Saturday, December 18, 2010

A new word for winter- Viscoli

VISCOLÍ, pers. 3 viscolește, vb. IV. Intranz. A bate un vânt puternic cu ninsoare sau cu lapoviță. ♦ Tranz. (Despre vânt) A spulbera și a troieni (succesiv) zăpada. – Din viscol.
Sursa: DEX '98

So when you're walking along and the wind is blowing so hard that it is blowing the snow off the ground and into your face. = viscoleste



Ernest walking on "pamantul viscolit" - ground that the snow has been blown off of by high speed winds.

Even after one and a half years in Romania rarely does a day go by that I don't learn something new about the language. As Ernest and I were hiking in Parang yesterday I learned the above word. Winter has arrived with force here in Romania and Europe. The map of Romania is painted yellow and the mountain is painted white. The last couple of weeks has brought several centimeters of snow to town and even more to the mountain. Yesterday I bundled up while sipping on my morning coffee excited to finally get up to the mountain after a month of having other things to do on the weekends. A whole month off the mountain just doesn't feel right.

The sun poked through a bit in the morning but by the time we were in the cab toward the chair lift it was long gone not to return. We decided to play it safe and walk the road from the bottom of the chairlift to the top. The entire road was covered in snow but occasionally we would see a courageous driver, the car slowly climbing up with sporadic traction as it passed us by. We even saw one Dacia climbing up the snow covered switchbacks.

High powered winds, the occasional friendly dog, and good conversation carried us up the road to IEFS where we searched for a good coffee and found packed cabins instead. After starting our trek down we found a nice quiet place to have a coffee. The trip down was a blast. We decided to take the shortcut instead of the road where we slid much of the way down (step-slide, step-slide). We where having so much fun that Ernest asked me if I wanted to try going down "zidul mortii"(the wall of the dead). On our way to "the wall" we met up with some adrenaline loving kids and with them, Ernest and I slid down the slope through the fresh snow on our buts.

Welcome winter!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Caroling circle

Before coming to Romania I was quite familiar with music circles. I may have joined a drum circle once or twice in my younger years but my lack of rhythm usually left me on the periphery enjoying the sounds produced by slightly more skilled musicians. One of my favorite memories of my college years took place at the Hogue's residence. I would enter the room and see at least 3 guitars, maybe some bongo drums, and whatever else they had there to make music with. The furniture was arranged around a center table and we just happened to be sitting in a circle, the music was flowing. One activity that would pop up at times was a song where we went around the room and everyone had to improvise a verse. Even though I wasn't very good at this I really liked hearing what people came up with and well, in that environment you didn't have to be good at it, it was just fun. I was reminded about these "music circles" last night when I took a nice winter walk through the park.

Over the past few weeks it has seemed like night has been falling on Petrocity so fast. Even though I have caught glimpses of the pretty lights and the evening winter activities, I haven't yet taken the time to just wander through town and enjoy the holiday spirit. I kept on telling myself when I returned home from school "tonight I'll get bundled up and take a walk through town" but when the time came it just seemed so much nicer to stay in the house. Last night the conditions were perfect.

It was about 5:30pm when I was reminded of the night's special event. Earlier yesterday, on my way to school, my Romanian teacher offered me a ride in a taxi that she was taking to school. She was on her way to rehearse some carols with students. It was in that cab when she informed me that at 6:00pm she would be in the park with some students caroling. At 5:30 I started bundling up and by 5:45 I was out the door where I quickly realized that it was a beautiful night. It wasn't super cold like it had been the day before, and it was snowing a bit. While walking through town I could feel the holiday spirit. Petrocity is decked out in Christmas lights on its main street which stretches for about 3 km. There were people doing Christmas shopping, grocery shopping, going out to restaurants, or just walking with their friends. I had a destination in mind. My destination was the park. The park in Petrocity is pretty extraordinary at the moment. It's covered in Christmas lights with the main concentration of lights at the fountain. Each light post has a speaker pumping out holiday tunes. In the center of the park you see a very large tree decorated with lights and a star at its peak. Next to the tree there is a nativity scene with some sheep there eating hay. Finally, next to the tree I saw the group of people standing together.

I expected to see something like a chorus concert. My Romanian teacher told me that other schools were involved as well. What I saw was a music circle, in fact it was a caroling circle.

I would say that caroling is big in Romania. Last year some kids came knocking on my door and as I opened it they began singing Romanian carols. I listened with a smile and I reached into my pockets. As they finished I handed them each one leu and thanked them for the holiday spirit. This year there were two big, back to back activities at my school both involving Christmas caroling. A tradition that I've heard of that I haven't had a chance to participate in is caroling on Christmas eve. People of all ages form small groups and go around to the houses of people they know where they sing Christmas carols and then they are invited in, fed delicious food, and they sip on warm wine or tuica. When I took some time to think about these traditions I realized that something similar hits close to home. These seem to be Orthodox traditions. I remembered Russian Christmas on the 7th of January going to church and the a nice dinner afterwords in the church hall. After the dinner we would come home and my parents would put cookies and drinks out on the table, we were expecting carolers. A family from the church would come by the house on every Russian Christmas and they sang carols and chatted with us for a while before going to the next house.

When I arrived at the circle I met up with my Romanian teacher and some of her students. They were students that I had seen caroling earlier that day at our school. When it was time for Colegiul Tehnica to go the group stepped up and started their carols. One of the students brought a guitar and with it he led the group through a number of carols. At one point they called me up to help them sing "We wish you a Merry Christmas". I was embarrassed that I didn't know all of the lyrics, just the chorus. I would say that the group from Colegiul Tehnica did a fine job. The other high schools followed and by the end everybody in the circle was singing to close the event.

I continued my leisurely walk through the city passing by the temporary ice rink and the market which was closed for the evening. Finally I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a couple things before returning home. It ended up being a great night to see the lights, feel the Christmas spirit in town, and I got some shopping done as well. Sarbatori Fericite!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Two years, a long time?

One year and five months later I found myself alone in an apartment reading a book but not processing anything, anticipating the arrival of my brother and my sister in-law. I left New York telling myself that two years really isn't that much time. Since high school life has been passing in two year increments. Two years of community college was followed by two years at university which was slightly extended into my two years of miscellaneous before joining yet another two year stint, Peace Corps. Each of those time periods seemed to fly by without notice and I was excited to be moving on to the next two years, only two years.

I've realized that this time period will not fly by without notice. This time there is a variable within this two year increment that makes me realize that two years is kind of a long time. That variable is home and seeing family, some "home" faces, helped me realize for the first time ever that two years is actually quite a bit of time.

It was a bit shocking seeing some familiar faces. Sure, I see these faces over skype from time to time, but it isn't the same. At least that is what I would always tell myself before but now I actually know. No matter how much I like skype it doesn't hold a candle to a nice face to face interaction, especially when it's been well over a year since that last face to face interaction. Leading up to meeting my brother and sister in-law I did have a bit of anxiety but I quickly realized that family will always be family and it doesn't take long to regain that feeling of comfort.

My trip to Venice was not about canals, gondolas, churches, and tourists like I once imagined, but about getting the chance to see some family. In seeing Joe and Allison in person I truly felt that even though I am gaining so much by working in Romania, I am missing out on something important. There comes a time in a lot of peoples life when they have to move out and be more independent and it is no doubt that joining PC was the true beginning of that time in my life. Moving out does not have to mean for two years, and does not have to mean to the other side of the world. In seeing Joe and Allison I embraced home but I also missed home more than I have since coming to Romania. For the first time this year I wasn't totally sold on the possibility of extending my service.

This doesn't mean that I regret my decision to join Peace Corps at all. It is part of a path that I have chosen for myself that I have truly enjoyed from day one. It does mean that in choosing this path I have made sacrifices and it is only fair to finally face some of those sacrifices. After a beautiful rainy and overcast 3 days in Venice I said "so long" to Joe and Allison before boarding on the day's first bus out. It wasn't at all a sad goodbye. I had gone seventeen months without seeing them and only had ten left until our next meeting. Ten months, no sweat.

