Monday, December 31, 2007

Almost Perfect Christmas (cont'd.)
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

Please go down and watch the videos, in the last post first, Ok? There's an order to this but blogger's only letting me post so many videos at a time.


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La Multi Ani! Craciun Fercit! (Many Happy Returns!) Merry Christmas!

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Here's the family tradition of singing a Christmas Carol in front of the door before we go into the room to see the presents under the Christmas tree.

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Sarmale fara carne is cabage rolls with rice and vegetables, bread and samanta. Samanta is sour cream. What else did I eat for Christmas? Lots of cookies, cakes, Schwepps Bitter Lemon, chocolates and chocolate covered pretzels.

Almost Perfect Chirstmas
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

As promised, here are the videos of my Christmas in Ocna Mures. Here are Micah and I making the Christmas cookies.

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Ok, after giving the matter some more thought I no longer think the Star of David and the Christmas Star are the same star.

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Some of the neighborhood kids caroling or - colinda. The caroling tradition varies from village to town, and we were also caroled to by a Romanian praise band from a local church, with a guitar and everything - but for a while it was like every kid suddenly had a job. Caroling for change, cookies and mugs of hot tea. However my hot Christmas tea flavored with oranges, sugar, cinnamon and clove too foriegn and was not appreciated by the Romanian kids.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like...something

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.



This is a post is a combination of thoughts I've had for a while. It took a while for it to look and feel like Christmas here in Romania and I think that's a little strange seeing as how there is no mainstream celebration of Halloween and no Thanksgiving in Romania. Signs of Christmas such as lights and window displays in stores, wreaths and public Christmas trees didn't appear until early December and it was weird forgetting that Christmas was coming - or even weirder knowing Christmas was coming and was being advertised and being celebrated in the U.S. in October and November.

I remember thinking that the first late November sign of Christmas I saw was a car going around town with a speaker attached to its roof playing music. It was a song I recognized and I assumed it was a Christmas song but then I actually stopped and paid attention and realized that was Ode To Joy. Turns out the car was driving around encouraging political support for a candidate in the upcoming election.

But with St. Nicholas day the chocolates, the holly, the evergreen and the real live mistletoe started showing up in stores. The city put up lights and a couple of Christmas trees and I've noticed that I distinctly hear American Christmas carols played on the PA when I'm grocery shopping. Maybe because I don't watch the American tv being subtitled in Romanian - but I haven't noticed if there are Christmas movies, or tv Christmas specials or those heartwarming Seasons Greetings commercials about Peace on Earth goodwill to man brought to you by coca cola. Sarbatori Fericite by the way is Happy Holidays in Romanian.

There are no huge sales, no Black Friday, no shoppers bustling every where with over loaded shopping bags and fewer kids out of their minds with Christmas excitement that I've noticed.
I think it's because, as I said, many kids get their presents on St. Nicholas day and Christmas is a time for food, family, carols and church. I'm looking forward to celebrating with my friend's host family. I've also gotten the idea that like most things Romanians will celebrate Christmas when they get around to it. It will come. No need to rush.

It's interesting because I knew Christmas was a capitalist holiday but I kind of assumed it was everywhere - including Europe, but I'm beginning to learn that few other countries have the emphasis on gifts that you see in the U.S. Romania also has its National Day on December 1st, and today December 22 is the anniversary of the revolution in 1989. At least I'm pretty sure as most cities I've been to have a strada 22 decembrie and in Deva strada 22 decembrie turns into strada primul decembrie. Romanians have that history added on to their celebration of Christmas. Ceaucescu was executed on Christmas morning 1989 and it was widely thought of as a new beginning for the country.

We'll see how this history informs the celebration of Christmas with the Romanian family I'll be visiting. I'm mostly excited for the excuse to celebrate (i.e. feast, song and movie marathon) with friends and to get out of town for a little while. I'm interested and grateful to be welcomed into a Romanian family's celebration of the holiday. But, this being my first Christmas in my entire life I'm away from my family it's also an opportunity for me to step back and look at what Christmas really means to me.

I guess it means the Muppet Christmas Carol. No seriously, I didn't bring this movie with me to Romania and it was only recently (Thursday) I was able to secure a copy to watch on Christmas Day. Until I knew for sure I was going to have it I was anxious and kind of depressed. I remember when this movie came out on video we watched it at my birthday party in 7th grade. The Muppet Christmas Carol has been part of my Christmas tradition since 1992 and keeping this tradition alive was very important to me. Somehow watching the Muppet Christmas Carol makes it more like Christmas - even though in recent years my brother and I, I'm sorry to say invented a Muppet Christmas Carol drinking game. I think we thought we should try to ruin everything good and pure in the world.

It's funny because since I grew up and went to college I wasn't that in to how we carried out family Christmas traditions. I didn't care if we went to church or stayed home and watched Fight Club, if I cooked a turkey or made vegetarian lasagna and samosas, if I was sick or well; not much phased me. Because it was Christmas and I was home where I belonged with my friends and family around me. Now that I'm far away these traditions take on so much more importance.

Like my newly founded tradition of watching the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition Trilogy every year about this time whether it be on Christmas day or New Year's. I finally got to watch the Trilogy again (- it had been far too long) and completed it on my birthday. Again - I was anxious and unhappy at the approach of the holiday until I knew that I could watch these movies again snuggled up with someone I love. Who "gets" it. It seemed right and good because it reminded me of the first time watched extended edition ROTK which was released on my 24th birthday which I watched with The Family all gathered at Andy's apartment in Stevens Point - crying our eyes out so that Chris had to get up and had everyone tissues. Natalie and Brent were even there! This year taking the ring to the Mountain with some different friends was still good because I got to remember past trips to the mountain and that's what makes me feel closer to all those I miss. And until this moment I don't think I've even felt properly grateful I have the opportunity to take part in the film trilogy with a new close friend I didn't know a year ago.

So if you want to call between Christmas and New Year, I might be on a Journey - but I'll be happy to pick up the phone. Or I might be watching the Muppet Christmas Carol once a day for several days straight and I guarantee I'll be singing along!

