Friday, August 31, 2007

Does this ever happen to you?
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 the first to admitt it. I have not been working on my Romanian language like I should be. Every time I say to myself "today I'm going to study Romanian" something in English comes along to distract me.

However, I do have one friend whom I speak to mostly in her language although she knows a good deal of English. We use both languages, but the fact that I can communicate with her at least somewhat effectively most of the time in Romanian does make me proud.

Then she called me today because she couldn't remember the name of a website I told her about. She asked me to spell it for her over the phone. And I realized, we don't have a common alphabet.

I struggled to remember the Romanian pronounciations of the vowels - something I haven't thought about for at least four months. All I could think was that "i" is called "e" but that's not helping me here.

She was saying it's "F" as in "Philip?" and I was struggling with "No, 'f' as in....frog, brosca? Damn!
As though she could hear my thoughts she said "Laura, use names. F as in Philip...?

"A" as in Anca, "N" as in Nico, "P" as in Popescu, "O" as in Otilia (her name, thankfully or I would have been stuck for an "O") and "P" as in Popescu incodata. Punct COM.

Funny how I can translate "dot" into Romanian but there's no need to for the COM.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

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

It seems memorizing dates wrong is my thing lately because most web pages I've read lately call tomorrow August 29, the anniversary of Katrina. Although Wikkepedia confirms that the hurricane was formed August 23rd and lasted in various degrees of strength until August 31st and since it made several landfalls in different areas how can we give it but one day? Is this humankind trying to force nature to fit into our narrowly defined determinations and definitions?

Anyway, tonight August 28th is in the U.S. and it Romania the full moon, so please if you can join me in praying for good luck, strength, abundance and hope on the Gulf Coast and for all those still recovering from Katrina and the losses she caused. The full of the moon can represent abundance and regrowth as we send postive energy to those who need it. And if you don't read this blog until tomorrow you can join me tomorrow night too, because then the moon begins waning and thusly it is an appropriate time to reflect on loss and damage.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

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

TOMORROW, August 24th is my mom’s birthday so, Happy 57 Mom! I hope it feels good to be 57 and I hope you call me at ten to six in the morning on my 57th birthday to remind me how good it is to be 57! Interestingly – to I don’t know, no one, no one finds this interesting - but there’s some controversy in my family over my parents birthdays because for some reason I always thought my dad’s was the 23rd of June and my mom’s was the 24th of August and then last year when I told her I couldn’t remember if her birthday was the 23rd or the 24th and she emailed me “they’re both the 24th” - I, then, for some reason thought, My God, I memorized my Mom’s birthday wrong! And then rememorized it as the 23rd – which is wrong. So I was right before and then I spent a whole year thinking it was wrong. So apparently I’ve been dabbling in not knowing either of my parents birthdays, but I suppose it’s ok because everyone who knows me knows I can’t remember numbers. And like I said it’s not that interesting!
Hope you have a good birthday, Mom!

Another anniversary which deserves much less fan fare is the 22nd of August which was my 6 month anniversary in Romania! It doesn’t feel like that long. Probably because the first three months were of training and the last three months were on site. Probably it’s also because of the three care packages I’ve received since moving to Deva filled with all the comforts of home. Or maybe it’s because I have a razor sharp memory and can turn to my friends and say “remember that day in training when you said “ ” and I said “ ” recalled with absolute clarity that makes PST feel like it was yesterday. Plus the fact that the first two months I was at site I still lived with a host family so it’s not like I’ve been “living the life” all that long.

However, there are still some friends I haven’t heard from since I left. Some of you have never emailed me in six months! What did I do? Are you pissed off at me? Are we still friends? In that respect six months is a long time. But I’m not talking about you if I haven’t emailed you - if I haven’t emailed you shame on me, but I think I have. I email a lot of people. I email people I met one time. I email people I don’t even know. Hell, since I’ve been in Romania I’ve even gotten back in touch with people from high school and college who I haven’t talked to in years! But if I haven’t heard from you, don’t be a stranger. I miss you, I really do and I want to know what’s going on in your life. Chances are I sent you a postcard too, even though maybe you never got it. Why don’t you email me to find out?

For those of you keeping score, this means I’m 3 months into my two year service because the first three months were training, right? So for three months in, how’s it going? Not bad. Things are just starting to happen. They’re happening slowly, but that’s to be expected, but more on that later.

