Underwear? Check! Passport? Check! Visa? Check! Horlinka? Double Check…at least I am hopeful 10 liters of this stuff will last until next time I make it back to the village for a visit! As far away as this day appeared sometimes over the last two years, it has arrived here on my doorstep. This afternoon I will be making the big move to Bucharest after two years in Poienile Izei. History has a funny way of repeating itself. Just over two years ago, I was sitting at my parent’s computer in Grand Blanc, Michigan unable to sleep writing a blog entry trying to prepare myself for the trans-Atlantic journey to Romania as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Well, here I am again, granted in a bit of a different environment, exhausted after a sleepless night of emotions, trying to prepare myself for yet another 14 hour journey, although this 14 hour journey will not take me across oceans but rather across the beautiful and varied landscape that is Romania! My ridiculously large back pack is stuffed full, my normal size pack back is bulging at the seams and an extra duffle bag is on the verge of a “Heavy Load” sticker...as long as bunica (the grandmother of my host family) does not try to add any more sheep’s cheese, potatoes or garlic to my all ready overflowing collection of our home grown garden I should be fine.
Recently, I would hear myself explain to a neighbor, “Da, o se plec in o saptamana, dar o se fi in Bucurest pentru mai un ani deci pot se vin in apoi pentru visita” and I would think, well at least I still have a week before I leave. Today all of that changed when I climbed on the bus this morning leaving the village for the last time as a volunteer. It has been a whirlwind of a last couple of weeks. First of all, trying to finish up a school year as a teacher is a challenge and from what I can tell that is the case whether you are a teacher in Romania or the United States. I never want to say never, but I have to say I don’t see myself being a middle school teacher, or any kind of teacher for that matter, in the next couple/fifty years! I have total respect and admiration for teachers because now I have been there and I know how challenging and rewarding teaching youth can be. I interviewed each one of my students in a face-to-face English interview. It was very interesting to see the progress many of my students that was in my classes during the last two years with me. It was a nice way to end the year, a very easy "A" for the students, and it allowed me to personally say good-bye to all the little rug rats, even if it was in Romanian! Next on the “Getting ready to move to Bucharest” To Do list was the impossible task of making a point to thank and explain my appreciation to all the great friends I have made in the village over the last two years.
When I arrived in Poienile Izei for the first time I had the same oversized and over stuffed packs, a guitar, an open mind and a smile on my face. The sense of adventure mixed with my eagerness for a new challenge was at the maxim and I knew I had landed in quite a unique place. Despite my confidence and naivety, I was also scared shitless! I was a long way from Sighet, the closest city to the village, let alone from anything that resembled my life back in the States before I left for Romania and I was all alone. Luckily, that feeling of being all alone quickly vanished after met my host family. My first impression of them as great people was way off...they are not great people but rather they are AMAZING people! They welcomed me, a complete stranger from another country into their home and family as if I was a long lost son right from the beginning. It is impossible to explain all the support each one of them have given me since I arrived in the village but as with anything you truly love, you never forget it and no matter how far apart we may be in the years to come Famila Ilies will always have a special spot in my heart. With each and every day, I found and developed my niche as a member of the community and as each and everyday pasted I become more and more integrated and accepted. It would be ridiculous to say my adaptation into the village ways and customs was easy. There were ups and downs, good days and bad days, smiles and tears. Looking back, I think I learned more from the downs, the bad days and the tears than anything else. As all of those challenging moments were always followed by a moment of realization and clarity that kept me motivated, persistent and passionate about what I was doing in the village. But again I had such a great group of friends during my entire time in the village who supported me even if they could not 100% understand what I was going through. Within the hierarchy of the village, I was caught in between two worlds...my service as a teacher at the school entered me into the "professional" atmosphere of the village while living with my host family I was exposed to the self proclaimed "simple" folk. I have to be honest I felt much more at ease and more on par with the "simple" folk in generally speaking. Unfortunately a lot of the “simple” folk get taken for granted and left in the shadows of the younger generation interest in computers and TV and the politics of the village big wigs. As I was saying “good bye” to all my friends and neighbors yesterday, a lot of the credit for people in the village that helped me to adapt into the culture and everyday life of the village was immediately given to the big dogs in the village…Mayor, School director, Priest etc. Don’t get me wrong there were indeed times when these people did assist me, however it were the conversations on the park bench with the 60 and over club on Sunday afternoons, it were the hand blistering trips to the fields and forests with my host family and it were the meals of corn meal, pig fat and horlinka (peasant food) that helped refine my language skills, build real friendships and gave me a sense of belonging in the village. These people, the “simple” folk are the heart & soul of the village and they deserve much more credit they are given and what they will accept. Interestingly enough these same “simple” folk are the ones who, when I gave them a kiss on both sides the cheek and hug good bye and said “thank you so much for all you have done for me,” humbly accepted their compliment and immediately gave the credit to someone else much less deserving.
Thank you Poienile Izei for one hell of a ride, I will see you all soon...watch out Bucharest here I come!