Speaking of other holiday traditions, though, I "magically acquired" a Christmas album I used to love as a kid. Willie Nelson's Christmas album Pretty Paper. It was the only country album I ever listened to growing up but for some reason when Willie sang it it meant Christmas to me in a way that Bing Crosby or anyone else never did. Listening to this album again now just makes me depressed though and I realize I haven't listened to it - or any country for that matter - since Brokeback Mountain came out. That twangy guitar sound now means something to me that can not be undone and listening to Willie now is like pain itself singing you a lullaby. Very weird.

With all that in mind - tomorrow Bella and I are off to visit a friend for a few days while we celebrate with good friends, good fun and a lot of movies and food! I plan to make little videos on my camera of Christmas 07 in Romania and post them here so you all can feel closer to me if you've not got access to the muppets or 9.9 hours to spare watching Lord of the Rings.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Hyper-sensitive or How I experience culture shock

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps

I've been thinking lately about how crabby I am at some people's comments about culture. I think I've come to realize this has something to do with my experience of culture shock.

They told us in Peace Corps training we would experience culture shock but no one could really explain what that would look like. Some said it would be the day you broke down and cried in the post office because the woman behind the desk was rude to you (or more rude than usual) or a day you were so homesick you couldn't get out bed. A friend of mine who spent three months in Costa Rica said he experienced a culture shock that made him hate Costa Rica because of all the problems in that country and the stress things he saw as "wrong" with the country caused him. (I'm paraphrasing here because he told me this more than four months ago and said he hadn't experienced anything like it in Romania.)

I haven't had any days where I hated Romania. In fact every time I'm asked "Do you like it here in Romania?" I'm able to respond with a heartfelt yes, I like Romania. I think Romania is a country with problems - like every country, but in a lot of ways it is refreshing to get some distance from the USA and all of its problems. I like Romania. So I thought I hadn't really experienced any culture shock. I noticed things that were different, and have always done my best to "roll with it." I have been heard to earnestly exclaim "we're Peace Corps volunteers, we're flexible!" and have mostly given up my American notions of getting things done in a hurry.

Lately I have come to realize that my reaction to other peoples comments about culture is disproportionate to the offense given by the remark. I am hyper-sensitive. It started back in training when friends from home whom I haven't been in touch with for a while made innocent jokes about Romania on my facebook page I became furiously angry at their ignorance*. I know these comments were intended to be funny and that a lot of people in US just don't know anything about Romania-I didn't really know anything about Romania a year ago. I tried to respond in a similarly humorous tone, while setting them straight, but I was still angry. *except for vampire jokes. I don't like the vampire stereotype, but I think vampire jokes are funny.


It even got to the point where I was irritated with people from home who displayed an ignorance about how Peace Corps works. I don't know how I could expect you guys at home to know about that stuff but be assured that if you made an erroneous statement about PC instead of asking a question, I was probably a little irritated with you.

I had a similar experience to this when I was in Mississippi and well meaning friends and family members would congratulate me on volunteering in New Orleans and a fiery venom would burst fourth from my lungs proclaiming I'M NOT IN NEW ORLEANS. I'M IN MISSISSIPPI! GOD! DON'T YOU KNOW THAT MORE THAN NEW ORLEANS WAS HIT BY THE HURRICANE?!!!!

What was that about?

Then I became aware that I am feeling immensely crabby at comments made by other volunteers about Romania. Every time I hear "it's even good by US standards" or "almost as good as in the US" it lights a little flame of anger in my soul. Little things like "fresh honey is one of the best things about Romania" elicits an undeserved response of "Way to reduce an entire culture down to fresh honey!"** in my head. **If you said this, I'm not angry at you, it was just a recent example.

Rarely do I tell other volunteers about their tiny offenses that irk me - unless it's something major that seriously needs to be addressed. And so far I'm glad I haven't brought it up because there are so many little things it seems petty - but maybe if I had I would have realized sooner that my anger is a little intense; that I'm spending an increasing about of time peeved with everyone.

Assumptions that everything is naturally better in the US make me furious. But I don't think the volunteers who make these statements of assumption or bad people, nor are they trying to say the USA is better at everything than Romania. It's just what comes out of your mouth. I guess it's kind of natural with the way we Americans were socialized. I know they don't mean to sound like jerks. I don't even think Romanians think we're as jerky as I do. I'm just tired of comparisons.

It's hard to realize that you're going through culture shock though. It's one of those things that appears to you - perfectly rational and justified. It's kind of like experiencing PMS or being drunk and angry - you think the way you're reacting is totally reasonable. Until you realize it isn't.

I know I'm not innocent of this either. But it's always easier to be upset about what's wrong with everyone else. This weekend I just said to my Romanian co-worker "I don't have one of those round pizza cutters. I should get my mom to send me one" and she said "you know we have those here, in Romania."

And I've been feeling like a jerk for two days. Surely that's not normal. Surely this has something to do with culture shock.

Or maybe I'm just a bitch.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Gender and Development Romania Calendars!
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

There is still time to order your 2008 Romania GAD calendar and have it delivered to your door before the New Year! We have only 70 calendars left to sell out a record-breaking printing of 500! You can help us move the last calendars by buying one for yourself or one for your friends or family members. It makes a great Christmas gift for under $20!

Each calendar is $12 US plus $2 shipping from Romania (Just $14!). It features 13 A4 size black and white photographs taken by Peace Corps volunteers in Romania. This year's theme is Tradition in Transition. I have seen this year's calendar and purchased a few myself. They are convieniently sized, professionally printed and have a nail hole to be hung on a wall. They also include the days of the week in English, Romanian and Hungarian!

Proceeds from the calendar sale benefit the Gender and Devlopment committee, a committee of Peace Corps volunteers and Romanians working together on gender equity projects. This year the printing was donated - so 100% of your $12 (because $2 is shipping) will go to help fund projects such as youth development camps, anti-human trafficking projects, domestic voilence awareness campaigns and seminars on women in the media.

