2nd graders

in conclusion.

Romania is looking at 5 more years of Basescu and an even lower opinion of their country's political system after the conclusion of the recent elections.
Supporters on both sides speculate about vote-stealings, which would theoretically even out the two parties, if both groups stole an equal number of votes. The Economist even commented that the "The campaign was exceptionally dirty." As Christmas approaches and my fellow teachers are more concerned about the extra week of unpaid vacation they are receiving as a "gift" from the government's struggling budget, talk has died down about the election results.
And life keeps happening.


and the next president will be...

Today is the second and final day for Romanian voters to decide their president for the next five years.
The first day of voting narrowed the pool of candidates (many) to two, and today was the decision day.The two candidates are
Basescu, who has been the president for the last five years
Geoana, formerly the foreign minister, and who many believe will bring stability

At 9 o'clock tonight, the exit polls from across the country were counted up and televised. I sat in the living room with Gabi and Ciprian.
One station said Geoana had 51.4%, while Basescu had 48.6% percent.
Another said they both had 50%.
Milica thinks Basescu doesn't have a chance anymore.
ne vedem.


stellar musings

On Saturday I was at the Planetarium in Suceava.
The presenter at the planetarium was a short, merry, bald-on-top man, who wore a wrinkly sweater over his hunched shoulders. After explaining the north star and constellations, he rotated the night sky above us and projected the twelve zodiak constellations one at a time. Taur (bull) Gemini (twins) Rac (crab/cnacer) Leo (Lion)...
The bull connects three stars in a sort of "A" triangle...The crab's pincher's loom in the planetarium sky.
The astrologists who superimposed these images in the night sky were creative in "earthizing" the far-away suns.
How would I "earthize" the stars? I thought.
Maybe, from the 19th of April to the 20th of May, the great cul-de-sac in the sky. From the 20th of May to the 21st of June, you can see the the encased i-pod rising from the setting sun. And from the 21st of June to the 22nd of July, you can see some summer of 69.


Your husband will be...

Saturday was Saint Andrew day here, Sfantul Andrei. There is a tradition for the evening of Sfantul Andrei. A tradition in line with MASH and pulling petals out of flowers.
Mamitza told me about it tonight. On the night of Sfantul Andrei, you must go to the well with a saint's candle from Easter. If you hold that candle over the night-blackened well water, you might see your future husband on the water. But if you see a coffin, you will die before you become married. Mamitza's mother saw a coffin. If you don't see your future husband in the water, you still have a chance to escape from old-maidenhood. You can pray in each of the four corners of a room and then go to bed and you will dream of your future husband. Mamitza dreamt of her future husband this way.
You can also make dough, roll it out and cut it into four squares. Put jam on top of the four squares and close up the dough to make a triangle. Then you boil the triangle in water. I'm sure this sweetcake has an english name but I don't know it. So you do all this work, and then you put the finished products in a circle and give each cake a name of a perspective husband. Next, call your cat over and whatever sweetcake he chooses will be your husband. Mamitza did it when she was 9 years old. But her cat was a scrounger and wasn't hungry by the time Mamitza had finished putting the named sweetcakes in a circle and refused to choose one. Persnickety cats.



This evening me and my work-out buddies were doing "the cobra" and talking about our weekend plans.
me: You want to hike over the mountain between Vama and Gura Humorlui Monastir on Sunday?
S: Sunday? no no. Sunday is voting day!
D: You should come by and see how we do voting in Romania. This room is actually the voting room.
me: How late is the voting open?
D: Until 10 or 11 at night, I think. Either way, people are here until late. haha. Maybe what happened last year will happen again. Remember when those two old ladies came in.
S: hahaha
D: These two old ladies came in and one of them is beginning to become senile. And they went together to vote so that the one could help the other. And the whole room could hear them deciding who to vote for, because the beginning-to-be-senile one talks really loud.
(I realize at this point that I know these two ladies. They're my neighbors)
S: If you're lucky you can come when they are here. haha.


the change

Last night I watched Food, Inc . I had heard about most of it before - growth hormones, international mixtures of ground meat, corn feed lots for cows, e. coli breakouts in spinach. I have heard complaints about the costs of organic food, and the film explained why buying organic is worth the money because of the longterm environmental and health benefits.
By the time I got to the credits, I was feeling a lot of patriotic embarrassment. But I also felt like I did when I red Invisible Monsters by Chuck Palanciuk last spring. Invisible Monsters is full of plastic surgery, drugs, and seeming superficiality. I sat on my balcony and struggled to get into Palanciuk's story. It felt unrelatable. But I used to like Palanciuk's twisted stories and modern plots, so I must have related in some way.
While Food, Inc was an expose that makes me appreciate my family's deer-hunting, vegetable gardening habits, I kept thinking in the film about how I buy my milk from my neighbor, whose cow I hear coming down from the mountain every evening. When I help Silvia make Ciorba, I run out to her back-yard garden for herbs. Last night, one of my neighbors butchered their young bull, and sold the meat to other villagers. You can't get much closer to your food sources.
Sometimes I forget that I have a different lifestyle here. Thank you Food Inc for reminding me.


wait for it...

Stefan likes to dance. His signature dance move is jerking his right arm back and forth and running in an awkward circle until he gets dizzy. He was doing this yesterday until I brought out my camera.
Then he tells me my phone is on the table. Meanwhile his grandma is trying to get him to dance.
So he improvised a pillow dance for me.


Something to look forward to :)

mom: Your dad bought another car for you for when you get back
me: really? I told him when I was home that I didn't know my plans and that he shouldn't buy any cars for me.
mom: This is the second car he's bought with you as his excuse. Don't worry. It doesn't work.


walking eleven kilometers

My village has two main schools, a ten minute walk away from each other. On Mondays, I teach one class at the first school, and then rush the ten minutes to the other school to teach another three hours. A math teacher at the school has a similar schedule as mine and we usually hurry to the second school together, buna ziuaing people along the way.
One day I said that it was inefficient it is for us to have to walk to a second school.
"As a new teacher, I taught in Vatra Moldovitza, (a 25-minute-away-by-bus village).
"When I got married, I moved to Vama because my husband lived there, and I commuted to Vatra Moldovitza every day.
"That's a ways to commute every day," I responded, calculating in what I have heard of getting places during the 70's in Romania.
"It took about an hour and a half to get there, so I would get up every morning at 5:00 and got on the bus at 6:00."
"mmhmm." I respond, dodging a pothole in the sidewalk.
"But y'know, during Ceasescu's time, gas wasn't very plentiful, so some days the driver of the bus would tell us he couldn't drive the whole way to Vatra Moldovitza, and would let me off in another village 11 kilometers away. I would start walking. A few times a logging truck would pick me up, but there were a few times I would walk the whole way. It took me about 3 hours, especially if the road was really snowed-under."
"So there were some days when you didn't get to school until 2 1/2 hours after it started?"
"Yeah. My colleagues understood and would cover for me."

Suddenly the not-even half a kilometer walk to the second school seemed piddly.


Spoooky school '09

Last year's Halloween party was a cramped, dark affair. Too many students showed up for one room and freakily, the power went out. But enthusiasm was huge last year.
So I decided that if my 7th and 8th grade students were interested, they could help me put on a Halloween party this year. We had a scavenger hunt, games, a haunted cellar and a disco.

There were 100+ students in attendance and they went through 30 liters of coca cola and fanta within the first hour. Each student had to say trick-or-treat when they entered and then they got a big ticket with questions on it about Halloween. Throughout the school there were facts about Halloween on the wall that answered the questions on the ticket. On the big ticket, there was also 5 smaller tickets, so each student could have the opportunity to play a game.
We had "hit the ghost," inspired by those carnival games where if you hit the bulls eye you got an obnoxiously large stuffed animal. My students got a pencil if they hit a ghost.

We played Scary Bingo. Bingo had the best prize, a glow-in-the-dark skeleton necklace. It looked like ordinary bling bling until you walked into the haunted cellar, which was of course dark.

Blindfolded students got to pin up Frankenstein, although I realize that theoretically they were pinning up a poorly drawn apparition of Dr. Frankenstein's ghoulish creation.

Of course we had a photo booth with a spooky backdrop that one of my students apparently painted in her free time.

And finally, the haunted cellar. The school's cellar is damp and smells like earth. It is about the same size as my room. The students I delegated to haunting the cellar hung up white sheets to create a circle, and painted the sheets with dripping red paint and tore jagged holes into them. Then they put candles down the stairs, in the corners, and in the walls. One of them with a death mask hid behind the sheet and when a group of students would come down, they would jump out at them, screaming. There was a line at the haunted cellar all night.

