The camping

So this weekend, eight other peace corps volunteers and I climbed up a mountain next to Bushtin, a town here in Romania.
The trip was fairly unplanned as we are a bunch of invincible peace corps trainees, and the hike almost killed me. As we were climbing the mountain, part of which was pseudo rock-climbing, my knees were killing me and another climber, Meg, described the pain in our calves as the burn of success.
At one point Chase collapsed at a break point, gasping, "where are the bears! I want one to come and take me out of my misery!"
Despite the grueling hike, we arrived at the top before dark and asked around for a good place to camp. The mountain was covered by a cloud, we were all shivering from the cold wind on the top of the mountain blowing into our soaking wet hiking clothes, and we were hungry. The mountaintop was above the tree line so we could not find firewood for a fire. Some people who live up there warned us against camping since there were some recent bear attacks in the area, but it was too foggy and dark to find the cabana (camping cabins) so we eventually gave up and found a flat space to set up our three tents.
After gorging on provisions, we took the food out of the main tent and crowded in for a fireless campsite experience, complete with i-pod, speakers and the wind knocking our tent half-way down.
We had just gone through a round of "what is your biggest fear," when one of the guys heard a noise and peeked out the tent.
"There's a bear out there," he whispered loudly. Immediately all nine of us jumped toward the center and stayed huddled there for the next hour and a half while we listened to the bear eat all our food 5 feet from us. We could hear it crunching down on the hard-boiled eggs and licking the cartons of juice. A bear cub circled our campsite, making little cries ever few minutes.
When the bear left, we jumped out of the tent and threw everything the bear would remotely want to eat as far down the hill and away from our tent as possible. It had ripped the other two tents so all nine of us spent the night in a 5-person tent. Needless to say, not much sleeping happened that night. But, to quote my fellow Peace corps trainee, Tyler, it was "probably the best experience in Romania yet."
This is one of the tracks we found in the sand near our tent.


Noise makers

This week I taught English to a class of 6th graders for an hour a day. They were great students as they were all there of their own free will for summer school.
By the second day, several of the boys had started making noise makers with sheets of paper. After one class period of them popping them "secretly" we began to confiscate them at the beginning of each class period. Roby is waving at you from the back of the room. And George, the smart one, is bored in front of the class. Please notice Andrei's mullet, which is prominently displayed as he faces away from the camera. The mullet is apparently cool here.


clueless traveler

This last week in language school we were taught vocabulary for traveling on trains. Since this was my fourth weekend in Romania, I felt like it was time to leave Ploiesti. Ever since I arrived in Romania, my Gazda, her nephew, my language instructors and every other Romanian I meet asks me if I have been to Brasov yet. They keep telling me it is "frumoasa" (beautiful).
Since my going to Brasov seemed so important to so many people, I decided that the time had come. So on Friday morning I packed my bag with a change of clothes and toothpaste and waited until the school day was over. A fellow trainee, Monica, and I went to the West Train station and unintentionally asked for a train ticket from the information window. When we finally had the tickets for Brasov and had succesfully located our platform, we waited in uncertainty as trains came and went.
"Este Tren pentru Brasov?" we asked every conductor we saw.
"Nu." They would reply, looking at us pityingly.
Our train rolled in a couple minutes late and we got settled into a compartment with a stuck window, plastic brown seats and old brown curtains that fluttered in our faces from the open window.
The train stopped at every station and lasted past the sunset and stopped in Brasov's unlit section of the train station.
"This is the depths of despair," Monica told me as we jumped off the train and into the darkness.
Eventually we found the lit section of the train station and from there, a bus to go into the center of Brasov. We weren't sure when we would know we were in the center, though, so we got off at a random stop and started walking. The center of Brasov is cobblestoned, with quaint European buildings, cathedral spires, fountains and numerous outdoor cafes. Very different from industrial Ploiesti.
We asked around for directions for a hotel a volunteer had recommended which was hidden in a side alley. By the time we had a room and went out to find food, all the restaurants in Brasov were closed. After a couple unsuccessful attempts, we spotted a lighted-up sign for a Restaurant at the end of an alley where people were sitting in the seats. So we walked to the restaurant and were rebuffed for the third time. I started to walk away, then turned back and asked, in broken Romanian, "where food in Brasov?" I must have looked forlorn and starving as the woman hestitated than beckoned for us to sit down and brought us menus! The restaurant ended up being Sicilian and after she made us pasta (the best I've had in Romania yet) the chef( a Romanian woman), and her husband (a Sicilian), sat with us and we "talked" about where we and they were from. Whenever their was an awkward silence, we diverted our attention to their cat, Totsi, we kept playing with leaves.
The next morning I walked around part of the wall that was built sometime between the late 1400's and and mid-1600's as a fortification for Brasov. It is now surrounded by posch clay tennis courts, a tree-covered walking path, and playgrounds.
I came back from Brasov alone, and a couple middle-aged woman shared my compartment with me. They were very quiet at first, but when they found out that my Romanian is impassable, they talked about foreigners and their families (I think). When we passed fields of grain and corn, they would teach me how to say it in Romanian.
I'm not going to lie, I feel pretty competent after my first Romanian train experience. Booyah.


Soccer, etc.

When I come home from school each day, my host mom Lumi asks, “How was school today?”
“Bine,” I say.

“What did you learn?”

In present tense and a limited knowledge of verbs, I reply in Romanian, “Today, I speak vegetable and fruit. Tomatoes, potatoes, grapes.”

My host mom graciously affirms my awkward Romanian, “Foarte bine (very good).”

My language and Peace Corps classes meet in a middle school on the West side of town. During breaks we watch the middle schoolers watching us, sometimes engage them in romglish conversations, and the tallest guy in my group dunks basketballs for their entertainment. Many of the boys play soccer as well.

There is a grass soccer field behind the school and after classes on Friday, several of us started a game. Within ten minutes some highschoolers joined in and soon the field began to fill with kids of all ages. If any of us got the ball, about five ten-year-olds would surround us. The only penalties that were called religiously were hand/arm balls and we got to practice yelling “to the right, to the left” in Romanian. And now, on Monday I’ll have new friends at the middle school to talk romglish with.