How to order? Just send me an email (theonlylunchbox@hotmail.com) including the number of calendars you'd like and who you'd like them sent to (we deliver to friends and neighbors for the same price as to your door!) You can even order six calendars and have 3 sent to your best friend and three to yourself for just $2 shipping per order from Romania! Or if my checking my email 45 times an hour isn't reliable enough for you, you can send an email directly to Monica (Monica.Gadkari@gmail.com) with the same information.

How to pay? When you send me an email I will click reply and send you a convieneint address in the USA to which you can mail a check. It's that simple!

Don't have any money? I believe we'll continue selling the calendars until we run out so (don't tell anyone I told you this) but I think if you don't put your check in the mail until early January it'd be OK. You can also check in with me in late Jan, early Feb when you break down and realize your 2007 calendar isn't going to get you through 2008, or just keep us in mind for next year!

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Hanukkah
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

I woke up this morning to a dark gray sky and little light in my room although it was almost nine o'clock. I thought, Oh if it's going to be this dark out all day why even get out of bed? But I did, and now I have a pale blue sky and some sunlight coming in through the windows. Enough that I don't yet have to turn the lights on. When evening comes I'll probably turn on the lights and light the candles I bought yesterday. Winter is the time of year when I enjoy having some candles going. It's cheering.

While feeling thankful for the sunlight I remembered my dream last night. I dreamt I was back in high school choir and the director was passing out the music for the holiday concert and I was begging him to sing the Hanukkah song we sang in fourth grade. I still remember that song though i don't remember any other specific song from that concert n fourth grade - we probably sang Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas but I can't be sure. I just remember the Hanukkah song was my favorite song that year, but I didn't know until my dream the other night that I remembered all the words.

It's a beautiful song about remembering and honoring, and about a miracle and tradition. It's probably not a traditional song - someone probably wrote it so fourth graders could sing it at holiday concerts, but it made an impression on me all the same. (I considered posting the words here but this is too long so if you want to know them you should email me.)

Two years ago I was introduced to the notion that Hanukkah is part of Christian tradition because the early Christians were Jewish. Old testament traditions are part of Christian history and heritage. I really liked that idea of emphasizing the connection between the old traditions and the new, of honoring the ancestors. It's much more appealing that the us vs. them take on it and people (please!) feeling persecuted by the phrase "Happy Holidays" - which by the way includes Thanksgiving and New Year.

Is there anything stopping someone who is not of Christian faith from finding the Hallieujah Chorus beautiful? Or even from singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" with vigor if Christmas isn't something they themselves celbrate? No. And there's nothing stopping Christians from seeing the beauty of Hanukkah, the Celebration of Lights. But more than that in this dark time of the year I want to join in the celebration and remember and honor the traditions of long ago before Jesus was born. Thinking about the world Jesus was born into, thinking about light in a time of darkness, thinking about miracles and traditons all comes together in what the holiday season really means: hope.

Recently a friend of mine said on her blog that Mitt Romney made a speech where he said only someone who believes in Jesus is qualified to be President. I, of course, know nothing of this because with no Daily Show, I get no news.(The Daily show itself could be back on for weeks before I'd even know about it) But maybe what Romney should have said only someone who follows the teachings of Jesus is qualified to be President regardless of what he or she believes.


Is Benjamin Franklin a less valued statesman in American history because he once wrote "As to Jesus of Nazareth, I think the system of morals and his religion as he left them to us are the best the world ever saw or is likely to see, but I have some doubts as to his divinity." ?

In the discussion of a Religious Test one might have to pass to be a contender to the office of the Presidency, I would refer you to the West Wing on this matter, but my friend more rightly linked to her blog President Kennedy making an address in Houston in 1960 when the issue of whether or not a Catholic could govern as President was raised during that election. I would urge you to watch Kennedy's speech as he makes the point that if a good statesman can not be elected because he is Protestant or Catholic or Jewish, than the loss belongs to the entire country; because it is a country of Jews and Catholics an Protestents who expect equal and fair treatment from their government, the government of a free country which allows all the freedom to choose their faith or choose not to have faith.

I think when we talk about freedom people are too quick to become selfish about MY freedom. MY FREEDOM to hear people say Merry Christmas when I go to Wal-Mart and not to have to hear something else. MY FREEDOM to celebrate Christmas. But the freedom to celebrate Christmas or not celebrate it is also the freedom to hear songs about other faiths and recognize their beauty. Because you have the FREEDOM to choose your own faith and decide for yourself. You have the FREEDOM not to be censored in your thoughts or in your appreciations of the music, art and poetry of other faiths.


MY FREEDOM allows me wish you all a Happy Hanukkah whether you celebrate it or not without fear that the religious police will come after me for saying something that doesn't fit with the majority status quo - and what you do with my earnest good wishes for miracles and tradition and light in your life - is up to you.

I wish you all light in this season of the year. I wish you hope and success in the new year. I wish you love and happiness and family and friends to celebrate life with - however you choose to celebrate it. And I wish you the continued freedom to find faith and beauty where ever you find it.


And my hope is that in 2008 more people will be willing to freely come together as brothers and sisters of many faiths and celebrate light.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Pictures from the train window continued: Calan
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.


I took this video out the window of the train and you're just going to have to read what I have to say about this video because originally it was 185 MG of countryside between the train station and the factory with explanation and Romanians speaking in the background.I had to edit it down to 99 because 100 is all blogger and youtube can handle. And apparently blogger can't handle it.


This is video of the factory in the town of Calan. When I visit my friends south of me in Baru Mare or in Petrosani this is the train I take and it goes through the abandoned factory. The factory is on both sides of the tracks. I've also been in a car that drove through Calan and let me tell you the abandoned factory on both sides of the road is an experience. I must say looking out train windows in Romania you see an abandoned factory like this every so often but this is the biggest one I've seen. It also extends back away from the tracks quite a bit.


I don't know what used to be made in this factory. I don't know how many people live in Calan, but these are things that I'm going to try to learn. I don't know if anything is being done with this abandoned factory but I have a feeling it's beyond any Peace Corps volunteer to do a project about it.

