Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Junior Proctor astonished the Professor of Poetry by dancing badly with the Senior Procor's pink giraffe in the Sheldonian Theatre.

The thought of trying to cram nearly two weeks of life chronologically in one sitting seems sterile and pointless, turning me into some authorial taskmaster to whomever decides to take time out of their busy day to read this. If I had my way I would instead of writing perform to you my last few weeks in an interpretive dance that would look something like me playing tug-of-war with myself, slipping on the ground, my face would then cycle between looks of confusion and hangover as I dance with the notion that my cell phone is missing and my weekend gone, then I jump with a quick 360’ spin and end with my doing jazz hands looking surprised and constipated. It’s the type of face that only comes from an entire weeks worth of test preparation and disillusionment momentarily turned upside down.

It turns out that there is something worse than waking up naked in front of a large group of people and that would be finding yourself in a room full of middle aged business women trying to set up grant proposals in another language having had no sleep for two days. The circumstances that led to this unfortunate waste of my weekend along with the loss of my cell phone in Bucharest are steeped in mystery and loud plastic fabulous bars with Romanians singing Cold-Play, aarrghh. It was a leadership seminar, which sounded good before I found out it would be entirely in Romanian, and by that time I was already locked in. I hardly ever get to go to the Capital now that I live 8 hours away by train, so whenever I am around I do try to enjoy the most out of my time as I can and with old friends with cars and it being a Friday night I slept a grand total of 1 hour and a half before needing to appear at this meeting. I figured the longer I stayed up the more dead-pan my face would become and the less people would want to talk to me in Romanian or in any language for that matter. This worked at first with everyone acting very sympathetic toward my particular handicap but this sympathy turned to irritation as my constant trips to the refreshment tables and bathroom only brought unwanted attention and by the end of the first 20 minutes, almost out of spite, they requested that I give a rundown of my project in Romanian for everyone to scoff at. So after delivering 3 minutes of the most confused and incomprehensible presentation of my young life I took a bow and left for the refreshment table never to return.

My return trip from Bucharest was incredibly introspective as I had 8 hours to think about myself and nurse my headache with a bag of pretzels. About halfway into the trip a wealthy Gypsy in suit and tie with a huge mustache sat across from me and immediately bought the porno mag being sold by another gypsy during the stops. Moving to another location I sat near a group of teenagers who ended up with the same magazine, having stolen it from the man now fast asleep. I returned to Abrud with a foot of snow where the potholes and sleeping dogs used to be and momentarily hibernated in my frosty room, entombed under several jackets and blankets, counting the hours until my first class would begin.

This week was test preparation week for all of my classes, as I must give at lest one test before the school year ends and it has shown me that I should threaten a test more often since the kids immediately become more alert and motivated to participate at some last ditch effort to absorb what I am teaching. I am like a gardener with a big spray bottle full of nutritious English phrases and grammar who must introduce fertilizers every now and then in order for his little class of bud-lings to take the light and synthesis viable forms of the English language, which I then harvest to show that I am doing my job. By Thursday I had three days of reality checks toward what I can honestly expect out of them. Lets just say that if I was a pilgrim and depended on my classes ‘harvest’ for food, no amount of help from the Indians would get me through the winter. With this weighing heavy on mind I didn’t think twice when the principle told me to come to lunch an hour later than usual because of a function happening in the canteen, where I eat. With Thanksgiving being the last thing on my mind I slowly walk up the stairs leading toward the lunch ladies but in place of simple benches and students I find a great big white table filled with fruits and champagne. I thought the function hadn’t even begun yet but as I turned to walk away a class of my best students, the English teachers, and even the two principles jumped out from behind the table and wished me a happy Thanksgiving. The whole set up was mind bottling from the hand made turkey shaped napkin holders to the real turkey they carted out for me to carve. I had never carved a turkey before and I really mangled the thing as I handed out shredded bits of turkey meat, thanking everyone and feeling a bit undeserving of this incredible show of love and generosity. The stuffing was delicious with mashed potatoes and candied apples. Pumpkin pies were even brought out which is something unheard of in Romania, all made by my students who were already getting A’s in the first place. We all drank and laughed and I was so stuffed that I was still full the next day while training my classes on what to say for my next test.

I read an article Yesterday about how a temporary Wall-Mart employee was trampled to death over the Thanksgiving weekend as hundreds of people herded into the store, desperately seeking cheap crap to wrap up for their loved ones. It was said that people were complaining about having to leave do to the death of the temporary worker since they had waited in line for so long. The store re-opened mid-day to a sea of people unaware of the earlier ‘inconveniences’. My weekend on the other hand was relatively mob-free as I spent most of the time studying logic games for the LSAT that I will never take and reading a book on the brief history of happiness which so far is telling me to stop dealing in conflicting interests and focus on a single aspiration, so right now we are all making Christmas chains, one for everyday left until we all leave for Amsterdam. I remember as a little kid having one of those chocolate calendars and waking up every morning with the excitement of knowing Christmas is one day closer and as a reward for not blowing up right then and there a little plastic chocolate morsel would be waiting for me, trapped behind the cardboard door with the corresponding day on it. I also remember the year we left on vacation before Christmas and I returned expecting to have a full weeks worth of stored up chocolates waiting for me only to find the cardboard doors open and the chocolates gone. The girl we had feed and water the dog denied any involvement as my mom gently mentioned the missing chocolates. It just wasn’t the same after that.

