Friday, December 31, 2010


Start Again

I've only been doing this blog for a couple of months but so far I've had so many views from around the world so I wanted to wish everyone who has been following my adventures in Chisinau, a very happy new year and all the best to you in 2011. Lang may yer lum reek!

Here are some of my 2010 highlights:

Fiona and Tony got married on Waiheke Island, New Zealand, in January   
An amazing day with friends and family
Spending time with old friends from PYT in Dunning in April
Taking to the stage with AMOPS in Thoroughly Modern Millie in April
Seeing Whitney Houston with Justine in Glasgow in May. She kinda sucked but we were 3rd row.
Robbie and Emily get married in Musselburgh at the end of May
A last minute appearance at T in the Park in July
A visit to Moldova in August to meet my new colleagues at Hospice Angelus
Being part of Team Ben Nevis to raise money for Jack's Fund in September
After 10 years together, Mike and Gillian get married in September
6 years with SSE, but it was time to move on to pastures new in October
There have been so many highlights of moving to Moldova, but meeting Eurovision star Geta Burlacu is up there as one of the most memorable

Here's to more memorable moments in 2011......

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Happy Xmas (War Is Over)

So I need to ask you all a favour.....
Our volunteers at the Hospice have all been busily making Christmas cards over the last month or so and they are now up for auction on our Facebook page here. I know that this may be too late for December 25th but Moldovans celebrate Russian Christmas on January 7th. HOWEVER I can have these cards to you in Perth this Friday 24th December (as long as Heathrow gets its act together) OR you can buy these lovely cards to send in 2011. All proceeds go direct to the Hospice and I assure you that any money you can donate does make a difference.

Additionally, there is this beautiful card above made by own of our best volunteers (yours truly) and it is up for AUCTION. Bids will be accepted up until lunchtime tomorrow and I would appreciate anyone bidding on it who can (as it's in competition with another card - not as nice as mine - to get the most amount of money). So PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE comment below or email me direct to have this original piece of art in your mitts. Again - ALL PROCEEDS GO TO THE HOSPICE. You know you want to.....and I want to raise the most.

P.S. Here is the competition

Sunday, December 19, 2010


Do You Realize?

This week has been full of ups and downs at the Hospice. As some of you will have seen from my emails and Facebook updates, we are out of colostomy bags and this is a real dilemma. For many of our patients, they rely directly on these bags and for us to turn them away has been a real heartbreak for our medics. However, we have really had an answer to prayer and every day this week we have had patients' families coming into the office with their unused bags. Additionally, thanks to a friend of mine who works at the Scotsman in Edinburgh, we have had some great publicity in yesterday's edition of the paper which you can see here. Since then I have had emails from a couple of hospitals and from some of you who have suggested how we can get more. Thanks to all of you who have assisted and I hope I'll be coming back to Moldova in January with a case full of colostomy bags. Not sure if I'll manage to get through customs though without a bit of explaining....

We also found out this week that we received our accreditation to the House of Medical Insurance which is a big boost for the team and the Hospice. The team worked exceptionally hard to ensure we were meeting the right standards in the hospice and in our inspection assessment we only dropped 1 point. This is the first step to getting the Ministry of Health onboard to assisting with our funding. Palliative and hospice care is not recognised by the Ministry of Health here and we have been lobbying at the government and Parliament for this to be included on the national health. We are one step closer....

At the end of the week, I went out in the blizzards with Andrei and Polina, two of our medics, to visit some of our patients. We visited a 53 year old man with cancer of the intestine who lives in the country with his wife and daughter. Andrei had told me that this man was a bit of a hard nut in his day and was diagnosed in March with cancer. Since then he has deteriorated rapidly and when we arrived at his house it was a real struggle to see this man who was growing ever weaker struggle to even talk. He hasn't been eating and only drinks a bit of water a day. I asked how he could survive like this and Andrei said that at this stage, they recommend that the patients should not eat. It didn't occur to me until later when Andrei told me that it was likely that the man would probably slip into a coma later that day and he would be dead by Monday. When Andrei delivered this news to the man's wife and daughter, they didn't seem upset and I later asked Andrei why. He said that they have become used to the fact that this man, a husband and father, will lose his battle with cancer very soon. This was a really humbling moment and it was then that I realised that these doctors and nurses see this pain and suffering every day and that the work they do is so important. And to have to deliver news like this to someone's loved ones must be the hardest thing. Without Hospice Angelus and our fantastic medics, there would be more people living their last days in severe pain and discomfort. The latest figures show that 8000 people die in Moldova every year from cancer and this year we have worked with 400 patients. It's a small fraction and I can't help think of the thousands of others who do not have access to proper hospice care like we do in the UK, Europe and the West.

Here are some pictures of our doctors, including Andrei, working with our patients which we use on our website and in our presentations. Some of them are no longer with us, but it is comforting to know that they died with the minimum amount of pain with real care.

