Monday, May 31, 2010
Observations: Week One in PC "Boot Camp"
The location of my gazda's (host family's) apartment is very convenient for finding my way around the city and for walking to school. My morning walk is a pleasant mile or so down a tree-lined boulevard (oaks, maples, cottonwoods, horse chestnuts) until it deadends into a busy street where I cross and walk for a short distance until I turn right into a busy short cut (haven't decided if it's a street or ally) past storage units and behind bloc apartment buildings and emerge on the street our school is on. From there it's only a block to the entrance of the campus where a security guard bids me "Buna dimineata" (good morning), recognizing at once that I'm one of "that group." Everyone in the city knows about our program and our 3-month presence here. The newspaper published an article about our arrival and apparently to be one of the gazdas is considered an honor. Shop keepers and people on the street are very helpful. I haven't felt unsafe one moment and even when I was "slightly" lost after meeting with some of the PCVs for a beer after school one day, I had no trouble communicating with a shop keeper to get directions. We get our share of bemused looks, of course. This is only the second year PC has located the training here and Americans, I take it, aren't usually part of the landscape. Challenges: The language instructors are very good, which is fortunate since they have 10 weeks to get us ready to function in our rural villages where very little English will be spoken. The lessons are fast-paced from 8:30 to 12:30 and interactive, so there’s no chance of zoning out. At about 11:30 I start feeling my synapses closing down one-by-one like lights going out in a suburban neighborhood. But I’m persevering and am finding the language very euphonic and reasonably logical. I will be proud to be able to speak it one day. Other challenges have to do with just staying healthy and “up,” keeping my bum ankle in good walking condition, working out bathroom time (which is also the laundry room) with 3 adults and two children, and getting internet access. My gazda’s computer is down right now. I’m writing this on my netbook and hope to paste it into my blog site on Monday when I can use the wi-fi in the PCV lounge on campus. I want to set up Skype, but will have little time or privacy to use it UNLESS I get a “stick” through my cell phone carrier which will enable me to have access on my netbook wherever I go for a monthly rate. My friend Martha and I just learned about it and went to the “Orange” store yesterday, but they’re out right now and will get more in next week—maybe. Time is an inexact dimension here. Last Thursday Dr. Dan and the safety and security staff gave us a 2-hour session on all the *bad stuff* that could happen to us. Essentially we’re all destined to have digestive track ailments at some point and 90% will have pin worms once we’re in our villages. This was presented in a power point presentation by our humorous (Romanian) Dr. Dan, who thought it would be more impressive to show pictures of huge worms (instead of the tiny white ones) because—he said later—we’d pay better attention. You can imagine the gasps. He’s a character who peppers his commentary with “S**t happens” and “the dirty little bast**ds” in his thick Romanian accent. In the same session we had to brainstorm ways to avoid pickpockets and packs of wild dogs—apparently the two greatest security threats in Romania, which is by all counts one of PC’s safest destinations. So far only one of us has been bitten. I see the wild dogs all the time, but they just seem more pitiful than dangerous. Don’t worry, I don’t attempt to pet them. They are the descendents of the pets that families were forced to leave during the communist era when everyone was herded into the bloc apartment buildings. Sad, really. Sometimes amidst the day-to-day (hour-to-hour!) challenges, something beautiful happens: an old man in a supermarket parking lot feeds stray dogs bread and meat scraps, several days last week bits of delicate white fluff from the cottonwood trees swirled all around the campus, drifting into classrooms, sticking in our hair, making lunchtime outside seem like a picnic in a snow globe. And lovely gestures—Felicia’s father kissing my hand, and yesterday Martha’s gazda gentleman sitting us down at his garden table, spreading out a big map of Romania and giving us a “geography lesson” while his wife served us raspberry ice cream. It’s so important to savor what my old roommate used to call “crystal moments.” You were right, Sue Ann. May you rest in peace.