In Romania, it is now:

Monday, November 29, 2010

Over the River and Through the Woods

Extremely busy days just now--preparing for the holidays with its special Christmas program for the community and my family visitors (yay!), getting various presentations ready for a week at IST (In Service Training) which begins a week from today in Sibiu, finishing our budget report, and completing the 30 hours of language tutoring by December. I'm waiting for my tutor right now and decided I could take a few minutes to let you know that Thanksgiving was indeed well celebrated by the PC volunteers in Romania--and true to our third directive, we also shared information about this quintessentially American holiday with our students and colleagues. I made presentations, using video clips from the History channel's website, pictures, and personal anecdotes 18 different times during the week and had my students make the "hand turkeys" American children make and had them present them in English with an emphasis on the thankful part. I must say I have never felt more keenly the significance of and true appreciation for this holiday as I've felt it this year. Those of us volunteering on the west side of Romania (too far to go to Bucharest for the American ambassador's big Thanksgiving Dinner) had our own gathering in a lodge at a national park near Arad. We did indeed go "over the river and through the woods" to make this celebration happen. Twelve of us met on Friday and cooked and prepared toward a big dinner on Saturday for ourselves and our Romanian guests--about 40 or so. It was a collaborative effort in the planning and execution--trying to pull together the ingredients to faithfully represent a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. We did pretty well, missing only the cranberry sauce, which is something Romanians know nothing about. I found sweet potatoes finally (from India) and put those into spicy little iced cookies since I was told there wouldn't be oven space for a souffle. I was also the gravy maker and was anxious for days ahead trying to figure out how to make it without the "drippings" from the roasted turkey. (Ours was grilled in pieces over a fire.) As it turned out, the fat from beef and chicken, which I had saved in my freezer and the broth that came from two large turkey necks, which I cooked at site, formed the stock and many herbs and seasonings were added. It was a hit on the mashed potatoes, dressing, and meat, and I even had Romanians wanting the recipe (gravy isn't part of their cuisine). Recipe? I could never duplicate this particular gravy. Nor this particular Thanksgiving, for that matter. And though--like most holidays for PC volunteers--there is sadness at being away from loved ones back home, the pleasure of cross-cultural sharing is a grand compensation and will make these times memorable.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Tiny Truths and Lessons of a Lesser Nature

When I tell my friends and family about the little discoveries and coping strategies that punctuate my life here, they often say, "Oh, that's worth a blog." But, of course, they're not--taken individually--but I've decided to lump them here into a random, rambling list, just for a rainy day's entertainment. 1)The only way to arrive at school (after my 2K walk in early morning mist) with hair that isn't lank and damp is to brush, spray, and tuck it into a shower cap--the kind you get in hotels--and pull on a toboggan hat or a raincoat hood. At school, I dash into my office, whip off my head gear and shake out my hair. It works! 2)Now that I'm using the official Peace Corps double-barreled, super-duper water filter (installed by Dr. Dan during the Health and Safety Inspection), I'm glad not to be lugging bottled water home from the local magazin, but I have to say that PC-filtered water is the flattest-tasting liquid on the face of the earth! 3)Big slices of Romanian bread "toasted" in butter in my omelet pan make me glad I don't own a toaster. 4)I must always carry packets of tissue with me and if I can manage it gracefully, a small role of toilet paper. Paper products are the responsibility of the individual here. 5)I've learned to always know the name of the train stop (town) just before my station destination and *watch* for it since there are usually no announcements. 6)Besides the tissue, I always carry a tightly-folded, large shopping bag and a small umbrella. Forecasts are notoriously off and you must pay for shopping bags. 7)The weekend bus schedule to and from my village is a test of patience, unlike the predictable weekday schedule. I can imagine the drivers thinking that no one really needs to hurry anywhere, it's *weekendul!* This is when I make phone calls to other PCV's to catch up. 8)The local magazin, which can be the size of a large walk-in closet, can actually provide you with enough items in the basic food groups to keep you alive and without scurvy. 9)A 12 Lei (about $4) bottle of dry Romanian white wine can be just lovely! 10)You just can't buy any plum jam, smoked pepper-eggplant spread, or plum brandy as good as what is made at home by someone's relatives. I've tried and failed. 11) Soup made from tripe (pig's belly) is surprisingly delicious! 12)Don't give your adult class a list of 15 topics and ask which ones they want to cover. All of them, of course!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Strength of Constancy