The night ended with a devilish disco, as all school events should end. And the 7th, 8th graders and myself propping open our tired eyelids to dance the last song. Somehow 5th graders never lose energy.


fitting in

Winter has not so much crept up this year as pounced on me. My room was cold enough to make me put layers of rugs on my drafty floors yesterday, and my soba has been burning a heaping armful of wood each evening. My desk is right next to the soba and my typing, the crackling wood and Tchaikovsky sounds are blending together around me. I spent my weekend with a group of 7th and 8th graders planning and executing a halloween party. There have been few times in my life where i was busy enough I forgot to eat, and this weekend was one of those. I fell asleep Saturday night, after supervising the Halloween dance until 10pm, giddy with the euphoria of success.
Theoretically I teach classes two days a week, but I have found other things to do in my time. I teach a couple classes at the kindergarten where we sing "old McDonald had a farm" and they learn how to say Good Morning Teacher. I have a weekly english club (which sponsored the Halloween party), where we've been talking about Halloween and this month we will talk about American music and dance and Thanksgiving.
grade papers
watch Stefan's mind develop
knit leg warmers
read Paulo Coelho in Romanian
chat with my neighbors
read perezhilton more than the NewYorkTimes
watch Mad Men
eat ciorba
think about where my aspirations will lead me
plan english club lessons
I was walking home one evening, brightfall on all sides, my stomach full of ciorba and pork, my bag full of test papers to grade. A student from last year who is now in high school raced across the road when she saw me to give me a hug and we discussed her new teachers, new challenges. I continued on my way, and when I got home I started a fire, made some ibric coffee and bounced a ball with Stefan for as long as his attention lasted. And I realized that I fit here, right now at least. Not that I am a generally "unfitting" person, but I have channeled lots of energy to fit as I do.
There are also days where I feel like I am a circle being stuffed into a triangle of a children's carpenter set.
But those "fit" days. mmmmm.


Friday afternoon

Stefan is walking now, and he likes to hang out with Cipri and play basketball. He is also intrigued by cameras.


case study chocolate chip cookies

I do not cook or bake much in Romania. Not that I ever did that much. I have my "specialties" wholewheat oatmeal pancakes, chocolate chip cookies, lentil barley stew.
But if I had to, I could get by on my cooking skills.
I don't cook much here because I have had the good fortune to know some gracious, giving gospodine (housewifes) in my village, and they have kept me eating delicious food.
This afternoon, though, I was in the mood for chocolate chip cookies, something they don't generally make here.
So i went to the store and bought a bar of dark chocolate and brought it back to the house, broke it up into chips, mixed up the cookies and turned on the oven. As I was spooning the cookie batter onto the pan, my bunica (grandma), who hangs out in the kitchen, told me
"aren't you going to roll it out first on waxpaper? oh no. you've already put the chocolate in it. You have to take out the chocolate and put it in after you've baked. It's going to melt all over the pan this way."
"It's ok, Mamitza," I assured here. "The chocolate won't melt all over the pan."
Ciprian, my host family man, wandered in for a bit. "Rachel's cooking, huh? Is it digestible?"
"Se vedem (we'll see)" I told him as I put the first batch in the oven.
Gabi, my host family woman, the encourager, told me, "If Stefan and Cipri like it, maybe I'll make them too with raisins. You can make it with raisins right?"
Sabina, my host families high school age sister came in. "OOh. this is what Irena (their sister who worked in the States a couple summers) brought back with her. I like them."
Cipri, the 12 year old came in and took the first bite out of still steaming cookies. "mmm" He generally likes what I've made (tacos, Hawaiian pizza, wholewheat oatmeal pancakes).

The final product was digestible and, if I may, even delicious.
So this is what my cookies made me think. Everyone reacts differently to a new or foreign food, idea, thing. Whether it be the lady gaga, ball point pens, the communicative method of teaching, democracy, or chocolate chip cookies. Younger generations might not think twice before they embrace the new idea. Older generations might try to mold the new idea into an idea that can be better understood from their own experiences, and most people observe the new idea before jumping for or against it. New ideas take a while, world.


the maintenance man

The maintenance man at my school, Gheorgitza, speaks english to me. I speak english to one of my colleagues, the other english teacher at the school. And other teachers might throw out a "hello" during the course of the day, and a couple of the younger ones who know a little more will start a conversation with me in English which quickly becomes a Romanian conversation.
But Gheorgitza always asks me, "hello, how are you?" and continues the conversation in english. He told me he learned it from watching TV.
he is cool. last year, he would pass me on the way to school saying "hello", riding his dark green german bicycle with a handlebar basket.
This year, he is riding a compact red scooter.
"Gheorgitza," I called to him as he putted by on the scooter, "you have a scooter!? No more bicycle?"
Mirthful Gheorgitza replied, "I have developed. Progress," and flashed me a smile as he continued down the road.


blog lazy

I am blog lazy these days. The rain is beating against my window, and today is the first day in a month where I feel like I know what is going on with the new school year. At least my head is enough above water to see beyond my eyelashes.
The fall here has been beautiful.
An indian summer.

The weathermen say it might snow tonight though. After school today I was eating lunch at Silvia's house and in the hour I was there, the temperature had dropped from 8 to 7 degrees celsius. burr. and the dropping continues.
This year, I am doing an english club with my school. It is an opportunity for more motivated students to spend more time speaking english.
We have been carving pumpkins.

And Miruna, who forgot to bring a pumpkin, carved an apple.

The english club is the stuff that teacher's dreams are made of. A roomful of enthusiastic students.
ai. the rain is coming down diagonally now.


American wedding '09

My brother's wedding was in a chapel on a hill with access by a white bridge.


the unplanned

This summer, I found out that my biggest brother, the one who sightes-in my gun before hunting season, taught me how to drive the speed limit, showed me up during tennis class, got us stuck in a Singapore jail for several hours, and with whom I lived rent-free post college...he's getting married! Next weekend!
Which means that this weekend, I will be traveling to him and his future wife...and my parents and various relatives.
The trip home starts at 6am Saturday on a train leaving my village which will take me to a city where I will get on a bus which will take me to the airport in Bucuresti. From which I will fly to Amsterdam, then to Houston and then to XNA, the airport built in the middle of nowhere Northwest Arkansas for Wal-Mart. And then I will get in a car with my mom 41 hours after I leave my village, and we will drive home.
And two weeks later I will do the same thing for the return trip.
So at first I wasn't jumping-out-of-my-seat excited about the trip. And then I told my friends and colleagues that I was going home.
"Oh you must be so excited!" they told me, with jumping-out-of-their-seat enthusiasm.
"You will get to see your mother."
"You will get to speak English all the time."
"It's your brother's wedding. You will have so much fun."
"You get out of school for two weeks," my burn-out colleague smiled dreamily at me.
"You will have to take pictures for us."
"I have some gifts for you to take to your brother"
"Tell him Casa de Piatra (House of Rock(what you say in Romania at weddings)) for me," one of my students who had met my other brother told me.
Their attitude has been infectious. I now get shivery when I think that in less than a week I will be talking face to face with my mom, grandma, dad, brothers... I will be driving, drinking large cups of coffee, making chocolate chip cookies, lounging with people who mean a lot to me.


if you learned english 40 years ago...

This week I went to a beginning-of-the-year meeting for all the Suceava county teachers of english as a foreign language. One of the topics at the meeting was the benefits of using the communicative approach when teaching foreign language. The communicative approach is to the more traditional approach as the tango is to the wallflower. Interaction is required.
To demonstrate the ineffectiveness of using conversation in class solely for grammar practice, the speaker used the following conversation which was from a textbook used by his mother in Poland:

John: I am a man. You are a woman.
Mary: I am Mary Brown. You are John Brown.
John: This is a book. That is a pen.
Mary: What is this?
John: That is a pen. What is this?
Mary: That is a book.
John: Is this a book?
Mary: Yes, that is a book. Is this a pen?
John: Yes, that is a pen.
Mary: Is this a door?
John: No, that is not a door. It is a pen. Is this a window?
Mary: No, that is not a window. It's a book.
John: Are these chairs?
Mary: Yes, those are chairs, and these are tables.
John: Mary, what are these?
Mary: Those are books, John.
John: Am I a man, Mary?
Mary: Yes, John, you are a man, and I am a woman.

