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07 June 2011 @ 08:43 pm
After Easter there wasn't really a whole lot to share, and the things that did happen, weren't the sharing kind. A few minor set backs kind of came my way and it wasn't the best of time to be writing out my deepest darkest feelings about everything. I will run down them quickly so anyone who hadn't been appraised can be.

First off, I was informed by Peace Corps Romania that I was not selected as a PCVL for the coming year. Which was disappointing for many reasons but I still felt like I had a good idea of where my future was going because of the Foreign Service Oral exam which I would hope to be taking in the fall.

Then, The FSOT panel decided I was not worthy of their interest either, thus shattering my plans for when I got home and upsetting the fabric of space time itself.

THEN, as I was walking home from school on slightly chilly and more than a little rainy day it happened that I was walking on the left hand side of the road (I like to see around the corners) and a car was speeding down the hill towards me, it kindly moved over as it approached me but not knowing there was a horse and cart lurking just beyond me on the opposite side, it swerved back in my direction. I being the nimble and quick witted soul that I am jumped slightly to the side so as to not be hit by the on coming Audi, however, being the clumsy and less than coordinated body that I am, I promptly slipped on the wet grass and fell into the ditch next to the road and twisted my left knee...

A train ride to Bucharest, an Ultrasound, invasive physical and MRI later I was diagnosed with a torn meniscus. Awesome! Just what I've always wanted in a country where handicap accessibility is a MAJOR issue! I wasn't given crutches or even a cane but a knee brace, and thankfully told it should heal on it's own, though, coming up on 4 weeks since being to the doctor and my knee still hurting everyday, I'm starting to think this whole heal on its own nonsense is a little far fetched. Still... maybe if I didn't walk so much it would heal faster.

In any case, I have a torn meniscus. Life really does like send you a box of lemons sometimes, but not good lemons like the one's you can transform into money making muscle cars or demolition derby winners... the bad lemons, that you just have to make juice out of and makes you pucker your face in that ever so unattractive way... actually, lemonade does sound pretty good right now, and sweet tea, Lemonade and Sweet Tea... Oh Arnold Palmer... I will see you soon...
07 June 2011 @ 08:20 pm
This is going into the way back machine but from March 24-26 Peace Corps Romania group 26 had its Close of Service conference. It is a two day conference designed to help us relaunch our lives once we get to the U.S. something that has been on my mind a lot lately. But there were other things going on that week as well, my interview for the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader position, Language exam and just an overall sense of finality I don't think I was quite ready for. Like every conference it had its more interesting moments, including our dinner finale, watching our group together one last time, most of them dancing to "rollin' on a river" like it had never been done before... The Conference ended and everyone went their separate ways, much like we will do come July 1st and our PCR family starts heading home.

For Easter this year I decided to stay at site and even hosted a couple of guests. My good friend Brent and My partner Carly. I was away from site last year so I was really curious to see how things would work out this time. Brent and I stayed up late on Saturday and went to the Easter midnight service in the center of town... It was so crowded I worried several times about accidentally lighting the person in front of my on fire, until I realized there was someone just as close behind me and was then worried about being set on fire a little more.

The priests processed into the church and the lights went out as they lit tshe Easter candle from which everyone would light their own luminaries... It was again, an incredible sight, as not only the level of light in the church began to rise just from the number of candles, but the reflection of the ornamented walls as they danced in the shadows and flicker of hundreds of tiny flames. We stayed around outside to listen to the Easter story before heading back to the apartment around 1am and playing backgammon as our candles burned slowly on the table next to us. Then, we went to bed in preparation for the Easter meal the following day.

We were not disappointed by the meal. My Director invited me to his parent's house and Carly, Brent and I gathered around the table with my Director's family, including his uncle and aunt from Brussels, and experienced again, the wonder of Romanian cooking. The year before I had not taking a liking to the Easter specialty called drob, which I believe is lamb stomach, but this year, with a new chef, I enjoyed it quite a lot. The highlight of course was the lamb chops and as a special treat from our nearly French visitors, Duck L'orange... It was spectacular! I don't know if I have ever eaten anything as surprising to me as this. I would eat that prepared just that way, everyday for a year and never get sick of it.

After dinner there was of course, merriment, and by merriment I mean large carafes of home made wine. Excellent... strong... homemade wine. The combination of merriment and food led to a nap around 6 pm when we returned from the afternoon festivities. It was another great holiday in Romania and I am very thankful for the people who were willing to share it with me.
06 March 2011 @ 11:55 am
"I can't tell you what it really is, I can only tell you what it feels like"

Despite the events of the week before, I decided to go ahead and take the Foreign Service Exam. It would not be an easy trip, as it turned out, during this round of testing, Romania was no not one of the foreign posts chosen to host the exam, instead I had to choose between an 18 hour trip into Ukraine or a 16 hour trip to Sofia, Bulgaria.

Since leaving the U.S. Sofia was one of the places on my list of cities to see while abroad. I was lucky to have this opportunity, yet I was incredibly unsettled because of the prospect of once again, taking an exam that might have a lasting and dramatic effect on my future. I took along with me one of my favorite novels that I felt was appropriate for the occasion, The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemmingway. While I was not going to be wandering the streets of 1920's Paris or attending any bullfighting expositions, I was enthralled by the idea of the ex-patriots themselves.

