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This is our story • Team ASL "A Spanish Life"
1995 GOING HOME
Arriving back in England in the March of 95 with my new young
Moldavian wife was as much a shock to my system as it was for hers. My
wife had never been to the West or had any understanding of what it would
be like, I had tried to explain all the wonders she would be seeing and
experiencing for the first time, but it was like trying to explain a colour to a
blind person. I will always remember those early months of showing her. It
was an amazing experience for me that I would recommend to anyone.
To see everything through her eyes was to see a whole new world that I
never knew existed. She would find a fascination and wonder in the simplest
of things. A supermarket and anything to do with food became a daily
adventure. The first time we went to Tesco's took us 5 hours to get round.
She needed to look at everything, touch every packet or tin, take it from the
shelf and read the label to find out what was in it. She would ask me to
explain what ingredients this was or what E number that was. I hadn’t got
the faintest idea, all I had done over the years was eat the stuff, but now it
started to make me question what I was putting in my mouth.
But the fascination and frustration of this new world and in a way the anger
of what she had come from was always with us. On our first trip I had
walked into Tescos leaving her at the door looking with wide eyes at all the
food and taking in her surroundings, only to realize after a few minutes that
she had not joined me at the first aisle and was still at the door.
Going back for her I found she was in tears, she had seen people take
baskets and trolleys so as to buy food, and wanted to take one as well but
did not know where to go to get permission. In her country everything was
controlled, you could not walk around a shop and take things you would
have to ask, and they would fetch them for you. For me the shock of being
back in the land of plenty was hard to take in, I had left behind my friends
and new family. They were still cold and hungry; I could not get them out of
After a few weeks my body had started to put it’s self-right. I had only
weighed seven and half stone on my return and had not been able to eat
much straight away. My dream of an egg and bacon sandwich had to wait
two more weeks before I could take in rich food.
I had found a job as a carpet cleaner in Devon and she was working in a golf
club as a waitress. She was amazed at the money they would give her, in
one hour she got the same as a month’s salary back home as a teacher.
Then there were the tips she soon got to understand good service meant
good tips and she became the best. Earning more this way than her hourly
rate, and even though she was meant to divide with the other waitresses she
never did, she earned it she kept it. A new capitalist was born. Of course it
cost us more to live in England, but we tried our best to save as much as we
Our bed-sit was £45 per week all in, and food if we were careful was £15,
we hadn’t a car or ‘phone so ended up with spare money at the end of each
But it was not ours, we could not enjoy it, we were working for Moldova
So started the Moldova Life charity.
My Moldova family was our first mission. I was to learn from a good friend
that you must look after yourselves, then your own family, before the rest of
the world. So that’s what I did.
Lidel supermarket became our favourite place; a tin of baked beans was
three pence so we started to put food parcels together. The problem was that
it cost £15 to send £5 of food by post, not the best way to help, but if we
tried to send the money then it would not arrive, international banking was a
long way off. But it was also nice for the receiver to get a parcel of hope
regardless of the financial cost. The spiritual support this could give you
cannot be measured in pounds. After a few months of beans we were ready
to take things forward.
My wife was still working at the golf club and would save every penny; I
could not get her to buy anything apart from food. I had moved into the
paper and second hand clothing recycling business, which had come about
by chance when some born again Christians had come to our door, they
started to tell me about God. So I told them they should stop talking about it
and get on and do his work for him.
I explained that as a non-believer I did more to help than they did. The next
day they were back with another member of their church, a man named
Peter. It worked out this way; he was a reformed drinker and had seen God
one night when he had fallen in a ditch. He had found a new woman, and
wanted to start a new life with her in Florida. Sounds good to me. Anyway
he had a house and a business that he was leaving behind, we could live in
the house rent free until it was sold and if I wanted to work at the business I
could take a salary, but all the profits that were left had to go to helping
I was sure there was a catch but I did not care, he was doing Gods work
through me, which made him feel good about himself, and I had a three-bed
home in Torquay, a business and the van he was leaving behind. We moved
in the next week,
Peter and his lovely new wife Diana flew off to their new life in the sun
leaving us behind holding the baby. I found out the catch six months later
but by then we were moving on anyway.
We had also through Peter been introduced to their church pastor a man by
the name of Doug who had been reborn as well, and was now doing his own
pay back in the form of a charity shop raising money for Romania. He tried
his best to help in the only way he could, but like other born again I have
met he was still not 100% clear of his sins but did all he could to live the
correct way. His shop became a focal point for us and a way to net work the
world of fund raising.
