Wednesday, November 30, 2011

An Open Letter to Matt's Beard, From Matt's Face

Dearest Dr. Beardface,

Well, the time has come to say goodbye. Matt and I are shaving you not because we don’t love you, or because we haven’t had fun together; it’s simply for a great cause.

You see, we’ve offered you up to the Peace Corps’ Gender and Diversity Committee as a fundraiser. The volunteers are going to vote on your future with their hard-earned lei. Will you become a fu manchu? Will you become some weird shape like stars or someone’s initials or lightning bolts? Will you become mutton chops? Or a chinstrap? Only time will tell.

But let’s stop talking about the future for a minute. Let’s take some time to reflect on the past, on everything you’ve been to Matt and me.

You have so expertly connected Matt’s hair to the rest of me, then back around again to the other part of Matt’s hair.

You have outed Matt. The world now knows that he is a Ginger. He fought it, but because of your courage, he has accepted it and wears it proudly, just like you.

You have given Matt something to scratch at all times.

You have kept me warm and dry from the wind, cold and rain.

You are the world’s greatest sunblock.

To the parts around my mouth, you have ensured that Matt never eats or drinks alone, and you have so often selflessly held on to the leftovers so he could enjoy them later.

To the tips, you’ve been with us since the beginning, old friends, and we won’t soon forget it.

To the roots, you’re new here, but that doesn’t mean you’re any less a part of this. Listen to what the tips say, but don’t be afraid to go your own way.

To the mustache part, don’t let the world’s Movember movement make you feel like less of a mustache. You are still a mustache at heart, and a brilliant one. Let your light shine. Also, although you make it impossible for Matt to itch my nose by sticking out my chin and bottom lip and blowing upward, we know you did it with the best of intentions, even if we don’t know them.

Finally, to all the parts, let us not forget that we are one, that our whole is better than any sum of our parts could ever be.

You will be missed.

Sincerely, Matt’s Face

PS: See you in a couple weeks.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ziua Recunoștinței (Thanksgiving Day)

Ziua Recunoștinței. For those of you Anglophones, that’s Thanksgiving Day over here. They don’t really have it, but this is how they translate it for us Yanks.

Originally, I hadn’t planned to do anything. Travel is challenging, and I didn’t want to take the time off school. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized how much I love this holiday, and how much I wanted to be with people I love on this holiday.

So, I decided to join a group of eight people up in this corner of the country for a Romanian village Thanksgiving. And that it was.

I think the best way to break down the weekend is with a blow-by-blow account, so here goes:

Thursday, Nov. 24:

10:20 a.m.: I catch the bus to Iași, a giant college town in the northeast of the country. Although this is the real Thanksgiving Day, we had decided to celebrate on Saturday. However, I don’t teach Thursdays, and I had already taken Friday off, so I travel.

2 p.m.: I arrive in Iași.

2:15 p.m.: I hit the Billa for some essentials. The receipt reads: two half-liter plastic bottles of Polar vodka, 7-up, Fanta, Pringles and sour cream (for tacos later on).

3:30 p.m.: I catch the bus to my friend Kelly’s village. She told me to sit on the right side of the bus and in front so as to not miss her stop: Focuri (which literally means “Fires”). The only seat I find is in the back left. Well done, Matt.

3:47 p.m.: As we’re leaving Iași, the sun is setting over the urban landscape while, strictly by coincidence, “August’s Rhapsody” comes on my shuffle. I take a swig of the Screw-Up I prepared for the ride (vodka, 7-Up and Fanta) and enjoy.

4:46 p.m.: I arrive in Focuri to a smiling Kelly. There have been worse welcomes.

5:29 p.m.: Kelly tells me another volunteer, Lindsey, named our turkey Bert. By the way, our turkey is currently alive in the backyard of Kelly’s gazda (host family).

5:30 p.m.: Bert is dead. Cause: decapitation. Weapon: ax.

7:01 p.m.: We eat tacos. And it was good.

Friday, Nov. 25:

7:15 a.m.: Two more volunteers arrive. We are now four.

9:30 a.m.: Kelly and I hitchhike into Iași in quite possibly the first Dacia ever built. Upon arrival, the driver tries to extort us for way more than anyone ever charges for that leg. Kelly knows this because she does it all the time. We explain this to him. He’s still an a-hole. We walk away. I assume he remains an a-hole to this day.

10:30 a.m.: After an hour walk to the train station because the a-hole (see previous) wouldn’t drop us off any closer, we meet up with three more volunteers. We are now seven. (Note: Hitchhiking in Romania is typically a great experience. People are nice, and it’s safe. This was an aberration. The walk also allowed us to stop by an awesome stand with killer coffee and some great breakfast options. I went with a hot pocket and a hot dog wrapped in a pretzel. This is not the first time, nor the last, I will eat this for breakfast.)

10:32 a.m.: Three more arrive. We are now seven.

10:45 a.m.: We eat, again, at the McDonald’s next to the train station. This is common practice.

11:30 a.m.: We arrive at a mall and the only Carrefour visible from space. We do some clothes shopping. A few of us succeed in finding jeans. For me, the only pair I find that wouldn’t have to be removed with the Jaws of Life costs 335 lei (conversion: a lot).

1:15 p.m.: We finish clothes and food shopping for the weekend. As a group, we’re about a thousand lei lighter, but, like good little Peace Corps Volunteers, we made smart choices. We decide to take our time now because we know we’re not going to make the 2 p.m. bus. The next one is 3:30 p.m. This is called foreshadowing.

3:31 p.m.: We miss the 3:30 p.m. bus by “câtevă minute,” (a couple minutes), we’re told.

3:35 p.m.: We’re seated on the 5 p.m., but with GREAT seats.

6:15 p.m.: We get back to Kelly’s and, as seven, spend the rest of the night catching up and killing eight bottles of wine (or the equivalent of that; it was boxed. See “smart choices.”)

Saturday, Nov. 26: OUR THANKSGIVING!

7:15 a.m.: Volunteer No. 8 arrives.

2:30 p.m.: Volunteer No. 9 arrives. We are now complete.

3 p.m.: Bert goes into the oven.

5 p.m.: He comes out, a bit prematurely, something we find out partly due to one volunteer’s prodigious gag reflex.

3-7 p.m. (continuously): Side preparation is in full swing, a difficult pursuit with two burners and one oven. However, thanks to the masterful conducting of one Kelly, we redefine efficiency.

6-something: The power goes out. Seriously. So, after a few moments of “Are you f•••ing kidding me?!?” we grab the bull by the horns – and our Euro-Nokia phones that are all equipped with flashlights – and light everything we need to.

6-something-plus-a-few-minutes: We’re PCVs, dammit! We can handle this. We’re now cooking, and more importantly carving, in the dark. What of it, Electricity.

8:05 p.m.: Lights are still out, but so is the food. We’re ready to eat. Thanks to the continuing power outage, the creativity of the table-setters, and Kelly’s gazda’s penchant for figurines from all geni, we’ll be eating by candlelight jungle motif, just how the Pilgrims did it.

8:10 p.m.: We all say what we’re thankful for. I don’t care where you are, or whom you’re with, this should happen at every Thanksgiving dinner table.

8:30 p.m.: Mid-dinner, the power comes back on. We rejoice. But it’s short-lived. We’re eatin’ here.

The rest of the night: We eat, drink and be merry.

Sunday, Nov. 27:

7 a.m.: Five leave. And then there were four.

11:30 a.m.: Three leave. And then there was one.

Monday, Nov. 28:

Sometime Monday morning: Everyone is back to his or her respective sites and accounted for, with a belly fully of turkey and a heart full of great memories. Here’s to the next holiday. Wait, that’s this week:

I think it’s safe to say our first Romanian Thanksgiving, was exactly that.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


OK, so where were we? Ah, yes, I was just about to tell you about the seven more classes I picked up and my trip to Paris.

So, I picked up seven more classes and am taking a trip to Paris.

First, the classes. It started with three kindergarten classes. However, there are five kindergartens in the comuna (a handful of villages), so once the fourth one asked me to come, I figured I’d hit for the Tulgheș cycle and offer my services to the fifth.

So now, on Tuesdays, I have five kindergarten classes. It’s exhausting, but adorable. We mostly sing songs together, but they have a good time, and I’ve had a good time seeing them retain and progress.

Our current set list includes “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes,” – even though they all call those things on your legs “kneesand” – a variation of “One, Two, Buckle my Shoe” that I made up, and my favorite: “How Are You?” set to the tune of “Are You Sleeping?” It goes a little something like this:

How are you?
How are you?
I’m goooood. I’m gooooood. (with big smiles)

How are you?
How are you?
I’m NOT good! I’m NOT good! (as pouty as possible; they love this part)

I’m not crazy about reinforcing the negative response, but the main goal here isn’t to make them fluent by the time they reach first grade, it’s to forge an association between “English” and “fun,” maybe spur some interest and give them a small head start. So far, so good.

Last week I also started my adult classes. All 30-something of us met, and after the first hour, it was unanimously decided that, moving forward, we’d do a beginner class and an intermediate class.

Shortly into our first dialogue – “What is your name? Where are you from? How are you?” – it became fairly obvious that we had two different levels: those who’ve done this stuff and just want to freshen up their English, and those who haven’t had any English at all. (All the while, I was fighting the urge to sing my “How are you?” song because it was still fresh from the kindergarten class an hour earlier.)

More on that later.

So I’m going to Paris! I made a really great friend in my town who goes to school outside of Paris and offered to let us stay there. So, while weighing my options for Christmas vacation, I realized I’d be crazy to turn down a free place to stay in Paris, which also happens to be somewhere I’ve never been. So, a $300 round-trip ticket later, and I’m on my way (in two months)! I’ve started Pimsleur’s French – hey, already studying Romanian and Hungarian, why not throw in a third? This way, I won’t be totally clueless, just mostly.

Asta e tot.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

True Story

So, while on an evening stroll tonight, I discovered that the Transylvanian psychiatric hospital where I live has a pretty healthy, vocal bat population. I have no other reason for posting that here than I simply wanted something so perfectly cliché to live in perpetuity. And what’s more static than the Internet?

Other than discovering Dracula’s kinfolk, it’s business as usual here. American football is now happening every week – it exited English club time and now has its own after-school slot. In fact, while “Playing Favorites” in English club today, multiple kids said their favorite sport is, in fact, American football.

American Hegemony 1, World 0.