As the train curved away from Bucharest I did everything I could not the think about the test, or arriving in a completely foreign city with no knowledge of the language or landscape. Romania had become like a second home to me, I felt at ease walking into any store or starting a conversation with random people because I felt confident enough in my language abilities to get by. It hadn't occurred to me that not only would I not know the language, but I would also not even know the alphabet. As the train pulled away from Girgiu and made it's way across the Danube river, I felt an overwhelming excitement. The trepidation I might have at entering a new country and being completely clueless was lost by the idea of experiencing something new and exciting.

The border guards in Bulgaria were courteous, and to my surprise, knew English very well. The Romanian border guards hadn't even attempted to speak to me in English despite my American passport. They instead made hand gestures when asking for my passport and other legal papers. The Train station in Russa, the border city, was much nicer than even Gara de Nord, which I had come to see as a monstrosity of Romanian transportation. This was my first inclination that Bulgaria would have many different things to offer me.

It was 7 hours from Russa to Sofia, so I had plenty of time to kill. I alternated between skimming the practice questions for the FSOT and getting lost in the complex mind of Jake Barnes as he struggles with his inner demons and his relationship with Lady Brett Ashley and Robert Cohn. Their pensiont for using French terms and British phrases amused me greatly. Their intricate unspoken understandings fascinated me even more. As they delved into what it meant to be from somewhere and not identify with their nationality, I began to understand my own feelings about Peace Corps and foreign service even more.

About an hour away from Sofia I thought it might be a good idea to check the maps and directions I had printed to get to my hostel. It was at this point that I realized I had left them sitting in a book on my dining room table. Thanks to my wonderful partner I was able to get the address, but I was wary of taking a taxi directly from the train station and couldn't find an open kiosk to buy a bus ticket. Instead I decided to set off on foot, into a city I had never been to before. I know, how ridiculous, but to be honest, if it hadn't been for that walk I wouldn't have seen the beauty of Sofia at night, the vibrant and colorful night life or the Orthodox churches lit up like monuments to God Himself.

After about 2 hours of hopelessly wandering the streets I finally gave up and got in taxi, I showed him the address in the Text message and we were on our way. I was sure I was no more than half a kilometer away from the hostel, but as it turned out, I was more like 3 Km removed from my final destination. This was the point where my entire weekend changed. While it was bad enough i didn't have my maps and addresses, I knew as long as I had the address in my phone I would be find. What happened next I was not prepared for. While getting out of the Cab, my phone fell out of my pocket and on to the floor... I did not notice, and proceeded to me hostel as if I had all my worldly possessions with me... It was only after checking in and settling down that I realized I was down one good friend... I loved that phone.

The woman at the Hostel was kind enough to wake me up the next morning and call me cab. I was then taken to the U.S. Embassy, though I was quite early. I walked around the outer gate for a little while but stopped when I noticed I was being followed around by the security guards, so instead I walked up the street and wandered around in the park near by. I returned and shortly afterward a few other people showed up, three of them being Peace Corps volunteers from Bulgaria, the other a Fulbright Scholar. Due to the piece of paper I signed while taking the test I am not allowed to divulge any information about the actual content... I will say it was difficult, and after a particularly tough week and long trip and traumatic night I was sure I had again failed to pass... I didn't! I passed the test with a score of 161.4. I 154 is required to move on the the next stage.

After the test I walked around Sofia for a while with the Fulbright Scholar. She had been to Sofia many times and acted as my tour guide for an afternoon. We parted ways after a few hours walking around the sights including the fabulous church in the center of time. It was absolutely breathtaking inside and even more so from the outside at night. It was exactly everything the people who built it wanted it to be, an awe inspiring sight that made one think of the greatness of God and cringe in his presence. It was a monument to Orthodox architecture and very pleasing to the eye. It made me wonder if there was something similar in Romania, I had never seen one, or anything like it in Bucharest.

Pictures of Sofia can be seen here...https://picasaweb.google.com/110820367558615266026/Sofia#

I again got lost on my back to the hostel, but this time on foot in the daylight. It's a sore spot and I don't want to talk about it. However within a 1/2 mile radius around my hostel I found a Starbucks, a dunkin donuts and a SUBWAY!!!!! This was another indication the Bulgaria had their stuff together. I ate Subway twice on the trip, a steak and cheese, and subway club, and KETCHUP CHIPS!!! Are you kidding me??? KETCHUP CHIPS!!! Where have these been my whole life???? They were delicious. I wish I could find them in this country, or even back in the U.S.

I was so exhausted from the trip that I only stayed out until around ten. Sitting at Happy Bar, a large international chain, watching the sushi guy work his butt of rolling and slicing, and nursing a Jack Daniels while two Spanish soccer teams flopped their way through a sloppy game. I had a nice conversation with the bartender, as it turns out, even the bartenders and subway workers in Bulgaria have excellent English skills. I went to bed early after walking past the church at night so I could catch my train back to Romania.


