Thursday, May 31, 2007

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

Peace Corps will reimburse me to have a language tutor. This is a very good idea because learning the language is critical to our community integration. In fact my class is the first class in Romania that's required to have a language tutor and we're regularly tested on our language ability. When I found this out I was very excited because I wanted to remain very motivated to continue to study and improve my Romanian.

So why am I dreading each session with my tutor? Well, there are a lot of reasons I find learning Romanian from one particular person frustrating. It can't be easy when you're used to teaching a foriegn language (English) to high school kids to suddenly find yourself teaching your native language to a foriegner. Especially when this person taught themselves english and speaks it textbook correctly (or so I'm told). To an American English speaker (generally more fluent in slang) this can sound either funny or pretty weird. But what can I do? I haven't studied English grammar. If you say "present imperfect" in English I don't know what you're talking about. And no, I can't explain the difference between "kind of" and "sort of" - but there is a difference.

But despite having my English grammar corrected, there are other conflicts about the nature of the curriculum. This person insists that I learn formal Romanian because the informal kind is spoken by people who don't have a very good education. (And it was implied that maybe I picked up some of my informal Romanian from my new gazda). This person explains grammar to me in Romanian, and speaks to me so fast it's clearly assumed I understand everything, when at the same time I'm offered the most basic excercises - as if I didn't understand any Romanian at all.

But there's another issue here too that goes beyond language. When this person asked me to write an essay the topic was given "Why are some people successful and others are not?" This person went on to describe for me the reasons and I was supposed to translate them into Romanian. The reasons given were some people are lazy and unwilling to try things that will bring them economic success. I decided this was not a topic for an essay I was willing to write - in Romanian or in English.

Once we were interrupted by someone who rang the bell and asked if they could take out the garbage. People "Beggers" come to the door and ask if they can take out your garbage for money - it was explained to me. Do you have beggers in the U.S? Well, yes, but they don't offer to take out your garbage (something I would seriously consider depending on how much garbage there is - as this person lives on the 4th floor). This person proceeded to complain to me about all the people who didn't have jobs and were unwilling to work. Apparently it hadn't occured to this person that the man at the door was willing to take out her garbage - and that's more than sitting on the street with a cup begging for money.

My language tutor is someone I find on my own who agrees to teach me and I pay them the Peace Corps designated hourly rate and am reimbursed for it. It's up to me for the first time ever to hire or fire someone. This person, in our various meetings has whether intentionally or untentionally made it very clear to me that they do not need this money. I don't know if I would call this person "rich" - because we all have our own stereotypes and expectations of what it means to be rich. And of course different cultural definitions come in to play. By no stretch of the imagination would you consider this person "rich" by American standards.

There have been assumptions made by this person about how much money I have - which is fine - I was prepared to encounter the Rich American stereotype. But I just wonder if I wouldn't be happier employing someone who actually needed the money.

Why am I so uncomfortable working along side a Romanain who is actually "doing well?" I do want Romanians and Romania to be doing well. Is it true that I just have an aversion to money and people with money - even if they seem to like me?

This person has always been nice to me - and offered to take me out of town on a day trip to another local city and even invited me to go on vacation to Egypt together (assuming I could afford it). This person is not a bad person. We're just different. Going to a huge all-inclusive resort is not my idea of a fun vacation. I'll probably never go on a cruise because flushing my toliet in the ocean just isn't cool to me. I'm not interested in immitation designer handbags.

And apparently this person is even willing to tutor me out of the goodness of their heart - because when I explained the hourly rate at which Peace Corps allows me to pay a tutor (which has just been raised actually) I was told I wouldn't find anyone to teach me for that amount and for that amount this person may as well just watch TV. This person went on to explain that they would teach me anyway just because they like me.

I mean, I guess it really shouldn't matter. And I don't know. Maybe I wouldn't be feeling so strongly about this if this person were also a better teacher for me.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Weeee Want to suck your Bloood!

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps. In any case the U.S. government can not be held responsible for the mosquitos in Romania and they gave me a mosquito net, and I left it in Ploiesti. And there are no vampires in Romania. That was a joke.

A few words about Romanian mosquito bites. They're not like the mosquito bites I'm used to in the U.S. - or at least not until day 3. These demonic mosquito bites swell up to between the size of a quarter and a 50cent peice (I'm glad that means something to someone reading this) and they feel like a bruise if you poke them. And they ITCH like hell! But, like a spider bite at home as soon as you give in to their desire for sweet scratching - they burn. They also don't go away. After a few weeks of alternately giving in and scratching them, and plying them with hydrocortizone cream they turn to dark brown spots on the skin and feel like nothing but look like bruises. I have 12 serious mosquito bites (itchy ones) right now - and two weeks ago I also counted 12 which had just turned into brown spots.

The problem with the mosquitos right now is it's hot! It's like 89 degrees everyday - so I want to open the window - but the the windows have no screens. If I leave the window open invariably we have a thunderstorm eventually (like every night) and then the mosquitos come out to play! If I have the window closed - I try to sleep and wake up multiple times due to hot sweatiness - AND mosquitos buzzing in my ear. The situation isn't helped by the fact that the window - when you close it doesn't stay closed.