Andrei and Natalia, two of our doctors, consult an elderly patient in her home

A young patient with her mother at the Oncology Hospital

We treat many children at the Oncology Hospital

How can you not love a face like this? 

As I prepare to go home for Christmas and see some of you, I would like to remind you that the Hospice still needs help - both financial and medical - so if you would like to organise an event, make a donation or can help us out in any way, catch me when I'm home or drop me an email. Your efforts are so appreciated and believe me when I say that they CAN make a difference.

Thursday, December 9, 2010



I'm being a bit lazy today and sending you a link to someone else's blog that I found this week. It pretty much sums up what I have in the courtyard behind my flat. It's an alcove of about 15 big steel wheelie bins and what this couple talk about is pretty much how I start my day when I leave the house. Read about it here.

These guys have a great blog and this next post really touched me and about how this is how we should all be acting as we are called to help others not as fortunate as ourselves. Whether you be Christian, Muslim, atheist or Jedi, we can all learn a bit from what this woman did (and also from how her poor husband reacted at first).

Again, I can't help but feel so lucky to have had so many privileges in my life. I've never had to rake through a bin for my next meal nor relieved myself in a rubbish tip in front of strangers. But equally, I don't know if I've ever gone to help someone who I've seen do so nor offered them a place to go when they're out in the cold. I see poverty every day here on my way to work, whether it be the wee old man who begs on the street corner between my house and the bus-stop or the young lad who guides his blind mother through the passengers on the bus asking for money. But do you know what the main difference here is? EVERYONE gives. When the blind woman got on the bus today, people were falling over themselves to get into their wallets and handbags to hand something over. School kids run up to the wee old man and hand him some cash and have a wee joke and giggle with him. It's humbling to see that people with so very little themselves are quick to look after their own. I'm not telling you to hand over your last pound to the next homeless person you see nor am I trying to guilt anyone into donating to charity, but what I am saying is that this woman who the Australians wrote about could have been anyone. She could have been someone's mother or sister, but she was definitely somebody's daughter. She could have had a rich husband, a well-paid job and a massive house. She could have been a top-class business woman. She could have been you or me.

I hope I remember this tomorrow on my way to the office.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Back In The USSR

This past weekend has been a real contrast. It started brilliantly with a trip to the motherland, Romania, and its capital (or crapital as I used to refer to it), Bucharest. The event was the Hospice Casa Sperantei, our Romanian sister organisation, 10th Anniversary Edelweiss Ball.

The bus to Bucharest was an overnighter, leaving 10.30pm from Chisinau and arriving at 7am in Bucharest. It wasn't too bad a trip actually and is preferable to the train as you don't have to wait 3 hours at the border to be airlifted onto the European train wheels from the Russian ones. Crossing the border from Moldova into the EU is just like it used to be crossing the border from Romania to Hungary 10 years ago. Granted, there are no guns or 4 hour delays but there is still a sense of excitement and change. When you arrive at the border, everyone is traipsed off the bus and put through passport control. So far, so normal. Like at most border patrols around Romania, there are fighting stray dogs, nonchalant guards and plenty folk just hanging about to watch what's going on. But then the bus is boarded by the guards dressed like those in the Elton John 'Nikita' video and they can be pretty scary when asking the Moldovans why they are going to Romania, how long they are staying for and if they have an invitation letter. Indeed, two passengers who were sitting either side of me were dragged away for interrogation and only one of them reappeared. Then one of the aforementioned scrapping dogs (which I then noticed was a police alsatian with a POLITIA jacket on) bounds around the bus sniffing for who knows what and then does the same to our bags (and in the process nabs a woman's sandwich much to our delight). I'd really like to have taken photos at this point but security prohibits it and after realising that the girl sitting next to me wasn't coming back, I knew they meant business and kept my camera in my bag.

After 90 minutes of standing in the freezing cold passing through two borders, we were on our way to Bucharest and I slept pretty much all the way there. Arriving in the country's capital you come to realise that it's a bit of a dump. At the peak of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu's power, he destroyed a lot of the city's old buildings and turned them into apartment blocks. The city which was previously referred to as 'The Paris of the East' was completely renovated to make it seem like a rich and prosperous city. Ceausescu decided to build a river through the centre, and amongst other things, built this, the second largest building in the world, Bucharest's Palace of the Parliament:

While it's an eyesore, and most Romanians I know hate it and what it symbolises, you cannot fail to be awestruck whenever you see it. It really is impressive and prior to my visit this weekend, would have been the only thing I would recommend as a must-see in the city.

I arrived at the venue of the ball, the Athenee Palace Hilton at around 7.30am, after being suitably conned by a local taxi driver, and checked in (the team at Casa Sperantei had VERY kindly booked me in to one of their complimentary rooms). The theme of the ball was Around The World and man, the team did a spectacular job. More on that in a bit.....