The train ride back was beautiful. The mountains around Sofia are breath taking and well worth the price of the train ticket. The tracks wind around, through and over the mountains, snaking it's way along the banks of river whose name I never discovered. The picturesque scenery was a very relaxing diversion from the nerves that had built themselves up throughout the weekend. I listened to podcasts, finished The Sun Also Rises and started The Historian as the train wove it's way back into Romania. Even though I had enjoyed my visit to Sofia Throughly, I was glad to be back in a country where I knew the language and alphabet, at least until I got to Gara de Nord and witnessed a drunken brawl in one of the covered bars...

Another long sleepless train ride later and I was back at site preparing for another week of school... The next trip out of sight will be COS. Our Close of Service Conference... stay tuned.
04 March 2011 @ 10:58 pm
"You may well ask why I write. And yet my reasons are quite many. For it is not unusual in human beings who have witnessed the sack of a city or the falling to pieces of a people to set down what they have witnessed for the benefit of unknown heirs or of generations infinitely remote; or, if you please, just to get the sight out of their heads." Ford Maddox Ford, The Good Soldier

This quote represents perfectly my motivation for writing this next blog post. There is nothing of any cultural relevance, there is limited action. The purpose is merely for me to come to grips with what I have experienced and, if you will allow, for those who do not know the burden Peace Corps can place on its volunteers, to give you a glimpse of what some of us go through being far removed from our families and the lives we left behind.

On February 4th, 5:00am Romanian time I received a phone call. I was groggy, out of it. Tired from the events of the night before and having only been asleep for 3 hours. I silenced the first call from a number I didn't recognize. The silence of the room was broken again a few moments later, and again a few moments after that. I answered the phone and heard the voice of my brother on the line, "Al, Grandpa died."

I couldn't immediately process the words. It took a few moments for me to realize what he was saying. My dad came on and explained the situation to me. That I shouldn't worry because everyone was with my Grandmother now and they thought I should know, I should think about coming home for the funeral. The call lasted three minutes, maybe less. Yet, it completely changed my service, and my opinion of my trip home.

My trip home in December seemed to me at the time to be a little indulgent. I had already been home once when many of my friends hadn't been home at all, and wouldn't be before their service was over. I felt like I was just taking advantage of my parent's generosity. Now, I no longer feel that way. I was able to come home and spend one last Christmas with my Grandfather, a man I admire and respect more than words can express. He and I had spent a long summer recounting the tales of his youth and his tour of duty during World War 2. We had sat in his living room, hashing through old photo albums and newspaper clippings. I had grown to love and respect him even more because of those interactions. I am grateful that I still have the recordings of our sessions together.

When I left home the first time the thought crossed my mind that I would never see my Grandfather again. When I visited home the first time in February of 2010 I had thought the same thing upon leaving. This time, however, I thought that seven months wasn't such a long time, and that I would see him again when I made my way home the following July. In speaking with my grandmother later, she would tell me that he hadn't had the same thought. Upon leaving after our dinner at P.F. Chang's he told my Grandmother that it was probably the last time he would see me.

I laid in bed awake for what seemed like hours, and in fact, was hours. I watched as the shadows of the rising sun crept into the room and encompassed my bed. I hadn't said it out loud yet. I had been thinking about it for hours and still couldn't wrap my head around it. I was in shock. I wasn't in my own apartment, and I wasn't alone in the room. I couldn't very well just let out all the emotion I was feeling with other people around. I had to keep it in and be strong. Be under control, be a rock. All I could think about was my family, and how much I wanted to be with them.

When my partner finally woke up I told her the news, and she set about trying to console me. But what do you say to someone in that situation. Especially when you know there is no way they can get home. You see, Peace Corps has a policy that Volunteers are only allowed to go home for funerals of immediate family members. I wasn't going to be able to make it to the funeral. Another thing I was slowly coming to realize. I tried to carry on through the day as best I could. Waiting for my phone to ring so I could speak with my family again. It wouldn't.

The next time I would speak with my Family I was sitting in a Starbucks at the Mall in Cluj Napoca. I was with my partner and another member of our group discussing life after Peace Corps when my phone rang again. I talked briefly with my father and made my way outside. When my mother's voice came on I could hear the strain in her voice, and her sadness, her grief, made me wish I was there to wrap my arms around her. To hug her and tell her it would be okay. To be a good son. I wanted anything but to be halfway around the world.

This is the first time in my Peace Corps experience I have not wanted to be here. The first time I didn't see the good outweigh the bad. The first time I felt helpless and alone.

My mom went through the arrangements they made for the funeral, an Honor Guard, There would be 21 gun salute. A flag presented to my Grandmother. Father John had kindly consented to preside. Despite the fact that my grandfather was an Episcopalian, he sat in church next to my Grandmother every week, and had been doing so for as long as I can remember. He had been baptized Catholic when he was young and that was all that mattered to the church. I remember being an altar server at my grandpa Cook's funeral when I was in 6th grade. My aunt had come up to me afterward and told me she thought it took a lot of courage to do it. I thought nothing of it. I wanted now, to be able to sit next to my grandmother and hold her hand during the funeral. To be there as she buried her husband of more than 60 years.

I could hardly breathe when I got off the phone. I took deep breathes, calmed myself down, and sucked it up. Buried my emotions deep inside me, and put on an act as I walked back into the Starbucks.

