graduate student

I am a graduate student now.
At the University of Central Missouri I will be studying Linguistics and Teaching English as a Spoken Language, Teaching English as a Written language, Second Language Acquisition and all such things.
By a stroke of unanticipated luck I was offered a part-time Graduate Assistant job at the Nursing Department correcting "Intro to Nursing" quizzes.
I don't know anyone in Warrensburg,Missouri, so I go to the town library and read books like Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant, which allow me to romanticize my hermit lifestyle and inspire me to buy eggplants at the farmer's market.
I keep looking for an herb plant that I can pot and put on my table and pinch savoriness from it flame my fledgling interest in cooking.
This evening I sat on my one-step stoop in the golden light of sunset, ate my eggplant and watched a stealth bomber glide over me from the nearby Whiteman Air Force Base.
Different from sitting on my balcony and listening to the cows make their way down from the hills. But still good.


Germany vs. Argentina

I am in Dresden right now.
And Germany is a force in the world cup.
So Ilie and I went to a local events park next to the Elbe river, despite the "I feel like I am sitting in a sauna" heat. After getting patted down in security, we walked into the masses of german-flagged cheeks, german-flag dresses, german-flag top hats, german-flag Burger King hats. One exuberant woman was wearing a plastic yellow hula skirt, a red bra and enormous black peacocky headwear.
Because we had arrived a mere twenty minutes before the game, the sandy benches were already full.
"That's ok. We'll feel the spirit of the game standing with the german-flagged masses."
As game time approached, the Dresden announcer played K'naan's Wavin' Flag and the germans diligently waved their sea of flags.
Then the same announcer yelled out the first names of team members and the fans yelled out their last names.
"He is only saying the names of the German players. He's not saying the Brazilian or the Turkish players' names that are on the German team," Ilie informed me.
I was amazed that all of these people could match the first and last names of players, even if it was just the German ones.
Within the first five minutes of the game, the German team scored and I got beer splashed on me by excited fans and then almost choked on the dust cloud that we were surrounded in by the dancing crowd. The cheering continued whenever a German player stole the ball, passed the ball, when the goalie caught a simple pass kicked to him by his own team...
When Argentine's coach flashed on the screen the same excited fan who splashed beer around boo'ed loudly.
This is dedication.


We no Speak Americano

I have been hearing We No Speak Americano every fifteen minutes on the radio here.
I tap my fingers to it and the Charlie Chaplainesque music video doesn't hurt.
And then I discovered that the version I am incessantly hearing on the radio is a remix of the 1958 Tu Vuò Fa' L'Americano whose comedic musicians and poking-fun-of-the-ugly-american-wanna-be lyrics are even better than Charlie Chaplain.
If all melodies could have the same luck as We no speak Americano...



I have been reading Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and Wendell Berry's What are People For?. Pollan's mantra is "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants."
This, combined with Berry's admonitions to appreciate the fruit of the land that is beneath our feet and to be a part of caring for the "varied and versatile countryside, fragile in its composition[...]," has primed me for summer in Vama.
If not hay and potato fields, every household has at least a garden with onions, garlic, dill, lettuce, beans, beets and strawberries.
Mamaitza, my "grandmother" is out in her garden every morning, weeding this, taking a look at that. She has done this since she got married as has her daughter-in-law, as does the next neighbor down the road and the next.
Mamaitza and I weeded the onions and garlic on Tuesday morning, leaving clean dirt valleys between the plants. Later I picked strawberries at Silvia's. We ate some of the strawberries with polenta and cream, and cleaned the remaining strawberries to make jam.
Whenever I want lettuce, I walk the 20 meters to Mamaitza's garden and pick some a few lettuce leaves.
My Chemistry teacher neighbor has bunches of red, crunchy radishes in her kitchen for snack time.
Summer gives even without cultivation.
The air at the stadium where I run smells of fresh hay from the recently made haystacks on the end of the field and the woodland strawberries are almost ripe in the forest behind my house.
Last year, Milica, Mamaitza's son, taught me how to search for mushrooms and distinguish the edible ones from the "nebuni" (crazy) ones. While the forest floor is littered with mushrooms, many are nebun, especially the red and white ones that look like mario brother mushrooms. The prize mushroom is Hribi and they are notorious for being difficult to find. Last year, I found one hrib, and it was old and yellowing. But this summer, I am finding hribi. Fresh, brown capped hribi. A lot of hribi:

Many people in Vama ask me if I am not bored now that school is out.
In his discussion on work and the inherent pleasures that are coupled with "drudgerous" work on farmland, Wendell Berry writes that while doing this work,"One does not miss or regret the past, or fear or long for the future. Being there is simply all, and is enough."