Thanks Joe and Allison for the great time in Venice and for taking time in your trip to meet up with me.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

"YES"

Recently I have finished a book called "Yes Man" by Danny Wallace. You may have heard of the movie staring Jim Carry(http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1068680/). When I first saw the trailers for the movie I thought that it was a pretty neat concept, a person who could only say "yes" to offers or invitations, but I never thought that it was based on a true story. I never actually ended up watching the movie but a friend of mine passed the book along and now, having read it, I notice that the concept fits well into my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer.

For those who have not read the book or seen the movie let me tell you a bit about the story. It starts with a guy who is pretty bummed out about loosing his girlfriend and for months he turns into kind of a loner. Finally one day, a few words spoken to him by a stranger on a bus set in motion several months of his "yes" adventure. He learns that saying "yes" to things that he would normally say "no" begins a chain of events that significantly changes his situation and ultimately, his outlook on life. He has some pretty wild experiences, meets really interesting people, sees things that he would have never seen otherwise, and forms lasting relationships. By only living a few months as a "yes man" his whole world changed. Of course it wasn't at all an easy task for him and evidently he suffered some hardships thanks to "yes".

How does this apply to my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer?

Like Danny, it was only a few simple words that inspired my adventure. I didn't receive those words from a stranger on a bus but from a friend at a bar. Like that stranger, the person who spoke to me has no idea of the impact that their words had. It is amazing that just a few simple words that one says can totally change someones life without the speaker ever knowing. That change can set in motion countless other interactions and changes that have a serious impact a world away.

I wouldn't consider myself a "yes man" but the most important piece of advice that a veteran PC volunteer can give new volunteers in my mind is "don't turn down an invitation". It typically refers to their first three months at site in which they are trying to integrate into their new community, making new contacts, and learn the culture. Saying "yes" worked well for me in that first three months and therefore I have tried to extend the practice throughout my service. It isn't always easy to say yes. Sometimes after a long, tiring day at school, the last thing you want to do is spend all night struggling though language and screwing up cultural norms. Sometimes its not such a great experience, but most of the time you can look back with at least a sense of accomplishment. You struggled though the language and, for the most part, succeeded. You made new contacts and friends that will surely help you in your time at site. Finally, you had fun. Reading this book at this point in service was a good reminder to go back to the first three months and accept more invitations. During the period in which I was reading "Yes Man" I have met new people, and I have done new things that have significantly add to my experience here in Romania.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lets do it!

If I remember correctly. Corning, New York (my home town) is a clean place. People generally don't throw their trash in the river. If there is a garbage can you won't see kids, young adults, even old adults throwing their trash on the ground next to it. As a teen I spent a lot of time downtown rollerblading. Living in a clean place instilled decent values in me. During many of those long days downtown on 8 wheels I carried wrappers in my pocket or empty coke bottles until I found a trash can to unload in. It was normal and that made it easy. By taking care of my own trash I was not at all special. It was just something that everyone did. Petrosani is different than Corning.

For there being so many trash cans on the street I was seeing an awful lot of trash on the street. It wasn't something that really popped out at me at first. The more that my Romanian counterparts, friends, and acquaintances mentioned their "dirty country" the more I noticed dirty things. The only obviously trashy parts of the area are the streams and rivers where rainstorms displace the garbage of the freshly dog scrounged, overflowing dumpsters into the local waterway. The "problem" really hit me when I was walking behind one of my students on my back to my block after dropping a bag of my own garbage into my dumpster. He was only about two meters from the trash can when I spotted him dropping a wrapper of a candy bar on the ground. "Razvan, pick that up and put it in the trash can" I said. My limited Romanian, at the time, combined with some English and some useful body language to get the point across and Razvan obeyed. I have pondered and discussed that experience a lot since it happened and I have come to the conclusion that while in Corning it was normal to through trash in the can, here it just simply isn't. At least not yet. Razvan is not a bad kid at all. He's actually one of my better behaved students and a pleasure to have in class. His practice of throwing his trash on the ground was just something that he has always done, and has seen others doing.

So last fall, in my "don't turn down an invitation" part of service I was invited along on a trash pick-up. On a Saturday when I could have been lying in bed, watching a movie, and being lazy, instead I was pulling rubber gloves over my hands and grabbing hold of a trash bag. Did I mention there was a free t-shirt involved? A green t-shirt (my favorite color) that said Omaha Nebraska on it. Maybe I'll go there someday. If I go there I have a great shirt to wear showing my support for a town that I currently know nothing about. On trash pick-up day 2010 I pulled that same shirt over my head and headed for city hall. Trash pick-up day 2010 was special for a couple of reasons. Reason number one was that it wasn't just a small group of 30-some highschoolers and a couple of teachers, it was a nation-wide campaign to clean up all of Romania. Reason number two was that it wasn't just on any random day, it was on my 25th birthday. I made it to a quarter century!!! Reason number three was that I was with a really cool friend who, when I told her that our weekend activity was picking up trash, became just as excited as I was.

Lets do it Romania! as I understand it is modeled after a successful Estonian project several years ago; a project that cleaned up the entire country of Estonia in a single day. While last years trash pick-up consisted mostly of students with few teachers involved, Lets do it Romania! was more for the common citizen. Anybody could make a team, register that team, and finally that team would be responsible for cleaning up a certain part of Romania. As I approached city hall it already appeared that my town was ready to get to work. People packed into the meeting hall as a lady called out the team names and the area of the region that they would be responsible for cleaning up. On our way out of the hall I was handed a water and a small bag which included a piece of fruit and some sponge cake. From there we walked to the spot on the edge of town to begin our work.

My team was made up of half teachers and half students. We were responsible for cleaning up a creek and nearby road that was located just beyond Aeroport, the southern most neighborhood in my city. My friend and I seemed to hold up the rear. She was so determined to fish the potato-chip bag, or the shoe, or the shirt out of the middle of the creek. If there was a piece of debris that she couldn't manage to reach she would seem so bummed. I admire her determination. Anyway eventually we caught up to the rest. As we reached the bottom of the road we added our two heavy bags (full of water-logged trash, clothing) to the already huge pile of trash. We were already finished.

Ten years ago if you told me that I would one day go and pick up trash for fun I would call you crazy. There I was on a cloudy, somewhat rainy Saturday morning, on my birthday none-the-less, with friends and students having a blast picking up trash. I don't know actually how effective these trash pick-ups actually are. I hear from a lot doubters that if I walk by that same spot two weeks from the time of the clean-up, it'll be yet again covered in trash. Maybe they're right, maybe there really isn't way to clean up Romania. For me it wasn't all that much about the cleaning anyway. It was more about the conversations that I had on the walk with my students. It was about the determination of my friends and my students to get that shirt out of the middle of the stream. It was about getting your feet wet and your hands dirty just to get the cup that was half buried in the sand under the water. It was about the smiles, the good pictures taken and the working together. Razvan was there. He was the only student from his class that was present. Maybe next time I'm walking behind him I won't have to remind him to put the trash in the trash can.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gathering

Fungi

Suddenly I felt the soft forest floor of thick moss over large rocks. My concentration was broken by the change in the forest floor as the sound of the crunching of last seasons fallen leaves turned into the silent compacting of moss. Eyes lifted from their careful scanning the forest floor around my feet to to the distant rise in the landscape through the trees and past the bright green covered rocks. As the morning sun dotted the landscape in front of me I could not imagine a place that I would have rather been at that moment. Sure it was hard to pull myself out of bed that morning after a long night of Romanian pop music in the streets of Petrosani, but when I saw the morning sun rise high enough to cast a yellow light on my bedroom wall I realized that if I were to stay in bed that morning then I would regret the decision. I rose out of bed, started the coffee on the stove, and watched the news as I waited for Morison's call.