We stayed in Cluj one more night before I had a long 8 hour train ride back to site. The train ride was not friendly. Sitting alone for 8 hours on a train, watching the Romanian scenery pass by recounting every interaction I had had with him the last time I was home. Recounting every interaction with him ever. I held on to them like they were diamonds, I clutched them in my mind and tried to etch them in stone. I wanted them to be permanent. For every word he had ever said, for every time he had hugged, or shaken hands to be available upon request. Try as I might, I couldn't remember the last words he said to me.

When I finally made it home I collapsed in a heap on my bed. It was only 9pm but all I wanted to do was curl up into a ball and sleep until July. I wanted to magically wake up on a train or a plane or in my room at home. I spent the next hour waiting for my parents to skype me so I could speak with my Grandmother and uncle. When we talked she was visibly shaken, as is expected, she could hardly get through her explanation before needing to stop and breathe. I will never forget what she said to me.

"Your grandfather was so proud of you Alex. He didn't want you to come home for his funeral, he wanted you to keep doing what your doing. He didn't want to be a hassle. You meant so much to him and he loved you very much. He was so proud of you."

I cried that night. For a long time. I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned and tried, knowing I had school the next morning. But sleep never came, despite my best efforts. When my alarm went off, and I crawled out of bed and into the bathroom I looked at myself in the mirror, my bloodshot eyes, my puffy cheeks and I couldn't bring myself to face the day. Another first in my Peace Corps experience. I texted my counterpart what had happened and told her I couldn't come to school. She was very sympathetic.

I spent the day instead, listening to the old tapes of that summer we had spent together and trying to come to grips with the what had happened. I missed my family dearly. I wanted to be with them and I couldn't. It is difficult to go through something like that at anytime, but even more so, to me, to not be able to be a comfort to the people you love.

My grandfather, Lt. Col. John Walker Walters, was laid to rest on Tuesday February 8th at Evergreen Cemetery in Lansing Michigan. He could have been buried in Arlington, He was a Lt.Col during WW2 and served on the European front. His experience with the VFW putting up flags on memorial day made him want to be buried there where he had made his life, and his family.

There is no question that every Peace Corps volunteer pays some kind of personal price. Whether it is missing a friend's wedding, a family member's birthday, holidays. Whether it is missing their favorite food, the comfort of a book store, the feel of driving a car. There are some volunteers, like myself, whose service will be defined by what they have missed instead of what they have accomplished. I've missed many events, My best friend's wedding and the birth of his child, countless birthdays and holidays, but my Grandfather's funeral will stick with me the longest. It is the first time I have felt like I have failed as a son and human being. Though many of the circumstances are beyond my control, it doesn't change the guilt or the sadness I feel for not being there with my family during a very difficult time.

Grandpa, you will be missed, I love you.
04 March 2011 @ 09:46 pm
"All I can think about, is gettin' you home..."

I touched down in Grand Rapids on December 16th 2010 around 6:30 in the evening and was greeted by my Parents, my mother nearly breaching the security checkpoint to give me a hug, my brother, and my good friends Kevin and Joey. It was good to see them again, but much like the last time I made the trip I was unable to sleep on any of my flights and was therefore, very tired. We went to the Beltline Bar and had the most exquisite Wet Burritos... That's how the trip began. My time at home was short but good. I caught up with many of my friends and for a while it was good to just be home for a while. Still, something about it made me uneasy. It wasn't the life I was accustomed to anymore. I've grown to be accepting of my lifestyle in Romania. I enjoy the way my days progress and how my routine hardly ever varies. I am a creature of habit, even if they aren't always productive ones. I couldn't help shake the feeling that in 7 short months I would be back in the states for good. With no school waiting for me an ocean away, no apartment bills waiting in my shabby mail box and no more Romanian to speak... it was an incredibly sobering feeling. Like the last twenty months of my life had just flown by, and I was sure the next seven would be an equally rapid blur... but before that, there was the trip back, and New Year's.

"Let old acquaintance be forgot and never brought to light..."

New Year's in Brasov was something special. I had been sweating bullets at home trying to find a place to stay that was both cheap and could accommodate me and four of my friends. It wasn't easy to find, and even harder to find once we were actually in the city. My friend Brent and I arrived in Brasov around 9p.m. after two lengthy flights and a seemingly unending train ride. It had been nearly 24 hours since we had left the states and neither of us were what we would call "rested." Nevertheless, Brent and I decided to try and take the bus, rather than just paying the taxi to take us directly to our hostel door. We got off at the wrong stop, then, we walked up the wrong street, took a few wrong turns and before you know it had been walking around haphazardly for 2 hours in the freezing cold with gigantic backpacks on. We finally found the place and were able to settle in... Our other friend's arrived the next day and we greeted each of them in turn at the train or bus station. New Year's night was spectacular. We stood in the giant square in Brasov's old town, in the shadow of the Black Cathedral and watched as they counted down the waining seconds of 2010. With the echoes of "Una" still ringing in the square people popped off their champaign corks and ushered in 2011 by stealing a kiss from a loved one.

"I don't care where we go, long as I'm there with you..."

