Tuesday, July 29, 2008

So, it's been quite some time since I've written here. Here are a few noteworthy items:

About two weeks ago I hosted a Jazz group from NYC in my apartment. They were on an Eastern European tour, which included stops in Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Romania. They ended up coming my way because the drummer is a friend of my colleague in Sighisoara, and she referred them to me. I ended up hooking them up with a gig in a little bar here in Lugoj. It went off quite well. They played for practically no money (we just passed around a hat so that people could throw in some money if they wished). The members of the band were really cool guys, too (check out their website, Catapults and Parachutes).

The following Saturday I was visited by the 'big boss,' the country director of the Peace Corps program in Romania. He was passing through Lugoj on his way to a meeting in Arad, so he picked me up and we went out to dinner in Timisoara. I then tagged along for the meeting, an assembly of the VAC (Volunteer Advisory Committee). VAC is composed of a group of PCVs who discuss issues and policies that affect the volunteer community; they act as an intermediary body between the volunteers and the administrative staff. It was interesting to sit in on the meeting (well, some of it anyway). One of the big issues that was discussed was the PC budget crisis. With the devaluation of the US dollar, the Peace Corps has lost about $8.5 million. To deal with this, posts around the world will have to tighten their belts. Some posts have actually decided to close down altogether. PC Romania certainly isn't closing, but we're not yet sure how this whole thing will affect day-to-day life here at post. The other interesting thing about the meeting was that the VAC members used Skype to communicate with VAC members and country directors from other posts in the area (such as Ukraine, Moldova and Bulgaria). It was interesting to see how our programs differ, and also what we have in common. It seems we're all dealing with the same sorts of issues, more or less. As in Romania, depression seems to be an issue that volunteers from both Ukraine and Moldova are dealing with. Also, several of the people spoken to mentioned their concerns about keeping PC relevant in Eastern Europe-- their approach seemed to involve sending volunteers to smaller, less-served communities (something we're trying to focus on here in Romania as well).

The VAC meeting was hosted at a natural park in Arad (Parcul Natural Lunca Muresului). The park is on the banks of the Mures river and the grounds themselves are quite peaceful. The facilities at their eco-turism center include scientific labs, a conference room and even guest bedrooms. They also rent out canoes and kayaks. Some of us took the opportunity to go for a 25km canoe ride down the river, which was certainly the highlight of the meeting for me.

After the VAC meeting I came back to Lugoj. Martin's family was visiting, so I went over to his place to meet them. We watched a movie and then went out to dinner. The decision was to go to the most expensive restaurant in town, where we ate, guess what.....steak! I had almost given up all hope of finding decent steak in Romania, but it turns out it's been right here in Lugoj the whole time. I was so excited about it that I thought it merited a mention here.

last Friday I went down to Ploiesti to meet the new trainees and give a short presentation. I met up with my buddy Zach down there, and we traveled back to Lugoj together. Our plan was to storm Belgrade for two short days. However, someone forgot their passport in Sibiu, so we had to scrap that (In fact, in light of recent events in Belgrade --see here-- perhaps it's best we didn't go). Instead we ended up going to Hunedoara to visit the Hunyadi Castle (aka Castelul Corvinilor, www.castelulcorvinilor.ro) It was extremely well-preserved and quite impressive.

Well, I think that about brings us up to date. It seems like I've been on the move for a while. Indeed, tomorrow afternoon I'm off to Timisoara to check out the new Batman movie. We'll see how that is.

Friday, July 11, 2008

The World Keeps on Spinning

...And so do the potter's wheels at Clubul Copiilor in Lugoj.

A group of Danes arrived this Monday for a ceramics camp, which is being hosted by Clubul Copiilor (The Kid's Club). One of the Danes is Ole, a fellow I've mentioned before. He's had connections in Lugoj for years, mainly through the orphanages. For the past few years he's been organizing this ceramics camp in conjunction with Clubul Copiilor, and this year I'm participating, since I'm here.

Activities last until next Friday. We have two potter's wheels, two kilns, a variety of clays and about 20 kids. I've already made a clay whistle, a candle-holder and three bowls. Next week we'll experiment with a special method known as Raku (we had to build a third, wood-burning kiln just for the Raku pieces). Its been fun so far. I'll have to post pictures of the things I've made when they're finished.

In other news, I just got word that some of my family is coming to visit! My mother, brother and nephew will be visiting August 16th-23rd. I'm really glad they're taking the opportunity to come while I'm here. I think it's important they see a little of what life is like here so that they can better understand my experience. I've often thought that I haven't seen my family or friends in over a year now. It would be a shame if we were out of touch for two years; so much can change in that time. Of course we think of each other, and we talk on the phone or AIM, but I feel like we still don't really know what's happening in each other's lives. In a way, their lives are going on as usual, but my lifestyle and experiences have changed quite a bit. I think I have some idea of what they're going through on a daily basis. Their lives probably aren't terribly different from what I remember. At least I can draw from my memories to imagine what's happening back home, but the folks on the home-front don't have any mental conceptualization of my life as it is now. I mean, how can they without actually seeing it? That's why I'm happy they're coming. If they didn't, I'd return home and the disconnect would be all too apparent--they'd have Mike back, but they'd also notice a blind-spot the size of two years. What exactly happened during his time in Romania? What exactly did he do? Where did he live? What sorts of people did he meet? Did he take his vitamins? (or at least that's how I envision it).