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Narrative Distance in Romania

Updated: Jan 19, 2023

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.

The Roma village of Budila lies about 30 minutes east of Brasov. Many Roma families there have many children at home; thus, you learn it's not uncommon for Romany families to drop a sick child off at the hospital and not come to get them for many days after they are well. The hospital is providing free healthcare and food for their babies. Why shouldn't they take advantage of the system?

Trying on new shoes.

Patiently waiting for their turn.

Excited to take home bags of new (donated) clothes.

Thankfully, many nonprofit organizations are stepping in to fill the gap where the government is falling short. The organization you're volunteering for, Firm Foundations Romania, offers assistance in the children's hospital—donating diapers and caring for the babies—as well as created a preschool and after school learning center in the village of Budila. Here, the children receive extra help with school work, learn about Jesus, eat healthy snacks, and get new clothes and toys that have been donated from around the world.

The city of Brasov from Mount Tâmpa.

View from the other side of the mountain.

Mount Tâmpa from the city center.

Backing away again, and returning to my point in the beginning, you see that pictures and words can act alike, highlighting the importance of things, zooming in on them, and then backing out again to show how they fit in the grand scheme of things. I do not believe the common saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. After all, without words, how would we begin to describe a picture?

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Hi Jessica,

Thank you so much for this post. Your perspective has opened my eyes to writing like viewing a photograph plus I've learnt more about Romania in this post than I have before.

Jessica Cyphers
Jessica Cyphers
Jan 17, 2023
Replying to

I'm so glad to hear that, Gary! There are many similarities between the arts, and I myself learned a lot about Romania on this trip. Hope you're having a great week! :)

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