After New Year's I had a visitor come and stay with me for a few days. This visit directly resulted in the two of us beginning a relationship, which I am happy to say has been the highlight of my 2011 so far. She's an amazing woman, but also very private so I will keep the details to a minimum. She makes me happy, which isn't the easiest of tasks.

"I Don't like, I don't like, I don't like Mondays too much..."

Inevitably I had to crawl back to school and finish out the first semester. Grades, Tests and a flurry of questions about why someone's grade was what it was. I am grateful that my director and counterpart are beyond school politics. They don't care whose son or daughter you are, you get the grade you earned. It helps that it is hard for any of our students to put up a fight on their grades. Those who learn, learn, those who don't... well... they don't, ever. January was a relatively uneventful month compared to the hectic pace of December. It was cold, it snowed. It felt like winter. I made a couple of visits to my friend Ted in Piatra, relished the American food I had brought back with me, and mostly just waited around for the semester break so I could take another little adventure.

"Said I'm turnin' off my phone, Tell the world to leave to alone, Gonna stay right here in bed, All day long "

I went on a trip to see my new partner's site, it was not easy to find but I lucked into spying a bus headed to a city near hers on my to Targu Mures. I was able to switch buses and make to her site about 6 hours earlier than I would have had I made the trip all the way to Targu Mures. Again, I won't go into much detail to respect her privacy but it was a very relaxing and enjoyable time together. We made a trip to Sighisoara and saw the fortress, made pizza, pasta, curry chicken and ate hummus with home made tortillas. The majority of our time was spent in sweatpants playing scrabble and listening to podcasts. It was the perfect lazy vacation. At the end of the week we made our way to visit another one of our friend's and hang out in Cluj for a couple of days. It was at this point that something happened that will forever define my Peace Corps service.
12 December 2010 @ 07:59 pm
In my last entry I misspelled my friend's name (no surprize there) It should have read Brent Weinert... sorry for the confusion... carry on.
01 December 2010 @ 05:43 pm
November was one of those months that flew by just because of the sheer number of events. Here's the rundown.

"Welcome to the space olympics... believe in yourself, take your game to outer space." ~ The Lonley Island

The first weekend in November I was able to play European Handball with some of my 7th and 8th grade students. It was a lot of fun to spend more time with them outside of class. I was, however, disappointed in their lack of athletic ability. It looked to me as if some of the boys had never thrown a ball overhand before and when they did, made it seem like a Lion's quarterback trying desperately to get the ball downfield. The highlight of the day was playing one on one with one of my 8th graders, by far the best athlete of the group, it ended in a scoreless tie after about 5 minutes of us running all over and blocking each other's shots. The low light was while I was playing with the girls and one of them hit me in the no no parts with a rocket of a shot... she could throw harder than any of the boys, it really hurt.

"suntem copii, de acum vom fi, Plini de uimire, plini de iubire." -Guess Who "Locul Potrivit"
"we are the children, since now will be, filled with surprise, filled with love"

My director stopped by my apartment for a visit a few weeks ago and I was talking to him about a few projects I was interested in doing with the kids. His response kind of surprised me. He told me in Romanian "You don't need to do any more projects, you can if you want, but you have done plenty just being here. I know the students haven't improved much in English but we can tell that there has been a change in their heart and the way they see the world.".... hands down one of the best things anyone has ever said to me. Especially since I haven't felt like I've pulled my end of the project department lately... While I'm still not satisfied with what I've done, I do feel better knowing my director and other teachers have noticed a change in the students.

"I may be skinny at times but I'm fat full of rhymes so pass me the mic and Imma grab at it." Jason Mraz, Geek in the pink.

There really aren't many song lyrics that go along with this next part so I just wrote down what was playing. Every semester the English teachers from all over the county get together for a meeting. This semester the one in my area happened to be at my school, more than likely because I am there. Our presentation was on how to correct student error in language usage. I gave a nice little five minute presentation that ended up being more like ten. I thought it went fairly well despite the fact that I had only about three days to prepare and was only given 5 minutes to cover a topic that could have easily taken half an hour. In any case the inspector of our county told me I did a good job so cudos to me!

"See you driving round town with the girl I love and I'm like Forget you and Forget her too!" Cee Lo Brown

The next big event was our moldovan Thanksgiving... Thanks to David and Veronica it was huge success. We had about 15 volunteers come and enjoy a day of cooking, conversation and random hijinx, like licking whipped cream off of ted's head and finding new hilarious songs on youtube. The food was excellent as Veronica out did herself once again and many volunteers pitched in to make it a real feast. You can see pictures here... http://picasaweb.google.com/110820367558615266026/ThanksgivingTirguNeamtStyle#

Believe it or not the song is actually pertinent, Amanda showed it to us on youtube and it has now become a group favorite along with another song from Gretel... however, the title of said song is too risque for such a family friendly blog!

"You make me feel like I'm livin a Teenage dream..." Katy Perry

Two days before my seven hour bus ride to bucharest my computer decided it would be fun to Erase everything off of my ipod... I was incensed at the time, but now I am kind of glad it happened, I am still missing a lot of things I enjoyed but it also forced me to get rid of the things I wasn't listening to but thought maybe someday I might. And how can you argue with an event that brings you to a deeper understanding of ms. Katy Perry... exactly, you can't!