August 25 – the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Let me just say before I could finish this part of the post I had to go and clean the toilet. I wanted to get my thoughts together about what I was going to say and some things if you’re going to think about them you may as well be looking at a toilet while you think about them.

Earlier this week my counterpart at my organization said something about how when a community goes through a tragedy it sometimes makes people act more like a community and care for one another. That’s when I started talking about hurricane Katrina. (Talking? Me? I know!)But I talked for probably about an hour just trying to describe the enormity of the situation to this Romanian woman. How much damage was done, how much work there is to do. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around it, yet get someone whose whole country is the size of Oregon to imagine a storm that touched three states.

In a lot of ways I would rather discuss hurricane Katrina with Romanians than Americans. Romanians are eager to understand, and curious about the situation. They don’t have any preconceived notions that New Orleans “deserved to be punished” for anything. All they know is New Orleans is a city in my country, and when I tell them about Mississippi and all the damage that was done there that wasn’t on the news they say “why?”
I try to explain to them that New Orleans had a unique history and culture. It’s where the Africans, Spanish, and French came together and mixed and it was a place that had its own ways and music and food and language until recently and now all that may be lost. That’s not something some Americans understand. I have little patience for the “they shouldn’t even rebuild” “what did you think would happen with a city below sea level” knee jerk reaction of some Americans who don’t take the time to appreciate the richness that was there but see the disaster as a moral issue or worse – a financial issue.

As I talked about Katrina and all the problems it created for so many people I felt monumentally sad, but not just because of what transpired or how the aftermath was handled. I thought about my experiences in Mississippi both times, and the time I spent in Louisiana in 2005. I had good experiences working on the Gulf Coast. I made friends that I’m still in touch with now that I hope to keep in touch with. Looking back, I have many great memories of my time in Ocean Springs. It was a wonderful experience and I’m glad I had it, but I have a hard time finding where I did any work?
Who did I help? What did I do?

And that’s when I realized for the first time how hard it was for me to leave my volunteer position in Ocean Springs Mississippi. It wasn’t hard at the time because it was Christmas and I wanted to go home and I wanted to see my friends and nothing was going on at Camp Victor anyway, but now I feel sad that I couldn’t stay and continue. Why did I leave? Wasn’t there enough work to do? Why did I come to Romania when there are people at home who need food and care and support?
They still need someone to rebuild their houses and they still need people to listen as they describe what happened that day two years ago when the worst natural disaster to ever hit the United States hit their town. (And I’m not just saying that, it was declared by the people who declare these things…the disaster people).

I’m sorry I had to leave and come to Romania because there is still work to do on the Gulf Coast. And almost more important than the work is the understanding that needs to be shared. Whenever I talk to Romanians about the storm I say the same thing I said to the people I met on the coast “in the north, where I’m from, people still don’t know what happened. Some people think, it’s six months…a year…two years…it should be cleaned up by now.”

In many ways I wish I could still be working on the Gulf, but my path brought me to Romania. I’ve always wanted to do the Peace Corps and now was the time. Delaying it wouldn’t have helped me and maybe it wouldn’t have helped the people of the Gulf that much either, but I don’t know.

I could say I came to Romania with a job to do – but in some ways it’s harder than that because I’m still figuring out what that job is. There are challenges here I need to prepare for, and things I need to learn before I can return and help anyone. So, I still think Peace Corps is the right thing for me right now. But I can’t help but feel bad for all the work that still needs to be done so this part of my country can heal.

And maybe that’s all I can do right now – from several thousand miles away I can say to the Gulf Coast of the U.S.A. I miss you, and I’m still thinking about you.

This angel is part of a mural on the outside of the building at Camp Victor, Ocean Springs Mississippi where I stayed as a volunteer October 1st 2006 - December 15, 2006.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

(Not Quite) There and Back Again

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

Lately I always seem to be on the wrong side of indoors during the rain with kilometers separating me from a hot cup of ceai (ceai here refers to "tea" in Romanian and "chai" the type of tea - which I'm almost out of ! Send more mom! Please! Make it Stash in the Red box!)

Last Monday I bought myself a bike. I miss my bike at home and putting into storage was one of the hardest things I had to do to get ready for the Peace Corps. So with the rest of my settling-in allowance I bought myself a red and sliver bicycel and it comes with a light and one of those carriage things in the back too. It's a very nice bike, but I think it deserves a better rider than me. For one thing I don't really know how to switch the gears. I just turn until the awful grinding crunching noises stop - Sorry bike! That's the only instruction I ever got in my life on switching gears. Further more I think it's a little short for me. I have to lean over too far to grip the handle bars and that puts a lot of weight on my hands - after the little adventure I'm about to share with you my hands were red and bruised from gripping the handle bars whereas I'm much more comfortable sitting up straighter with my hands lightly resting on the handle bars -rather than closing around them.