Lastly I have decided for my Peace Corps project to write and produce a musical about the Peace Corps experience. It will be like a combination of Moulin Rouge and Fiddler on the Roof meets the Little Barbershop of Horrors. But what should the name of such a project be? It would start with me trying to decide which ridiculous job I should pick between being a Joyologist, a Banana Gasser, a Freelance Mortician, a Food Taster for world leaders, or a Peace Corps volunteer. It will end with me back home 27 months later wondering what sort of job I should pick.

Monday, November 17, 2008

"I am sorry but even we don't know where that is"

The main pervasive theme that dominated most of my time during and after school hours last week, frustration, has finally been replaced with creative and educational inspiration the likes of which have not been felt since my arrival in this little village. Now let me explain that this frustration was of the horribly grating and exhausting type one would compare to the feeling of being stuck in traffic, late for whatever, and in a car with no radio. Only you’re only in your underwear which happens to be two sizes too small, the sounds of high pitched horns dance around your car, of course you are honking too, desperately trying to relieve some tension but you get no relief. Your phone goes off somewhere in that galaxy of trash you have pilling over your passengers seat, while probing for the phone you look out the window at a rickety old man passing you by on his motorized Rascal. You roll down the window to let some air out and a couple of fat flies drift on through playing hide-and-go-seek and baffling your every attempt to end their game as you appear to be having some convulsive attack to everyone around you. A dog barks. The traffic seems to only get denser and you can almost feel the universe age just a little. Basically let me say that I will never in my life ever try to book a flight through a bank transfer, learned my lesson and I’m sorry, it won’t happen again. Just the highlights of trying to pull one of these off include hitchhiking after school to the only bank available for this type of transfer, Abla Iulia (100 km away), finding the bank only to have it close right in front of you, trying again the next day but not getting a ride, and yes once more finding a ride from some crazy lunatic who passes semi-trucks on blind turns while talking on her I-phone. But that’s now all behind me and I can now continue trying to find people who will let us stay on their couch.

After all that unpleasantness I locked myself in my room and decided to draw a nice warm fireplace right on the wall next to my recliner. The original half day experiment has now turned into a three day art project which consumes every moment of my time when I am not studying Romanian. Through my frustration I rediscovered drawing and it’s incredibly relaxing and it focuses the mind. I listened to my lectures on The Great Literature Series from The Teaching Company while I painted and if I could just do that for the rest of my life I would be very happy indeed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gutten Blog

This post has been put into a time capsule...

Friday, November 7, 2008

Arguing with a fool proves there are two

This post has been been put into a time capsule...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Lately I have been experimenting with waking up as late as possible before jumping into clothes, leaping down stairs, and barely catching my ride before it leaves without me. I have it down to 4 minutes from wake up to standing in front of the market and the furious rush it takes to complete this mission is both exhilarating and irrational, the way I like it. It gets my day started like some character in an action movie nimbly avoiding all booby traps, barreling out of the fun house before it collapses, and then at full sprint flinging himself inside a moving car bound for school. Today was no different except that my counterpart who picks me up every morning was not there, completely changing the whole dynamic of my imaginary and very real situation. Class was to begin in 5 minutes and I was still just standing on the side of the street, hands in my pockets, searched for my phone, left it on my coffee table. Fortunately the principle of the school had also been experimenting with waking up as late as possible and picked me up along the way. While in tote I was informed of who won the Presidency and how momentous it must be for me.

As I hurriedly entered the teachers lounge for the room key other teachers patted me on the back, “Obama 44th President” they said. How happy their faces were and I don’t think it was just because they knew I would have to bring some champagne for a celebration. Their elections are coming up on the 30th of November between the Liberal and the Social Democrats, where they will vote for the one with the nicer tie who is the least dishonest, but they wanted Obama. My students asked me who the FIRST black American President was, I said Obama, they told me they knew who won but wanted to know how many years ago the first BLACK American became President.

Today the teachers are on strike, a ‘Japanese strike’ so they say. It is where they come to work and do their job as if it were any other normal day but with one difference, a white band is worn around their left arm. “Why do you call it a Japanese strike?” I asked my fellow teacher of French. “The Japanese love to work but also want to strike so they found a way to do both; work… and strike ‘Symbolically’, that’s what we’re doing,” was his reply. Something seemed askew and I asked whether he believed that type of protest would get results to which he replied, “of course not”. The real strike will be on the 18th lasting until the end of the month. They asked if I would wear a band knowing full well that I am unable to participate in such matters, though I would like to. In support of the strike I will listen to endless rants about the current political situation with a constant sympathetic node and try to refrain from eating chocolate past 8 o’clock.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"Us teachers need a lot of moneys so we go to capital and make a big noise"

The long period of stagnation which has imprisoned my mind and shackled my spirit has finally been banished to the land of wind and ghosts, surrendering me to my own devises once again. Since my return from Turkey a foggy mist has settled over my village and its inhabitants leaving most in a sullen and lethargic state of being. I am unsure whether I was perceiving this foggy disposition or merely creating it but either case the sun is shinning, my kids are quietly scribbling non-sequiturs, and I won’t have to sing Halloween songs for another year!

