The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Fence
Ian Tilling

What might have been different was my particular project; we were giving two apartment blocks, class 3, in Zabrăuţiului, by the Ministry of the interior to try and develop a project for children. So we moved into this block, in one of the blocks, P1, in 1992. But then still lots of families were living there and we were coming to this block; they never made any attempt to move this people out. It took us a year working with local mayor and construction people and whatever trying to move this people into new apartment blocks; this were people living in class C accommodation and they moved into brand new accommodation and that was an achievement and not one leu passed in ?şpaga?. Nothing passed in şpaga?. It took us a year to do, but we did it. And the way we did it was: we brought somebody with a video camera and video cameras were quite rare in 93-94 and we said: this is a guy from the BBC and is filming all, interviews, or whatever and the mayor was so impressed with the BBC filming all that; he signed his papers and all these papers, and moved all these people ...if only he knew... but it worked.

And then I lived in Zăbrăuţiului with lots of international volunteers we furbishing the block and then the international NGO that I was with said ?sorry, enough, we can?t get... here, there are so many obstacles and the bureaucracy is crazy, we pull out?. And I was set back to actually a closer project and this is ?94.

And I came back to do that and I was so impressed by the many people I?ve been working with and friends I?ve meet there and they convinced me that it was important to carry on the project and we made it Romanian; so I was the only foreigner in it and we just registered and an association of 32 members and we plunged into another big life learning thing, as it happens. So for 1 year I lived in this block on my own and 5 stores class 3, they were 84 rooms, or apartments, each apartment was, I suppose, 3 meters by 3 m and that include kitchen, and the toilet and the shower. I lived on my own for 1 year; the gypsies used to break in as often as they could and steel whatever I had, but in the same way I was very much respected by them, I had no physical abuse, in fact I was invited to their weddings, funerals and baptisms and it was great. Whether they expected the traditional gypsy payments for wedding or whatever ? they never got, but at least I was invited. I was regularly invited. I suppose it was a novelty having a foreigner. In fact I was known as the mad Englishman amongst all the locals, but I knew that I have to hold on to that block.

My prior in the U.K. was that I was in the British police, I worked for the National Crime Scud so we were looking at and targeting serious crimes, particularly violent crimes, arm robberies and major fraud so I used to travel around a bit for out the U.K. so I did surveillance work and undercover work; I had a 5 bedroom house in Folkstone, in Kent, which is pretty well where the tunnel connects to the U.K.; life was gorgeous, I was married, I had four wonderful kids. I was also a deacon with the catholic church, so I was ordained, so I did a lot of youth work, I had 3 or 4 different charities I worked with in the U.K. and used to raise lots of money every year for charities. So basically that?s what it was. All that. Oh, God, yeah, ok, a bit more complex and I used to counsel children with progressive illness, so children who were dying.

Do you understand that last bit? I just sit down with children and help them die.

In early years I had an interpreter, translator, Andreea, I don?t know, is not Andreea, but it is close; she was a very efficient translator by the director; she was very generous; she was a generous women, there?s no doubt about that; ?course we had issues on various other things, but she allowed us to stay there, in her apartment for nothing and she did all this translation and whatever for nothing.

Ioana Melinte, the director of the orphanage, was a larger like women, in personality as well as in size and she was difficult to work with in the beginning.

In the early days my precious friendships were what they can get out of you; honestly they were awful relationships. As things developed I have loads and loads of examples but seeing the train and you travelling half way across the country and everybody in the train compartment sat there and owns their lunch and offers it around, I mean that was extraordinary; it never happened to me before and it still happens today and I actually do it. If I opened up a bag of crisp on a train, I feel I had to offer a crisp at least to anyone it?s in the compartment; it was the way I was brought up in Romania, if you like. ?Poftă bună?, and all the other bites and pieces. I had a real, real deep distrust of every Romanian, because I was a foreigner and he was a guy that I, as a foreigner had access to all the things that they didn?t have and I was a target, absolute target to everyone. The big learning care for me was living in Zăbrăuţiului with lots of gypsy that more open, if you like; ?give me this, give me that?; they didn?t pretend to be my friends, precisely because they were my friends. So, whether I gave them, whether I didn?t, I was this complete and odd, an eccentric guy. Can you imagine living in a ghetto and suddenly an English guy arrives with lots of volunteers and refurbishing the area?

So it was totally bizarre, so I was eccentric, they were eccentric, and I suppose that?s how we get along together in the early days. Then I lived outside of all this chaos and that was brilliant. I met my wife and it was just extraordinary and then developed much more interpersonal relationships in Romania, starting growing friends. I?ve done lots and lots of friends now, Romanian friends. But in the beginning very suspicious, now maybe too be open. Still get taking for a ride every now and then.

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