Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Happy Holidays!

No need for alarm clocks these last few days before Christmas here in the village. The sound of a pig being slaughtered is one that will get you out of bed faster than a bucket of cold water. It is the most horrible, ear piercing sound I have ever heard in my life. Starting this week and probably lasting up until 2 or 3 days before Christmas Day, that sound will be waking me up bright and early. It is not just the sound of a pig getting slaughtered that sticks with you. The smell of burnt pig hair is another one of those things you will have a hard time shaking. When a pig is sacrificed, there is nothing that goes to waste, including the skin. Who wants to eat hairy pig skin!? Not me! Thus, the easiest way to get ride of those course bristles is to burn ‘em! This also gives the fat, just inside of the skin, a nice smoky flavor, because like I said nothing goes to waste and we eat that too. Seeing how I am a seasoned veteran in the village, this being my second year here, I have already been an active participant in the pig killing, butchering and sausage making ritual. I will be honest; it is not my favorite thing to help out with. That being said, I was not horribly disappointed when my host family decided to kill this year’s porker on Monday, while I was at school. I will say though, arriving home after school and being served, a steaming plate of freshly killed and cooked pork was wonderful. Monday evening, after the slaughtering and butchering, we had the traditional “Honor of the Pig” festivities. This event involves pork meatballs, organ and rice sausage (I can’t even write about it without getting uneasy, I have tried it two or three times, but the smell and taste of organs have a very unique flavor, one that makes me gag!) fried pig fat and you guessed it, Horlinka! The husbands of my host family, Ion, and his father in-law, Gheorghe, are respecting the 7-week fast lasting until Christmas Eve of abstaining from alcohol. I on the other hand, only do this on Wednesdays and Fridays, or whenever I am getting peer pressured to drink a large amount at 8 a.m. before school. After dealing with middle schoolers all day, you need a drink or two. Anyway, it would not be much of a respectful memorial without raising a glass or two in honor of porky. Vasile, Ion’s brother in-law and I picked up the slack of the others and did our respectful duty of drinking a shot or five for that pig, it was the least I could do, those meatballs were to die for!

This year the holidays, for me, will be spent here in Romania with my host family. I am a bit sad I will not be spending Christmas in Grand Blanc, MI with my family. Hands down, I have the best Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, Brother in-law and Niece in the world! They have been so supportive in all my adventures, especially with my decision to jump into the Peace Corps and move to Romania for 2 ½ years. I love and miss them very much, but that expression “Distance makes the heart grow stronger” has never been more true for our family. It is odd that being on the other side of the globe and not seeing them for over a year could bring us closer together, but it has! As much as I will miss them during the Holidays, I am fortunate to have a great host family here in the village. I really have become apart of my host family’s family. I am great friends with Ion and Angela and similar to an older brother to the boys, Ionel, 11, and Vaslica, 13. I would be a liar if I said I did not start or at least instigate most of the pillow fights, wrestling matches or races around the house. However, trust me, they hold their own. The other night, I walked into my house to make a fire, it was pitch dark out, the lights were off and I could not flip the light switch as my arms were filled to the brim with pieces of wood. Right as I enter the door into my bedroom, I hear a soft drawn out “Boo, Boo.” Just then, something grabs my leg…I yell, jump out of my skin and of coarse drop all the wood in my arms on my floor and feet. Ionel and Vaslica saw me making my kindle and gathering wood, when they hurried with my back to them and quietly snuck in. Ionel, crawled under my desk where he made the ghost’s noises and Vaslica burrowed under my bed waiting for me to get close enough so he could grab my leg. I have to say they got me good! I gave them their credit and then tied their arms and legs together, back-to-back with rope and carried them over to the barn gate where the sheep and goat live. I sat them next to the gate and laughed in revenge as the sheep and goat licked their faces…ok so I let an 11 year old and a 13 year old get to me, a 27 year old adult, but I couldn’t just let them get away with that, it is the principle of it!

The area in Romania where my village is located is called Maramures. Maramures is known nation wide as the most traditional area of Romania. Now, combine that with my village which is known within Maramures as being one of the most traditional villages and I find myself living in the heart & soul of old Romanian traditions. Last year, I flew back to the states for Christmas and New Years, so I was unable to see all that goes on here. This year, it will be an unique experience for me to participate in such a traditional Romanian Holiday. First thing on the list, Caroling on Christmas Eve. I thought that only happened in the movies but guess not. From what I understand, the young kids go in groups from house to house, singing traditional Romanian Christmas carols. I also understand, that depending how many houses a group makes it to, they can make some serious cash along with being feed to the brim…naturally Ionel and a few of his 5th grade cronies have their route mapped out based on who the big cash givers were in years past, you have to love their enthusiasm! For the older folks, you go in groups of close friends and family. You start at one family’s house with carols, food, drink and dancing (in that order). Once you exhausted all the resources of that family i.e. once the Horlinka is getting low, you move on to the other family’s house in the group. The idea is to visit every family’s house in the group. However, Angela informs me this takes a focused leader to rally the troops out of one house and find the next…I called “Not It!” So the caroling takes you into Christmas morning. There is a major church service in the morning and maybe one in the evening too, not sure. Other than that, it is a day of rest and recovery from the night before…in village terms this means just staying in your house eating and drinking not going to all your neighbors. I am still not sure what the norm is for gift giving. December 6th is Saint Nicholas day in the Romanian Orthodox calendar and on this day he brings gifts to children who have behaved themselves and have clean, shiny shoes next to the window. The day after Christmas is also a Sabbath day in the Romanian Orthodox calendar, thus no work, no cleaning only feeding animals, feeding people and visiting friends & neighbors. Now you can understand why they wait to kill the pig right before Christmas, there is a lot of eating going on!

To help keep me up to date with what is going on in the world I have a subscription to the Economist magazine. I had never read the Economist before going to Spain this summer, where I picked it up in the airport, but I really enjoy it. It covers all world issues and obviously focuses a lot on economics, which I am trying to learn more about as we are in the middle of this financial melt down. Any way, they just published a special “Looking to 2009” issue. From what I remember, I feel like most news magazines lusually do the whole “Best & Worst of 2008” or “2008, A Year in Review” but maybe that is just in my imagination. Either way, I really liked how this particular issue talked all about big issues coming up the new year…Obama, Iraq, Iran, The World Economy, Afghanistan, The Environment, Obama, Israel’s elections, New country/president heading the EU, Africa, China, the car industries big 3 oh and did I mention Obama? I am not one for New Year’s Resolutions, but without even realizing it I have been doing a lot of my own personal “look into 2009.” My service as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania comes to an end in July of 2009. This will bring with it a lot of change for me. I will be leaving my village, which has not just been apart of my life, it has been my life for 2 years! As difficult, lonely and frustrating things can be here at times, it will be my hardest day as a Peace Corps volunteer, leaving this village and friendships I have made. I will not be just in search of my next adventure; I will be at the doorstep of my next adventure, whatever that may be. One thing my Peace Corps experience has done for me, is it has allowed me understand myself better, what I am looking for out of life, who I am and what direction I want to head in. I am going to give all I have to continue working within the International relations/development field . This is where I will focus my heart, soul and energies whether I stay in Romania, move to another country or back to the U.S. I will have to wait and see what 2009 has in store.



Wednesday, December 3, 2008

14 hour train rides

So I just came back from Bucharest, which for me is a 14 hour train ride and does not even get me to my door step, such is life. Here is a short list of things I thought about through out my journey...I always travel with some kind of blank space to write things on, so these are some of the highlights:

- Thanksgiving Day with Turkish food, BLTs, beer and horlinka was a nice change from the traditional turkey, mash potatoes and gravy.

- Whether it is a 4 hour flight from Tucson, AZ to Flint, MI or a combined 8 hour bus ride, starting at 5 a.m. and ending in Sibiu, traveling and Thanksgiving just go together.

- Being able to know what everyone is saying about you in Romanian while acting like you only speak English is a huge plus.

- Everyone should give a free hug to a stranger at least once a week...the background for this comment comes from when I was in Bucharest yesterday and there was a group of people with signs that literally said "FREE HUGS." I received one of these "FREE HUGS" from a complete stranger and I have to say it put a smile on my face, the fact that this free hug came from a very pretty 20 something Romanian women may have had something to do with it, but that is neither here nor there! It was interesting to watch as people actually ran away from a free hug as if they were running away from a murderer, this reinforcing the point for more free hugs in the world.

- The heart of life is good.

- Someone should invent a way to freeze dry Chipotle burritos so they could be sent internationally to places like Romania.

