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The Adventures of Dennis and Holly in the Peace Corps

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Sunday, July 26th, 2009
8:40 pm - Firsts
We returned to the United States of America on June 14, 2009. Since then, here are some things we've experienced again for the very first time.

First juicy hamburgers: with Brianna in Minneapolis, the night we arrived on the plane from Brussels/Chicago. She said, "What do you REALLY want to eat right now." Dennis and I both said, "A big, juicy hamburger." She took us to her favorite hang-out, The Ugly Mug. The hamburgers were absolutely, drip down your arm juicy and tasty.

First kid sightings: Brianna in Minneapolis when we got off the plane from Chicago. Prester John in Alamosa when he got out of Stanley's truck and said, "Waddup?"

First sighting of the boyfriend: We met Cameron when Brianna took us to her apartment, then had supper (see "juicy hamburgers" above) with them and their friends. We were a big hit as the returned Peace Corps parents.

First time driving: for Dennis this was the drive across country from Minneapolis to Alamosa, Colorado. We took two days; stayed at a small town in Nebraska which had a huge tornado that evening. Yikes! For me, first drive was over to Mom's house. It's true what they say that it's like riding a bike -- very easy to pick up again.

First Mom sighting: Saturday, June 20, in Alamosa. she hugged us and hugged us, like we had come back from the dead! :)

First night in our own house in our own bed (purchased the day before and delivered -- ain't America great?): Sunday, June 21, 2009.

First parade: July 4, Independence Day Parade in Alamosa. No fly-over this year, but there were horses and tractors, and political party floats and fire engines. Americans know how to do parades!

First steaks: bought by Mom and grilled by Dennis -- mouth watering!

First corn on the cob: with our July 4th dinner at home in Alamosa. It is SO sweet! YUM! I think I'll stay after all and just eat corn on the cob every day.

First concert: in Cole Park in Alamosa, the Air Force Academy Band performing all kinds of music, especially patriotic. Very heart warming for us world travelers.

First Friend outing: with my friends Mary and Nina on June 27. They gave me Welcome Home balloons and cake. :) What awesome friends!!!!

First hot dogs: several times in the last few weeks. :)

Have you noticed how many of these are food? Like maybe we missed the tastes of our home and culture. :)

current mood: full

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Friday, June 12th, 2009
9:29 am - Vacation Report
We have been traveling in Europe since leaving Romania: Brussels, Amsterdam, Bath, Luxembourg.

Tomorrow we collect our Romanian kitty and fly to Minneapolis. Finally, home. Home to America.

I can't wait to see Brianna, to hug her to death, to eat at a Pancka House. :)

current mood: excited

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Wednesday, May 27th, 2009
5:37 pm - Last, Lasts, not The Last
This is my last post as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

Tomorrow, May 28, 2009, we meet with the Country Director, shake hands, get a certificate (no, not a t-shirt), sign more papers, then leave.

We will have completed our obligation, our service to our country, service in peace.

I am so glad! And also so sad!

The last week has been a continual string of lasts: the last homemade Romanian meal (Monica's Mom made us ciroba de perisoare -- meatball soup -- and chicken, salad of tomatoes and cucumbers and we ate fresh cherries we had bought at a roadside stand.); the last night in Suceava; the last taste of Betty Ice icecream; the last hike up five flights of cement stairs.

When we left Alamosa, we said "Goodbye!" and "See you later!" And we knew we really would see people later. Here, I can only say goodbye. I gave last hugs to Paula, my counterpart for the prenatal classes; Dr. Dan, the Peace Corps doctor and Liliana, his most excellent assistant; other volunteers at our site, Mary and Betsey; my teachers association friends, Maria and Adriana -- these two hurt the most.

I knew that Peace Corps was about making new relationships, and I knew that leaving them would be hard. I was right.

Today the final lasts: last dinner in Romania, last night in Bucaresti (yay!), last visit to favorite restaraunts.

Although our service in Peace Corps ends, I feel like this adventure will continue. We have to "re-adjust" after all. And then there are the presentations, the connecting with other Return Peace Corps Volunteers.

I feel like I still have a lot of memories and pictures to share; like The Most Terrible Train Ride, the communist prison in Sighet, functional illiteracy, loneliness, great parties. So much still to tell!

Please check back here once a month or so for awhile. You may be lucky enough to find new stories and new pictures and new thoughts.