But its a good bike and as we're just getting to know each other I planned a ride for the Tuesday after I bought it. I wanted to go to Simeria, the next small town over which is only 3 Kilometers away. THat should be no problem, right? I'll also say that for being surrounded by large hills leading up to the Carpathian mountains, Deva the town is surprisingly flat - all the better for biking in my opinion. I pictured myself peddling along a vacant one lane road toward Simeria where I've been before in a Maxi Taxi. So I downloaded a yoga class for cyclists to do upon my return and headed out the door my bike in one hand, helmet on my head.

However, memory plays tricks on you and the road to Simeria (once I found it) isn't exactly a vacant one lane road but a four lane highway - which becomes a two lane highway but still - it was full of traffic - including Semi trucks which pass VERY close to you.

I must say, although I once rented a bicylce for one fabulous day in Florence, Italy, I've never really appreciated how difficult it is to ride a bicycle in a different culture where you don't know the rules of the road. In the United States I was never a master of bicylce saftey. I did a lot of stupid things, and I usually ride my bike on the sidewalk - it's how I get around. Deva is blessed with a lot of wide, SMOOTH, sidewalks, for walking but Romanians don't know what to do when someone rides up behind them on the sidewalk on a bike. They don't get out of the way. But I am too scared to take to the streets with my new bike. Eventually I did, though nervously, praying that once I got out of the city and started heading toward Simeria there would be less people staring at the big girl with the tiny red bike wearing a helmet. (I'm the only one I've ever seen in Deva with a bike helmet.)

This was not the case. There was ridiculous traffice between Deva and Simeria yesterday on a Friday afternoon. And I said I found myself peddling along a four lane highway thinking about all the death machines that were sneaking up behind me - silently I might add, praying that the shoulder was not too soft to send me spinning and the mud not too muddy. I realized the seat on my bike could be defined as some Post-Vlad-Tepest torture device. But that's not totally fair to the bike seat. There's also the rocks and many bumps in the shoulder and unpaved sections of shoulder. All I can say is "oh, my aching Sits bones." (Sits bones is a yoga thing).

In between Deva and Simeria is what looks like another town. A town with trecherously narrow sidewalks. Riding here is like riding a bike through an obstacle course - and not meant for someone with my depth perception or sense of panic. It was comforting to get onto a "sidewalk" sepearated from the dangerous "machine" (cars-plural) by a little fence, but this town's sidewalk was narrow, bumpy, and obscured by lumber trucks, huge piles of asphalt, and what appeared to be a ridge in the pavement actually upon closer inspection opened up and revealed itself to be a flight of stairs going down - I presume to hell. This town really made me miss riding Grayson, my Trek bike back in Fargo North Dakota, which I can't say is pedestrian friendly but is at least nowhere near as pedestrian endangering.

Once I made it through this challenge section of the course it was me versus two lanes of opposing traffic. Not so bad if I stayed on the shoulder and prayed - but then there was the whole issue of Semi's pulling on to the shoulder and turning (blindly) back onto the highway. I will admit it. I'm not a man. There were several obstacles too scary for me - I dared not try and manuever. I just got off the bike and walked around them. A

It was about this time as I walked my bike passed a traffice jam (between Deva and Simeria - ?) and up a hill and over the railroad tracks that I realized the wind was blowing something fierce. Into my face. I'd already postponed my bike ride for two days because of the two day flu - and another several hours because of a morning rainstorm. I have been concerned lately about my sedentary lifestyle which leads me to spend most of my day sitting in front of the computer - other than my daily yoga practice. I really wanted to go to Simeria and back. Until now I had been set on my goal. I'm going to do it - no excuses. And although there were times that my biking slowed considerably, I probably kept my heart rate pretty high for this whole adventure. But now -feeling like I'd risked death numerous times already with Me Versus Traffic, I noticed the sky over the purple shaded hills on the horizon behind me darkening. I smelled rain in the air. I'm sure I wasn't far from my destination, but nevertheless - more than halfway to Simeria I turned around.

As soon as I turned around I felt better. It was probably because I was coasting down a hill as I watched the lightening in the hills that I thought I could race the storm home. But I was in the middle of road construction when the rain hit. The only thing I cared about at that point was the fact that I was much closer to Deva than before. I was in fact, joyful, as I pettled my way down the now-familar streets as the rain came down. Thinking about getting caught in the rain on my camping trip, I kind of laughed a little. Then I remembered that THAT was nothing more than a consistent gentle summer rain. I was biking in what soon became a torrential downpour. I took comfort in the fact that I was back in the city, and my bike has a light on it - though it wasn't dark enough to actually help me see, it made me feel good to think people might be better able to see me - and I journeyed on. By now I'd reached the "Pothole" level of the obstacle course. Many roads in Romania have knee deep potholes in them - if you're not careful you could fall into one and ne'r be heard from again. But when the potholes are filled with water they are INVISIBLE! Once again rather than steer my new bicycle friend into danger, I climbed down and soaked a pair of shoes walking us around several would be dangers.

Have I mentioned this entire time I was thinking of nothing but the glass of iced tea I'd put in the freezer for myself before I left the house? That iced tea was calling me home since before I turned my bike around and headed back to Deva and as I pulled up to my apartment building my throat was the only part of me that was dry. I brought my bike inside the door only to hear my neighbor open her door to see what was going on in the hallway. I can't imagine what she thought when she saw her American neighbor carrying a 10speed bike up the stairs and soaking wet. I heard her say "oh my god. Go inside and take of your wet clothes! NOW!" I said. "I'm wet. Yes. Yes. I'm fine." and brought my bike into the apartment where I enjoyed several freezing cold glasses of iced tea - followed by a dry towel, a 10 minute yoga session and hot bath.

Even though I didn't make it to my destination - turned back shy of my goal - and got caught in the rain AGAIN - I didn't die on the side of the road, so I'm calling this adventure a sucess.

And for the record, next time I ride to Simeria I'm looking at a county map and trying to find a way to get there hopefully along back roads.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Watch This!

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 post has nothing to do with Peace Corps, or sadly Romania and I'm sure the U.S. goverment as an entire entity would never get together and deign to form an opinon on this post or this documentary. But you should see it!

I found this documentary This Film is Not Yet Rated by Kirby Dick, on this webpage:

I've been wanting to see it for a while as I read about it in the Winter 2007 issue of Bitch Magazine it's something I reccommend you all see. It's about the process movies go through to get their ratings. Great points made about sex, voilence and interviews with Kevin Smith and John Waters.

No surprise, the ratings board slapped with an NC-17 to so be prepared to watch the out takes of other movies rated as such in a side by side comparison with movies rated R and PG 13.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

I Finished It!!!!
Disclaimer: Spoilers, trying not to be!

Rest in Peace
Rapier, Romulous, "Dora", C.C., DB, the auror and the owl.

Also S.S. - a prince to us.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Camping (and not the kind that involves dressing up in costume)
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.

Last weekend went camping with the local branch of the Red Cross here in Deva with whom I've been doing some volunteering outside of the organization I was assigned to. Orginally the trip was supposed to be four days but it was shortened to three due to rain and it included a training in emergency first aid - in Romanian.

Day one included setting up camp - which I was not allowed to help with. After a lunch fit for a king of fried egg sandwhiches I brought along for the trip and a tomato, everyone not involved in the elaborate process of cooking a huge meal over a camp fire settled down for a nap under a tree in a meadow alongside a stream. It was a picturesque scene from one of my many daydreams - however when lying in bed pretending you're in a meadow it's easier to sleep without things crawling about under you. I very much enjoyed the shade and smell of the grass, but I did not sleep outside. It was a bit disappointing, because I also didn’t bring a book in English because I didn’t want to be rude or distracted from the opportunity to speak Romanian with people. Camping with people who didn’t want me to do any work would involve a lot of waiting.

This is the meadow where we had our first aid training which was accompanied by the grazing of some cows with a local farmer looking on.
The second day was to be a hike I almost didn't go on because I did't really understand the trail guide and I expected it to be the equivalent of climbing a steep hillside. I'm glad I did decide to go on the hike because it was actually just walking down a country road and I got to see some beautiful landscapes. We were just outside a town called Brad which is 31 Kilometers north west of Deva.