- If there was music playing from the sky my IPOD battery would not be dead after walking around Bucharest for an afternoon...It would be really great if each person had a little ear piece that would play a personal play list so you would not have to listen to what ever everyone else is listening to, but I guess that is what an IPOD is all about, huh.

- "Keep Smiling!"... Bob Kuch, my Dad.

- Every person in the world should spend at least one year in a country other than the one they were born in before turning 30 years old.

- Sometimes the greatest risk in life is not taking any at all...

- Shake Up the World :)

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Life is a Song

Of all the events, holidays and gatherings I have been to since my arrival in the Village, I had not been in attendance for a funeral. A neighbor of mine, passed away last Sunday. He was 72 years old and had been very ill for the last couple of years. I had never met him or even seen him for that matter, due to his illness he was restricted to his bed. It is custom here in the village for the corps of a body to remain in their home for three days after dying. During these three days, family and friends come by the house of the deceased to pay respects and grieve with the family, in this case my neighbor left behind his wife. All of the women neighbors of the deceased arrived with sugar, flour, apples, cabbage, meat, rice etc. to make food for visitors as well as to prepare for the gathering after the funeral. Yesterday (November 4th) was the third and final day of grieving and was the day of the funeral. As I made my way to school yesterday morning the church bells rang in unison for about 5 minutes...I am not sure the direct meaning of the bells but they are to let the village know that there will be a funeral that day. At 12:00 noon, the funeral services began. Outside the house of the deceased there was the Priest, the Mayor as well as friends and family. The corps was enclosed in a hand made wooden coffin, made by the neighboring men, with a special design cloth laid over it. On top of the cloth were candles and a cross. There was about an one hour service by the Priest, the whole time everyone in attendance burning long, thin candles. Once the Priest was done with his service the family of the dead passed out candy/sweets to the kids in attendance...they told me this represents the gift of life and youthfulness from the dead. The Priest accompanied by the children led the procession down the streets of the village followed by the pall bearers (men who were either close friends or family to the deceased, using long wooden poles to carry the coffin) followed by the men who were in attendance, followed by the women who were in attendance. Once we arrived at the cemetery, in the middle of the village between the old wooden church and the new modern church, the coffin is taken to a pre-dug grave where it will be buried. Two days before the funeral, while the women are cooking and preparing food the men dig a hole where the coffin is to be buried. There are pretty strict regulations as far as how deep and wide the hole must be, all directed by the Priest not the government. Also, it is customary for villagers to be buried in the same hole as their family, one on top of the other. Thus, in this situation, the hole must be deep enough to allow room for the widows coffin when she passes away. Before the coffin is lowered, there is one more prayer led by the priest. As the pall bearers were preparing the ropes to lower the coffin, the widow was hysterical, not letting go of the coffin while pounding her fists at the wood. Watching all of this was obviously very intense, it took three other women to restrain her and allow the coffin to be lowered...again I was told this is normal for a woman when she loses her husband, her cries were very rhythmic almost like a song. Once the coffin was in place in the ground, the Priest blessed it with holy water and everyone picks up a piece of dirt and to toss on the coffin. The pall bearers stay behind to fill in the grave while the rest make their way to the village banquet room next to the post office. I passed on an invitation to sit at the head table with the Priest, Mayor and other village big wigs, for a seat at the ˝old man˝ table. Most of these men are over the age of 70, walk with canes or should walk with canes, have not one tooth, are unable to get out of the house very much and have personalities like you would not believe. With the celebrity status that I receive being the American English teacher at school, it was very refreshing to be seated next to these gentlemen who had no idea who the hell I was! One man, yelled into my face (oh and most of the men at this table are losing their hearing as well so everything is a yell) ˝Who the hell are you?˝ As I was explaining my situation, I was cut off by another old man yelling in my general direction but not necessarily at me ˝Where the hell is the horlinka? What kind of funeral is this?˝ Luckily the horlinka arrived and I was able to finish the rest of my introduction. It was great, none of them cared less about what I was doing, where I came from, what my story was...they just wanted to talk, I mean yell. They were impressed with my language ability as they went on to tell me how much has changed around the village during their lives. ˝The kids now-a-days have no respect˝ yelled one of them, ˝The horses I see around now are weak, thin and have no power, not like what we used to have˝ uttered another, all of them shaking their head in disappointment. I just sat there listening, trying to understand all of the yelling that was flying around my head. I noticed the man sitting next to me, pulled a plastic bag from his pocket, I was curious what he was going to do but did not want to stare. I watched out of the corner of my eye as he filled his bag with all the different types of cakes and sweet breads that were placed on the tables. Another man across the table called him out asking him what he was doing. The man with his ˝hand in the cookie jar so-to-speak˝, yelled ˝That Ion was a son-of-a-bitch while he was alive! He always took things and never gave them back, I am getting even!˝ I wish I could describe to you the roar of laughter that followed in words, but it is impossible. I was in tears I was laughing so hard!

All the women prepared a delicious meal for the guests. Not only did the prepare the food they also served it to the guests. First up was a traditional sour soup (not rally that sour) with hard boiled eggs and lamb meat. Every guest each had a place setting in front of them, a bowl with a plate, spoon and napkin. As one of the women placed the large soup bowl in front of us and walked away, you should have seen all the distraught looks on the old men´s faces. They are defiantly from a different generation where women cook, clean and serve the men. So when the woman who brought the soup bowl left with out serving each of them, they were confused, dumbfounded, and a little angry. One of the them started yelling for his wife to come over (oh ya, so all the men sit on one side of the room and the women on the other side of the room)and serve the soup, I jumped up and started to serve the soup myself. Again more looks of confusion and disbelief! They got over it quick, when one man yelled to tell me I need to serve more broth than I did, I guess beggars can be choosers! While we were waiting for the cabbage rolls to arrive, another around of horlinka was coming around. It is tradition to only use one shot glass to serve horlinka. Once one person has drank it, then it goes to the next and so forth. I like this tradition in large group settings as it gives me a break while the glass is getting passed around to all the others...as for drinking out of the same glass as hundreds of others have, I have gotten over it, much more of a community feel! So as I was saying, the glass returns to our table and a man with very shaky hands manages about half of the glass and hands it back to man serving from the bottle. Another old man, even older and more shaky handed, sitting next to him speaks up ˝What the hell is that? What just because you are old you cannot finish your glass like a man!˝ He snatches the half filled glass and throws the remaining horlinka down his throat! The cabbage rolls were delicious as usual here and then it was time to go home. I shook hands with all the men at the table, thanking them for their company/entertainment, I was told to come over to each of their respective houses for a shot when I can. At the door of the banquet hall as we were exiting, the man sitting next to me who drink his as well as other´s fair share of horlinka was meet by his wife who yelled ˝How many shots of horlinka did you have? You know you are not supposed to drink!˝ He leans on her shoulder to help support him as he walks down the stairs and whispers ˝I did not even have one˝ while giving me a wink. As I walked up the hill to my house, all I could here was this mans wife yelling, ˝speak up, I cannot hear you, how many did you have?˝

PS - On a completely other note, Congrats newly elected Mr. President, Barack Obama! I love the hope & Change that is in the air!


Get out and VOTE!! and if you want to vote for Barack Obama that would be cool too, but most importantly VOTE!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Tiny Dancer

