Romance in Romania

In my life, I inhabit various spaces and take on various roles which involve wearing different ‘hats’ and mixing with a multitude of people.

This variety is my joy, for as the world I play in evolves, so do I – learning, growing and changing with it.

And I can retreat from that world too, finding solo sanctuary at home – a secretive, happy hermit, mulling over my experiences, joining the dots of my life – reflecting on the past and making plans for the future. And all this, whilst being anchored very much in the here and now.

My mind moves in waves, creating patterns – some abstract and some structured. And I can see these patterns forming into a new story which I would like to share, at the behest of its central character – a lady called Ioana-Andra Sandu.

First of all, she was a name to me and that is how she entered the story.  Known to most in her circle as ‘Andra’, she hails from Romania.  From name, she became colleague and now we have worked together for some 4.5 years.  So Andra is very real and this story isn’t a fairy tale – yet regardless, I’ve decided upon not just one, but oh so many ‘happy ever afters’…

I could tell you many things about Andra and our adventures together… and maybe I will share more, another time…  But this time, we agreed that I would write about her latest life chapter.

Bridezilla

Andra is getting married next week, to her childhood sweetheart, who she met at school.  In the years that followed, they had a daughter together and moved from Romania to England.

They decided to tie the knot in 2019, but like many other things, Covid put paid to that, with their wedding date being re-arranged, not once, but twice

Covid came and lingered… And Andra, like so many, changed her plans and booked a third date into the diary, for a wedding in her birth country, as a final leap of faith.  For although Covid travel restrictions had become a thing of the past, the Russian invasion of Ukraine – as a country bordering Romania, was and is still, a very real fact and threat.

Over time, I’ve met her man, her daughter and other members of her family, including her sister Mihaela, who works at the same office. So, for 3 years now, we’ve all been discussing plans, venues, clothes, shoes, confetti, ceremony and much other wedding ephemera…

With typical generosity of spirit, Andra invited everyone in the office to come to the wedding. She told me “I think you’ll find it interesting,” since her wedding day would follow Romanian tradition, which, I could both observe and take part in. That was true – I was sure I’d find it fascinating, but I also wanted to be there to support her and not least because I believe in the celebration and marking of life’s events – big and small. In the scale of things, a wedding has to be one of the most beautiful and emotive celebrations of all…

Celebrations for me though are not just about the obvious ‘hatches, matches and dispatches’ of the people I know, but can be for an achievement – tiny or huge, a gratitude, the changing of the seasons, mixed in with my religious heritage, which includes Easter and Christmas.

So I was fascinated, when on the 1st of March this year, Andra and her sister Mihaela gave me and all the female inhabitants of the office a Mărțișor gift.

Mărțișor is a celebration of the beginning of spring in Romania and Moldova, with similar traditions in some neighbouring countries.

The word originates from an old Romanian name for March – mart (or martie, in modern Romanian), meaning “little March”.

My Martisor gift

The talisman I received was a white box containing a broach of a ladybird climbing up a snowdrop.  Alongside it was a small red and white string, knotted with a tassel.  Immediately I wanted to know more and started to do some research…  This was an ancient Romanian custom, where a coloured string was given as a talisman to be worn for the whole month of March, so that the wearer would receive strength and health for the coming year.

In modern times, Romanians buy silky red-white threads (șnur) tied into a bow, with a trinket attached, to give to their (female) family members, friends and colleagues.  And as in olden times, it’s believed that the wearer of the snur will have a prosperous and healthy 12 months.

I took the string out of the box and with a little difficulty, tied it around my wrist.  At the time, with dire news of Ukraine – a country which borders Romania – filling the news, I was feeling helpless. So I decided to wear my snur as a Talisman to show my solidarity, as well as to send positive energy and prayers to a country in crisis.

The conflict in Ukraine also affected my travel plans to the wedding.  Not only because of the potential dangers of conflict on the border, but also because the cost of the flight from the UK to Romania has more than trebled in the last 3 years.  I will therefore be travelling solo.

From Mărțișor to marriage, traditions from two different worlds are coming together at a time when Brexit, conflict and politics could be tearing us apart. Instead, we have consciously chosen to combine the ways of the world, to celebrate.

To celebrate in the British way, last month I was part of a surprise Hen party sprung on Andra and another colleague, also from Romania, getting married a week later.  The surprise from both was genuine and touching – Hen parties aren’t really a thing in in Romania, so it was entirely unexpected. Despite that, they immediately embraced the party spirit and so a dozen of us painted the town red – eating, drinking, laughing and dancing with joy.  It’s a day I’ll always remember with a smile. And to cement those memories, I pasted pictures of our celebrations into a book and got friends and colleagues to write their memories and good wishes into it, as a lasting memento.

A few days later, five of the Hens, including myself, tested positive for Covid – with symptoms from none to many… We’d all done as the UK government had bid and got on with our lives, in public places, out and about, with people a plenty. In fact, we suspect that some of our party had already caught it before that day, from separate sources… Yet regardless, everyone was philosophical about it – it was what it was…

Andra, enjoying a cocktail at her Hen do

But that wasn’t the only celebration.  For Andra’s last day at work, with the help of a trusty side-kick, I snuck into her office the night before and festooned it with Hen paraphernalia… There were posters, banners, confetti, ribbons and naturally… a balloon…

As there were 2 brides with upcoming nuptials, we all made plans to bring in food to celebrate – which, once we laid it all out, was an absolute feast.  With all that bounty on display, no one could wait till lunch time, so at 10.15 am we all gathered together.  The MD, joked that he had picked ‘the right day to come in the office’, so came along for the party, with other team members from around the world, watching online.