I'm going to see a principal about some honey

A few days ago, my throat was sore. The perfect sore throat for honeyed tea.
So I went to a couple of the stores in town.
"We don't have honey" they all told me.
I was confused. I know honey exists here. I've been given choices of honey or sugar in tea, I've copied a recipe for honey cake, I've seen bee boxes.
"Where do you buy your honey?" I ask Silvia, my math colleague.
"I buy it from my cousin who is the Principal at the Construction high school in the nearby town."
"I'm going there tomorrow. Do you suppose I could buy some from her?"
"Of course. Actually, why don't you buy me a bottle while you are at it?"
"Just go to the high school and ask for Doamna Directoara Geta."
The next day, after finishing errands, I walked through the nearby town towards the Construction high school.
"Buna ziua Rachel," a fellow teacher and his wife greeted me on the street. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm on my way to buy honey."
"Where do you buy honey?" his wife asked me.
"From Silvia's cousin who is the Principal at the Construction High school."
"Oooh. Can you buy me a bottle too?"
"No problem" I answer nonchalantly, although I am becoming anxious that the Principal will not be at school and I have two orders on my conscious for this elusive honey.
As I near the high school, I meet some of my now 9th grade students from last year.
"Where are you going, Miss? Are you going to teach here next year?" They are excited to see me.
"I'll take you to the Principal's office," one of the more enthusiastic girls offers.
We enter the courtyard and climb the stairs.
"Hello. How are you," the english teacher at the school recognizes me. "What are you doing here? The Principal? She's not here.
Can I help you? You need honey? Of course. I'll give you her phone number."
I call the number and the Principal answers her phone.
"Hello. I am Rachel and I am a volunteer and colleague with your cousin Silvia and she told me I could buy honey from you."
"Of course. Very nice to meet you. If you go to the Secretary's office, they will help you. If there is not enough bottles at the office, The secretary will call me."
I walk into the secretary's office, which turns out is four desks with four employees busy with diplomas and typing.
"Hello," I speak to all four desks at once. "Who do I talk to about honey? I just talked to the Principal and she told me to come here."
"Honey?" said the young man behind desk one. "Here is a bottle." He lifts up a bag.
"I would like two bottles."
"Just a minute.....Are you going back into town? Come with me and you can pick up the second bottle with me."
We drove into town and parked next to an alley behind an apartment building. A woman was standing in the alley in an open doorway, holding out a 2 liter bottle of honey.
"It's ok." the young man called out to the woman in the alley. "She speaks Romanian."
I went over to the woman, settled the price for the bottle and was invited to have coffee with the principal the next time I visit her high school.
Back at the car, the young man asked, "Where can I drop you off?"
All for a spoonful of amber honey in a cup of tea.


The last week

This week is my last week of teaching school in Romania. Teachers are "closing the grades," several students from one notorious 6th grade class have received the news that they get to look forward to 6th grade again in the fall, classes are having their end-of-year parties.
On Sunday I met for the last time with the English Club. Instead of the typical lesson, I opted to take the students on a short hike on the hills surrounding Vama. The sun exhaled summer into the air and after the first fifteen minutes of climbing, we stopped for a water break.
While I often slip into Romanian during class time, I maintained a strict only-english rule for myself. Three students picked up on my lack of Romanian and tried their best to speak with me only in english. The other seventeen prattled away in Romanian in response to my english questions. Listening skills: check.
When we arrived at our destination, we sat in the sun and munched on sunflower seeds, looking down on Vama and talking about summer plans.

On Tuesday, I finished my last english hour with my favorite 7th graders and said goodbye, explaining I wouldn't be here next year. As I was about to leave the room one of the english club girls got up and hugged me. The rest of the class followed her.
"Oh. Don't cry Miss Johnson" they protested through their own watery eyes.


Are you a Ion or a Gheorghe?

I was sitting in a mall in Germany this week, on our way back from Paris, with a 4th grader from my school and his dad, Aurel. The 4th grader had just shaken up his coke and when he opened it, it fizzled onto him. His father looked on disapprovingly and told his son, "Don't be a Gheorghe."
I looked at him quizzically. "What is a 'Gheorghe'?"
During the last 12 days this man had spent with me on our school field trip to Paris, he had found endless enjoyment in explaining Romanian proverbs and sayings to me.
Aurel settled back into his chair.
"Gheorghe (George) milks the cow and Ion (John) drink the milk."

I'm not so sure that Ion has the better deal, though...