It is amazing what a little sun shine can do. It has been raining here in the village for the last 3-4 weeks off and on (mostly on) and has been etremley cold for this time of year. However, today is a perfect fall afternoon in Poienile Izei. The sun is high and full pouring down plenty of warm rays. The sky is a crisp blue with a few puffy white cotton ball clouds. Most of the leaves have turned there fall colors giving the still green grass a wonderful contrast. The children at school are full of energy, playing soccer and tag outside during the 10 min pauses in between classes. The teachers stand around in the sunshine talking about the students, the weather, other people in the village and what ever else you could imagine. Even I have a little more spunk and easyness as I go from class to class teaching different verbs, nouns and adjectives. School is pretty much in full swing now that we are entering the middle of October. Things have gone much smoother than last year for me. Obviously, having one year of experience teaching, speaking the language and adapting to the culuture have helped a lot. I am more comfortable in the classroom and I think the students are more comfortablt to my teaching style as well. This year in addition to teaching 5th-8th grades I have also taking on the task of teaching 3rd & 4th grades. There are only 4 students in the 4th grade and 9 in the 3rd so we combine the two classes for two hours a week. I have to say I really enjoy teaching the 3rd & 4th graders. They deffinatly take a lot more energy and patience but they are so enthusiastic about what ever they do. My 8th graders (15students) are at that awkard "too cool" stage and just want to get to high school in the big city or forget school all together and start making money. 7th grade is not quite to that "too cool" stage but they deffinatly have some attitude....it does not help that there are 9 boys and only 3 girls in this class. My 6th graders are starting to feel there roots in the school but still seem enthusiatic about what they do in the class room. Finally 5th grade consists of 5 girls and 3 boys and is by far the most chill class of them all. It is hard to believe that I am already well into my 2nd year as the english teacher and rapidly approaching the end of my service with the Peace Corps in July 2009.
My host family and I have finished digging all of our potatoes, picking all of our plumbs for jam and horlinka and have finished the last of the hay stacks for 2008. Everyday walking around the village you see horse drawn carriages full of sacks of potatoes, sacks of plumbs, piles of hay and logs of wood. My family is still waiting for the village distiller to be available to make our horlinka nor have we gone out in to the forests to retrreive our wood for this winter...although we have plenty already chopped that would probably last us the winter. As sad as I am to see the summer warmth and long days fade away into short, cold winter afternoons there is nothing better than the smells of fall in the village. First of all, all the wood coming from the forest must be chopped and stacked as soon as possible to let it dry before it gets too cold. I love to chop wood! It is my favorite type of work to do in the village. Not only is it one hell of a workout but at the same time it is so relaxing. Not to mention, the smell of fresh chopped wood is something that should be prescibed to people with high stress levels! Walking around the village just before the dark of night pulls the covers over the afteroon sun is wonderful. Every home has a wood burning stove fired up sending into the crips cool air the smell of sweet burning wood and a gloss of smoke giving the surrounding mountains a very gothic feel. These types of experiences, smells and sights are the things I will miss the most (besides the people of course) when my time here is down. There is so much about my life here that cannot be described in words or justified in pictures. To truly appreciate the people and culture of Poienile Izei you really have to role up your sleeves and jump head first. Last weekend I attended a wedding of a neighbors daughter who now lives and works in the large city of Timisoara, on the western border of Romania. There were 30 or 40 friends and family from the village who made the 9 hour train or bus ride over for the wedding. The grooms family is all from the surounding Timisoara area as well as were a lot of the bride and grooms friends. The reception took place in a very elegant hotel's ball room. There was champange, beer, wine, Jack Daniels, sparking water, flat water, coca-cola, red bull, expresso, hot chocolate...but dont worry the father of the bride brought with him about 90 liters of 2 day old plumb horlika! Each of the five courses that were served were mouth watering. All of the villagers brought with them their tradional cosutmes (see picture) as well as the more modern wedding attire. The first half of the wedding the villagers were dressed in the tradional threads and then all changed to their shirts and ties, dresses and high heals. It was pretty interesting to see the two cultures from Poienile Izei and Timisoara combine. The table I was sitting at was a mix of some younger adults from the village as well as the city. Naturally I offered each person at the table a little horlinka to start the night off, just expecting everyone to say "bottoms up" as they would in the village. Not a single person at the table accepted, even the ones from the village, prefering instead some white wine mixed with sparkling water, Jack Daniels with coca-cola, gin & tonic and there was even one with a some kind of fruit caribean looking drink with a drink umbrella and all! I stayed strong to my village roots and poured my self a shot of horlinka and a glass fo sparkling water to chase it down with. The waiter of my table came up to me and told me that I should go over to the table with all the people dressed in traditional costumes to have a shot because he has already had to refill their craft of horlinka 3 or 4 times in the first 2 hours...apparently the husband of my host family asked if the waiter could just put some horlinka in an empty 2 liter bottle to save all parties involved time and energy! There was a nice mix of music from tradional folk music for the villagers and modern day pop/dance music for the city slickers. It was great to see some of the "suits & ties" getting out there learning some of the traditional folk dances as well as seeing some of the villagers learning some of the more modern day pop dances. At about 3 a.m. the cake came out as well as the gift/envelope box, unioffically ending the weddings festivities. At this point in the morning I was more than fine with the idea of heading back to where we were all staying to get a couple hours of shut eye before climbing in a mini-van for the 8/9 journey home. However, as most of the visitors were saying goodbye and thanking the bride & groom the husband of my host family made a request for a very popular traditional folk song to the band that was playing. Once the first chord was played all that were left, mostly villagers, jumped to there feet and stayed there for another two more hours...we probably would have stayed there all night if it were not for the driver of our bus wanting to leave to get some sleep before driving us back to the village, probably a good idea. I have really made strides of steping out of my "wall flower" no dancing comfort zone since living in the village, I was out there most of the night, stumbling along tring ot keep up with everyone else, but you can not say I did not try...maybe the horlinka has some thing to so with that as well!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

˝I feel home, when I see the faces that remember my own˝

It is hard to believe that August has come and gone! September for a teacher is the offical end of summer. The old saying ˝Time flies when you are having fun˝ has never been more correct. Some of the highlights of summer 2008 were as follows. Ending my first year of being a teacher was a great and proud feeling. It was an up and down school year to say the least and I do not think I will be winning a teacher of the year award anytime soon, but I had fun and I think the kids had fun as well and learned a thing or two along the way. Spain, was amazing and a place that I will continue to visit as long as am able. However, my time there really reinforced my love for Romania, its culture and how much Poienile Izei has become my ˝home˝ away from home. This past summer I have been schooled and tested in just about every aspect of field work that is done in the village. Bunica (the grandmother of my host family) is a tough teacher but at least with her there is not sugar coating...if you are doing it wrong she will tell you very quickly and loudly and if you are doing it correct she wont say a word. Learning to use the sycle to cut the fields is by far my favorite thing to do and is by far the most physically draining aspect of field work I have done here in the village. I now have two weeks of construction work under my belt and I hope there is more to come! My back, hands, arms and legs all benefited from the 13 hour days at the construction site as did my appreciation of how most of the men in the village support there families. Since my return from the construction site, I have gained a whole new aspect of respect from my community members as well as a lot more moms and grandmothers trying to marry me off to who ever they can find! This summer I also took the opportunity to visit some of my friends from the Peace Corps who live in other cities across the country. First on the list was a visit to the Black Sea coast. A group of us traveled down to the Romanian/Bulgarian border to an old hippy beach town, Vama Veche. We crashed on the beach with a tent and blankets, slept very little, meet a ton of great people and had a lot fun. If ever in Romania during July or August make the trip to Vama Veche and par-take in all the bon-fires with guitars, no worries atmosphere and nude beach if you so desire! I also managed to spend a bit of time in the European Union´s Cultural Capital for 2007, Sibu. It is a very beautiful, small town feel city with plenty of entertainment. I read Bram Stocker´s ˝Dracula˝ this summer and while doing so was able to visit the city of his birthplace, Sighisoara. I really enjoyed my time in Sighisoara and was even able to drink a couple beers while bobbing my head to some Bob Marley songs covered by a local band! Keeping in the theme of Dracula I went for a visit to the supposed Dracula Castle in Bran. I have to be honest, it was a pretty big disappointment, I mean the tour does not even take you to a dungeon or anything...Oh well! The culmination of summer was my Mid-Service Conference with the Peace Corps. It has been 1 year and 4 months since I arrived in Romania, believe it or not and it was a great opportunity to self reflect on all that has happened since my arrival. School year 2008/2009 begins in 6 days, which I am still having a hard time believing. I really enjoyed myself this summer, riding the rails, visiting new lands and learning new trades. One aspect of living in this 1,000 person village that has been a bit challenging is always living under a microscope. I love the openness and friendliness of the community I live in, but sometimes it is nice to be a stranger in a strange land, getting lost in the crowd. However, no matter how much fun I had on the beaches of the Black Sea or throwing bricks around in Timisoara, there is no place like home!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Hide & Seek

