Friday, July 8, 2011
Road Babe Dispatch From Oradea Romania
I was staying in Cihei with an organization of covert 007 Bible-toting missionaries called the Smiles Foundation. Hesitation was the name of the game at first. I wasn't going to hammer anyone with what they should or shouldn't believe. If I got cornered, I had decided in advance to run far into the grassy hills and pop a cyanide pill.
Oradea was a different story. It was a city drained of opportunity. Among many projects, Smiles sent workers to infiltrate the sterilized hospital-like rooms of the orphanage bringing extra food, toys and (most importantly) human touch. It was imperative that the locals working for the organization stayed undercover. So, when I went as a volunteer, I had to pretend I didn't know them. They were spies behind stone walls where children were kept, youngsters who never felt the summer breezes through the closed windows.
Prior to such missionary efforts, the babies were developing mental and physical issues from not being held, turned over, or interacted with. When food ran out, some went hungry. I had a few weeks to be with them and engage them in typical activities like games and songs, despite our language barrier. I was alone in closed quarters with a woman I had to fake never having met and the stories the kids couldn't tell me. Some had never left the orphanage, while others left but returned each month when their families couldn't feed them.
What I found most interesting was that many had been cast away, but weren't put up for adoption until they'd been there two years. Statistically, they were labeled as hospital patients and had no access to the outside world, while wealthy Romanians fought over the two or three little ones available for adoption. In order to enter the EU, the Romanian government fudged the number of abandoned children in an attempt to show a decrease in national economic hardship. The ones who paid the price of EU admission were the youth left behind, growing up with autism, speech impediments, malnutrition and lost connection to humanity. This travel tale doesn't come with a happy ending, but readers doing what they can to make the world a better place will ensure many other stories do.
Mittie Babette Roger is from Louisiana but lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. She received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Naropa University and authored the book It's Better to Visit the Shaman Without Questions to Ask. She travels the world volunteering to help disadvantaged children and promoting Blue Iguana Tequila to empower serious drinkers.