Monday, July 30, 2007

At Site

Well, here I am in Lugoj. Swear-in was on last Friday. So, training is now over and I'm officially a Peace Corps volunteer. I'm just settling in at this point (I arrived last night). I'm actually leaving again on Thursday for a camp in the Mountains.

More to come...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Hike to the Cross!

The weekend before last a few friends and I hiked up to the summit of Cairaman in Busteni, a town in South Eastern Transylvania. The first time I went to Busteni I had planned to hike, but it rained so hard that we never ended up hiking. This time, however, the weather was perfect and the hike turned out to be a complete success.

Somewhere about 7,000 feet above sea level, at the top of the mountain, is a giant WWI memorial cross. The cross was our goal for the day. We could have taken a cable car up to it (for the hefty price of 21 lei). We instead decided to save our money and give our legs a workout.

It was a spectacular hike. The weather, as I mentioned, was great. The views were also amazing. It took us about 3.5 hours to get up to the top, not including our hour-long lunch (which we had in a mountain-top meadow). It was a lot of elevation to gain in such a short period of time, so as you might imagine, the trail was very steep. My legs could attest to that fact after the day was done. There were some points where they had chains and cables to help hikers scramble up the rock faces.

When we got to the top, we sat at the base of the cross for a while and rested. We then hiked along a plateau to the famous Bucegi Sphinx, or Sfinxul Bucegilui (Bucegi, pronounced "Boo-chedge," is the name of the mountain range in the area). The Sphinx is essentially a large rock outcropping whose shape resembles a face after having been erroded by wind and water.

At this point we were close to the cable-car house, and one of our party decided she would take the it back down, since she had recently sprained her ankle and it was bothering her. We all decided to go with her. That is, until we opened the door to the cable car cabana and discovered hundreds of other people stacked in line. Some of us decided to wait it out. The rest of us, gluttons for punishment, decided to make the trek back down the mountain. It was hard enough coming up, and being so steep, I wasn't exactly looking forward to making the descent. But we B-lined it down in about 2 hours. While on the trail, we waved at every cable car that passed above us, thinking perhaps our friends were inside.

Just as we got to the base of the mountain we saw a cable car pull into the station there. We thought it would be funny if our friends were in that particualr car, but we knew the chances of this were slim. We were sure they had arrived at the base well in advance of us and were probably on a train home by that point.

But, much to our surprise, they emerged from the building just as we passed by. The timing couldn't have been more perfect. In the two hours it took us to schlep down the mountain, they had been waiting in line. I was simply amazed that we all made it down at the same time.

Here are some pictures, courtesy of my friend Dan:

The town of Busteni, as seen from the top of the mountain

The Cross

The Sphinx

Me on top of the Sphinx


The cable car

Monday, July 16, 2007

Remedies for Wind

So, a few weeks ago I came home late after being out with friends. It was about midnight or so. I walked through the front door, quietly as to not wake up anyone. However, I discovered Vili sitting in the kitchen, wide awake. He told me his tooth hurt. Apparently he had been sitting in the living room with the window and door open, which caused a cross-current in the room. The "curent," as it's called in Romanian, is the bane of man's existence. It's often the source of many bodily ailments, from simple colds to mildly more exotic things. Vili explained that the curent had entered his right ear and had settled in one of his teeth, causing him severe pain. I gave him my condolences, and being quite tired I headed off to the bathroom to wash up before bed.

My normal nighttime routine usually involves washing my face and brushing my teeth. All quite normal I venture to guess. In the process of completing these tasks I tend to lean on the sink. Such a posture worked for me every other night, but not this particular night. This time the sink ripped off the wall. All the items that were placed on the sink (cups, toothbrushes, soap, etc) went flying. Quite a nice surprise at 12:30 in the morning! Luckily I caught the sink before it hit the ground. Unfortunately, however, the drain ripped out of the wall as well, and water was leaking everywhere. Not sure exactly what to do with it, I put the sink in the tub. You can imagine all this made quite a bit of noise.

I figured this was a fairly serious issue, and something my gazda should know about right away, so I went back into the kitchen. It was there I found Vili and Florina in a heated argument. Vili was sitting at the kitchen table, Florina was standing over him with a pair of tweezers and a flashlight. When she saw me enter the room Florina motioned for me to come quickly. She gave me the flashlight and instructed me to shine it into Vili's ear, while spreading it open a bit so she could get the tweezers inside. I noticed a big white thing in his ear. Needless to say, I thought this was quite strange, but I was so overwhelmed with the oddity of the situation that I couldn't even manage to ask any questions. Florina spent several minutes poking and prodding at this white thing, trying to extract it from Vili's ear. I thought perhaps it was a huge piece of earwax, but that didn't seem right. It was far too white. I thought, 'poor Vili, first heart problems, then a tooth ache, and now this strange ear affliction. He doesn't even know his sink is broken yet.'

The tweezers weren't quite working, so Florina decided to stab the thing with a toothpick. I noticed by the expression on his face that this caused Vili a lot of pain. It was at this point that I contemplated that the white thing might be Vili's eardrum. I had never seen an eardrum, but who knew. You can imagine my horror!

Eventually Florina succeeded in getting the thing out. She held it up in front of me, with a look of victory and relief on her face. I looked at it, still not sure if it was a chunk of earwax, perhaps the most enormous and whitest chunk I had ever seen. Then the smell hit me. It was garlic, a clove of garlic! I still had no idea what was going on. Florina and Vili simply laughed at me, apparently amused by my look of disgust and utter confusion.

