once again in a place with no means for getting back home! My hosts came to my rescue and said they'd drive me all the way back home... 90 mins away! But first I was invited to go to the Evangelical church with them for the Sunday service. I was intrigued at the idea of going to see a Romania church service, and I have to say I really enjoyed the experience. Of course finding myself in a Romanian Evangelical Church service in Turda, is perhaps near the top of the list of unexpected life events, but one I was glad to be having. The people were wonderfully nice and friendly, I must admit sitting for two hours trying to listen to what the preacher was saying in Romanian was tiring, but I think I managed the hymn singing pretty well at the very least! So the service ended around 8pm, and I thought ok time to go home.. but no, the hospitality did not stop even there. We went for pizza with the friend from the previous day, who happened to have conducted a brass band that had been playing during the church service! Topics over dinner ranged from religion to football, we even discussed the injustice of extra time at Old Trafford just a week before!

I arrived home in such good spirits after having spent a weekend with these people that I had known for the duration of a flight from England to Romania. They had greeted and treated me like an old friend, as had their friends, and the generousity and kindness displayed by Dan & Ramona was quite overwhelming. It's these kind of experiences that have helped me reflect upon and change my own belief system about human kindness. I don't mean to sound all deep and meaningful, but it's really how I feel after such expereinces. So a huge thank you go out to Dan & Ramona... (Ramona - I have to admit what I said about the dishes wasn't true, but I'd be happy to do your dishes as a thank you anytime!)

Regards from Romania

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Week 3 - 4 Kittens, 3 Rabbits and 2 Volunteers!

Hello everybody, and phew yet another emotionally exhausting week, for a multitude of reasons! This week's blog title, (inspired by the internationally acclaimed Romanian film of 2 years ago - 4 months, 3 weeks and 2 days) pretty much says it all. I'm beginning to feel like a modern day Noah, as animals seems to be arriving more than 'two by two'. I'm wishing I was more like Dr Doolittle, as I need to get the animals to behave a little better (mosquito's included).

I can't really go much further without mentioning the great sporting injustice that occurred today in Manchester. I sat in a Romanian bar watching Micheal Owen score the winning goal for Manchester Utd against their city rivals Manchester City, in the 96th minute. Now bearing in mind that football games last 90 minutes, and generally they last 95 minutes at Old Trafford if Man Utd are not winning, today's events just show what you can do with lots of money in the right pocket... great game for the neutral, sorry for the City fans.

Ok, so to this week's Transylvanian tale. After getting used to two rabbits in the back yard, which became three last week... which is going to perhaps leading to whole different kind of 'bunny-boiling', we were joined in our static ark by a little kitten, which had seemed to have wandered into the garden. It was a little playful thing, but we left it out to find it's own way as we left for work. On returning home after work on Monday evening, one (kitten) became two (in a reversal of the spice girls classic song...), and two kittens were soon to become four as we had a whole litter in the back yard, we still have them (and no sis - I'm not bringing them back for you!). They have caused no end of bother as they roam around our garden and have had me running around after them- making improvised houses for them to avoid the first rain we've had in 3 weeks. Here's a few snaps of them for you cat lovers....

Back at the hospital the weeks seem to get more and more demanding as having just two volunteers and small groups of patients takes its toll. Having to concentrate when listening to patients speaking quickly in a foreign language for several hours a day, is tough enough, but trying to engage in creative, meaningful and purposeful activity simultaneously is a serious challenge. We had our first real 'creative' activity, - a kind of Autumn collage using leaves , conkers etc. It seemed to go reasonably well, and so we remain hopeful people will continue to surprise themselves with the kind of contemporary pieces that have been produced so far. Now many fairly surreal things happen to me each week, so surreal at time that I often question if I am myself having hallucinations or am just acclimatising to this 'unusual' environment. I'm going to talk about bums and toilet issues now, so be warned. One particular patient does occasionally need some assistance toileting so we sometimes let him pee in a bowl outside the club room, as the alternative is a hurried dash upstairs, and he doesn't move quickly enough. So when on Friday he gesticulated to us that he needed the toilet, we hurriedly got him outside of the room, and when presented with the bowl he placed it down, and before you could say 'woooooohhh!!' - (which was kinda of the noise I heard from my colleague, the patient was sat squatted over a bowl we used for lots of other things, and well the rest you can imagine. After being discouraged to stop taking his clothes off we were able to get him back to the ward where he could be seen to more privately. The 'bottom' theme' seemed to be a feature of the week as somewhat inexplicably as I was walking past one of the nurse's offices, I just happened to look into the room, as I often do to say hello, and there was a bare-faced bottom staring back at me... and this time the bottom in question did not belong to a patient... I could not quite bring myself to ask why a 'non-patient' bottom was being aired around open doors, and quite honestly, I'd rather not know! The third bottom related adventure takes me to this weekend's day tip out to Sighisoara...

