O zi de voluntariat in Gara de Nord… / A day of volunteering in Bucharest’s North Train Station

(English follows)

La 5 dimineata intram in gara de nord (Sambata, 12 martie), cu inima batand sa imi sparga pieptul. Ma stiu emotiva si sensibila la suferinta oamenilor asa ca mi-a fost tare greu sa ma conving sa fac pasul acesta si in acelasi timp stiam ca nu pot sa nu il fac. Luckily, Alex este la fel de prins de aceasta poveste (de groaza) a refugiatilor, asa ca m-a insotit.

Primul lucru pe care il faci ca voluntar este sa mergi la „cortul rosu” (you can’t miss it) si sa iti anunti prezenta; zis si facut. Apoi, teoretic stiam ca trebuie sa ajungem la sala 2 de asteptare (in apropiere de Springtime. Pana sa gasim sala, am zarit o aglutinare de voluntari si autoritati in dreptul unui peron asa ca am mers catre ei sa ii intrebam ce si cum facem. 2 americance foarte simpatice, vorbitoare de limba romana, ne-au condus la sala 2 sa ne luam vestele de voluntari si ne-am intors la peronul cu pricina, unde urma sa soseasca un tren. Am vorbit putin despre cateva dileme gramaticale pe care le aveau fetele si au fost foarte fericite sa dea peste un geek ca mine, care sa le explice toate dedesubturile. :))

A sosit trenul si cu totii am preluat cate un refugiat sau o familie, ajutandu-i cu bagajele. In salile de asteptare oamenii sunt distribuiti in functie de cum calatoresc (mame cu copii mici intr-o sala, adulti alta sala, familii cu copii mai mari alta sala, etc). Noi ne-am lipit de sala 3, unde se afla refugiata culeasa de noi, impreuna cu catelusa ei; incercam sa o ajutam sa ajunga in Istanbul. Trenuri nu plecau spre istanbul, asa ca a urmat o goana de sunat toate aerogarile din Bucuresti – ceea ce was not much help, asa ca am inceput sa sun direct la companii de transport. Intre timp, crestea panica in doamna noastra si din cand in cand i se umpleau ochii de lacrimi. Era de foarte multe zile pe drum si gandul ca ar mai trebui sa astepte inca o zi pana sa ajunga intr-un loc cunoscut si sigur o termina.

Pana la urma am reusit, impreuna cu alti voluntari sa gasim o varianta de plecare in Istanbul cu o companie de transport: trebuia sa strangem minimum 40 de oameni care sa plece si ei catre aceeasi destinatie. Aveam 1 om… Intre timp Alex s-a lipit de inca o refugiata, portugheza ucraineanca, ce incerca sa ajunga in Chisinau la mama dumneaei. Am schimbat cateva cuvinte in portugheza (man, my Portuguese is rusty!) apoi Alex a dus-o la autogara Filaret, unde a si urcat-o intr-un autocar spre Chisinau.

Revenind la Istanbul, am gasit o bomboana de doamna traducator, ne-am plimbat impreuna prin toate salile de asteptare si am intrebat fiecare persoana si grup in parte daca pleaca spre istanbul. Am numarat atunci vreo 25. Am mai vorbit si cu alti voluntari, au circulat vestile si usor, usor am inceput sa ii strangem pe toti cu aceeasi destinatie in sala, acum avand aproximativ 30ish.

Am gasit un domn cu o dubita care putea transporta cate 8 oameni. A transportat primele 2 masini iar tensiunea incepea sa creasca intre cei ramasi. Pe refugiata noastra, ca sa o stim linistita si mai aproape de destinatie, am trimis-o cu masina, cu Alex la Filaret. Inainte sa plece cu el, m-a imbratisat plangand.

Intre timp, doamna draguta traducator, incerca sa gaseasca loc de cazare pentru o familie de 5 persoane, cu copilasi mici. Am reusit sa ii fac rost de un contact si sa ii cazam undeva free of charge.