6:33 a.m. the coffee pot that is engulfed in flames is making another sleepless night come to an end. Once I push my hair and "almost sleep" out of my eyes I put on my work shirt, work shorts and chaco sandals that are for all occasions, work or play. As I make my way to the well to wash my face I feel the bright yellow sun staring me in the face beginning yet another all day game of hide & seek. Ignoring the regular stares from all the every morning observers while I brush my teeth I try to stretch my back a bit to get it ready for yet another day of construction work. The coffee is bitter and strong, when asked if I would like a shot of horlinka for "energy" I respectfully decline...respectfully meaning promising to take one after 12 noon. By 7:05 the entire construction site is filled with sounds of drills, chainsaws, gas generators and curse words. As we approach our duplex the second floor walls are looking significantly taller than the day before and the blisters on my hands have actually turned into callouses over night. After wheel barrelling the usual 10-15 wheel barrels of sand next to the mixer I climb up to the second floor and ask whats next. For most of the week we had electricity through a gas powered generator. However this morning the generator appears to be broken, why no one knows but that is the way it is and there is nothing we can do about it until it is picked up and taking to get fixed. It is now approaching 9:00 a.m. and I am already losing, as usual, the game of hide and seek from the blistering sun. There was for at least one half second where I thought "what can we do without electricity? we cannot make the cement like stuff we use to lay the bricks (I know it is sad I do not know what it is called in English but I know it in Romanian), we cannot use the wench to raise the wheel barrels of bricks to the second floor (yes that is correct they purchased a small wench to save their backs), thus we cannot add to the height of our walls. As soon as that half second crossed through my mind I am pounding nails into scaffolding about half the height of the duplex. I had to laugh to myself while I was picking up the bricks off the second story floor, that were placed there by Vasile who had them placed at his feet on the scaffolding by the two other dudes that work with them, who brought them over from the pallets next to the street in their wheel barrels. (make sense? good!) No electricity! Ion and Vasile are just getting familiar with working with such amenities as electricity, mixers and wenches. For years they have built homes in the village making cement on plastic tarps, carrying bricks up stairs and using axes instead of chain saws, ha ha what was I thinking! Finally 9:30/10:00 a.m. comes around and we break for breakfast. I gladly eat the fried pig fat, boiled eggs and white bread, I am going to need every bit of energy possible. After breakfast I just left my shirt at home, it is already close to 90 degrees and not a cloud in the sky, it was not even worth carrying on my shoulder. While working as a merchandiser in downtown Detroit, I thought carrying around cases of Carlo & Rossi jugged wine were hard on the body, especially the hands and back...I was wrong! Cement bricks have a nice way of slicing the corners of your fingers and rubbing away your fingerprints like nothing else! Not to mention there is a reason in the gangster movies they strap cement bricks to the feet of the guy going into the river, they are heavy. Once all the bricks where on the second floor and after many water/shade breaks we broke for lunch. We all take our time eating in the cool shade and then have no problem closing our eyes for a mid-day siesta hiding from the high afternoon sun, the score is still way in favor of the sun for the day. While drinking yet another cup of coffee and making up another excuse for refusing another shot of horlinka even after my earlier promise, I chat with the neighboring construction workers. My knowledge of swear words has increased 150% since I arrived at the construction site, I have even learned them with the different regional accents! Most of the men working in our same area are all from small village communities from all over Romania coming to Timisoara to make money to support their families. Most of them who have not been home since may or April, I wont lie some of them enjoy the freedom and all that cities have to offer but many others because they cannot afford to. Ion and Vasile, make it a point to come back to the village every month even if it is for just 2-3 days. Still no electricity and with all the bricks on the second floor, it is time for a little summer cleaning. On the main floor their were still all the wooden support stilts in place supporting the ceiling. We knocked all these down and any remaining wooden boards on the walls and put them in piles. I also had the duty of removing nails from the large straight boards that would reused on the second floor. It was not my favorite thing to do but it was in the shade and who am I to complain when I was just there for a week. Right around 9:30 p.m. the sun is making its way out of the city and we finish our summer cleaning. As we talk about the day and all curse the generator (even me with my newly learned Romanian swear words!) you can see all of our eye lids are getting heavy. Back at our room (they stay in a room of a building that has already been built but is just the cement walls, no windows or doors except a plastic sheet)everyone asked if I would like them to warm up some water on their gas stove to kind of sort of shower. I thank them but decline, gas for the stove is expensive and they don't do it so I'm not either, I wanted to be a worker for a week not a visitor. Instead I finally agree to those two shots of horlinka I avoided earlier, splash a bit of cold water from the well on my face and chest, eat the fried potatoes with pig fat and lay on my part of the mattress slowly closing my eyes swatting the bugs away. Before the week was over the generator had returned and was working like a charm. I learned how to lay bricks for the first time in my life and was told I did a good job. After my six days of work (their work week is monday through saturday, and around 13-14 hours a day) I was exhausted yet strangely felt very alive. Walking back to our room saturday night, it was a great sense of accomplishment signing how high the walls had gotten since my arrival six days ago. The height of the walls was not the only sense of accomplishment I felt after my week at the site. When I first arrived I was the "Americano" but by weeks end it was Alex.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Read this Book!

˝Three Cups of Tea˝ by Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin. Also here is a pic of myself and Ion doing some field work...

Seroiusly Read this book, it is an important message!


Monday, July 7, 2008

"Watching the shadows of the clouds and the surface of the sea out the window of a plane..."

It is good to be home, well almost home. I am back in Romania, sitting in my favorite Internet cafe in Romania 51km from the village. After spending the last couple weeks traveling to Bucharest then to Barcelona, Spain and back again I am excited to get home. My clothes are in desperate need of a wash, my tired shoulders need to let go of my monstrous back pack and my body is in need of more than two nights sleep on the same pillow. My tanned face is a constant reminder of a my wonderful first visit to the great country of Spain. My timing could not have been better to arrive in Barcelona. Within my first three days in Spain, I was able to watch and celebrate both of Spain's victories in their semi-final and final matches making them the 2008 European Cup Championships, Viva Espana! Walking up and down La Ramblas in the Gothic District of Barcelona, drinking cans of Estrella Galacia, horns honking, Spanish flags waving and naturally crowds chanting "Ole, Ole, Ole" all night long, was pretty amazing! In between the excitement of the European Cup Semi-finals and finals, my friend Katelyn and I were able to catch Jack Johnson playing with his buddies Mason Jennings and G-Love & Special Sauce...need I saw more, it was amazing and the first time I had ever seen Jack live! Once the hangover of Spain's European Cup Championship cleared up, we left the city limits of Barcelona for a mountain town/village Montserrat. There is a very famous and beautiful Monastery that makes up Montserrat and is home to a Statue of a Black Virgin. I am not 100% sure but from what I gathered from what little I understand in Spanish and Catalan I think this statue is unique to the whole world. Montserrat was a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona. After leaving Montserrat we cruised up the coast of the Mediterranean to the Costa Brava region of Spain and landed in little fishing village called Tossa de Mar. Tossa was my favorite part of the trip besides the Jack Johnson concert. I think the influences living in a small village in Romania have been more profound than I realized. Beside the homey, friendly feel and amazing sea food of Tossa, the real attraction for me were their beaches. My Mom has always told me how beautiful and unique the Mediterranean is, but you can never get a grasp of it until you see, feel and taste it...I obviously need to improve my swimming skills! The water is a vivid crystal clear blue contrasting the beaches golden brown, pebbly surface. Costa Barva is known for its rough and rocky coastline and I know can understand its appeal. We spent 3 days in Tossa before having to return to Barcelona to catch our flights. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it down the south of Spain on this trip. Tourist season prices were in full effect for airlines and trains so I will just have to go back for a return visit and focus on the south of Spain and maybe even the Canary Islands! I could not believe how easy it was to get around in all the parts of Spain I visited, every where we went it was so easy to get there with signs, bus schedules and all. Also, Barcelona is a large city with a ton of tourists, but the city is unbelievably clean! Even the monday morning after Spain's victory over Germany, the streets were spotless! Lastly, the Spanish people I meet and interacted with were extremely friendly and laid back. I guess this is understandable, coming from a culture that puts up the CLOSED sign for 2-3 hours every afternoon for a siesta, why didn't Americans ever catch on to that one!? I will be honest, after the nine days that I spent in Spain I was missing Romania and specifically my village. Understandably I am very biased towards Romania because I am living here, but it really is a beautiful country with very friendly, hospitable people and culture. I remember when I first arrived in Romania one year and a couple of months ago not being able to understand and communicate with the people. It was a frustrating, exhausting feeling and one that I had not felt for awhile until I arrived in Spain. It was very nice to arrive at Bucharest's OTP International airport and be able to ask for direction to the train station in Romanian. It was even better when on the train back towards the village I was asked where I was from and I told them a small village in Maramures, Poinele Izei.

Something that has been singing in my head lately:

"Who's to say
What's impossible
Well they forgot
This world keeps spinning
And with each new day
I can feel a change in everything
And as the surface breaks reflections fade
But in some ways they remain the same
And as my mind begins to spread its wings
There's no stopping curiosity..."
- Jack Johnson

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Going Somewhere

June 24, 2008...One year, one month and nine days since I started my journey as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania. I cannot believe how fast the time has gone by..."time flys when you are having fun" has never been more true! I finished my first school year as a teacher just two weeks ago. I have to be honest, I am glad to be on summer vacation until September. I love working with kids and I did have a lot of fun this past school year but I dont see my self being a teacher after this peace corps experience. However, I do believe looking back on the whole school year, my teaching performance improved as the year went by as well as my kid's english speaking ability. There was a lot of trail and error this first year, and I won't lie there were a lot of errors. I do take pride in learning from a lot of those mistakes and trying to correct them, but it is going to take some more time. When I first started with classes back in September, I think I had some pretty high goals in mind as far as my effectivness as a teacher of English and what the kids would accomplish. Because of those self impossed, out of reach standards, I would get easily frustrated which was not helping anyone, especially the kids, learn english. I learned that each day was going to be different, there would be certain variables I could not control and in the end the kids reacted to what I brought to the classroom, phyisacally and emotionally. Instead of worrying that my 8th grade class could not write a paragraph using only past tense verbs, I focused on the fact that they were able to write an understandable paragraph in english, which they could not do when we started the year. Instead of preparing minute to minute lesson plans everyday, with an introduction, practice and conclusion, I would show up with nothing but a smile, a sence of adventure and ask them where they wanted to go...and trust me, showing up to a middle school level classroom and putting them in charge you need a huge sence of adventure. Kids are just like the rest of us just smaller, they have good days and bad days and if anything they are even more vulneriable to the emotional roller coaster that is life. As an English teacher I realized some days my only concern was teaching english, which is not my primary role if you ask me. As a teacher in the school I have a much larger role than just teaching them English. First of all I should be somebody they can trust, I should be a good role model and be attentive to whats going on in their crazy "middle school aged" world. After all of that then the English can come into play. Instead of trying to introduce some english grammar in a lesson that I am not even sure how to use as a native english speaker, when the next day is a huge "sink or swim" math exam for those that would like to have a chance to move on to a high quality high school in the future...I brought in my guitar and taught them some Jack Johnson songs or had a class discussion in Romanian about what is important in their lives. Through out the course of the year I think I kicked out every single one the boys in my 7th grade class at one time or another, no joke. Finally, I realized that most of them just loved the attention of getting called out in front of the whole class by the "push over" American english teacher..."push over" because their other Romanian teachers would probably give a nice tug on the ear. So, the next time one of the same boys acted up worthy of getting kicked out my class and instead of embarassing him in front of the whole class, which I have to say is very effective and kind of fun for me, but probably not very appropriate and I only did once...maybe twice, I just simply asked the class what they wanted from english class... complete and utter Silence! "Wait, did he just ask us what we wanted from english class? Is this guy for real?" Obviously, very student wanted the highest grade possible, a 10 in the offical grade book. Then I told them what I consider a 10 in the grade book. Number one my list was not speaking perfect english or even acing every single test, it was respect. Number 2 was effort and number 3 was responsibility. These are all things that I wish I would have known from day 1 but whats the fun in knowing everything?! I learned a smile, a question, a high five, a pat on the back, a turn of the head can go along way in the survivial of being a teacher. Needless to say, I learned an incrediable amount about myself this school year and I am looking forward to getting back started with school in Septembr, but after taking full advantage of these next few summer months!
The school year could not have ended from me any better way. The Peace Corps Director for all of Peace Corps from Washington DC was in Romania for an offical country visit. Part of his tour of Romania was to Poienile Izei to visit with myself and all those who have played such a large role in my wonderful experiences thus far. I was very honored at the inviatation of hosting the Director and I have to say it went better than I could have imagined. The Director from DC was accompanyied by the Peace Corps Director of Romania as well as by the TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) director for Peace Corps Romania, in other words every singe one of my bosses at every level was present! The whole village played a part in the visist and rightfully so, since the whole village has been such a huge part of my life here. There was an official/tradional greating by the mayor, vice mayor, school director, myself and of course the priest... with bread, salt and horlika...in that order! There was a wonderful tradional song & dance performance put on by some of the children from the village. There was a visit to the really old wooden church in the center of the village (I always forget how old but it is really old, there was a visit to my home to meet my amazing host family. Finally the visit was brought to a close with a great home cooked "picnic sytle" meal in a neighbors backyard. However, all of these events took the back seat to the performace by my 6th grade class, who sang "Cupid" by Jack Johnson accompanied by myself on accustic guitar, in front of the largest American audience they have ever seen. Not only did they nail the song they received a standing oviation as well...there were calls for an encore...one small problem, I only taught them that one song, way to go English teacher...way to go! I was very proud to show everyone who came, the progresses that I have made and all the sucesses I have had.
This may be my longest post yet...a large part of that is because I am waiting for my train to leave at 5:41 p.m. and it is only 3:12 and I sitting in an internet cafe. I am making my way down to Bucharest tonight arriving tomorrow morning to get my teeth cleaned and have my yearly medical check-up. I get to spend a bit of time in the country's capital before I catch a flight to Barcelona, Spain Thursday afternoon. I will in Spain until July 5th, relaxing on the beaches of the Mediteranian, drinking sangria and searching the land of Duende for my continous search of my Duende...Salut!

Thursday, June 5, 2008



Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Sound, Sight & Smell of Silence

I really do live in a kind of paradise! I have never seen a landscape this color green in all of my life. There is a smell in the air that is the true definition of "clean air." Although the lack of transportation in and out of the village can be a bit frustrating at times, the absence of smog and/or pollution allows you to see for km's on km's when the sky is filled with blue. The grass has grown to about thigh length which is the indication to start making hay. I have spent the last 2 weeks learning how to make hay. The process of making hay is not all that complicated, it really just involves a lot of common sense and of course a strong back. Most of the villagers have purchased this kind of industrial lawn mowers from the Romanian government about 2 years ago for a good price...apparently the government paid for half of the cost and the villagers were left to cover the other half, not a bad deal. However, just as when you cut the grass at your home you are not able to reach certain spots of grass with the lawn mower, well the same is true here with these mowers. One slight difference though is that back in the states you just fire up your weed whacker and call it a day. Well here, the weed whacker is a scythe (the instrument that was made famous by the grim reaper) and of course this is human powered. It is a kind of custom or right of passage to be able to use the scythe. It is a very sharp blade and can obviously slice off a finger or toe just as easily as it does the blades of grass. Last summer when I arrived, I asked if I could help with using this instrument and I was told no, that it is a lot of work and that I should just stick to the rake. Now I understand why I was not allowed to take part in this ritual. First, you have to flatten the blade to make it nice and straight. This is done by pounding a wooden stub into the ground in between your legs while sitting down on the grass. Next you start with the part of the blade closest to the handle putting it on the wooden stump. After this you spit a large portion of spit on the blade and whack the blade with a small hammer until flat and straight. I have not yet learned the art of this technique, but I was told I would be taught in time as long as I swore to secrecy I would not tell it to anyothers. Next you sharpen the blade with a sharpening rock starting with the wide part of the blade sharpening your way down to the slim part. I did learn this part of the ritual and I will tell you it scares me to death. I am not a very good guitar player as it is with 5 fingers I could only imagine what it would sound like trying to play with 4 or 3! Finally, after the sharpening of the blade it is time to start cutting. It looks so effortless for the men and women of the village, it is so rhythmic with equal movements. Again, not so easy! If you go too fast you do not cut evenly, if you go too slow the blade gets stuck, if you are too close you can lose a toe, if you are too far away you will be there all day...it is defiantly a skill of touch and finesse. After a couple of days of practice, countless instructions from bunica (the 70 something year old grandma of my host family, who could cut a field with a scythe faster and more evenly than with a lawn mower)I would consider myself a decent cutter. I asked my family why they would not let me use the scythe last summer when I arrive and they told me "last summer you were an American, this summer you are a villager, I have earned the right!" Once all the grass is cut, the next day, as long as the weather is warm and sunny you go back with pitch forks and turn the grass over, so that the underside of the grass is allowed to dry. Wet grass in a haystack creates mold which not matter how hungry the cows and horses are they will not touch. Once the grass is finally dried all the way around it is time to make the hay stacks. We make different hay stacks depending on the type of grass it is...again I swore to secrecy I would not give away the secrets of this practice either, sorry! So this has been my life for the last 2 weeks. School is in the last week and then we begin summer vacation! I am preparing for my first visit to Spain in the end of June. However, before I leave for the beaches of Barcelona, I have a few things to take care of. The director of the Peace Corps in Washington D.C. is coming to Romania for an official visit for a couple of days and is even making time for a visit in the village of yours truly! It should be a great experience and the whole village is really excited. I have to teach a pracice lesson in front of the troop from DC. I have taught my 6th graders "cupid" by Jack Johnson and we will be performing it for our visitors. The kids are doing a great job with the song and are excited to show off their skills. Other than that life is good, everyday is a new adventure with a ton of surprises! Ciao :)

Monday, May 5, 2008

4 a.m.

