In Romania, it is now:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Friend for Dinner

They said it would happen and they tried to prepare us. Our good Dr. Dan even put up a chart during a Peace Corps training session showing the inevitable ups and downs our emotions and general psychological state would take during our two years at site. I hit one of those lows this morning. After the hurry-scurry planning and preparation for the big community Halloween Carnival last night, I woke up from fitful sleep with a headache, feeling suddenly overwhelmed, tired, lonely and altogether incapable of making my life here WORK. On the immediate horizon sit a deadline for a huge report for Peace Corps (Monday), language lessons I desperately need and have had to miss the last 2 weeks, lesson plans for my 16 classes and 2 sets of diagnostic tests to grade. Added to that is an apartment full of dust bunnies and a pile of dirty clothes, rubber gloves that leak, a computer that is agonizingly slow at downloading/uploading anything and which has recently inexplicably lost a tool bar which I can't recover, and a large, sensitive swelling on my left arm where I was given a flu shot Wednesday. Sigh. A friend recently commented that to do what we must do in Peace Corps, you have to be your own best friend. I've thought alot about this statement and find it's true. So today after I swept, washed and hung 3 loads of clothes, did my floor exercises (yes, with my purple "peanut" inflated ball), and multi-tasked downloading pictures from the Halloween *do* while I worked on language translations, I invited myself to a nice dinner. I gently fried floured talapia (frozen from Vietnam albeit)in olive oil and lemon pepper, baked a potato, made a fresh spinach and tomato salad, put on the iPod playlist (thanks, sons) "Mellow Songs #3," lit a candle, poured a glass of good Transylvania vin alb, and sat down to dinner with myself. Many times I just collapse with my plate in front of the TV and watch whatever I can find that isn't sports or animals (not that I have anything against animals, of course--just want people), but this was nice and I was actually pretty good company, sorting through my thoughts, finding things to be glad about. Anyway, it's 8:30 now and I'm feeling like I can "do this thing" once again. Tomorrow I'll tackle the report which has 56 pages of instructions but is supposed to take no more than 5 hours to complete. And my PCV friend Connie a few bus rides away wants to make plans for something fun next weekend when we both come up for air. Yay!**** On a much lighter note, as promised, here are pictures with commentary from last night's carnival. My village has never had anything like this apparently--not even a harvest festival. I was amazed at how eagerly and enthusiastically they embraced the whole idea. We had a smashing turnout and everyone truly did seem to have fun. OK--must go wash up the dishes with my rubber gloves that I carefully dried in the sun and patched with the duct tape I brought from home. Ah--Yankee ingenuity!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Diane's Visit

Seeing Romania afresh through my good friend Diane's eyes is such a pleasure! She arrived on the 15th and will return to Georgia on Monday (25th), and we've managed to cram in a lot of experiences and fun in these 10 days. Oradea, Baile Felix (nearby thermal baths), a movie, some shopping, a day at my school, a six-hour train ride through the beautiful countryside between Oradea and Sighisoara, and now we're ending a 3-day stay in this awesome (in the truest sense of the word) medieval town. We've had gorgeous fall weather--quite crisp, but sunny--and we've had beautiful walks, sightseeing, great shopping, and some indulgent Romanian/German cuisine. Added to that are several jolly encounters with other English-speaking tourists from Finland, Washington DC, and two families of Baptist missionaries from Arkansas and Alabama who have lived here in Romania for 10 years. We're also continually besieged by groups of school children who hear our English and want to talk to the Americans. All Romanian students study English and to speak to native speakers seems to be an opportunity they can't pass up. They are bright, inquisitive and utterly *darling* as we both have come to exclaim after such a meeting. Because I can speak some Romanian, they become embarrassed when they think I've understood all their chatter. (Don't worry, kiddos!) Diane is such fun through our travels because she never meets a stranger and the Romanians love her genuine interest in the culture and history here. And we've had funny things happen. I bought a collapsible umbrella and the 2nd time I used it in downtown Oradea as we're making our way to the train station, I pushed the button to open it and it opened and flew from the shaft like a flying saucer! Di had to take a picture of it forlorn on the sidewalk where we had to leave it. Then because of a little tumble from the top of my suitcase, the bottle containing the last of my landlord's gift of Palinka (strong plum brandy) cracked just enough to flavor the inside of our plastic snack bag and to let us know that we needed to finish it off on the train quickly before it all drained away. We tried to be subtle as we passed the bottle back and forth--nobly frugal in saving a waste of perfectly good spirits. The rainy train ride was quite cheery after that! These are only a few of our laughs. So I'll miss her after the Monday departure for sure, but will be so busy getting ready for the big community Halloween Carnival, which this American is *creating* and overseeing, that I won't have time to be gloomy. More about this invasion of Yankee kitsch and commercialism in the next entry.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Baths, Bells, and Benevolence

The Hungarian Cave Thermal Baths last weekend were as interesting and decadent as they sound. You may have seen my Facebook pictures, but if not, you can take a look here. It was the nicest kind of escape from the bone-chilling damp cold of the previous weeks and I'm really grateful to the 4th year Peace Corps Vol (Chris Fontenasi)who organized it. My brief encounter with a Hungarian massage therapist was noteworthy, too, as I've never had anyone get up on the table with me, straddle my back and knead away! I have to say it was all very clinical and sterile--a medical procedure, even though it was advertised as Aromatic Massage and the spa is housed in the luxury of the baths (a la Roman). I suppose I should be glad he didn't bring out the small tamed bear to walk on my back--a Romanian custom I may have to skip. **** Back in my village on Monday, I happened upon a funeral when I went to the Post Office. The procession was organizing in front of the Orthodox church on the main road. Two priests in full regalia and two alter boys carrying the staffs-with-crosses (must learn the name for those) led the way. The mourners, all in black and two-by-two, solemnly followed a flower-laden, casket-bearing pick-up truck down the main (busy) road all the way to the cemetery--a good 5 or 6 blocks. All the churches in the village (Orthodox, Catholic and two Protestant) tolled bells a long, long time. I liked this interfaith salute. Traffic was slowed, clerks came out of their shops and crossed themselves, and there was a general "paying respect" to the dead that seemed genuine. **** My school participates in a project "The Heart of a Child" which helps children with profound physical/medical needs who could not otherwise receive help. Our students generously brought in bushels of used toys and several students and the media specialist contributed artwork to a sale this week, first at our school and then at the Children's Town Hall in Oradea on the weekend. I was very impressed with this enormous park in the heart of the city with colorful, sturdy, well-designed playscapes outside and in, a well-equipped hall with offices and meeting rooms, and permanent stalls outside (more like little log cabins with drop-door/counters in front) where vendors on occasions such as this fund drive could set up their wares. It was a beautiful fall day and a good turn out of families and helpful citizens and me without my camera! When I told my counterpart that I didn't think I had ever encountered a city in the US with this concept of a town hall for children, she was shocked. I am constantly reminded of two things: 1) my country does so many things right and I'll be even more appreciative when I return of those things I took for granted, and 2)other countries can offer us examples of what they do right as well, and we need to be open-mined enough to allow ideas to flow both ways. **** To end on a warm note: I have HEAT! The landlord has cranked up the wood-burning soba/furnace and the radiators are doing some impressive radiating to the point where I have to keep taking layers off the bed--and myself. I've retired the hot-water bottle for now. Three of my PC Westside colleagues spent the night here last night, and thankfully we were all warm with minimal blankets. If they had come a few days earlier, I would have had to bring in the landlord's hound dogs to keep them warm. Sweet timing. Peace to you, friends.