You know that it is going to be a good day when it starts off with a slow cruise up a winding road periodically catching the bright morning sun after rounding the bend. Loaded with potholes, it took us about 45 min to reach Groapa Seaca after passing through Jiet Canyon. On a cleaned up version of the road I would estimate the trip to last 15 minutes. Nobody was in a hurry. It was early yet and expectations for a big find were low. It was a hike, but if we managed to find what we went looking for, great. And so went the start of my first morning, wandering through the forest in search of edible fungi. On the previous hike I became somewhat oriented with mushrooms. We spotted several, and my guides quickly identified which were edible and which were toxic, giving me somewhat of an idea of what to look for. My first couple of finds I took over to Morison for verification and with each one he confirmed an edible find. I was collecting strictly on the principle that if something else had previously munched on it, it must not be toxic. The mushrooms that I picked up were second-hand mushrooms.

Wandering through the forest that morning my two guides were within site most of the time and within shouting distance all of the time. They had a much better eye for what they were looking for. For the most part I just picked out the more prevalent and easier to spot yellow caps while my partners spotted the more desired maroon capped mushrooms as well. At one point Morison found a mushroom that did not at all resemble the traditional shape of a mushroom. Instead it looked like a mini dirty-maroon forest of fungus growing in an opening in the forest. He handed me some to put in my bag but later that evening he called me warning that it was rather bitter, so I tossed it. There were times in my wandering when I was completely focused at the ground around my feet. My nearsightedness was a limitation in the forest as my sharp vision was limited to a mere 2-2.5 meters in front of me. There were other times in my wandering where my concentration had been broken and I simply moved my feet in awe of the environment surrounding me. It could not have been a nicer morning to be in the forest. The sun popped in where it could and I was wearing just enough layers to protect me from the bite of the cool early fall temperatures.

Before letting me off at my apartment just as the sun reached its peak position in the sky, Morison insisted on taking a look through my bag to make sure that what I took from the forest would not kill me if I ate it. He verified that all of the mushrooms that I picked where good and gave me some instructions for initial preparation. I was happy to have his confirmation but I was still leery about what was in my bag. Picking mushrooms can be a very dangerous activity but I went on with preparation anyway. I prepared a nice stew after boiling the mushrooms and adding them to a pot full of vegetables. After dishing out a tiny portion for myself I sat and stared at the plate for a minute. It looked good, it smelled good, but was it safe to eat? There was only one way to find out. I ate the tiny, delicious portion of mushroom stew and laid down for a nap. If I woke up feeling alright then I could finally consider my first mushroom hunt a success and I would dig in on a much larger serving. It ended well. Pofta buna!



Fruit

Just before Cabana Lunca Florii we spotted a Dacia kicking up dirt on its way up the road. How could we miss it? By that point we had made it up through the canyon to a stretch of road rarely used at that time in the season. Summer had ended and the cooler days of fall had descended upon the Jiu Valley. The cabana was already closed up for the season at the beginning of September and there were no longer signs of people grilling, a sight that would have packed the banks of the creak just 2 weeks earlier. Ernest flagged down the Dacia and I jumped in the back with our backpacks. The two of them chatted as we hurried up the dirt road in the old car. Less than 10 minutes later we reached our drop off point and as I climbed out of the backseat I heard Ernest say "am economisit o ora si jumate". Thanks to the Dacia we had saved an hour and a half of walking. We still had more to go. The short road took us to a spring where we filled up with fresh water and from there we took a hard left on a path leading straight up the hill.


It was my second time hiking in the Sureanu Mountains. We had hiked the exact same trail, almost exactly a year earlier, in search of the exact same thing, blackberries. It was a steep trail leading us into a dark forest and then out to the edge where we walked up a ridge. From the ridge I looked straight ahead and to the left to see a tree on the side of the hill. That tree was our destination. A year earlier we sat our bags down next to that tree and started wandering the area finding some delicious blackberries, not enough to gather but definitely enough to munch on until full. The tree is the only tree situated on that particular steep slope but it is surrounded by bushes that yield an incredible amount of fruit if you happen to be wandering by at the right time.

Once again we had not arrived at the right time. The previous year we were late, this year we were early. After enjoying some zacusca over bread we began to forage. I quickly learned the trick to finding a good berry. First of all it must be the right color. In the berry's development it starts out green, then changes to red, and finally to black. When spotting a good sized black one you hold it and start to pull. If it is ripe, you barely have to pull before it breaks off into your hand. If you have to give it a good tug in order to break it off, once you pop it in your mouth you quickly realize that you pulled too hard. In learning the right amount of pull to get a good tasting berry I had to spit out several. Trial and error.

This time we wandered further up the hill to the ridge were we found many berry bushes. I ate until I had had enough and then we continued on the trail. As we passed over the ridge we could see a sheepfold on an adjacent hill with some people near it collecting berries. Ernest told me that Priest's Valley, the area that we were in, has a high frequency of lightning strikes and therefore the sheepfold was vacant. A few years earlier several sheep had died there from a lightning strike. We decided to sit down there for a while and eat. We ate, we napped, and we chatted, preparing ourselves for the descent ahead of us.

Our walk back to Petrila was long. The descent was nice and easy bringing us through a dark forest and by a couple of old secluded sheepfolds. After reaching the road we walked all 10 kilometers back to Petrila which took a toll on my feet. We took a small detour on a road leading from the canyon to Leonia passing by small country houses with fruit-filled trees in their front yards. Even though we did not return home that day with a bag full of berries we filled our bellies. After such a long walk neither of us were ready to stand by the stove and cook up jam anyway. It was a good day of escape from the city.



Lessons learned:
First lesson is, if you have the chance, take it. This is a lesson that has proved to be helpful in integrating throughout my service. So many mornings I have woken up to an alarm with my body begging me to stay in. Soon after that early morning coffee I end up realizing that getting up and getting outside was by far the best option.
Second lesson is, if you want to do something, ask. I've been wanting to go mushroom hunting. During my last hiking trip I realized that there are a couple people I know that go mushroom hunting from time to time, so I asked if I could come along next time. They were happy to bring me along and show me how its done.
Third lesson is, have a guide. People in the area know the spots and in my experiences, they're happy to show them to you. Maybe it is because you're foreign, and your stay is temporary so they are a little more at ease with sharing their secret spots. Maybe they are just hospitable and they enjoy the company. Without someone who knows, you could be walking around in the forest "degeaba" and not find a thing. Also, when it comes to mushroom hunting, without a guide it can be much more dangerous and you could end up munching on something that you'll regret.
The forth lesson is to be inquisitive. Getting out in the forest and in the mountains with someone who knows what they are doing is a great chance to learn some things. Asking questions can help you to not only learn about your partner, but also learn a lot about the environment. Plus, you get to practice your Romanian.
The fifth and final lesson is don't rush. Take the time to enjoy and fully appreciate the day, the sunshine, the fresh air, and the unusual environment. I used to see how many high peaks I could pass by in a day and now I can't even remember the view from the top of Basin. Stay, rest, relax, and take it all in.

"Isn't it curious how in so many of our pastimes and hobbies we play at supplying one or another of our fundamental creaturely needs--for food, shelter, even clothing? So some people knit, others build things or chop wood, and a great many of us "work" at feeding ourselves--by gardening or hunting, fishing or foraging.....we like to think of ourselves as self-reliant, even if only for a few hours on the weekend, even when growing the stuff yourself winds up costing twice as much as it would to buy it at the store." Michael Pollan, The Omnivore's Dilemma.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Peninsula 2010


A week ago today I arrived at Peninsula music festival in Targu Mures. I got the idea of attending from a group 27er a week earlier but I had a week long English camp to attend which ran into festival time. I figured that my chances of going were slim until I ran it by Justin and Jerod a couple nights into the camp. I figured that if they were down then I was down. Justin was in.

