Friday, April 27, 2012

Un An

One year in the books.

I've learned a language, am working on two more, made more lifelong friends than I can count, seen parts of the world I'd never dreamed of seeing, experienced things I'd never dreamed of experiencing, learned to teach, learned to learn again, and learned to appreciate a new -- albeit sometimes strange -- culture.

Here's to the next one. Abiă aștept.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Școala Altfel

New this year to the Romanian school calendar is a week called Școala Altfel. Essentially, it’s a week dedicated to extracurricular, fun, unique activities.

Now, many of my fellow volunteers planned some pretty cool stuff. I, however, missed our school’s meeting waiting for the plumber, so Școala Altfel was planned fără Americanul.

But, no harm, no foul, because they ended up planning a bunch of cool activities, many of which were environmental, which is what I wanted to do anyway. Now, I got out of the planning stage and just got to tag along and “introduce” English vocabulary where appropriate.

Monday, April 2, Day 1:

There was originally a tree-planting planned for today. However, because we live in the Romanian arctic, the ground is still frozen and not quite ready. Alas, we moved “Ziua Sportiva” to Monday.

“Sports Day” was precisely what you would expect: a day of sports. First, there was a soccer tournament, then a handball tournament for boys, and another for girls. At the end, there was about 5 minutes of tossing around the American football. Hey, imperialism doesn’t happen in a day.

Anyway, see the below pic. We even had a pretty sweet A/V setup courtesy of the IT teacher, Tüsi. I eventually took over this job as inactivity took over me.

And after the festivities, to celebrate the completion of Day 1, we drank țuică.

Tuesday, April 3, Day 2:

I went with the eight graders and two of my favorite teachers – Dle. Constantin and Dle. Aurel – to Aurel’s church to clean up the yard and trim some trees.

Aurel, a priest and the religion teacher, is a really funny guy who likes to try out his English on me. He’s also dead-set on converting me to Orthodox and finding me a girl in Tulgheș to marry and keep me here.

Dle. Constantin is something akin to Romania’s version of “The World’s Most Interesting Man.” Seriously, he’s into his 60s but defines suave. I want to be like Dle. Constantin when I grow up. Nay, I want to be like Dle. Constantin now.

Anyway, Dle. Aurel and a neighbor (pictured) donned the chainsaws, a handful of students donned axes and the drones (this is where I fell) raked and dragged the downed branches to piles throughout the yard. We then made a fire, because what’s a spring cleaning-day without a fire? Less fun, that’s what.

In addition to learning about trimming trees, or something like that, the students of the eighth grade also found out that Dle. Matt can hold his own as a goalkeeper.

Finally, after working up an appetite in the yard and on the pitch, we ate a giant meal prepared by the students (and Dle. Constantin): something of a soup with pork and potatoes, sarmale, this really good salad with cabbage and pickled something, and a variety of desserts prepared for “post,” which basically means they were prepared without ANY animal products, which to me, sounds like some sort of wizardry.

And after the festivities, to celebrate the completion of Day 2, we drank wine.

Wednesday, April 4, Day 3:

Mergem pe deal! We’re going hiking!

In case you haven’t noticed, I live in a beautiful place surrounded by mountains. (And seriously, if you haven’t noticed, I’m a bit worried about your receptivity, because it’s pretty much all I talk about here, on Facebook, via messages, chat, Skype…)

Anyway, one of our greatest natural resources is simply the ability to hike pretty much anywhere surrounding the village. So on Day 3, we teachers and about 150 students hiked a few hundred meters vertical and had something of a picnic on this great weedy plateau that’s one of my favorite places here (pictured).

Each class then had to prepare a cold-food platter with as much as possible “de casă” (homemade). Dle. Matt was thankful to be among the judges, as it was all delicious. Among the offerings: homemade lemonade, a really good potato salad, salami, veggies, cheese wrapped in a ham blanket, homemade zacuscă (a vegetable spread I’ve fallen in love with here), a variety of cheeses and olives, and slanină (basically straight, raw pig fat that I’ve grown to at least tolerate and sometimes even enjoy. Sometimes).

We then headed back down, and given that it was a perfect day, Dle. Matt was perfectly content to “supervise” from the rear. (Read: Take his sweet time.)

Haideți, Dle. Matt! Vă asteptăm!

 Thursday, April 5, Day 4:

Day 4 began with a bit of uncertainty for me. Because of the cancellation of Monday’s tree planting, everything was sort of moved up a day, leaving me a bit in the dark as to what was going on Thursday.

However, upon arrival to school, I found out the majority of students and teachers were going back to Pintec (see Tuesday) for a literature and religious session. Although I knew it’d be in Romanian, anything that encourages the kids to read, I want to be a part of.

What I found was something much more religious than literary. However, it was a really nice program where the kids talked about what they prayed for, why they pray and told stories from the Bible. While I enjoyed it, I couldn’t help but laugh at how quickly something like this would be squashed in a public school in the U.S.

Now, I’m not attempting to open a religious debate here, but I can honestly say that it was really nice to see a program like this where kids could openly express what they believe without someone becoming outraged. Because, let’s be honest, in the U.S., outrage is quickly overtaking baseball as our national pastime.

After that, Dle. Aurel read the legend of St. George to honor our outgoing principle (Gheorghe). After it got a bit long – even Dle. Aurel said he was bored of listening to himself read – ca de obicei, soccer ensued.

Then we ate sarmale, again, and drank wine, again. Not that I’d ever complain about either of those things.

And without further ado, the man, the myth, the legend, Dle. Constantin:

Friday, April 6, Day 5:

Suntem liberi! We’re free!

Our new principal informed us that Friday of Școala Altfel will be a pretty sweet experiment called, “Don’t come to school.” I’ll bite.

So I’m on vacation. As usual, I’ll be spending much of it traveling. On tap this break is a trip to Maramureș, a richly historic area in the northern reaches of Romania. After Maramureș, we’re heading to Salzburg and Vienna, two places I’ve never been and am anxious to see.

Pictures and pithy anecdotes to follow. Until then, Happy Easter!