Sunday, October 28, 2007
Now, I'd heard many times not to do this; they simply charge way too much. But, I did it. The thing was, I didn't know I was doing it till it was too late. I was hitchhiking from Arad to Timisoara. I was waiting with two other people at the usual hitchhiking spot. A car stopped and the other two jumped in. I stuck my head in and asked if the man was going to Timisoara. He seemed to wave me in, so I jumped in the back seat and off we went. Little did I notice the car was bright yellow...
About 5 miles down the road the two others paid (an amount the driver was less than pleased with) and got out. At this point I leaned forward to the driver to ask if he might be going to Lugoj by any chance. He said, "wherever you want." This confused me a bit. Usually those driving from city to city have a destination in mind. It was then I noticed the little counter on the dash. I felt like an idiot. The guy seemed more than pleased to go to Lugoj, but seeing the rate of 21 lei/hour flashing on the counter, I decided Timisoara was far enough.
At the next stoplight we pulled up alongside a truck with big, shiny silver hubcaps. Looking at the reflection of our car in the hubcaps, I noticed that it was bright yellow with a checkered stripe down the side. A taxi; no question. How didn't I notice before?
I tried my best to talk to the guy. I gave him the usual speech about being an English teacher, and so on. It seems that any time a Romanian discovers I'm an American, they ask me whether I like Romania. This question usually leads them into a discussion of what life was like under communism. Of course I can't speak from experience, but I find it interesting that quite a few Romanians I've talked to really miss communism (especially the older generations). They tell of how everyone's social standing was more or less equal, salaries were adequate and prices were small. I don't know how much of this is fanciful romanticizing, or whether life was really better back then. I've heard both sides. However, the fact is, life in Romania is pretty rough for a lot of people. The transition to capitalism has caused a great disparity in wealth. There are some very rich people, a lot of very poor people, and not much of a middle class. Many complain about the constant rise in prices while salaries lag behind. I am not an economist, nor can I really speak for the economic situation in Romania. Nevertheless, there seem to be a lot of Romanians complaining. My usual response is that transition is tough, and capitalism certainly isn't perfect.
In talking with the driver about the economic situation in Romania, I was sure to really emphasize that, being a teacher, I didn't make much money. It's true, teaching is one of the worst-paid professions in Romania.
My tactic worked. When we got to Timisoara, he decided not to charge me full price for the ride. Phew! He even helped me by taking me to the spot where I could pick up another car to Lugoj. So, all in all, it wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be. It seems a little conversation goes a long way.
Next time I'll be more careful about looking at the color of the car...
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
So far I've thought about a costume contest, pumkin carving/decorating, bobbing for apples, making masks, and the guess-how-many-candies-are-in-the-jar game.
If someone out there has any other suggestions, I'd be happy to hear them.
Also, I'd really like to hear suggestions for costumes!!!!!
In other news, I've found the latest article about me from the local newspaper. It's basically just the voice-over script from their TV piece. Here it is (in romanian)
Monday, October 22, 2007
So I went to visit Zach my PCV buddy in
About three hours into the ride, I got a thought. I had packed my camera, but had I packed a memory card? I checked. Nope, of course I hadn’t. So, I wasn’t able to take pictures as I had planned. But, if you want, you can see
After wandering around town, and viewing some of the (rather strange) art exhibits in the main square, we decided to go up to the top of the central tower. The way up, a winding spiral stone staircase, was really cramped and quite awesome. Even the arched stone doorway was quaint (having surely been constructed for humans no taller than 5’0”). We had a view of the entire city from the top. Something about the tile roofs and chimneys on all the old houses reminded me of Dick Van Dyk and Mary Poppins.
We also had a cool ‘cultural moment’ when we decided to stop in at an instrument repair shop. The place didn’t really look open, but we knocked on the door anyway. The shop owner opened the door, and let us in. It was warm inside and the space was quite small. Every inch was covered by old string instruments: violins, banjoes, mandolins, cellos, etc. The man looked like a classic artisan, with white hair and moustache, a blue turtleneck, and a red apron. The light on his workbench cast shadows on his deeply wrinkled face. He looked to be in his late 60’s. His hands were busy varnishing a violin; he had just replaced its neck. It was obvious he had been doing this for years and was an expert in his craft. At first he was reluctant to speak, but noticing how earnest we were in trying to speak the language, he eventually warmed up to us. We discovered that he was actually a friend of one of the ladies who had organized Turda Fest.
We left the man to his work, and made our way to the Piata. We were on a mission to make mulled wine (vin fiert). However, we didn’t quite know how to go about it. So, we asked a bunch of little old ladies selling herbs at the Piata. After discovering the process, we bought the necessary ingredients, and carried through with the plan. It didn’t turn out too badly.