It was then that they explained to me that garlic is used as a remedy for curent. Its funny how cultural differences can catch you off guard. Or at least its funny now, looking back on it. One thing's for sure, this whole experience taught me to avoid "herbal" Eustachian remedies.

So Vile's ear issue was resolved, but I still had a problem in the bathroom. As it turned out, they were very understanding about the sink (apparently it wasn't the first time it'd happened). It was definitely a late night for all of us. But certainly an interesting one.

P.S. the sink has been fixed, and Vile's tooth seems better. They've also been much more fastidious in keeping the windows shut. Of course, this doesn't make the hot weather any easier to bear. But I guess sometimes you've just got to sweat your butt off in the name of cultural integration.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Site Announcement!

Yesterday was the big day! I found out where I'll be living for the next two years!

And my site is.....(drum roll pleeeeease)

Lugoj!!! It's a small city of about 50,000 in the west of Romania, just outside Transylvania, in the region known as the Banat. Its an old Hapsburg town, with lots of Bavarian architecture. I'll be teaching in a highschool that has a significant German-speaking population. I know very few details at this point. But, be assured that more details are to follow (I'll visit the city next week)...

The Catch-up

So I feel like I need to give a synopsis of what I've been up to these past weeks. Its been a busy few weeks. Language classes are plugging along. We had a mid-training oral evaluation two weeks ago and I did pretty well. Before that we had two weeks of practicum teaching, in which my fellow trainees and I spent one week teaching middle school classes, and then another week teaching at the highschool level. Everything went pretty well, but I discovered that I like highschool better than middle school. I like to be able to engage the students on an intellectual level, which is possible with more advanced speakers. With the highschoolers I did a pretty successful lesson in which we analyzed the song "Hotel California."

(a portion of our 9th-10th grade class)

Vile's health seems to be deteriorating quickly. He spent two weeks in Bucharest for some tests. He has a number of problems, but his most serious is something related to his heart. It's hard to get concrete details from him beacuse, fisrtly, he doesn't like to talk about it, and, secondly, there's a bit of a language barrier between us. As far as I understand, he'll be going in for bypass surgery on July 11th. He has good days and bad days (more bad days than good, especially in this heat. He spends most of is time in bed). Surgery in this country is supposed to be free, but it rarely is. As my tata put it, if you want "good surgery," you have to pay the doctor. Vile and Florina have been concerned about the financial strains that surgery might cause them. They've appealed to several charity societies, but have come up empty-handed each time. So, I decided to start a collection among my Peace Corps colleagues. I realize we're all pretty strapped for cash, but I figure some money, no matter how little, is better than none at all. In the very least it'll be a nice gesture and a sign of our emotional support.

A few weekends ago Ploiesti had a festival known as Zilele Orasului Ploiesti (which basically translates to "The Days of the Ploiesti City," or more simply, "Ploiesti Days." Its basically a celebration of the begining of summer. They had bands playing in the town center (mainly traditional Romanian folk bands), and they set up a beer garden in the park nearby. There was also a rock concert in a park on the outskirts of town. The concert is known as Moto-Rock, beacuse everyone comes with their motorcycles and camps out for two nights. I stayed for one night and saw some of Romania's premier rock bands. It was good to know that rock does exist in Romania. The techno-pop played on every radio station made me doubt I'd ever hear rock again. But, Moto-rock gave me hope. Zilele Orasului Ploiesti lasted all weekend, until the finale on Sunday night at midnight, at which time they had a massive fireworks spectacle. It was great, especially considering the fireworks (pocnitoare) were shooting right over my bloc while I was trying to get a good night's sleep for my first day of practicum (the following day).

(The terasa/beer garden they set up in the center)

(Daria, the daughter of a close friend of my Gazda, taken during the festivities of Ploiesti Days)

The next weekend I went with a group to a town north-west of Ploiesti, known as Busteni. We planned to hike to a waterfall, but it started raining , or rather 'monsooning.' So, needless to say, we didn't get to do much hiking. We did, however, get to know some of the local drinking establishments.

(the Busteni station)

The following weekend I went with a group of about 20 trainees to a small village known as Oaurja (near the city of Pitesti, which is west of Ploiesti). We worked on a habitat for Humanity project. I helped put a tin roof on a woodshed. That took most of the day on Saturday. After we finished they told us we were the best Peace Corps group they had ever worked with. Sunday I spent the day in Bucharest with a few friends. We wandered around and got lunch at a shaorma stand (shoarma is my new favorite street food, its like an eastern-european/lebanese taco, and it has EVERYTHING on it, including french fries). After lunch, we stopped by the house of one of the language teachers who lives in Bucharest.

(I got a phone call from my parents while I was working on the roof)

(group shot at the Habitat site)

Last Saturday I went to a town called Slanic, which has an old salt mine and a salt lake. We toured the salt mine (which was surpringly huge) and went swimming in the salt lake. There was also a mud pond next to the lake, so we all took the opportunity to slather ourselves and rinse off in the lake. There's so much salt in that lake that you float without doing anything (sort of like the Dead Sea). In fact, as soon as you emerge from the water and let your skin dry, you'll find yourself covered in a noticeable white layer. Spectacualr, and quite dehydrating, I might add.

(a few of us covered in mud)

On Sunday of last weekend I returned to Busteni and finally got the chance to see the waterfall. It was a great day of hiking, after which we met up with a group of friends who had spent the weekend backpacking from Sinaia (a neighboring town to Busteni). I was jealous, it sounded like they had an awesome time. I plan to do that hike eventually.

That's probably enough rambling for now...

Oh wait, here's a picture from a recent thunderstorm: