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.