In Romania, it is now:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Zen and the See Saw

A week of ups and downs so typical of my life here. First my nasty cold and then enough recovery for a wonderful picnic at a lake with a Romanian family and two Peace Corps friends on Saturday (a truly delicious cookout) and a good visit with PC friend Connie as she spent the night here in the Red House. A productive session with my language tutor on Monday followed by a successful 6-class day on Tuesday (complete with spontaneous hugs and "I love English" from two of the classes!) and then an intestinal upset late Tuesday that kept me home in bed Wednesday. Some mean bug, for sure, but staying in bed with my hot water bottle through most of a rainy, cold day did me a world of good. A fine day today back with the students and another 6-class day interrupted in the middle by my principal carrying in an enormous bouquet (more like a bush!) of purple astors. When I sputtered my thanks and asked where they came from, he replied melodramatically, "From my heart!" Would this ever happen in America??? Then later my landlady brought me fresh vegetables from the garden and several jars of jam, peaches, peppers canned by her mother. While they still haven't turned on the heating system, I have a new tank of propane to cook with and a new remote control (which had been missing since I moved in) for the antique TV. And I do have my down robe. Things balance out. Poison darts and antidotes. Stomach bugs and big bouquets. Life is interesting.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Of Peace, Respect and Kisses

Many years ago when Goldie Hawn was asked by a talk show host why she had her first baby at 40, she blinked her famous saucer eyes and said, "Guess I forgot." I loved her total disregard for the tyranny of numbers. Without conscious effort, I "forget" my age most of the time--or, more accurately, ignore it. I don't want special concessions or help when it comes to physical demands. ("Oh, thanks but I can carry that box up to my attic apartment just fine.") My genetic legacy is hearty and I try to maximize that gift with exercise and healthful eating. But I have to say that my Romanian experience has made me ponder this whole aging thing a bit more. In trying to learn the language I'm surprised at how the words and formations I think I know slip from my brain like eggs from a teflon frying pan. It takes many mnemonic devices to make anything stick. And physically, this past week gave me a good kick in the knickers. Sunday I baked to have something to take to the teachers' lounge on Monday (a sort of thanks, I guess, for going along with my Peace Day hoopla). Monday, after a quick trip by car made possible by the principal to the post office in the city to get my packages from home, I spent the day preparing for the Peace Day observance/celebration. The kids and I made 250 white poppies (symbol of peace started in NZ) from cupcake liners, which they had never seen before and which were not easy to find, and blue ribbon which I had split vertically and cut into 250 strips the night before. The students and teachers were very cooperative and congenial and seemed to honor the notion of courting peace. (see photos) Tuesday I made presentations in the media center all day and spent the evening preparing for Wednesday's 4 classes. Wednesday, after the classes and some minimal grocery shopping, I prepared for the 6 classes on Thursday. My school is over a mile from my apartment and within the school are the standard halls and stairs and the typical on-your-feet-all-day necessity of engaging the students. Last night I was exhausted and today I have a nasty cold. So on my day "off" I washed and hung out 3 loads of clothes and made a huge pot of chicken, vegetable, rice soup with veggies I picked from the landlord's garden. I'm thinking tonight I should tackle some Romanian lessons, but I'm indulging in this little whiny report instead. In all honesty, I'm fine and am managing quite well, but I'm not as facile at forgetting my age just now, I can tell you. There's a lovely custom here which has a long history. If a gentleman wants to show great respect for a woman (not necessarily, but usually an older woman), he says, "Sarut mana." Literally--Kiss your hand. At times he actually does. Some of my age-mate colleagues don't like this at all, but I accept it readily and think, "You bet your sweet palinka, this hand could use a kiss."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Westsiders, Brooms, and Bags of Posies