Crap, I look out my school window; it looks like winter is about to smack this poor little town right back to the ice age and since it still lingers in the late-middle ages it hasn’t as far to go. A horse drawn carriage with jingling bells clops down the main road, the chapel piers shimmer above as old ladies hobble below, and light smoke swirls around chimney stacks like cream in my second cup of coffee. Where does the time go if I don’t capture it in little moments such as these? A new class of students have collected in my room waiting for their early morning entertainment. The foreigner who smiles and says incomprehensible things will perform a one man show then play monkey see monkey do. Tomorrow the theme will be ‘Capitalism: It’s Effects on Morality and Self-Control’ for my advanced students, what variety!

Most of you can appreciate the impact a holiday has on small communities such as mine; everyone is involved in one way or the other. Old ladies, bewildered by the sight of cardboard box robots and cross-dressing teenagers, dart in and out of the markets averting their eyes from a strange and perplexing world. All forms of learning are repressed like a bad memory and weeks of holiday related activities sabotage the curriculum. It suddenly becomes acceptable to belt out blood curdling screams behind someone with a cup of coffee as long as it’s in the spirit of Halloween. Every year my school has a big Halloween party for the little kids put on by the seniors and the English teacher, my counterpart, who is obsessed with the holiday to a level that makes Ms. Frizzle from the ‘Magic School Bus’ look boring. Basically the school was on holiday mode for the entire month of October, so when Dr. Dan came up for the yearly medical check-up, which I had completely forgotten about, I easily put my class to work drawing pictures of scary pumpkins as I met him in his car in front of the school so he could quickly give me a flu shot. As was the case our vice-principle just so happened to be walking back to school and caught a glimpse of one of her teachers getting an injection of some kind by a shifty-eyed old man, she hasn’t said anything. Teachers found ways of celebrating every week something completely unrelated to the holiday in question. One teacher passed her drivers license test so we drank champagne between our morning lessons, another received his doctorate in physics so we had a party in the canteen and taught half day. I last minutely threw together a costume for the Halloween party showing up as a homeless bum who will teach English for food. Surprisingly I had just to wear my normal clothes to give the desired effect. Inside kids bobbed for apples and pinned the noise on the pumpkin while us teachers sat in the back and drank whiskey; mostly to help deal with the horrible child music and sounds of laughter echoing off the bunker walls. Afterwards us volunteers went to the local disco, the only disco, and sat drinking beers as students freak danced to polka music. Only in Romania.

I believe that since I am volunteering to live in this little community and work for free, people have little reason to feel anything but a mix of confusion and appreciation toward my general direction. I am not living in Abrud to make money, I am here to learn about their culture and help their kids get into a good college so lately, as more and more parents are becoming aware of my circumstances, I have been receiving bags full of jarred preserves, fresh produce, and bottles of țuica from my students. Țuica is the Romanian equivalent of bumpkin style moonshine distilled from prunes and apples, knock you right back to 1456 I tells ya. Last weekend Maria and I hitch hiked all the way from Abrud to Sibiu and back without spending a single Leu on account of us being volunteers, and her being a woman. This country is great for traveling dirt cheap if you don’t mind sitting in cars plastered with religious memorabilia and taped up bumpers from the previous accident.

It is official; the teachers will be on strike starting on the 18th of this month. They are striking to protest the government's postponement of a 50% pay raise parliament approved for them. It will most likely not be over until the general election on the 30th of November, giving us even more time for the ping pong/beer bong sessions we’ve been having. The elections campaigns are a funny site to see here in Abrud. Markets are already putting up pictures of the politician who paid the most for their advertisement. Silly little cars lined up in a row drive around, red flags flapping in the wind, and play records of the parties’ leader calmly articulating what he won’t do. As far as what is happening in the States I haven’t heard a single thing, when is the election? Who is running again? By the time you read this the third recount has probably already been contested and Bush wins by double secrete default, which warrants no explanation. Really, let me know how things go.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

"Lets eat sweet and talk sweet"

Trying to just sit down and disseminate exactly what happened to me during last weeks trip to Turkey is very difficult for many reasons that I will not go into, yet I will try to be as precise as possible as to how Turkey has affected me beyond explanation. Lets start with what I remember; the last day, the 20th, there was only Gytis from Lithuania, the two Polish girls Sylwia and Joanna, and me left in Kilis from a group of 20 International participants. We were all terrifically tired from the going away party held the night before at a farm of pomegranate groves. Our calves were throbbing from five straight days of dancing to Turkish music and that catchy but obnoxious song ‘I Kissed a Girl’ by Katy Perry. My stomach had by this time already shut down from day after day of baklava, kadayif, kababs, and Turkish coffee. Every night we ate in different places and settings. The first night we ate in the Police Lounge.