Happy St. Nicholas day!
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.
Today is St. Nicholas day. The day when Romanian children wake up, run to their shoes and open their presents, and then go to school. I imagine however, since it's not a National holiday and people still go to school and work, that the school day is probably mostly St. Nicholas day parties.

As I understand it Christmas eve and Christmas day in Romania are more about feasting, drinking, singing and going to church with your family and the majority of gift giving happens on St. Nicholas day.


I decided to celebrate St.Nicholas Day (why not) by buying myself some chocolate. And oranges. When I was a kid we always got oranges and Hersheys kisses and sometimes dimes in our shoes. I think we celebrated this holiday to calm us down in the run up to Christmas - the time when everyone under 10 is out of their mind with excitement. I'm not out of my mind with excitement about Christmas, but there are things I'm looking foward to and I thought it would be nice to treat myself today.
Well a little treat turned quite extravagant because I don't usually eat lunch. But I decided to celebrate my birthday a little early and buy myself my new favorite cheese spread which is a little like cream cheese with garlic and herbs and dark bread.

I got up early to go to the piata to buy oranges and collect a package of treats sent to me from Hawaii! Better than anything I could find in my shoe, I get the taste of something new, reminders of loved ones far away and favorite tea! On the way I ran into my neighbor and wished her a happy St. Nicholas day. On the way I home I decided I would give her half my oranges later. Then I went to the store for chocolate and Schwepp's Bitter lemon (my new addiction) and stopped by my office to share the experience of Stash Chai Tea. There was only one person at the office but St. Nicholas had left little gift bags for everyone with chocolate Santas. Interestingly, he left a little bag of chocolate for me there, too!

Then I came home to light a big stick of cinnamon incense and induldge in cheese, bread, an orange and a banana, chocolate, Schwepps and tea. All for me! It's nice to have a special treat for yourself every once in a while. Thank you St. Nicholas!


Oh, an my neighbor thought oranges on St.Nicholas day was strange until I told her it's what I always found in my shoe. She responded by knocking on my door and presenting me with - more chocolate!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Pictures from the train window
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

Here are two different journeys, one I've taken twice now and maybe not again, the other I take every time I visit three friends to the south of me. First here are the pictures of the beautiful Transylvanian scenery between me and Miercurea Cuic to the northeast of me. It's a seven hour train ride one way. Miercurea Cuic is supposed to be the coldest city in Romania and when I was there in the begining of November it was cold and snowing, but now that I went again on Nov.30 it's not so cold. In between here an Miercrea Cuic is a scenic country side with lots of quaint houses set beautifully against the snow covered hills and my photography out of the train window doesn't do it justice.











Wednesday, November 28, 2007

: ((

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and so do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps. Like totally!

This is the emotocon for crying. Those of you who know me know there's only two tv shows I care about since The West Wing was canceled (and TV is dead to me), The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. I'm sorry I don't have anything to say about the Broadway stagehands strike, but Broadway and I aren't really speaking. I will say this though, being far away from home I really enjoyed watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report online four days a week.

The writers' strike is killing me.

I have cried real tears over this.*

But I think the whole situation is best summed up by another fan, and if you still need more explaination go to youtube and watch Not the Daily Show. Bless John Oliver for being a Brit and showing up in that video.

Here you go. It's short but you may as well pop the popcorn. There's no other reason to anymore.



* not while I was awake but I dreamed I did.

I MISS THE DAILY SHOW AND COLBERT! WAAAAAAAAAH WAAAH! (sob!)

Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Vecina mea

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

The above phrase in Romanian means "my neighbor." My neighbor is a real character. A cranky old woman quite insistant on her way who always seems to have a mouth full of cracker crumbs which she spits on me when she talks. She's nice when I offer her extra food I won't be able to finish or free groceries I got from the Red Cross that I don't think I deserve. She has a habit of telling me in Romanian that I don't speak Romanian well, the other American who lived here before spoke Romanian better. She also insists that Phil's name was Paul and that he promised her his pots and pans when he left so I should give them to her when I leave and when am I leaving Romania again?
She's also someone who hasn't gotten that if someone doesn't understand the language you're speaking, repeating yourself louder doesn't help. She's nosey and sometimes annoying and grabby. She offers unwanted advice, and helps her self to whatever food I have out on the counter when she comes over and when she doesn't like what I'm saying to her in Romanian such as "don't put your frozen meat in my freezer. My freezer is full and I don't want to keep your meat frozen for you," she pretends she doesn't understand me. However, I believe that deep down she is a sweet lady.

Sunday I was home for four hours before I had to catch another train to take me two hours south to pick up my cat. My neighbor came over to give me some little apple cakes and thank me once again for the free groceries I gave her in October. She brought over the apple cakes on a plate so she could come into my apartment and set them on one of my plates - just because she wanted to come in. Usually entrance into my kitchen is an opportunity for her to ask me for my pots and pans, but this time I figured, why not ask her advice on something. My notices form the post office that indicate I have something to pick up have been arriving without specifiying which post office to go to - or maybe they do but the handwriting is unintelligable. I asked my neighbor about the noticed (she also, unasked, keeps an eye on my mailbox for me) and she offered to go with me to the post office.

I unwillingly accepted her offer as she was very excited to hear about the prospect of me getting a package from the U.S. I think she just wanted to see what was in a package from the U.S. I knew I couldn't get a package unless it was Tuesday or Thursday so we made plans to go this morning.

I woke up this morning to huge snowflakes falling down beautifully and coating all the trees and fences and cars. It was goregous. My neighbor was knocking on my door at 9 o'clock even though we agreed to go at 9 thirty because she wanted to remind me to pay my water bill. After I dressed and had my morning cup of tea we headed out together, bundled up warmly in the still falling snow. As we passed my mailbox I noticed I had another slip, this one for a letter, I suspected from a different post office than where one usually picks up international packages, but I did recently get an envelope with two books in it sent to me there, so I was even more confused. I took the notice and once on the main street my neighbor began dragging me to the telephone office. I tried to explain I'd never been to this office before, but she insisted the people in the Romtelcom office would tell us which post office we could pick up a package from the USA. It seems she had a bill to pay there, but as I expected the clerk behind the desk didn't know where to pick up my package, but another person in line directed us to the Vama - international post office for packages. I've been there several times.

