Friday, October 31, 2008

Christmas at the Castle Project update
(what we've been working on)

The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps, of which I am a proud volunteer.

Dear friends and family,
Micah and I are proud to announce that we are 50% complete with our "gingerbread castle project": Christmas at the Castle. We're delighted to have your support with this project and proud to involve you in this photo update of the work we have done so far.

The Practice Gingerbread Castle, 1st weekend of August, 2008

The first weekend of August another volunteer made the trip to Deva to help Micah and I bake for two days in my kitchen while the oven temperature reached 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Many cold glasses of water (with ice! were consumed.) Thank you, Anne!

This is what gingerbread looks like when made without molasses or brown sugar. We used honey as a substitute. The dough bakes a lot thicker and we realized we could carve it into the shapes we wanted rather than baking many many tiny pieces and gluing them together with frosting.

Determining the level of detail is difficult. The castle is really approximately 15 different buildings.

This practice castle is 1/2 the size of the complete model we hope to create for the December event. We determined at this practice session that we should try to make arrangements with a professional bakery for the use of industrial ovens. We're working out the details on such and arrangement now. We were still in the process of fund-raising for the greater project when we build the practice castle so the supplies for this phase of the project was not part of our budget.

The Skill Sharing Meeting 24 October, 2008

Micah and our translator Monica, a Red Cross volunteer, ask representatives from Romanian NGOs to get into groups and discuss the state of cooperation between organizations.

More than 27 people attended at least part of our meeting which was held at the Red Cross in Deva. Some people came representing organizations from as far away as Timisoara and Cluj (five hours by bus, but I'm not sure of the time by private car.)

The day was divided into 20 minute workshops on skills NGOs need to acquire or want to improve. We learned what areas were important to our partners through a survey when we invited them to take part in the Christmas event at the castle, then invited those who indicated they were willing to speak to share their organizations best practices and success stories. In the event that no one wanted to speak on a particular topic, we tracked down professionals in the week leading up to the meeting.

Holly, another volunteer in group 22 and a good friend with professional grant writing experience gives a presentation to the members of NGOs. Holly has raised over a million dollars for her community in the USA and gives her advice and basic tips in her presentation.

A presenter from the office of E.U. Integration speaks about the resources available to NGOs from the European Union and how to access those resources. At the end of the project we will collect information from all of our speakers and create a CD of resources for each participating member of the project.
Brindusa, a colleague from the Gender and Development board speaks about planning events for a nonprofit organization and the importance of evaluating events and projects. Brindusa traveled from Turda for the meeting and was a great help to Micah and I with last minute translating. She recently left a well known NGO in her town to start her own animal protection NGO.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

It's like the end of a love affair...
The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps, of which I am a proud volunteer.

More like a death in the family, but that's cruel to use as a headline unless it's actually true and I don't know about you but with the election so close I don't need another thing to get my heart pumping faster than usual....

Last Monday night my computer Kwarou decided to be sick again. I'm sure it's a hardware problem with the monitor and I'm sure it can't be fixed in Romania. I have to send Kwarou back to the USA again, to be fixed again, because the last time I sent him to the US they replaced the motherboard, I assume without even noticing the occasional flickering of the monitor and when I got him back in February was all good for two weeks and then the problem started again.

Now the problem is much worse. I turn the computer on and I'm faced with a black screen that never turns into my desktop. The worst thing is the first time I took him in to one computer shop here in Deva he worked fine, so I brought him back home and was faced again with blackness.

Now my life is thrown into total upheaval. I'm really emotional about it. I'm two weeks behind in the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, I can't call home using Skype, I can't conference call my fellow Peace Corps volunteers for free which has led to my spending more than 100 lei on phone calls due to the increasingly busy nature of the project at hand.

Mostly I'm upset at not having my email at a finger tips all day.I miss knowing where all my files that have to do with this project are and not having to dig through my sent messages for a backup copy in my email.
I miss not having episodes of Supernatural at my command.

I miss music and stupid Youtube videos. I miss political ads and blogs. I'm about to burst into tears when I think about where I'm going to be and what I'm going to be doing while election returns are coming in - probably taking a hot bath with a paperback and a bottle of wine at two in the morning and then pacing frantically - probably naked and crying!

I knew I spent too much time online before. In some ways this could be seen as a good thing as this is one of my two busiest weeks in Peace Corps preparing for the NGO skill-sharing meeting on Friday which is part of the Gingerbread Castle project. I don't need an youtube or video distractions. But I miss my online lifestyle. I miss being connected. More than anything I'm frustrated with all the obstacles this creates not just for my job but for my life - with a friend's laptop that doesn't get the internet, another laptop that does get the internet, but of course doesn't have my cache of downloaded TV shows and movies, neither of which connect to my printer or camera.

Also, since it cost 60 lei to get rid of Bella's fleas (I hope once and for all but she's scratching more than before she had them, less than than when I knew she had them last week) and because my ATM card is expired and its uncertain when I'll get a new one it's questionable at best when I will have the money to send Kwarou back to the US - braving the Romanian and US postal services so he can be repaired and returned to me.

And (this is the kicker) HP sent me a reminder that if I do send Kwarou in to be repaired I need to take responsibility to back up my files in case they get erased. Now how am I supposed to back up my files when I can't see anything at all on the screen?!

So I guess this is farewell, my friends. It'll likely be mid-November before you hear from me again.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Many of the truths we cling to, depend greatly on our own point of view." -Obi-wan Kenobi
The contents of this website are mine personally as usual do not have anything to do with the US government, the Peace Corps, or Romania, and therefore do not reflect any official position thereof.

I just watched The Return of the Jedi, the last part in my impromptu Star Wars marathon, which came about something like this, Me thinking: I could watch the debate, but that will just depress me and make me angry. What's something uplifting I can watch that will give me hope? A New Hope...Star Wars: Episode IV: A New Hope.

Later, though I did watch the debate, as I also watched the first debate and the VP debate and have been following the news as closely as I can. It is disappointing to me how much our political discourse is theater. The debates are really not about engaging the American people so they can learn each candidates position and make the best decision. It's about repeating stock phrases and trying to beat those phrases and two-second ideas into the heads of the audience. If you repeat something often enough it will become true.

McCain's campaign keeps saying Obama would sit down with leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when my understanding of what he said is that under his administration high level members of the government would engage Iran in discussions, not that the President is going to have a one-on-one with Ahmadinejad, who isn't even the most powerful leader in Iran. Obama's campaign just keeps repeating that McCain voted with Bush 95% of the time. Both sides point to each other and say "Oh, he's a terrible person because he voted against funding our troops" even though McCain voted against funding the troops in a bill with a time table and Obama voted against funding them in a bill without a time table.

Something occurred to me watching Return of the Jedi. The Rebels could easily have been called a terrorist army by the Empire. I wonder if they were. I wonder if the people in support of the Empire thought the Emperor could protect them from "those who seek to destroy us." I wonder what those people wanted to be protected from in the big scary galaxy a long time ago far away.

Did they know that the Empire was a military regime in which ranking officers who screwed up could be summarily executed and not just fired?
I wonder if the subjects of the Empire had rights. I wonder if they hated The Rebellion, if they thought the Jedi religion was a cult that sought to destroy their values, if they ever talked with anyone in the Rebellion. If there was any exchange of ideas between the Empire-Supporters and the Rebels.

Obi-wan's quote from the top of this post stuck out to me more than usual this time around. I have heard the term Post-Fact Society recently and it suddenly makes sense to me. We living in a time when if you don't like something- you can simply dismiss it. Judges you disagree with are "activists", an ethics violation investigation that began before Sarah Palin was nominated for Vice President is now "politically motivated." People who believe in Creationism are opening their own museums. Objective facts have lost all meaning. Paris Hilton is correct when she says "Sound bites, not sound policy determine our country's course."