Sighisoara is famous for being the birthplace of 'Vlad the Impailer' - the man who the Dracula legend is based on. Sighisoaroa is very much a true Romanian town, with the in-built 'eye holes' looking down at you from almost every roof. Here are some photo's of Sighisoara - well worth visiting if you're in the area! There was by complete coincidence a film festival on in Sighisoara this weekend, so after several visits to the 'main centre' to try and find some form of programme, (as all the posters tell you everything but the starting time and venue... (a common Romania occurrence), we met a member of staff who not only invited us in for free - ok it was free festival - but she also gave us two free t-shirts too!!! (see pictures below). We choose the 4pm offering called 'Elevator' - translation - 'Elevator'. Don't be fooled this was as it says on the tin, a small old auditorium with a little projector whizzed into action, as 30 or so arty students and us, settled down to watch the film. Well perhaps 'settled' is the wrong word as the film started with so much noise I was almost looking for a bowl to crap in myself! Ok so that's a slight exaggeration, but it was bloody noisy and all I could here were the words 'ajutor... ajutor'. This means help, and oh boy the occupants of the 'elevator' were in need of help, as the film consisted of just two students who were trapped in a broken lift in an abandoned warehouse! The film was quite alright really, but of course there was more toileting action in this film, that seemed central to the story, though I never really understood why! Seeing people pee and poo in a lift was not really at the top of my 'must see' list, after my week at the hospital. The two characters went through all levels of panic, before eventually dying in 'Elevator'... a cheery end to the day in Sighisoara I'm sure you'll agree, but hey, the train ride home offered rather more light hearted entertainment - i.e me singing along to my Ipod for the rest of the passengers - also free of charge I may add! Though on reflection, I don't think the Romanian train passengers were quite ready for a hearty rendition of 'Wicked' the musical... free or not!

Still, it's been a fun week, and as I head to my midway point I'm more than happy to be back here in a world where the weird becomes normal, and my normality is seen as weird!
Regards from Romania

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Week 2 - Romanian blankity blank... "me and my (blank) are going out tomorrow night".

Hello everyone! Just when I imagined I might not have a tale to tell this week, I took to the road, albeit the local road to Targu-Mures, and sure enough I got my tale. Oh and the answer to the blank by the way is 'cake'. Of course I didn't take a cake out for an evening, but that's what I managed to say to a mate of mine as I mixed up the words for 'cake' and 'friend'. Her son did give me a funny look. I have had a few perplexing looks during the last couple of weeks when trying to remember my Romanian. Despite feeling as though the language has come flooding back to me, I am still making some quite amusing mistakes. Just yesterday when talking with a hotel receptionist, I asked how much a room would be for one 'sister' rather than one 'night' - the words sounds kind of similar, but the member of staff either thought I was just giving ridiculously pointless information or I was booking on behalf of some new found religious order! - I didn't take the room!

The saying 'a picture tells a thousand words' seems fitting this week, so I'm going to put a few photos in, to give you some idea of my environment, for those of who remember my 'near death' experience last time, walking over the bridge with panels missing, look out for evidence in this weeks pictures!
At the hospital life has been pretty tough with some of the patients being particularly ill this week, and it's been a wee while since I have seen some raw elements of psychosis, so me and Ali (co-volunteer) have been coping best we can, supported by the staff! As usual I can't go into details of my work for confidentiality reasons, but you can just imagine walking around a courtyard full of perhaps 100 women, some 'toileting' randomly in front of you (due to illness - there is access to toilets), one woman screaming and hitting herself, and some women just wanting to grab hold of you (inappropriately at times). Some patients being unable to speak simply sit and stare at you.

Now some photos for the health and safety buffs amongst you.. my special favourite is the metal ladder leading up to the electric cables... and the 'the bridge' picture is here too...

So to my eventful trip to Targu- Mures. There seem to bee many spellings of this town, so if today's spelling differs from past blog entries, I apologise! It's the nearest 'city' with a cinema, McDonald's and some lively street cafes. I just wanted to go have a nosey round and to be completely honest, I was searching for a bar that might just let me see some English Premiership football! I got lucky with the bar, and the owner gave me a full family history, clearly I was the only customer in there for the majority of my stay there! This is a picturesque city as some pictures will show you, and the statue of the babies drinking from the wolf, is synonymous around these parts!

But to the point of my story, after having found some reasonable public toilets earlier in the day for 1.5 lei ( 30 pence), a tough feat I assure you, I thought I'd manage the hour long bus ride home. Unfortunately I had not accounted for the pot holed country road through the hills, so after just 15 minutes of the journey I knew I was in trouble! Could I last another 45 minutes of this bouncing bus journey through the Romanian countryside? Ten minutes later I knew the answer to that question.... I had to get off, but could I find a strategically good place to get off in the wilderness? My bladder made that decision for me, and so exactly half way through the hour long journey I descended from the bus just outside the town of Mica (clearly not named after the currently known pop star himself). After some quite wonderful bladder relief (There's nothing quite like it after such a wait is there?) I turned to face the following scenes....