My neighbor has never been there and didn't know where it was. Thus began the ensuing arguement. She wanted to go to the post office at the train station and ask there if they had my package. I wanted to go directly to the vama but she didn't beleive it existed or that I knew where it was. The wet snow was falling a lot lighter now, but the sidewalks were covered with a slippery layer of slush and mud. I worried about her falling. When she took my arm I was glad and I half wondered if she had brought other bills to pay and just wanted someone to walk with her. Walking to all the different offices to pay your bills can take most of a day and probably longer when your old, slow and in serious danger of falling down in the slush. For the first time I thought about how hard it is to get around if you're slow and elderly. Especially in the weather.

She produced no more bills, but we did continue slowly. She wanted to stop walking every time a car passed us and like a little kid, wouldn't cross the street unless there were no cars on the road at all. Apparently she hasn't learned the habit of drivers in her country that if you get into the middle of the road they will stop for you. I guess unlike me, she didn't trust her ability to leap out of the road if a car came up too fast, and she seemed deathly afraid of a car splashing us as it drove past. She lectured me on not wearing a hat, even though my scarf doubles as one and explained to me after six months of living in this city that you cross at the green light and wait at the red.

I explained I thought we were supposed to go the vama and that I knew where it was - between the train station and the market. We headed in that direction and usually she'd let me lead for about 1 street before she'd inisist I didn't know where I was going and pull me down a side street in another direction. We walked like this for about an hour. She stopped to ask for directions twice after I did my best to tell her where we were going - once when I was in sight of the post office. See! I know! was all I could say at this point - my frustration was high. We walked in. She seemed impressed that is was indeed a post office. My neighbor was determined to do all my speaking for me - snatched the slips out of my hand and told the lady behind the desk. "This is an American. She has two packages here. She doesn't speak Romanian." The lady wanted to know when I got the slip in my mailbox. I told her I didn't know because I wasn't home for over the end of last week when it arrived. Even though I said this in Romanian my neighbor felt the need to repeat to the lady She doesn't know. She wasn't home. She left for Miecurea Cuic! Well, I was Miercurea Cuic two weeks ago, but whatever.

It turns out there was no package. The slip I just got in my mailbox was for a package I picked up last week without a slip when I inquired at the Vama whether they had more than one package for me. I guess that didn't prevent them from delivering the slip anyway. I was showed the form I signed for the package. I thanked the lady and left with my confused neighbor and tried to explain the situation. I think she got it but was upset not to see a package from the US so she just said "I don't understand."

As we were walking along a young lady walking on the other side of us slipped and fell. My neighbor shouted Let us help you! and pulled the lady to her feet. I picked up her dropped purse and asked a couple of times if she was ok - never recieving a response because this caused my neighbor to launch into a torrent of Romanain. I have no idea what she was saying - if she was lecturing the young lady on how to walk down the street - or telling a story - but I know I heard the words "this is an American. She's my neighbor." I rolled my eyes and never learned if my neighbor knew this woman or not.

The vama had sent us to post office #1 for the second slip - where I had picked up my evelope with the two books. I had it in my mind this might be a smaller packet I'm expecting from Hawaii, possibly a large envelope. I didn't know why it went to the much hated post office #1 where the person behind the desk has been rude to me. There are several lines to get in. I always pick one, start at the end and when i get to the front try to polietly ask where I can go about the business that brings me to post office #1. My neighbor cut to the front of the line, leaned over the desk and demanded to know where an American would pick up a letter. She thanked the woman, then cut to the front of the appropriate line, grabbed the notice out of my hand leaned over the counter and again said, "My neighbor doesn't speak Romanian. She has a letter here." The woman at the desk looked briefly at my notice and said that I didn't have a letter there. My neighbor insisted "We've already been to the vama and they told us to come here." It was at this point that I by myself might have given up, my pushy neighbor persisted. I was questioned whether my packet was mailed inside Romania or from the US. I shrugged my shoulders. What do I know? Last time I got a packet here from Kansas. Now they were telling me no letter from outside Romania come through post office #1. I pulled out my Romanian ID card after hearing it called a "Buliten" a new word for it I've never heard before. My neighbor snatched it away to look at it, insisiting "this is your American ID." "It has a big picture of Romania on it." I responded. She looked at me and laughed. I realized that my lack of fluency in the Romanian language must be just as annoying to her as her slowness and failing eye sight must be to me. We were a pair of characters stumbling around all morning in the slush, fighting about which way to go. She, trying to help me, and me unwilling to listen because I was sure she was going to take me somewhere I didn't need to go.

Finally the lady produced a gray envelope mailed within Romania that contained some DVDs I ordered for a friend. A four part series on learning English that she was going to show to the kids at the orphanage where she works.

Humbled, I thanked the post office lady and put them in my bag. I forgot all my morning dreams of drinking my favorite tea, or eating salsa sent from the U.S. Disapointed the packet wasn't from the US, my neighbor questioned me about the DVDs and I explained what they were for. English lessons on TV?! She sounded just as excited, and I was reminded it wasn't all about me. Even though our language barrier caused us to annoy each other, it was nice of her to offer to take me to the post office, and to see me through to the second post office when there was no package at the first.