Revin la Istanbul (incerc sa povestesc lucrurile exact in ordinea in care s-au intamplat, ca sa simtiti putin din haosul de acolo). Mai aveam in sala de trimis la Istanbul un grup de 9, un grup de 5, si inca 2 grupuri de cate 2. Comunicarea cu ei era foarte dificila, nimeni nu vorbea engleza, cat nu aveam translator, ne oarecum intelegeam prin semne. La un moment dat un domn mai in varsta, cu chef de vorba (in ucraineana) a venit sa imi arate ce a filmat cu telefonul in Harkov, imagini cu refugiati la metrou, cladiri intregi distruse si in final, triumfator, cateva imagini cu un tanc rusesc distrus. Am incercat sa il incurajez si sa imi exprim compasiunea. Cumva ne-am inteles, desi vorbeam fiecare pe limba lui.

Alta familie, 5 persoane, cetateni ucraineni de origine armeana, aveau sa mai stea cateva zile in Bucuresti, sa mearga pe la ambasada lor si deci aveau si ei nevoie de cazare. I-am trimis si pe ei unde am trimis prima familie, de data aceasta am sunat chiar eu la receptia hotelului si mi s-a confirmat telefonic, ca totul e in regula si ei pot sta fara cost, la hotelul respectiv. Alex a mers cu ei la hotel, sa ii ajute cu bagajele, impreuna cu o doamna traducator, alta decat doamna mea, dar la fel de draguta si dedicata.

Intre timp, pentru Istanbul, am vorbit cu o voluntara pentru unul dintre grupurile de 2 persoane, sa faca un drum sa ii duca la Filaret si incercam sa gasesc variante si pentru restul, ca atunci cand mai vine inca o data duba sa ia 8, sa ii ia pe ultimii 8-9 si sa nu mai stea nimeni cu stres. Am scris despre problema aceasta pe grupul Vulturilor Voluntari (va explic care e treaba cu vulturii in urmatorul articol ca sa nu scriu iar kilometri intr-unul singur).

Ma suna Alex. Ajunsi cu armenii la hotel li se spune de la receptie ca nu au cunostinta despre aceste locuri de cazare si acest aranjament. Sunam persoana de contact, prin care aflasem de locuri si ne-a trimis mesaj ca de-abia intr-o ora poate vorbi. L-am rugat pe Alex sa imi dea la telefon persoana de la receptie si am explicat situatia, am specificat ca locurile sigur exista si inseamna ca nu are d-lui toate informatiile si trebuie sa sune un superior si totul se va rezolva. Zis si facut, totul bine si cu armenii, sunt acum linistiti la hotel. 🙂

Printre toate acestea, prind cumva un moment sa stau de vorba cu doamna mea traducator, care se intampla sa fie si psiholog. Nici nu am apucat sa ii povestesc prea multe si sa scap prea multe lacrimi ca mi-a si explicat ce mi se intampla si de ce nu pot dormi (pentru ca eu inca ma trezesc in miez de noapte, la 3-4 si nu ma mai pot culca la loc) – Se pare ca sufar de PTSD prin empatie, it makes a lot of sense. Ce am povestit dumneaei, v-am povestit si voua aici acum vreo cateva zile.

Inapoi la Istanbul: S-au adunat repede vulturii voluntari, 3 la numar si foarte draguti, culegem grupurile mici ramase, reusim cumva sa ii distribuim in cele 3 masini ale vulturilor si pastram grupul mare de 9 persoane pentru dubita. Vine si dubita, pleaca cei 9, pleaca si vulturii voluntari si asa am terminat cu Istanbulul. Or did we?

Se intoarce Alex cu doamna lui traducatoare, mai stam putin (infim) de vorba pentru ca imediat dispare de langa noi, apoi ramasi fara task hotaram sa mancam rapid ceva si sa luam o pauza scurta. Era in jur de ora 10:30 iar creierul meu deja era franjuri. Pentru noi, ca voluntari cu limba engleza, era cum era, ca suntem multi, insa traducatorii sunt putini si bietii de ei sunt trasi in toate directiile, din conversatie in conversatie. Nu stiu, pur si simplu nu stiu cum rezista, iar aceasta, din spusele lor a fost o zi usoara.

Dupa masa ajungem in dreptul casei de bilete si primim pe mana 2 studenti egipteni, pe care sa ii ajutam sa se intereseze cum sa ia bilete de tren pt Germania. Am stat la discutii pentru ceea ce a parut o vesnicie, timp in care am raspuns la aceleasi intrebari de cate 3-4 ori si cand incepeam sa ne pierdem rabdarea, tipul cu care vorbeam ne-a spus ca sotia lui, in timp ce noi vorbeam, ii nastea copilul. Well that explains it. :)) L-am felicitat, l-am lamurit cu toate si am trecut la urmatorul caz.