So much to tell!! First--the gathering of the Westsiders in Ineu. One of the volunteers in Group 26 and his director (principal) took it upon themselves to invite all the volunteers serving in northwest Romania--10 of us scattered about--to a weekend of getting acquainted--26ers, 27s and a few 25s--before we get too busy with our teaching assignments. Frankly, I wasn't sure I wanted to go. Friday was chilly and rainy, and getting to Ineu involved walking in the rain about 400yds to a non-covered bus stop, riding the bus (rolling duffel, umbrella and I dripping on everyone) into Oradea, taking a taxi to the train station where I met another volunteer, riding the train into Arad where we spent the night with a third volunteer, and then taking an early train the next morning to Ineu. But I have to say, it was worth it and just what I needed to put me into a great frame of mind to start the school year.*** Justin's school has a guest house for visiting parents when the school used to board students. It was a perfect set-up, and kind staff members provided breakfasts and lunches for us. While it was fun seeing 27s again (my group who spent the summer in training) and getting to know the others, the "field trips" we took were splendidly interesting and fun. The person largely responsible for this was the director or principal of the school. Not only does he successfully manage a school that shines with careful maintenance, innovative programs, bright and cheerful facilities, and an obviously dedicated staff and faculty, but he also serves as "voluntary executive administrator" of a self-sustaining, totally-organic farm where the workers are graduates of his school's vocational program, plying their skills in all seasons to tend crops, hot houses, animals, and to build furniture, preserve food, and make brooms! We were each given a dandy little whisk broom (because traveling with a long one would be just too Harry-Potterish). When the dear man has spare moments, he retires with his wife and 4-yr-old daughter to his cabana (weekend retreat) where he tends various fruit trees and...grapes! Here he, his wife and some staff members hosted a gratar (cookout) for us, complete with his own tuica (a kind of plum brandy) and wine from his grapes. We also were free to take walks around the hilly and beautiful property, and I was actually able to hug one of those Romanian haystacks I love. (see Facebook profile ;-)) The trip home was streamlined with bus rides (2) instead of trains and I got back to the red house while the sun was still shining on Sunday. ***Now I must tell about today's most unique school opening. Well, unique for me, but as my colleagues report in from villages all over Romania, I see that it is the norm here. So here is my journalist eye-report: It's 8:15, foggy, and students and parents are already gathering in the school yard (courtyard) even though the assembly will not start for another 45 minutes. Children--little and big--are carrying bouquets of flowers, some from the shop, others (most dear) handgathered from gardens. At 8:45 the teachers who have been making preparations inside file out along with the principal, the mayor and 3 fully-robed orthodox priests to join at the top of the circle...the DJ!--right there with his sound board and speakers, looking very serious and prepared, playing some happy folk music. The children are arranged into classes amazingly quick, the music stops, and the principal says a few words of introduction. Cue the DJ who plays a loud and moving rendition of the Romanian national anthem that includes a male chorus. Following that the priests sing/chant a longish blessing and prayer, complete with swinging amulet (fumes AND little bells) passing around the circle. Introductions of teachers next and the American one gets applause. ;-) But then--my favorite part: the second graders form a long tunnel--hands joined up high for a flower-clad "roof," and the new first-graders march through, two by two, and process around the circle of classes. There is long and genuine applause from all the classes and such a sweet welcome for these little ones. The happy music (I'm sure someone will start dancing) starts up again as the courtyard empties. The anticlimax is the gathering inside, distribution of textbooks, and faculty meeting following. My big problem of the day was how to carry home all the flowers given to me by students and even a few teachers--all with the lovely double kisses. I used my handy plastic shopping bag I always carry and when it overflowed, Veronica gave me hers. Once again I was a spectacle walking home through the village with my brimming bags of roses, marigolds, goldenrod, and zinnias, but I didn't mind a bit.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Goodbye's, Hello's, and Juggling Acts

Lee left this morning and the apartment seems cold and quiet. We had a fine 3-week visit and he's planning to return in December. Our communication, of course, is very good with Skype and email, but they do little to keep my toes warm. ;-) How fortunate I am to have a husband who understands and supports my unconventional aspirations!******School bells are ringing all over Romania--but not for students, for the teachers. Here faculties ease gently back into the school year by meeting in non-rushed, coffee-enriched gatherings, a few hours a day for two weeks before the students arrive. It's a time to see just who is or isn't returning, catch up on pleasantries of inquiries about vacations and families, and to take care of the business of creating a schedule--for teachers first, and then for students. My counterpart had a chunk of the program yesterday, introducing me through a power point presentation on the Peace Corps and then helping me communicate to the faculty (after my few words of Romanian) in a Q&A session. They gave me a heart-warming welcome and had some interesting questions--mainly about what Americans know and think about Romanians. I was honest--Americans don't know much about Romania. But as my counterpart pointed out, that's one of my 3 PC directives here, and I take it seriously--hence my blog and posting of pictures and the email pen pals Karen Solheim and I will facilitate with our American--Romanian students! Overall, I'm feeling a great deal of trust and high expectations for my impact here, which, of course, scares the dickens out of me!***** As to the pace, I expect things will rev up a bit next week, but for now, I'm feeling like I used to as a kid wading into cold water. It's just fine to let the water inch up as I adjust and readjust to the situation. It's been 7 years since I've been on a faculty and this approach is mai bun with me. I was sent home today after I had dressed and walked my mile or so in chilly mist because the teachers were all taking a psychological test and they didn't have the English version yet. So I went to one of the local stores and bought a broom and cleaning supplies to at least feel industrious. Now let me tell you, it's not easy to juggle a broom, umbrella, bag of cleaning supplies, purse, notebook and extra pair of "professional" shoes. I did not look cool strolling back home through the village, but I buna-ed all I met, smiled, and acted like this was the most natural predicament in the world and that I was born to do it. And maybe that's true.