“A good indignation brings out all one’s powers.”

Emerson, Journals, 1841

Whereas we had planned to stay in Bacau for a week, we were now back in Bucharest without any formal reservation or advance-paid hotel accommodation after only three days. There seemed to be nothing for it but to return to Hotel Parc in the hope that they might have somewhere to put us.

In fact, they did, in our previous room. I confess that I was feeling ever so slightly paranoid, and in my heightened state, I wondered whether that room was itself a room which was dedicated to foreign visitors who could, by some means which I didn’t have the strength to investigate, be observed, either by some sort of listening bug or, worse, by some sort of state-run surveillance.

I decided, as soon as we got back to the hotel, that I would have to start over with my search. The Marriotts had told us, back in England, that we should find a taxi, and start visiting orphanages. That, I decided, would simply not work in Bucharest, although I did know that there were several orphanages in the city. However, even though I was not going to adopt that strategy, it was clear that I would have to start somewhere and I decided that I had nothing to lose and probably quite a bit to gain by making contact with the nurses who had been identified by Mary Gibson of the Romanian Orphanage Trust. I remembered that she had told me that the government was putting a number of them up in a hotel close to the centre, and I guessed that if I could find them, they might give me some inkling as to where I might start my search.

Leaving my mother in our room in the hope that some rest would help her, I went down to the reception desk. I found Mircea, ever very eager to engage me in English conversation. He told me that he was planning to travel to England, hoping to find work in a major hotel in the vicinity of ‘Kessington’ in London. With his ability to speak English, and his ambition to take a hotel management course, he was looking forward to his visit. I felt that it would be unkind to suggest that there was something of a gulf between the apparent expectations of hoteliers in Romania and the demands of management and tourists alike in England, and I did my best to make encouraging noises. My willingness to listen to him appeared to pay dividends, since it appeared to encourage him to devote some time to my often rather dull questions. 

Finally I got round to my own questions. “Can you tell me where I can find Hotel Lido?”

“But, of course. Look at this map.” He produced a dog-eared tourist map and traced the route for me. “You can, in fact, get there on foot.”

That was a relief. I had had my fill of flagging down private cars, although no one seemed to mind, least of all the drivers themselves. 

I went back upstairs and decided that I would take my rucksack with perhaps an offering of linctus and Hibiscrub. That, I felt, might at least break the ice.

“I am,” I told my mother, “starting from square one. I’ve been given the names of nurses here, and it would seem to be a waste of time to travel outside Bucharest until I have at least made contact with them. I’m not entirely sure how many orphanages there are in this area, but from what I remember of the list sent to me by the Romanian embassy, there are about five in Bucharest itself. So, wish me luck, and I’ll see you later.”

“Do take care,” she said. I think she had probably been more alarmed by the developments in Bacau than I was.

“Actually,” I replied, “when I walked back from the translator the other night, although in pitch darkness, I felt quite safe. There was no hint of muggers or criminal gangs roaming the streets, whether because no one was daft enough to be out in the darkness or not, I know not, but I will, of course, be careful.”

Slinging my half-full rucksack over my shoulder, I set out, wondering what was now ahead of me. 


The walk to the Hotel Lido was, as Mircea had suggested, pretty straight and a good deal shorter than my first walk into the city when I visited the embassy. So I arrived there shortly after what would have been suppertime. It was not the most modern of establishments but seemed comfortable, nonetheless. There was an enormous racket coming from a large downstairs reception room which seemed to be hosting some sort of wedding or other celebration. Guests were enjoying themselves hugely and there appeared to be food and drink in plentiful supply. Above the hubbub, I heard and saw red-faced men and women roaring with laughter and shouting at each other and I saw a waiter push through the merry throng holding a tray high above his head on which I could see ranks of cooked vegetables. 

I shook my head in disbelief. Here again was another contrast between life on the street and life at this, completely different, level. Still, I could not begrudge the partygoers their enjoyment, and I paused for a while tapping my foot to the band, which was belting out an incessant beat of what seemed to me to be a collection of gypsy or traditional Romanian folk songs. There were two accordions, a couple of trumpets, or perhaps they were cornets, a trombone and a guitar, all combining into an urgent and exciting cacophony which was strangely exhilarating. There was a singer, but the noise of the band almost drowned him out, notwithstanding the presence of a microphone which appeared glued to his mouth. All the men I saw appeared to be uniformly dressed in waistcoats of varying colours and tie-less shirts, in various stages of sweaty celebration, and all seemed to be having a wonderful time. 

What a contrast with what I was about.

Above the noise, I was just able to make myself heard at the reception desk. My pocket dictionary gave me a basic translation of ‘nurse’, and without the faintest idea of how I should pronounce my question, I yelled “Assistenta Anglia?” Given that I looked hopelessly out of place, and, no doubt, very Western rather than Eastern, the receptionist didn’t need to guess very hard as to my enquiry.