We are in the Post-Fact world where education is undervalued and you can dismiss the voices of
intellectuals as elitists in the pursuit of your own version of American-truth. I have heard it stated by people seeking to dismiss dissenting opinions, the ACLU and Sean Penn hate America! That we're not allowed to say Merry Christmas. There's no such thing as the separation of church and state. We should just blow up Iraq. People damning theocratic governments abroad while pining for one in the USA.

It frustrates and saddens me that this is the level of discourse in the United States today. People seem to have this notion of a democracy as a "majority rules" establishment. That it's a society of "us" versus "them" - the good guys and the bad guys, and if we can just get enough people on our side then we win. But that's not what democracy is about. It means we have a voice with which to elect our representatives and the right to express how we wished to be governed to those people, but we also have an obligation as a members of a free society to be respectful of minority opinions. There are protections, or were, in a democracy against the "tyranny of the majority." That's why we have constitutional limits on powers, and the bill of rights. That's why we have freedom of speech. That's why the first line of the first amendment is "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free expression thereof." That's why we don't live in a theocracy. And that is why, unfortunately, sometimes decisions regarding the rights of the people are made by the courts and not left to a popular vote.

"Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." Unfortunately right now the point of view held in the highest esteem by too many of us is our own point of view. Rather than seeking to hear another point of view, we immediately dismiss either the person or wholesale dismiss the facts on which their argument is based. Because we now live in a time when no fact can sway us and no argument must influence us unless it reinforces what we already believe and everything else can be thrown out, or better yet
called "gay."

In a Post-Fact Society, I am longing for a real discourse. I'd like to enter into a real conversation and have my opinions challenged intelligently. We know I'm tired of being called names and having my values attacked (See former post September 7th). Use the awesome power of The Force to persuade me that your side is right. Don't make education the enemy. Don't change the subject. And don't call me names.

With the shameful lack of discourse going on, and appalling lack of statesmanship, I have to let go of my anger lest it consume me. I turn to past and fictional leaders for their wisdom to guide me through these troubled times.

Because, that's all I have. May the Force be with us all.

"I think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier." - Rufus the 13th Apostle, Dogma
"Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars... Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." - Martin Luther King Jr
“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” -Yoda, Jedi Master

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Brother, can you spare some peanut butter cups?
The contents of this website are mine personally as usual do not have anything to do with the US government, the Peace Corps, or Romania, and therefore do not reflect any official position thereof.

The holidays are fast approaching, the first one being Halloween. I'm helping my Missionary friends start a high school club where we reinforce Romanian high school students' English skills while also doing fun things watching movies, having discussions and doing activities that promote confidence, self-esteem, creative thinking, problem-solving and critical thinking skills and also foster cultural exchange. And we want to promote these evening activities as an alternative to alcohol and drugs. That is the hope, anyway.

To kick off this club we're planning a Halloween party, and let me tell you I am psyched for showing these kids a real American-style Halloween, complete with scary movies, pumpkin carving peeled grapes and oily spaghetti. Maybe even 80's Karaoke.

For the party, I'd really like to make some of those chocolate chip cookies with the peanut butter cup in the middle, as a matter of cultural exchange and also to show these Romanian kids that Americans do junk-food deserts right. Who needs alcohol and drugs when you've got chocolate chips cookies with peanut butter cups sticking out of them? However, chocolate chips, cookies, peanut butter and cups (peanut butter cups) are all foreign to Romanians. I don't expect they'll be nearly as excited as me, my Missionary friends and my volunteer army in charge of making this Halloween a very happy one.

So does anyone think they could put a bag or two of peanut butter cups in the mail - soonish, that it might get here by Halloween?
If so, you'd have the thanks of a grateful community of volunteers and maybe some culturally enriched high school students.