In Romania, it is now:

Friday, December 31, 2010

Well Seasoned (Part I)

I'm writing this on a train which is making slow progress through the snowy fairyland of Transylvania--fields, mountains, streams, villages--on our nine-hour trip to Brasov. We'll arrive in time to celebrate the New Year with some of my Peace Corps colleagues tonight and then Lee and I will enjoy this wonderful old city for a few days until our Monday return. I finally have a little time to write and so much to tell about the events of the past few weeks. Christmas in Romania has been a whirlwind of song and dance, food and drink (hot, spicy wine (vin fiert) and polinka (dinka-doo!) in great abundance), and the kind of warm-hearted hospitality that should characterize the season everywhere.****Lee arrived in time for the community Christmas program, a presentation of traditional and modern dance and song, poetry and holiday songs in both Romanian and English, and a contest of table settings (our documentarian's idea) by the different classes, judged by Santa Claus, himself. It was a evening everyone seemed to enjoy (see pictures.) A few days later, on the last day of school before the Christmas holidays, I had the great pleasure of presenting the teachers at my school gift bags I filled from the boxes of supplies my Unitarian Universalist Fellowship back home sent. The boxes arrived just in time and I loved making up the bags of everything from post-it notes to staplers to stickers to pens. They were surprised and in a festive mood they sang their thanks--some beautiful Romanian carols in 3-part harmony!****The next day our son Dan arrived from California. Lee and I had bought a small tree and decorated it and had lights in the landing window outside our flat, a star wreath on the door. I was disappointed the snow had melted, but he got to experience plenty starting the day after Christmas. On Christmas Eve we had the great pleasure of accepting an invitation through my friend/colleague Connie to spend the afternoon and evening in a village just south of Oradea. Our hosts (friends of Connie's) were warm-hearted Romanians who had spent some time in the US and spoke very good English. They wanted us to experience the carolers, food, traditions of their village. Lucky us! The food was a feast of all things Romanian, the homemade wine and polinka well-done, and the walk through the little town with a visit to the Orthodox Church and its priest was a highlight. (see pictures) The priest is an accomplished architect and artist and is adorning the interior of the domed sanctuary in colorful, accurately portrayed iconic paintings. He has been working on this project in faith and artistry for a few years now and is determined to complete the task. He has created a space for worship filled with joy--colorful, light, and welcoming. He also had us join him in the parsonage for a sip of polinka and/or homemade wine from his grapes. While there, carolers visited--one of three carolings of the evening. Different from the Dickensian singers with choir-like decorum (our British/American ideals), the carolers here are revelers, often wearing animal or demon masks, wearing fur capes, beating drums, and acting out cautionary tales. Someone always seems to represent good, too--a priest-like character in white who carries a replica of the church constructed of cardboard and foil. We were told the masks and capes were often passed down from one generation to the next in a family, along with the particular role. (In a restaurant in Oradea on the 23rd, we were visited by strolling carolers who sang, acted, and danced the "goat dance," something I want to learn more about.) Another group we encountered on our walk--teens led by a different priest--seemed less costumed and medieval, but were just as eager in their singing. It has become more and more clear to me that singing is a very Romanian way to give of oneself. A gift of song is always the right size, always appropriate, always from the heart. (to be continued)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Finding Christmas In Romania

Our IST (In Service Training) in Sibiu was a kind of week-long echo of our summer training: language classes, cultural sessions, and much information and urging about community projects. It was great seeing fellow PCVs I haven't seen since August though we had less time to visit than I had hoped we'd have.****I think our "settling in" time has ended now and besides our teaching, we must concentrate on other aspects of our community's needs. It's a bit daunting--figuring out the need, the process, the means. I'm lucky to have unflagging support at my school/community and forward-thinking people with lots of ideas. I know it's not so everywhere.****So the Christmas season is upon us. Pigs are being slaughtered all over Romania with family members helping butcher and prepare the meat in sausages or hams for smoking or freezing. It's a tradition that occurs sometime after Saint Nicholas Day on December 6 (which begins the season) and Christmas. I was feeling a bit left out of the gifting of St. Nick's Day when my landlady dashed down the stairs and presented me with a lovely wool felt hat as I was waiting in the foyer for the taxi to the city and then the bus to Sibiu. And Sibiu with its lovely decorated square and with the snow that has fallen in the past week, I'm starting to put some jolly in my jingle. Oradea has a coating, too, and today for the first time I had to walk my 4K in snow and slush and with flurries flurrying. I was relieved to find that my pricey Geox boots do indeed stay 100% dry inside and have fine traction. (Thanks to Joe R for the recommendation via his wife Diane.) I came home and strung up some lights in a window, put on some holiday music, and started a big pot of soup.****I have to say though that what really hit me full-force in terms of "the spirit" and what surprised me in my reaction was today's rehearsal for the community program this Friday. I lost it, quite frankly, when I heard the sweet voices of those Romanian children singing "White Christmas." I had to excuse myself to my office momentarily where the documentarian followed me, gave me a big hug, and told me to be strong. It was such a Romanian gesture. I laughed and wiped my eyes and returned for a rousing "Jingle Bells" where I made the children do the sub-text "Ha, ha, ha" after "laughing all the way." I had bought a pretty red wooden, jingle bell "rattle" in Sibiu with the idea that it would be perfect for the percussion and it was/is! The program at the community center will consist of a dance number (we have quite a talented troupe and a creative media specialist who choreographs) where worldly souls are visited by angels who set them straight, carols and songs in both English and Romanian, and Christmas poems in both languages. Apparently we'll have a visit by Santa Claus (the mayor, I think). And my husband will arrive on Thursday and be here for the program. His visit is anticipated by the village, too. Perhaps I should insist he wear a Santa hat and laugh alot. :-) Joy to the world--all over--in whatever land you're reading this. This season of love and peace has meaning for us all.