Both of us spent all our spare time working in the shop as volunteers,
sorting bags of clothes or collecting it from people’s homes.
Also repairing broken items that could be sold, and even ironing. Often we
would be asked to go to the front of the shop to tell someone how life was
like in our country; it made a lot of difference for people to hear it first
hand. Within a few months we were to take our next step forward.
It was coming to the end of 1995 and we were trying to come up with other
ways to get food and aid to Moldova. I had been collecting old clothes for
both Doug and Peters business and had started to amass a good selection of
items that was too good for recycling
After a month I had about 20 bags of bedding and clothes, toys and baby
things. So we started to look for aid organizations that went to Romania in
the hope we could persuade them to go that little further to Moldova. All
said no, they told us they had no way of getting in and knew no-one if they
got there. No matter how many we tried and how much we offered to pay,
no- one would take aid for us. We were getting nowhere.
Then a series of events led us to the answer.
Little did I know but she had been saving her extra money over the months
for one thing and one thing only and one evening she presented me with just
over £1500 in cash. She told me that she had been saving up to buy
It was a lot of money for us but I could not say no to her as she had gone
with out for so long, I was happy that at last she now wanted to treat herself.
But when she told me what she wanted I was very surprised.
She said that she would like her mother and brother to visit us for
Christmas. The task to get visas was something I was not looking forward to
but I agreed with only a few moments thought. We got the paper work
together sent it all off to the English Embassy in the Ukraine, as Moldova
did not have an Embassy, and didn’t get one until 2004.
Mom and Vasea had to go on a three day train journey to Kiev to be
interviewed and go though all the checks to be sure if they came to England
they would go back.
To our great happiness they got the visas first time. Two tickets bought for a
flight to London and a one-month holiday was soon to follow, before we
knew it the family had arrived.
I now had to go through the whole teaching process again, super markets
now took 5 hours again as we had to read all the labels, everything had to be
explained from why we hadn’t any snow in the winter; to why we always
had hot water. I had to teach them to say please, and thank you to shop
assistances if they wanted to get served, and how to use a toaster. It was like
Then came the food tasting, I am lucky because I know my way around the
kitchen, this came in tremendous use as each night I was coming up with
something new from chilly to bread and butter pudding.
Then there was coq a van to steak and chips with all the trimmings. Chinese
and Indian take away, fish and chips and Pizza Hut we did the lot. Ice cream
of every flavour and sauces of every colour, brown and red mayonnaise and
What an adventure of tastes and flavours they had over the Christmas of
Then of course we had our festive dinner, a Turkey that was far too big for
the four of us and so big they did not believe it was all for them “it’s not
possible they would say” when seeing it in the oven and then on the table.
We had a feast that day with all the extras.
It had been about two weeks into the holiday when I started to notice Vasea
who was seventeen at the time did not seem to understand what he was
being shown. I know it was not due to language as his English was the best I
have every heard for a foreigner. I would point to something for all to see
but he seemed to miss it, there was no reaction or more importantly
recognition of what we were talking about. This came to a head when
crossing the road one afternoon when he was almost hit by a car, which we
all could see. It turned out that his eyes were so bad that he could not see
more than a few feet in front of his nose, he had glasses but they should
have been changed five years before. After confronting both he and his
mother about the situation they said that we had helped so much already that
they did not want to mention it.
Two hours later, and a new set of glasses from Vision Express, saw Vasea
walking round the streets of Torquay in wonderment.
Also I may say walking into everything in site, he had lost his vision
perception and though could now see, could not figure out how far away it
He spent the next two weeks rediscovering England all over again.
I could not let the opportunity of having the families visit pass with out
trying to get some advertising from it or should I say the opportunity to tell
people about the plight of Moldova. Through Doug’s shop an interview with
the local press was set up to do a story on the Moldavian in town. The story
read that Doug’s charity had paid for them to come over and was helping
them, some times it’s best to tell white lies.
This bought us a New Years Eve invitation to go to the Salvation Army, and
for me to tell the story of Moldova.
Not the way I would have planned to celebrate this memorable evening, but
I listened to the head man tell his religious stories to the congregation and
sang along to the hymns that I did not know, until I was called forward to do
my bit. Now I had not prepared for this, I felt I knew it so well that I would
be better off telling it from the heart, so that’s what I did. I can only
remember one thing from my thirty-minute presentation, and that was how I
described how Mother had gone to the dentist and with out the money to
pay, she had to endure extractions by the use of pliers without painkillers.