Ari, a PCV who had just finished his 2 years in the
On Sunday I woke up to see snow falling outside (it was falling quite hard, in fact). Granted, the ground was far too warm for it to stick. But still, it’s always nice to see the first snow of the season.
It was a cold walk to the train station, the snow stinging my eyes. Ari and I took the same train, since he was headed to
Monday, October 15, 2007
Because I was present at the conference, I was of course a focus of attention. I took the opportunity to explain to the press what I was doing in Lugoj, and what my mission is as a Peace Corps volunteer. It's very strange for me to be in the limelight. I've always liked to keep a very low profile. They warned about this sort of unwanted attention in Peace Corps training. I guess I'll have to get used to it.
Ole has been doing work here since 1994, giving humanitarian aid however he can. He's carted tons of clothes, food, and other goods from Denmark over the years. His organization also funded programs for the youth, such as a playroom in the town library and, most recently, a ceramics summer camp. Over the years, he has also taken more than 200 Lugoj city officials to Denmark to show them how democracy works in action, hoping that they'll take some ideas back home. I'm glad I got a chance to meet Ole before he left. He knows quite a few people in Lugoj, and he introduced me to some people that might be able to help me in the future. Ole's job as a humanitarian 'developer' may have come to an end, but that doesn't mean Lugoj will never see him again. Like I said, he's made many friends over the years, and he's sure to come back to visit.
One of the people Ole introduced me to was Liviu, the head of the European Integration Office at the Lugoj city hall . Liviu should be a very good guy to know. I told him I'm interested in working with him on obtaining grant funding for a project (yet to be determined). I plan to use Federal US grant money, and maybe I'll even be able to work with Liviu to get some EU funding. Who knows? I also talked about the possibility of doing a summer English class for employees of the city hall.
In any case, it seems like some doors are opening for me. I now have a few contacts in the city hall, and also the Kid's Club. I should be busy. Tomorrow I'll meet with an English teacher from another school in town. We'll talk about doing some afterschool English lessons for a few of her students. I figure why not, I'm here to serve the community as a whole, so the more people I can work with, the better.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
So the past week was tiring. School is going pretty well, but sleep is a precious commodity of which I’m bankrupt.
I took the day off on Monday to go to
So, I arrived at the vama (customs), and sheepishly held up my package-notification ticket. To my surprise, the attendants there were very helpful. I showed them my ID, and had my package in a matter of minutes. They didn’t even open it and examine the contents! I had worried for nothing. I didn’t even need to flash them the paperwork I had prepared to prove I’m exempt from customs fees.
While I was in
On Tuesday I was interviewed by a local television news station about student/teacher relations. They said they had two questions for me: how Romanian students differ from students in the states, and how schools in both countries differ. First they asked me about the schools , but I thought they asked me about the differences between students. So, I talked about that. They didn't stop me. Probably because I responded in English, and they might not have understood everything I was talking about. Then they asked me about the differences between students, and I realized my mistake. Oh well. So, anyway, I talked about the differences between schools. Because I was talking in English they'll probably just dub me over and edit my responses to match their questions so I don't look like an idiot. Let's hope anyway.
I started a secondary project on Thursday. The town of
On Thursday I also had the opportunity to meet an interesting fellow: a Dane named Ole (pronounced ‘Ooleh’). He runs a Danish NGO that promotes democracy and does humanitarian work in
In the morning following my meeting with Ole, I went to school as usual. I went to my first class of the day, a group of 8th graders. I had hardly begun the lesson when someone knocked at the door. It was the principle’s secretary, asking me to leave the class and go to the principle’s office. I couldn’t help but wonder why. Such a request brought back memories of elementary school. I think that whenever anyone is asked to go to the principle the natural reaction is one of “what did I do?” The secretary assured me it wasn’t something bad, but she couldn’t tell me exactly what it was because it was a surprise. No kidding I was surprised! I was in the middle of a class! I gave the kids a worksheet and told them to start it. In the meantime, I went to the principle. When I entered his office, I found a television crew waiting for me. Guess what, they wanted to interview me. I thought, “man, what is it with me and the media?!” I told them I had a class in progress, and they said, “great, can we come film your class?” So they did. The poor kids, I hope they weren’t too freaked out by a cameraman walking into their English class. Anyway, my interview should air on Monday. I finally set the facts straight, and told them I’m from
Today, Saturday, I got up really early to catch a train to a nearby village with a Physics teacher from my school (Petru Schlupp) and some the students from the German class. Mr. Schlupp is a good guy to know because he’s been hiking and spelunking in
I’m also happy to report I did get to see some foliage; a little bit at least. Up till this point I had only seen bright yellow leaves. But, today I did see some oranges and very faint reds as well. It wasn’t much really, but it did my heart good to see some color, otherwise it just wouldn’t feel like fall. As I mentioned, the day was very rainy and muddy, and so we decided to leave, which meant making a two-hour journey to Lapugiu de Jos (the nearest village with a train station). As we were well on our way to the station, the sun finally decided to shine—go figure. When we got to Lapugiu, we waved at our train as it pulled out of the station. We had just missed it. That meant we had a few hours to kill till the next train, so we waited by the side of the road, hoping to see a bus that was headed our way. No luck. So, we did indeed catch the next train, which happened to be going the opposite way we wanted to go, but it was our only ticket out of Lapugiu. Traffic to such small villages is usually pretty sparse, and only a few trains may stop at them. In fact, the traffic to Lapugiu is so infrequent that the train station is locked and doesn't look like it's been opened in years. There was a little sign taped in the window listing the daily trains. Since the station was locked and quite unoccupied, there was no way for us to buy tickets, so we simply got on the train and each paid the nasu a leu. The train took us 20km to Ilia, but, as I said, we needed to go in the opposite direction. So, when we got to Iulia, we picked up a train that would take us back the other way, to Lugoj. We may have had to go a little out of our way to get home, but such are the inconveniences when working around train schedules in the smaller towns.