"What is this conversation about?" the speaker asked.
The teacher next to me, an older woman in a gray suit whispered to me, "It sounds like they are working up to sex."
While the communicative approach may be more effective in teaching conversation, the traditional method is much more entertaining if you're in a roomful of english teachers.
And really, are window and books that easy to confuse with each other?


unbridled enthusiasm

If you could get anyone's autograph, whose would you get? I remember being asked this question as a twelve year old, sitting in a circle of other mk's at the annual missions conference. We were participating in an ice breaker and I was listening to the other kids name off members of dc talk, (a christian rock band), Drew Barrymore, one of the Spice girls. Or that was probably who they were saying. I didn't know who anyone was that they were naming nor was I paying attention.
I was struggling in my mind. Charles Dickens, or maybe Laura Ingalls Wilder, Tolstoy? What about Laurel and Hardy - that would get a laugh. Definitely not Clinton. Or Tchaikovsky? Oh, the Blue Angels would be cool to say.
(ok, so if you didn't have television and your main media influences were Voice of America, tapes of classical music and books left behind in the missionary library, you too might have this same list)
I was undecided, although enthusiastic to have a cool answer.
At Zilelei Vamei on Saturday night, I was walking between the bumper cars to the stage area when Ioana, one of my 5th graders, came running at me out of nowhere.
"Uite-te, teacher" (look teacher). Her face was radiant.
She thrust a picture of Raul, who had sung earlier on that night, into my hand.
Then she turned the picture around. On the back, I saw a blurry signature. Blurry because Ioana was literally jumping up and down as she was showing me.
I don't remember whose signature I ended up choosing at that missions conference, but what I said, there is no way I was enthusiastic as Ioana was about Raoul.


zilelei vamei party time

This weekend my village had a "days of vama" festival. Most romanian towns have a "days of themselves" festival once a year, where there is sure to be some theme park rides, mici (a grilled meat), chocolate filled doughnuts, cotton candy, and a stage with musicians playing back to back.
Not every festival celebrates their 600 year old anniversary, like Vama, my village, did this weekend. 1409 - 2009.
In honor of the anniversary, 20 French visitors from Vama's "sister" french town came, and me and some other peace corps volunteers went, making it, by all rights, an international festival :)
It was held at the stadium and walking from one side to the other, I was greeted by "hello's" from my students and buna ziuas from friends, every few minutes stopping to chat with someone I hadn't seen during the summer.
The best moment?
in the middle of the crowd, there was a large container set up for the film crew filming the traditional musicians that were performing. Music on the lines of this was being played. At one point, I looked over in the direction of the container and an elderly man, dressed traditionally, was dancing by himself above the crowd.
Table-dancing old men. We know how to have a good time.


a midsummer's dream

I wrote the following to a friend describing my summer road trip around Romania. He made my prose into poetry. slanina is pig fat (traditional diet). Sibiu is a medieval city in Romania.

Eating slanina
and onions before
hopping into a hot car on a hot day
for a sticky, smelly environment.
And the Fagaras mountains are craggy
and sulphur springs stink
and the danube is very wide and soft serve
in sibiu
is sexy


oh Madonna

60,000 people went to Madonna's concert last night. Not the shepherd from yesterday, but 60,000 others went.
And from what I hear, it was great. Apparently, Madonna is touring with a group of gypsy musicians and chose to bring up the issue of gypsy discrimination in Eastern Europe to her fans.
Perez Hilton had his western say on the incident.
I wonder what will come of this incident.


sticky and sweet and saggy

Madonna is singing in Bucuresti tonight. This is her first and probably only time in Romania. It's a big deal.
So while Madonna's concert stage was receiving its final touches this afternoon I was in the woods near my house, foraging for mushrooms with my neighbor Milicha and his daughter Sabina. On our forages, we came across a Stana, which is the headquarters of a sheep farm.
So we were sitting on a picnic table, drinking whey and eating sheep cheese and polenta.
"Madonna is in Bucaresti tonight. The cheapest ticket is about 200 Lei (88ish dollars)" Milicha tells the picnic table.
"200 lei!" the shepherd and his mother comment shockedly.
"And she's 51 and her skin is saggy," Milicha makes saggy motions with his skin, "Paying 200 lei to see saggy skin." He shakes his head sadly.
"If you're at a big concert you probably won't be close enough to see the saggy..." I offer.
"Some of the tickets cost 800 lei," continued Milicha.
"That's how much I make in a summer," said the shepherd, in his green alpine hat, high grey pants and plaid long-sleeved button-up shirt. "I'll just work all summer to see Madonna in concert!"
I can definitely see him dancing wildly at a Madonna concert :)
Have fun tonight Madonna. All of Romania is talking about you.

the soviet workmanship

A couple night ago my lighbulb went out. I've been waiting for it to happen since I moved in here more than a year ago and I haven't had to change it yet.
So the next morning I unscrewed the burned out lighbulb. I'm that person that reads everything - shampoo bottles in the shower, ingredient lists on cans while I'm cooking, romanian subtitles while I'm watching TV...so I read the lightbulb. And it said 'made in USSR.'
The USSR has been nonexistent since 1991.


an independence day here, an independence day there

Today is the 23rd of August. Not much different than any other day in August, I though.
But I was visiting my neighbor, Anucu, for a cup of coffee this morning and she informed me that this used to be the national day during communism. Currently in Romania, December 1st is the equivalent of the American July 4th, but after WWII until 1990, August 23rd was the big day. Apparently, August 23rd is the day during WWII when Romania switched allegiance from Germany to Russia. The Romanian News stations are broadcasting archived films of the parades in Bucuresti with Ceausescu heading up the celebration. The festivities reminded me of China's opening ceremonies at the Olympics. People lined up to spell the words August 23 and Ceausescu in the middle of the stadium. Youth dancing with ladders, traditionally costumed romanians in tightly choreographed marches.
"Wow, so that was a big day, huh?" I ask Anucu and Marin.
"Nah. Only in the big cities." Anucu replies.
"We've had too many national days," Marin informs me, counting them off on his fingers. "Stefan Cel Mare (the ruler who fought off the Turks in the middle ages)gave us a national day, when the Austro-Hungarians were here, they gave us an independence day, Ceausescu gave us a day, the 'free' western world gave us December 1st. Who can keep track of what day is actually the national day now?"

I have to agree with Marin, changing your national day every 30 years would take away from the patriotic spirit of the day. Either way, happy August 23rd.


Kiev's mayor

There is a newspaper sold in Romania, Romania libera, that has a few articles from The New York Times folded between the society and business section every Friday. Whenever I remember its Friday (I'm on summer vacation, ok)I buy this newspaper at whatever newsstand I am near.
These excerpts are from an article about the current mayor of Kiev, Ukraine, a city I visited a few months ago.
"Leonid M. Chernovetsky, this city's unpredictable mayor, likes to answer his critics in his own special way.
"When Parliament memebers said he was acting bizarrely and needed a psychiatric exam, he went to a stadium where he jogged for the cameras before yanking off his shirt and doing pull-ups. He swam laps and flexed his muscles. Then he held a news conference - in his tiny bathing suite.
"'They are judging me today and want me to spend the rest of my life behind the bars of a psychiatric hospital,' Mr. Chernovetsky said. 'Look at my body, at how I express my thought. I am absolutely healthy.'"
-Friday, August 21, 2009 New York Times

Does Chernovetsky's logic make sense?


the pyromaniac

It is August, which in my mind should be the hottest month of the year.
But a couple nights ago it got down to 9 degrees celsius. Which is somewhere in the upper 40s F. Mark is visiting. Mark who lives in Arizona. He tells me the temperatures here are like his winter temperatures. And he has been spending the last couple nights swaddled in blankets and drinking tea to counteract the winterish elements that are August in Bucovina.
Mark is also a pyromaniac. When he was 12 and I was 11, he would shave off the ends of millions of matchsticks and use this combustible material to make blue and red fireworks rockets which we would shoot off on special occasions. The last couple nights, swaddled-in-blankets-brother has asked, can we make a fire in your soba? Its so cold. I want to make a fire.
So tonight, after a drizzly day at a monastery and a hike in the drippy forest we came back to my room and Mark lost his soba virginity.
And these are the words that came out of the pyromaniacs mouth after the fire had burned out on him once and the room's dampness was fighting the wood's catching fire.
"I have a lot of respect for you, heating like this all winter. It seems like you have to work really hard."
I have earned the pyromaniacs respect. Heating with my soba in the winter is worth it just for that.


World colliding

I found out what the midget and porsche were all about - a circus came to my village.
But I'm going to meet my brother.
yes. I am going to see my brother, Mark, here in Romania. In less than 24 hours.
Mark and I have obviously always had a caring relationship with each other

Besides pulling his hair, we'll do some traveling, he'll eat romanian food and become mind-fogged by hearing romanian all the time.


you never know

Yesterday, I was walking into town. At the end of my road there was parked a porsche convertible. Behind this convertible there was a big white van with speakers on top blasting traditional romanian music. And inside the van, a midget was standing between the front seats.
As I was walking down the road, away from the porsche, the midget and the blaring music, I kept turning around and looking back.
What was going on?


the adventure

If you were to visit America and live only in Cheektowaga, New York, your impression of America would be of snow, overly enthusiastic hockey fans and the suburbs with a few trailer parks thrown in.
I live in a big village in northern Romania and my impressions are of horse carts, saying hello to everyone as I walk down the street, farmers and free invites to dinners, among other things.
For the last couple weeks I went on a trip to the polar opposites of Romania - the capital city and the sea. A significant percent of Romania's population lives in Bucharest and I spent the first few days of my trip walking around without saying hello to strangers on the street and hearing people speak english while waiting for a bus or coffee. Bucharest has a metro and people with tattoos and piercings. I am not the only person in Bucharest who doesn't know how to get places as evidenced when I was asked multiple times how to get to a certain park or piata.
After being reminded in Bucharest that Romania is a modern country, I got on a train for the black sea. There are multiple beaches on Romania's black sea coast. The first beach me and another Peace Corps friend tried was Costinesti, known as a youth resort - a youth resort full of young families whose naked babies played in the surf. The shore was full of sunbathers and school groups and venders selling grilled corn. The beach seemed relatively tame in the daytime, but at nightime it exploded. Where people were sunbathing in the daytime, a large tent had been constructed and was calling itself a club and advertising Russian go go dancers. Sitting on the second floor balcony of a restaurant, we people-watched the shops below us selling sunscreen, sunglasses, beach toys, juice and souveniers. Every few minutes one of two jeeps would drive by, blasting music while the dj, sitting on the frame of the jeep, would tell all who could hear about how such and such a club was the best club to go to and the partying at his club doesn't stop until dawn. A couple minutes later, the jeep advertising the other big club would drive by and blast out the same thing. At one point, the jeeps met beneath our observation perch and had a good-humored exchange of words about whose club was better. So Costinesti was loud and fun and relaxing.
The next day we met up with other colleagues at Vama Veche, which is known as the hippy beach of Romania. And for four losing-track-of-time days we stayed in tents 20 feet from the seashore, played on a giant inflatable banana in the black sea, refused to pay the 5 Lei for a shower and instead got nappy hair communaly, played cards, danced on the sand and made little bonfires every night. Every restaurant run meant a bathroom and running water and we would take our toothbrushes and soap with us. One day we walked across the Bulgarian border and had a drink to say we had a drink in Bulgaria. Vama Veche is filled with free-spirited romanians and other Europeans, even a few Australians. It was like being in Bucharest without the business clothes and bus schedules and time constraints.
The other sides of Romania were fun to see and experience, but I'm so glad I'm back to my farming, talk-to-everyone-you-see village.


The foreign language

How much a part of us is the language we use?
When I talk on facebook chat or skype in english, I make jokes with words and people on the other end in America understand my jokes, despite not seeing my face or hearing my intonation. When I talk on facebook chat or skype in Romanian, I use lots of smiley faces, because I'm not sure if what I am saying is funny in Romanian.
When I speak English, I am in control. I know the difference between "supercilious" and "unnecessary", and can use a variety of words to express the same idea more colorfully. In Romanian, my vocabulary is basic. I know a few words that are more colorful, in a non-swearing kind of way, but I keep things simple.
And sometimes this simplification of communication makes me feel like a different person. The Romanian me is almost always amiable, not much of a talker but succinct when I do talk. The English me can be too verbose, likes to take sides for the sake of argument and writes without thinking.
The english me is confident, the romanian me is fluff that is easily buffeted by an odd verb tense or the speech of toothless old people.
English is my skin. As long as I have memory its been with me, it fits the way I think, I know words in it for every feeling I have, for every activity I want to do. Romanian, on the other hand, is a ruffly dress that I can take on and off. I try to tailor the dress when I translate directly from english to Romania, but more often than not, there are still awkward seams and some ruffles that don't sit right. But its being worn in. Of course, the huge ruffles on my sleeves and skirt hide grammatical rules I'll probably never know about.
But I've already taken out a few of the ruffles, and I now look forward to putting on the dress when I go downstairs and talk to my host family or my neighbors, as compared to dreading putting it on when I first came to my village.
De fapt, I like to flounce and twirl around in my dress and get complimented for it.
I guess wearing clothes is sometimes more fun than being naked.


Quoth the Raven, nevermore

A month ago, my internetless home life ended when my host family got "the internet" and sent an extension of "the internet" up to my room.
No more coming to school on Friday mornings (when I don't have any classes to teach) to check my emails, no more sitting in the crowded informational room with 4 or 5 students at a time behind me, talking amongst themselves at my speedy typing skills while I write on my blog, no more showing my colleagues pictures of my friends in America on facebook, while they point at men in the pictures as ask me why I'm not dating them and then pick their favorites.
While the passing of this "internet" experience was a little sad, it was easily made up for by waking up in the morning, pulling the laptop onto bed with me and luxuriating in the New York Times and streamed Seinfeld episodes and talking to America while in my pajamas.
Saturday night, a month after getting "the internet" I was enjoying some banter between Elaine, George and Jerry Seinfeld while conversing over Skype when DARKNESS COVERED THE COMPUTER SCREEN.
Maybe it will work in the morning, I told myself.
It did not.
Maybe it will turn on again this evening?
The neighbor who has fixed every computer in my village looked at it, even took it into his office. Still nothing. The hardrive with pictures, stories, lesson plans, music and my most recently downloaded film Papillon, is apparently fine.
So I have spent my first week of summer old style. Reading White Teeth, making spaghetti and tacos with my host families bored-on-summer-vacation 12 year old, biking to nearby towns and buying second-hand clothing, barbecues, varnishing my balcony, dog-sitting.
And yes, coming to the school to do my interneting. Not too bad, I know, but the memories of this last month are hard to suppress...ah pajamas and internet.


The loud ones at the birthday party

trying out a friends bike on a dirt road

Standing out

In a crowd of brightly dressed classmates, Mihai still stands out in his brilliantly green shirt.

Catching some sun.

The quiet one at the birthday party

The socks make this outfit.

Suave at their 5th grade end-of-the-year party

On the sidewalk

I love the pink and red combo. She is standing next to her chalk drawing in front of the kindergarten.


The table tennis boys

I played ping pong again this afternoon with two of my 5th graders and their 6th grade cousin.
Today might have been my last ping pong match for a while because in the summer they and their family go to the "country" (which is hard to imagine that there is somewhere more "country" than where I'm at now). But they have a country house and land up on a nearby foothill, and they live there during the summer with their fields of potatoes and hay and come back to the village when school starts in September.
Today Florin and Sandu, the twins, were dressed up because it was a holiday. Sandu looking cooly disinterested, Florin with his always present sunglasses and the cousin trying to look serious for the picture.

They invited me to come spend a day with them and their family on the foothill. I think I might.


everyone has an afterlife

Yesterday I went to the cemetery with Gabi and Mamitza to pull weeds to make the graves of Mamaitza's parents look kept. Monday is a big holiday and everyone goes to the cemeteries and remembers their dead, and the graves need to be pretty for the big day.
I also attended a funeral this week, of one of my fellow teacher's mother-in-law, and someone I know in America has a close friend who is dying. No one really knows what happens after we take our last breath besides the fact that we're 21 grams lighter. Actually, no one knows what will happen in the next hour, day, week or year, but at least we have boundaries for what will happen(grass will stay green, male penguins will still huddle over their eggs and a cup of coffee in the morning will always sound nice).
But we don't know the boundaries to the afterlife. And what we don't know about, we imagine.

The Afterlife
by Billy Collins

They're moving off in all imaginable directions,
each according to his own private belief,
and this is the secret that silent Lazarus would not reveal:
that everyone is right, as it turns out.
you go to the place you always thought you would go,
the place you kept lit in an alcove in your head.

Some are being shot into a funnel of flashing colors
into a zone of light, white as a January sun.
Others are standing naked before a forbidding judge who sits
with a golden ladder on one side, a coal chute on the other.

