Monday, August 13, 2007

Life, post-training

So it’s a rainy Monday in Lugoj. I’ve been done with training for over two weeks now. Although, I’ve been so busy it feels like less than that. I arrived at site, after a long, severely-delayed train ride with my friend Cameron, who is stationed in a city nearby me. One highlight of the ride was traveling alongside a stretch of the Danube and looking over at Serbia.

So, I expected my first day after arriving at site to be a lazy day of unpacking, and maybe exploring Lugoj a bit. However, instead my new gazda family stuffed me into their car to take me to Timisoara. My new gazda, with whom I’ll be staying for a month, is composed of a mother (Lily), father (Gelu), and a daughter (Raluca). Gelu’s parents also live in an adjacent house, along with his grandparents (at least I think, I’m not quite sure on the living arrangements or how many people live here—they pretty much keep to themselves). Everyone has been really nice so far and have done everything they can to make me comfortable. But anyway, I digress. So I found myself in Timisoara (pronounced “Tee-mee-shwara”), which is a big city of about 300,000 an hour West of me. Gelu went because he had to get the air conditioning in the car fixed. Lily went because she works every day in the city. The plan was for me to tag along with Raluca and her friend to explore some of the city. It’s quite a pleasant city, but I didn’t get too see too much of it, especially because tagging along with teenage girls meant I was subjected to extended periods of clothes shopping. I should have expected it. So, after I’d had enough, I left the girls and met up with Cameron (one of the PCVs in Timisoara). We ended up walking around for a while. Since neither of us knew the city layout terribly well, it was like the blind leading the blind. Good times.

I only stayed in Lugoj for a few days because on the 2nd of August I went up into the mountains for a camp. Before leaving I spent some time at my counterpart’s house. Her name is Flavia, and I have been paired with her because she’s an English teacher at my school. The Peace Corps pairs each of its volunteers with a counterpart from their local community to make the volunteer’s integration a bit easier. Flavia has already introduced me to some key community members and she has helped me with many things, even buying train tickets. It will especially nice to have her as a guide once the school year begins. Before I left for camp, I went over to her house because she has an internet connection. I got to meet her parents and her dogs. Both her parents are doctors, but only her father still practices. Her mother is one hell of a cook, and every time I go over, she always has something good to eat. I told Flavia about the camp I was going to and told her about the American tradition of making s’mores around the campfire. I asked her if she’d heard of marshmallows, and to my surprise, she had. In fact, she even knew a place where I could buy some. And, better yet, the place was right here in Lugoj!! So, we went to buy them. I was a little disappointed because they were much smaller and colored differently than the marshmallows I was used to in the States. But I roasted a few on the stove at her house, and they tasted exactly the same. The other problem was finding graham crackers. I’m pretty sure they don’t exist in Romania. But, after a lot of searching I was able to find some honey biscuits at a little shop which seemed pretty comparable in size and texture (the main problem is that most of the cookies in Romania are about the size of a Fig Newton, simply not big enough for s’mores). Luckily, the third ingredient, chocolate, is readily available in Romania. After collecting everything I needed, I was excited; the kids at camp would be able to make s’mores!

There was one volunteer in Lugoj before me. Unfortunately he left just before I arrived. In fact I was on the train coming, as he was on the train going. He left me a letter with notes on what work he’d done (and some contacts) as well as a bunch of stuff (all of which I haven’t looked through yet, but there were some books, a Microsoft Office 2003 user’s manual—good for some light bedtime reading, a cheese grader, staples, a blanket, a toaster, an umbrella, a mini tripod, and some other assorted and very random objects). He left the notes and the items with a girl he worked with here in Lugoj named Sorana. Sorana and I looked over the things he had left for me and just laughed. It was strangely like Christmas, though with very weird gifts.

The next day I left for the Camp. It was in the mountains about 5 hours away. I met another member of group 23 there, my buddy Dan. We thought it was going to be a rock climbing camp, as the website had lead us to believe, but we soon discovered otherwise. The night we arrived at the train station, we were met by two of the people from the camp. They drove us in an old Nissan Pathfinder up an old, poorly maintained mountain road. The route was extremely winding, and bumpy. I thought it was sort of funny because Dan had been on the train for 12 hours and really had to pee, so the bumps didn’t really help his situation. I imagine he’ll eventually read this and just shake his head that I’m telling the world about this. Dan and I are good friends, it’s really too bad we’ve been assigned to sites on the opposite ends of Romania.

So eventually we got to the Cabana on the mountain where the camp was. Oh, I forgot to mention that the Nissan’s headlights were sporadically flickering on and off throughout the entire ride, which added another element of suspense. When we got to the cabana, we were shown our room, which was basically of hotel quality. It had a bathroom AND a shower AND toilette paper—well beyond my expectations. When we met with the other counselors, they told us a little bit about the “climbing” schedule for the next day. Dan and I were excited about trying our hands at climbing. The next morning we just went for a hike with the kids. Dan and I were a bit confused, but we figured the climbing was going to happen in the afternoon. Instead, we had lunch, a three-hour nap (the nap happened every day after lunch, and I quickly became a fan) and in the evening, a lecture on ecology (in Romanian, of course). So, the entire day went by without any “climbing,” as I might define it. Dan and I soon discovered that Romanians loosely translate hiking as “climbing.” This is just a small example of my many cultural misunderstandings.