"I am in misery, ain't no body who can comfort me..." Maroon 5

The bus ride itself was the worst trip I've had in Romania to date. It even beat out sitting next to woman throwing up for 2 hours on our way to Sibiu... The "bus" left at 11:30 pm... I thought since it was a longer trip it would be more comfortable, but the seats were so close together that I couldn't even get my legs in front of me. I was unable to sleep the entire ride and arrived in Bucharest to the biggest surprise to date... McDonald's had breakfast! While this is a great acheivement for all mankind, the only thought that got me through the trip was that I would be able to have a Big Mac for breakfast... it unfortnately didn't work out that way.

"Alright, maybe that was the wrong bus" - Brent Wienert
"All my life I've been searching for something, something never comes never leads to nothing..." Foo Fighters

The whole purpose of going to Bucharest was to attend Thanksgiving at the Ambassador's house. Being awake for such a long period of time had made me a little loopy but left me unable to sleep, so like always, brent and I set out to find coffee and a distraction. We found Funland in one of the Buch shopping centers and I schooled Brent in Air Hockey... then we checked into our hostel and decided to head towards where we thought the Ambassador's house was... where we thought it was... Neither Brent nor myself are much for planning ahead so we just got on a bus that looked like it was headed in the right direction and for a while I think we were okay, but it took both of us a little while to realize that we were in no way going in the right direction anymore... our main goal was to find the Arc de Triumph and walk from there but all the signs kept saying it was not the way we were going... we got out of the bus and walked for about 2km before asking a cab if he could take us... he apparently didn't want our money and just told us it was up the street... another 3km up the street... then we couldn't find the road that starts with "T" that our friend told us the house was on... thankfully we got there only about 30 min late... another successful buc adventure.

"Inch by Inch row by row, I'm gonna make this garden grow" John Denver

The spread at the Ambassador's was impressive, Peace Corps was well represented with volunteers and the French and Turkish Ambassadors to Romania were both in Attendance. I will say that Veronica is a much better cook than the Ambassador's staff, there were no bacon wrapped somkies or green bean casserole so I will give the food nod to Moldova. We were asked as part of the Ambassador's family tradition to sing a song by John Denver which made the Ambassador's wife very happy. She was definetly greatful for being able to do so and we were happy to oblige her... We were also able to play a little football on the Ambassador's lawn... good times all around.

"If I die before I wake, At least in Heaven I skate" OPM "heaven is a halfpipe.

this one goes out to Brent who was able to guess 23 of 25 songs on my one hit wonders of the 90's albulm... well done sir.

"wow wow wow, can we use 8th grade words here, I dont even know what you just said" Brent Wienert
"Lay down, my friend. Close your eyes, breathe in, And I'll take you there and back again." Daughtry

The weekend ended with a trip up to visit Sarah and Carly, two other volunteers who had made the excursion to bucharest. Sarah was a very gracious host and the weekend had some definite highlights, including trying to get sarah to adopt 5 puppies in the park, making tortillas and tacos, apple bars and Alfredo, to go along with numerous card games and amazing conversation... The only down side was sarah's insistence on playing Daughtry and Nickelback all weekend... hence the song quote... A great way to end the trip, even though we slept maybe a combined 8 hours Friday and Saturday night/morning...

That's all for now, til next time... oh yeah... I'll be home in 16 days!

"I'm just sittin out here watchin Airplanes, Take off, and FLLLLYYYYYY!" Gary Allan
04 November 2010 @ 05:56 pm
I would first like to say that this blog is the sole responsibility of the writer and does not reflect the opinion of Peace Corps or staff.

The culturally relevant point of the Halloween ball came in two parts. The first with two men from America the second with my bosses from Peace Corps.

My position at the Halloween ball was to help people fill out little bits of paper with information for the door raffle. On occasion someone would arrive who had better English skills than Romanian ones and would thus be easier for me to talk to than the two Romanian females who were also helping. After most the guests had already arrived I was casually hanging out by the table when a man who obviously spoke no English came up to the table and asked "so, what am I doing here?" I told him. He looked at me and said "that's not a Romanian accent." We exchanged greetings and I came to find out that he was there working on the Nicholas Cage movie. For the purposes of anonymity we shall call him Ryan.

We talked for a little while just about what I'm doing here for Peace Corps and How the movie was going. Another man came over, also with the movie, and I introduced myself to him telling him I was in Peace Corps, his response, verbatim was this: "What are you 23 24?"(first time I've been low balled in a while)"you'll get over that." Ryan recoiled in horror, "Jesus, come on he's doing a good thing." "well money will win out in the end." We continued discussing this for a couple minutes. Then Ryan asked me another question I was not ready for. "So, you think these people have a chance?" "excuse me?" "Romania, think it has a chance?"

Has a chance at what? Beating the U.S. in Science and Math education? Winning the world cup? Fielding an american football team? Brining Michael Jackson back from the dead? I didn't know what that was supposed to mean. But I responded the only way I knew how.

"Romanians are nothing if not resilient. They made it through communism, they've adapted well to technology. I have met more generous and kind people here in 18 months than I had in my whole life in the U.S. They in large part have a hunker down mentality. Just ride out the storm until something better comes along. I think when the new generation takes control of the Government things will be a lot better."