Some have already joined the celestial choir
and are singing as if they have been doing this forever,
while the less inventive find themselves stuck
in a big air conditioned room full of food and chorus girls.

Some are approaching the apartment of the female God,
a woman in her forties with short wiry hair
and glasses hanging from her neck by a string.
With one eye she regards the dead through a hold in her door.

There are those we are squeezing into the bodies
of animals - eagles and leopards - and one trying on
the skin of a monkey like a tight suit,
ready to begin another life in a more simple key,

while others float off into some benign vagueness,
little units of energy heading for the ultimate elsewhere.

There are even a few classicists being led to an underworld
by a mythological creature with a beard and hooves.
He will bring them to the mouth of the furious cave
guarded over by Edith Hamilton and her three-headed dogs.

The rest just lie on their backs in their coffins
wishing they could return so they could learn Italian
or see the pyramids, or play some golf in a light rain.
They wish they could wake in the morning like you
and stand at a window examining the winter trees,
every branch traced with the ghost writing of snow.

I do not imagine lying on my back in a coffin wishing to still be breathing, but I do imagine lying on my back in a meadow during springtime, maybe watching the world below and God above. For sure sun and breezy summer warmth will somehow be involved.
what do you imagine?


the table tennis crush

One of my "extra-curricular" activities is playing ping pong. A few days ago I was serving the light orange ball into the left corner while trying to not step on Florin and Sandu's new puppy who is named Tzitzi. Behind me I heard the gate open and a girl from the 4th grade, her hair in pigtails, with a fashionable, medeivelish red shirt on to go with her red jeans stepped into the yard.
"Sarut Mana" she told me.
"Buna Ziua," I told her and she came over and picked up Tzitzi. I assumed she was a neighborhood friend coming over to play. And then I noticed that Florin was wearing a bigger smile than I would have imagined possible. And in between returning the ball and yelling out the score in romanglish he would surreptitiously glance at the girl in red.
After we had finished the match, he asked her, "would you like to play, Gabi?"
"No, no." she respondd shyly.
"Oh come on, I can show you how," he countered chivalrously.
Florin stood at the table with red Gabi and showed her how to hold the paddle, "you can put your finger on the paddle or just wrap it around. whatever you want."
Gabi did fine for her first time and after Florin told her so, he and I played a match together. I have never seen him try to beat me so hard. After every point he won he would look over at Gabi to make sure she had seen.
When we were at 9, 7, my advantage, I finally realized: Florin has a crush on Gabi. He is trying to impress red Gabi with his table tennis skills. Aaaah.
So I stopped hitting back every ball. Because what's the point of having a crush in the 5th rade if you can't show off your skills?
Of course, Florin won the match and looked as if he was living a perfect day when Gabi in red smiled at him when he announced the score, 9, 11.


my diploma

On Sunday there was an all girls athletic meet at my school. One of the events was throwing an oina ball, which is softer but about the same size as a baseball. Me, other teachers and my school's principal were all watching the girls throw the ball across the school's yard, some of their throws reaching the wood shed, but most of them barely crossing the stream that runs through the middle of the school yard.
"How far can you throw an oina ball?" asked my not-very-sporty directoara (principal).
"I've never thrown an oina ball." I told her.
"But how far can you throw one?"
"I don't know."
"After the students are done, lets you and me throw the ball."
After the last student had thrown her ball, my Directoara ran into the corner of the building from which they were throwing and explained to the P.E. coach that she and I wanted to throw the ball too.
"ATENTIE" shouted the P.E. teacher. "The Directoara and the American want to throw the oina ball." The students who were beginning to leave rapidly turned around for the spectacle.
For some reason, I was given the first throw. "Rachel, first try," announced the P.E. teacher. I wound up and threw the ball into the dirt 10 feet in front of me.
"The Directoara, first try." The Directoara ran a bit and wound up before throwing the ball at least 7 times farther than I had, landing close to the stream.
"Rachel, second try." This time I ran a bit and wound up for the throw and the ball didn't head straight for the ground. "ooh. you're improving," laughed the P.E. teacher.
"The Directoara, second try." Run, wind up, throw. 4 times farther than me this time.
"Rachel, third and last try." Run, wind up, throw. Almost to the stream.
"The Directoara, third and last try." Run, wind up, throw. Past the stream.
Me and my contender kissed cheeks and congratulated each other.
During the awards ceremony at the end of the day, the Directoara passed out diplomas to all of the girls for being spectacular athletes. And then the P.E. teachers pushed up to the table and called out, "A diploma for the Directoara for throwing the ball so many meters."
I knew what was going to come next. "And for Rachel, for throwing it so many meters." The athletes (many of my students) clapped and patted my back and one of the P.E. teachers thrust two chocolate bars into my hand.
So, I'm a great oina ball thrower, just look at my diploma:


the smell of freshly cut grass

Summer always meant the smell of heat and hot cement and freshly cut grass and lawnmowers being pushed, pulled or driven around in people's yards.
I have seen about 1 lawnmower since arriving in Romania and having lived in a city of cement last summer, I never got to see how grass is cut.
It's not cut with a lawnmower (for the most part) in my part of the country. At first it seemed people were just going to let their grass grow. When I walked through people's yards their grass was up to my ankle, then my calves, then my knees.
"This takes care of a lot of summer work" I thought. "Just don't cut the grass."
And then I looked out my window one morning and saw my neighbor scything her yard in wide, graceful strokes. swish. swish. swish. Each swish brought down a square meter of grass.
And then she used a rake to evenly disperse the felled grass over her yard. Later that day, in the afternoon, she had made haystacks in her yard of the felled grass. Scything - pretty and practical.
And this morning, Georghitza, the maintenance man at my school who always asks me in English, "How are you?" was scything the school's yard.
I tried my hand at scything. It's not as easy at they make it look. Mine didn't go swish. swish. swish. but more like swat.swat.swat.


one year

I've been in Romania for a year.
When things of interest happen to me, I write them on file in microsoft word.
A year ago, the first thing of interest of Romania was this:
May 24, 2008
My first consumerist interaction in Romania:
The wall outlets in Romania are different than the ones used in America. Instead of two flattened prongs, the plug-ins here (and in all of Europe) are two round prongs. So I needed to find an outlet adapter before I could recharge my computer’s battery. John More a volunteer whose been here for a couple years already, and a couple other people and I (the peace corps herd) went out looking for outlet adapters. The store we walked into on the central in Ploiesti had none…but as we were leaving, the woman and John found one. But only one. The other two pc’s weren’t sure about whether they wanted it or not. So I jumped on it. Only 5.5 lei. John was preparing to take my money and pay for it for me.
“no,” I said. “I want to pay for it.”
So I walked into the store and catch the owner’s eye.
She sees the adapter in my left hand and the money in my right hand and begins a stream of Romanian. My befuddled mind tried to make sense of the gibberish, but failed. I called to John with a “deer in the headlights” voice and he graciously came over and said something to the woman. Then she began motioning to me and pointing and John's eyes and John muttered something about her talking about his blue eyes. We finally got away with a “mooltzumesk” and for me a sense of satisfaction at my first Romanian purchase.
Which, incidentally, broke when I tried to use it later that evening. A bad omen? I hope not.

so far it has not been a bad omen. And summer is coming and I not only really like my life but am a little proud of myself.
And when people to talk to me in Romanian it doesn't sound like gibberish anymore. thank goodness.


more about wood

I tried to chop wood. I really did. I even got Ciprian to give me a lesson on chopping wood. You hold the ax at the end of the handle and raise it above and behind your head and bring it down with every ounce of energy you have and if it doesn't sink into the wood far enough, you have to yank the ax out of the wood.
But if it does sink in enough, you lift the ax with the wood still stuck on the ax blade and bring it down on the chopping block in an inverse direction (with sharp ax end pointing up). At which time, if the wood is not full of knots, it splits in half. And then you chop the halves into smaller pieces.
Yes. pretty simple in words.
Its the lifting the chopped log of wood over my head and bringing it down in an inverse direction that is my Achilles heel.
Ciprian watched over me dubiously, giving me pointers.
"see, you can't lift it over your head. Let someone else do it. You don't need to know how to chop wood." (while I'm ungracefully trying to swing the wood over my head)
"no no. This piece is still too big. It dries quicker when its smaller"
After a bit Ciprian loses interest and I have a few minutes to look incompetent in peace. Then Gabi comes out to hang up laundry.
"So you want to be an independent woman." She smiles.
"Well," I sweatily respond,"It never hurts to know how to cut wood. Whatever. You're an independent woman." I say to the woman who works full-time with two children and is always happy.
"I don't cut wood and I still stay warm." She jokes.
After a couple hours, the smaller pieces of wood were all chopped and I knew I had to admit defeat with the bigger pieces. damn Achilles.
But give me an ax and pieces of wood lighter than a 5 liter bucket of paint and you've got yourself a wood chopper.