Probably because of the deafening music, any failure in my pronunciation appeared to have made little difference, because she pointed at the ceiling with one hand, and the number of the room with the other, gesturing towards the rows of numbered hooks and pigeonholes behind her.

Making my way upstairs to the second floor, I found the room, and knocked.

“Intra,” said a female voice, and I went in to find two young women and a young man sitting in small easy chairs around the remainder of a meal on a coffee table in the middle of the room. They looked at me enquiringly.

I haltingly introduced myself and dropped my rucksack on the floor. 

“I was told that you were here, volunteering your help to the orphanages.”

“That’s true,” said one of them. “And…?”

“Well,” I said, “I was in contact with Mary Gibson of the Romanian Orphanage Trust and she gave me your address. When I asked what I might bring across, I was told that supplies of Hibiscrub, E45 and Pholcodine linctus were desperately short, and so I’ve brought some with me in some modest attempt to be of some use… while I try to adopt a couple of children. Oh, and I was also asked to bring a couple of swimming pools.”

I had, of course, got everything back to front and had made a pretty awkward stab at explaining what I was about, but at least it set out my stall. 

The nurses, bless them, focused immediately on my two offerings. “We need those desperately,” said one of them, smiling. “Come and sit down and tell us what this is really about.”

They introduced themselves. Liz, the oldest of the three, spoke with a soft Scottish accent. Anna, the younger of the two nurses, a blonde whose prettiness stood out against the drab surroundings, was clearly English. And then there was Dominic, a tall, slim young man who, like his room-mates, had persuaded their respective health authorities to allow the three of them, all with paediatric experience,  to travel to Romania, without pay, to offer their services to the orphanages. 

When I explained in rather clearer terms why I was there, their mood became sombre. 

“The Romanians don’t like it, you know,” said Liz. “They won’t co-operate with you, and they will make you feel pretty unwelcome.”

I told them what had happened in Bacau and how I had been warned by one of their colleagues, Meg Bennett, of her own experience of Romanian antipathy. I didn’t tell them quite how uneasy I felt when I was told to leave the town, but I wanted to make it clear that I was not going to give up at this early stage.

Like me, they had been appalled when pictures had first dribbled out of the country – why else would they have come? But I reflected that while they were bringing their skills into the country, here was I, unskilled in anything that could be remotely called useful, seeking to extract children from the same country. 

“But our motives,” I continued, “are the same. We are all desperately worried for the future of the children.”

“Well, you’re right, of course,” said Anna. “But you’ll get no help from them, and you must be ready to return to England empty handed.”

“OK, but I’ve come all this way and I’m going to give it my best shot. Which is why I would appreciate some guidance from you.”

“We can tell you what’s going on, but you’ll appreciate that we can’t do anything more,” said Liz. “Officially, we’re guests of the Romanian government, such as it is. They’re providing us with this accommodation, and basically they leave us to our own devices. If they suspected that we are actively co-operating with attempts to remove ‘their’ children, we’d be shown the door pretty quickly. And the children need as much help as we can possibly give them.”

“I understand – so maybe you can just advise me where I might start?”

“Of course,” said Anna, “but that’s not that easy. You want to avoid Orphanage Number 5 – that’s the Aids orphanage.”

Oh, God. Could things get any worse for these kids? “How come there’s an Aids orphanage?”

“It all came from tainted blood products,” said Dominic. “The government – for which read Ceauşescu – allowed the importation of unchecked blood to hospitals from Africa when patients needed transfusions – and when those adults had children… bingo.”

“And, of course, the orphanages aren’t orphanages at all,” I said. 

Dominic agreed. “Ceauşescu outlawed contraception and abortion – and actively encouraged childbirth. What couldn’t be produced by machinery or automation could be manufactured by an increase in the workforce – you know the Confucius saying: ‘many hands make light work’?  Ceauşescu went further. He wanted a ‘people’s army’. He even arranged tax breaks for families with children.

“If the children couldn’t be supported, the parents could ask that they be placed in orphanages until their financial situation improved. Believe it or not, they could ask for the children’s return when they felt that they could be productive.”

I shook my head in bewilderment. “But there are tens of thousands of these children around the country. And there aren’t tens of thousands of families waiting to welcome them back.”

And somebody – it might have been Graham Prestridge – had told me that if a child reached the age of three and had not been reclaimed, they would be classed as an ‘incurable’ and removed to another state institution.

We sat in an uncomfortable silence.

Until Liz seemed to make up her mind. “We’re going to Orphanage Number One tomorrow. We’ve not been there before, but I can give you the address. We don’t really know what to expect, but then the whole situation is crazy. We might see you there.”

Clutching the address and my now empty rucksack, I left them. Three good people facing a tsunami of grief. What could I possibly do which would even compare with their generosity?


This is a web preview of the "Nobody Comes: The True Story of the Rescue of a Child From a Romanian Orphanage" app. Many features only work on your mobile device. If you like what you see, we hope you will consider buying. Get the App