Friday, with the help of some great Romanians we made it to the festival before that day's music had started. Our wonderful host at the camp gave us a ride to Alba, took us around to a couple locations so we could find a tent, and even took us for some mici before dropping us off at the proper hitching spot. By then it wasn't a surprise that she would be so helpful to us. All week long she had been available to provide us with anything we needed weather it be materials/assistance for our English lessons or wine from the crama. We stayed at the hitching spot only 15 minutes before Paul stopped. Paul had a very little Daewoo and we had a lot of baggage. There we were, 3 of us and a lot of baggage and we still had to pick up one more. Now that's Romanian hospitality. Just and I were packed into the back seat next to my baggage while Mihai and Paul were in the front, the four of us bound for Targu Mures.

Paul seemed to be quite knowledgeable about the music that would be offered to us upon entering the festival. I, on the other had, was not at all knowledgeable about the music and that is what I liked so much about it. I was entering the gates to a musical world of discovery and I would leave with a list of newly found treasure. Unfortunately they wouldn't let us take the wine in so we left it in the car. Paul and Mihai went to watch Parov Stellar while Just and I continued on to the campground to set up. After stopping by the 27er tents Just and I were lucky enough to make it back to Parov Stellar and catch a few great songs, the first band on my treasure list of music. Asher showed up and we oriented him with the campground before making our way back to the Fest for some food and The Rasmus. After about 5 songs it was time to ditch The Rasmus and move on to the Ciuc commercial that was Dan Helciug si spitalul de urgenta. The entire time Dan was holding his Ciuc hand high. That show led us to the nights climax performance that was Gorillaz Sound System. I dig the Gorillaz but they're animated. I had no clue what to expect. It turned out being some great Gorillaz music with some interesting animations projected onto a large screen hanging from the stage. It was cool, unexpected, and it earned a great response from the crowd.

The night continued. Gorillaz Sound System was followed by some hanging out, and raising our glasses to the night before making our way to Freedom Music Arena(FMA). The Arena is where the djs go and where the party lasts until 5 in morning every night. We walked in to Fedde le Grand of the Netherlands spinning. After dancing until 3 am the music stopped. I was shocked when I realized that this guy was up there playing with his equipment, non-stop, from well before I arrived. A new-found respect for djs. The next addition to my treasure-list of music walked onto the stage and began playing not 10min after Fedde exited. One benefit of dj music is minimal setup time required. The Romanian group Suie Parparude commanded the crowd and packed the FMA. I will not try to describe the music but I will recommend checking it out. Time for bed.

Saturday pre-music highlights include a walk around Tg. Mures, pulling a painful metal splinter from my foot, waking up on the grass next to a swimming pool shocked and a bit scared having no clue where I was (not drunk, just really tired), and a nice phone chat with my parents. Music highlights started with Phoenix, a band from the 70's that fled communism and returned to Romania decades later to rock out. I hung out with Paul and Mihai at that show. Next to go on was Europe. We all knew just one song by Europe and patiently waited for it to come, "The Final Countdown". Following Europe we wandered to see part of Tricky and then headed for the FMA when it began to rain. Returning to our tents after another late night dance session we found our stuff a bit wet from the hole in the top of the tent(no rain fly). I through my rain coat up over the hole and climbed into my bag to pass out.



Sunday was cloudy, rainy, and cold most of the day. While many people were packing up there tents and leaving there was quite the influx of rockers sporting Korn shirts, the big act to go on that evening. When the music finally came the group of volunteers made it to the main stage after eating to catch most of what I would call the best act at the fest. Zdob si Zdub of Moldova mix traditional Moldovan and Roma music into their hardcore ska style of rock, added to my list. The Korn show that night brought back some memories of middle-school and high-school. Finally before leaving the fest to catch our 3:30am personal back to Alba we caught most of the one man show named DubFX, the final addition to my list concluding my first Romanian festival experience.

Cool things to mention:
Fire dancers, collecting our beer cups to recycle and earn bracelits and a "t-shirt", awesome group of 27ers and 26ers mixed, huge pool, hanging with the group plus Romanian friends drinking down our wine by the lake, hamsii, nothing got stolen.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hosting

Written by a friend of mine in the spring of 2010.

If this fine world that we live in is the ocean than my couch is the surfboard. I have been a host on couchsurfing.com since November 2009. In the six months since I joined the online community I have hosted travelers on five different occasions. Every opportunity that I have had to be a host I have taken, and each has been a positive, unique experience.

I had briefly heard about the practice of couch surfing before I moved to Romania, but I had only heard about it. It wasn’t until after I was settled in at site when another volunteer reminded me about it, acting as a host. That evening I read about it and made a profile with hopes of getting a free place to stay and an interesting cross-cultural experience with a host in Belgrade. Well I did have an interesting experience in Belgrade but my couch surfing host fell through. Five months after Belgrade I realized that I have yet to actually “surf a couch” and instead I have been using the site to host travelers from around Europe.

My first guest was an attractive, laidback, adventurous girl from Amsterdam. Originally she had just contacted me for information about snowboarding my area and I didn’t have a whole lot of information to give her. I couldn’t believe that she was going to come to Petrosani and try to get to the mountains without knowing how to speak any Romanian. I decided to open up my small one-room apartment and let her stay with me for a few days. It was a fun few days of showing her my town, snowboarding and hiking with her, and holding long late-night conversations. She ended up leaving me with delicious Dutch cookies, an invitation to stay at her place in Amsterdam, and a new outlook on hosting couch surfers. My profile status changed from “Coffee and a Drink” to “Open Couch”.

My next couch surfers were a couple who were planning on riding there bicycles from France to China and then to India. They arrived in Petrosani before I did on a Sunday, when I was traveling back to Petrosani with a fellow volunteer. I helped them lift their heavy bikes up into my kitchen and then they made us some delicious curry. The four of us stayed up chatting late that evening. The fellow volunteer and I were very interested in their bike-riding adventure, but they were also curious as to why we were living in Romania and what we thought about our new home. Now I can track their progress as they ride their bikes across the continent.

The other people that I have hosted include two really cool German guys riding their motorcycles to Greece, a cute Hungarian couple riding there bicycles to the Himalayas, and a very fun and informative Romanian couple from Sibiu who knew more about my town than I did.

Acting as a host for strangers has obvious risks. How do I know that these people won’t rob me, or even worse, kill me? I don’t, but the couch surfing community offers some checks to help you reassure that you’re not letting serial killers into your home. The first safety measure that I look for before hosting someone is the reference section of their profile. In there references I can read about the types of experiences that other hosts or surfers have had with them. After I am finished hosting someone I usually write them a reference somewhat specific to their stay with me. Other safety measures include vouching and verification. If a person is vouched for it means that someone else trusts them enough to stand by their actions. If a person has verification it means that they have first, donated money to the community, and secondly, officially verified their identity.

So far couch surfing has given me some pretty genuine experiences with people from all over Europe. I have learned about them, heard their stories and adventures, and even told my own. I would suggest hosting couch surfers to anyone willing to give up a little bit of space and some time for an interesting and very short term cross-cultural experience.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Turkey, Round 2

One of the many benefits of this Peace Corps experience is that I am getting the chance to travel to places that I wouldn't otherwise visit. When I learned that I was going to be serving in Romania I was excited about a number of things. I immediately googled Romania to learn what I could. I was excited for the culture, my job of teaching English, learning the language, meeting the people, and of course, being able to travel to all of those western European places that we learn about in history class, from fellow travelers, and from movies like Eurotrip. Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, London, Madrid, Vienna, Rome..... There are so many, too many places to see. For that reason I never would have imagined re-visiting a place. I have only limited time and funds while I am here to take advantage of Romania's somewhat central location. Turkey had that kind of impression on me. Leaving Istanbul the first time I swore that I would return. I continued to chat with the friends that I made while I was there and before long we had our next visit scheduled.
The trip began with a totally different perspective of Istanbul. The first time we stayed in the center of Sultanahmit, the historical tourist district. This last time, still in Istanbul, we stayed in D's flat, a 30 min highway drive into the Asian side of the city. Istanbul is huge. By staying on the Asian side and commuting to the European side we got a chance to really see how big the city is. For those first couple of days our hostesses, Z and D, showed us around the city, taking us to parks, on ferries, a palace, some nice drives, and some great restaurants. Then came the road trip.

D had a couple of weeks of vacation and of course, she wanted to get to a beach to do some sea-side relaxing. We got started early in the morning and watched the sunrise while eating a toast(grilled cheese sandwich) from the second deck of a ferry crossing the sea of Maramura. Our first of 2 major stops was a beach outside of a city called Avylik located on the Aegean Sea. The two days spent near Avylik included a lot of relaxing on a beach covered with Turkish families, swimming/floating in the salty waters, a neat little sea-side tourist town with delicious fish, and an incredible sun setting over islands. We took the advice of a nice Turkish man who had been living in Orlando, FL for 6 years. "Go to Marmaris, there are more international tourists there and more young people there." Off to Marmaris we went.

The road to Marmaris was incredible. We stopped at a small family owned restaurant on the side of the highway. The little boys were the servers, the big brother the bar man, and the parents were the cooks. The food was so good and the atmosphere was nice, outside, very green, with ducks running around the tables. There was a section of the road that must have gone through some kind of national park. The landscape was uninhabitable with large rocks covering every piece of land available.

Marmaris is a large tourist town and a national park situated on the Mediterranean Sea with more English people in the summer months than Turks. We filled up our schedule with activities as soon as we were settled into our hotel, a stones throw from the sea-side. The activities included a boat cruise around the area, scuba, and a jeep cruise around the area. These activities not only allowed us the chance to see Marmaris and all that it had to offer, but it also allowed us to meet a lot of cool people, both tourists and locals. Probably my favorite part of our time there was when D took us to a small village at the very end of this little road. The village had only a couple of residences, a hotel, and a nice beach. As I swam in the water beyond the dock I watched the sun slowly descend behind the jagged mountain peaks that abruptly rise out of the sea.

The long drive back started in the late morning and ended in the late evening. At one point I questioned whether we would make it all the way back to Istanbul in a single day. We finally made it after a long wait in traffic leading to the ferry and a not so long ferry ride. The following day D took us to our bus station to catch a bus that had left 30 min before we arrived at the station. The internet site of the bus company told us that the bus leaves at 5 but the man that we woke up at the station told us 3. One more night in Istanbul and D was happy to host us that night. We went bowling and returned to her place to watch a movie. After the full day in the car we had a day of rest before another full day/night of taking a bus back to Romania.
I can't say whether Turkey, Round 2 was better or worse than Round 1. Both trips were spent with incredible people, in an incredible place, eating incredible food. Even though I can't decided which I liked more, they were two totally different experiences. Big group v. small group. Istanbul Europe v. Istanbul Asia, city v. beach, winter v. summer. Two trips to Turkey was enough to firmly establish itself in my memories and in my heart. I left Turkey this time thinking that I probably will not return during my Peace Corps service in Romania. There are too many other, close-by places to see. I'm certain that sometime in the more distant future I will find myself in Turkey yet again.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Şebek

Şebek (shebek) is a Turkish word meaning baboon. Turks also use this term to describe a clown-like entertainer. In my understanding a şebek is a person that makes other people laugh, but those people are laughing at the şebek rather than at some funny joke he/she recited. That being said, a şebek must be someone that doesn't mind being laughed at. It wasn't long into our recent road trip through Turkey that I was labeled a şebek.

In my language learning adventure with Romanian I have learned so much about words, expressions, and accents. Even though learning a new language can be extremely tiring and stressful I have found ways to have fun with it. Many of us have heard the funny Indian accent of gas-station clerk on The Simpsons, or the countless comedic Chinese accents in so many movies including "Dude Where's My Car." We have also been able to laugh at other English accents, for example the Wisconson accent of "Fargo", or, my favorite, the southern accent of "Talladega Nights." Speaking in a foreign language, I have come to accept and even enjoy the entertainment that I offer others when I attempt to speak. In that rare occasion that I don't make one of the many possible grammatical mistakes, I still bring an interesting accent to the conversation that often times elicits a snicker if I'm speaking with somebody new. It brings a smile to there face, my face, and more often than not, it's understood. I had quite a bit of language fun in Turkey and this is in large part why I learned the Turkish term "Şebek" so fast.

I went to Turkey knowing some basic words from my last visit (hello, how are you, I'm very good, numbers, goodbye). I was excited to use some of those words and maybe even learn a few more. Soon into our visit I realized that our stay in Turkey would be quite the language learning adventure. Our hostess who speaks English well was unable to go on the road-trip with us, leaving us with a hostess who knew only basic English, so I thought. I say "so I thought" because up until that point I hadn't really spoken with her, only some google translater copy/paste action over skype. Monday morning we set off on a week long road-trip along the west coast of Turkey, two Americans, and one Turk.

In the 25+ hours spent in the car we all did some language learning, but for the most part site-mate and I were the teachers. Mama D, our hostess and friend, works incredibly hard to learn English. Since we last saw her in February she had made significant improvements. She would rarely get discouraged even though at times the fatigue of language learning and driving showed.




At first site-mate and I thought that the trip with mama D would be a bit tiring for us all trying to communicate with each other. Despite our doubts about the communication we vowed to go into the trip with a positive attitude. No matter what we were on vacation in Turkey, and we would have fun. The trip was a complete success largely to do with our positive attitudes, mama D's determination with the language, and Turkey's natural beauty. By the end we had developed an incredible relationship and made some lasting memories. Once again I noticed that when you're traveling it's the people you are with, rather than the place, that make the experience unforgettable. I also noticed that even when you are Şebek, attempting to learn and speak a foreign language goes a long way. Not only do you make people laugh but you also earn there respect by showing an honest effort to communicate rather than expecting them to speak English fluently.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

3 weeks gone

Three weeks and a few days ago I finished up my first school year and left site that night to start my 3+ week stint away from site. It only took a couple of days to pull together my busy summer schedule. As soon as I found out that I was accepted to help out at practicum I started knocking weeks down scheduling English camps and a vacation. I was excited to get out and explore during the summer but when the time came to leave site I had a different kind of feeling.

When it came time to leave site I didn't really want to leave. I remembered the uncomfortable heat and mosquitoes of the south. That last week in PST was one of the hottest that I've endured and here I was in one of the cooler places in the country at 600m above sea level. Even though I was teaching up until the day that I left my hours had reduced and I was only teaching 9th grade that last week. I was spending more time at school in the teachers room chatting with colleagues. I was also spending more time after school with some of the recently graduated 12th graders. That last week I enjoyed watching a couple incredible thunderstorms roll through my area where I saw more lighting bolts per minute than I've ever seen before. I fell asleep nightly with my balcony doors open listening to the sound of the stream below my block. That last day at site I had train rides and a 2 week hotel stay to look forward to. I was trading in the sound of the stream for the sound of cars and dogs.

The next day many of my fears of missing site were set at ease when I was reunited with some great PCV friends in Bucharest. No longer was I thinking about trading my site life for south life but instead trading time with good people at site for time with good people elsewhere.

Practicum was a great, interesting, and stressful experience the first time through and here I was returning to see it from a different perspective. No longer did I have to worry about lesson planning and performing in front of 30 strangers with someone in the back scribbling judgments on a paper. I saw the new group go through a lot of the same torture that I went through a year earlier. Some of the torture included...
coming in on a Saturday to plan, learning how to work with others that may have incredibly different teaching/planning styles, loosing students in the middle of a lesson, receiving negative feedback, late hours of planning followed by early hours of teaching, planning over a drink at the omb, stressing on the language, and dozing off in afternoon sessions.
Despite the torture a lot of good comes out of practicum. People with zero previous experience in lesson planning get the opportunity to jump-start their skills through practice and careful observation of there more experienced colleagues.

