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Narrative Distance in Romania

Updated: Jan 19

I've been thinking about the similarities between writing and photography lately. About how you can zoom in or out towards your characters to set the stage for your story. About how you can create space—or not—between the narrator and the reader. In writing, they call this narrative distance.

Take the above image, for example. If I were telling a story, you'd see from this picture that the setting of my story is a Children's Hospital. You'd also notice that it's foggy. And wet. And cold.

Inside the hospital, past the receptionist's desk, you notice a Romanian flag, a picture of Christ, and a clock hanging on the far wall. With little effort, these images tell you a lot—about where you are in the world (Brasov, Romania), about the country's religion (Christianity), and, even, about the time of day (9:40 a.m.).

Moving upward, a view from the stairwell confirms the importance of the religion to this country. A hospital church across the street invites visitors to come worship and pray. Roughly 82 percent of Romanians identify as Orthodox Christians, while another 4.5 percent identify as Roman Catholic and 6.4 percent claim Protestantism (according to a 2011 census).

Notice the cat on the windowsill. ;D

Having reached the third floor, you move further into the hospital's interior. Here, you're struck by the starkness, the emptiness, of the hospital corridors. You get the feeling you've gone back in time. Where are all the modern machines? The overhead pages? The doctors?

This feeling is amplified when you enter one of the hospital rooms. No two cribs are alike, and they're all at least 30 years old. In a different room, you notice directions for treating a baby with scabies are handwritten and taped to the wall.

Melania (Mel-uh-nee-uh), a Roma baby.

The babies themselves, though—they are precious. They remind you that, no matter where we come from, we all start out the same.

We all need the same things, too. To be held, cared for, and played with. To be loved unconditionally. We need someone to laugh with us and to hold us when we cry.

The longer you are there, the more you learn the back stories of theses babies, which tell you a lot about the socioeconomic status of their families, as well as the political situation in Romania. Romania has universal healthcare and provides free healthcare for children until they are 18. This sounds good until you realize that Romania regularly falls last in Europe in the European Health Consumer Index. The majority of their hospitals are government-run and chronically underfunded, meaning that many Romanians have to pay out of pocket to get quality care. The hospitals are understaffed, too, as many healthcare professionals have left the country due to the low pay and unfavorable working conditions.

Romany girls at the entrance to the afterschool learning center.

A street in "downtown" Budila.

Interestingly, many of the babies in the children's hospital in Brasov are Roma, not Romanian. The Roma or Romany people are an ethnic group of traditionally itinerant people who originated in India but now live across Europe and Anatolia, with large numbers living in Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Slovenia, the Czech and Slovak republics, and Hungary.