I realise I left the Grand Commentary of my travels hanging in Bucharest, and there’s another week and a half to catch up on. So here are some edited highlights:
Sitting on the plane from Bucharest to Chisinau, I found myself wishing that I was flying home rather than flying somewhere to do a week’s more work – I was starting to find it really very draining, partly because of the oppressive heat, and partly because although I was really enjoying getting by in another language (not to mention enjoying my improvement and increased confidence in speaking) sometimes it’s just hard work to be constantly translating in your head and not always having precisely the words you want to express yourself. Plus I was really starting to miss my flat, and getting fed up of living out of a rucksack. However, when I finally got through passport control and saw 4 lovely friends waiting to meet me (I was only expecting one!), and we drove the by now rather familiar road into the city from the airport I started to feel excited again. I arrived on the Saturday evening (2 weeks ago, it’s gone so quickly!), and was staying with the same family I stayed with when I was there 6 years ago so it was great I didn’t have to do all the “brand new people” type of introductions, and I quickly crashed out and relaxed. Another thing which made me really chuffed, and also helped make me feel more at home, was that the next day I took one of the microbuses into the city centre. Which sounds totally unremarkable, except that it was the first time I’d ever been on one by myself. The microbuses (minibuses which seat a total of 11 people, plus as many people as can be crowded in to stand) are how most people get round the city, and I was really pleased at how quickly I felt comfortable with hailing them (they stop whenever you ask them to, there don’t seem to be many “official” stops), so I soon felt much more confident in the city and like “I could live here”, which is rather handy as I will be living there for a couple of months next year when I do my fieldwork proper. Church in the afternoon was quite depleted in numbers as lots of people were away on holiday or involved in the various summer camps that go on throughout eastern Europe – every church and NGO seems to do a summer camp, a legacy from the communist times I learnt.
Monday was a free day as I hadn’t any meetings arranged till the next day, so my main task was to find a decent map of the city as I was going to have to make my way round it by myself. That was fulfilled reasonably painlessly, so I spent the day wandering round the city taking some pictures (not loads, as I have lots from previous trips too), and I also went to the History Museum, partly as I’d not been there before and partly because I needed to spend a penny. The Museum was actually a lot more interesting than I expected it to be, although I did want to point out to somebody that the clarinet they had on display wasn’t put together quite correctly (I didn’t quite dare). I ended up not spending any pennies though and hanging on considerably longer than I should have done, due to the fact that the toilets were, uh, slightly hole-in-the-ground-like for my liking (I know, I know, I go to Greenbelt, it’s not so much icky loos that are the problem so much as I’m not very good at squatting, and following the famous shoe-filling incident by a French roadside when I was 16 I now prefer to hang on!).
Tuesday morning I spent some time at the community centre run by the NGO my friends all work for or are associated with, and then went back into the city in the afternoon and met up with a couple of doctors who are friends of someone I know through St Frodo’s. We had a long chat, and totally unexpectedly one of them asked if I wanted to see her hospital. So we arranged that for a couple of days later, that was a good opportunity for me. Wednesday I went to see another organisation I’d contacted before I left, and I met with the director who gave me over 3 hours of her time (not to mention some wine as it had been her birthday a couple of days earlier!) and tons of information! It was just brilliant, they do some really interesting work and (like everyone else I spoke with) they offered me lots of help and contact when I go back next year – which was the main purpose of the whole trip.
Thursday morning was the hospital visit, and in the afternoon I met up with another doctor (also a friend of my St Frodo’s friend – they all did their medical training together). Then on Friday I had another meeting which I had arranged only the day or so earlier but which again was really interesting, they were interested in my work (as well as complementary about my language) and offered to help me next year too.
From this point onwards, the overwhelmingly successful side of things decided to take a bit of a break – let’s face it, I hadn’t had a disaster for a while. I had thought that I was suffering with hayfever, as my eyes were streaming and bloodshot, but Clarityn wasn’t helping as much as it usually did. However, I didn’t really think much of it as there was so much else going on. Friday afternoon I got a lift back to the airport, and fortunately my friend came with me to make sure I got through OK. But, well, I didn’t (!). I showed the woman at the departure gate my ticket and she said “Bucharest? No plane!” Not exactly what I wanted to hear, particularly as I was flying to Germany from Romania the next morning. Two hours of arguing with airport officials later, I left the airport with increasingly painful eyes, a crack-of-dawn ticket for the next morning which meant that I should still manage to get my connection to Germany, and an extra unexpected night in Chisinau. I went back to the flat where I had been staying (they were more than happy for me to stay another night), and discovered when I went to the bathroom that the reason Clarityn hadn’t been working on my eyes was because it obviously wasn’t hayfever but actually bilateral conjunctivitis (evidenced by copious amounts of attractive green gunk oozing from them and looking not dissimilar to those 1997 election campaign posters which showed Tony Blair with evil red eyes). When I woke up the next morning (at 10 to 4!!!!) my eyes were stuck together – ew! At the airport I found with relief that the plane wasn’t cancelled, and once in Germany my sister whisked me off to a pharmacy and we got some eye drops to tide me over till I could see a doctor after the weekend. As it turned out, these drops were so great it cleared up totally in a couple of days so I didn’t need the doc after all. Hooray! But it’s not something I’d want to have again any time soon.
The few days in Germany were really lovely. We did lots of nice things as a family, and I really enjoyed spending time with my niece, whom (obviously) I don’t get to see very much. She did have her more challenging moments sometimes and a few tantrums, but we also got to do some fun things like go to the zoo (I’d much rather see animals out in the wild of course (remind me to scan in some of my Namibia photos sometime), but Munich Zoo is lovely and as zoos go the animals seemed well-kept and with decent amounts of space). There were a fair few baby animals – the flamingoes were particularly cute (long legs like the parents, but instead of being pink they were just big balls of grey fluff), and there was a baby tortoise, hatched on the 7th, which was tiny – you could easily have fitted two of them into my palm. My sister and I both thought the tapirs were hilarious – they are such funny looking things anyway (with their two-tone colouring, from behind they look like they’re wearing hipsters with builders bums hanging out), but watching one of them taking a r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-o-o-w leisurely wander over to eat some leafy stuff, then totally zonk out with the effort of it all had us in hysterics (you probably had to be there).
I also must confess to taking in a beer garden or three. In fact, when I first went there in June, for the couple of days before I flew on to Romania, they picked me up at the airport and drove me straight to a beer garden before we even went back to the flat! The reason being they had a wide screen and England were playing Trinidad & Tobago. So there are one or two really not very flattering pics of me with those huge litre beer glasses (how do those Oktoberfest waitresses carry all those glasses in each hand? I needed two hands just to lift my one glass!), but I doubt they’ll be making their way onto flickr anytime soon.
And now I’m back! I go to London at the end of next week, until Greenbelt, to hopefully do some health visiting (I’m getting perilously short of cash, and also need to have some working hours under my belt for when I reregister in a couple of years, as I don’t want to lose my professional registration). So this week in Glasgow is becoming full very quickly – meetings at uni (including supervision next week which thanks to this trip will be considerably less blagged than usual!), a church BBQ last night, and catching up with friends before I take off again. I think the manicness stops sometime in the autumn.