Working at practicum I had a great experience to spend some time with the new group of volunteers, some of which I got to know pretty well over world-cup beers. After 2 weeks of observing them and helping them through practicum I feel confident in there up-coming services. I observed a lot of unity, positivity, and willingness to adapt, all qualities valued in a PCV. I came out of my second practicum experience having learned a lot both about teaching and the new group, allowing me to reflect on my PC experience until now.

After practicum I spent half of a day and a night traveling to Timisoara to take part in my first English camp of the summer. TETA was a two week camp but I only worked there for the second week. It is a camp entirely taught by Peace Corps Romania TEFL volunteers but organized and supported by an incredible group of Romanians that made me feel both appreciated and supported during the week I was there. I had the opportunity to teach younger students which is very different than the high school teaching that I'm used to. Classes were fun, the students were wonderful, and I met some great Romanians that were helping us out with the kids.

After 4 hours of teaching each day I typically returned to my dorm conveniently placed in the center of the center of Timisoara. The great location of our housing and our relatively short teaching schedule opened up the city to us, allowing us to see Timisoara without limitation. Timisoara is a beautiful city peppered in historical monuments and gorgeous parks. To top it off, The Festival of Hearts began on Wednesday night and occupied our last three nights in Timi. Festivalul Inimilor brought together traditional music and dance acts from all around Romanian and even from other countries. Thursday night we saw acts from Sibiu, Turkey, and Costa Rica. After six days in Timi I got to know at least the center of the city well and now it is harder to pick my favorite of the large Romanian cities. Despite the incredibly positive experience I was happy to get on that early Saturday morning accelerate(train) back to site.

Today's overcast weather is allowing me the chance to stay in, relax, and reflect on the past several weeks of traveling, meeting new people, working, and living out this Peace Corps experience. Even though I have been a bit stressed at times, in a rush at times, moving around, the past 3 weeks have been both busy and productive and I don't yet regret this busy summer schedule. Now its on to the next adventure.

Pictures:
1: one of the practicum groups doing an egg drop for their lesson.
2: two of my wonderful students at the TETA camp.
3: Timisoara Opera House in Piata Victoriei.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I love this place!

Right now I am doing exactly what my thoughts over the past hour were telling me not to do. I'm sitting in a relatively dark room with my eyes attached to a screen.

Summer has arrived in the Jiu Valley and I spent the majority of the day taking part in what Dom Ilea considers Romania's national sport, a face plaja (to lay in the sun). I decided to couple the inactivity of laying in the sun with a hike to make for a tiring yet memorable Saturday. In my bag I had all necessities, water, sun screen, a book, a towel, a knife, tomatoes, cheese, and cucumbers.

The hike from Petrosani to Petrila was a rather quick hike as stopped only to pick a couple of flowers and to take a couple of pictures. It started on the road next to my block which points straight up hill. A path cuts off the road up to Lake Stiut where there were many people of all ages swimming and laying in the sun. From there the path continued strait up the hill to an old building which controls buckets which bring stone from the mine to dumping sites outside of Petrila. The dirt road from there passes by the Petrila garbage dump site and continues down to the Jiu East where we laid out in the sun listening to the water flowing and children playing.

Over the past few weeks I have reached a point in my service where I feel integrated in my community. I know that there are a lot more things I can do to be better integrated but overall I feel comfortable here and I'm starting to feel like Petrosani is my home. Integration was by far my biggest fear as my group and I prepared to leave the comfort of our American friends in PST to arrive in foreign communities. As the weather has gotten warmer the sun has been shedding light on this city helping me to not only see the beauty that lies around me but also how I have viewed my life here in Petrosani. Rarely a day goes by that I don't appreciate this beautiful part of the world and the part I play here.

Country Roads

I've been on a bit of a country fix lately and John Denver's Country Roads has been one of the songs involved. I had a country roads experience on my way home from Petrila today. Flowers, fields, hills, grass, water, and dirt roads only minutes from my block took me back years. I heard the sound of crickets chirping and birds singing rather than the sound of wheels on ashpalt and the muffled sound of car exhaust. I saw yellows and pinks from flowers and green from the grass rather than the brick and cement from the blocks and city sidewalks. I felt the crumbling of rocks and dirt under my feet rather than the cigarette butts and plastic bottles kicking around. The beating sun combined with a light breeze to bring a sensation of freedom to any exposed part of my body. Simply going for a walk I realized that I was reliving some adventures of my early childhood. I remembered the few days spent at Uncle Bernard's farm or the trails through the woods behind Grandma and Grandpa's house. As in John Denver's hit single, today country roads took me home.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Spring Day!

Spring Day is a tradition at my school and today I had the chance to see what it is all about. Spring Day is actually a celebration of Victory Day(9 May), which was the day that World War II ended in Europe through the surrendering of Germany to the Soviets. The high school in which I work celebrates Spring Day by presentations of different cultural aspects of nations in the European Union. A week ago each class willing to participate drew the name of a European Union country out of a hat. In the past weak these classes have worked hard researching and preparing to present their country the best.

The countries presented today were:

France
Austria
Portugal
Holland
Finland
Slovakia
Poland
Bulgaria
Cyprus
Italy
Ireland
Spain
Hungry

My job in this process was simple. I joined the judges in visiting each room and I enjoyed all aspects of the show. There was a lot of information for each class to cover. They had to speak about their country's geography, leadership, religion, customs(music, song, dance, holidays), flag, costumes, and food. I saw students reading, memorizing lines, acting, singing, dancing, even painting. Each class assumed a little bit of patriotism for the foreign country that they had chosen from a hat only a week before.

The #1 presentation was Finland. The Finland presentation was a large skit which started like a boxing match with one of the students walking through the ring holding up a sign "Round 1" with the first category on it. The students worked hard on memorizing their lines, dressing up in costumes, and decorating the room to portray the cultural aspects of Finland, including Santa Claus. What made their presentation the winning presentation was that every student in the class was somehow involved.













The best part of my job today was the food tasting at the end of every presentation. The food that I liked the most was in the Irish room, the potato based dishes. The best desert was a fruit and whip cream cake in the Bulgaria room. The best costumes of the day were in the French room where I saw a painter, a mime, and Quasimodo!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Final Degree

Last week I witnessed for the second time a teacher receiving their final degree. When teachers in Romania graduate university they are prepared to enter the workforce and begin their careers as teachers. Their scholarly obligations are over and the rest of their learning happens through years of experience that they will receive on the job, performing 18+ hours each week in front of a class. For some teachers this is enough training, but for most teachers striving for greater knowledge, greater opportunity, and greater pay there is an opportunity to progress.

Teachers can choose to continue studying by working on projects while they teach their weakly hours in the classroom. As they study, completing projects, they earn higher degrees. They receive a grade on their final degree by presenting their project to a panel of Professors, one of them being their project mentor. The project should have an original thesis, thereby adding insight to the field of study.

The final degree presentation takes place during the school day in one of the classrooms. The presenters that I have seen so far have been naturally nervous the morning before they presented their project to the panel of experts. Colleagues packed into the room to give support, adding extra pressure on the presenter. They listened attentively, gained some knowledge, and at the end of the presentation the panel, the audience, and the presenter had an opportunity to discuss the project.

After the event those people who attended congratulated their colleague and move to another room where there was a large spread of food, drinks and deserts.

