In Romania, it is now:

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Chalk Dust and the Kindness of Strangers

Well, after several packets of mystery powders and tablets from the American Embassy in Bucharest, my intestinal state seems to be recovering--though I still think I could give credit to Felicia's mother's tea of locust blossoms. Anyway, it was a very rough week, feeling crappy (no pun intended) and having to carry on with full days of teaching in the morning and going to language classes in the afternoon. Last night our little group (6 of us, including the youngest (23) and the oldest (79)) celebrated survival with a dinner at our new favorite restaurant--San Marco's, which has very tasty Italian food and excellent service. After all the bland food for so long, it was heavenly. The first week of practicum was with 3rd graders. It turned out to be a successful 5 days with lots of pictures and gestures and games to communicate with kids who've had very little if any exposure to English. They were sweet, bright children who took our pictures with their cell phones and wrote us "love notes" both in Romanian and broken English. The school that opened its doors to us was clean and well managed with large, bright classrooms and thriving potted plants. The classrooms had black boards and chalk with felt erasers, which were washed and "pounded" respectively. We found precisely one electrical outlet high on the wall near the light switch. It seemed reminiscent in so many ways of schools in the US in the 50's and 60's. Still...I have to say that I didn't mind using chalk again--(lots of it! We filled the board many times over during the 3 hours each morning.) There's something pleasing about the slight friction on the matte finish and the control over soft or hard lines as you write. Modern white boards are slick and lack any degree of subtlety. Ah, well--this might be extremely boring to my readers. ;-) I must tell you about my encounter with Romanian generosity. Wednesday night I dropped my netbook--just a little tumble from the stacks of books I was trying to unload onto my bed, but enough to bend my "stick" device for access to internet. Kaput--it stopped working (though not my netbook--thank goodness). So the next afternoon after school, I went to my nearby "Orange" store to buy a new one, thinking it wouldn't be much since the original had been 4 lei. Imagine my surprise at hearing 250 de lei. (about $90). While dealing with the young woman at the front counter, a gentleman costumer in the rear of the store summoned her and she went over to talk with him and returned with a surprised smile. "He would like to give you a device," she said. "He has 7 accounts with us and is about to change over 2 and won't need the devices. He owns a carwash here in town." (Oana spoke excellent English though she apologized for her grammar.) After saying I couldn't possibly accept such generosity and thanking-but-no-thanking a few times, and after Cosmin, the kind computer-wiz agent who lived in Chicago a few years and took care of my phone and stick account convinced me that their customer was a "very good man," I accepted. As Blanche DuBoise would endorse, relying on the kindness of strangers is sometimes a good thing. Next week--the 2nd week of practicum with 9th graders, an oral evaluation of our language skills on Monday afternoon (I'm petrified), and my interview for site placement on Tuesday. Prayers, positive energy, good luck wishes are all appreciated.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bedraggled but Still Here

Just a quick entry to let you know I'm still working away at the many steps to becoming a true PCV (as opposed to a trainee). Last week was rough--you haven't lived until you struggle through the genitive case in Romanian while fighting a nasty stomach "bug" that demands you eat only rice and bananas and tea for 4 days. I'm gradually getting back to normal with some added medication and bed rest this weekend. Of course, I'm making lesson plans while doing so--beginning our 2-week practicum on Monday, 3rd graders the first week and high schoolers the second. These kids are all volunteers from the city and surrounding villages. Over 870 volunteered this year (!), a big increase from last year and a good sign that our program engages kids. We also have interviews coming up in which we discuss aspects of what we want, envision in our site placement. Exactly 100 schools asked for PCVs, and these were reduced to the 44 who will have one of us assigned to their communities. I have my location "druthers" at this point, of course, but it's hard to know the best fit and the placement directors have more experience at it than I have. Well, back to the lesson planning and another banana.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Ploieste: Linden Blossoms and The Current