For now, la revedere!

current mood: happy

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Sunday, May 24th, 2009
7:21 am - Last Post from Site
In September, 2007 we had been "at site" five months. I was having a very bad day. I wanted to go home, I was lonely, I hated being a Stupid Peace Corps Volunteer in Stupid Romania. The only thing I'd accomplished was getting a grant for the Teachers Association from the U. S. Embassy. I couldn't even help with it because I barely spoke Romanian. Nothing else was working.

Then, as I walked to our apartment, I stepped in freshly poured wet cement on the sidewalk. It was the crowning humiliation. When I arrived, I said to Dennis, "Okay. I've written a grant for the teachers and I left my footprint in the cement. Isn't that enough? Can I go home now?" Dennis was extremely sympathetic because he felt the same way. But we'd waited 30 years to do Peace Corps service. We didn't go home.

Here is my footprint in the cement, at the toe of my shoe.
From blog pix, Jan 09

Since that day, when people came to visit us in Suceava, I showed them my footprint. I'd say, "See. I've left my footprint. Isn't that good enough?" One volunteer even said, "I was inspired to work on a project because I knew Holly left her footprint, and I wanted to leave one as well."

Eventually that footprint became a metaphor for our time here.

Carmen, a school counselor, told me about a workshop for some students. She was angry because the boys in the group kept picking on the girls. She couldn't get the boys to stop or the girls to speak up. I said, "When we have workshops like that, we separate the girls from the boys. Then the girls get more out of it." She stared at me. "That is a wonderful idea! I will do just that next time."

Ka-ching. Footprint!

A group of teachers were organizing certificates for students according to the school of the child, and putting the certificates to each school in an envelope. When we got to over 20 envelopes I sorted them alphabetically. The teachers at first were a little alarmed. "What did you do?" I showed them. They said, "Wow! That's a great idea! This will make the job easier!"

Ka-ching. Footprint.

The young people at Dennis's office were offended when he corrected a translated word. They had used "manifestation" to talk about a meeting or conference. He said, "That word doesn't work." They argued, "But it's in the dictionary." Dennis said, "Maybe it's in the dictionary, but trust me, no one will know what you mean. For us this word means something about ghosts." A year later he said, "I haven't seen the word 'manifestation' for months!"

Ka-ching. Footprint!

One of the hardest things about Peace Corps service is wondering whether the service mattered or not. The challenges are so huge: language, culture, harassment, travel, constant surprises. We can write up lots of reports, but we still wonder whether we made any difference. But I am one of the lucky volunteers; I leave my footprint and a whole lot more.

Today, my last day in Suceava, two years of memories crowd around me like needy children. They want to be recognized. While I, my friends, I still just want to go home.

Ka-ching!

current mood: satisfied

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Saturday, May 23rd, 2009
8:19 am - Last Walk-About
Thursday we did a last walk-about of Suceava. We went to places we wanted to revisit, and to places we had been meaning to go. It was a good day.

We started by finding the Bucovina Ethnografic Museum, which we had just learned about. It's located in an medieval building that's still standing.

From blog pix, Jan 09

This is the kitchen, with lots of wooden utensils and bowls and spoons. There are actually three stoves, the one center front, a smaller one behind, and a larger one to the right outside the picture.

From blog pix, Jan 09

These are examples of traditional clothing. The men still wear these heavy, felt coats. Most have gorgeous embroidery, and most have been passed down in a family. The women's skirts are like kilts, they're a simple length of cloth wrapped around and tied with a sash. It seems like every article of clothing was embroidered. The far right woman has a cloth bag at her feet; these were very common and today people here still use bgs for everything -- except the bags are plastic. :)

We've learned a lot about the traditions and history of this country. Living in a community for two years has definite advantages!

We were doing some other errands, so after the museum we, one last time, one of our favorite meals.

From blog pix, Jan 09

This is Sempre restaurant. No one knows what this word really means; it's not Romanian or Spanish, and probably not Italian. It's owned and operated by a family of Pentacostals; no alcohol, and the Sermon on the Mount on the back of the menu, in Romanian, of course. :)

From blog pix, Jan 09

Our favorite Romanian food: ciorba radauţeana: Radauţi style soup. This creamy, garlic flavored soup has chicken chunks and sometimes (not at Sempre) vegetable chunks. It's modeled after a favorite soup here: ciorbe de burta (stomach soup). We prefer the radauţeana version with chicken rather than stomach. Radauţi is a small city north of Suceava where they first starting making this soup. Whenever volunteers came to visit us, we took them to this restaurant for this soup. They ALL loved it and were disappointed when they returned to their own sites and could not find this soup.

