Thursday, December 15, 2005

"Do they know its Christmas?" by Band Aid (Taking aid to Orphaned Children)

For more pictures CLICK HERE

Saturday 3rd Dec > On our way. I took a taxi into Aberdeen for my interview with the Children’s Panel. Paul picked me up after my interview and we proceeded to a weighbridge south of Aberdeen to check our weight and meet with the other Truck that was going to Romania. We weighed in at 7.8 tonnes so slightly overweight but within the legal allowance for travel. Now we met up with the other truck we are four. Garry and Eric in one truck (an 18 tonner) and Paul and myself in the other. We travelled from Aberdeen to Rosythe in the pouring rain.

The ferry was not going to take us on board as it was technically full but New Hope Trust explained that the cargo on our two trucks were for humanitarian aid so kindly let us board and squeezed us in, literally! If we had not embarked on this ferry we would have to drive another 600 miles to Dover/Calais or wait till Tuesday at Rosythe, not an option we liked! So, on the ferry we all had a good nights sleep, apart from Paul who was a bit seasick. Accommodation was very good as was the food.

Sunday 4th Dec >
Arrived at Zeebrugge on the ferry at 12 noon and disembarked into a cold black day with rain still pouring down. We had to stop to pay transit tax of £5 for heavy vehicles for passage through Belgium. We travelled all afternoon in the rain seeing nothing of the country and arrived at the German border at 7PM when we had to stop along with all other trucks because trucks are not allowed on the motorways there on a Sunday. So we waited till 10PM before we could move on. While we were stopped we obtained our transit ticket to cross Germany This cost £50. So once we are in Germany it should be non-stop driving all the way to Romania! We shall see!

Monday 5th Dec > The drive through Germany was similar to the previous 
days. Lots of heavy rain. Were we ever going to see anything but the other truck in front of us? We made good progress all night but at dawn, while I was driving, our truck lost its auxiliaries drive belt and the water temperature sky rocketed so I had to stop on the hard shoulder of the motorway and Paul phoned Garry in the other truck for advice. He was a few miles ahead of us by now and told us to wait for the engine to cool down and then slowly proceed to the next turn off where he would meet us and check the engine. So we struggled on for a while and turned off to meet Garry in the other truck. We found that the drive belt was damaged but useable so after refitting it on its pulley we got the truck back on the road. We travelled on into Austria and stopped at a Macdonald’s for breakfast. Snow was now falling and there was 6” of snow on the ground around us at + 1 C. Brrrr. We had to purchase a “GO” Box in Austria to pay for the transit Tax. You put credits in the box and every few miles there are sensors that take credits off as you use the roadway. This seems the fairest way to pay this Tax, as it is a “Pay as you go” method. At this stage I swapped trucks with Garry and travelled with Eric to allow me to take a sleep in the sleeping area of their truck. This other truck has 2 sleeping berths so I slept my way through Austria to catch up with my sleep. We reached the Austria/Hungarian border at 14:30. The trucks had to be weighed (reason unknown) and then through passport control without delay. We stopped to pick up the transit tax paperwork to get us through Hungary, cost £32. Who said it was an easy life driving a truck? Some paperwork was not in order to let us through the Hungarian/Romanian border crossing so there is some debate as to what we should do. Do we wait in Hungary till the paperwork is ready for us or press on as far as we can towards Romania so that we will be at the border to meet the approved paperwork.
We pressed on to the border. Arrived at the Hungarian/Romanian border at 10 pm at a place called Nagylak. It has been raining heavily all day so that makes it three days with non-stop rain. How depressing! The roads for the last 100 miles in Hungary have deteriorated a lot and are rutted like railway track rails so it is difficult to steer straight.