The hotel was situated on Revolution Square where the Bucharest part of the Romanian Revolution in 1989 kicked off. I had watched the video of when the crowds started booing Ceausescu all those years ago (and the look on his face when he realises that they are not cheering his address - at 2:40 - is priceless - see here) which signalled the start of the revolution and I got to see where it all started.

The building is now the host to some government ministries but there is a monument to remember the people who lost their lives during the revolution where those crowds once stood.

Shortly afterwards, the Ceausescus had to escape by helicopter and eventually were executed on Christmas Day 1989 but it was a real experience to see where it all began. A sobering experience for sure and a stark reminder of what could happen in Moldova should the Communists get back in after Sunday's shocking election, the third in the last two years. The Communist party received 39% of the vote while the 3 democratic parties (who have formed a coalition) managed 52% between them which equates to 59 seats, just short of the 61 seats needed to elect the President and overcome Communist resistance to a more Russian-influenced state. Many people are worried here that the Communists could steal some of the coalition to have a majority and if this happens, there could be a repeat of last year's riots where the Parliament and Presidential buildings were both ransacked by young protesters (see here). Most young people here are worried and have vowed to leave the country if the government turns its back to the west and looks back to the old Soviet Days.

Back to the ball, which kicked off around 7pm. As I said, the theme was 'Around The World' and we were treated to some amazing table decorations for each of the 18 tables which represented a different country.

The top table, Scotland of course

The Italian table

The China table (my favourite)

The Dutch table

Japan's table

It's Brazil (my table)

South Africa

Romania's table (the grandest, of course)

England shows off its table

We were hard-pushed to guess this one. No, it's not a squirrel or a beaver, it's a kangaroo. I give you the Australia table

Another favourite of mine, the New Zealand table

The table from the USA

The Canadian maple leaf

A sombrero represents Mexico

The French table
There were a few other tables, including a German one represented by a steiner but I didn't manage to get photos of that. Highlights of the night included an incredible auction where some great prizes were auctioned off including:
  • Your chance to star in a children's book to be published in 2011
  • To have your child walk out with the captains at the Liverpool V Steaua Bucharest match this week
  • A weekend in Edinburgh
  • A weekend at the not-even-opened-yet Waldorf hotel just outside London
  • A VIP weekend to the Budapest Grand Prix with money-can't-buy-tickets at the start and finish line
The auction raised about 70k Euros for the hospice work in Romania, a great result. Full of ambassadors, celebrities, rich folk, royalty and Ethan Hawke's mum, it really was a fantastic night culminating in their new promotional film about hospice work which has a very special soundtrack from a very BIG rock band who have given the hospice permission to use one of their most well-known tunes as the backdrop. Sadly, I'm not allowed to disclose who the band is yet as things are not finalised, but man, what a result. A huge congratulations to the Bucharest /  Brasov team who managed to pull it all together and make it seem so easy. I'm slightly nervous now at having to organise a similar event in the Spring.

But as usual, there was a major McKellar celebrity embarrassing moment. Romanian actor, Dragos Bucur, who was in a brilliant Romanian film called the Death of Mr Lazarescu and is in the new Colin Farrell movie out next month, was there and I was determined to get my photo taken with him. So I tracked him down and congratulated him on his work and asked about Mr Farrell. He said he hadn't been in a movie with Colin Farrell and was actually a guy called Dragos Bucurenci, a famous Romanian journalist, charity supporter and former contestant on Romania's version of Strictly Come Dancing. I apologised profusely, smiled in a mortified manner and quickly made my exit. What a tube. Anyway, here's the pic.

So I left Bucharest with a changed opinion and somewhere I want to go back to again to explore more. For all you Londoners, you can get really cheap flights from Luton with Wizz Air, so let me know if you fancy a long weekend and I'll see you there. Back to Chisinau on Sunday on the minibus (made all the more boring by me standing on my headphones thus having no music) and I got home to a bit of snow in Moldova. It's by no means shut down the country like it has done in the UK but finally, winter has arrived in Moldova and it's bloody freezing.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010


Never Coming Back

While watching the Travel Channel the other day, I was reminded of Michael Palin's New Europe, a series about the new EU states and their neighbours, which aired a few years ago on the BBC. I remember watching with interest about what he had to say about Romania and of course, there was the section about the People's Palace in Bucharest, which explained about the terrible things that Nicolae Ceausescu did to his people during Communism. But I also remembered that the episode started in Moldova, just a skip across the border from Romania. Now that I'm here, I wanted to watch it again but was unable to find a full version of the episode. In fact, the only thing I could find on Youtube was this small snippet which I watched with interest and shock.

Today, I've been doing some research online about organisations who we can approach for funding here in Moldova and I've also read about other NGO's here in Chisinau. I keep finding pages about the situation surrounding human trafficking here in Moldova and came across this article from The Scotsman in 2006. Statistics say that almost 80% of women between the ages of 16 and 36 in rural Moldova are missing, most having been forced into prostitution abroad and have no chance of escape. These figures are impossible to substantiate however I have read a few more articles about this scandal and it appears that the authorities are not interested. Indeed, even police, border guards and governmental officials profit from this business which is worth $30 billion per year. This weekend, the national elections take place in Moldova and the people are hopeful that they will have a stable government for the first time in 18 months and for the first time in decades, a government free from Communist influence. Let's also hope that the eradication of human trafficking is high on the agenda of the successful party and candidate. It's impossible to imagine how it must feel for these women and children who are subjected to this sort of deceit and treatment but I am thankful that girls like Olga, described above, are helped by those kind enough to risk everything to assist. But these numbers are few and far between. I came across this poster which has the tagline 'Tu nu esti Marfa' which basically translates as 'You are not merchandise'. It says it all.

On the day when we hear about what's going on in New Zealand, North and South Korea and Cambodia, this article reminded me how blessed and lucky some of us are.

For more information on this horrific subject, you can read more here

Friday, November 19, 2010



This week we had our first event that I have been involved in since coming to Chisinau, the Angelus Moldova Winter Social Networking lunch. We held the event at Marius Restaurant, a really cozy little place in the town centre, and invited our supporters, our board of trustees, other NGO's and local dignitaries and business people.

Marius Restaurant initially seemed really responsive and were pleased to host our event, but as we went on they became less co-operative and kept adding on new costs. Indeed, on the morning of our event, the manager called us to tell us we would have to pay for the waiting staff too. Needless to say, Marius Restaurant will not be receiving another lei from us ever again as their service was rubbish. Idiots.

We couldn't have asked for a better event though. We had some really great guests including the British Ambassador to Moldova, the Moldovan Prime Minister's wife, and Moldovan Eurovision star (and my new best pal), Geta Burlacu. The team from the Hospice were brilliant and the guests could not have been more receptive. The event was sponsored by Purcari Wineries, one of the best Moldovan wine manufacturers whose fans include our own Queen. I'm having a visit to the vineyard in a couple of weeks so when you lot come over, I'll have one place ticked off to take you. YUM!

Here's a selection of some pics from the event:

Our UK partner director, Graham Perolls speaks while others including the UK Ambassador (from Edinburgh - top lad), Victoria Condrat (our volunteer) and others look on

Our PR Manager, Irina looks on next to our Moldovan Director, Valeriu Isac and the PM's wife, Sanda Filat (in the red shoes)

Me and Geta Burlacu. I now love this woman. You can tell by the exciteable look on my face.

A photo all over Chisinau apparently advertising a play about Rene from 'Allo 'Allo and Sybil Fawlty

This is a blue phone I found in a hotel. I'm not sure who you can ring from it. Batman? This has nothing to do with our networking lunch but thought it quite retro anyway.

Monday, November 15, 2010


Danger Zone

So after a month here in Moldova I've found out some pretty interesting facts about the place. It really is a unique country and I wanted to share these fascinating points of non-fiction with you.

1. Chisinau has the largest cemetery in Europe It's true. I've been. In fact when I came to visit in August, we visited the graveyard with my boss and his wife. It's massive and has different sectors including a Jewish sector, a Muslim sector and a sector for Soviet war graves. Many of the older graves are in Russian only but the most recent graves are in Romanian. In fact, there are pictures on most graves of those who have passed but weirdly, on some gravestones there are pictures of those who are not dead yet. For example, Mrs Petrescu's husband might have carked it, but she is still alive, yet her picture is already on the gravestone and the grave is lying waiting for her. Surely for her it must be a bit strange to see her face already on the gravestone when she visits Mr Petrescu. 

2. Chisinau is one of the greenest capitals in Europe Yep, we have many parks throughout the city and the main throughfare, St Stephen The Great Street, is lined with large oak trees. Central Park, on St Stephen The Great, is beautiful at the moment. Leaves have fallen and the trees are bare but it's peaceful yet full of people playing petanque, skateboarding and old men sitting around enjoying a game of chess. Here are a couple of pictures I took of St Stephen The Great Street and Central Park at the weekend.

3. Moldova has the largest wine cellars in the world This is my kind of fact. The wine cellars at Milestii Mici sport 160 miles of tunnels where about half are used to store wine. The second and third largest wine cellars in the world are also in Moldova. You can even drive your car down into the tunnels

4. Moldova has the highest rate in the world of death by powered lawnmower I'm not making this up

5. Living in Chisinau, I am in closer proximity to Baghdad than I am to Perth By about 150 miles

Any more for any more?