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 :)