Sunday, October 14, 2007

Recent Happenings

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 Timisoara and pick up a package. I had no idea what it was, or who it was from. It was a package from outside Romania, so I had to go to the customs office to pick it up. Normal mail—like letters, bills and such—goes directly to the recipient’s mailbox. International packages, on the other hand, go to the county capital, where they remain until recipients go to pick them up. So off I went, with very little idea of how the whole process was going to work. I had heard frightening tales of other people going to pick up packages that made me think maybe the DMV would be more fun. I’ve been told that service is not the primary concern for postal workers here, much like waitresses at Friendly’s (the place where smoking and non-smoking sections are different sides of the same table and timely service is incidental). On top of this, the customs office has very limited operating hours, from 11-2 (I know what you’re saying, not very convenient at all, which is why I had to take the day off). Although, I suppose I should consider myself lucky because the customs office in Timisoara is at least open 5 days a week.

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. The contents of the box included m&m’s, parmesan cheese, a half-pound of tea, maple syrup, measuring cups, cumin, paprika, an oven thermometer, and undershirts. It was like Christmas! Thanks, Mrs. B, for sending that stuff!

While I was in Timisoara, I also stopped by the police station to pick up my visa, which had just finished processing. If the post office wasn’t as much like a visit to the DMV as I had originally anticipated, the police station exceeded my expectations. First of all, when I arrived, I could hardly fit through the entrance because the place was packed like a can of sardines. Eventually I found what appeared to be the end of the line, and squeezed in. It soon became apparent that the line wasn’t moving. Apparently the guy at the immigrant services window decided there was something more important to do in the back room. Either that, or he had already left. I’ve noticed that service sector employees don’t always adhere to their scheduled hours. Sometimes they get the urge to go home at 2, even though the office hours may be till 3. However, I guessed that this wasn’t the case, what with the enormous line. In any case, it seemed following the crowd was my only real option. Anway, this is more the typical experience. I waited about an hour or so and finally got to the window. “Am venit dupa un permis de sedere (I’ve come for my visa).” The man looked at me strangely for a moment, and gave it to me. After I left the line and emerged into the sunlight and fresh air, I looked at the card. The expiration date read: 31/8/2007. Less than one year away! The problem was that I had requested one for two years, not one. I didn’t want to get back in line, nor was I sure how to express my problem in Romanian to the less-than-cooperative window attendant. So I figured, at least I’ll be a legal resident for the next 11 months or so, after which time I can figure out what to do. It turns out, because of the police station’s mistake, I’ll have to apply for a visa again in July, which costs 100 euros. The good news, however, is that the Peace Corps will pick up the tab.

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 Lugoj has an organization called “Clubul Copiilor,” which means Kid’s Club. There are Kid’s Clubs in many major cities or towns throughout Romania. They’re funded by the Romanian Ministry of Education, and they essentially provide after-school programs for the kids. So, on Thursday I stopped by the club, not expecting to do much other than observe what happens there. Instead, I ended up giving an impromptu English lesson to two 8 year-olds. We did the standard stuff, like the alphabet, the numbers, days of the week, different animals, etc. Working with the little ones is tiring, but fun. They were really bright. After our session that day, they probably went off and told their friends about me. When I came back on Friday, I had a small crowd following me.

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 Romania. He has been making periodic trips to Lugoj for the past 12 years, bringing Danish visitors, clothing, toys for kids, etc. I met him through the people at the Kid’s Club. I visited with him after I was done at the club. I thought it might be for just an hour or so. But, little did I know that I wouldn’t get home until after 1am. We ate pizza, drank Danish beer and coffee, and all the while talked. In his years of working in Lugoj, he’s gotten to know a lot of people. So, he’s a very useful person to know, and just a generally good guy. I look forward to working with him in the future. I have to say, however, after months of hearing mostly Romanian, Danish sounds very strange. I suppose it's sort of like listening to someone speak English in reverse with marbles in their mouth.

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 Connecticut, not Mississippi.

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 Romania for years. He knows about all the sights and how to get to them. In Romania, many trails or caves can only be found by word of mouth, because such information isn’t very public. So, our goal for the day was to hike from one village to another, where we would spend the night with one of Mr. Schlupp’s friends. Things did not pan out that way. It rained the whole time, and we decided to bail out. In the rain and fog, things had a mysterious atmosphere about them. Even still, the scenery was really beautiful. One of the most striking images I saw was a dark purple brook. It has been colored by the tuica distilleries along its banks, which were pumping plum-colored broth into the stream. I’m not sure exactly what they were pumping out, except that it was some sort of by-product of the distilling process. The smell was very pungent, and the brook was an incredibly opaque maroon. There were white geese floating in the water, which provided a striking contrast and made the color all the more surreal.

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...

1 comment:

Cameron Wright said...

Oohhh Danish beer rocks!

Yeah, I noticed the weather and hoped you guys still went ahead with your plans. Heh guess things in the PC never go as planned anyway!