He responded "We've met a lot of good people to but just looking at this country makes me think it's beyond repair."

"Where have you been?"

"We've been in Sibiu, the Transfagerasan Highway and spent last week in Hunedoara. hunedoara is a sh*thole. I have never seen an uglier city in my life. But we had to shoot at the castle." I told him he was in the good part of the country. If he thought Hunedoara was bad he doesn't want any part of places like Barlad and Tirgu Neamt. We spit-balled for a little while about home made wine and Tuica and then they made their exit.

Throughout our conversation I got the overwhelming feeling that they thought of themselves as greater than the people they were sharing the country with. Ryan, for his part, seemed simply curious, making fewer generalizations and giving Romanians credit for what they are good at... wine and tuica. The other man, crazy hat, shared no such sentiment. He looked at their time here as a waste and saw no cultural or theatrical value of any kind in Romania.

A little late on I ran into two of my bosses from Peace Corps. I told them about the story. Their reaction was exactly what I thought it would be. "Ignorant, closed minded jackasses who wouldn't know beauty if it smacked them in the face" One of my bosses ranted for a little while about fighting that sort of bigotry and them not understanding what the world is really like and so on. This rant, was almost as bigoted and prejudiced as the one I had endured from Mr. Crazy Hat. They have been fighting for people from other countries for so long that they sometimes forget the American perspective. They are defacto world citizens because they have spent so much more of their adult life helping people from countries that are not their own. Their perspective has changed to side with those they serve, rather than those with whom they share a homeland.

There are two kinds of people in the world; those who believe and those who don't. Those who believe are steadfast in their opinions. They have dug their foxholes and are bunkered in for the shelling of those who believe the exact opposite that they do. Once in a while launching their own mortars and calling in air strikes. There's a war going on between those who believe. Crazy hat and boss lady would stand for days just shooting it out with one another, while those like myself and Ryan are much more apt to see both sides of the argument. We don't believe strongly enough either way to walk into a recruiters office and sign up. We observe and we digest and we move on, often without making a judgment.

There are some good things in the world, there are some bad things. Everything else is a shade of gray. Absolute right and Absolute wrong can almost never be found in the trenches. You make decisions, you make judgments and you move on.

I don't know if Romania is going to make it. There are obstacles, serious obstacles that require serious diligence and creative thinking. I do know this, the Romanian people are a time tested one. They will be here long after the countries around them shrivel and split and break apart. I have no doubt they will find a way to keep on living. The definition of "make it" is as flexible a standard as anyone could ascribe. They will live. Will they "make it" in a Hollywood sense and become a world power? No... But they will live and live well.
03 November 2010 @ 04:09 pm
It isn't very often I get a chance to spend time in Bucharest. Until last weekend I had only stayed the night there once for a medical appointment, the rest of my time in Bucharest has mostly been spent waiting for trains at the gara or riding a bus out to Ikea for some fantastic meatballs. It wasn't until Last weekend that I found myself in Bucharest with a little bit of time on my hands. The results were well, interesting.

Okay, I wasn't just going down to the capital city for no reason. I made plans to Volunteer with and organization called Ovidiu Rom. Ovidiu Rom was set up by Ethan Hawke's mother (a former volunteer) to help get impoverished children into Kindergarden and then keep them in school. It is a worth while cause as I have seen myself the difficulties in convincing not only young children, but older ones as well that school is really in their best interest.

As a special fundraising event Ovidiu Rom puts on a Halloween Ball. This was the 6th such event and it was held at the Parlimentary Palace. Needless to say the chance to spend a large amount of time in a beautiful place like that was hard to pass up. I had originally planned on spending thursday through sunday helping but was told I would only be needed Friday and Saturday. So, thursday night my friend and I got on an overnight train to bucharest, passed out, and woke up to a delicious Big Mac Meal. After spending a few hours at the Peace Corps office we had plenty of time to kill before the volunteer meeting at the palace at 7pm. After finding our hostel (not without some difficulty and by means not condusive to expediency) we sat at a terasa and thought of what we could possibly due for a day in Bucharest... of course the answer came quickly with the sound of screeching brakes... Ride random buses.

The bus system is as such that there is little need for a ticket. I would say only one out of every 20 rides will there be a "controller" on the bus to make sure you have one. It is an accepted practice to skip out on such frivolities as a ticket... However since our experience in Timisoara proved that controlers do exist we bought tickets anyway and rode the bus til we saw something familiar. Got off, and got on another bus that took us out to the Arc de Triumph ala Bucharest. Something I had only seen from buses and taxis before that day. The Results of this trip may be seen here: http://picasaweb.google.com/110820367558615266026/FunInBuc#

There are a few things you tend to notice when riding around on a bus... one of which is that personal space is of no concern to the person next to you. The other is that there is ALWAYS more room on the bus even if you have to stand with one leg propped up against the window. The third is that, brakeing, is always the last resort for the driver, even at red lights.

