Rachmaninov concert, Cadogan Hall, London, Sat 2nd March
My Russian adventure started in London. The night before flying off, I was singing Rachmaninov (in Russian) at a concert in Cadogan Hall next to Sloane Square (no relation). I stayed the night in the Barbican at a friends' flat just down the road from Smithfield meat market. Passing through the next morning, it was unusually quiet with no sign of the usual meat porters rushing around in their white coats. Then the writing on a shop window explained it all ...
It's a four hour flight to Moscow. A snowstorm was well underway when we landed after dusk at Domodedova to the south of the city. The white runway was barely distinguishable from the rest of the airfield except there weren't any of the huge mountains of snow which were piled up to the sides which made it feel you were landing on the moon. As we turned off onto the taxiway, I looked back to see if any more aircraft were trying to make it in but the runway was already swarming with flashing yellow beacons - snow ploughs like worker ants, battling to keep the runway open before the next flight came in.
Once through immigration I had to run the gauntlet of the hundreds of taxi-drivers touting for business. This was my first chance to practice the one Russian word I knew : "Nyet" pronounced with the puffed out chest of authority. It seemed to work. Miraculously, Natalia, who had come to meet me spotted me in the crowd. Must have been something to do with the sandals and shorts abroad in the middle of winter.
Driving into the city, there were hold-ups because of multiple shunts on the icy roads. Obviously, all the gritter-ants had been diverted to the Airport to keep it open.
Natalia, who is a director in public relations for an advertising company, told me the history of the MND project I had been invited to come and see. It had started just under 2 years ago after Natalia's father-in-law died from the disease. She, like many others who have witnessed this in their families, wanted to make things better for future patients and their loved-ones. Services for such patients in Russia are sparse and many are left just to get on with it. Natalia obviously had the skills, drive and ambition to change this.
The entrance to Mary & Martha Convent
Orphanage and Cathedral
She got together with a local neurologist, Lev Brylev, and they formed a team of different professionals which included palliative care doctors and nurses, a psychologist, social worker, respiratory and intensive care physicians, physiotherapist, nutritionalist and supporting volunteers. Click here for website They meet fortnightly to discuss some of the growing list of patients on their books. They have also set up a 7-day hot-line for patients and family needing advice. An amazing feat in such a short time.
The project is one of 24 (!) within the Orthodox Mercy Charity. This is a church-based charity in Moscow well known throughout Russia for establishing social projects for the most vulnerable in society - the homeless, abandoned disabled in hospital, the elderly etc. It is based in the Convent of Martha and Mary in the centre of Moscow. There is an orphanage for girls abandoned through poverty and also a rehabilitation centre for children with cerebral palsy.
Natalia explained the programme for the week which included spending time with various members of the team at work and visiting MND patients in their homes and in hospital. It was to culminate with a 3 day training weekend in a beautiful countryside retreat in a forest two hours outside of Moscow. I was excited!