After paying the bill, one last time, we went to our next tourist site: the church of St. John the New.

From blog pix, Jan 09

We can see this beautiful roof from our apartment balcony. Unfortunately we couldn't take pictures inside because a woman was praying at the feet of a priest, with her head covered (we heard a baby whimpering under the cloth), and beside the relics of St. John. These relics perform an annual miracle, which we were able to see last year: it is impossible to move the casket with the relics except on June 24 when the priests, after a lot of praying, can lift it and carry it through the city. The Patriarch of the Romanian Orthodox Church comes for this miracle. Police surround the casket bearers because the crowd all wants to touch the casket. Gypsy women break through the cordon of police and run under the casket in the hopes of getting pregnant. It's a fabulous, exciting spectacle!

Next stop, the Park of Three Beards. On our first day in Suceava, my counterpart Maria took us around the city. I remember being confused, excited, overwhelmed. She pointed out landmarks that we still use, "Oh, there's the shipping company Maria told us about," or "Oh, there's the fountain Maria showed us." She said, at one point, "This is the park of three beards because it has statues of three men and they all beards. When Dennis is here, it will be the Park with Four Beards."

From blog pix, Jan 09

I finally got a picture of the Park of Four Beards. You can see Dennis standing in front of the middle statue. Can you see all three statues?

Next, a revisit to the history museum to photograph a new hero in our lives. Dennis's counterpart, Victor, took us to this museum in the first week. I've wanted to get back, especially since I've learned so much about one of Romania's greatest heroes: Ştefan cel Mare.

From blog pix, Jan 09

This wax display is of King Ştefan, far right with the red and gold boots, receiving a diplomatic delegation from the king of Poland. The figures are extremely life-like. I wanted to shake Ştefan's hand, but the museum had sent young women guides along with us, so we had to settle for being paparazzi.

Ştefan, King of Bucovina, was a cousin of Vlad ŢepeŞ, Count Dracula. Ştefan ruled for 50 years -- a remarkably long reign -- and managed to keep the Turks from invading Europe. He is said to have won all but one battle. At each place where he won a battle, he commissioned a painted monastery -- the now famous painted monasteries. People here say that at each battle site he left a church and some children. :)

Final stop, revisiting the cathedral that is being built on a hill in the middle of the city. We took pictures when we arrived because this seemed like such a major construction project!

From blog pix, Jan 09

We went back to take pictures of the changes.

From blog pix, Jan 09

You can see that the three towers have grown significantly. People tell us that this is being built through community contributions, not through the national government or the official church.

From blog pix, Jan 09

It's pretty awesome!

We ended the day as we plan to spend our last day, watching kids and pigeons in the center.

From blog pix, Jan 09


From blog pix, Jan 09

This young lady was zooming very fast around the fountain, showing her skill, no time for chatting, she had places to be right now! :)

What a lot of memories -- good and bad -- we have of this one city in far away Romania!

current mood: thoughtful

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Tuesday, May 19th, 2009
6:35 am - Goodbye Parties
Here in Romania, people throw their own parties. They don't wait around for friends and family to remember stuff, and then feel slighted because no one did remember. They just throw their own parties.

So, in fine Romanian tradition, we threw our own goodbye parties: one for the Teachers Association and one for everyone else.

The Teachers Association party had 24 people. We held it at a nice local hotel; the Hotel Continental which locals still refer to as The Archer because that's what it was known as and it still has an archer statue out front. Maria asked me to show my power point presentation about being here as a Peace Corps volunteer. Then we all had a nice meal. The group brought drinks, so there was lots of whiskey and vodka. Then I held an auction. I had gathered items from our house that I wanted to give away. I put them in odd groupings, then auctioned the groups starting with small amounts like 5 lei (about $2). People had a blast! They loved it! And they totally got into the excitement of the thing. We raised 240 lei which we gave to the association for the party for their next volunteer (hopeful thinking there), and we had a fun, fun time.

The community party we held at our favorite local restaurant, No Limit. (Yes, that's its name, even though the owners don't speak much English.) Dennis made up invitations and we handed them out to everyone who was not in the Teachers group. Dennis's agency, GEC Bucovina had people come, and my other agency, Bucovina Ladies Society had some people come. We also invited friends like our landlady Lili (who was so scary at first and ended up being wonderful), Sorin who is a psychologist working at a center for disabled children, and our neighbors. We had about 40 people there. We told them we would buy their pizzas, they would buy drinks. It sorta worked.

These two parties gave us two important messages:
1. We are appreciated by a lot of people for our work and our being here.
2. We made a lot of friends, many more than we expected or realized.

We have crossed the globe and become richer.

current mood: happy

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Thursday, May 14th, 2009
3:11 pm - Last Days
We leave Romania, and the Peace Corps, on May 28. Two weeks from today.

Fortunately, I'm very busy right now. I have a grant report to complete for the Bucovina Ladies Society, a final article to write for the Teachers Association Newsletter, and the Description of Service report for Peace Corps. Oh, and our 2008 taxes -- as overseas residents we file before June 15.

We're also going through our stuff. We've thrown a lot away, and we've shipped a lot home (to my Mom's). Probably ship a few more boxes next week. We're also packing two large suitcases and two smaller ones.

Before we came, I had a chart on our wall which showed the tasks we needed to complete and an almost day by day breakdown of what to do. Here, life is much simpler. We don't have so many animals; only a cat which we are taking home with us. We don't have to arrange for cars and renters. We don't have to wonder what to take with us; we take only treasured things that can't be replaced.

Returning to Colorado is not the mystery that coming to Romania was. It's easier to return. At least in terms of possessions it's easier.

current mood: busy

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Friday, May 1st, 2009
9:31 pm - Incognito American
Today Dennis and I went to the Suceava bazaar with our Romanian friends, Catalin and Dana (pronounced Donna). We had a great time wandering through the narrow aisles and looking at all the things for sale. Since we're leaving soon, it seemed like a good time to take pictures of the bazaar. Plus, we had our friends who would tolerate us taking their pictures while they shopped.

Eventually people started to notice the cameras, and one woman asked me, in Romanian, why I was taking pictures. Before I could answer, others told her I was a foreigner, and that I was there with friends. I tried to tell her I was a tourist, but she had already turned away.

Later, Dana and I were walking through the bazaar by ourselves. A young man was behind us, talking excitedly to a young woman, as well as to others nearby. He said, in Romanian, "I know Americans are here. They're in the bazaar today. I know this." Then he hurried past me and Dana, telling everyone that some Americans were in in the bazaar.

I wondered what exactly he was looking for. What does an American look like? Clearly, whatever he thought, didn't match reality since he rushed right past an American without recognizing her. Was he looking for cameras? Was he looking for fancy clothes? How disappointed he would have been to learn that I was his Mystery American and I am dressed like everyone else, have even less money, and speak Romanian.

This incident amuses me hugely. It means we still stand out, but that we are also integrated here. Success? Nu ştiu.

current mood: amused

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Saturday, April 11th, 2009
9:14 am - A Crowded Apartment
This weekend we have about 20 volunteers coming to Suceava, mostly for farewell parties. A few are going on to Ukraine, another group going on to Moldova (if they can get in the country), and others are just going to enjoy each other's company.

Another bittersweet time. Most of these folks we'll never see again. But thank goodness we see them this time!

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Saturday, April 4th, 2009
11:16 am - Old and New in One Day
Another full day, or at least a full half-day.

In the afternoon I went with my friend Sorin to a 1-8 school where he gave a workshop to kids about Success. He is a psychologist who has found a local niche giving motivational talks to middle school kids. He's very funny and irreverent, so they think he's great. He also has cerebral palsy and tells the kids how lucky he is.

From Blog pix


At the end of his talk, he asked me to sing, so I did a rousing rendition of "Puff the Magic Dragon" and got great applause. :) I also answered their questions about America and about Peace Corps.

From Blog pix


Afterwards, Sorin and I and the school counselor Carmen, went a local restaurant called Taco Loco for pizzas. We tried the "burritoes" at Taco Loco when we first came, and they are so not like anything in Colorado that we never order the "Mexican" food there anymore. We each ordered a pizza. Here, everyone eats their own pizza -- yes, full sized. I told them that in America three of us would share one of those pizzas. They shook their heads. Poor silly Americans!

After the pizza, Dennis joined us and we went to a concert at a local pub. It was three young men; two playing guitars and singing and another on the bongo drum. They were songs in the style of Peter, Paul and Mary or Simon & Garfunkel. Later, Sorin told us that the songs are from Romania's 1960s and 70s. They have a lot of symbolism about being in the shadow of the Soviet Union and hating communisim. These songs are coming back into popularity.
From Blog pix


Afterwards we discussed the songs with Sorin and Carmen. They are glad the old regime is gone, but worry that the kids today don't have good values. Sound familiar? These folks finally have the same worries about the next generation as the rest of us, instead of worrying about how to feed and protect their families.

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Friday, March 27th, 2009
6:08 pm - Modern Ideas
Today I went to the town of Bacau, south of Suceava, with a Maria for an education meeting. It was a symposium, "Holistic Approach to Pre-School Education".

The national government of Romania has decided that pre-school curriculum SHALL BE thematic rather than subject-based. Most schools in America have been teaching this way for a long time. Now, the Romanian pre-schools will be using this format.

From Blog pix


Maria told me that teachers are frightened by this big change. She said that this meeting was to reassure people.

The presentation featured four teachers who have piloted the use of this curriculum in their classrooms. Videos had been made of them with their children. When they presented to the 50+ attendees, they were obviously scared to death. Easier to present to pre-school kids than to their peers. But later, when I asked them about the theme and how they decided what lessons to do, they were very enthusiastic.

From Blog pix


Maria and I were VIPs at this affair, because they considered the Suceava Teachers Association to be a partner. We went to a separate room for coffee and sweets. After the event, they fed us a large meal, complete with champagne and wines.

And of course, they gave us flowers as we left. Here, flowers are required to give to VIPs. I like that people give so many flowers, but it feels awkward to receive VIP treatment when I'm just Maria's side-kick for the day.

From Blog pix


Anyway, it's great to see new educational ideas coming to Romania, and to see so many people discussing them.

current mood: impressed

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Thursday, March 26th, 2009
9:28 pm - An evening at work
This evening I went to the Sport High School to help a P.E. teacher translate some English language documents into Romanian. Yes, strange to say, I can help someone translate back into their own language. :/

While I was there, Maria arrived from a trip to Iaşi. Iaşi is the largest city in our region of Romania. Maria took her "work" car, a Ford Focus station wagon, to Iaşi for a tune up.

She has begun a second multi-year contract through the World Bank which has master teachers train teachers in rural areas. The trainings are about new methodologies, such as cooperative learning, brainstorming, and comparisons. She was a bit grumpy because the car needs something expensive done and she isn't sure if her company will pay to get it done.

She asked if I would go with her tomorrow to the city of Bacau, south of Suceava. I have some Peace Corps paperwork to do, but I'd rather spend the day with Maria. I haven't spent much time with her for the last few months. We always have good ideas together.

She'll pick me up in the morning at 7:00, her husband Costel driving, and get us to the train station. I don't know when I'll be back. This is common here: we never know, when we leave the apartment, when we'll be back. Could be in an hour, could be the next morning at 6:00.

Tonight Dennis will leave for the city of Baie Mare, over the mountains and to the west. He'll be on a night train where the seats turn into bunks and there are 6 bunks to a compartment.

In Baie Mare he wants to find and purchase more Romanian mineral samples. There was a lot of mining in that region and apparently lots of people have mineral collections. He has some nice specimens from there already, but he wants to get more before we leave.

He will also visit with some of our colleagues: Tod, Derrick and Carol. We really enjoy the young people we're serving with. What wonderful youthfulness!

Obviously I'm feeling a LOT better. Yay!

current mood: content

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Tuesday, March 17th, 2009
9:07 am - Sick
I've been very sick since last Thursday with a bad stomach problem.

It's bad enough being sick in your own territory, but when it's in a foreign country, it's a lot harder.

Our Peace Corps doctors are in Bucaresti, a day's train ride away. I sent them an email, but they'll either say, "Get well soon." or "Come to Bucaresti immediately." or "Go find a local doctor and we'll reimburse you."

This last is the scariest. Find a doctor who speaks English, or who has a nurse who speaks English? When I'm already very sick? And then when I go, I'll have to pay right then. It's the middle of month and I don't have a lot of spare cash, reimbursement or not. Finally, these people love to do "tests". What sort of tests am I going to be subjected to? Will anyone there speak English and be able to tell me why I'm there? Will they need to be paid as well? What if they "find" something? How will I know if it's cancer or just heartburn?

Argh!!!!

Back to bed.