There have been few things that I can recall waking up for at 4 a.m. A flight to Las Vegas, a hike in the mountains, maybe a sunrise but never in my life did I ever think I would be waking up at 4 a.m. to attend a church service! Here in the village, it is 110% Romanian Orthodox and that is what they do and have been doing for generations on Easter Sunday, waking up before dawn and heading to the church for the Resurrection of Christ... something I felt I should experience. Generally speaking I do not go to church on Sundays or on any of the Saint's days that occur through out the year...ok so I have been once since I arrived back in August of 2007. Because of my lack of attendance I receive a lot of questions about my religion, everyone thinks because I am American I am catholic. Just as they are getting all wound up to tell me why Romanian Orthodox is the truth and Catholicism is not, I inform them that I am not catholic...which I think kind of disappoints most of them. Next on the "stereotypical religion of an American" list is Baptist, which was a bit of a shocker for me...but again it is another disappointing no. I have always been told it is not polite to discuss politics, money and religion with people you don't really know or in general for that matter. This is a glaring cultural difference between Romanians and Americans and one that I am still having a hard time getting used to. With out a doubt, one of the first questions I was asked when I arrived in the village was "how much is your salary as a English teacher?" When I confuse them and tell them that I am a volunteer thus without a salary, I receive a "why in the world would you ever work for free" kind of look then am asked how much does a teacher make in the States? Every time I am asked about my family, I am interrupted in the middle of my description by "how much does your father make a month? Your Mother? Your Sister? Her husband? Your brother? Their neighbor's distant 3rd cousin? After I fumble around with a some what Politically Correct response...usually pleading that I don't know, it is not discussed and I have lost touch with our neighbors distant 3rd cousin, naturally leaving them unsatisfied, it jumps directly to Religion. So as I was saying, since I am neither catholic nor baptist next on the list is a Muslim, which I find incredibly interesting as well. To their credit they are not tyring to convert me, although I was told it could happen with the snap of a finger, they are just really curious. Generally I am able to beat around the bush long enough and explain that in the States there are representations of all kinds of religions and that I respect their beliefs and customs. Inevitably, they get bored with this non imformative answer and the subject is changed to Politics or why I am not married yet! Like I was saying before, these peoples religion and beliefs play a major role in their lives and I felt like I should try a bit harder to understand more about them. Thus, I made my appearance Easter Sunday morning at 4 a.m. looking sharp in a fresh pair of slacks, dress shirt and traditional style hat that the men wear in the summer months in this region, and was a gift from my host family! Before we left the house, a hand crafted bag was stuffed to the brim with homemade breads, meats, cheeses, colored hard boiled eggs and a bottle of red wine. A small wicker basket was also filled with the same tasty delights but was also decorated with a large white candle jetting out of the top. On the way to the Church in the center of the village, all the people were dressed in their traditional clothing and own bags and baskets in hand. The typical "good morning" was not used once it was replaced by a biblical "Christ has risen" followed then by "It is true, he has risen." This greeting will be used for the next 7 weeks after Easter sunday...dont worry I practiced the night before so I didn't blow it! The church service was jammed packed with a lot of new faces...because of the Village's traditional customs many Romanians from the big cities come into town to experience a Traditional Easter with warm welcoming people, fresh air and of course horlinka. It was a very impressive service that last about 4 hours...I was offered a seat on one of the highly sought after benches from one of my neighbors, SCORE! All of the baskets and bags spilling over with food and drink were placed along side the perimeter of the Church and the last part of the service involves the priest going outside and blessing them with nag-champa like incense and holy water. Immediately following the service everyone fills the streets slowly finding their way home to break the 7 week fast of not eating meat products or drinking alcohol. My traditional hat was a huge hit as was my appearance at the service. Once at home, we ate a tremendous amount of meat, cheese, eggs, cakes, pies and cracked open bottles of wine, beer and horlinka. By the time 10:30 a.m rolled around I was back in bed full to the brim and fast asleep until later that afternoon. Easter officially lasts for 3 days here...sunday, monday and tuesday. So for three days I went to church and for three days we all ate way too much food and probably drank way too much drink. My attendance at church was noticed by everyone which lead to a lot of people wondering why I was absent yesterday (Sunday May 4th, the first sunday after easter). Regardless if I dug myself in a hole or not, I was very happy to experience the one part of village life I have not really been apart of and has helped me become more apart of the community than I was already.

PS - in theme with my last entry "breathe" I wanted to add these thoughts...Ciao

"Breathe, breathe in the air
Don't be afraid to care
Leave but don't leave me
Look around and chose your own ground
For long you live and high you fly
And smiles you'll give and tears you'll cry
And all you touch and all you see
Is all your life will ever be"
- Pink Floyd

Monday, April 7, 2008


"Don't go too fast, but not too slow...not too much to the left but not too much to the right...hold the reins firm but not too firm...don't worry it is easy!" I managed to squeak out a passive "ce ma," we started to move a bit and then finally I breathed. The elderly man behind the horses, maneuvering the plough with the greatest of ease as if it were an extension of his arms let out a roaring "Bravo Alexandru, Bravo!" Although I was breathing again I don't think my heart had restarted and despite the damp April weather my hands were sweating ice cold bullets. We had not reached the end of the field when I began wondering how in the hell I was going to turn these two horses attached to a plow attached to an old man around in a single, swift manor that is mandatory when ploughing a field. With my anxiety filling the air the old man shouted with a large grin, "Don't forget to Breathe...they can smell fear!" I let out a kind of laugh you let out when your standing on the edge of an open airplane door at 13,000 feet with a parachute strapped to your back. With a more commanding "ce ma!" than before and a meaningful few jerks of the reins I maneuvered a respectful left turn and had the team of myself, horses, plough and old man all lined up for the next row of soil to be plowed. I had regained my composure, heartbeat and confidence with a couple more successful rows and I was on cruise control! A crowd of spectators began to form at the far gate with cheers of "Bravo Americano," "Good Job" and my favorite "what the hell is the Americano doing this time!" Naturally, just when I was feeling as if I was a natural horse trainer, one of the horses leaned over to the other and give her a little "kiss" as they call it in the village but it is more of a nip on the ear than a kiss and the victimized horse let out a piercing "AHHHHHH" but in horse talk and started to get on her hind legs! With one hand yanking hard on the reins, the other with the whip smacking the "spirited" horse on the nose and my voice yelling whatever came to mind which I think was a mix of half English and half Romanian I had everything under control. Well except the old man, who was laughing so hard tears were forming in the corners of his eyes and could not catch his breathe to say a word if his life depended on it. Then the thundering laughs of the spectators entered my ears and there was nothing else to do but laugh with them. If there is one piece of advice that I could give to anyone thinking about joing the Peace Corps or going to live in another culture or just a piece of advice for general everyday life...it would be you must have a sense of humility about yourself. Once the old man regained his compose he walked up to me, patted me on the back and laughed out "you should have seen your face when that horse yelled out, it was white as a ghost, ha ha ha." Then he, said with a proud grandfatherly tone, "but you did what you had to do, you got'em back under control and back on track...good job." This was my first time ever leading the horses by myself and I was nervous, to say the least. Horses are unbelievable animals. They are so intelligent and have such strong senses, the old man was not lying when he told me they can smell fear. Not to mention that they are powerful, powerful animals, as well as valuable merchandise to the family who own them. So when the old man told over a cup of coffee before we left for the fields that he had a surprise for me I never imagined it would be teaching me to handle the horses. Village life is very hands on, out of necessity. There are not seminars on "wood chopping safety," courses in "Barn construction 101" nor are there permits given for horse drawn wagons to those who pass a driving test...you just do it and figure it out along they way and hopefully learn from your mistakes. Unfortunately as a result of these methods most men over the age of 30 are missing one tip of a finger from a table saw accident and some barns sway in the strong summer thunderstorms as if they were dancing with the rhythm of the rain drops. However, in this situation of me learning to work with the horses, it is the only way to learn. The old man began with me just talking to the horses, petting them, brushing them and feeding them from my hand. This he told me develops the trust between the horses and their leader that is mandatory for productive work. Next he instructed me on how to attach the reins to the horses heads and just had me lead them to a nearby creek for a quick drink of water. After the "introduction" it was up to me, I had to make the blind jump, head first into unknown waters. And that is exactly what I did, I jumped head first with out reservation and I will damned if I did not take my first giant step at learning how to lead a horse. Don't get me wrong, I was scared as all hell when that horse acted a little spirited but if I had not had that experience I never would have known how to react...thankfully she did not land on my foot or become too rowdy. The old man said she was testing me because I was a new scent and she wanted to see how I would react...after that I swear she had a bit of a cocky smirk on her long face, almost mocking me! On my walk home after the long adventurous day, everyone on the street told me that the color on my face was back to normal form, undoubtedly everyone in the village heard of my experience today and I am sure had a laugh or two. To me this is a direct indication of my integration into the village life. If I were to get discouraged at every laugh I heard at my expense because of a mispronounced word, piece of mischoped wood, unusual eating habits (ketchup on eggs is not standard here), and smoked filled room because I forgot to open the vent in my wood burning stove before starting the fire, I would have returned to the States a long time ago. Instead, I look at it from their perspective and realize that if I were in their shoes and saw some long haired americano standing outside his house while smoke was clearing out from every window I would laugh too. I also believe that I have earned my place in the village from gaining their respect and confidence. Just like with the horses, I take time to talk with them, eat their food, drink their drink and invest my sweat into their work. Probably the greatest compliment I received that day was when the old man told me "you did what you had to do and you figured it out." This is what I do everyday to a certain extent and at least so far I have done what I have had to do and I have figured it out...(well at least I have figured somethings out, I have not figured "it" out whatever "it" is).