Back on the side walk, I appologized again for the confusion. She asked "You already got two packages from the U.S." "yes," I said. "Last week." "What was in it?" She wanted to know. I returned to thoughts I had earlier - that even though my neighbor is sometimes annoying, I should invite her over more. If I have a New Year's party, maybe I'll invite her for breakfast so she can try some American foods like cakes, chocolate chip cookies, and pancakes. As I described the contents of my packages I realized we were walking down the sidewalk together with no clear goal in mind. I told her I needed to buy cat food and milk and butter and she didn't have to come with me, I could go home by myself, and thanked her for walking with me. She agreed I could probably make it home by myself and let me go.
So I came home to post this blog entry and relax a little before heading back out into the melted snow to the Red Cross office today. At the top, by the way is the picture of my kitten in an envelope she crawled into.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A lot to be thankful for
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

I try to always remember that I have a lot in my life to be thankful for, but as I have been thinking on my last eight months in Romania, I'd like to share a few things that I now have a new appreciation for. Things I once took for granted:

Microwaves for reheating food
Washing machines and dryers
Hot water whenever you want it
And running water whenever you want it
Heated homes

Going to the grocery store and buying whatever you want - whether it's in season or shipped in from Italy.
Vacuum cleaners
Television programs and movies in my native language because there are enough people with money who produce television shows who speak my language.
Doctors and hospitals where their mission is to make you well
Traffic lights and pedestrian walkways
Good roads
Getting a ride in a car from a friend with a car, or having a car available to leave my bag in so I don't have to carry my bag around all day.
Credit cards and checking accounts (Debit cards too)
Buying things online (with a credit card - or being allowed to)
Bike Paths
Having the option of conveinence foods when I don't feel like cooking - especially having the
option of healthy organic convienence foods
Thinking that maybe I should replace the plumbing if it's 60 years old and it leaks
Learning other than by rote

Animal shelters, shelter workers and people who respect animals
spices in my food
Sauce under the cheese on a pizza

These are just a few of the many things I realize I've taken for granted in my life, and there are in no particular order. I'm sure there are many more that could be listed, but I'm tired and don't want to bore you with a long list.

Monday, November 19, 2007

I'm Feeling Good...
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

I'm in a ridiculously good mood. Most things have turned up. My computer is working faithfully, except for the DVD player, I've made my peace with the huge inconvience of having to travel out of my way in order to attend a conference, celebrate Thanksgiving and have my cat cat-sat for over the weekend.

I caught myself singing "My Favorite Things" this morning. I have that warm emotional, yet satisfied feeling you get at the end of watching Fellowship of the Ring when May It Be is done playing in the credits and the Shire Theme Song starts (that sone is actually called There and Back Again.)

I have a package from home to pick up tomorrow so I'm looking forward to my favorite tea and some surprises. My kitten is purring in my lap, and best of all is I do get to celebrate Thanksgiving with some friends in their villiage with some Romanian neighbors. This makes a huge difference to me because when I thought I was going to be too busy this weekend and not be able to leave my site city for the holiday during the week I was pretty upset. But not any more.

I made a pumpkin pie over the weekend out of a whole pumpkin. It actually turned out well but the texture is not what we-who-are-used-to-our-pie-pumpkin-from-a-can expect. The Romanian pumpkins aren't as sweet as "sugar pumpkins" grown in the USA. Some of them are pumkin zucchini combinations - hence that green "pumpkin" you saw in the Halloween picture with Bella. I don't know if I told you this, but squash, zucchini and pumpkin are one word in Romanian - so it can be a bit confusing.

One of my friends brought pumpkin seeds from the USA and planted them and I got one of his pumpkins - brought it back from Miercrea Cuic with me and baked it and made into a pie - with no evaporated milk, premade frozen pie crusts or food processor, beater or meat grinder - just a potato masher. It actually turned out like pumpkin pie too, but I think that's partly because I had access to ground ginger and brown sugar.

Pumpkin pie from scratch

I've come to embrace the idea that pumpkin pie is more about sweetness and spices than it is about pumpkin.

Anyway, I'm feeling good. And I can't stop watching this video on Youtube which sums up everything that I'm feeling about this holiday season!


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Things Fall Apart...
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

I returned Sunday from a week in Miercurea Cuic for my In-Service-Training Conference and what a week it was! While it was great to see everyone again and learn that the lumps in my throat and the back of my head were swollen lymph nodes and not cancer - the minute my body heard "sign of a virus" it freaked out and I was not able to keep so much as water in my system for 24 hours. And no I wasn't vomitting. Luckily I was better on Wednesday.

But then, much to my distress, my computer became even sicker than I was with the monitor doing this scary blinking thing and the whole system resetting itself when the blinking was too much to oh, say, write an email.

While wringing my hands and shuddering at the prospect of sending my computer over seas to be repaired under warranty, my cell phone charger took a cue from my computer and broke - although the phone charger took a more literal meaning and actually collapsed into four peices.

This is when my bank decided it would be a good time to confiscate my debit card even though they know I'm in Romania and I've used the card in March and July. Apparently due to some techno glitch someone -not me-reported my card lost or stolen. I don't know how that happens. But by protecting me, the bank actually created quite a hassle for me - having to go back the next morning with a speaker of Romanian and Hungarian because it's a Hungarian town to get it back. Luckily everyone was friendly.

So it was not a good time for Skype to suddenly trap me in one of their incredibly inconvient for law-abiding Americans in Romania security systems which will prevent me from calling home.

Even the fact that the hotel we were staying at offered reasonably priced Swedish massages with a discount for staying in the hotel (and I had a 60 minute Swedish massage) did not curb my stress level. At one point I turned to a friend of mine, ticked off the list on my fingers and said "everything in my life is falling apart." To which he responded, "how's your cat?"

So not funny.

I could go on about how since I've been back I found out the free ride I was offered to a conference is no longer extended so I have to find my own way there and pay for it - even after I already made Thanksgiving plans. Yesterday I cooked the beans too salty and the mashed potatoes too runny, I waited for two hours today to talk to a woman who never showed up, my face has errupted into a mount St. Helen's style zit, and my mom is worried my birthday and Christmas package got lost in the mail...but I can only stress out about so many things at once.

So I'd like to close with a list of things I appreciate - and that are going well, as this has been my most stressful week in Peace Corps so far.

I really appreciate how Kwarou has gotten better since getting home and is hanging in there like a true campaigner. I don't think I'll be sending him home. He's de-fragging right now and I've got some other tricks to try before I follow the HP man's advice and wipe the Hard Drive and start over.