Tuesday 6th Dec >
We had to wait at Nagtlak @ the Romanian border for 4 hours during the night for customs clearance. This was done with the help of a Romanian friend of the NHT who is helping with the distribution of gifts etc in Romania. Much better if you can speak the local language. While stopped at the border I was challenged by a border policeman to open up our personal luggage to check for narcotics. He was most pleasant when he found none in our possession. He then talked about how badly Glasgow Rangers were doing and how good Celtic was doing in the Football league. I asked him if he knew the team from Aberdeen but he said he had not heard of Aberdeen! I am not surprised. Also while stopped here a gang of people (Gypsies?) offered to wash truck windows etc. We said no thank you but they continued to wash the truck with dirty water and then asked us for £20 for doing it. We told them that we had not asked for the truck to be washed and refused to pay them. They then proceeded to bang on the truck in an attempt to frighten us into paying. Paul had seen this all before on his previous trip so put on the hazard warning lights and sounded the horn to draw attention to this “robbery” from any officials. It worked and we were left alone but this happened to many trucks while we were there and they threw a brick at one truck and the driver got so annoyed he got out and challenged them to a fight. Luckily things calmed down and he was left in peace. I think if they took a different, polite, approach they would get more clients and thus money.

The truck was now disinfected, cost €4, seemed strange, as it is Romania that has infected birds and not Hungary. We started driving again at 2.30 AM and it was, yes, raining again! Our destination was Timişoara where a good sleep and brush-up awaited us all. We had been booked into a new Hotel, The Lido and very nice it was too. We arrived at the Lido Hotel at 6 AM. Garry and Eric will be staying here for a day or so and then returning home from here as this is where all there gifts are being given out. Our journey is just beginning here, as we have to drive across Romania and on to Moldova on roads that are narrow and twisty. The roads in Timişoara are very badly rutted and potholes everywhere so it looks like what we will be driving on for the rest of the journey East. In Romania we have travelled through Arad, Timişoara and we will pass through Deva, Sebeş, Sibiu, Făgăras, Braşov, Oneşti, Bacău, Vasuli, Husi and then the border with Moldova by Wednesday morning.

We were woken up by the HOTEL reception to say that we must get up as we had only booked in for an overnight stay and it was now 1 PM. So 5 hrs sleep and a clean up and we were on our way again at 3 PM after picking up the truck that had been kept in a very muddy customs secure parking lot. We never did get to say goodbye to Eric as he was allowed to sleep on. We again drove in the rain and fog and ice all night long. We lost our way a few times as the signposts are not very clear. The roads were very poor in places with subsidance norrowing the road to one single lane in places without warning the road having just slid away down the hillside. We stopped for a meal at 8 PM. I had pork wrapped in a cabbage leaf and polenta. It was very good and I did not suffer for it afterwards I have since been told it was Romania's national dish, Pork Sarmale. It cost £0.70 for the meal. The food was a change to what I would normally have eaten. We journied on through the night over mountain passes with many severe corners to negotiate up and down in the truck. It was very steep in places but we could not see any of the scenery as it wa nightime but I was told by Paul that it is quite beautiful.