I think maybe I'll get some sleep tonight...
Thursday, October 4, 2007
But then today I happened to be walking down the dairy isle, and by some strange coincidence happened to look over at the cheeses. And, there it was, my dream come true! They also had brie, swiss, bleu cheese and some other stuff I've never had. I think I'm going to go make a baked potato with cheddar right now in celebration.
With cheese aplenty, Lugoj will be a fine place to live.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
So, the other day I bought a peeler (for potatoes, fruit, etc). The instructions for use, as written on the package, are as follows: "keep the planer tool's cutting face hug closely the external face of fruit. Drag slightly the planer too along the shin of peel the fruit"
"Other Feature:" (mind you there are two features listed here)
"The stainless steel planing tool, which is easy to plane any shin of fruit.
"It designs according to human engineering, easy to operate."
"this product is guaranteed against defective materials and workmanship. The comapany assured customers that its products' usability is good."
I guess their guarantee includes everything but good grammar. But then again, I suppose I should consider what's really important in selecting a potato peeler.
A while back, I bought a bamboo cutting board. The packaging, which I saved, says this: "High quality bamboo, special artwork, natural green, environmental protection and sanitation. Made in China. People need bamboo for inhabitancy under the circumstance eating without meat."
I say, that's exactly why I bought this model!
But here's the one that I really got a kick out of. I was shopping, and happened to see a dip mix. I didn't even take a second to look at what kind of dip it was, or what flavor it was. I simply had to buy it, just because I saw the name of the product: "Let's Dip Dracula!" I was sold. Where else but in Romania.
Teaching has been okay so far. No real complaints. At the end of last week, my schedule was kind of up in the air. However, on Monday I spoke with each of the English teachers and finally settled everything once and for all, well, mostly. There is still one class that I'm not sure about, a class of 10th graders. It looks like I won't be able to teach them anymore because with the changes in the schedule they've been given a time slot that won't work for me. Its really too bad because I liked that class, and I saw them twice a week (but probably not at all now).
The school's cantina has opened up for the year. I plan to eat my lunch there every day. The food is actually really good, and very cheap (considering they give you four courses). Its also a good way to meet people and interact with my students. Both staff and students eat there, so it's sort of like an old-style university cafeteria.
I have a tutor lined up for Romanian. Now that I know my teaching schedule I can give her a call and set up a meeting. I also talked to a teacher at the other high school in Lugoj, and told her I could come for one-hour a week to give after-school lessons. And, there is a kid's afterschool club here where I'm planning to volunteer. The woman who works there is actually travelling from school to school promoting her programs. She's coming to my school, Brediceanu, on Thursday. I'll talk to her about plans on that day.
This past weekend was quite possibly the best weekend I've had so far in the Peace Corps. As you know, I was in Turda for the Festival. The festival itself was fun, but a little less-well organized than I would have expected. The hot air balloon that they promoted as the big attraction for this year's festival was a bust (pun partially intended). They also promised t-shirts for all volunteers, but I didn't get one. But even if I didn't get a ride in a hot air balloon or a t-shirt, I'm very glad I went; it was a great opportunity to hang out with about 40 other PCVs. There were several familiar faces from group 23, and I also had the pleasure to make acquaintances with a good number of PCVs from previous groups. They're a really fun group. I got there late on Friday night, long after they had finished setting up the tents and whatnot. So, there wasn't too much to do, try as I did to find things. Eager to help, I got up very early on Saturday (after going to bed at about 2) to help set up the famed and much-anticipated hot air balloon. That took about two hours. Just as the balloon fully inflated, and the basket slowly dragged off the ground, the wind started to pick up. So we had to give it up. It was tremendously anti-climatic; the basket had gotten perhaps five inches off the pavement. But, it was for the best. I had some questions about the site that the professionals had chosen for setting up the balloon. It was a small parking lot right in the center of town, with a road on one side, a buildings on the other sides, and telephone poles encircling the entire space. On top of all this, in the very same parking lot as the balloon was a rather tall, pointy-looking monument. If I've learned one thing about balloons in my lifetime, it's that balloons and pointy objects don't really mix. I had originally envisioned that this festival would take place in a large open field of some sort (sort of like the county fairs I'm accustomed to in the States). However, Turda Fest, like other Romanian festivals I've seen, was set up on the streets of the city center.