The day was great. The park was beautiful and the volunteer meeting went off without a hitch. At one O'clock the next day We showed up to continue our volunteering and were put to work pretty quickly. Anytime something needed to be carried we were shown the way to help them. I guess we looked like guys who could carry things. Then, we were given our own special assignment... watch the wine. Yes make sure no one steals the wine before the guests show up... When the guests did start to show up it turned out we had the best seats in the house. Standing at a table exhibiting the door prizes. We saw celebrities, and rich people, and dignitaries, and Elvis, yes Elvis, and our boss, our ambassador, the Canadian Ambassador and of course Nicholas Cage, the guest of honor.

Nicholas Cage is in Romania shooting the Sequal to Ghost Rider, why they would make another one I have no idea, however there he was right there in real life with Jet black hair holding his son, sprinting by the press. Quite a sight to see, especially with a fellow peace corps volunteer trying to push the press out of the way. All in all the event raised 500,000 Euros to help put kids in school. For more information about that night check this out: http://www.bucharestherald.ro/dailyevents/41-dailyevents/16746-half-a-million-euro-donated-at-halloween-ball-to-help-1200-children-go-to-kindergarten

or here: http://www.halloween.ovid.ro/

Hopefully later this week I will have another post for you. Stay Tuned... Space Ghost Out!
Since I have nothing inspiring or culturally meaningful to say this week I thought I would write about some random things that have cropped up over the last couple weeks. These are in no particular order and the song lyrics may be completely irrelevant.

"Winter blows through my coat, It's chillin my bones..." -Frank Black and the Catholics

Its autumn now, though judging by the patch of ice I slipped on walking out of my apartment door last week Winter isn't too far behind. The trees are stubbornly clinging to the last bits of green left on their boney fingers. The sun is stuck in a perpetual semblance of dusk, as even at noon the long dark shadows of the trees and buildings are tinctured with orange and yellow. I know it won't be too long before it becomes dark at 4:30 and the only time I see the sun is out my classroom window.

"imi place modul in care minti" -Eminem

Okay, he didn't say it in Romanian, but this part is about that song. Last week one of my female 8th graders came into class playing "I love the way you lie" on her cell phone. I asked her if she understood what the song meant. She could tell me the chorus but admitted to not understanding any of the rest of the song. So, I asked if she wanted to translate it in class. She was excited. Now, I don't have to tell Romanian teachers its hard to get students excited to translate anything. But these kids were ready. This week I came prepared with lyrics in hand and we listened to the song while reading the words. Little did I know, the kids started singing. SINGING! Right there in class. It was great. It may not be the best sentiment for 8th grade boys and girls to chime in on but I swear they could have sung background for Rhianna on that part. I never knew my students could sing english better than they could read it.

"Shorty is a enie menie mine mo lover..." Justin Beiber.

That's right. A Justin Beiber reference. I went there. I had a strange feeling of rejection last week when the parents of one of my 8th grade classes decided they didn't want me to teach their kids. It was odd for me because I had to put up a fight with my director in order to keep all 22 hours I was teaching. He wanted me to cut my least favorite classes and only have 18... the peace corps standard is 16. I told him I had no problem teaching 22 hours... afterall I had 23 for much of last year. When he told me I wouldn't teach the 8th grade anymore because their parents didn't want to pay the money, I was shocked and felt guilty. See, at my school each family (if I teach more than one kid from a single family, which i do alot) is asked to contribute 30 lei to pay for my housing, as it is the school's responsibility to pay my rent. I know it wasn't the kids fault but I still feel a little slighted.

"Well you'd like to think that you were invincible.
Yeah, well weren't we all once before we felt loss for the first time?" -dashboard

I'm planning on writing a whole post about the process of comming home, but I'm just not ready yet. There are some things that are just too hard to think about.

"Is someone getting the best, the best, the best, the best of you?" -Foo Fighters

I have a new counterpart this year. She's only about two months older than I am however she seems to be a better teacher than the man I had last semester. I don't want to take anything away from Liviu, He is a good man who takes his job seriously, but he doesn't have a commanding presence in the classroom. And while, like Liviu, Alina will have me make all the decisions and often follow my ideas in the one class we team teach, She is also not afriad to raise her voice and put kids in their places. I have noticed I'm having a lot more fun this year. It's easier for me to cool off after a tough class because Alina and I can joke and talk about more easily than Liviu and I could. It also doesn't hurt to have someone my own age around to laugh at the old men.

"She packed my bags last night pre-flight,Zero hour nine a.m." Elton John

I'm moving. That's right. Moving. The apartment I am in has no heat and since temperatures were dipping below freezing last week my director has moved up my move date from the first of November to tomorrow. Or at least that is the plan thus far. The day has been moved a couple of times already. I have gotten used to my jail cell of an apartment. I am looking forward to having a real bed though... should be nice. On a little side note. So far while living here, every bed I have had (excluding hotels) since being in this country I have broken... alone... *sigh*

"Maybe this mattress will spin on its axis, and find me on yours." -John Mayer

That's enough for now. Stay tuned for next weeks installment of the misguided adventures of a Peace Corps Volunteer.

(In case you were wondering, the title is in reference to a hat my aunt sent me last year after halloween. It's black with an orange sticker that says Jagermeister on the front. My kids will sometimes ask me what it means. And I usually tell them deer hunter... or something to that effect... I don't tell them its a beverage that makes you feel like death on a triscuit.)