2006: Back to Bucharest, Day 5

Day Five – Tuesday

10am Took Corina and Gina to Leslie Hawke’s “center” at a public school near their house. We met with Daniella – a tall, striking women who runs the center. Daniella is a psychologist and clearly knows what she is doing. She has the dark, orange-red dyed hair that I sometimes see in Romanian women. She understands English (and speaks it), but prefers to speak Romanian, so Mariana translated whenever Daniella spoke. The program is intended to get kids back into school, catch up, and graduate. They have after school and summer programs, with a focus on computers, English, and mathematics. Daniella came across as a very intelligent and caring woman—I knew the Corina and Florin (and Gina) would be in good hands. To tell you the truth, this is the first time that I felt this way in all my dealings in Romania. I almost cried a few times during our conversation—I was so taken by the warmth and intelligence of the place, that it moved me to tears thinking that these kids can get some help.

I asked Daniella to speak to Gina and Corina (not me) since I often find that they get left out of the conversations. Daniella understood this and did a great job. Corina appeared emotional a few times during the conversation as well. Gina paid close attention to everything and handled the meeting quite well.

They have two large rooms in the school. One room is the office and resource area, with lots of computers connected to the Internet. There were students and teaching assistants busy at work.

The next room was a classroom with two large tables. There were about 12 kids sitting at the tables working on assignments. They ranged from 12 to 16 years old. They were all clearly Rroma and looked very happy and engaged. I observed the room carefully and got a great vibe on the level of academics, organization of the room, and the overall mood of the place. I was very impressed.

Note that the school was a classic urban school with a classical, large building design. There was a large concrete play area outside the school with a bunch of kids playing. These children were well-dressed, clean, and very confident – I could see a marked difference from the Rroma neighborhood. It was especially disturbing because the school was walking distance to Gina’s house. Later, we were told that Gina’s kids are zoned to a different school (much worse) – I had a funny feeling that there may be more than geographic zoning going on here (pure speculation).

At the end of the meeting, Daniella agreed to take on Corina and Florin. She also told me that she can provide counseling for Gina (something that Leslie mentioned). I have great hope that this center can help in ways that I cannot.

We dropped Gina and Corina off and headed to our next appointment. We met with the first real estate agent, Viatoria and her son, Stefan. We had lunch in a horrible neighborhood where young teen boys walked around with brown bags containing glue – they were slowly killing themselves.

We went back to their house and picked up Gina and Florin for a second opinion in his eye problem. This was a private eye clinic—it was quite impressive, with new machines and modern facilities. After a fifteen minute wait, the doctor examined Florin while I stayed outside (I insisted that Gina attend, instead of me). Afterwards, the doctor–a very tall woman with an extremely serious personality—invited me in to hear the results. She had the same diagnosis and recommendation: cornea transplant. She said that we can get on the “paying” list, which was about 100 already, and wait for one to arrive. This could be anywhere from 6-12 months, since Romania does not have an organ program.

We took Gina and Florin back to their house, said our goodbyes, and left.

Mariana had to go to the country to meet with officials about her B&B (sound problems) and we said our goodbyes. She assigned Tini to take care of me on Wednesday.

That night, Leslie had invited me to the 2006 Pantene Beauty Awards, where she was nominated for the biggest award: “The Spirit of Beauty”, given to great people. So, Tini and I showered and dolled up like rock stars (jeans, hair, etc.) and went to this black tie event. I was stunned! The event took place the the National Theater in the center of the city. The build is a classic grand theater with a roman-style façade, long steps, and columns. We walked up the red carpet with the other “celebrities” and were shocked by the scene inside.

As we entered the huge lobby, we were greeted by beautiful models and many photographers and a couple film crews. It felt like the Academy Awards to me. We were served champagne and immediately began our scan of the crowd. First, I must say that the women in this room were stunning, in dress and pure beauty—both of us were stuttering like 13-year olds. This was the closest that I’ve ever been to a Euro/celeb/party/crowd. We were eyed by a lot of people, since we stood out—mostly our clothes and stunned faces.

Eventually, we found Leslie—thank God she remembered me—who saved us. She was sitting on a stairwell with a group of her friends, a beautiful and impressive entourage. Tara Anderson introduced herself to us—she is the daughter of the CEO of the major Romanian cable company (Astral?). She looked like Cameron Diaz’s twin sister and was very friendly and warm (to us out-of-place losers). Her date, Renoir, was about 6’-10”, very handsome, and wearing an impressive suit that only a celebrity could pull off. He was from South Africa and produces rock videos. They had a few other friends—one that I remember since he had a mane of black dreadlocks down to his waste and was dressed in really cool, wild suit.

At some point, Leslie and her entourage made a dash for the theater. As they were leaving, Leslie turned and invited us to join them. This was our chance to really join the Cool Club—I’ve been waiting since high school for this moment. It didn’t last long, When we entered the theatre, Leslie and a few of her team were escorted a VIP row, and Tini and I made quick move to the cheap seats. Actually, the theater had no cheap seats—it was a classically, beautiful theater hall where every seat was great. We sat in a sea of models, actors, and other celebrities, sprinkled with nobodies like Tini and I.

Leslie won! Hooray! Clearly she deserved it.

Afterwards, she invited us to have drinks with her party, but I decided not to push my luck—I had not said or done anything really stupid yet—and opted to go home. Tini and I stopped at the Belle Epoche for a beer, and took homemade cake home for Vali and me.


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