Myself, Andra & (ex) colleague Lesley,
celebrating at the office

I presented Andra with a card, collection and the memory book from the office.  She thanked us and we tucked into our combined feast.  The Company directors discretely left the room, then the music came on, people came and went (including the groom) and the day went on.  Regardless, all the work that needed to be done that day, got done, despite or because of, all the added food and fun… Andra enjoyed the day immensely, but like most brides, was having last minute jitters and worrying about her wedding day.

Later, when we were on our own, I gave Andra my wedding gift. I wanted to share the English tradition of ‘something old, new, borrowed and blue, with a sixpence in her shoe’ for a bride’s good fortune. I gave her a pin, with a collection of good luck charms on it, including a blue one. So she had an old tradition, some new charms, borrowed the bag I gave it to her in and also had the sixpence. These I told her, would ensure that all would be well. She said she would take them to Romania and wear them on her ‘big day.’ So we hugged (again) and said our temporary farewells.

A British wedding tradition

Andra should already be in Romania by now.  The wedding is next weekend, so soon my case will be packed too and I’ll be off to experience the next stage of the story. 

I look forward to sharing it with you…

Felicitari te pup cu drag / warm wishes and kisses, Andra xx

A death a decade later…

10 years today my only, older brother – Arthur, called me. It was early evening. He said mum had been admitted into hospital, (again).

My first response was irritation… Even though I was the first point of contact because I lived the closest, the hospital called my brother EVERY time, even though we corrected this error, every time…

I steeled myself for the usual scenario of first contacting the hospital to find out what ward she was on and then trying to get hold of a member of staff who could tell me what was happening to her.

Then my brother called again to tell me the hospital had been in touch a 2nd time and they said to get there as soon as possible. I was to go to Accident & Emergency and find her in the ‘Resus Room’.

I jumped straight into my car – the hospital was less than 15 minutes away, so at least this time, I would know how to find her and not spend stressful, tearful aeons on the phone, whilst no one picked up the call or I was put on hold, or I had to press redial when I was cut off.

My mother had Parkinsons, so my brother and I were already well used to negotiating her around the medical system, going with her to consultant’s and figuring out her complicated drugs regime, etc.

Then, the hospital visits started to become emergency admissions… one for a suspected stroke, which was actually a psychotic episode, (where she tripped away with the fairies, for a few months)…

Then, as she lost use of her legs, she would forget that she couldn’t walk and throw herself out of bed, to fall on the ground and break her fragile bones…

As I drove to the hospital that evening, my dark sense of humour prevailed… (“Please don’t die today” I thought, I’m far too busy for a bereavement…).

I parked up at the hospital and made my way to A&E to join the queue at Reception. The female receptionist seemed snappy & irritated with all the sick souls in front of me.

Finally it was my turn. I explained I’d been directed to the Resus Room. The receptionist’s face and manner flipped a switch, to what felt like edgy concern. Only at this point did I realise that ‘The Resus Room’ could possibly be some sort of hospital code employed to handle a bereavement.

I tried to keep an open mind as I was ushered into a side room to wait for a doctor to come in and update me.

I can’t remember how long it took before he arrived, with a young looking student in tow, holding a clipboard clutched to his chest.

Neither can I remember everything the doctor then told me, except he kept talking on and on, until I was silently screaming inside, ‘just fucking tell me!” Yet, instead I just waited quietly, until he finally told me that my mother had died.

My first reaction? Deep shock…

Even though, just 3 days before, she had told me that she wanted to die…

The doctor then tried to pass me on to his assistant to talk me through ‘what next.’ I held up my hand to stop him. “I need to call my brother.” They waited uncomfortably as I made the call. I told Arthur, and first we talked of time of death, cause and so on. Then he started crying and we ended the call.

I went through all the ‘next steps’ with the hospital like a polite automaton…

Finally I stepped out of the hospital at around about 9 pm, into the dusky summer light. I didn’t move, but got my mobile out and phoned the 2 people who were closest to my mother in those later years: long time friend – Lyria – whose family treated my grandchild-less mother as an honorary granny; and Melanie, stalwart and vicar’s wife at the church my mother had attended for over 50 years.

My brother had already told Lyria; and Melanie immediately guessed that it was going to be bad news…

I drove home, still in shock…

Lyria came round to sit with me for a while. I was touched by her shared shock / sadness and so grateful she was there. I went to bed, but didn’t sleep…

Then it was another day. Then my brother and I made the arrangements; and eventually the adjustment to becoming orphans in our middle age…

Naturally there were tears… As well as the confusion of emotions which I wandered through, feeling like my insides had been pulled open and exposed to a world to the air.

My friends were amazing and so very supportive. Some of them are no longer close to me now, yet that’s just another of life’s tides and I will always be grateful to every single of them…

My brother and I seemed to be ying and yang… One would be fine, or one upset at a moment in time, but together we did everything we needed, to tidy up the threads of a life no longer lived.

Her celebration day was amazing. It was a blazing hot July day. Lyria’s husband Bob was playing the church organ for the service; and so my Scottish mother left the church to a sweet, mournful version of ‘Loch Lomand’…

So those are my reflections on this day of days 10 years ago. When I embarked on family tree research some years later, I realised her own father (who died before I was born) had passed away on the very same day and month, 54 years earlier. I wonder if that’s simply a coincidence, or if she was thinking of him that day…

Today started with me thinking that during my mother’s life time I felt love for her and hate for her, and just about every other emotion in between…

On this day in the life, I’m choosing the love I felt for her. We began our time together with love and so too we ended it the very same way, transmuted by time and experience.

So that’s my inheritance from my mother today.

Love you mum.” x

The song she was piped out of the church to…
Enjoying my 40th birthday party
Me (at 21) and mum on a sightseeing visit just after my first graduation