Monday, May 21, 2012

Wait, what? An American?

So ever since I arrived in my village, I’ve had these fantasies about coming across a lost American in need of help.

“Why, yes, sir or ma’am, of course I speak English. I’m American! You too? Welcome to Romania! Come! Let me show you my village! Meet all my friends! Yes, of course I can translate for you because I speak another language! Yes, it is very impressive. Why am I here? Well, I’m a Peace Corps volunteer; I teach English. What’s that? It’s an extremely noble and selfless thing to do? Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but I appreciate you saying so. Yes, I’m so glad I could help too. I just figure, if we can’t help each other, what are we doing here? Yes, my parents did raise me well; that’s very kind of you to say. What’s that? I saved your life, and you want to put me in your will? I’m not sure I… OK, if you insist. Yes, that would be fine. Coincidentally enough, I have always wanted a house in Tuscany.”

Despite the fact that I’ve thoroughly choreographed this hypothetical meeting, I had long ago accepted that it’d never happen. You see, I'm pretty isolated. The only way in or out is via one winding, mountainous road with nauseating mountain passes about 15 miles on either side of us. Despite the fact that it's well worth the journey, Tulgheș is not exactly a random stop. If you're here, you mean to be here.

Well, last week, it happened. Maybe not exactly like the above fantasy, much to my chagrin, but it was in the ballpark.

It was Friday evening, and we were waiting for the bus at the “station,” which is really just the intersection where the main road passes through my village.

A guy pulled up on a bike.

“Me too! I’m from Boston.”
“Ummm, what? Really?”

We soon found out that our new friend, Denis Beaudry, whose blog can be found here, is a 50-something doing a solo ride across Europe and into Asia. It’s the 12th international trek for Denis, who’s also ridden across the U.S. At that point, he had left Madrid 25 days ago and had been averaging about 90-100 miles per day.

We were, in fact, the first Americans he had met on his journey so far. And needless to say, he was the first American I’d met in my village, at least the first American I’d met in my village whom I hadn’t brought there.

Unfortunately, Denis couldn't stay long. Darkness was approaching, and after I helped him decipher what was to come via his map, he was off to his final destination for the evening, a slightly larger village about 18 km down the road.

However, before he left, he casually slipped in, “So should we do the picture thing?” I was pretty glad he did, because it was certainly cooler than how I had recited doing it in my head: “This is sooo cool! Can we take a picture? Can we take a picture? Please please please please!”

And then, just like that, as mysteriously as he arrived, he was gone.

A few days later, I checked back into his blog, and sure enough, there we are, just as he promised. Unfortunately, no mention of his will.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

O Săptămână Bună (A Good Week)

It all started Saturday, when I and four of my best students went to a English conversation camp about three hours away. It started at 9 a.m., so if you're doing the math, that means we had to leave about 5:30 a.m. Well, just to be safe, we went with 4:45 a.m.

The contest lasted about eight hours, so we were back on the road about 5 p.m. With an ice cream pit stop, we made it home about 8:30, so that would be... OK, pencils down: just south of a 16-hour day, a 16-hour SATURDAY.

Anyway, I'll get to the now-buried lead. The kids from our small village took fourth out of 15 teams from throughout the county. This fella was – and still is – proud. They were initially disappointed, but after some pickup – and ice cream – from Dle. Matt, they were "delighted" by Monday, or so my counterpart reported. I'd call that mission: accomplished.

OK, fast forward to Tuesday night. I was a bit sick but determined to get my adult classes restarted after a month-long break for vacation and some other miscellaneous obstacles. I was on my way to school when I happened upon a gaggle of bikers from Radio Mures, a big station that broadcasts throughout our region. After a short discussion, I discovered that they were doing a bike tour of the region promoting local tourism, and after a bit more discussion, I had committed to a radio interview after class.

So, as promised, I swung by after class.

I was greeted in perfect English, "OK, are you ready to do an interview?"
"In Romanian?"
"Umm... sure."

So, this is the final product. (Just scroll down until you find my name.) For those of you who can speak Romanian, be kind. For those of you who can't, it's super interesting.

And for those of you who don't know what a remote radio interview looks like these days, here you go:

Also, the text above reads: "Surpriza cea mai mare a venit când l-am cunoscut pe americanul devenit tulgheşean, Matt Paulson, şi care le predă copiilor din Tulgheş limba engleză. Minunat om, vorbeşte perfect româneşte, iubeşte Tulgheşul, Ardealul şi România, a învăţat să facă sarmale, a îmbrăcat portul popular din Maramureş şi a călătorit cât nu au reuşit să o facă mulţi dintre noi, probabil."

...and translates to: "The biggest surprise came when I met an American turned Tulgheșan, Matt Paulson, who also teaches the children of Tulgheș English. A wonderful person (oh yeah), he speaks perfect Romanian (boom), loves Tulghes, the Ardeal (name for the area) and Romania, has learned to make sarmale, has dressed up in our traditional costumes from Maramureș (another area) and has probably traveled more than many of us have (in Romania)."

I also did a live interview with their main news program, also in Romanian, and even told a joke! I dare say, am ajuns! (I've arrived!)

And here are some of the bicycle enthusiasts on their way out of town, escorted by some of our kids:

Come Wednesday, I had an observation from the county inspector. In the name of brevity, I’ll just say… NAILED IT. To make things better, the new principal was all smiles after she heard the report.

Then, two classes later, I found this when I entered:

Yes, of course I promptly chided them for the incorrect use of the pronoun, but I privately enjoyed the moment. 

So, in conclusion: four kids who loved the competition I was fortunate enough to bring them to, a live radio interview in which I was told I speak “perfect Romanian,” a stellar observation from the county inspector and an affirmation from my eighth graders.

In the words of Sam Elliott in "The Big Lebowski," "Sometimes you eat the bear, and sometimes, well, he eats you." Well, so far this week, Stranger, I got him.

This weekend, we have the second “Let’s Do It, Romania,” a nationwide day dedicated to cleaning up Romania. After that, another week of school, then a language weekend, where we’ll learn slang from another volunteer’s high school students. It should be a weekend that would make Ghița Carlin proud.

Then, more school until the end of June when summer starts. I find it hard to believe that I only have a month and change left of my first school year, but we’ll leave the deep soul-searching for another day. Now? Ready, set, vin.