Ciprian is always making the breakfast when I go downstairs to make my own breakfast in the morning - boiling the water for tea or putting pink salami slices on buttered bread. Breakfast is when Ciprian and I get our business done because his work schedule is irregular and sometimes I only see him in the morning.
What business do I have with Ciprian? Well, without him, I would have to travel to a nearby town to pay for electricity, would not know as much as I do about the orthodox church, and would not have wood for the winter.
Last fall, soon after arriving in my village, I purchased three horse carts of wood through Ciprian. He spent a couple days in August chopping the wood into stove-sized pieces (the size of fat dictionary) and I carted and stacked the wood.
Apparently, August is a little late to buy wood for the next year. Beginning in March I would be walking by my neighbor's yards and see logs piled into their yards, awaiting chopping.
"So when will we buy our wood?" I asked my breakfast conversationalist one morning.
"In May."
May is here and for the last week Ciprian and his father-in-law have been going up to the mountains for wood. Last night, just as it was getting dark, a monstrous truck crept up our road with an equally monstrous pule of logs in the back. Cipri and I were playing soccer in the front yard and watched the truck inch its way up the road, taking out the occasional cable line stretched across the telephone poles.
The truck drove to the back of the house and stopped. The driver moved from his cab to a rotating chair in the back of the truck from which he operated a skill crane with a monstrously sized claw. The claw would pick up 2 or 3 logs, lift them over the fence and deposit them in a pile in the yard. Cipri and I climbed a nearby apple tree and watched the whole process, Ciprian yelling instructions over the noise of the crane, the huge logs being treated like stuffed animals in a machine at the exit doors of wal-mart.
So I have my wood for winter! in log form at least.
Skip to a couple days ago at breakfast.
"You will need to find someone to chop the wood for you," Ciprian announces. "I won't have time next week." He mentions the closest male volunteer, "he could come chop it for a day."
I audibly laugh. "I'm not sure he knows how to chop wood," I tell Ciprian while I imagine this keyboard-playing, yoga-doing volunteer with an ax.
"Or you could just invite a bunch of peace corps volunteers for a barbecue and wood chopping party," he suggests.
I imagine several other peace corps volunteers who live in this general area with axes and chuckle.
"Or you could just pay someone to chop it for you."
"What if I chopped it?"
Now Ciprian guffaws. "It's very hard work and you don't know how."
"Point taken. But still, I've always wanted to learn how."
As of now, I'm still not sure how my wood is going to go from log-form to fat dictionary size, but I still want to try to chop it myself. You will be updated.


ping pong

Besides my interaction with my host family, I don't spend much time with my students outside of school. Classroom management is a daily struggle and dressing up, hanging out with other teachers, and otherwise appearing professional was my classroom management plan of action for the first several months of teaching.
I am now beginning to feel comfortable enough to "hang out" with students in the non-educational sense of the word.
Right now "hanging out" is taking on the form of ping pong. Florin and Sandu, 5th grade twins, live near me and the day they learned sports vocabulary in english class with me they began to invite me to play ping pong with them.
"Teacher, avem un masa de tennis afara. Va-asteptam pentru tine!"
"Teacher, we have a tennis table outside. We will wait for you to come!"
(um, so their english is slow in the coming. At least they used the word teacher.)
"OK." I told them. And so I found where they lived and they were so excited to see me at their house and they offered me carbonated water while pulling the slightly warped, dusty ping pong table out from the barn.
Florin, just eager that I am there; Sandu, always the more skeptical one, putting every ounce of his body into beating me.
When an hour has passed and I tell them I have to leave, they look at me in disbelief that I would leave so early...
"Mai vin" (I'll come again). I reassure them.
And I have come back to play, several times. And now other 5th graders show up and since I'm in my twenties and generally speaking have better coordination than they do, I almost always win and it's a big deal when one of them beats me.
Thank goodness for all those hours in the hanger in the Philippines, being beaten at ping pong by my brothers. Who knew it would come in handy.



I like my you-tube, internet-streaming, mp3, google world. It took me 6 months to become used to not having it at my fingertips. I have been reading lately - a lot. Something I haven't done in a while. And it has reminded me of how much I enjoy a main character unfolding before my imagination, the way seeing words like crisp, uttered and blowing make me happy...

When I was 12 and 13, I devoured Don Quixote, followed by Anna Karenina, after which I read at least 4 Dickens books whose snivelling, poor, dirty, brave, cowering characters created their own rooms in my mind. Those rooms are now covered in dust and cramped by Madam Flaubert, Barnabas, Sylvia Plath's Esther Greenwood...

So I like stories. And I've been wondering where the "written word" stands these days. Could it ever be eroded into sand by cyberspace? (Yes. I actually do wonder this.) Milan Kundera, in his book Immortality kind of gave me my answer. And since I'm sure you are all as equally interested in the fate of novels, you too get to read what he wrote.

“ If a person is still crazy enough to write novels these days, he has to write them in such a way that they cannot be adapted, in other words, in such a way that they cannot be retold […]

“[…]I regret that almost all novels ever written are much too obedient to the rules of unity of action. What I mean to say is that at their core is one single chain of causally related acts and events. These novels are like a narrow street along which someone drives his characters with a whip. Dramatic tension is the real curse of the novel, because it transforms everything, even the most beautiful pages, even the most surprising scenes and observations merely into steps leading to the final resolution, in which the meaning of everything that preceded it is concentrated. The novel is consumed in the fire of its own tension like a bale of straw.

“[…]Do you think that everything that is not a mad chase after a final resolution is a bore? As you eat this wonderful duck, are you bored? Are you rushing towards a goal? On the contrary, you want the duck to enter into you as slowly as possible and you never want its taste to end. A novel shouldn’t be like a bicycle race but a feast of many courses.” (266).


Stefan's fate

On Sunday, Stefan, my host families baby, turned 1 year old.
Over the last 9 months, I have seen Stefan grow from a crying, sleeping, eating infant into a fast-crawling, 4-toothed plant eater. He thinks I'm the bomb-diggity and when he hears my voice in the house, he crawls to wherever I am and then tugs on my legs with tears in his eyes until I pick him up. Then his mouth turns into this huge grin and he rubs his runny nose and slobbery mouth all over my cheek. Gabi says he's kissing me, I think he's trying to eat me.
For his first birthday, all his 5 godparents, and me, where invited over for dinner. Stefan was enraptured by the giant clown that sang and the mini-car and tricycle he received, among a plethora of other gifts.
Throughout the dinner, the godparents would fall back to the conversation of what Stefan would choose. I acted like I knew what they were talking about the first couple times and then finally asked, "What do you mean, what will Stefan choose?"
"The first three things Stefan chooses will tell us what his future is," they laugh. Still not entirely understanding, I decided to wait and see what they were talking.
Before the cake was served , someone got a platter and everyone began to put items onto the platter: a french-romanian dictionary, a pen, a hair brush, a cell phone, car keys, a notebook, and more. Then they placed the platter in front of Stefan.
Ah. I realized. So he picks things from a platter and from that they can "tell" what his future is.
Stefan dove in with both hands and emerged with the cell phone and the car keys. "So greedy" the godparents laughed. "One more thing."
The third item Stefan chose was the hairbrush.
What is Stefan's fate, then? Well, after good-hearted discussion the godparents came up with the consensus that Stefan will be shmecher, a word that you would use to describe a person who is witty or crafty, but does not always have positive connotations. Stefan will be a man who is always looking fine (the hairbrush), always on his phone, and driving a fancy car.
This is just a tradition and Gabi told me that she does not actually plan on this being Stefan's fate. We will see.
The shmecher making faces


i enjoy my life

So for Easter/Spring break, me and 5 other volunteers decided to explore Ukraine which is actually only a couple hours north of me. The focal point of the Spring Break was a visit to Chernobyl, where the nuclear accident occurred 23 years ago. The day ended up being rainy, windy and dismal, a fitting backdrop to the emptiness that is Chernobyl and the town most affected by the accident, Pripyat. One of the volunteers on the trip is a photographer and his pictures express the experience, the place, far better than my words can.
Following the whirlwind of the trip in Ukraine, we returned to a Romania geared up for the Orthodox Easter, arguably the most important holiday in Romania. The festivities began at 1 o'clock in the morning when everyone walks around the church three times with a candle, following the priest. The faithful few remained at church all night while the rest of us went home and slept until 5 in the morning when we returned to church with baskets of eggs and bread. Everyone stood in a huge circle outside the church and the priest walked around the circle and blessed the baskets.
Later Easter day, we were invited to a traditional ball where everyone was wearing traditional Romanian costumes (yes, including me) and we danced to traditional Bucovina music. Once again, my colleague, Zach, took pictures of the event and these pictures are all of people I know, my neighbors the roads I walk down every day.