Cautam autocar pentru Chisinau, pentru 3 oameni, parinti + copil. Era 12 si 9 minute si primul autocar pleca in 51 de minute de la filaret. Urmatorul pleca de-abia la 20:00. Au vrut desigur sa il prinda pe primul. Vorbeam deja cu Alex despre eventualitatea de a ii duce noi cand mai apare inca un grup pentru Chisinau Pana la urma, pana la 12 si 17 am reusit sa plasam ambele grupuri in taxi sau bolt, Alex i-a condus afara.

Cat timp era el plecat eu am mai gasit un om care voia sa ajunga in Istanbul. Nu era un ratacit din grupurile mele, nu stiu de unde a aparut dar cand am auzit de Istanbul am facut ditamai ochii si am pus mana pe telefon sa vad daca a plecat autocarul. Nu plecase, omul poate ajunge. Ii explic ce si cum, ii zic sa se grabeasca, el foarte relaxat – dar de ce esti asa de ingrijorata? Nu iti mai face griji, se descurca oamenii, respira! :))) Are si el dreptate, respira, Madalina, respira!

Intre timp Vulturii voluntari imi scriau ca de la Filaret au cules o doamna care voia sa ajunga in Belgrad dar gresise autogara, era foarte speriata si plangea. Vulturii au luat-o cu ei la gara si au ajutat-o sa gaseasca ruta potrivita pentru Belgrad. Inca o victorie pentru vulturi! ❤

Cand eram deja hotarata sa predau vesta de voluntar mai vine o familie cu o fetita mica spre mine, vorbitori de limba engleza si ma intreaba cum este cu trenul de Germania. Aveam deja poezia invatata de la studentii Egipteni, asa ca ne-am descurcat repede cu biletele. Familia avea insa foarte mult de asteptat, erau infrigurati, nedormiti si nemancati asa ca i-am dus la salile de asteptare, le-am explicat ce se intmpla, cum se intampla, ce variante au, cum este cu mancarea, apa, i-am ajutat sa ia cartele sim si altele.

La final, dupa ce i-am instalat ne prinde si Alex din urma, ii ajuta sa isi activeze cartelele sim si remarca ceva ce a trecut complet pe langa mine (pentru ca eu nu ma uit la urechile oamenilor, constat acum): Taticul, Vitali, are urechi de luptator. ❤ A fellow fighter. Am mai stat mult de vorba, despre free wrestling, ceea ce practica el, despre MMA, ceea ce imi place mie sa cred ca practic eu (it’s hard man), despre Ucraina, razboi, multe blesteme si injuraturi catre Putin, etc. I-am invitat la noi la masa, dus si eventual un somn, insa au refuzat politicos, cred ca tot din dorinta de a ramane cat mai aproape de destinatie, lucru pe care l-am simtit si la alti refugiati. Ne-am schimbat numerele de telefon intre noi, ne-am urat de bine si sa ne revedem in vremuri mai bune. I-am lasat pe ei si vestele de voluntari in urma, am ajuns acasa si am dormit de pranz vreo 6 ore (nu am mai dormit 6 ore legate de aproximativ 2 saptamani)…

Cam asta se intampla in gara in fiecare zi, oameni calatoresc cu tot ce le-a mai ramas, intr-un ghiozdan sau troller, nu inteleg limba (nici romana, nici engleza, multi dintre ei), nu citesc literele noastre, au scapat cu viata dar tot ce a insemnat viata lor nu mai exista. Oricat as incerca sa explic prin ce trec si cata nevoie au de ajutor, nu am cum, nu exista cuvinte pentru asta. Orice ajutor oferit de noi conteaza.

Ce am mai vazut in gara si m-a impresionat, au fost implicarea si eforturile supraomenesti ale voluntarilor! Jos palaria vulturi voluntari (daca vrei sa te alaturi gastii, lasa-mi un mesaj pe WhatsApp, la numarul: 0758232057)! Jos palaria romani, dar nu numai – am cunoscut voluntari americani, voluntari spanioli si o voluntara rusoaica. Nu conteaza aici nici culoare, nici nationalitate, nici religie, nici limba vorbita, nici nimic. Lovely display of humanity! Inima mea si-a marit volumul, de drag de oameni, in aceasta zi petrecuta in gara.

