Monday, 29 April 2013

The care worker

Rodica comes from Braila, the same city as Alex, the taxi driver.  She is in her late fifties, with grizzled hair and a broad face with dark, lustrous eyes that could be Greek or Turkish - there are large communities of both peoples in Dobrogea, the region around Braila - it is also a face of great humanity which is ready to break into galactic smiles at the smallest cause.  Her voice is deep and husky from a lifetime of dedicated smoking.  She has worked in the UK for five years, three of them near London, and the past two in Wales.  For Rodica, caring for others is not a profession but a calling - something that comes naturally to her - but she is not like any preconception of a meek, put-upon drudge that I know of, being tomboyish with a shock of explosive hair that has gold glints amongst the black and grey. 

While Alex is a journalist turned taxi driver, Rodica is a former HGV driver turned carer.  That kind of thing happens a lot in Romania: women did men's jobs during Communist times, and they have become used to picking up new skills to put food on the table.  And they do it, usually with incredible decisiveness and a good grace, with no resentment at the unfairness of the cards they have been dealt. 

Now she is looking after Floss, an old lady who has dementia; Rodica 'lives in', cooks and cleans for Floss, takes her for walks in the garden, out in the car, talks to her, reads to her.  Is kind to, and patient with her.  In other words, she is Floss's lifeline while the rest of her family gets on with its lives, probably heaving a huge sigh of gratitude and relief that someone is willing to dedicate themselves to a task that would hold them back.   

Rodica does not have access to the internet, but she has a mobile phone and a telly and she can read and speak English perfectly well.  She has seen the scaremongering reports about the rapacious hordes of Romanians (for Romanians, read unscrupulous Gypsies) that are threatening to invade us.  Rodica works pretty much 24/7, nearly 50 weeks of the year, in a metier that many of us would avoid like the plague, pays her taxes and sends any extra money she has home to what remains of her family - her parents are dead, and a beloved brother died last September, leaving Rodica and three other siblings alive.  She herself was married but it did not work out, and she has no children.  She has no reason to feel inferior. 

I asked her what effect these reports have had on her.

'Well, I'm upset', she told me.  'I don't have anything against Gypsies personally but I hate it that we are all tarred with the same brush.'

'Has anyone treated you badly because of your nationality?'

'It was hard at first, when I was learning the language.  In London people behave differently.  But here, in Wales, everyone is kind.  I haven't had any bad experiences here.  My employers are wonderful people; they are so considerate.'  

We went for a walk last week, just before I left for Romania.  Rodica looked very sad, disorientated, and I felt for her, a woman in middle age far from a home that she loves - her eyes light up at the very mention of her native land - and it hit me smack in the stomach that she must be terribly lonely sometimes, and afraid of the future.  

My partner and I wanted to make friends with her because she is one of the few Romanians we know close to our home.  We offered her a very modest contact - invited her to lunch one day.  On the phone, she said that she would cook a Romanian meal for us - this was our second meeting, mind you; when I tried to refuse, saying that this was a chance to repay some of the wonderful hospitality I have received in Romania over the past 20 years, she would not have it.  So the rules were completely reversed, and instead of providing for her, Rodica came laden with bags full of containers from which she produced kiftele, salata de boeuf, a special, creamy bean soup, garlic bread, fresh coffee, treats for our animals, and much more.  She was exploding with happiness at being able to give us so much, but we felt terribly uncomfortable: the Romanians are poor, the British are rich: it practically says so in the Bible.  She tried to cover us in largesse the third time as well, and we had a more vigorous tussle over who was going to play host.  Who would not love such a person?  I felt disgusted with the easy assumption of British superiority over another nation which has so much decency, culture, education and is only down on its luck because of a historical trick.  If nothing else it was a lesson to me about how to behave when I am in her country: generosity and good behaviour go together.  

'Would you like to return home?'  I put the obvious, clunking question.  

'Of course, but I could not get a job like this, that pays as well as this one.  I will have to work until I die,' she added. 

Rodica is passionate about travel; she would love to see the world.  Today she rang me to see if I was getting on OK in her country.  I told her yes, I was fine, that the weather was wonderful, if a little too hot, that the trees were coming into bloom, their blossom smelling of heaven.  Her sigh said it all. 


1 comment:

  1. I loved reading this. Rodica comes to life through your words, I feel I could almost recognise her if I met her on the bus. I wonder if she still in the area, so far from her home? She's heroic.