Friday, March 21, 2008

City Slicker

A little hitch hiking and 4 hours on a bus next thing you know you have arrived in Cluj. Cluj is a great university city just south of the village on the far northern edge of the famous Transylvania region. I decided that I needed bit of a break from all of the fresh air the village has to offer and get back to civilisation for a few days. Cluj has a lot to offer...shops, restaurants, a night life and even starbucks (the second one in Romania)! Oh and Obviously a plethora of internet cafes. So that gets us up to speed to where I currently am. So now for a brief update on the last couple of weeks.
So I thought digging a 1/2 meter deep trench was back breaking...little did I know that filling it in would be just as tiring if not more. We laid the plastic piping from the source of the spring all the way down to a valley where more pipes will be needed to led to the respective homes. All in all we laid and re-filled 100 meters of pipe and dirt respectively. I was given a spade and slap on the back and we got started. My hands became blistered despite the nice hard layer of Clausius they have developed from all the wood I have chopped, but I kept on. That afternoon was quite unusual, it rained, snowed, hailed, the sun shined and there were bouts of wind that almost knocked me over. Just I as I was hitting my stride we broke for lunch, which because of the fast going on consisted of bean soup, garlic and orange soda...a far cry from the traditional "mountain spread" consisting of pig fat, smoked sausages and horlinka...however it satisfied the emptiness in my stomach. Just as it was digging the trench, filling it in takes no special talent, just a lot of elbow grease and back breaking effort. Everyone on the hillside laughed as they asked me if I has ever done this type of work before in the States. This was a saturday and as with every saturday around 6:30 - 7:00 pm a bell rings out from the church letting everyone know to cease whatever work they are doing and go home, relax and clean up for Sunday, the day of church, family and cabbage rolls. We still had a touch of work left as well as a ray of sun still shining from the fast sinking sun when we heard the bell ringing off the mountain side. Immediately, all of the women with us dropped their shovel or spade and said good night. I was exhausted, really really exhausted, but I just wanted to finish and not have to worry about coming back up here the following week. So being the team player that I am and the only one of the troop who is not Orthodox I keep the spade in my hand and kept rocking. All the old women told me that I did not have the permission from god to keep working but I joked back that I didn't understand what they were saying in Romanian and that because I was not Orthodox I was cool...one of the benefits of speaking more than one language! Finally we finished filling in the trench, all 100 meters and needless to say I sleep damn good that night! I could not bend my fingers the next day, or my body for that matter... however I always feel better about stuffing my face with cabbage rolls on Sunday after a hard days work.
With Easter on its way, we have 8 lambs running around the barn and just as a couple of days ago a baby goat which I just looked up and is called a kid on english. We started off with a set of twin lambs and then over the course of the last 3 weeks every so often there would be another one on the barn floor in the morning. They are amazingly playful, soft and cute. For the first 6-8 weeks they are not able to eat anything but their mothers milk and cows milk out of a bottle. I have been assisting the two boys with this process, which is not as easy as one would think. The lambs and kid do not stay in the same part of the barn as their moms, because other moms will kick them and be abusive. Therefore, when it is time to feed the lambs we bring the mothers into one part of the barn from the field and then go after the lambs and kid. However, the lambs and the kid stay in the same part of the barn as the horse and cow, but in a separate compartment. We have to be careful when letting the lambs out because they spook the horse who could easily crush them with her hooves and from the cow who tries to gore them every chance she gets. Finally once the are in with their mothers they feed and then we have to separate them and put them outside. This is the best part of me. Once away from their moms the start running wildly and jumping every where. If you run with them they get even crazier and more out of control. After a bit of play time they are carefully guided back to their pin where they await the cows milk. I have been assigned this task which I signed up for but had no idea what I was getting myself into. As soon as those lambs see the bottle of warm cows milk the all attack me and try to climb up my legs, in my boots and over whoever is in their path to the milk. Once one has a hold of the nipple on the bottle, others push, shove, bite, do whatever is necessary to saviour a taste. The even resort to biting at my pants which scared the hell out of me the first time and brought tears to my families eyes because they laughed so hard. As hazardous as it is with those sweet Innocent lambs and kid I love doing it and look forward to it every night. Oh also, in my two attempts at milking the cow I have failed miserably, not even a drip comes out! I try to warm up to her before but she as nothing to do with me, I think she is playing hard to get. Maybe some candles and a glass of wine would help?

Ciao, SUTW & Keep smiling

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

"Pickles! Why wouldn't we want Pickles!"

I hope this find all who read it well and good! I have not been able to write in awhile but today the internet is working, at least for the time being, and it is raining outside so no work to do outside. Life has been really good. I have summited the highest peak in the surrounding mountains, it was not very high however there was plenty of snow which made it very challenging. Every step I took I would sink about 2-3 feet down and have to lift my foot up and over the next bundle of snow. I really enjoyed it, I am all ready planning trips to other parts of Romania for summer excursions. I went with the husband of the family I live with, his brother, a neighbor and one of the boys I live with. On the way up to the peak we came across these concrete blocks along the road. I asked what these were or what they will be for. I was informed that during Communism these were electricity poles but after the revolution, even though they worked perfectly well they were destroyed just from what they represented. As we continued up the mountain we came across old abandoned buildings, again I asked what these were. They used to be check points before the revolution, anyone and/or thing crossing these mountains would be checked and as one of the men said, forced to pay a bribe to the patrol not matter if you had papers or not. I have not asked too many questions about the days before the revolution, but on this day the men spoke freely and with a lot of emotion. It was way more than a sunday afternoon hike, this was a real life history lesson! Since then, I have helped put in new fence poles and fence, I have dug over 65 yards of ditch to lay a pipe that will send water from a natural spring in the mountains to a certain part of the village. By the way I have a whole new respect for ditch digging, no two ways about it, it is just back breaking work! The weather has been mild and with a lot of rain. The kids as well as I have spring fever. Everyone is fasting for Easter, April 27th in the Orthodox calendar here. For seven weeks, people do not eat any animal products or drink alcohol! Fortunatly, not everyone is required to follow this fast, for example long haired, American teachers are exempt, but I am abiding 50/50. I am enjoying the break from the pig fat and horlinka but I have already eaten some chicken and some cheese, opps! Well I hope all is well for everyone and keep smiling!

PS - the title of this post is a direct quote from the husband of the family I live with. One evening after coming home from the forest we were all eating and Angela, his wife asked if anyone would like pickles with the food. Ion responded with "Pickles! Why wouldn't we want pickles!?" I dont know maybe you had to be there but we all laughed until we were red in the face, or maybe it is just funnier with horlinka! Oh and the pickles here are to die for, homemade with plenty of deliciousness


Monday, February 18, 2008

What a great Day!