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It was 5 o’clock in the morning, when we arrived at the train station and my heart was pounding. I know how empathic and sensitive to people’s suffering I am, so it was very hard for me to take this step, but in the same time, there was no other choice; I had to do this. Luckily, Alex is as involved in this as I am, so he accompanied me at the train station.

We knew that the first thing a volunteer should do, is to go to the „red tent” and announce their presence, so that is what we did too. After that, we tried to find the waiting room number 2, but before we could find it, we saw a group of volunteers and local authorities and decided to ask them about how we could help as volunteers. 2 lovely American girls that spoke a very good Romanian, came with us to help us get our volunteer vests. As we were coming back to the platform where we first found the group of volunteers, we had some time to discuss a few Romanian grammar dilemmas that the girls had and they were very happy to have found a geek like me, to explain some complicated subtleties. :))

The first train arrived and each of the volunteers started helping out families with their luggage. In the waiting rooms, refugees were separated based on how they traveled – mothers with small children in one room, singles in one room, families in another room and so on. We were helping one lady that was traveling with her dog and trying to go to Istanbul. There were no trains going to Istanbul, so I started calling all bus stations in Bucharest. No bus was leaving today! Started calling transport companies. Our lady refugee was getting more and more impatient and anxious, barely being able to stop her tears. She was on the road for many days and the thought that she would have to wait at least another day before embarking on the last bus to reach her destination was unbearable. she was melting in front of me.

Eventually, with the help of a few other volunteers, we managed to arrange for a bus to leave in the same day to Istanbul, but for the bus to leave we would have to gather 40 people for the trip. We had… one.

In the mean time, Alex found a Portuguese- Ucranian refugee, lovely, sweet lady, that was trying to go to Chisinau, to her mother. We exchanged a few words in Portuguese (man, my Portuguese is rusty) and after that Alex took her to the Filaret bus station, where he helped her into the bus and send her off to Chisinau (we have her number, she got to Chisinau safe and sound).

Back to Istanbul: I found an awesome lady translator and we took a walk (more like a sprint) together through every waiting room and asked each group and person if they were traveling to Istanbul. We found about 25. After talking to some more volunteers and spreading the word about this trip, we managed to raise about 30 people. We asked all of them to come and wait in room 3, to make things easier.

We found a gentleman with a van that started transporting people to Filaret bus station, for the Istanbul trip. He could only take 8 at a time. He transported the first 2 cars and the anxiety started increasing amongst the rest of the refugees. They were afraid that they might not be able to catch the bus, if they don’t leave sooner.

When Alex got back from Filaret, we decided to take our first refugee, that was traveling with her dog, one step closer to her destination. Alex took her to Filaret. Before leaving, she hugged me, in tears.

In the mean time, my lady translator was trying to find accommodation for a family of 5. I had a contact that might have solved this, gave it to her and we managed to find them a place to stay, for free.

Coming back to Istanbul (I am trying to recount everything as it happened, so that you can grasp a bit of the chaos that was around us), I still had a group of 9, a group of 5 and two more groups of two, to send to Filaret. Communicating with them was very hard, no one spoke English. When there were no translators in the room, it was like playing a game of charades. At some point, an older gentleman, with an appetite for socializing, came to show me some videos on his phone, from Harkov. I saw images with the refugees hiding in the subway, sleeping there, videos of buildings that were torn down and in the end, images of Russian tank that was destroyed. I tried to encourage him and express my compassion. Somehow, I know he understood, even though we were speaking different languages.

Along came another family of 5, this time Armenian-Ukrainian citizens, that needed to stay a few days in Bucharest to resolve some paperwork issues with the Armenian Embassy, so they also needed accommodation. I used my contact again and found a solution for them, also free of charge. Alex and another very lovely lady translator went with them at the hotel to help with the luggage and check in.