After dismantling the balloon, I went to the slow cooking booth, the place I had originally been assigned, but there wasn't a soul there. I figured, true to their nature, they were off to a slow start. Without much to do, I decided to wander around and enjoy the sights, sounds and foods of the festival. Eventually, I did get to help with something else: setting up an apparatus for cooking a pastry worthy of the Guinness Book of World Records (which indeed was the intention behind this machine). The pastry is known as cozonac by Romanians, and kurtos kalacs by Hungarians. How it works is you wrap a rotating cylinder in dough, and the cylinder is placed over a charcoal fire. As the cylinder rotates, the dough cooks on all sides. The cozonac is usually coated in honey and coconut shavings. Ours was going to be over 20 feet long. In order to make this world record possible, about 20 of us had to carry the huge cylinder out into the middle of the festival (navigating the crowds with the extremely heavy thing was an interesting experience in itself). Camera crews were there filming the whole thing.
I got to September Fest and I wanted a beer, which only cost 2 lei. Unfortunately, however, all I had was a 100 RON note. So, my first challenge was trying to break the large bill. I walked around to a few vendors asking for change, but they all refused to take my 100. I think I've mentioned before that it's very difficult to find a vendor or cashier who'll gladly give you change. And the larger the note you try to use, the more trouble you're likely to have. When you flop down a 50 for a bag of groceries that cost 22.76, the cashier is likely to look at you as if to say, "what, you're really going to make me count change?" I'm not sure what it is, but large bills are like the common cashier's kryptonite. Anyway, so as you might imagine, it was quite a frustrating experience to try and persuade any festival vendors to break my money. Things seemed pretty hopeless, when out of nowhere a hand grabbed my shoulder. I turned around to discover Peter, the man who'd organized the camp I went to in Parang. He lives in Cluj and works as a professor of biology. I was surprised and happy to see him. We talked for a bit, or at least as long as I could sustain my broken Romanian. He turned out to be my savior because he had two 50 RON notes, which I took in exchange for my 100. I then approached the first vendor to whom I had talked. This time I sheepishly held up the 50 and asked if she might be able to break it. She kind of sighed, and begrudgingly reached into her pockets. She gave me back 48 lei and a beer. Finally! I also found some fried dough, which I bought...because I could.
The next day a few of us decided to get sushi for lunch. It was a tremendously good choice. Cluj happens to have quite a decent sushi bar. I got a platter of sushi, soup, a salad and tempura for only 18 lei. And it was amazing! I know I've said it before, but this is beyond any Peace Corps experience I could have expected. I mean, I'm eating Sushi? After leaving the restaurant, Cameron and I took a taxi straight to the train station, where we caught the 3:35 train to Timisoara. We ended up sitting in different compartments for the 7 hour train ride. I read my newsweek and happened to meet a nice couple who were heading home to Timisoara. I always seem to meet interesting people on the trains. In fact, on my way to the festival on Friday, I met a guy named Florin who actually lived in Greenwich, CT for two years. While riding on the train, I got a call from the Romania country director. Florin heard me speaking in English, and after I hung up he asked, "are you American? You talk like one." So we ended up talking for nearly the whole ride about the United States as well as Romania. I also found out he knows my counterpart's brother. What a small world.
When I finally arrived in Timisoara, I had to wait a little over an hour for my train to Lugoj. So I went to Cameron's place. We watched an episode of the Simpsons on his computer and then I headed to the station. Unfortunately, I got to the train station just two minutes before the train was scheduled to leave. I ran to the ticket window and asked for a ticket. The lady refused, saying the train was due to leave any moment and she couldn't sell me a ticket. She asked what other train I might like to take. At least that's what I understood of what she said. I pleaded, no, I needed the train leaving now! She still refused. I'm not sure why she couldn't sell me the ticket. She just told me to run to the train and talk to the Nasu. So I did. This was the first time I had ever boarded a train without a ticket, so I was a bit nervous. Long story short, I got to Lugoj after midnight and crashed onto my bed, hoping to get some sleep after a weekend in which sleep was certainly a secondary activity. After all, I had to teach at school the next day...