Let me start by explaining just a little bit about how the Turkish Government treats its public servants. If you are a teacher or a policeman or any other public worker you get special benefits on places to stay and eat all around Turkey. For example the hotel we stayed at is especially for teachers who can come anytime they wish for little to no money and relax, sip tea, and play dominoes to their hearts content. The policemen get the same deal but their hotel was much nicer, overlooking all of Kilis and even the Syrian border. We dined with the police chief then spent an hour smiling for the cameras; constant flashings of cameras would be an everyday occurrence as we were seemingly all so strange and foreign to everyone.

The next night we were driven to a village on the border of Syria. As we got off the bus we were encircled by a swarm of children all repeating “hello” over and over again with great big smiles on their faces. The ratio of kids to adults was an easy 5 to 1 and large throngs of children darted in and out of every fixture. Inside a simple shelter we ate a traditional meal of some yogurt type soup, rice with sheep meat, and flat bread on the floor with the village elders, the windows caked with the faces of children trying to get a look at us from outside. We were then led to the village center where ancestral dances took place to the rhythm of African like beats and a high-pitched flute. The young men would dance hand in hand making a semi-circle, the oldest breaking apart to leap in the middle with a scarf in hand. The older men soon joined the group adding more complex kicks and hip gyrations to the mix. In time these young men will soon be handing down this traditional dance to their sons, just as their fathers had shown them, and I wondered what I might show my son from my culture.

Next, the village had planned a mock wedding involving one of us as the bride and groom. In Turkey, before a wedding, the Groom is kidnapped and taken outside of the village while his Bride is brought to the ceremony. Once there, her face is completely covered with red scarves and she sits at a table as girls dance around her passing a candle from one to another. The Groom on the other hand is partying it up with the men in the outskirts of the village then returns once everything is ready. We received word that the ceremony can begin but upon our return the bandleader stopped playing and refused to continue until I sang a song for everyone. The whole celebration suddenly turned deathly quite as 200 villagers waited for my song so the party could continue. My mind went blank, everything escaped me, I opened my mouth and what came out was the ‘I wish I was an Oscar Mayer Weener’ song sung with such emotion that it could have been our national anthem for all they knew, of course our REAL national anthem only came to mind after the fact, but they loved it anyway. After the wedding we retuned to the room for desert and live music and sat on colorful pillows sipping Roki, the Turkish liquor that tastes like liquorish. Then of course someone started dancing and soon we found ourselves hoping around like zombies until the sun came up.

The Turkish people have a beautiful culture and religion as well. My first religious experience was shortly after the first day I actually fell asleep. Earlier that night everyone in the group met for the first time, there were 4 people from Poland, 5 from Lithuania, 2 from Spain, 7 from Turkey, and some guy representing Romania who was actually an American attending a Youth in Action seminar that was only for Europeans. Everyone got along incredibly well and after sampling each other’s national drinks we all became best of friends. Anyway about half an hour after falling asleep an incredible booming voice pierced through my dreams and instantly jolted me out of bed, I was still half dreaming not knowing what the hell was happening or who was in my room singing. It turned out to be the first of five daily calls to prayer that just took a little getting used to. By the end of the week I KNEW that there was only one god and that Mohammad was his messenger. After everyone had left, Gytis my roommate and I were invited to the Hamam for a bath. The Hamam in our town of Kilis was constructed in the 16th century and still in rather good shape. The Hamam, public-bathing house, is usually situated near the mosk so you can wash yourself before you entered for prayer as a symbol of coming clean in front of god. There are certain times that men and women can go but never together and it is a very important social gathering place. Inside were three chambers, one for getting undressed, one for cooling down, and the main room where all the fun takes place. The floor is grounded with volcano stone and steam slowly vents from star and moon shaped holes in the vaulted ceiling. You enter with a plastic bowl that you use to scoop hot water from the basins that line the walls. I entered in the middle of a water fight between 7 grown men. It is the original water amusement park with people singing and laughing. You wash and sing and play your little plastic bowl like a drum and then rest on large marble slabs from all the exertion. It beats the hell out of any athletic club steam room.

At some point during mid-week we visited Gaziantep, the fifth oldest city in the world right behind some place in Syria and Jerusalem. In Gaziantep you will find the type of buildings that Jesus would have recognized, that now house the newest flat screen TV’s and multi-colored blenders. The outdoor Bazaars are a true celebration of smells and colors, spices and rugs, silver tea sets and Pashmina scarf’s. I bought some tea and a neat looking floor mat, which turned out to be a prayer rug. We visited the museum that housed all of Turkeys famous mosaics of confused looking villagers, expressionless worriers, and half naked women; I bought two post cards.

