chilly morning

I was walking to school this morning, keeping my eyes on the ground to keep from tripping embarrassingly on the uneven sidewalk in front of my students who were also walking to school.
It is frosty in the morning, so I was bundled up in my recent Romanian thrift store jacket with a scarf wound multiple times around my throat and my hands dug deep into my pockets.
I was walking past a young man wearing a blue and pink wind jacket.
"Tu nu esti plicitisit de Romania?" he asked me.
I stopped, confused that I was being talked to by someone I've never met and trying to switch my mind to Romanian.
"Poftim" (Say again) I said.
He repeated his question, but this time I understood, "You're not bored of Romania yet?"
" Nu inca" (not yet) I replied, continuing on my way and wondering who he was.


picking mushrooms could mean making strudel

I am never sure what I will be doing on any given day.
At first, I thought this was because I couldn't understand an entire conversation, but now I realize it is because there is just not a lot of commitment to plans around my village.
On Saturday, I thought I was going to pick mushrooms which is a popular weekend activity around here.
But the people I was going to go with left earlier than planned, so I missed them.
"What to do on a clear-skied Saturday?" I ask (I have started talking to myself)
I text my friend Silvia who is in her 50's and ask if she wants to pick mushrooms with me. She texts back that she has work to do in her yard.
Can I help? I ask.
Da (yes) she replies.
When I arrive at her house, she acts surprised I have actually come to work, then points me towards the apple trees. Can you climb trees?
Her husband seems dubious about the whole thing, but willingly pulls the ladder out from behind the shed.
The next two hours are spent with Dorul, the husband, repositioning the ladder for me and me filling up bag after bag of shiny red apples under a bright blue sky.
When the last tree is almost done, they call me down for a break which turns into an early dinner with soup and cabbage and sausage and drink.
Silvia asks if I have time to stay for an apple strudel while she starts mixing a pie crust.
De ce nu? (why not) I respond.
She grates a bucket of apples, then squeezes the juice from the gratings, offering me the juice, "It is organic" she jokes, referring to an earlier conversation about processed food.
She mixed sugar, cinnamon and semolina with the squeezed apple gratings, then rolled the pie dough out and put the apple on the pie dough like cinnamon sugar on cinnamon rolls.
After a discussion about how she doesn't think President Bush is very handsome she pulls the strudel out of the oven and gives me half of it to take home. Mmmm.
Picking mushrooms is probably overrated anyways.


The Chicagoan in Romania

I spent the first week of school teaching my students the "first conversation"

me: My name is Ms. Johnson. What is your name?
student: My name is Alexandru.
me: Nice to meet you.
student: Nice to meet you.

I added other pleasantries for more advanced classes, such as
How old are you?
Where are you from?

student: Where are you from, Ms. Johnson?
me: I am from Chicago.

That's right, out of laziness I have claimed Chicago as my home in America. Having lived there for almost 3 whole months, I surely know everything there is to know about the city, right?

In the past, my answers have always been twisted by that question. Sometimes I say everywhere, sometimes I say Wisconsin. At times, when I don't care if the questioner thinks I would marry my cousin, I'll say Arkansas. If I want to seem moderately exotic, I respond with Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. If the questioner wants to get down to the bottom of it, they always ask, "where were you born?" Well, Arizona, then. Because my home address is now in Missouri, I sometimes throw that one into the mix.
Since the average Romanian middle schooler has no clue where or what Missouri, Wisconsin and Arkansas are, and I want them to think I'm from America, not the Philippines, I tell them I'm from Chicago. People know what Chicago is and I don't have to stumble through wrongly conjugated Romanian trying to explain my transient history.
Although now, when I return to the English-speaking world, I'll have another addition to my answer.



I really do work.
4 days a week, some days 6 classes.
And when your students look at you with varying levels of incomprehension for 6 hours straight, it can seem like a thankless day.
Sometimes, I feel more like an actor than a teacher. Like today when I went over the first few lines of a poem
"There was an old woman who swallowed (finger pointing down throat)a fly(jazz fingers as a fly)
"I don't know why she swallowed a fly(huge shoulder shrug and massive intonations)
"Perhaps she'll die(doing the pose from the painting, Scream)
"There was an old woman who swallowed a spider(hands walking like a spider)
"Who whiggled and jiggled and tickled(I gyrate around the room) inside her.
"She swallowed the spider to catch the fly..."
They like the "whiggled and jiggled and tickled" part the best.

My older students tend to be more self-conscious, so I had them write me a letter to gauge their language skills.
Some of the letters sound like advertisements in the personals:
" I am tall and slim. I am quiet, quick-tempered and sociable."
Most of them say something about me:
"It's a pity that we will be doing english with you only this year because you are a good teacher and I like learn english with you."
"I really like your english classes because it`s a new experience for me.Since I was just a kid I`d liked english ,but now i love english.I don`t like so much english gramar but I like comunication"
I'm verry happy to learn english from an american people."

So this is what "the american people" in Romania is doing, as of late.



It goes with every meal and would be on a list of condiments next to ketchup (the sweet kind) and mustard in the average Romanian kitchen.

Crush a few cloves of garlic
pour in some oil
mix it up until it is white and creamy
shake in some salt.

Eat with hard boiled eggs/fried squash/fried eggplant/fish...be creative.
And expect garlic breath for a while afterwards.