Whether I’m in my house on the Isle of Wight, at the Phoenix Centre in Riscani, or my mother’s house in the village of Mihaileni, myday begins with the ringing of the radio alarm. A new day begins. Yesterday’s To Do list doesn’t matter. Often, because events over which I had no control threw all my plans out the window, many of the items on that list just get transferred to today’s To Do list.
When I’m in the U.K., my days are somewhat predictable. Once I drag myself out of bed and get breakfast, I do probably the worst thing I can – I sit down at the computer. Once I slip into that zone – answering and writing e-mails, Skyping with the staff at Phoenix, writing grants, scheduling events, updating my board – John has to almost physically pull me out of that chair and away from that screen for a walk down to the seafront for some fresh air. Otherwise the day slips by and, before I know it, it’s 18.00 and I’ve been staring at the screen for nine or ten hours – or more. So, I try to force myself to go out during my lunch hour for that walk, come rain, sun, or wind.
Still, it doesn’t happen as often as it should.
In Moldova, my first may last for as long as 48 hours: I pack my suitcase, take the suitcase to the car, drive the car to the ferry, take the ferry to the mainland, drive to the train, take the train to the airport, fly to Chisinau – Welcome to Moldova! – pick up a car, and drive to Phoenix Centre.
It may have been only been a few weeks since I left, but necessity has called me back. I have two phones, and from the moment I land and switch them on, the Moldovan number, especially, is rarely quiet. I attempt to meet with everyone, because in the last few years, fate has brought many wonderful people to me, and I try not miss any opportunity. I’m traveling between Chisinau and Riscani pretty much every other day, sometimes with a driver, most of the time by myself.
At Phoenix Centre, I can hear the children as soon as I get out of the car, and if anyone is looking through the window, you can hear them shout: “Victoria is coming!” At the door, always, Vadim is first to greet me. He is an 18-year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome who, though his comprehension is very good, did not speak for 17 years. Since coming to Phoenix, he’s learned “mama’, “da”, which means “yes” in Romanian, and “hello”. But to say he can’t speak is not to say he can’t talk. In excited grunts and illustrative gestures, he guides me to the classroom and, in his own way, tells me everything that is going on.
In the classroom, I first give the girls a cuddle. Natalia, with her uncoordinated hands, does not let me go until she can give me a proper hug. I say “hello” to my colleagues, and I’m just about to leave the room and go upstairs to salute the rest. But a look at the boys stops me in my tracks. The look on their faces let’s me know that they expect a cuddle as well. Fortunately, I have plenty of those to go ‘round. That’s the wonderful thing about love, the more you give, the more you have to give!
Arriving in the office, I find hundreds of issues that have accumulated since I last left, and I only have a few weeks. The aim is the same regardless of where I am: to raise funds for MAD-Aid and for the Phoenix centre, or to distribute the equipment that has been stored away since my last visit. Time is flying very fast and we need to arrange the next convoy of humanitarian aid. Logistics, planning, recruiting and coordinating with drivers, writing up wish lists and connecting with hospitals and other agencies who have items to donate and arranging for their collection, and a hundred-and-one other things; among them one request leaves me numb, a family desperate for clothes, shoes, and wood to see them through the coming winter. What do I have for them? How can I get it to them? Suddenly, all my plans take second place to this request. But it’s only the first of six or seven similar ones.
So much for schedules.
At 18.00, everyone has gone. Phoenix is silent. Finally, I have time to answer a few emails. I expect there will be quite a few, because I’ve been traveling, so I open my laptop aiming to work for an hour or so. The next time I look at my watch, it is 21.00. I’m exhausted, but I realise I haven’t been to see my mother yet, and I know very well that she is waiting for me, with dinner too, probably. I get up, feeling guilty, and drive to the village, where a nephew is waiting for me too, with a big smile, eager to open my suitcase. Tomorrow is another day.
Will it be longer or will I be smarter??
The days and weeks fly past in a whirlwind of activity, until finally it’s time for me to go back to the U.K. I say “goodbye” to the children who have reproached me already many times: “Again you didn’t have enough time to stay and talk to us”. I make the same mental note: next time that’s a priority. Next time.
And I’m back on the plane…