Our First trip to Romania January 11, 1999
The excitement was building as Dale and I prepared for our trip to Romania. Which items to take along for the children at the orphanage were the topic of discussion for weeks. We were told by Gene, our friend heading up the trip, that they can use just about anything. He did mention a few particulars the orphanage director asked us to bring, but other than that we were pretty much on our own. This was our first trip of this sort where we’d actually stay with the one hundred children at Hand of Help Orphanage. Our church had supported the orphanage for some time and we had a general idea of what they needed, we just had difficulty figuring out what was worth taking in a suitcase versus buying once we got there. Our friend wasn’t given to minute details, he just knew that once we got there everything would work out fine! As they say to just about everything in Romania, “No problem”. Well, that phrase took on a whole new meaning to us once the plane landed at Otopeni Airport in Bucharest.
Monday morning arrived, after a fitful night of sleep in anticipation of our departure for the country where we would possibly adopt the children God had for us. We really viewed this process as God’s doing and we simply moved along with the flow of whatever He prepared. We weren’t going about this in a typical way and so we had to roll with whatever developed. Gene told us that his friend, the orphanage director, had connections and that she would be able to help us if it was possible to adopt without the costs of the US agency upfront. Gene arrived late morning so we could pack everything according to his specifications and get to Mitchell Field in Milwaukee for our afternoon flight to Chicago, and then on to Europe! It was becoming clear that we had way too much stuff and fitting everything into the suitcases we were allotted was going to be a real challenge. But the guys were up for it, so we shoved as much as possible into every square inch of the bags. We would later come to regret this in Amsterdam, Holland.
During our flight, we learned more about Gene’s work with Hand of Help and what he hoped to accomplish on this trip. He already knew our agenda for adoption but he also knew we had a heart for the children and by bringing us over we would be forever linked to the mission of Hand of Help; this is often the case. At times people think, well, why not just send the money you would have spent on the airfare and travel expense to help them instead of going over there yourself. Sometimes this is more efficient, but more often than not if someone can experience what it is like to be there and live among the people, generally they will be committed to helping out, often for the rest of their lives!
The flight to Romania was uneventful for the first leg of the journey from the United States to Amsterdam, Holland. Once we boarded the Tarom flight to Bucharest, we realized we were stepping into a culture and world very unlike the one we had been used to. Although Dale had made a trip to Europe previously, going to Armenia, traveling in Romania was to be quite different.
We arrived in Amsterdam before noon the next day. We gained seven hours on the clock heading toward Europe and pretty much lost a night of sleep. Those fortunate enough to be able to sleep on the plane while flying over the Atlantic were better off than most. We arrived pretty tired and a bit disoriented. We all decided not to waste the day since our connection to Bucharest didn’t leave until 7:30 p.m. that evening, so we took a train into the city and visited the Anne Franke House. This was interesting and I could see that we were headed deep into some history that I was familiar with, and it piqued my desire to learn more.
We hustled to return to the airport for our flight only to discover that it was canceled due to snow in Holland and fog in Romania. Our next move was to catch a shuttle to a hotel for the night. Trying to board the shuttle reminded me of vultures descending upon food each time the shuttle arrived and the doors opened. With much luggage (remember the packing!) we had a hard time getting a place and finding room to get everything loaded.
It felt good to be able to sleep. The hotel was nice and even though we were delayed a day arriving in Bucharest, God knew what lay ahead. Looking back I am thankful we got the night in the hotel!
On Wednesday we landed at Otopeni International Airport in Bucharest at 5:30 p.m. We are here! We had no difficulty with customs, even with our many bags, which surprised Gene. He was amazed they simply waved us through! No unpacking and looking and repacking. Things were moving along nicely, we felt good until Gene had difficulty locating our driver. At last the driver appeared and rescued us from the many men-in-black leather coats wanting to take our luggage and place it in their “taxi”. They had invented “Ubers” long before the U.S. caught on to the idea. We were just glad to be with someone Gene knew. We decided the orphanage must be suffering terribly as the VW van we crawled into for the usual seven-hour trip north to Botosani was in awful condition.
Perhaps you’ve gone to a foreign country and depending on your circumstances and vulnerabilities, there always seems to be a bit of mystery and intrigue involved in these “missions”. Well, I can tell you our trip to Botosani had movie material in it. As a matter of fact, my time spent in Romania always had a bit of drama attached to it. Perhaps that is why everyone would say upon hearing my stories, “You need to write a book!” Voila!
Don picked us up in his 25-year-old 1970’s van that had no heat and an exhaust leak which wafted right inside the vehicle through the rusted out back quarter panel. We didn’t hold it against him for the condition of his van but certainly wondered about Gene and his connections at Hand of Help! Who was behind sending Don and this vehicle to pick us up? We weren’t sure at this point what we were actually getting into. At some points during the tediously long drive north, we wondered if we were so tired from our trip or if it was from carbon monoxide poisoning. But we knew that it was too late to turn back now and if following God’s plan here meant that we drove for seven hours in freezing temperatures, breathing exhaust fumes, God would get us there somehow.
Our toes were nearly frozen when we got there, despite our warm boots and clothing. It was a dreary, damp night, and adding that to the carbon monoxide plus our lack of understanding Romanian, we often looked at each other and prayed.
By now we were getting hungry. They stopped along the way for bread, cheese, sausage, and mineral water. Gene jumped out of the van, went into a little store and bought some things and soon returned. We later discovered that in Romania buying a loaf of bread and slinging it under your arm to carry it was normal… no bags needed. Gene had a pocket knife along and doled out the food for supper. We ate as we traveled. Bathroom stops were made as needed using the ditch for the restroom. So after our host relieved himself in the ditch, he continued cutting cheese, bread, and sausage and handing it to us. Again we looked at each other, deciding whether we were hungry enough to want to eat in that fashion or wait until we arrived at the orphanage where we could eat with washed hands—everyone’s hands! But we had no guarantees we’d eat when we got there.
It was about 3 a.m. when we arrived in Botosani and gained entrance to the orphanage. We were given a room on the 4th floor of the concrete building and hoped to get a few hours of sleep before curious eyes would be peeking into our room to see who had arrived from America. It was a long night! Yet a short one! At about 5 a.m. we were settled in and ready to sleep before going into our first full day.
Continue to the next Chapter Curious Faces