The Romanian school system encourages its teachers to continue scholarly work by giving them higher pay for higher degrees. Teachers continue to progress and can even add valuable insight to their field through their research. When the final degree is presented to a panel of experts and a room full of supporters, teachers are learning more about education, research, and their colleagues. This is one aspect of the Romanian school system that I have enjoyed taking part in, even if I do not totally understand the presentation which is given in Romanian.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Elevi

Way back in the fall, it seems so long ago, I had an incredible opportunity to join some of my collegues and some students on a small walk in my now, favorite part of Petrosani. Like a good volunteer, I did not turn down the invitation and I did not regret it. We all met at the Jiu Shopping Center, some students I was familiar with from my classes were there but other students I had not yet met were also there. We all put on a green shirt, bright colored rubber gloves, and armed ourselves with a garbage bag. I spent the following couple of hours that Saturday morning picking up garbage and chatting with students. I was able to see a different side of my own students as well as meet students from other classes. That day I returned home to reflect on the day and I remember a having a great feeling of satisfaction.
The fall turned in to winter and even though I continued to make excursions with Ernest, the sport teacher, I didn't think of inviting any students along. I didn't even ask if they would be interested. Finally, the first nice week of spring I was having my morning coffee with Ernest whe
n he told me about a trail from my new apartment up to Bradet, the area that we had cleaned in the fall. I was excited to hear that a trail existed. I can see Bradet from my balcony but I thought that the only way up was by the University on the other side of the hill. I had explored a bit the day before as a way of taking advantage of the nice sunny day. We were to meet at 4:00 after English Club at the bank, and from there he would take me to show me the spring near my block and the trail to Bradet. I was excited but I still had a class and English Club left before the hike. On my way out of his office he suggested that I see if some of the students form English Club want to come. What a great idea!!! It wouldn't hurt to mention it to them and if they actually wanted to come it would be nice to partake in an activity outside of school with them. I remembered the joy I got from the trash pick-up in the fall.

When I went to the bank to meet Ernest there were three students from English Club there to join us up to Bradet, the back way. We chatted mostly in English but also in Romanian. I had a lot of fun and I received positive feedback from those students present.

My next opportunity to spend some time with elevi(high-school students) outside of school came during the large Easter break. I joined a large group of mostly 12th graders on a trip through Transylvania. I don't teach 12th grade so the trip was a great opportunity to get to know some students that I have not yet had a chance to meet. I ended up having a great time playing cards on the bus and in the dorm. We exchanged music and walked around medieval cities. We sang together on the bus and followed each other down waterslides in Brasov.
I'm am hoping that the nice spring weather and my new awareness that I can invite students along, will give birth to more opportunities to see, get to know, and have fun with some of my students outside of the school.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Easter in Botiza

Standing in a dark church holding on to an unlit candle I was surrounded by old women 2/3 my height and twice my width. This is where I was at 5am, April 4th, 2010 when the voice of a priest began to chant from behind the golden colored wall in the church. As one dim light appeared from the same location all of the small bunicas(grandmothers) around me became restless. The light grew brighter and the voice louder when a great movement of these short, dark figures around me enclosed in on a point several feet in front of me. Finally the light appeared at the top of a long candle held by a white bearded priest. The bunica’s short stature worked to their disadvantage as the light was held up just out of reach of their stretching, candle holding arms. At the priest’s willing he brought the candle just low enough to appease the stretching arms and thus lit up the entire church with the help of several elders passing their lights to the others in the church, including me.
Even though it was 5am on a non-caffeinated Sunday morning I felt wide awake after stepping outside the door to the sharp teeth of the biting cold Maramures morning. That morning it seemed as if spring had not yet sprung but it worked to my advantage in shocking me awake, enough to carefully observe some of the traditions still kept in that part of the country during their most important religious ceremony. The ceremony didn’t stop or start in that church at 5am in the morning, but as the church rapidly turned from dark to light I stopped for a moment to consider the significance. I didn’t know exactly what the significance was at the time but I could easily tell that it was a significant moment for everyone involved.
Soon after arriving in Romania I learned about Maramures. I learned that it is a place where some of the deepest Romanian traditions are kept. I also learned that it is home to the famous “Merry Cemetery”. My visit to Maramures introduced me to beautiful landscapes, beautiful life, and beautiful people. A fellow Peace Corps volunteer in Botiza openly welcomed me into his home without even knowing me very well, showing me the kind of hospitality that many of us volunteers have received from Romanians.
The 4 full days I spent in Maramures were an even mix of relaxation and activity, with days balancing between reading-time and beautiful country hikes. Even though it was a bit chilly, one of my favorite parts of the day was starting a fire in the soba before it got dark. What more could I ask for in a spring break? Delicious Romanian food. We were not at all let down by the food, eating our hearts out on snitel, pasca and cakes after the long Easter morning. I can't finish the blogpost without mentioning the midday walk that we took to the edge of town only to be stopped by a neighbor that we sat with, practiced our Romanian, watched his kids play soccer, and of course drank horinka.

First Picture: Looking down on Botiza from a nearby hilltop.
Second Picture: Looking down on Easter morning service in the cemetery above the church.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

St. Patty's Day Message from Mom

Top of the mornin' to all you American born Peace Corps volunteers residing in Romania who have some Irish blood in them even though their last name may sound more like Russian, like say Matusick and who take a likin' to a good Irish band like,say one named The Town Pants which just so happens to be rolling into a small town in upstate New York round about tomorrow nite, a tad late for Saint Patty's Day, but better late than never. I'll be thinkin' of my green beer lovin', green blazer wearin', part green blood smilin' eyed son in a special way today. Love, Mom

Have a wonderful St. Patrick's Day everyone! I'm listening to The Town Pants right now!


Picture: St. Patty's Day at the Snooty Pig in Corning New York, 2008. The blazer, the beer, the music, the festivities, and the friends made for an incredible, memorable experience.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Nasul

The first time I stepped onto a train with my host in Petrosani I asked him, "don't we need a ticket?", he said, "shh nasul" with a smerk on his face.

This will be one of those stories about "a friend" that had yet another interesting cultural encounter involving transportation in Romania.

This "friend" had to take the night train from Petrosani to Bucharest. He had taken that particular train before. He was very accustomed to the train scheldule and how long it would take him to get to the train station, but still in his natural procrastinating, always rushing ways he decided to get a late start on packing, forcing him to basically have to run to the train station. As he was crossing the catwalk above the tracks he looked down to see that on this particular night his train happened to be on time and his phone told him that he only had one minute until it departs. There was no time to buy a ticket.

As the tired, obviously not Romanian, volunteer approached the cfr(train company) authorities he asked if it would be ok if he could buy the ticket on the train. They said "yes" of course and then told him the price was 61 lei. My friend was surprised. He had never paid over 50 lei for a ticket and he only had 51 lei in his wallet. He showed the authorities that he did not have 61 lei but they told him to board the train anyway. When the authorities came around to check tickets they told my friend to come out of the compartment. My friend gave the man all of his money, 51 lei, and the man said that it wasn't enough. He told my friend that it costs 68 lei. Naturally, my friend thought "is it 61 or 68 or even cheaper than 50 lei like I'm used to". After giving up his 50 lei my the man who took the money told my friend to tell anybody asking that he was going to Craiova instead of Bucharest.

It was hard to sleep for the first couple of hours on the train. He was nervous about the upcoming encounter where he would have to lie, wondering if it would even work. There is the chance that the last man just kept the money and my friend would be kicked off the train, or even worse, fined. It wasn't until after Craiova had passed when someone finally came in to check the tickets. That someone was a man that was not dressed in a proper uniform but he had two uniformed men behind him. He checked the tickets of the other men in the compartment and completely ignored my friend who was relieved after the encounter and could finally sleep.

Within an hour from Bucharest, almost there, and 4 old men enter my friends compartment. He knew that someone would be around to check their tickets. He looked out for someone to come, someone came, checked tickets, but this time my friend completely ignored the man checking the tickets. The man didn't press my friend too hard for the ticket as my friend pretended to be just waking up, posing as someone who has been on the train for a while and therefor his ticket doesn't need to be checked again. The act worked and my friend cruised in to Bucharest on the Arad-Constanta line.