The spinach and sundried tomato, garlic, zucchini mushroom pizza I made myself this afternoon. I first discovered sundried tomatoes - 1 jar at the grocery store in July. It was september when I bought them and I finally got all the ingredients together in the same place at the same time to make my favorite pizza. My own homemade crust wasn't bad and adding Italian seasonings to tomato paste works for sauce. you hear that Romania, sauce not ketchup. Pizza sauce.

My computer scaring me into thinking total meltdown was approaching has helped me be a lot more productive lately.

Bella, even though she's bigger, jumpier (and on to more things) and bitey as ever, I really missed her while I was away.

free hair cuts - my friend Dru cut my hair over the weekend and I didn't have to pay a nickel!

a hot water bottle - Dr. Dan brought it to me a week ago when finding one in my town could have been a secondary project. Even when I'm carefully boiling water on the stove for it I'm grateful to have it.

So that's it. The worst stress I've encountered so far and I am not beaten. Breathing. Drinking tea.
It's going to be all right.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Departing
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

I didn't want to come home in week and see that I hadn't updated my blog in far too long, so I'm posting this to let y'all know that tomorrow morning I'll be leaving for a one week Peace Corps conference in Meircurea Cuic - the coldest town in Romania. I'm excited to be reunited with my training class and see what new trainings and hints and tips Peace Corps has in store for us.

In other I went to my friend's villiage of Baru Mare yesterday because her Peace Corps roommate will be taking care of Bella while I'm away. We got four hours of sleep and caught the 4 am train to my city from whence she journeyed on to the conference because she is supposed to be there a day early.

I thought I was getting a cold. I've been feeling crappy. Sort of run down and sore throaty and this morning I was nauseous for no reason. I got home after breakfast (at McDonalds because all decent restaurants don't open until 9)and was sincerely missing snuggling with my kitten. There was nothing for it but to wrap myself in a blanket and sleep on the couch through all 9 episodes of The Storyteller. When I got up I decided to take advantage of some things I can't do easily with a 3 month old kitten around. I did a 45 minute yoga class, took a long bath, and mopped the floors. Add to that two cups of medicinal cold remedy tea and I'm feeling fantastic! Aside from really missing my kitty.

Oh well, it's only a week. Gotta pack!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

Three costumes I've always been able to pull out of my own wardrobe.
1. "Gypsy" - or American romanticized idea of a gypsy.
2. Hippie
3. Pirate

Today I'm going with number 2, but the color of my bandanna is not really "period" and if I take it off no one knows it's a costume. Oh, no one knows it's a costume anyway!



Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Password Protected
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

No, I'm not changing my blog over to a password protected blog. Mostly because I don't believe anyone really cares enough about what I have to say to remember my password and sign in to read it. I won't ask that of you.

I had to change my password on my hotmail account. I have never changed the password on my hotmail account. I learned when changing my password that I have had my hotmail account since December 19, 2001. So remembering a new password is going to be a pain in the ass because right now it's just muscel memory. Good thing I log in to hotmail in the morning and leave it open all day.

More than that, even though I know I shouldn't, I have the same password for everything on the internet. Except those stupid accounts that make you have a number in them - for them I have the same password with a number in it.

I had to change my password because I got an email from ebay that said someone might have stolen access to my ebay account and I could protect it by changing the password to my primary email address. Now I haven't used my ebay account since January of 2004 when I purchased a brand-new still in the box Lord of the Rings Fellowship of the Ring Samwise action figure with real pots and pans swinging action. But I have a half.com account and half.com is owned by ebay and I use my half.com account all the time to look at books I'd like to read that are for sale for 75 cents.

So I decided it could be serious and I followed the email from ebay's instructions and changed my password. Then I went to their website for Live Help so they would give me permission to re-enter my own account. While I was waiting for a customer service represented I realized that I looked at my half.com account yesterday. I added two more books (available for 75 cents each plus shipping) to my favorites list. I was considering emailing my User ID and password to a few people with a note saying check out my favorites list, I'd really like to read these books and you could buy them for me for just 75 cents. You could wait till you have a whole box of books and ship them to Romania and not only would I be your best friend for life, I would reimburse you the cost of shipping when I, you know, have money again in USD.

It occured to me that since I entered my own account from a computer accessing the internet from Romania, I was probably shut out of my account to protect me from myself. Somehow the people who keep track of this sort of thing have named Romania the number one country in the world for illegal things done on the internet. I've had this problem before trying to sign up for Yahoo Voice which is cheaper than Skype. (Skype by the way never helped me with my problem. I just emailed my password to my mom - which was the same password as my email password and told her to buy me Skype credit from the U.S.) These companies don't want my money because they don't believe that a perfectly good U.S. credit card could be used from Romania for a healthy purpose. Granted, they probably have good reasons for believing this but it makes things very difficult for the totally innocent holders of perfectly good U.S. credit cards in Romania.

So I log on to Live Help and start chatting Instant Messenger style with a guy named Randall who I think might even bee a real person, although his typing was very scripted and he kept using my name and reassuring me in a very "this crisis will all be over soon" kind of way. I informed him that I'm a Peace Corps volunteer in Romania and I was likely the reason I was shut out of my account. After consulting whatever file on me ebay has registered under my username (which is the same as my username for my email address) he informed me that everything would be fine. I just have to fax a copy of an ID like my driver's license or a bill to ebay's fraud department and they would make sure the address matched and then I would be allowed in my account again.

There's no way I'm paying to send an international fax. I didn't tell him I haven't lived at the address on my driver's license (Pine Street, Stevens Point) since before I set up my hotmail account. Instead I said, the address on my utility bill won't match because I'm living in Romania now. My bills are in Romanian and the address on the bill is where I'm currently living but the name is my landlord's father. (And by the way I don't even get an electricity bill I just know that once a month I have to go to the Cashier Electric after writing down the number on the meter, or they'll shut off my electricity.)

Randall consulted his file. He told me someone in the U.S. could fax in a utility bill from my old address and that would be sufficent. And he assured me that this would all be over soon and I would regain access to my ebay account. I told him I didn't get any more bills at my old address. Would any peice of mail be ok? He checked his file and said it would. What if my mom sells the house? Fine as long as I don't get shut out of my account again (because then I'd really be out of luck since I don't know why I'd recieve any mail at wherever she moves to.) If I verify that my address is in the U.S. will I get shut out of my account again for being in Romania? - Now I can't even remember if Randall answered that one, but I think he seemed to think it would be fine.

