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: