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.


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

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!