Wednesday 7th Dec > During the night we came across a fatal road traffic accident. Many people travel by horse and cart in Romania and Moldova carrying out their business. And some of them travel at night without any reflectors or lights to the front or rear. So they really do take chances with their life going out into the pitch darkness without so much as a reflector to warn other traffic of their presence on the road. They just do not fit in with the transport systems that are now in place in these countries. Paul had warned me of them when I was driving as you come across them all of a sudden in the darkness. They are travelling at 5 mph and cars and trucks are travelling at 50 mph so not much chance to slow down when you see them on dipped headlights. I found this out 3 times during the night and I was proceeding with caution. Someone in a horse and cart, that
morning, had not been so lucky and was hit by a fast moving car. The car hit the left hand side of the cart from the rear and demolished that side of the cart including the wheels on that side. The car then carried the man who was sitting on that side of the cart down the road about 100 metres hitting one of the horse s as it went. The man was killed instantly and the woman (wife?) was still at the cart moaning and in shock. The horses were also traumatised and one was badly injured. A tragic site indeed and it seems that this sort of thing happens every day. Why does the Romanian Government allow this to continue when for a few cents per cart reflectors could be fitted to every cart in the country thus stopping this carnage?
Arrived at the Romanian/Moldova border at 8 AM but found that no representative from the NHT was there to assist us through with all the bureaucracy that entails bringing a truck here with relief goods for needy children. We managed to clear the Romanian Customs by 9AM and got our Moldova entry visas stamped into our passports. We got our paperwork checked out and found that we required a written document from the local Mayor before we could get our truck released from customs for travel to the orphanage in Moldova. Not bad work on our part as communication was difficult since none of us spoke a common language. Only words they knew were “Jackie Charlton” ( ) of English football fame. So after a few heated phone calls to the NHT office in Peterhead we eventually at 11:15 am find out that our assistance is on his way from the orphanage with the written document BUT he is 150 Km away from us on Moldovian roads! So we wait and wait. One good point of note is that it has stopped raining and the skies are blue and the sun is shining brightly for the first time since we left Scotland. It is a balmy 14C. Our assistance arrived at 2:30 pm and we eventually left the border post at 5 PM after some bribes were passed over. The truck was now sealed again and we cannot open it until the customs person checks out the contents on arrival at the orphanage. The road is good at the border crossing but once into Moldova the roads are similar to the ones I was used to in Indonesia. Full of ruts and large holes or no road surface at all, just gravel tracks. An Artic Truck would never get through this lot. So we pressed on, progress is slow but we arrive down a steep sloping road to the Cupcui orphanage at 7:30 pm. We are greeted by lots of children waving and shouting greetings at us with glee. We get out and are further greeted with warm hugs and smiles. We have to park the truck here tonight and get taken to our accommodation 3 miles away in a villa owned by the NHT called Hebron's Hope. Philip Cameron (no relation) tells me the very sad story that every June orphans that are 16 years of age are put onto the streets of Moldova with no help or support. Many of these young people turn to crime and prostitution as a means of survival - some selling themselves for ten cents at a time. Phillip, through the Trust has rebuilt this home so that they can come here and stay for as long as they need and can return if they feel they need further support. He has plans to purchase another villa close by to accommodate more girls and hopefully break the chain that takes them into prostitution.
Philip, with his extended family, has flown in from the USA to check how things are progressing in the orphanages. Philip rightly believes that money alone, new buildings and gifts are not enough. He takes it to a much deeper level and believes that these children need to be loved and cared for every day and be part of his family giving them all continued support and guidance, otherwise things will slip back into the ways they were before he and the NHT arrived there.
So now we are introduced to the whole Cameron family and friends. Philip senior, Chrissie, Philip junior, Melody, Lauren, Andrew, Philip’s secretary, her daughter, Romanian family friend and bureaucracy breaker Veo and not forgetting Paul and I. There are 12 people staying in this villa for the next few days and my snoring will give them all sleepless nights. Philip has since told me that I am the World Champion of snorers! Nothing to be proud of. Sweet Dreams.

Thursday 8th Dec > What a day! Bureaucracy here is so frustrating! We waited till 5 pm for the customs to clear the truck for opening and then he didn’t turn up to see the truck cargo unloaded. What a farce indeed. Anyway, we got to enjoy the day playing with all the children. What sorry beings with no love or mummy or daddy to help them grow up. I showed the boys how to make a good paper aeroplane that fly well and before I knew it I had to make many for them. I think colouring books were being ripped apart in order to get the paper. They just loved flying them outside and so did I. At 7 pm we were told we could unload the truck. With the help of some of the older children we took the gifts up to a third floor room where they could be secured overnight. We still had some 230 boxes of gifts and clothing on the truck to take to another orphanage in the area of Hincesti and we hope to do that tomorrow.

We now help the children assemble and decorate their Christmas tree. They all take part in the work with smiling faces. You should have seen their faces when the lights were switched on. They were so excited to see this happen in front of them. Philip says that this will be the only Christmas tree in the village.

