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).