hristos a inviat

The orthodox easter was on Sunday. And from 5 o'clock Sunday morning people started saying to me, "hristos a inviat" (Christ is risen).
The first time this happened to me at 5:30 I replied in a half-asleep voice, "Buna dimineatza" (good morning).
"No, no," he told me. "You must reply 'Adevarat a inviat'" (indeed he has risen).
"Oh. Adevarat a inviat."
"And you don't say buna dimineatza for the next six weeks."
"What?" My half asleep mind is struggling to understand why I can't say good morning for six weeks.
"You say 'hristos a inviat' for 6 weeks until we celebrate when the apostles spoke in tongues."
I am on the first of the six weeks and he was right. Every morning at school I am greeted by a chorus of my students and colleagues saying, "hristos a inviat" and I reply "adevarat a inviat."
Not actually being orthodox, I struggle to say this pronouncement every morning. But it is such a part of their culture...the religion and the culture are so entwined that I find it impossible to extricate one from the other.
"Adevarat a inviat"


chernobyl 09

This next week is saptamana mare (literally, big week) which is the week before the eastern orthodox.
I am still trying to wrap my head around the fact that the easter celebration here is bigger than Christmas. For the last couple weeks everyone has pulled their rugs out of their homes and beat them and scrubbed them and polished their windows, washed their curtains, scrubbed their floors...for saptamana mare all my fellow teachers will be making cakes and cookies and butchering lambs and coloring eggs.
While all these work is going on in my village, I decided to take a break from Romania for a week and head to the Ukraine. And yes, while I am there I will take a tour of Chernobyl.
Romania doesn't feel like a foreign country to me anymore so traveling around a place that has a completely different alphabet and language will make me a tourist, which is a good thing.
Ukraine ho.


the train travel

I went to Cluj (bit city in Transilvania) for a weekend of fun and to get there I took a 5 hour train ride. In my train compartment was a man in his late twenties. When I first got on the train I was reading my book As I Lay Dying, he had a laptop and a blackberry from which he had created his own little office on his part of the almost empty compartment. At some point we were crossing the mountains which are still covered in snow and he commented in surprise about the snow and I commented about it and then he asked if I was from there and I said no and we started a conversation in which we discovered that he works for a company based out of Phoenix, Arizona, where my brother lives, he has an 11 month old child (yes, he showed me a picture of his baby in diapers on his cell phone), a high school friend who works in Seattle, a younger brother in college, he was going to Cluj for business and staying with someone he had never met so when he exited the train station all he knew to look for would be a green car.
It seems to be a general understanding that if you are traveling on a train, you are there to provide interesting conversation to whoever you are traveling with. I suppose sitting on seats that face each is always an added catalyst to this interaction.
Once I was in a train compartment with 5 other people, all over their 40's and all very talkative. During that trip I was told I would be perfect marriage material for Mama Doina's son (she told me to call her that), I should visit and stay with one of the women when I visit her side of Romania, I was asked why America is so hard to travel to, I was put on the phone with one of their neices who spoke English well ... and I said at one point that I had never tasted unfermented wine, which spurred a man who had not moved from his seat for two hours to take his backpack down and pull out a 2 liter bottle of unfermented wine for me to taste, after which the entire car took a sip (from the same 2 liter bottle).
Oh the Eastern Europe.


my hero

I saw the music video, "I want to be a disko boy" recently
and I have never related to a music video quite as much as I did that moment.
Shantel is my Bucovina hero.


one more time...

Several evenings a week I meet with a couple other teachers at my school for an hour of workout at the sala de sport.
The workouts are partly gossip hour, with the addition of a worn-out treadmill, one weight-lifting machine and thick mats.
One day, I brought my laptop so we would have music.
And after I had set up my laptop, I remembered that I had a pilates workout routine on my desktop.
So I opened it and Silvia and I started doing mermaid poses and scissoring our legs in synch with the woman on the laptop screen.
My abs were sore the next day, although not so much from the pilates as from the laughter.
Me and Silvia are laying on mats next to each with our legs up at 45 degree angles, our heads and shoulders off the ground, pumping our arms up and down, while counting. The pilates woman doing the same motions happily talking. "15 more, 14 more, 13 more."
"No more," gasps Silvia next to me, letting her legs and shoulders relax on the mat.
"12 mai! Cum pot sa fac asa?( 12 more, how am I supposed to do that?)" asks Gabi, laughing and letting her legs fall in a very un-controlled, un-pilates manner onto the mat.
Later, while the pilates woman is talking us through some odd pose, and we are trying to figure out how we are supposed to be positioning our arms and knees and feet, Silvia let's out an exasperated, "ce vrei? ce vrei, fata?" (what do you want, woman?) This time, I collapse on my mat, laughing big belly-jolly guffaws.

I so I have continued to bring my pilates workout over the last week and we are becoming experts, with the occasional, "ce vrei, fata?" interspersed between leg lifts and sit-ups. And we look so odd lined up next to each other.


a compliment?

Because I am one person and my village is 7,000 people, almost everyone here knows who I am, but I don't know who they are. (incidentally, this is strangely similar to how I felt when my family came home on furloughs and everyone in our home church would hug me and give me food and i had no clue who they were)
So one day I was in the teacher's lounge and one of the teachers talked to me enough so that I couldn't ask her what her name was at the end of the conversation. So when I went home that evening I asked Gabi what her name was.
"Ea este mica, grasa, si vorbeste mult" (She is little, fat and talkes a lot)
Gabi laughed and told me that the woman's name was Ioana.
A few days later, a woman I work with came up to me and told me that she heard I had described Ioana as mica, grasa, si vorbeste mult. She said, "I laughed so hard when I heard it. In fact, all of us teachers were laughing about it. You described Ioana perfectly!"
Oh no, I thought, Ioana will probably find out that I had to ask about her name and that I called her fat.
Yesterday, as I was walking through town, Ioana saw me across the street and crossed the street to talk with me, her face beaming.
"I heard that you described me as little, fat and talks a lot," she told me, chucklin. "You described me so perfectly. I laughed so hard when they told me!" And then Ioana gave me a bouquet of flowers.
So that's what you get in my village when you call someone fat.



I was walking down the incredibly-muddy-my-boots-slide-around-in-it road and saw a horse hooked up to a cart which had a huge pile of hay stacked on it. A man was standing on top of the hay with a pitchfork pitching the hay into the attic of his barn.
This scene is a daily occurrence here and something I don't even think about anymore. Although in America I would have had to pay some museum fee to see a mannequin doing the same thing...or visit the amish.
I have gotten used to
men in high rubber boats and knit wool jackets walk through the center of town with their ax slung over their shoulder (woodsman as career choice)
the smell of sheep farm lingering in a room after a neighbor's visit.
writing my internet to-do list throughout the week and then spending a concentrated three hours of checking off the list on Fridays
not knowing what is going on in the world (colleagues at school ask me, "did you hear about that big storm in America?" I reply, "huh")
subtitles on almost everything.
the option of drinking in the teacher's lounge
buying frozen vegetables with Ukrainian written all over it. No wonder Europeans know many languages. Life would be so frustrating if you didn't.
brushing my teeth with water from a bottle. Darn frozen water in frozen pipes in frozen winter.
eating at other people's houses at least 3 meals a week.
walking past a bunch of horses hooked up to their carts across the street from the old man bar. (drunk horse-cart driving anyone?)
starting fires to be warm

so you get the idea. I'm a changed person. kind of.


what I do on

I took my camera with me on Tuesday...which is very much like Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.
so this is a day in the life of my school week.


I don't mind my students

I recently assigned my 8th grade students a project which was to provide closure to their first semester with me. A semester in which they wrote descriptions, made up stories and were creative. The assignment, inspired by a prompt from Peace Begins with Us, the Romania Peace Corps publication integrating student's creativity and Volunteers experiences, was to write a story about your life if Romania were occupied by foreign forces. I introduced the prompt with a lesson in which we as a class wrote a short story on the blackboard and then assigned the prompt to be due in one week. Later that week, my Romanian english teacher counterpart came up to me and said that some of my students were very confused and overwhelmed by the assignment. So the stories that were supposed to be due in a week became due in a month with an extra few weeks for me to help the students correct their own papers before they handed in their final copies. Despite my emphasis on story-telling and creativity, many of the papers I have received are dry text-book translations of life in Romania during World War II. Two papers have made me laugh and smile and love my students. With very minor corrections:
Extraterrestrial Florin wrote:
Romania is occupied by foreign forces who are from the planet Mars. Their soldiers are called martians. They arrived in Romania with the help of modern spaceships. Martians have the power to take any form of people, so they have created a total confusion among Romanians. Anyways, these powers could be used up at 12 a.m.
After this time, Martians turn into very ugly creatures and each had a speaker costume. First Romanian territory conquered by martians was the capital of Romania, Bucuresti. Martians attacked only until 12 so that their mission was much easier being that they looked like ordinary people. In one week Romanian army was abolished in fully. Now the martians walk the streets all country, causing chaos and panic among the Romanians because of their ugly faces. Martians have decided to take hostages for their experiments, in which they try to learn more about people. In the end they took all Romanians to Mars. Here, everyone was used in experiments. Martians poke fun of their failed experiments. People are transformed into creatures aimed to amuse the martians. In all this time, Romania has transformed into a place where only wild animals live.

Radu and his surprise, if abrupt, ending:

Last year Romania has been occupied by America because it has more money and natural resources. The president Bush, talking with Basescu [Romanian president] to kill people.

People are very scared because they wouldn't have water and food.

The president is run to the country of America.

The conflict zone is: Maresti and Cluj. We are defeated because America has more tanks and avions [airplanes].

The life is not very good because people die every day and doctors are killed.

The hero of this war is the new president of America, Obama, because he stop the war and now the countrys are friends.


I'm sorry, future children of mine.

Every culture has their oddities to other cultures.
That's why we're not all one big culture. Thank goodness.

So I went skiing on Sunday. My second time skiing. You know when you learn how to ride a bike and the skill is never supposed to leave you? Well, skiing is apparently a skill that leaves. Because I remembered nothing from the last time I went skiing in high school.
It took me 3 tries to get on the ski lift the first time - one try involved me barely hanging on and thinking I was successful until the man at the bottom yelled up that I'd left my ski sticks behind.
And every time I got off the lift I would start sliding back down and so crash myself to keep from having to redo the lift again. So after the first 15 minutes my backside was several feet of wet and ice and snow...
After a couple hours of falling and learning how to turn without breaking my knees and getting encouraging nods from fellow skiiers, me and my colleague, Natalie, took our skis back down to the ski house.
"Ay!" exclaimed the man collecting our skis. "Your children will be deformed!"
Natalie and I look at each other confusedly. Then a spark of remembrance in our eyes: Walking barefoot, sitting on the floor, and any other way that you could remotely be exposing your ovaries to cold and floor means that you are killing your ovaries.
My icy snowy backside was killing my ovaries!
"You will have to come back with your children so I can make sure they're ok!" said the man as we left, half joking, half worried.


what Robert Kaplan says...

Kaplan, a reporter, traveled through the Balkans in the early 90's, and wrote a book called Balkan Ghosts. He started his Romanian travels in Bucharest and made a circle around the country, hitting my region, Bucovina, halfway through his travels. I am now going to unplagiarizing use his words:
"Bucovina is actually the northern part of Moldavia, anexxed by the Habsburg Austrians in 1774 [...] The southern part [of Bucovina] has always been part of Romania.
"On the eve of World War II, in an observation about Bucovina that was as true in 1990 as it was then, Sacheverell Sitwell wrote: 'In no other district that I have ever visited, be it Spain or Portugal, In Sweden or the Gaeltacht of Western Ireland, is there this sensation of remoteness...a land of green meadows and firwoods.'
"As in other parts of rural Romania, I saw hay-ricks and horse-drawn leiterwagens bearing peasants in sleeveless sheepskin vests, white homespun linen, and black fleece headgear. Elsewhere in the country, such things were juxtaposed against ugly factories and cheap apartment blocks to form a picture of industrial poverty. In Bucovina, however, they were details in an idyllic picture of early-century Europe.
"Among the wide bank of beech trees the soft hills were garlanded with pines, birches, and massive, black-pointed firs. Poplars and linden trees lined the roads, and apple trees filled the adjacent fields [...] I felt as if the black-and-white part of my Romanian journey had suddenly ended and the Technicolor sequence had begun."

So come visit sometime. It's technicolor here.



As a peace corps volunteer, I have signed my right away to drive a vehicle in Romania for the next year and a half.
And Romanians have cars and Gabi has a car that I ride to school in some mornings. But they are their cars and since I can't drive, I can't borrow their cars and no one wants to be an unpaid chauffeur.
So I have refined my thumb-waving skills and rarely travel after dark. And it gets dark at a depressingly early hour, which means that unless I'm spending the night somewhere else, I rarely leave my village during the week.
On Tuesday, a group of 4 mechanical engineering students from America who were doing a semester abroad in France, decided to visit Romania during their week off. So they rented a car and drove around Romania.
And they came here for an afternoon and we had great conversations in our mutually native language and I got to play show-and-tell with my village and then they drove me to the nearby city to meet up with other peace corps volunteers. And it was after dark and then they drove me home after dinner.
For all their fume-belching, asphalt hungry selves, privately owned vehicles are really a wonderful idea.



I don't have an english library to visit so I have made other volunteers' houses into my library...the results are sometimes lacking...but here are a couple of not pitifuls:

I don't care for numbers and when I read numbers in books I tend to blur over them. This might be the first time I have actually read numbers. With chapters titled "Why drug Dealers Still Live with Their Moms" and you learn that drug dealers operate on a similar business plan as a the door-to-door sales company I worked for...why not read it?

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle:
My introduction to contemporary Japanese literature. A slow start ended in an asianish take on magic realism. So it was like reading an asian Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Sublime.

MTV.ro. I enjoy these too much.

Sofia, Sofia...

disregard this music video. This is the balkan remix

Oh likey likey

The boy does nothing


the big city

I went to the big city for a day during my break
and we walked around a mall and I bought skinny jeans because there's something about stores with changing rooms and clothes laid out for everyone to touch that comforts my consumerism.
And then we were a group of 10 Americans walking around in a cloud of english, but people walking by us on the street, or in the stores - they understand what we were saying.
And it was a university town, so I actually saw large groups of young romanians. I felt like I was an organ-grinder's monkey on a trip to the zoo.


a raise?

In the fall 2008, an important man in the Romanian government decided that teachers needed more money. Therefore, he drafted a paper that would give all teachers in Romania a 50% raise. The morning after this news was announced all the teachers in my school were smiling...
The same morning after this news was announced all the non-teacher government workers in Romania got in a tizzy,understandably.
So the bill was sat on somewhere in government for a few months and rumors of a strike among the teachers began circulating in November.
"Will you strike?" I asked my colleagues.
"Here, in Vama? no. besides, if we strike, we have to make up for the days we didn't work by working on Saturdays."
And let's be honest, I wouldn't strike either if it would mean working on Saturdays. Some teachers in bigger cities did strike, but nothing seemed to happen.
Before Christmas, the Romanian congress introduced a new bill that would allow for a raise for more than just teachers, but that would only be a 27% raise.
Last night Gabi and I were talking.
"Do you remember when they were going to give teachers a 50% raise?" she asked me.
"They just passed the bill through congress. We will be getting a 5% raise now. And after taxes and stuff are cut out..."
Gabi and I decided that she might be getting enough money to pay for the gas to drive to the nearest town.
ok. So some romanians might have a right to their infamous pessimism.



Tomorrow is the first day of my semester winter vacation that lasts 1 week, 1 day.
This has been a commiserating-with-colleagues week about how many days we have left until the vacation.
I will still come to school next week, but not until late morning at the earliest. And my colleagues and I will sit around and shoot the breeze...and if it snows I will go sledding and if it doesn't snow I will read The Grass is Singing and watch Desperate Housewives and Miami Ink on Discovery.ro and whatever other sundry shows end up on Romanian television.
And I will go to a winter festival and drink hot, spiced wine .
And I might even try to figure out how to strum the guitar I recently acquired.
So ready