Actually, I feel a lot better today. Maybe I'll check my email.

current mood: sick

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Saturday, March 14th, 2009
4:34 pm - Cultural Curiosities - Snapshots
* “I stood in line behind an older couple. I swear, they carried on a conversation for at least an hour, all in body language.” C.K.

* An argument between a middle aged man and older lady about what they thought the group should do the next day: go watch a football game, or go site seeing. Why an argument? “The Romanians stay with each other and go everywhere together.” C.W.

* “Ah Romania. Where there’s dog poop on the sidewalks and people walk in the streets. Where house cats are all “kitty”, but street dogs all have names.” D.F.

* I waited over an hour on the street while my Romanian friends shopped in three or four expensive stores. They “tsk tsked” about the prices, but eventually all bought something. By then I was starving, and led them to a small, inexpensive restaurant for sandwiches. They came in and looked at the menu above the serving counter. I ordered. Then they said to me, “We have to leave. It’s too expensive here. We’re going to find a cheaper place.” I’ve followed Romanians before when I was faint with hunger and after many hours I was not a pretty sight. So I was not going to traipse around a strange city with a group of Romanians while they discussed what to do. I said, “I already ordered. I’m hungry. I’m going to stay here and eat. Send someone back here in half an hour to get me.” They left, but sat outside, ordering coffee and brownies, and waiting for me. Sigh.

*A man and woman work together on a project; an older woman calls them pigeons: “lovers”. Everyone else giggles. This feels so unprofessional, so adolescent to me.

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Friday, February 20th, 2009
4:33 pm - Close of Overseas Service
Wow! It's hard to believe. We are almost finished with our Peace Corps adventure.

What a time it has been!

Next week, Monday-Wednesday, we will be in the Romanian city of Sinaia (a ski resort) for our group's Close of Service conference. We'll learn about our final paperwork (we work for the U. S. government so you can imagine the paperwork!), final medical and dental exams, final grant reports (for Holly's projects), passports after service, how to ship pets home, and how we'll get our "Readjustment Allowance" (this is the money they save for us that helps get people get set up when they return home).

We'll also take hundreds of photos -- including official ones. We'll hug everyone a hundred times. We'll cry, we'll laugh, we'll cheer. This will be the last time that we are together as Peace Corps Volunteers.

I'm reviewing all the information today: COS Manual, travel info, reimbursement info, medical and dental info, health insurance options, etc. I'm feeling overwhelmed by it all, which means it's a good thing we get a whole conference about all this stuff!

At the conference, Dennis and I will make the final decision about when we will actually leave. We must tell the Peace Corps SOMETHING. While we're anxious to get this settled, we also dread it. It will be final by Wednesday. We'll know the dates of the end of our adventure. We'll know when we will return home to Alamosa. We'll know.

We are planning to travel for a few weeks after we COS, but right now have no firm plans. Look for more details throughout March.

I feel the adrenalin warming my tired blood, and I also feel sad.

current mood: restless

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Wednesday, February 11th, 2009
6:18 pm - Drinking in Romania
By "drinking" I mean alcohol.

People here grow grapes and make many kinds of alcohol, including wine, ţuica, and palincă. Ţuica (pronounced tsweek-ah) and palinca (puh-link-ah) are both like rubbing alcohol to me. I've had some that was very, very good, but most of it is awful. Fortunately they usually serve it in small shot glasses.

At every meal people drink ţuica, wine or beer. Romanian's drink very little water or soda. Mostly alcohol.

If you tell someone you want "a finger" of ţuica, meaning only enough in the glass to equal the width of your finger, they say, "Okay, a finger's worth." Then they stand a finger beside the glass and start pouring. Arguing is usually futile.

The other night I went to a meeting of teachers at the Sport School. At the meeting they had a bottle of whiskey and a bottle of a local drink with raspberries. They always have whiskey, scotch, and vodka at meetings. I don't like whiskey and I can't get over our prohibition against alcohol at schools and school functions. Compared to Romanians, we are positively puritanical!

However, the other drink they had was a locally made berry alcohol. A popular local drink here is afinată (ah-feen-ah-tuh). It's made with either vodka or palinka and blueberries. They just put fresh blue berries into the alcohol and let it sit for a few weeks. It is yummy! This particular night they had a similar alcohol but with raspberries rather than blue berries. Okay, it was yummy also. :)

As I drank a second small, very small, VERY small glass of raspberry alcohol my reluctance to drink in a school began to fade.

After the meeting I went with Maria and Adriana to their friend's house for supper. This lady is Brînduşă (broon-dush-ah), which means crocus. Her family lives in a very new, large house on the outskirts of Suceava. More and more Romanians are building these mega-houses. I can't blame them because they've lived for almost 100 years in tiny, cement apartments.

Brînduşă offered us drinks and made me a gin with ice cubes (she didn't have tonic). She served us (but did not eat with us) a first course of chicken şniţel (breaded, fried chicken), pickled beets (yum!), and a gelatinous type of head cheese (gag!). For a second course we had mamaliga (corn mush) with smantana (sour cream), and sarmale (sahr-mah-leh) (baked cabbage rolls). Fortunately I like sarmale so it was okay that I didn't like that other nasty stuff. Desert was chocolate candies.

After two gin drinks Brînduşă gave me a drink made with gratefruit juice and some kind of alcohol. By then I didn't understand what is was and didn't care.

When I finally got home, after climbing the 5 flights of stairs, Dennis said, "Would you like something to drink? I bought you some wine." So, I had a glass, one finger's worth, of locally made wine.

For some reason, the next day I had a headache!

current mood: shocked

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Saturday, February 7th, 2009
7:57 am - Paying bills
We have 4 bills each month:
* electricity (including a tv and radio tax, we think)
* gas
* water (including hot water, but we don't have to pay for hot water because we have an instant hot water heater in our apartment)
* landlady: Lili Csinta

Yesterday I paid the electricity and gas bills. I went first to our bank, Bancpost, where Peace Corps set up accounts for us. There I withdrew enough cash to pay the bills plus a little extra. The Bancpost has put astroturf on their slick, marble steps so it's safer to get money now.

Then I walk back to the Casa Cultura in the center, or downtown, and walk down Strada Stefan Cel Mare -- Stefan the Great Street. I walk about 4-5 blocks.

From blog pix, Jan 09

I take our bills to the BCR bank. I go to BCR because that's where our landlady, Mrs. Csinta told us to go to pay the bills. Bills can be paid at other banks and at the post office, but she told us to go there, so that's what we do. The BCR bank that I go to is at the end of Strada Stefan cel Mare, where it ends at the Bucovina shopping center.

At the BCR bank is a bill paying robot. That's right, you heard me: a bill paying robot. It stands in the lobby and people can pay their bills in it's chest. Sometimes a person "man's" the robot and helps people pay their bills. Sometimes the robot won't make change. Sometimes people have better things to do so no one keeps the robot company. Here is a picture of me standing by it.

From blog pix, Jan 09

If no one is at the bill paying robot, I take a number, as in this picture, and wait for my turn with a teller. This can be immediate, or entail a long wait. At least here people don't have to stand in line, I can sit in comfortable chairs in the lobby.

To pay the bill I give the teller our bills. The bills have a bar code that is read by the teller with machine like is used in grocery stores. Then, sometimes the teller asks me a question. I've learned that this has something to do with identification. I don't know what Romanian citizen identification is called so I usually just stare at the person when they ask for this. Then they stare back and sometimes ask me for a passport. That's when I tell them that I have a "legitimatie", which is identification for foreigners. They accept this. Whew!

I don't know why the bank teller wants to see my identification. It has something to do with verifying that I live at the address on the bills. Are they afraid that I might pay someone else's bills? Is there a racket in Romania of people paying the wrong electricity bill, like there is a racket in internet fraud? Nu stiu. I don't know.

After paying these bills I return home. On the way up the stairs I look at a chart that shows what each apartment owes for water, cleaning, etc. Here I see our water bill and set that money aside for the landlady.

Sometime after the first of the month our landlady, Lili Csinta comes to visit. At first she seemed frightening to us. She spoke a mile a minute and loud and sharp. Now we really like her. She slows down to talk to me, and she loves our cat. She invited me to her house in August. She cares for street dogs and cats all the time. Here's a picture of her (in the pink dress), me and her friend Julia.
From blog pix, Jan 09


From blog pix, Jan 09

As I've said before, there are no checks in Romania. People use cash or cards for everything. They also rarely use the mail. This means paying bills takes a few hours altogether.

This is a normal process for us -- taking lots of time to do things.

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Thursday, January 22nd, 2009
1:59 pm - Sad
Sad today.