Friday 9th Dec > The Customs person has still not released our consignment completely. They want the instruction and manufacturer’s detailed information for the Hi-Fi unit that has been donated from the USA. Why? All items released by 4 pm but during our wait we had some quality time with the children at the orphanage again. Lots and lots of cuddles, reading stories and singing too. All good stuff. After the cargo was fully released we headed to Hincesti and the orphanage there with 230 mentally or physically handicapped children. The whole family and ourselves got there about 6 pm and went around the rooms giving each child a Christmas present in turn. We went around the whole home there cheering up the children there. Philip told me that 8 yrs ago this place was a dieing ground for children and their Government would do nothing to help them. There was no heating in the winter, no glass in the windows and they made coffins continually for the children who were about to die. Philip says “The year before I arrived, thirty children froze to death in their cribs during the brutally cold Moldovan winter, and sixteen more had already perished that year. We are thrilled to report that not one single child has suffered that awful fate since we began helping this orphanage.
Saturday 10th Dec > I had a good night’s sleep. Got breakfast of tea and toast and said our goodbyes to the Cameron gang. Philip said a prayer for us for a safe return journey to Scotland. We left at 9:30 am on a clear sunny morning but it was cold, -5C. We got to the Moldova/Romania border at 11:30 am and spent 2 hrs there because of, you guessed right, bureaucracy. More disinfectant sprayed on the truck and then onwards into Romania. Travelled all night long going through Romania getting lost a few times. On one occasion we got stopped by the Police for checks that we were not smuggling wood! We had a very good evening meal nr Bacău-Braşov at Hotel Magura Verde with real Rumanian dishes being served. The toilets were very clean. Unusual for Romania. Philip Cameron phoned us to say they had handed out the presents to the children today in the Cupcui orphanage. All went well and there were many happy smiling faces.
Sunday 11th Dec > We got to the Romanian / Hungarian border in the early morning to find that there were 250 trucks in front of us. I walked up to the front of the queue and spoke to a Romanian border policeman who spoke no English. I tried to explain that we were an empty humanitarian truck going to UK but he did not understand my plea to let us jump the queue. I left it for 5 minutes and then spoke to him again and he agreed to something so I phoned Paul to take the truck up to the point in the queue where I was standing and a space for our truck to fit. So when our truck arrived I thanked the policeman and jumped into the truck. We were now sixth in the queue. However, all was lost because when we got to the Hungarian customs side of the border we got held there for 7 hours! AGGHHH! Thankfully we have a cab heater that works independently of the truck engine so we can keep very warm and cosy when we are stopped. It has taken us longer to cross back into western Europe empty than it did going the other way with a full load of aid. Now it is Sunday morning and the temperature is –8 C and sunny. We are on our way once again and maybe without any more hold-ups. And we are on much better roads and the change in surroundings is very marked with everything looking more tidy and orderly. Look, even road signs that can be read. The roads are now well surfaced with bitumen with no open drains or ditches for vehicles to fall into. We transverse west through Hungary in good daylight and a blue sky so I see the countryside for the first time. It is a very nice country indeed. We pass Budapest but could only see the city in the distance although we did pass over the wide river Danube. There was a slight hold up at the Hungarian Austrian border but we drove through quite quickly and on into Austria. Paul decided that after 36 hours of being on the road we needed some rest and a wash so we stopped and booked into a motel near Vienna at Gottlesbrunn on the autoroute. I had a shower and shave and felt refreshed. Had a good meal and slept all night.

Monday 12th Dec > In the morning we saw it had been snowing and there was a heavy frost –10C. Paul decided that it was not possible to make the Monday pm ferry from Zeebrugge to Rosythe but we should drop our speed and aim for the next ferry on the Wednesday. We may stop again in Belgium overnight on Tuesday and be in good time for the Wednesday ferry. We were on the road by 08:30 am after defrosting the truck. Brrr. We travelled through Austria in lovely sunshine but it was bitterly cold with snow lying on the ground but not on the roadway. We passed into Germany about 11 am and stopped for lunch at 12 Noon. Once into Germany Paul phoned the NHT in Peterhead to tell them of our progress. Once off the phone he told me that he had mistakenly thought that it was Tuesday and not Monday today. I guess it was an easy mistake to make as we had been travelling day and night and the brain gets mixed up with the days. So because we are now far too early for the next ferry sailing on Wednesday evening we can afford to really slow down and sleep overnight tonight too rather than drive through the night. Best news we could get.

Tuesday 13th Dec > We stopped at Hotel Strohofer near Geiselwind for the night. It was cold when we arrived but by morning the weather was warmer so no ice to clear from our truck. We travelled on into Belgium. I cut up a motorbike policeman, ooops, while transferring onto a motorway. There was little time to transfer onto the Motorway as the lead-in lane was very short but that was really no excuse. I cut in on him and he wasn’t too happy with me but he did not pull me over but just gave me a shake of the head and went on his way. We stopped for the night at Bruges in a Novotel on the outside of town. So now we were well rested.