As far as the actual training is concerned it was very effective at bringing us all together and establishing friendships though out the week. By the end we all felt as if we were leaving our families. The first day was just to get to know each other, sing songs, and learn about different forms of communication. English was the bridge language that everyone used to communicate with each other and every nationality had their own peculiar English dialect. Everyone could understand each other except for the only native English speaker in the group, me. My American accent baffled and delighted the group, and I was continually called upon to pronounce such words as ketchup and spoon. The Turkish participants absolutely loved the Oscar Mayer Weener song, singing it to the point of exasperation. I gave my trainer who isn’t that fond of America, though we are now good friends, my wallet made out of the Constitution. I taught the Spaniards some good American one-liners, the Polish how to twist a bottle cap inside out, and the Lithuanians how to suck the essence out of a can of beer like a Vampire. They of course showed me how to dance Flamenco and make real Sangria, sing a Lithuanian drinking song, and turn a pack of cigarettes into a vacuum amongst other important things. All in all I believe that the cultural exchange financed by the European Commission within Youth in Action Programs Action 4.3 was a tremendous success and I hope to soon write my own project that will bring people from all over Europe to Abrud, Romania for the same reason, to get piss drunk and enjoy other peoples cultures.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

"Don't worry, its OK if the director does it first"

Woke up this morning with music in my head, the first time in months, and I now feel rejuvenated and full of beans. This past week has been full of interesting surprises sprinkled with colorful little tidbits of change and falling apples.

Last Monday was teacher appreciation day, a day where all us teachers came together to celebrate ourselves and inveigh that relentless taskmaster known as Education. Held promptly at 1:00 pm in the schools canteen, we sat in long rows of white tables heavily stocked with bread, beer, and red chilly peppers. A live two-person band played light polka music as the principle announced how important teachers are and who will be retiring. Once the champagne was passed around and the clock stuck 2:00, the day sort of just got stretched, clipped, and spliced into another as forty middle aged teachers began dancing in karate chop type movements to their traditional polka music while the P.E teacher and I went shot for shot. By around 5 o’clock the French teacher, a woman in her mid 30’s, was on an empty table waving a wad of Romanian bills in her hand, most of them from the P.E teacher. The faculty danced hand in hand in a large circle of inebriated teachers, spinning, hopping, and performing something not unlike a Russian knife dance. Second wind hit around 8 and I found myself with a group of math and physics teachers talking about the importance of science and how to get kids interested in something they can’t immediately recognize. I floated home that night completely twisted with three chilly peppers in my left pocket.

We finally got a washing machine in our apartment a couple of days ago so to celebrate I threw in a load of clothes. Fortunately my only pink shirt made it into the mix transforming my boring white collard shirts and socks into an interesting hue of pink. Fabulousss!

Autumn is hitting full force and colors of burnt orange, gold and bronze have revamped this little town. The colors are extraordinary, a beautiful celebration on public display whose exhibition will soon be closed for the winter. On my daily running rout I jog past old men on rickety ladders picking apples on the sides of the roads, cows moo in my direction, and golden leaves sprinkle the air that is getting more and more crisp.

Tomorrow I will be leaving for a village in the South East of Turkey for a weeklong seminar on international organizations and project development. I will be the only representative for Romania attending and it will be my job to network with other organizations for some joint international youth projects. In the e-mail that I received from my contact in Turkey, Nazan Coban, that I will be expected to “show a performances such as dance, song or special actings in your culture”. What the heck would that be? The C-Walk? I will be flying out of Bucharest Otopeni Airport, which apparently was used as an air base for Hitler’s third Reich during WWII. Last night we went to the local Gypsy village in Rosia Mountana to speak with the community about potential project ideas. This village puts a whole spin on the notion of ‘crossing the tracks’ because it actually is built around the gold mining tracks which were used before the mines where shut down. You will see an entire village of sheet metal shacks and plywood shanties that stretch along a pair of rusty rails. The gypsies in this village have given me reason to be here, Abrud is like the Hamptons in comparison.

I have it then I lose it

I have it then I lose it.

At times I am liquid like water penetrating every permeable surface of my ambitions and desires. I wake up hours before sunrise to indulge in my aspirations, which linger in my mind like a song pleasantly stuck in my head. I desperately seek to play it out, to show the world some unknown beauty that is too unique to keep to myself. It digs into me like an archeologist digs for supposed artifacts. It stirs and starts to become thick like Jell-O, and I hate Jell-O. It irritates worse then a fly out of reach or a key broken off in a lock. I wake up and have slept my entire day to night, feelings of loss and guilt bubble up and spill over into my daily life. Everything is cold, hard, and plastic; my bond is broken with the world. I lose it only to find it in the murky depths of my own dejection, waiting like an outcast waits, reflective and forlorn. Lately even the outcast wont return for there is nothing to return to. An empty vessel, the captain has jumped ship, a lone dark towboat drifting further into the night.

That is I. I am that boat.

When I get like this, when I have nothing better to do then eat loafs of bread and stare off into the many cracks in my wall, I tend to become self-deprecating. Why do you drink so much coffee after 11:30 at night? Why have you given up learning another language? Why do you want to be a writer but you don’t write anything? It’s all too late anyway. If you were going to be anything you would have already been it by now, or at least had the luck to fail at it. I get confused then irritated by my lack of effort then make up for it by blindly grabbing anything that will yield an experience, no matter how reckless. This once got me brainwashed in Tennessee where I spent a summer selling education books only to end up tarring rooftops for a drug lord in Aspin, Colorado. Another time I ended up in Florence, Italy, sleeping in a 6-foot crawl space while becoming certified to teach English. Every decision becomes more certifiable than the last; clearing up why I joined the Peace Corps for a lack of a better reason not to. Purpose is a silly thing and reason isn’t any less disserving of mockery. So let this be a spectacle of my unknown purpose, a tribute to where reason has led me, to a small trace of a village in the mountains of Transylvania.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Turdafest or how I learned to stop worrying and love the onion

Many exciting events were planed for the weekend of which none actually came to fruition, though time still managed to throw me into the participation of a world record attempt for the longest strand of onions (5241 meters), discussions of Romanian identity at a Hungarian dance party, and the loss of my left sock in the line of ‘duty’.

The plan was for all us teachers to drive up to Cluj and watch the football game Friday night. Marius, the P.E coach, the only person who has ever given me a welt from a ping-pong ball, regaled me with lavish stories of his favorite team, CFR Cluj, and how much fun life is when watching a live match. Plans fell through at the last minute, the tickets turned out to be too expensive, so instead I bought a log of Toblerone and drank coffee until the wee hours of the morning making a wallet out of The Declaration of Independence. We received a package from the American Embassy a couple of days earlier with all types of propaganda for the youth center including these sweet pocket sized books of The Constitution, so naturally I thought ‘wallet’.

Lately I have been brushing my teeth with my left hand. This will be day number 7 and its not getting any easier. I read somewhere that it helps memory to do things I normally wouldn’t do, like eating cereal with my left hand or volunteering at an onion festival. The festival was held in Turda, three hours northeast of Abrud, and half way into the bus trip I discovered that all my money was in my new wallet that I left on the table next to my cell phone. So much for brushing with the left hand. The bus zoomed through green winding hills as we made are way to Turdafest. Out my window kids played kickball in cornfields with scarecrows and I thought to myself how soberly pragmatic names like ‘kickball’ and ‘scarecrow’ really are.

We arrived before the festival was to begin and old ladies in their Babushkas were still laying out their hand crafted spoons and jars of jam and honey. Turda is an absolutely beautiful city with long streams of sherbet maisonettes bordering spacious cobblestone streets, one of which held the festival. Our job was to grab cord after cord of onions and line them up in the center of town then snake them all the way back to the church parking lot where the cords of onions would continue until the parking lot was completely filled. For two hours we looked liked prisoners on an onion chain gang as we moved our ripe sections of a world record length sting of onions. Why Onions, I can’t say, but apparently the Germans broke Turdas original World Record strand last year, taking the only thing Turda had going for itself. Other Peace Corps volunteers began to show up and soon most managed to abscond into the beer tents, but since help would still be needed through out the night we decided to drink to the point where our services would be of no use to any person or vegetable.

As the day went on the streets teemed with excitement and onions; people were dressed in traditional white and black garbs, children danced in circles holding hands to the sound of synthesized accordions, and venders sprang out from booths scaring you with their wooden dolls for sale. It all seemed like some fantastically twisted scene from a fairytale and I wandered off, getting lost in a crowd of puffy shirts and bowl shaped hats.

I regained consciousness in mid-conversation with an old man as we were sitting on the brick steps of a church. He was a philosopher who had grown tired of experience and mentioned how the truths of beauty and happiness depended on constant change, which could never be understood through the senses. An old lady soon came and carried him away; this would be around the time my stomach began to give me troubles and I hurdled into a rickety church bathroom before all was lost. Unfortunately the little boy’s room lacked all essentials and I returned to the beer tent with one sock missing.

That night as the crowd reached its zenith and the world record length of onions had been measured and confirmed we had reason to celebrate. The Germans had been beaten, the food was free, and we won the onion fight against the local Romanian gypsies. Some Romanians who considered themselves to be Hungarians joined in our onion fight and afterward invited us to a local dance party. This was located a block from town center in a little room with a kitchen. As the techno music played in the main room we were in the kitchen explaining to a full crowd about sub-prime mortgages, globalization, and ethnic minorities. Our audience was Romanian but they were educated and brought up as Hungarians by their parents. Some wanted their children to know only Romanian so that they would feel apart of the culture and have more job opportunities, others refused to give up their heritage for such things. Just a bit of history, following WWI Transylvania became unified with Romania, the Hungarian language was expunged from official life, and all place-names were Romanianized. Territories were taken and given back through out the years and identities redefined along the way. I wonder how I would feel if Washington became part of Canada, eh?

