After many trials that tested a few of us to the very limit, at 1pm 31st August the peripatetic members of Chernobyl Aid Newry set off towards Shannon Airport. We – the 2005 expeditionary force! – were preceded by our lorry and food van, which had already, we were assured, arrived in far-off Belarus.
The plan, at time of writing, was that by the evening of Thurs 1st September we (our party, our friends out there and our advance goods!) would all meet at the asylum for mentally and physically disabled adults at the remote outpost of Yazovki.
Year three of a proposed five year project is unfolding. So begins a journey some have travelled before, while for others it is a new experience. Who will be the eejit this time, the joker in the pack who will cause us all to laugh? And which of the patients will get into our hearts and minds, and under our skins? It is one long way from Newry to Yazovki in many senses.
It is amazing to think that the group has reached this point: at one stage everything was running smoothly, – then for the last twelve days it has been high pressure time and poor Eugene Rushe was put through a severe test. Just a few days before departure Eugene, our great chef, caused many to fear what, when and how we would be fed as he thought that he would be unable to go. What a nightmare!
Before we go any further this is our first year that the great Frank Bradley will not be with us. His sudden death left a great void and his presence will be missed along with his sense of fun and problem-solving ability. Missing as well – until he sees the doctor is Collie McGuigan – but what this means is that some of us will not be on the end of any of his smart-alec remarks. Another one to miss out and she will be missed, is Majella Jennings. Oh I nearly forgot about joker John Burke, plumber.
Pride of place goes to Phillip Hughes, (Chinatown area) eighty years young and willing to get stuck into the plumbing work again. I do not have the time to list the number of times he has made us all laugh. His wit and antics at the dinner table has enlivened many a dark day. Dollar Duffy though hopes that Phillip this time does not go on a forest trip as the last time Phil and others got lost and ended up in Moscow, a really long walk. As to who lost who and who was the leader, Dollar would love to know! This should keep Dollar busy in Newry while we are away.
So here comes a list of who is on the two week trip. Newcomers/first timers: in the plumbing dept, Peter McCabe (Armagh); Clare Connolly, Rostrevor, medical team and Judith Milliken, chiropodist from Carrickfergus; and Gerard Duffy, joiner (Ballyholland). Leading the building squad Ronan Mynes, Mayobridge but a Newry born man (Down Head), leading the medical team Jacinta Curran, Warrenpoint, World champion talker. Others on the medical team Raymond McClelland (fireball) or Lazarus as he took up his bed that often to find some refuge from those engaged in snoring: others in the building squad, Harry Walsh (Liverpool head) Oliver Seed, Barry Devlin, Peter Hughes, Belfast and Miserable Head Pat Craven, tiler.
Others on the squad are Mark Pearce, photographer and kitchen hand, Harry McCartney, Carryduff, Crocked Crocodile Dundee. Our long haul specialist is Paul McKeown. The amount of driving this man did last year was unbelievable.
Arriving out for one week only are the following, Noel Morgan, Hilltown, Padraig Mallon, Green Road, Bessbrook and Give us a Job David Burke, Newry and a closet Francie Bellew fan. The more he rants about this great player, the funnier it gets. Burke is a die hard, red blooded Down Man. Last but not least, Brian Fitzpatrick, (Armagh head).
To be with this group of individuals is something else. From being proud of what they will achieve in less than two weeks, to the raucous laughter, the cheating at the pub quiz nights, the sights/sounds we will witness and the patients that will become names and characters thus making them important to us. People who do not know, think that we work during the day in the Asylum and then head back to a swanky hotel. The truth is, we live at the Asylum for the whole two weeks. We have our sleeping bags and airbeds, we have our own water and food and if anything causes a delay to the work timetable then we will put in the extra hours.
It is at this point that some people will praise us for what we do, for going to a place like Belarus, for coping with all the red tape and the heartbreaking sights we will witness but without the sheer generosity of individuals, groups and businesses in Newry City, Newry and Mourne and beyond we would never be able to undertake the work we do. After all the years and all the fund raising and donations of material it is just astounding what local people will do for us.
We have had smiles put on our faces by the good surprises given to us. Just when things look really gloomy someone will give to us and it makes everything so worthwhile. Sometimes we are reinvigorated by the sheer spontaneity of strangers who have heard or read about us.
Now for a little competition. I have mentioned some nick-names but try to match the following to the names already mentioned. Ditches, Yosser, Sex symbol, Bare Ass, Barcelona, Baileys and Babe Magnet. It must be remembered that if anyone does anything stupid then they deserve all they get.
On the Teddy Bears’ Picnic when the Famous Five got lost, after hours of walking, and the finger of blame was pointing all over the place, the immortal words of one of those teddy bears will be remembered: ‘I’ve never been so glad to see the Asylum’.
On Sunday 4th September, Armagh heads will be popping outside the asylum (at the workers’ bus-stop) to pick up text messages from home. A re-run of 2003? We suffered that day from those in the Down camp, friendships matter nowt where football is concerned!
To summarize! After a year we return to this forlorn place and the 450 patients and staff; it is like we never left but at least after 2004 there were great comments about when would the Irish return. It means we must be doing something right.
On behalf of C.A.N. we would like to thank everyone who made this possible. Already we are planning for 2006 with the hope that we will be given the support at home again.
MANY MANY THANKS because while it is tough to be away from home, we will have craic to tell and memories to store.