"Nasul" means "The Godfather" in Romanian and when my host first said that on the train he was refering to corruption. My "friend" doesn't condone or approve of this kind of activity however this particular time he found himself in situations where "nasul" saved him.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Typing Practice

"But how, you might ask, does living outdoors on the terrace enable me to escape that other form of isolation, the solitary confinement of the mind? For there are the bad moments, or were, especially at the beginning of my life here, when I would sit down at the table for supper inside the housetrailer and discover with a sudden shock that I was alone. There was nobody, nobody at all, on the other side of the table. Aloneness become loneliness and the sensation was strong enough to remind me (how could I have forgotten?) that the one thing better than solitude, the only thing better than solitude, is society.

By society I do not mean the roar of city streets or the cultured and cultural talk of the schoolmen (reach for your revolver!) or human life in general. I mean the society of a friend or friends or a good, friendly women.

Strange as it might seem, I found that eating my supper out back made a difference. Inside the trailer, surrounded by the artifacture of America, I was reminded insistently of all that I had, for a season, left behind; the plywood walls and the dusty venetian blinds and the light bulbs and the smell of butane made me think of Albuquerque. By taking my meal outside by the burning juniper in the fireplace with more desert and mountains that I could explore in a lifetime open to view, I was invited to contemplate a far larger world, one which extends into a past and into a future without any limits known to the human kind. By taking off my shoes and digging my toes in the sand I made contact with that larger world- an exhilarating feeling which leads to equanimity. Certainly I was still by myself, so to speak- there were no other people around and there still are none- but in the midst of such a grand tableau it was impossible to give full and serious consideration to Albuquerque. All that is human melted with the sky and faded out beyond the mountains and I felt, as I feel- is it a paradox?- that a man can never find or need better companionship than that of himself."
pg. 121
Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness
Edward Abbey

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Istanbul Round 1

I had to title this Istanbul Round 1 because I'm sure that there will be more Turkish fun to come.

A month has passed since I returned from my trip to Istanbul. I’ve had a month to come down off my high and take a realistic look at the trip as a whole. I would not consider myself a city person by any means but as soon as I returned from Istanbul I would have said that I plan on living there someday. Not only have I returned from the greatest city that I’ve ever visited but in the past month I have also returned from the high of such a great experience. Even though I can see myself living in Istanbul someday that vision is temporary and I know that I would much rather spend my later years in a much more quite place.

I have seen a recurring theme in my journals when I write about places I have visited. I travel to see places but what makes the trip an experience is the people that I see, meet, and travel with. This theme held true for Istanbul.

My original draw to Istanbul was it’s history. It is one of those cities that I’ve heard much about in global history courses with its unique location on two continents, owning the center of an ancient empire and major trade routes from Asia to Europe. These aspects give Istanbul a cultural importance that no other place on Earth can share. It was incredible standing under the dome of Haghia Sofia witnessing a clash of religions with Orthodox mosaics situated in between huge pendants depicting calligraphy of major Islamic prophets. Walking through the cisterns I couldn’t help but think about how people transported huge columns into the pit. The significance of the Medusa columns, whatever it was, looked me straight in the eye and very briefly turned me to stone. Looking back on my week these fascinations that I had before I went are pushed to the background when reflecting upon my experience.

The People

I had a wonderful opportunity to get to know some fellow Peace Corps volunteers that I have previously only briefly met. Each volunteer that I meet has a unique and interesting story. They bring different perspectives, ideas, and experiences to a conversation. Those volunteers that I spent some time to get to know in Istanbul have a year of Peace Corps experience over me, and they are about to move on to that next step in their lives. Not only did they story me about their pre-PC lives, but they also advised me by telling me about their PC experiences and entertained me with their hopes and fears for changes to come.

Those that I not only met but became friends with in Istanbul hold a special place in my memory and will be my draw back to the city. The barman that first served me a coffee, secondly, serenaded me with his musical talent, and thirdly, enjoyed the city with my group and I throughout the week. The girls that we fortunately met the first night allowing us enough time to see the city in a number of different lights. The Auzi that I shared several conversations with not only learning about her, but also finding a different perspective of turistic Istanbul day after day.

The strangers on the street. Men that remain nameless but did not fail to entertain me with their stories and their antics performed in great effort to get me to spend my money at their place. I learned from them importance of service and persistence. There was always someone that wanted to talk to me even if it was only because of the dollar signs they saw painted on me.

I went to Istanbul thinking that a week would be enough time, but now I realize that a time limit can be placed on a location and its landmarks but a time limit should never be placed on people and culture. I had only a taste of Istanbul and I plan to return for more. Walking back to the hostel after a day of adventuring site-mate said to me, “this is city is not like most cities, this city has a pulse”. Its that pulse, more than just landmarks that stand strong throughout the years, that will bring me back to Istanbul.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Botez

This weekend I attended a Romanian baptism(botez) for the 2nd time since I've been here. The baptism is one of those traditions that both Romanians and volunteers have told me not to pass up an invitation to.

First I attended the ceremony at noon. It was all that one would expect out of a baptism ceremony. There were family and friends present, priests praying, naked baby, and only a little bit of crying. It made me realize that I have never actually seen a baptism in the US, or maybe I just don't remember attending one. In a Romanian baptism the godparents have a very important role. They are the ones who bring the baby, hold it throughout the ceremony, dry it off, and cloth it after the dunking. The actual parents of the baby just sit back, watch, and take pictures as the ceremony progresses. Less than an hour later I was back at home waiting for the party to start and realizing that that was the first time I had been in a church in Petrosani.

The party was a blast.

I showed up there with my counterpart at about three and I left at at about ten. When I arrived I was greeted by the father of the baby, I congratulated the mother and presented her with a small gift for Tudor. My table was the furthest table from the family of the baby, but I sat with some people that I was relatively familiar with so I felt pretty welcomed. It didn't take long for me to realize that I was at the dancing table. As part of the dancing table I felt that it was my duty to get up and show off some moves, especially when the classic American medley came on. "Lets do the twist." I'll admit that I don't quite cut the rug on the dance floor but that was OK at this particular event because the father of the kids that I tutor happened to be the life of the party with his creative dance moves, loud yelling and whistling(he's Moldovan), and overall celebratory spirit. He's automatically invited to my wedding, whenever it may be. I am learning to love Romanian dance, and even some Romanian pop music. I can finally do the slowed down version of the sarba (when it speeds up I get lost) and I may like that more than my previous favorite, the Brasovanca.

One dance that really caught my eye, from the seat at my table, was this slowed down version of the sarba that included a towel and kissing. In the middle of the dance circle someone stands with a small towel. That person chooses one of the dancers and puts the towel around their neck to pull them to the center of the circle. The towel is then put on the ground, both people kneel down on the towel, and kiss each others cheeks. The person chosen before, now has the opportunity to choose someone. This all happens as people are dancing around them. It was fun to watch but suddenly I found myself being pulled in from my table which was conveniently located next to the dance floor. Tudor's mother decided to pull me in from outside the circle and include me in yet another traditional dance. I'm not one to enjoy being the center of attention but I got some kisses out of it.

The food was great. We started out with some appetizers which included a small plate with three different kinds of ham, salami, cheese, branza, and a tomato. Next came the fish which I haven't quite mastered how to eat yet, but I'm getting better. After the fish we waited a while until the ciorba came out. After more time on the dance floor the main course came out which included some chicken, pork, rice, cabbage salad, and mashed potatoes. By that time we had been eating and drinking with a lot of long dancing breaks for close to 8 hours. On my way out I was handed some cake to take home with me.

I had a great time throughout the whole experience. After two baptisms I have learned that it is a very big deal in Romania, it brings people together, everybody has a great time, there's lots of good food and drink, and dancing is a must. I left the party very happy for several reasons previously mentioned, but also because I spent my entire time there in the Romanian language. Though there was a lot dancing there was also a lot of speaking and I came out of the party with a sense of accomplishment after speaking so much in Romanian, being able to say all that I wanted to say, and being understood by my neighbors at my table.
La Multi Ani!