The Christmas Letter

Dear peoples,
A year ago I was preparing to go to my northern relatives, the ones who have snow in the winter, tom and jerry's for christmas and cribbage tournaments. I was also substitute teaching almost every day a week because teachers get colds too, and I had recently received a letter from the Peace corps telling me they liked me and they would probably send me to Eastern Europe and to please hurry up and get my dental exam.
After the holiday seasons I "moved" to Chicago (does it count as moving if you are leaving your brother's apartment after 4 months there, to be living in a big closet in your friend's apartment?)
Do not move to Chicago after the holiday season if you can help it. The suburban shovel-your-sidewalks mentality does not transcend city limits and I walked over icy sidewalks for two months. I got called into temp jobs in downtown offices and spent an extra 20 minutes getting to the right office because who knew that the blue line doesn't go to that part of downtown? And then I started biking to work and the thrill of passing rows of cars in traffic was glorious - until I wiped out on State St. one morning. Good thing my five layers padded the fall. And I spent a lot of time crocheting, watching scrubs and arrested development, making lentil-barley stew and convincing the city of chicago that I was worthy of a library card.
Then I got a thick envelope from the Peace Corps.
"It is our pleasure to invite you to Peace Corps Romania. Please respond to this invitation within the next 30 days. Information about your job description and life in Romania is enclosed."
-Peace Corps is in Romania? I asked myself. Then I went onto youtube and looked up Romanian music. O-zone and Akcent are from Romania. Not too bad, I decided.
In May I left Chicago on a bus with two very heavy duffel bags, rearranged my belongings in Missouri, visited college friends in Arkansas, said good-byes to mom, dad, grandma and Daniel and got on the plane to Philadelphia for a couple days of meet-and-greets with the 40 other peace corps volunteers that were going to Romania with me.
After we had found out what everyone wanted to do in Romania (the common theme was skiing) and we had blown our fears of living in a different country out of porportion by drawing unskilled pictures of outhouses and strangers, we flew to Romania, spent 10 weeks together learning Romanian, learned more about each other than our fears, and head-banged at Iris concerts.
In August I moved to my village in Northern Romania and I have been teaching English at a middle school, finding a balance between appreciating and integrating into Romanian culture while still keeping up with my peace corps friends.
I seesaw between loving teaching and wishing I could just sit at a desk and be mindless. My beginning 5th graders can say what they want from Santa Claus now, and my more advanced 8th graders know words like tasty, rotten, unbelievable and dull. I made Christmas cookies with the math teacher at my school this week and I've gotten into crocheting hats. Romanian television plays a lot of bollywood and French movies with Romanian subtitles, so I read the subtitles and am always proud when I know what's going on.
The first half of my year was full of expectations and the second half of my year has been overwhelmed with guessing at what is going on around me. Either I've gotten better at guessing or I really do understand more of what is going on around me, but I am putting down roots in Romania and am content and glad I've come. There are lonely days and frustrating moments, but so far they happen less than the days where I smile for no reason and feel on top of my village.
So that is the wrap-up.
I hope your Christmas and New Years are what you want them to be.


It makes me crave raw vegetables...

On my way home from school yesterday I stopped by a neighbor's house to pick up some milk (they have cows and if I bring a 1/2 liter bottle, they give me milk), which inevitably becomes a lunch...
So when I walked into my yard, it was beginning to get dark. I could just make out Ciprian and a neighbor standing over a bloodied, still pig. Because in Romania, before Christmas, you buy a pig and butcher it. It's like Americans eating turkey for Thanksgiving, but more involved. This tradition is fading out in bigger cities, but in my village it is still strong. Beginning a couple weeks ago I began to see pigs in everyone's yard and now the event...

Vasile blowo-torched the hairs off, while Ciprian scraped off the charredness...

Taking a break from butchering...

Cipri enjoying salted, raw pig skin. It's his favorite.
I also got to taste it and will be fine if I never eat it again.

Taking care of the head. Ciprian, looking on, is trying to learn how to butcher so he can do it himself next year.

Flavoring the pot full of heart, lungs, liver, and pig ears.

Mamaitza preparing the intestines to make sausages with.
Taking care of the meat is a lot of work...

Newly cut pork stakes grilling out.

So we stood around at 10 o'clock at night, eating with a chunk of bread in one hand, a pork steak in the other and biting into whole cloves of garlic.



