An old man, Vasile Belea, got lost on London tube while visiting his son. The poor man had been drifting God knows how and where before he had been found and reunited with his family. You can read all about the news here.
This is one of those stories which, when you read them, make you laugh and feel sorry at the same time. Well, if you’re British or any other nationality, the funny detail would most probably escape you. But for Romanians, the poor old man’s name is the reason. In Romanian, if you emphasize on the first syllable of Belea, it’s a family name, well known one. But if you place the accent on the second syllable, it becomes a completely different word, meaning trouble in a somewhat funny way, the kind of innocent trouble people sometimes get into. I can only but imagine people back in this man’s village or small town talking, when he goes back, a celebrity by now: “Old uncle Belea got himself into belea while in London”. And this sounds really funny.
On the other hand though I can’t help but think of how terrified he must have been. Apparently people have been nice to him, but still. By looking at him and the way he is dressed I can tell that he seems to be a countryside man, who maybe lived and worked his whole life as a farmer, tending to the vegetable garden, the poultry and probably a pig in his own backyard. He wears a typical lamb fleece hat and a typical vest called cojoc, which you wouldn’t really see elderly in the city to wear, unless they are just retired there with their family, after a lifelong spent in a village.
Then I wonder how he lived for three days while he was lost and completely cut out from his family. Did he sleep in a park? Did anybody feel sorry for him and gave him some food? How did he feel being lost in such a crazy busy city like London?
What worries me is that he tried to approach police and that was unsuccessful. Chatting to one of my house mates last night, he said something like “people don’t care” and reminded me of the movie “The Terminal” saying a true story about a man who lived for about 5 years in an airport, they all knew he was there and nobody really cared, until they’ve decided to grant him political asylum. While it can be understandable that people would think a grown man, fit and healthy, could take care of himself one way or another, I find it concerning that police would just ignore an old person trying to approach them.
Of course we can’t tell how it happened. But think about it: in the end, Vasile Belea took a newspaper with his photo in it and went to show it to the police. This underlines couple of things: the old countryside man from Romania found a way to help himself, in a world completely different from the one he’d known so far. And also, he wasn’t afraid of police and he knew that they would be the ones to finally help him. So I doubt it that the first two times he tried to get their attention he’d been too bashful or hesitating.
When police ignore or fail to help an elderly person, who clearly doesn’t look like a London regular, just because he doesn’t speak the language, I find it concerning. This man could’ve been from any country in the world, doesn’t matter. They couldn’t understand him? Keep him around, get somebody to take him to the police station, show him a map of the country, then Europe/the world and he could’ve said or indicated to Romania. Get him to the Embassy and problem solved. No need for the vulnerable elderly to spend three days and nights on the streets of London, all alone and miserable.
Compared to the police failure to help him, some people’s comments on the discussion board of Huffington Post seem mere frivolities. But they aren’t. When frustration has grown to such a level to which they mock a vulnerable person’s traumatizing experience just for being Romanian, it means it’s the same old story of a still immature society. Society as a group still functions for some to take advantage and for others to take their frustrations over others.
Me happy, dad tired, after six hours of strolling through London
This might be quite a strong statement, but it literally made me sick to read comments like “so when is he going back then?”. Yes, I find these comments oozing with racism. I mentioned it, and I got in reply the very intelligent and refined answer “stupid woman”. Right.
My father visited me here in October. It was his first time in the UK, but he had previously travelled to Austria and the neighbouring countries, former Yugoslavia and Hungary. Although he’s been brought up in a countryside household and he keeps a vegetable garden, poultry and all the rest, he is a priest, with four years of University studies. He’s a big fan of British documentaries on history, he watches old movies (without subtiles) on TCM and he’s a person with a certain degree of cultural information. He can speak basic English, although he is quite bashful when it comes to this. But he could manage if he’d get lost.
When he was here, for two weeks I took him all around the area. We’ve visited Hurst Castle, which was lots of fun for both of us, of course as a big history lover he thoroughly enjoyed it. We even faced the very strong winds on the spit with smiles on our faces. We went to Southampton and he could admire the old fortifications there. In Bournemouth we took a stroll on the beach, we’ve visited the old priory church in Christchurch. And we went to Beaulieu National Motor Museum for one day. Then, before him flying back home, I dragged him all around Central London, to all the important landmarks.
During those two weeks, none of the people who served us Chinese, Mexican or pub style food (The Harvester), who sold us tickets or were just around us in any of those place asked us “so, when is he going back?”. It would’ve been quite stupid, really. My father was here so I could spend my money showing him around, so why would they?
I want to conclude this article by saying the following: people who can make such comments to such a story show not only a big load of frustration, but also being insensitive and lacking in that human trait that makes us more than animals – empathy. They have probably never thought what if it was their father, lost in a city like Bucharest, all foreign and crazy for them. But I realise it would be difficult to find a place which could put their fathers in the same kind of situation. Fortunately, if an English elderly person would get lost in Bucharest, almost everybody could understand them saying that they are lost and need help and could offer them help. Lucky that English is spoken by so many people in today’s world that people from English speaking countries don’t even need to bother learning any other language.
Well, for an old countryside man from Romania being unable to speak English meant three days on the streets. I bet he never imagined he would get in such a situation. Him being safe and back with his family can even make us smile when reading about his story.