This of course brought gasps from the audience, but that was the idea, I had
made it up, it felt right at the time and I was here to shock. I am sure God
would forgive me.
My own shock was to come only a few minutes later when I sat back down
next to Mother. Vasea had translated to her and she was not happy with
what I had said. I tried to explain it was done for the right reasons but she
was having none of it and wanted me to tell the truth. The problem was that
when I was told what the truth was, it made me feel sick. Her teeth had been
After the meeting one man came over in his captain’s uniform. He said, “Hi,
I am Bob Wheatly and I will help you”. The next step had been taken.
Bob and his wife June said that they would raise the money and collect the
aid to take a seven and a half ton lorry of aid to Moldova. If we did the
paper work and sorted out the Moldavian end. So that’s what we did. Mom
and Vasea went home with instructions to find an orphanage that needed aid
and that could do the necessary documents, and we set about the task of
getting £2500 to pay for the transport, seven ton of aid and a lorry with
driver to transport it. Doing as Peter and Diana had asked we handed over
£600 from the business and the first thirty bags of clothes and bedding.
The very next day we started to collect aid, Doug helped offering the use of
his shop as a collection point. The Salvation Army gave us the use of the top
floor of their church as storage and to sort everything, and its members
emptied their wardrobes. This was going to be one hell of a job for so few
people to achieve, but then came along the Mormons from Salt Lake City
Just like our meeting with the Born again people, I got a knock on the door
in early January to find two young girls on my doorstep. Sara and Jenny
were on a mission to tell people about God, they were away from their home
for one year in their own pursuit of religion and had to preach the word
every day. I ended up telling them my story; they went away for a few days
only to return with the offer of help and £500 towards the cost. They had got
on the ‘phone to the family back home and we had been spoken about at the
next church meeting, based on this they decided to help.
So now we were six and that’s the way it stayed, seven ton of aid went up
three flights of stairs in the Salvation Army Church. It was sorted by our
small team of mixed religion, then went back down again to be loaded into
the back of our lorry just two months later.
As we were aiming to help an orphanage we tried to select clothing for
children and toys to suit all age groups, but seven ton is a lot and towards
the end we simply filled bags with the best stuff we had left.
Bedding and blankets were in short supply so were toiletries, but thanks to
Boots the chemist we got as much soap and toothpaste as we needed.
Money came in as well but not a lot, what was left after paying for the lorry
we gave to Bob as he had decided to fly over to meet the aid and to be sure
it got to the right place (he bought his own ticket) the money we raised he
would give as he felt right.
We had placed on the lorry fourteen banana boxes of food and several bags
of clothes for our family who lived in Belti in the north of the country. The
bulk of the aid would be going to the capital Chisinau, this is where almost
all of the aid that got into the country ended up and was controlled very
closely by the government. But for our first attempt we had no choice and
were just keen to help as much as we could.
I had taken my first steps into the world of humanitarian aid; it was to prove
to be a very dangerous place.
We did not see Bob or the Mormon girls again after this trip; every one went
their own way or back to their own way of life, having being touched by
Moldova and having done their bit. So I will take this chance to thank you
for what you did and the road that you helped place us on. Read this book
and know that you were part of the events that follow
It was time to go back to Moldova we had leant a lot about how to get
people involved in what we were doing, but now we needed ‘photos and
new stories to tell. Before we left we had made contact with another local
organization. This was a very big church group who were very much into
taking aid to Rumania and other countries, which they had been doing for
the last four years.
They had lorries and warehouses and people to do the work and raise the
funds. We had been invited along to a fund raising quiz night; they asked
some questions about who we were and what our aim was. The biggest
problem seemed to come from the fact that I was a non-believer. This is
something they could not understand that I wanted to help with out being
told to by God.
We explained the situation in Moldova a place they had never been too. I
even tried the best I could to suggest this is where God would like them to
help. Others were already in Moldova but none were in the north, no one
was getting aid to Belti our home town and the second largest city in the
It was all controlled by the government in the capital, and as we were to find
out over the coming years most aid never got to the people that needed it,
but ended up on the market being sold off. The money went into the pockets
of everyone but the poor or the children. An example of this could be seen
on an international scale when the English football team got involved in
A child starts the cooking fire in a village home with his bed in the corner