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!
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
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 :)