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).