We've just finished up our IFV--Integrated Field Visit--on site in Ploieste, a city of 300,000 northwest of Bucharest. In many ways it was great--green and flowering spaces and parks, nice restaurants (Italian and Lebanese were our choices), interesting experiences in meeting a famous boxer at his bar and seeing a French Cabaret performance last night, really helpful information from the volunteer we visited, her counterpart, and another volunteer, and from our language instructor who traveled with us and gave us good tutoring sessions in the host volunteer's apartment and in our hotel lobby. There were just five of us here and 7 other small groups were scattered all over Romania. The down side of our stay here was the heat--temps in the 90s and virtually non-existent air conditioning. Our 3rd story hotel rooms were so hot the first night that two of us went out and bought fans, which we'll take back with us. And here I must tell you of a uniquely Romanian habit/superstition. Doors and windows in houses, schools, buses, etc. must be kept closed because the "current" will cause illness. This was not a concern when the temps were still coolish the first week or so after arriving, but increasingly the obsession about closed windows when you're on a sweltering bus or in a public building or even in your gazda's home seems absurd and a bit masochistic. So there were definitely some sauna moments these past few days and walking long distances in the heat was energy draining, but breezes blew through the city's countless Linden trees in spite of the cultural tabu, releasing the most wonderful fragrance from the blossoms, and we have fans to take back to our training site tomorrow on the Maxi-taxi. Another irony--sweating as I trudge along a mile or so to the station with my luggage and a fan wrapped in a garbage bag. Not as good, however, as needing someplace to pass the time between meetings yesterday and deciding to do so in the Clock Museum.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Week Three: Random Observations

1) Life is just a bowl, basket, bag, hat of cherries. It's cherry season in Romania! You've never seen so many cherries--everywhere: market place (farmers' market) and every little sidewalk shop. The teens at the high school where PC holds classes carry them around and generously offer them to us. I, however, have my own stash since Andrei and Stefon picked at their grandfathers' farm in the country last weekend. Love them in my lunch bag--along with country cheese and bread. I've been thinking all week of Alice Friman's wonderful poem "Cherries" about Catherine Hyde, Duchess of Queensberry who died of a "surfeit of cherries" and wondering just how many it takes! 2) The "wild dogs of Romania" are mostly sweet and docile, searching us out at break and lunch for scraps. They actually look pretty well fed and I've been told they're a significant part of Romania's waste management. They also provide demonstrations in acrobatic mating, questionable entertainment at lunch. 3) One can make excellent coffee with just a pan of water, a gas stove, and coffee. 4) My young colleagues give me hope in our country's future. 5) People laugh in the same language. 6) In addition to words having to do with technology, Romanians have adopted "weekend." ;-) 7) The second fastest train in Romania is the sageata albastra--the "blue arrow." 8) If you don't have a "name day" because you don't share a name with a saint, you get March 9, a day of great celebration nation-wide, complete with special round pastries like doughnut holes. Sort of a very merry unbirthday. I can't wait. 9) This weekend we visit a PC site where a volunteer will host us overnight. My UU friends will be interested to know that my hostess will be a fellow UU!! Ive met her and she's terrific. More later on our site visit.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Weapon of Mass Destruction

That would be eu, mea, yours truly. It all started a few days ago when the computer at my gazda's started acting up--freezing and then not connecting back to the internet--while I was using it. Mihai says it must be the change over to a different server that's causing the problem. Hm-m-m. Then yesterday I cracked a glass while washing dishes. And tonight (drum roll) while home alone since Mihai and the boys went to a teacher conference and Felicia had to work late grading exams at her school, I managed to a) tear a cabinet door off its upper hinge and b) break the uni-handle-lever-thingie off its mounting WHILE the water was running. I braced the cabinet door with a tall container to keep it from damaging the bottom hinge and--after calling the PC staff and Felicia--figured out on my own where the water valve was located and turned the water off. The PC gazda coordinator arrived breathless right afterward, expecting to see the furniture floating, I'm sure, and was relieved to see there was no horrific damage for which the US Government would have to pay. Mihai, God love him, was unperturbed when I fessed up to the problems upon his arrival home. He snapped the cabinet hinge back into place--still don't know how he did it--saying that it was his fault for not fixing what he knew was a problem, and then assured me that the faucet handle was just old and worn out (which it obviously was) and went right out to buy another--where at this hour, I can't imagine. The bloc apartment buildings, built before the revolution, are apparently wearing out in general and just not a match for my mighty capitalist muscles. But I'm sure Andrei and Stefan have enjoyed the extra outing to the night-time faucet shop and tomorrow the PC staff will have something to laugh about at coffee break. I live to serve.