Meanwhile, for Istanbul, I managed to find a volunteer to take 2 more people to Filaret, one of the small groups and I was also trying to find a few more volunteers to take the other small groups, so that when the van arrived, it would take the big group and every one would finally get to Filaret faster and be less stressed. I wrote a message about this in our Vultures Volunteers group (I’ll explain more about the vultures in a future article, would not want to make this one a mile long…)

My phone started ringing. It was Alex, from the reception of the hotel, where he was supposed to take the Armenians, saying that the gentleman there, had no information about the accommodation arrangements. I asked Alex to pass the phone to the gentleman to explain the situation: that the booking was valid, that he might not have the updated information and that he should call a superior to check and see that everything is fine. And so it was. 🙂

Even through all of this, I managed to spend some time talking to my lady translator, who happened to also be a psychologist. I didn’t have to say much, or drop too many tears, before she was able to tell me what was wrong with me and why I can’t sleep anymore – I am suffering from empathic PTSD – which makes a lot of sense. More about what I told her you can find here.

Back to Istanbul: Vulture volunteers gathered quickly, 3 of them and very nice. We managed to squeeze all the small groups left in the 3 cars of our volunteers, and the van for the group of 9 was on its way. just 10 minutes later, everyone that had to travel to Istanbul were on their way to Filaret and we were don with Istanbul. Or were we?

Alex returned, with his lady translator, we talked for very little time and she somehow disappeared from our sight. We decided to take a short break. It was around 10:30 and my brain was already fried. For us, volunteers with English, things are actually not so bad, but for the translators, well, that’s another story. There are too few translators and everyone is always gravitating around them trying to get info, they are always pulled in every direction, from one conversation to another. I honestly don’t know how they do it; and today, according to them, was an easy day.

After our small break we end up near the tickets place and find 2 Egyptian students in need of help. We tried to get information for them and engaged into what seemed like a never ending story. We kept going in circles, answering the same questions several times. At the brink of losing our patience, the guy tells us that his wife, as we were speaking, was giving birth to his child. Well that explains it. :)) We cleared things up for him as much as we could and congratulated him.

After that we helped 2 more families to get into 2 cabs for Filaret, to catch a bus to Chisinau. Alex helped with the cabs and while I was waiting for him I bump (almost) into someone trying to get to… Istanbul (facepalm). My eyes came out of their sockets for a bit there, I grab my phone and call my contact from Filaret to ask about the bus. It was still there and wouldn’t leave soon. I tell the guy in front of me about this option and that he should hurry. Very relaxed, he looks at me and says: Why are you so worried? Stop worrying, people will find their way, breath! He is right, breath Madalina, breath! 🙂

Meanwhile in Filaret, after dropping off the Istanbul groups, our volunteers find a lady that got there by mistake, trying to find a way to travel to Belgrad. They took her with them and helped her find the right route to Belgrad; another victory for the vultures! ❤

I had already decided to call this a day, when a family of three was heading towards me. They were speaking English and they asked about a train to Germany. I already knew everything about traveling to Germany from our Egyptian students, so it was easy to help this family. They had a really long time to wait for the train, they were exhausted and starving, so I walked them to the waiting rooms, showed them where they can find whatever they might need and so on.

In the end, Alex caught up with us, he helps them activate their sim cards and notices something that completely escaped me: His ears – the guy was a fellow wrestler. ❤

We talked a lot more after that, about free wrestling, what he practices and about MMA, what I like to believe I practice (it’s hard, man), about Ukraine, the war (special operation my ass…), curses for Putin, etc. We invited them to our place, for a warm meal and a shower before the train arrives but they politely refused. I guess it was the same feeling that they should stay closer to their destination, a thing that I noticed in many refugees in my time spent with them.

We exchanged phone numbers, wished each others the best and that we would meet again in better circumstances. We left them behind, along with our volunteer vests, went home and took a 6 hours „nap” (I haven’t slept 6 consecutive hours in the past 2 weeks)…

This is pretty much what happens here every day. People travel with everything that they have left, in a backpack or a trolley, they don’t understand the language, don’t read our letters… they escaped with their lives, but everything that they knew to be their lives is gone. No matter how much I try to explain this, or how much help they need, I can’t. There are no words for this. That is why, every little piece of help matters.

Another thing that I saw in the train station and found very impressive, were the tremendous, super human efforts of our volunteers. Hats off to you, vulture volunteers (If you want to join the gang, message me on WhatsApp, here: 0758232057)! Hats off to you, Romanians, but not only, I also saw American volunteers, Spanish volunteers and a Russian volunteer. In this place, no one minds neither color, nationality, religion, nor language or anything. Lovely display of humanity! In this day, spent here, my heart grew in size, with love for people.

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