One of the most horrific and interesting experiences I have ever had occurred during my trip to Romania in May 2009. I journeyed there as part of a group from my university, and we were centered in Oradea, a city on the far western border of Romania. We worked to repair soccer bleachers in an orphanage called Caminul Felix, a family-based organization meaning "happy home." It truly was a joyful place filled with hope and love and peace. There were two villages- our work was done in Village One, and we stayed in a hotel located at Village Two. We met an incredible amount of wonderful people and played with children that radiate beauty despite some despicable childhood circumstances. However, we also had the chance to experience Romanian life through some of the other places in the city and countryside.
For instance, we traveled to the "bear cave;" really an underground cavern filled with bear bones. This journey was both touristy and fun, but also terrifying- I cannot count the number of times I closed my eyes on the road and waited for death. Romanian drivers are notorious for using the center line as a passing lane- in both directions- and the mountainous roads were no exception.
We were exposed to a few different organizations in the town, one which was a school for children with disabilities, and another that was pioneering the field of assistive technology for orthopedic injury and disability in the region.
We visited a Roma (Gypsy) village and saw abject poverty in it's raw form. Barefoot children running amongst broken glass in the town dump. Houses made of scrap metal and cardboard and tires. People blackened from the soot of burning anything at all to heat the house or cook food. Men scarred by the violence that sometimes characterizes the community. And a sense of unmistakable pride.
Amongst all of these experiences, though, there is one that will forever plague my heart. One that I have thought of countless times, in all places, in all moods, and with all people. And despite the incredible amount of positive and meaningful experiences I had in Romania- it is this thought, I believe, that is drawing me back to this country.
We took a tour of a maternity hospital while in Oradea. And things were grim and at times surprising; two pregnant women lying in a bed together waiting for delivery, the screams echoing up and down the hallway on the delivery floor, learning that the babies were immediately separated from their mothers after birth, watching a nurse run up the staircase with what appeared to be a bundle of blankets but was actually a newborn. These things, though- I was prepared for them. I could handle the shock and the surprise and the difference.
And then we visited the abandoned baby room. A fairly large, institutional room with one nurse and 12 bassinets. These newborn children are left in the hospital by families who cannot support them, and they lay in cribs. And they have bottles propped up on blankets to feed themselves at two days old, as if to prepare them for a life of forced independence. They are left alone overnight to attempt survival. In reality, there is not the money nor the concern to care for these children who will end up in institutional orphanages. And so these little bundles of baby that should exude potential and joy and laughter and happiness and delicious smells- they become so much less than they could be.
And for 14 months now, I have dreamt about these infants. I have imagined myself holding them, feeding them, pouring love into them. When I was first looking into Romania, I jokingly asked friends if it was feasible to just go and hold babies for a year. The answer is clearly a resounding "NO," so instead I looked for a teaching job. And as excited as I am about teaching English, as wonderful an opportunity as it is, I have a sense that my arms will feel empty.
So now I obsessively watch news reports and videos and read articles about "The Lost Children of Romania." And my heart bleeds for them, and my hands ache to act in a way that will resolve my desperation, and I pray unceasingly for the chance to do something more. Maybe in addition to teaching English in what I expect to be a fairly "cushy" locale, I can make it my mission to hold a bunch of babies.
I'm not baby-crazed. I am abandoned Romanian baby-crazed.