Tuesday, June 26, 2012


At the beginning Peace Corps seems like one big step outside of your comfort zone.  You ship off with a bunch of new people to a place where you are injected into the local culture and you are supposed to adapt and get used to it, a thing they call integration.  The idea is that after you're integrated you can effectively function at your site and the pain of that step outside of your comfort zone wears off.  It turns out that it doesn't stop there.  In fact, that big jump out of your comfort zone is followed by a series of smaller yet similar steps out.  Maybe it is the desire for a PCV to keep things fresh or it could be the "Yes Man" philosophy to integration that pre-service training pushes.  Whatever it is, after over three years in Peace Corps this past weekend I found myself yet again stepping outside of my comfort zone to present selective collection workshop at an international film festival. 

The name of the festival is the Pelicam International Film Festival (PIFF).  The title combined the word "pelican", representing the festival's nature theme and its location at the entrance of the Danube Delta, and te work "camera", indicating its focus on film.  Weeks before I received a message from my colleague with the offer to go and present, as a MaiMultVerde (MMV) representative in Tulcea.  I jumped at the chance, knowing that Tulcea was on the edge of the Delta, a region that I have yet to visit.  As the event slowly approached my emotions gradually lifted and I spent the four days leading up to the event studying selective collection and MMV's stance on the issue.  Taking on this particular responsibility was a jump out of my comfort zone for a few reasons. - 1) I am no expert on the topic of collective selection but I will probably be seen somewhat as one. 2) I'm not a great public speaker and though I can usually handle myself in front of a crowd its a different story in another language(that being Romanian).  3) Though I found myself on a bus to Tulcea with a bunch of other "invitees" I did not know any of them.  4)  Finally, I prepared a nice presentation that included a short documentary produced by MMV in 2010 but it was supposed to be a "workshop", not necessarily a presentation, whatever that means.  Despite these measures that worked to raise my level of anxiety I knew one thing that I have realized more in PC than anywhere else which is that "what doesn't kill you will make you stronger" and I figured that the experience would be a valuable one that I would learn from.  

It was the first edition of PIFF and after arriving, getting settled in, visiting the venue and speaking with the organizers I had the sense they were quite nervous about how everything would come off.  Despite this sense of nervousness, from the beginning the festival seemed well organized.  There was a photo exhibit in the lobby, there was already information available about the festival and its program, there were posters all over town, I was able to get into the workshop room a day early to check out the room and test the equipment.  Already, after the first couple hours of being in Tulcea I felt more comfortable about presenting and I felt honored to have the chance to be a part of the festival.  That evening I attended the opening of the festival where a great movie about the Bolivian water wars, Tambien la lluvia, played to mark the start of a nice weekend of films highlighting environmental issues.

Tulcea is an old port city on the Danube dating back to 7th century BC.  It is the take-off point for anyone wanting to venture into the UNESCO world heritage site, the Danube Delta.  Tulcea is also quite a diverse city with Romanians, Turks, Russians, Roma and other minorities present.  Near our hotel in the center of the city I found a set of three statues including a Ukrainian, a Romanian, and Ataturk.  The walk along the water is not an extremely pretty walk but its usually nice to be by the water watching the boats and checking out the restaurant boats parked along the water's edge.  I used the word "usually" because I found out fast on my Friday evening stroll along the water that the place was swarming with mosquitoes, so much that I preferred to retire early to my hotel room. If you go to Tulcea in the summer, limit your nice water-side walks to early mornings when it is cool and there are not so many mosquitoes out to eat you up.  The following morning I walked up to Independence Monument which provided a nice panoramic view of the city.  The monument was erected for the soldiers who fought to free the country from Ottoman rule from 1877 to 1888.  Other highlights of Tulcea include an aquarium/museum, a nice center square which hosted a concert, a film viewing from PIFF and a farmers market where I bought some smoked cheeze, and a lake on one end of the city where fishermen gather along one side and swimmers gather along a beach on another side.  Surely I took advantage of most of what Tulcea had to offer.  Unfortunately it's main attraction, the Danube Delta, I had to put off until my next visit.

The films that I caught where both entertaining and relevant.  Aside from the opening film, I caught an Austrian documentary called "Plastic Planet", my second viewing of "Gassland", a film about the wild horses of the Delta called "Gone Wild", and a short film about the disappearing Aral Sea.  The documentary "Plastic Planet" nicely followed my presentation on selective collection and it comically showed the impact of plastic in our lives by having people take all of their plastic items from there homes and put them on their front lawns.  The image of a family sitting in plastic lawn chairs surrounded by everything from toys to clothes to household appliances remains in my thoughts a week later.  I guess that's the purpose of a documentary.  I chose to see "Gassland" a second time because a debate/discussion followed the viewing focusing on the status of fracking in Romania and Europe.  It was so interesting to me that such a heated topic in my home on the other side of the world has become the same here in Romania.  Finally "Gone Wild" was shown as the festival's closing film and it highlighted a phenomenon close to home in Tulcea with the wild horse population growing in the Danube Delta. 

Once again I find myself taking a step outside of my comfort zone and not only learning and growing from it but also experiencing a new place and new people.  My emotions subsided as I had some time to chat with the small audience before beginning my presentation.  A couple of guys in the audience were especially active with their comments which led to an overall constructive discussion regarding the status, opinions and education regarding recycling in Romania.  The festival organizers were especially friendly and they helped me to get to know and get along with the other invitees as we hung out and talked until early morning hours after the festival's closing celebration.  Looking back I realize that in order to have these nice, memorable experiences you not only have to accept those invitations to step outside of your sphere of comfort but you have to also invite those invitations.  If I never let it be known to my colleagues that I would like to get down to the Delta sometime I wouldn't have experienced PIFF.

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