I began to go through our papers, deciding what to keep for now, what to throw away, and what to take back to Colorado with us. I also reviewed information from Peace Corps about our Close of Service Conference and sent information to my two agencies.

Our COS conference is February 23-25, in the mountain city of Sinaia. This is the last time our volunteer group, Group 22, will be together. Until today I was joyfully anticipating this meeting, looking forward to seeing everyone, comparing notes, learning about our final paperwork assignments.

Today I'm reminded that this conference signals the end. Some of our colleagues will leave very soon after the COS conference, others within a month. A few are extending their service for 6-12 months. Most of us will leave some time in May.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to stay in Romania. This has been my job for 2 1/2 years and I'm glad to finish it. But I leave new friends, new learning, horrible and wonderful experiences. Nothing else like this will happen in my life again.

Wow. I'm sad today.

current mood: sad

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Wednesday, January 21st, 2009
8:48 am - Passing the Torch, Changing the Guard -- Peacefully
Last night we watched the inauguration of a new U.S. president, Barak Obama.

From half a globe away it was an exciting opportunity for us. Once again we felt lucky, lucky to have internet access here in Romania. We also have television -- 3 channels with programming in English, including CNN. We were able to see every minute of the ceremony, and we watched the later activities until our eyes drooped.

Over and over the newscasters said, "This is the tradition in America, the peaceful transfer of power."

On behalf of all foreigners who grumble about America, I was glad to see the consideration of the Bushes and Obamas toward each other, the escort to the helicopter, the smiles and waves by all parties (except Dick Cheney, but then he had to leave in a wheelchair!).

I want to shout out to the world, "This is how it's done! You don't need machine guns and tanks and massive bribery. You also can adopt a tradition of peaceful transfer of power. Peace is possible!"

Maybe because I'm a Peace Corps Volunteer right now, I think a lot about peace. Several times since we've been here, there have been outside threats to this country: Russia's invasion of Georgia, a toxic train accident in Ukraine, shut off of natural gas supplies by Russia to Ukraine and Europe. Romania is neighbor to Ukraine, and between Russia and Europe. If serious hostilities broke out, this place would be in the line of fire.

Probably, I will be long gone before something like that occurs. But the people who live here will have nowhere else to go. They'll have to endure invasions and war close up. Some of them still remember the Nazi invasion, and the even worse occupation by Stalin. They don't want to go through that again.

However, I will return to Colorado, a state smack-dab in the middle of the United States of America. We are far from foreign borders and far from oceans. Although foreign countries are a threat, they are distant. Our neighboring states of New Mexico, Kansas, Utah and Wyoming are not likely to invade or threaten us (except for water, but that's resolved in courts!).

We are safe there, in Colorado. We live every day in peace. We may have problems with other people around us or with our lives (such as housing) but not from war. We live separated from war.

Many of us volunteers are hoping that the new administration will expand Peace Corps. That action will relieve the unemployment problem by sending people on extended volunteer assignments, and get the face of America into more corners of the world. The face of America is us, single volunteers living in far flung, isolated spots without the protective and comforting insulation of our homeland.

Yet, we live in peace. Whereever we serve, we serve in peace. We talk to our new foreign friends about democracy and America and hot issues -- and peace. Now we can explain one more important aspect of being American -- peaceful transition of power.

It's what we do.

current mood: peaceful

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Wednesday, January 14th, 2009
9:12 am - Looking vs. Staring
In America we look people in the eye, but never stare at them. In a land that values personal privacy, staring is considered rude and invasive.

In Romania, people rarely look each other in the eye, and stare unashamedly. In a land of few secrets, keeping eyes lowered is a guard against personal disclosure. Especially for women, avoiding eye contact is important. To look a man directly in the eye is to invite his interest, perhaps inappropriately.

Imagine my alarm when my visiting friend said to me on the train, "Oh good. I finally got the ticket conductor to look at me and smile." "Yipes!" I said. "That means you're interested in him. He's hoping you can meet to be friends or more in an empty compartment." She was very discouraged. "It's so hard here. You can't even be friendly."

As Peace Corps Volunteers, most of us keep our eyes lowered and are not friendly in public. This feels uncomfortable, especially when we've come in peace and friendship!

Also, most of the volunteers complain about the staring. It is blatant, especially if people discover we're foreign. They very obviously eavesdrop. When we stare back, they eventually look away, but they're usually very confused.

These are just a few small cultural differences that make people feel awkward.

current mood: uncomfortable

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