Anyway, the night seemed to never end and by morning I was ready to be back in my little town without any world records to speak of, though it might have a record for the most amount of drunken old men before 6 am, I will have to check. Still having no money I hitched a ride from a teenager who was driving through my town. I saw the cornfields one more time as we whizzed past gypsies on their horse drawn carts. They were sitting on a pile on onions.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

“That’s nothing,” he said “my wife came home with a card stuck to her ass that said ‘All of us at the station will miss you dearly’”

Came to class today with my tie and Italian sports jacket to start off the week. I did this for two reasons, the first being that I had missed the last two days of my first week due to horrible stomach illness (bad cheese) and wanted to make up for it with the appearance of professionalism. The second was that I would be asking the director if he would allow me to miss an entire week of school come October so that I can attend an international conference in Turkey and I needed to up the charm a bit. Everyone seemed so impressed that I even owned a tie that all the teachers who never once smiled in my direction offered to buy me a Nescafe, the only coffee available, and the director happily agreed to my free week vacation. I even came to my classroom to find that computer I had asked for weeks ago sitting on my desk. Coincidence?

Time is now spent either in school teaching or playing ping pong, at the youth center playing ‘Settlers’ with the Germans, or in my room on the top floor gazing out my window as I listen to Chopins ‘Three Nocurnes’ which is set perfectly for light rain. The flies here are horribly clumsy, almost worth pitying, unlike the American flies that anticipate every swing leaving one vexed and irritated. These post-communist flies sort of just loiter around my table bumping into one another waiting for the hand to fall and end their short and absurd lives. I suppose I could catch one of them with a chopstick then tie it with a string but it would probably just waltz on back to its comrades and continue feeling sorry for itself.

On my way to the market Yesterday I realized that the little shop I go to for sandwiches is actually connected to the church, along with the hardware shop, and the appliance store with its neon signs. I took a step back and realized that all my favorite shops are actually housed within the buttresses of the towns’ church. I marveled at this seamless blend of Capitalism and Catholicism as I haggled for beans and cheaper bananas. Paying more then 6 lei for a kilo of ripe bananas tells every farmer within sight that you can be hornswoggled. I was their target for the first month until I got wise.

Anyway I have been playing with ridiculous first sentences for short stories and I thought I would share a couple I wrote today:

He opened the door to the smell of an old refrigerator freshly opened and there on the floor laid Ms. Popescu, she still had that half smirk on her marbled bloated face.

There were plenty of unspeakable undertakings she would gladly admit to, but it’s the ones she didn’t do in Hamburg that this story is about.

After a long period of reflection he slowly and with great effort reached his frail hand into the upper left vest pocket and pulled out his whistle, snagging his cocaine tin along with it.

I woke up, supposing everything that happened resembled a dream I set the pistol down on the park bench and floated to the nearest hospital.

They call me Poobah. I’m thirtysomething years old, look like a horse jockey, eat like a horse, and hate horses. I also find the sound of children singing and people who read while sitting on toilettes intolerable but this is not about them, and I am not a hateful man, this is about why I love to kill.

Anyway these were all written on about the 5th cup of Nescafe so I can’t receive all the credit. Gotta sleep now.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

There is no privileged perspective

The first real day of school has come and gone and I am left here to reflect on all that has happened within the past couple of days, including my all expenses paid trip to Bucuresti last weekend for an MRI scan and the holly water the priests used to bless the students and teachers during our assembly which got in my eye, causing me to sneeze and frighten parents.

Today was a day of firsts for everyone, especially myself, as school gradually came to a start around 8:12. I remember asking my counterpart when we should head up to class as we were sipping coffee in the teachers lounge. She looked up at the smoke filled ceiling as if waiting for a sign.

“Not yet,” she whispered into her coffee

In my youth I always wondered what types of mysteries and wild amusements were kept out of my reach within the inaccessible boundaries of the ‘Teachers Lounge”. It turns out that it was just the absence of kids like myself who made the teachers lounge so sacred as well as a place where every vice can be nurtured and frustration vented. A wonderful magical place where shots of liquor and coffee flow like wine and the thick wall of smoke makes navigation funny and confusing.

Classes seemed to go smoothly considering nothing had been planned, not by me but my counterpart who I am supposed to work with. Lesson plans aren’t in style at the moment and I will eventually receive a workbook to use as a guide for my classes, but in the mean time I have to improvise. The students aren’t used to talking in class, this isn’t the way the education systems works here in Romania. Usually the teacher reads from a book or writes on the black board and the kids are supposed to absorb the information some how and score well on tests. They are very shy and reserved when it comes to any form of class participation, so I made sure to get the high school kids to all stand up and dance in a circle for my amusement before starting the days lesson. We played ‘coffee pot’, a game where I think of a verb and the students ask questions to discover what it is, saying ‘coffee pot’ in place of that verb.