Abruptly, I felt, he asked before we end this conversation can I help you with anything else?
I typed, Yes. Do you know if it's possible for me to buy anything over ebay since I just assumed you wouldn't accept a credit card from a Romanian ISP address. Is that true?

I can't help you with that this is the anti-fraud department. you'll have to contact half.com directly.

So more surfing of unhelpful Help pages in my future. The point I'm trying to make is that these companies don't seem to be set up to help real people in real situations. They seem prepared for crime and that's it. They can't comprehend when you're in a Not Crime situation that doesn't jive with their script. For the same reason I can't reach my credit card company with a question because the Call Collect outside the U.S. number doesn't work from my cell phone and guess what - Not even Romanians know how to use a Romanian pay phone! The same reason my debit card isn't accepted by the Obama campaign because my scary 25 dollars is coming from an internet connection outside the U.S.

I know these restrictions are set up to protect me from something, but sometimes they hurt more than they help. Anyway, I managed to keep the same password on my hotmail account for almost seven years with no problem. But you'll never guess my new password.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

At the late night double feature picture show...
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

For my loyal readers out there you will notice I've long ago left off naming a Musical of the Month that I am listening to. That's because it occured to me that I don't listen to that many musicals. I have a handful of soundtracks and I loyally rotate between them. I'm not really one explore music that I don't already listen to. It takes me a long time to get used to a new soundtrack or a new group and for them to earn my trust. Usually one long road trip will do it, but I haven't had an occassion to go on a road trip with a bunch of different CDs for quite a while now, just my old standbys. Since I've had this blog for more than a year I figured how boring is it for you, my readers, to hear about me rotating back and fourth between the same dozen or so musicals without ever adding anything new?

That said, today it suddenly occurred to me that we're halfway through October and I haven't been listening to the Rocky Horror Picture Show (movie) Soundtrack constantly as I usually do every October. I don't know why I hadn't thought of listening to it. Maybe it's because I have no real plans to celebrate Halloween right now (I'll be watching Donnie Darko) or because Halloween isn't widely celebrated in Romania. Or maybe it's because I've been spending so much time on the computer I wanted to listen to something without words (the Lord of the Rings Two Towers sountrack, constantly - to the point that it's playing in my head even when I'm not listening to it).

Another volunteer told me he was working on putting on the second ever production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (movie + actors) to occur in Translyvania. The first was in June and I couldn't go. But when we talked about it in mid-September he mentioned doing some "traditional" Halloween activities before the Rocky Horror Preshow (de-virgin ritual) like bobbing for apples and telling ghost stories, before the audience went inside and was presented with a paper bag of things to throw a the screen and introduced the the World of Rocky.

Now, honestly Rocky Horror and Halloween have only one thing in common and that is costumes. Rocky has nothing to do with Halloween. Still, I was fantastically excited for Rocky "sometime around Halloween" despite the inherant irresponsibility of confusing for the Romanians in attendance "Halloween" and "Rocky Horror." One is really a celebration for children at the end of every October - the other is definately a celebration for adults that can take place every Friday night!

But I haven't heard back about a date for the Rocky Horror performance and I've already begun to believe it's not going to happen anytime soon. This saddens me because not only did I set the goal for myself of inviting a Romanian to Rocky Horror with me for the purpose of cultural amabassadorship - I actually found a candidate. (Don't get too excited, I have her number but I haven't actually spoken to her since August.)

My disapointment at the lack of Rocky in my October goes deeper too. I was really looking forward to going to this performance because, for me, it was a chance to do something normal. By that I mean something I would do at home. It's going to be a really weird Fall for me because I'm noticing I don't have time on my calendar to celebrate Thanksgiving, and I even though I've let Halloween slip through the cracks before without carving pumpkins, without getting dressed up. But to do nothing - at all! For two holidays in a row? To be surrounded by people who aren't even familiar with the holiday - makes me feel even farther from home than usual.

One time a friend told me about researching something so out there, so wacky, so far from her own experience that in order to have some sense of balance and normalacy while she looked up this information she had to listen to Hedwig and the Angry Inch to pull the world back into order. That's kind of how I feel about Rocky Horror.

Or perhaps that story better illustrates the kind of people I'm used to hanging out with at home.

Living in a culture that's foriegn to you it's rare that you have days when you feel totally like yourself; when you're not trying to fit into another culture, when you're not trying to decide what's appropriate and what isn't, when you're not asking yourself: how much of my honest thoughts and opinions can I reveal in this situation? What will happen if I really express myself, unfiltered? This is true even when hanging out with other Americans here. Sometimes there's a degree of "these are my friends, but not my friends from 'real life'." Some of us are keenly aware that we wouldn't be friends in the United States, or perhaps we could have been friends but it's likely some of us would never have met.

Of course, that's not the case with everyone.

To put it another way: I have to introduce a whole new group of people to the movie Velvet Goldmine, explain the three different drinking games and why you shout certain sentences at certain times (not just for Rocky Horror) but for every movie ("that sitar player does not love you!"). This is part of the reason I haven't watched any Lord of the Rings movies in seven months. Because no one here understands "that's what I see too, Sauroman, except I see it not so much you and I, but more like just I! Because I'm a giant EYE! Get it?"

And like most inside jokes when you explain them to new people they sound stupid, childish, and weird ("you baked a cake in the shape of what?"). You need to make new inside jokes rather than invite new people into your old inside jokes. And I haven't been good at that.

That's why I was so looking forward to Rocky Horror: the biggest inside joke ever! And looking forward to being with other people on the inside. The kind of people not afraid to get out their fishnets and Time Warp. The kind of people I could be friends with - on some level - wherever, whenever. Kind of like a family reunion.

It would be nice to see a movie with people who knew when to shout. Even if at the begining we shouted different things...