I am at the big conference that every peace corps person participates in after 4 months of living at their respective sites.
Which means seeing everyone that met romania with me and who I learned romanian with during the summer.
So we talk over each other about our different lives and we find the common threads that is Romania.
But none of has the same experience...and some of us are almost fluent and others of us rarely use romanian.
And we are staying in a big hotel with hot showers that have enough water pressure to just blast the dirt off without the help of soap...and heated rooms. Oh the beauty of heated rooms without daily making a fire in my soba.
And we have snowball fights when we're walking back from the evening out
and I have spoken more english in the last few days than I have for a month
and it's nice to wake up in the morning and converse without translating everything into a second language.
and it is reminding me that I am part of a larger group (easily forgettable when I'm in my village)
and I am glad to have this week for refreshment, new ideas and good times.
And I know I will be ready to go back to my village come sunday.


It's here.

Craciun (Christmas) is here
There is a giant blow up Mosh Craciun (Santa Clause) hanging out on a monument in front of the mayor's office.
There are three different sized christmas trees with various levels of blinking lights in front of the aforementioned building.
My host family man, Ciprian, put up their Christmas lights yesterday...but then Gabi, his wife, didn't like his arrangement of them, so he is redoing the lights today.
All my fifth graders are way excited about putting their shoes out on Friday night for St. Nicholas to fill them with goodies (Saturday is St. Nicholas day).
I am teaching my students Jingle Bells, which they mostly know already, but once we get past the "jingle bells" line and sing "oh what fun it is to ride..." their voices become confused and they sound cacophonous.


we're obvious.

Thanksgiving is not a holiday in Romania.
So on Thanksgiving day I taught 4 hours of classes then invited myself over to a colleagues house (she makes delicious ciorba) for a big lunch.
The big thanksgiving event for myself was traveling to Transilvania to another peace corps volunteer's site for a weekend of thanksgiving.
So on Friday I stood out at the road in front of the magazine kiosk in my town and flagged down a big white bus at 11 in the morning. The bus got to Tirgu Mures at 6:30 that night, after driving across the Carpathians which are now stunningly snow covered. The bus played popular romanian music and even had a television screen so passengers could listen and watch the music. The music videos feature romanians in traditional dance with big microphones in their faces as they sing and dance.
Unfortunately, by the time the bus arrived in Tirgu Mures, it was dark and the last maxi taxi to my friend, Jake's, village had left. So I stayed the night in Tirgu Mures, a breath of big city air, in the nicest looking Peace Corps apartment I have ever seen (thanks Ikea).
I got the bus station and walked around, looking into the front windows of the vans and buses to see if one was going to Riciu, and finally the security guard came over and asked me what I was looking for. We began a conversation that culminated in him promising to keep an eye out for the maxi taxi for me. After hour 1, I wondered if there wasn't a better way to get out there, after hour 2 I wondered if all the buses I kept seeing leave were really heading towards my destination and my waiting for hours was just a clever hoax. After 2 1/2 hours, I began wondering if Riciu even existed. After 3 hours, the security guard reassured me, "imediat o sa vine," and the grey skies were beginning to clear into blue.
After 3 hours and 15 minutes, the correct maxi taxi finally arrived. Imagine a subway station without the signs telling you where to go, and you're not really sure where you are going...and you stand there long enough to feel lost, and then suddenly, a subway comes with the exact destination you are looking for. The ride to Riciu was beautiful in an ozark, wisconsin dells kind of way, and the van dropped me off near the mayor's office. Jake had told me that he lived in the only bloc apartment in town. The town, better described as a village, is small enough for the 5 story, pink painted bloc to be obvious.

When I got to the bloc, I realized I didn't know where Jake lived, so I walked into the magazine alimentar (little shop) under the bloc and asked, "Stiti unde locueste omul american" (do you know where the american lives?).
Yes, the woman did, but she wasn't entirely sure, so she walked outside with me and together we asked some men working on an apartment balcony, "Stiti unde locueste omul american?"
And yes, they knew exactly. Up these stairs and at the top floor, to the left.
So I entered the pink bloc and climbed 5 flights of stairs and forgot which door to knock on. So I knocked on the one I thought it might be and someone opened the door
and it was Jake. I don't think I've ever been that happy to finally find someone.
And the next couple days in Riciu were great, with lots of mud, a turkey, mashed potatoes, sarmale and talk.
And whenever me and the other pcv's that came later would speak in English, any nearby villager would ask us if we were friends with Jake.
We are so obvious.