Everything was so beautiful and almost out of another time. Frequently walking down this road you'd be passed by a horse and cart or a farmer with a few cows. We often stopped for a snack of wild blackberries. It was just like all the hiking trails I took as a kid where I always pretended to be an animal or a character in a story on a journey, only now I could more easily believe it. I could have been a wandering minstrel or a traveling rouge. It was hard to believe that this was just a road in front of somebody's house, passing somebody's farm. I half expected to see a naked Paul Bettony stride around the corner at any moment.

Can you tell why I felt I was at the begining of a quest hiking down this road? I said I feel like I’m in Lord of the Rings walking down this road and many people agreed. Someone said “but we don’t have the music.” “It’s ok,” I said, “It’s playing in my head.”

I really admired the people I was hiking with because even when we started out it was drizzling a little. We even remarked upon that as we walked. How it felt good and added to the “olden time” quality of the excursion to just dismiss the rain. To say, hell with it, I’m getting wet. It was sprinkling intermittently and hard to tell the difference if it was rain or sweat. I will say, that if I was being wimpy even my camera was pain to carry, but luckily my Romanian friends insisted on carrying my water bottle and the jacket I wasn’t sure I wanted to bring on the hike.

We walked down the country road for 10 Kilometers (about six miles) then went off the road, down a hill, across a river and up another hill (this is where the climbing comes in) where there was no trail to see a cave. This was explained to me by one of my new friends who speaks very good english. She didn't want to see the cave that apparently you have to crawl into on your stomach because she is calustrophobic and she nominated me to stay outside with her. I was fine with that since getting to the cave (up the hill) sounded like a little bit more than I was up for.

I am becoming aware of the limitations of my camera. Despite my flash it was not this dark out. By the time we crossed the river it was raining in earnest. Not raining hard but raining steadily heavy drops. We who didn't want to see the cave so we waited under some trees for the rest of the group to come back. Again I was reminded of how often I’ve listened to the rain indoors and imagined myself to be a fox curled up in a hollow log, or asleep on some dry pine needles under a sturdy tree. However, this experience served to show me how silly this daydreams really are. When it rains in the forest, you get wet. Very wet. It wasn’t cold until we stopped moving and sat under our trees, but there was no doubt about it – we were saturated. Including the Red Cross jacket leant to me because I forgot my sweatshirt – and I had been so cold the nigh before I slept in the jacket in my sleeping bag. Not a chance of that again. The jacket wouldn’t be dry again for a long time.

When the others did come back it was decided that most of the group was continuing on to see another cave. Those wet-and-not-interested-in-caves like me went back to camp, where I crawled into my tent. Dried myself with somebody's hand towel they leant me. Put on every piece of dry clothing I had brought with me, and was given three swallows of Ň£uica because "it warms you," whence I promptly fell asleep for four hours and when someone came into the tent to see if I was Ok, he spoke English to me and I answered half asleep and drunk in Romanian.

After a while it stopped raining (thankfully or I wouldn’t have been able to leave my tent wearing every dry piece of clothing I had including my pajamas under my clothes) and I was able to warm myself by the cooking fire and eat a vegetarian dinner of bread, zacusca, tomatos and cheese – also hot cocoa and mint milk).

I feel like I was always the first in bed on this camping trip, while others stayed out till 4 am sitting by the campfire talking and playing music. Granted I wasn’t always the first one asleep. The second night however rain forced my tent-mates to join me sooner than usual and I had a peaceful – and surprisingly not so cold night of listening to the gentle rain and being thankful that for now at least I was dry.

The next morning I walked back down the trail to take some of the pictures I missed the day before while keeping pace with the group. I ate wild blackberries from the roadside for breakfast and drank of the cool refreshing stream water.

Sunday I also got to peel and slice potatoes for an amazing lunch of samale – and there was some sarmale fara carne (with out meat) my favorite Romanian dish, made special just for me! When I couldn’t possibly eat any more I was told to bring the whole pot home with me and just give it back to the Red Cross another day!
After lunch we packed up the camp and I was a little disappointed because at this point I was so in touch with nature – and also so dirty, I would have welcomed a little nude bathing in one of the clear deep pools in the stream we passed on our hike. I would have been so there if I’d only brought a towel! However we were soon on our way home and I got to take a long bath in my apartment followed by a hot cup of tea and soft mattress underneath me. Although I really enjoy the campfire, the sound of rain, the smell of the grass, and my time in communion with nature I think living in that grassy meadow by a stream is best left in my imagination.

Druid Laura