So with the sun setting and the local grave yard looming next to me I was left with only one option - Hitch! Ok, so I don't mind admitting I was getting slightly nervous after the 20th car passed, and the hillside was now covered in shadows, but luck was once again on my side, as a black car stopped, and a friendly youngish couple, opened their car door and took me almost all the way home. We chatted away, with no mention of socialising with cakes, or booking a room for nuns, and they dropped me of yards from home, refusing payment - I think they had felt quite entertained as I tried to explain just what I had been doing in the middle of nowhere! Ok thanks to you guys, I hope you get to read this one day!
Ok, that's enough for his week! I did meet up with my good friend Giany and his sister and son last night two, which also ended in an eventful car journey at 0200, but that's a story for another time. The friendly couple I met at Luton airport on thew way over here, also called me and asked when I was going to visit them in Cluj! That should be another tale altogether!
Regards from Romania

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Week 1 (again) - Meet the team & salt mine silliness!

Hello everybody, thanks for the comments so far, and for the supportive comments about my acceptance to present at the World Occupational Therapy Conference in Chile, it's appreciated and I just wanted to say serious thanks to many colleagues for their support! Ok, to this week's adventures....

I really wanted to focus on the return to working inside this psychiatric institution here in Romania, but first I have to share my experiences of going to the salt mines of Praid yesterday. Oh first I must mention big thank you to Marika and Victoria who finished working with us this week. Wednesday was Marika's 29th birthday and we had a fun veggie BBQ in the garden with several drinks, (see pictures below - me, Marika, Ali & Victoria)!

So Friday night took me to the main disco in town named 'Infinity' with my neighbour Sari. There almost everyone was dressed in white, to sparkle under the UV light, though other interesting outfits included what looked like a pyjama suit, and a girl wearing only a bikini, the white clothes simply shone over the black stuff she actually had on! It reminded me of one of those films where people in white hoods chanted and swayed through some seemingly pointless ritual, in the deep south of America. At this point I realised the need to leave and stop drinking!!!

So onto Saturday, and Vic and I got a 2.5 hour train to the town of Praid, made famous for it's salt mines. I had previously visited the alt mines of the unfortunately named town of 'Turda', though "Turda" it certainly was not! I had also been to Praid once before, though on my last visit with my good friend Hyun-Jin, the hills were covered in snow, and the mine was closed, so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself on a in gorgeous sunshine, ice-cream in hand and waiting for the bus with a happy go lucky crowd. We headed down, down, down into the depths of a never ending tunnel. Once inside we soon found ourselves in a huge underground cavern, and as my eyes adjusted to the light I had to blink several times to believe what appeared in front of me. Now just remember I have just walked into a deep underground salt mine/cavern, and I now find myself looking at rows of tables around the edge of the walls, all with peg hooks filled with coats, all the tabled filled with people, grans, kids, parents. I think I can see what looks like a series of wooden made swings (some two-seated), oh and wait there seems to big a bouncy castle, oh and climbing frame in the distance. Further exploration reveals a church, and coffee shop, all made of wood, all in the salt mine!

Perhaps the most disorientating sight was the number of people that were playing badminton, (without a net) and the ever increasing number of table tennis tables, with people playing, that were appearing around each corner. My initial though was that I really has stumbled into the secret training camp for the Romanian Olympic Committee, but no, the real explanation for these quite bizarre sights was much simpler. The air in the salt mines is believed to help with health and especially breathing conditions, so large numbers of people come down here for the day, and do some kind of sporting activity to help their respiratory system. I swear I even saw a computer being used down there.. surely they couldn't get a wireless connection??? I think there may be something in it, as the air down there felt as though it had a certain freshness to it... and hey, could half the population of Transylvania that seemed to be present, be wrong?

Ok, back to matters at work. I knew going back to the hospital would not be easy, seeing patients who may have deteriorated, or simply working within a team of volunteers who did things differently to my colleagues two years ago. The staff gave me a warm welcome, and bits of Romanian language returned to me more quickly than I thought they would. Conditions have improved for patients, with improvements evident in the building structure, toilet facilities and better access to outside spaces. Many of the difficulties for staff still remained, regarding small staff to patient ratio. Seeing one particular lady walk independently, after some assistance from us 2 years ago was a warming sight indeed. I was quickly reminded of the difficulties faced by staff and patients though as I was informed about patients who had died since my departure. The sight of one particular patient who was now bed bound due to problems with her legs, saddened me greatly as this patient had constantly entertained me each week by insisting I wear one of her knitted hats. Patients with mild - severe learning difficulties, no doubt worsened by institutionalisation remained in the hospital, and many familiar faces greeted me as the week went on. The club room itself has had many a makeover with brilliant paintings from both volunteers and patients on the walls. A makeshift table tennis table is now there, and singing and dancing remain popular activities.

A young kid called Dorina (pictured), who some of you may remember from my last visit is now seven and remains a frequent visitor to the hospital grounds.
So that's about it for this week folks! Hope all is well where ever you are in the world! Speak soon!
Regards from Romaina