Before you read this, note the disclaimer to the right and understand that my comments are merely the observations of one who has lived here six months, not a sociologist, historian, nor theologian, and certainly not one who speaks for my government and its programs. Since I first arrived, I have struggled to understand the complex relationship between the government of Romania and the Orthodox church. While theoretically there is separation of church and state, in practice they seem tightly woven into a fabric that defies fraying. Here's what I've found through personal observations, comments from others, and online research (mainly having to do with the education system since that's my arena). In every school I've entered here, I've noticed icons of holy figures on the walls of halls and classrooms. Religious messages and notices are on bulletin boards. The state curriculum requires that religion classes be taught--in theory, as non-denominational , but in practice many times they are taught by priests or by teachers whose own orientation is Orthodox. The state pays salaries to priests and augments construction of church buildings. Schools participate in a point-gathering competition throughout the year and one way to gain more points is to have iconic art created by students for a regional exhibit. Priests bless the schools at opening day ceremonies and holy days are observed in schools. I'm sure there are more connections I've yet to learn about, but these have caught my attention and were at first shocking to this American with liberal principles firmly ingrained. Gradually, however, I've come to a better understanding of the importance of the church as a constant in the lives of people who have endured feudal lords, barbaric invasions, vicious monarchs, dictators, communism, frequent redrawing of country borders to add or subtract large tracts of land and ethnic populations, and rampant government corruption. The church has been there from the earliest times and has survived even through the years of atheist communist rule, by means not always noble but certainly pragmatic, in order to keep church doors open and parishioners served. It is a quintessentially paternalistic institution and has come to be--for the 87% of the Romanian population who identify themselves as Orthodox--a symbol of nationalism, its beautiful churches and cathedrals aesthetic foils to the horrors of communist architecture, its solemn traditions and elaborate ceremonies points of pride. It serves an important role in Romanian life and has offered stability and order where other institutions have failed. "If I ruled the world," would I have the church less entangled with the government? You bet I would. But I can at least understand WHY things are as they are...and will be long after I'm gone.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Humming Dogs of Romania

I love teaching sound words (onomatopoeia) and thought this would be a good time to introduce them--in conjunction with a lesson in the 7th Class's text on super heroes. Inevitably, amongst the zaps, pows, and sizzles, pounce the animal sounds. This particular half-class, all boys, reveled in this noisy lesson and enjoyed my reaction to various sounds animals make in Romanian. (Though apparently some animals are very quiet here for there are no words in the language for their vocalizing!) I could sort of see how most of the words for their sounds came about. I could even accept the "mac mac" of the duck, knowing it's impossible to make an m sound with no lips! But the one that throws me and makes me laugh out loud from the time I first heard it last summer is their word for "what the dog says." Now you must understand that Romanian dogs are notoriously rapscallion. In our training city last summer there were packs of them that roamed the city streets, mainly scavenging for food and often pitifully shaggy, but at times gang-like in their street fights and occasionally attacking humans as well. Here in my village everyone seems to have a dog--big dogs--behind fences and gates. Many on my street can't get past the fact that I live here and will pass them without threat or incident at least twice a day. They still want to alarm their household that the stranger approaches. (Do Americans smell different?) Most are just loud. Only two--one of which I've only seen a snout--seem to really want me for breakfast. The snout pokes out from under a solid metal gate along the sidewalk and literally drools as he growls and bares teeth, trying his best to reach my passing ankles. Dogs, dogs, dogs--even in my civilized little village a few packs of strays are allowed to run free, their cross-breed variations quite stunning. OK, you get the picture. So what do these rascally vagabonds/vicious protectors of home and kin "say?" Ham, ham, ham! (pronounced hum, hum, hum) "Nu, nu," I say, laughing, "Dogs don't hum! They go arf, arf, or grr or bow-wow." Blank stares. "No, Mrs. Reed (or Mrs. Clela or just Teacher), hum, hum." They actually believe it! So I'm left with the notion that while beauty is in the eye of the beholder, animal noises are definitely in the ear of the beholder and I suppose to my Romanian students a barking dog is silly indeed. Why doesn't he just hum?