Now Peace Corps did issue me a mosquito net when I left Ploiesti - we all laughed and thought it was a joke. We're in Romania we said, not Nicaragua! What do we need mosquito nets for? It was this line of thinking that caused me to leave my mosquito net at my old gazdas house to come back for it at my earliest convience do to the fact that it wouldn't fit in my luggage. However - that said I don't even think the mosquito net would do me much good right now. I mean - I'm going to need it in my apartment in July even if i had it - cutting it up and making a window screen out of it now wouldn't be the best idea.

Over the weekend I finally bought more little pouches of mosquito repllent that go in the aparazat zanzare (picture a plug-in air freshener) but as I was sitting in my room reading with the window closed and the door closed it occured to me if they weere already in the room they had nowhere to be repelled to. But I didn't care. I was itchy enough to sleep with the window closed and deal with the heat but I still killed 6 of those little buggers. Granted in the early morning while it was light out enough to find them in the room and they were all filled with blood so I can assume they'd already bitten me.

However Saturday night was the first night I wasn't awakened by them buzzing in my ears in the middle of the night taunting me - begging me to hunt them down and kill them. At first I wondered if I should feel bad about killing them - especially when they'd already bitten me - I mean damage done, right? But I couldn't let them live to lay thier eggs and breed more little monsters. This is kill or be killed and I can't let them live to continue to prey on me. I did draw the line though at killing the other harmless nonmosquito bugs that fly in through the window. They haven't done anything to harm me. When I started to wonder if the harmless flies were giving aid and comfort to the mosquitos hidden in the room I wondered if I was losing it. That, followed by the war trama of flinching at the imaginary buzzing of the mosquito qhosts.

But I have had some suceess and being that I haven't been woken up by them for two consectutive nights now - we're going to try to night to repell them back out the open window. That's right I'm sleeping with the window open! No more waking up with hair so wet you'd think I'd just taken a shower. I have mosquito repellant and a prayer. And if that doesn't work...more hydrocortizone cream.

Just be warned. If there are vampires in Romania I'm willing to bet they don't disquise themselves as bats. They go has mosquitos.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Noi suntem voluntarii (we are volunteers)!

Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps, even if I'm quoting what the Peace Corps told me I mean it in a good way.

Hello, the city of Deva! I’ve been meaning to post about our official volunteer Swearing In Ceremony which took place a week ago Friday May 4th. It was beautiful, exciting, emotional, and had all the gravitas of graduation and all the flowers, balloons, and pretty shoes of prom.

Now, it seems like it was a while ago after arriving in my city last Sunday and everyday making my way to the office of my organization to spend time on the computer researching, gathering resources, and in general thinking about how to make my way in this organization in this city.

Of course I have big plans, but big plans need to be built on a foundation and I’m starting from the ground up (or below the ground if the ground is where native Romanians beging with their understanding of the language and knowledge of which cheese to buy.)

I’m trying to let go of American cultural norms that say I have to be at work at a certain time every day and accomplish something for every day I show up. This is a process that’s going to happen slowly, and now –after all the laughter, tears, and Romanian language homework of PST- I’m right at the beginning.

If this were LOTR, after swearing in - I’d be right about at the Council of Elrond, but the beginning of the chapter, before the actual council starts.

Let me quote some material Peace Corps has given us on what to expect our first month at site:

“Romania is a transitioning country. Things are different here in many ways from what you are used to at home. Some of these differences will be frustrating. The banking system and the post office are challenges for outsiders. There are public safety hazards that will require your attention: large holes in the streets and sidewalk go unmarked, the pavement and sidewalks is often uneven, vehicular traffic is unpredictable, people often drive on the wrong side of the street and on sidewalks. During the winter snow and ice removal is limited. Other frustrations include being overcharged for services. You will need to learn to be vigilant; no one is going to protect you from these frustrating and discouraging things.”

While, I have found all of these things to be true, I know that the rest of the advice Peace Corps has given me is also true – that a good experience at site requires attention and participation – even diligence.

Diligent I can be, but first I have to figure out how - once I find a Romanian tutor, find my way around town, find my way to a sandwich, but first I have to negotiate the day to day with my second gazda (she’s a dear) and convince my coworkers who take good care of me that I can walk home from the office by myself.

I feel like even finding my way to something I can work diligently on will take time. And it will. And that’s ok because what I got right now is time.

First day of training in Ploiesti

Last day of training in Ploiesti right before the party (notice my new Romanian shirt, and my Romanian haircut).
the journey begins

Watch one of my colleges speeches at our swearing in ceremony on youtube in two parts. I recorded it with my digital camera but the file was too big to post in one chunk.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Remembering a sunny day in April (on a cloudy day in May)

As promised here are the additional pictures of our Activity Day in the park with Casas Austria and Eva.
Nothing gets your blood, (and teamwork skills) flowing like a good game of Blob Tag!

A volunteer and his new best friend from Casa Austria
Casa Austria demonstrates the wheelbarrow race
The talented kids of Casa Austria show us their karate skills

Our favorite Peace Corps volunteer and her favorite little boy

Volunteers and children team up for the three legged race!