In honor of Valentines Day I had the kids I teach make "I Love..." Poems. Simply enough they were asked to write "I Love" 25 times on a piece of paper and then fill in the blanks with what they love. Ion in 5th grade asked me what Love is. I answered his question with the Romanian translation for love. He looked at me kind of confussed and said "no I know what the word is in Romanian, but what does love mean?" I laughed a bit and thought to myself what did I get myself into! At first the kids were a bit shy but once I started writing a couple of my "I love" lines they felt much more comfortable and started to write. Except for the couple of kids who copied their neighbors lines the rest really put a lot of thought and effort into there work...can't win all the battles, at least they are writing in English. From my experience in the Romanian school system, creativity is not practiced and/or encouraged. I am trying really hard to change those ideals but it will not happen over night. Most of my fellow teachers think I am a bit crazy for doing things like poems, song lyrics and other "new aged" teaching methods such as walking around the classroom interacting with the kids instead of staying at the black board in front of the room and lecturing. Even the majority of my students did not understand when I ask them a very subjective question such as "What you do prefer ketchup or mustard?" and tell them there is no right or wrong answer. Even with the "I love..." poems I had a student ask if her line "I love pizza" was correct or wrong. I was blown away at how into these poems the kids were and how many questions I received about word translations, they were really trying to expnad their vocabulary. Some of the highlights that were written were as follows...

*I love Love - Amazing!
*I love my cell phone charger - When asked why, this student resonded "because with out the charger my cell phone will not work and I won't be able to text message...good point I thought.
*I love my english teacher - An "A" for her
*I love the color of the sky everyday - A Romanian Bob Dylan

That night I stayed up very proud of my successful lesson writing my own "I Love..." Poem...

I love my family
I love my friends
I love Chipotle Burritos
I love traveling
I love being told I can not do something
I love sun rises
I love sun sets
I love the mountains
I love the beach
I love to laugh
I love to smile
I love to love
I love to be loved
I love to day dream
I love my brother's laugh
I love living in my village in Romania
I love being outside
I love Music
I love playing the same great song on repeat
I love t-shirts and jeans
I love reading the New York Times
I love to be curious
I love to explore
I love the sound of accustic guitars
I love to be challenged
I love the feeling of nerves, excitement, happiness, sadness anything that is real
I love not being told what to do
I love to drive with the windows down
I love road trips
I love making mistakes and learning from them
I love to get lost
I love what I am doing
I love LIfe
I love to Shake Up the World

Much Love to all :)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Every Little Thing is Going to be Alright

2008 is only a month old, but what I year it has already been! I had a wonderful visit back to the States for the holidays. It was so nice to be with family and friends that I had not seen in many months and/or years. My travels back to Romania were long, tiring, adventourous, fun, eventul and did I mention tiring?! Despite the 3 days of no sleep and going from Planes, trains to automobiles I arrived into the village with a smile on my face and plenty of questions to answer. Everyone was so curious about my visit to the states, if I had fun, what I did for christmas and New Years?, How was my family?, How were my friends?, Do you have pictures?, How was Las Vegas?, Did I drink a lot of whiskey?, Was I glad to be back in the village?, did I get married while I was home?, and plenty of others. For my first week back, I spent the majoirity of it trying to lose the jet-lag that filled my head and get back into the lifestyle that is the village. Naturally, everyone was concerned I did not have "fresh food" while I was home, meaning village food. As a result every house I passed would command me to the dinner table for more than enough pork, potatoes, cabbage rolls and of course horlinka...I did not complain! All of my kids were excited to have me back in school, they all were very curious about my travels and when I showed them on a world map the travels I had made in the last 3 weeks the intrigue flowed even more. 99% of my kids have not even been to another city than one 60km from the village, much less out of the country, none of them could not even comprehend the roads I had traveled in a short time, but it was a great teaching lesson! Ever since my return, I have had parents coming up to me saying that their son doesn't want to get his hair cut and wants to go to Budapest, Hungry for summer vacation...opps so much for a good influeance at least they are saying please and thank you now!
Once my head cleared of the jet-lag and I caught up on my sleep, I picked up right where I left off, helping with whatever needs to be done. At the house, we were in need of some fire wood, wood for a new fence and wood to use for building a new room in the attic of the house I live in, in other words we needed wood. Therefore, one friday morning Ion (the husband of the family I live with), Vasile (the brother-in-law of Ion) and I took off to a specific part of the forest in the surrounding mountains. We left the house at the crack of dawn with an old creeky wagon attached to two dark brown beautiful horses. Straped on the wagon was a chainsaw, bought in the Ukraine and smuggled into Romania but with a sticker on it "Made in Tucson, AZ"!) two freshly sharpend axes and one very excited American. The journey to the part of the forest that we needed to get to was a long, bumpy one with a lot of snow and ice that tripped me up more than it did the horses, in all it was probably a 5 mile treck. It was crisp, clear and cold as the Mountain air chapped our noses and cheeks but the warmth of the sun was on the rise. Once, we arrived at out destination I dried off the horses with their respective blankets after which I placed on their backs to keep them warm while they ate. Ion gathered some hay from a feeding post while vasile loosed the riens in the horses mouthes to allow them to eat easier. Obvoiusly, Ion and Vasile knew exactly what they were doing, where as I was all eyes and ears as it was my first time chopping down a tree. You can imagine it is not rocket science cutting down a tree but as with anything there is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things, Ion and Vasile do things the right way. I was in charge of clearing the snow from the base of the tree we desired and to chop away the first couple inches of bark from the ground. After which, Ion cut a wedge into the base with the chain saw in the direciton he wanted it to fall and then finally another wedge on the other side of the tree then...TIMBER! Once the tree fell, Vasile and I, with the axes, shaved all the branches from the trunk and then cleared a path for the horses and wagon. All in all we cleared five trees for the forest, 3 of them being at least 8 feet long and each weighing way more than I ever thought 3 people could lift. Once again, my perception was wrong! After lunch, which consited of pig fat back, onions, bread, creek water and a shot of horlinka we discussed what trees would be placed first on the wagon, well Ion and Vasile discussed but I was attentivly listening. Again not rocket science, the largest trees go on the bottom and the lighest/smaller ones on top. Vasile went after a couple of the larger branches that we cut off before lunch. Two of the branches were angled off at their ends and laid at an angle on the side of the wagon near the front and another at the back, creating a kind of ramp. I stuck my branch under the trunk first and pushed up as well as I could, next Vasile stuck his branch under the tree and pushed as best he could, then Ion doing the same, then the process returned to me and we continued this progression until the trunk was rolled right up on the two branches making the ramp. After this, we practiced the same methods until the trunk rolled up on the ramp and then just kept lifting and pushing, lifting and pushing until that son of a bitch was on the wagon! Words do not do this practice justice and trust me there were a lot worse words that came out of all our mouthes than son of a bitch! We did this four more times, each time the trunks getting a little lighter and smaller but my legs and back getting a little more tired. These horses were unbelieveable, they were pulling this load of lumber down these narrow, steep trails with snow, ice and mud with out much of a concern. I will admit I was completly exhuasted on our journey back to the village and the sun was begining to set with the cold airbeginging to fill the air. We were just about to the main path of the village when I could smell the burning of all wood on the stove when suddenly I heard a loud "POP." After, Vasile asked me what "OH SHIT" meant in Romanian, we realized one of the tires on the wagon had blown. I was a little more than curious about what we were to do and a bit frustrated, I was looking forward to a hot feast of bean soup, fried pork and horlinka. I looked to Ion and Vasile with a look of "what now?" and immeadiatly we began to laugh out loud like crazy men. I am pretty sure they both said somethings that would translate to some very inappropriate words in english and then Vasile reached into his jacket, pulled out a quarter liter bottle of horlinka and said with a huge smirk and his shoulders raised "Ce se facem?"...."what are we going to do?" and their we sat watching the sunset over the far mountains passing the bottle until there was no more. We pushed off the top three trunks and very carefully took the horses and wagon with the remaining two trunks to the barn. The whole path back to the barn other villagers were asking us what happened and if we knew we had a flat tire, as if they had the nerve, ha ha. I really believe that nights sleep was the best I have ever had in my life! The next morning we fixed the flat and went back after our lumber without any kind of problem. I really admired Ion and Vasile on the way the handled this adversity. I know I was frustrated and saying some pretty nasty things under my breath and they obviously have way more invested in this wood than I do and it would have been easy for them to get mad and upset, or atleast understandable. However, as is the general attitude of the people of the village, what good would that do, it isn't going it fix the flat tire and I think it helped we had the horlika! I have since been back to the forest one other time with Ion and Vasile and I will continue to go as often as I can, I love it out there. Also, I hleped kill the family pig and even assisted in the butchering and making of sausages and have been helping a friend of mine with the construction of his new house. Oh and you will all be happy to know that while I was gone for christmas the driver of the van that takes villegers to the city put in wooden benches in the van, so no more potato sacks for me! LIFE IS GOOD !!