But anyway, apparently the camp does in fact have “rock climbing” programs, but not for the particular group we were with. Instead we just hiked a lot. On the second day, after hiking a 7000+ ft. mountain (Carja), the main leader, Peter (a biology professor from Cluj, and a very interesting guy) told the kids that they’d be going to the “disco” later that evening. Dan and I were confused again. Could there really be a disco on this mountain? Maybe they were going to take the kids to the nearby town? Or, maybe “disco” meant something completely different in Romanian and we were misunderstanding. Maybe when they said “let’s go to the disco” they meant “ok, time for bed!” We didn’t know; we figured we’d just wait and see. Our experience with “climbing” proved we had a lot to learn about Romanian expressions. But sure enough, after Peter gave his last talk of the night, he sent the kids off to the disco. Curious, Dan and I followed, and discovered that right next to the cabana was a disco, complete with lights and a fully-stocked bar. I mean we were surprised to find toilette paper at this camp, but a disco too???!!! Apparently this place was full of surprises. I’ve discovered that Romanians are quite fond of the disco.

The day we did that higher elevation hike, up the 7000 foot mountain, the fog rolled in quite heavily. It was nice and cold that day (maybe about 40 degrees F, a nice change after the stifling heat in Ploiesti). But, the fog was so thick at times I couldn’t see three people in front of me on the trail, and water droplets formed in my hair and on my clothes. We were able to make it back to the cabana just before the rain came (literally minutes before). But, unfortunately, the rain wasn’t a passing fad, and the fog stuck around too. As you can imagine, this put a damper on our hiking program. We ended up sleeping even more, and playing games with the kids, including chess and some Romanian card games (0ne of which is identical to UNO). There was also a sort of arts and crafts session, in which Dan and I made a poster of our experience hiking with the kids: a picture of us hiking in a line on the trail, with all the kids saying things in Romanian (actual quotes from the trail) and Dan and I—the two Americans—at the end, puzzled over what everyone is saying (which is sort of silly, because obviously we did understand).

The Poster, sorry that it's a little fuzzy. The guy at the front of the line is our leader, Peter, yelling at a kid to get going ("Hai sa mergem!"), the kid simply responds, "am murit" (I've died).

I have just a few pictures from the camp; I wasn't able to take too many because of the rain. But, I did get some shots of the fog...

In this picture the fog was pretty mild. Usually it was more like pea soup.

The kids from the camp. They ranged in age from 10-16

It rained and rained (in fact, as I write this it’s still wet outside, which is quite a change from two weeks ago when it was drought-like). I began to get worried because it looked like we wouldn’t have a chance to make a camp fire for the s’mores. But, luckily on the last night there was a break in the weather and we did manage to make the fire. It seemed like the kids really liked the s’mores.

I returned to site on the evening of last Wednesday, and decided I to go Cluj for the weekend. So I only spent one day at site before going to Cluj. I left at the ungodly hour of 5 in the morning and got to Cluj shortly after noon. I took a train route that went through the towns of my friends Mandy and Noelle, who were also going to Cluj, so we could take the train together. While we we in Cluj there was more rain, and then some rain. Additionally, we found a place called the “Infuriated Doughnut” (Gogoasa Infuriata), which I thought was a great name for some reason. The city itself is quite beautiful, and seemed to have the most “western feel” of any other city I’ve seen in Romania. It seems like there's a lot going on there, probably because of the large university population. We stayed with some other PCV’s who have an amazing apartment, nicer than many I’ve seen in the US. We cooked dinner our last night there as a way of saying thank-you to our hosts. It was a sort of Mexican concoction, with chicken, beans, rice, tomatoes, garlic, lime juice and chili-powder (no cumin to be found in Romania). We also made some pretty sweet guacamoli. We couldn't find tortilla chips, so we substituted with some less-than-brilliant wheat-crackers.

So, now I’m back. Time to finally explore Lugoj…


John said...

Thanks for the update Mike. Really enjoy reading your blog
Love you,

Cameron Wright said...

Cluj was lots of fun, too bad it Rained the whole time we were there; also you were so tired, maybe next time take a later train ;)

Anonymous said...

Dude, it sounds like your having the time of your life. Your blog is the only one I've ever read and its really awesome. I look forward to hearing more of your adventures. Oddly enough I've been to the 'disco' in Ireland and they reminded me of mixers from back in the day minus Brennan screaming Sell Out! by the Reel Big Fish.

Keep on rambling.


Gary said...

Great entry Mike. I look forward to your new entries and check the blog 4 to 5 times a week. Let us know when you have a mailing address.

Anonymous said...

Mike, What a great adventure and thanks for keeping us all in the loop. THe photos are wonderful, too...beautiful country. Sounds like you are really settling in.

Sue Nork Hunchar

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike. You know, it's not so much that I mind the comment on my need to take a piss while we traveled up that bumpy road as that you imply I hadn't had the opportunity for the last 12 hours. They did have bathrooms on the train. See you sometimeish!