Wednesday 14th Dec > We visited Bruges this morning. It is a beautiful city with canals and roads free from traffic. We had a look around the shops and I bought hand made Belgian chocolates for Janis. Mmmmm. After lunch in Brugge we travelled to Zeebrugge and to the ferry check-in. We had to wait there all afternoon for the ferry to load with many containers before we were allowed onboard. We settled in our cabin at 5 pm and had Dinner before going to bed about 9 pm.

I got up at 6 am and went for breakfast. Paul followed me about 8 am. We arrived back in Scotland about 11 am and were stopped at customs to check our paperwork and that we hadn’t smuggled any refugees into Scotland. The truck was X-Rayed too. Once clear of customs we were on the home run but just North of Dundee, 2 hrs from home the same drive belt decided to break all together leaving us stranded in a lay-by. Paul phoned NHT and within 1 hour a Mercedes mechanic had us back on the road again with a new belt fitted. I got home by 4 pm where Janis was waiting for my arrival. The milage for this trip was 5,500 km in total.
We had planned to go to a function that night and stay over in the hotel so that is what we managed to do. Time to relax.

Time for reflection > It has been a wonderful experience and makes me (again) Realise how fortunate I am to be born in the UK in the late twentieth century and not one of the eastern block countries. The people of Moldova and to a lesser extent Romania have been oppressed for a very long time and live in conditions that today in Europe (or in the World) are unacceptable. There is still much Bureaucratic nonsense to go through for anything to get done. The people of these countries no nothing better and have become used to getting on with life as best they can but they have no real fight in them to speak out for themselves. There are so many policemen in Romania and Moldova. I have never been stopped so many times by a policeman while driving along a road. The money used to "Police" could be put to better use by installing clean running water into every house and installing modern sewage systems that work. And I saw men on every village street just standing there doing nothing. What a waste of resource. Obviously there is much work to do but there is no monies available from the Governments. In Moldova, even in towns, all water is pulled from wells in the ground. Philip Cameron has installed purifiers and filters to the orphanage water supply to give them wholesome water to drink. What is everyone else drinking? At least someone cares and children’s lives have been saved for now. I asked if these children could be offered for adoption and Philip told me that the government of these countries will not allow children to be adopted by foreigners and thinks that there is some sort of corruption going on if these children are released from the country. Philip is arranging talks with the Government of Moldova in an attempt to change this strategy.
I volunteered to do this work mainly for the driving experience. What I got was a whole lot more. Yes, there is a GOD, and yes there are people that care and help the needy people and there are a few of these people who are strong enough to make the changes for the better happen and some of those people work under the banner of the New Hope Trust.


Irene said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Irene said...

I enjoy this. Thank you for sharing your experience. Thanks for people, like you, who cares. Irene

Gary Freedman said...

Happy travelling.


I will give you the recipe for Pork Sarmale - our traditional meal
1 large soured cabbage or one large cabbage and sour kraut*, 1 3/4 lb/750 g ground meat (mixture of pork and beef is recommended), 4 large onions, 2 tablespoons rice, 3 tablespoons lard, 5-6 tomatoes or 1 tablespoon tomato sauce, salt, pepper, 1 qt/1 l sour cream
Grind the meat with a raw onion. Place in a bowl and mix with rice, pepper, salt and finely chopped onion slightly fried in two tablespoons of lard. Mix everything well. Core the cabbage with a sharp thin knife. Carefully remove the cabbage leaves, one by one, so that they do not tear. Cut larger leaves in 2 or 3 and then place a little meat in

each cabbage piece and roll in. The smaller the rolls are, the tastier they are. Place a layer of rolls in the pan (take a deep one), then cover with a layer of chopped (julienned) cabbage, then a layer of thinly sliced tomatoes. Do this layering until all the rolls are made. The last layer must be tomato slices or add tomato sauce. Add a heaping tablespoon of lard, pour the borsh and let simmer on top of the range for 30 minutes. Then place in the oven so that the liquid is reduced. Serve with sour cream.