“Do you ‘coffee pot’ in the morning?” – yes
“Do you ‘coffee pot’ alone?” – yes
“Do you ‘coffee pot’ in the bathroom?” – always
“Brush your teeth!?” – you got it

The assembly that rang in the new school year was about as pointless as putting lipstick on a pig. We all stood for 2 hours inside our little gymnasium as the school director then the mayor then the priests each took turns mumbling into a mic connected to a little karaoke speaker while kids played on their cell phones. The whole spectacle ended with the priests praying for the kids to pass all their tests, culminating in the singsong voices of the priests reciting some Latin verse as they flicked holy water at us, which somehow got into my eye and irritated the hell out of it.

Before all of this school stuff began I was in Buchuresti for the weekend because of a headache that would not go away. Our Doctor, Dr. Dan, asked that I come to the headquarters and have some test done, including an MRI. I had a whole day of doctor visits and finally my appointment for the MRI came and I was more then anxious to get it over with. The room containing the machine was white with a lone plant in between two large industrial sized freezer doors with ominous signs indicating incomprehensible dangers with for those with metal attached to their body. The machine was inside, a huge bulk of white, shaped like an engine turbine with a bed in the center. I was to lie on this body-sized bed and not move for 20 minutes while the magnets did their job. Up to this point I had not even begun to think about whether I was nervous or not, but as they put special noise cancelling headphones on then locked my face in place and as the mechanical sounds of my sterile white bed in this pure white room hummed into action slowly sliding me into a tube just big enough for my frame to enter, I realized I was naked under this medical costume and a bit nervous. Immediately I had an itch on my nose that I could nothing about and I felt claustrophobic just laying inside this tube no further then 5 inches from my face. Then the frequencies began and a whole new set of challenges presented themselves. Tones were set into my skull deep inside my brain, I could feel them humming and vibrating bits of information to the big machine around me. It began with three low bursts followed by three light ticks for what seemed like an hour, I used the pulses that were being shot into my brain as a beat for a rap that I was trying to freestyle. I didn’t get too far because the machine let it really rip as it pumped a low frequency then as if slowing turning up the dial let me feel every tone humanly possible culminating in an almost polyphonic kaleidoscope of tones, my brain felt tampered with, I was dumb struck.

I wonder how much the whole day would have cost had I been back in Washington. Lets see, a private doctors check-up, an eye exam, two chauffeured trips including one to an MRI, which required a team of 2 doctors and 3 nurses. Plus my transportation and hotel was paid for including daily per diem. All for a migraine it turns out. I remember when I was sick in Naples, Italy, with food poisoning and the doctors fixed me up after they fed me intravenously for my severe dehydration and gave me medication. The room had about 10 others coughing and barfing and the doctor was smoking a cigarette as he took my temperature but at least it was free. I also remember back in Tacoma when I had food poisoning again a year later (what’s the deal?) and Ashley drove me to a hospital that did the very same procedures but I was smacked with a 1,400-dollar doctors bill.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt

I have decided to post my own collection of occurrences, reflections, revelations, and irritations beyond my daily journal here for friends and family to enjoy or possibly cough at. Instead of trying to recap my life into a sweet little pastry one could consume in one sitting I will just skip it if it’s all the same to you, let’s just say I've been places and seen stuff. I just like traveling and writing, that’s it. That and ping-pong and piano, but still very hard to do together. I currently work for the Peace Corps as an English teacher in the little village of Abrud, Romania, where I give kids a break from their busy schedule to learn English in a way that does not suck for them. School starts this Monday so hopefully I will be able to qualify that statement.Life so far in Romania is quite relaxing and full of subtle little surprises one can enjoy on a daily basis. Winding roads that hug the banks of the Carpathian Mountains make a simple car ride an adventure since all cars in Romania (the Dacia) must maintain a speed at or above 65km or else Nicolae Ceauşescu will catch them. Most Romanians will have some sort of techno music playing which only fuels their insatiable desire to pass on blind corners. Seat belts are mostly available but frowned upon because of the non-verbal statement they make about the driver. The roads from Abrud to Alba Iulia (the nearest city) or anywhere for that matter are usually in a profound state of disrepair, mostly falling apart, the sides crumbling into the river bed, so concrete barriers are placed in front of these ‘road chasms’ to keep people from plunging into the abyss. I was given a ride to the nearest train station one day and my driver slowed down to let another car pass as she reached a concrete barrier. We were plowed into by a wildlife SUV with trailer attached as a result. We were alright of course; seatbelts do work, though her car was smashed pretty good. The funny thing was that her car could still drive but she refused to not because of the glass or the exhaust leak inside but because of the ‘current’. You see Romanians have this belief that the wind coming through an open window is the cause of all afflictions and illnesses among other things. Also if you are a woman and you are bare foot or sit on the floor your ovaries will freeze, but that is beside the point. To combat the ‘current’ you must stick cotton in your ears. I tried this once and it actually took the edge off a little, this could come in handy while teaching my high scholars.
My little town of Abrud has all the characters one would expect from an old mining town, including old men in fedora hats walking slowly, hands behind their backs, toward one of several old man bars. My town among the many things it has to offer has a disco (dance club) which also acts as the town’s library, weight room, billiard hall, and hardware store all in one. Don’t try to order vodka and red bull because you won’t find shot glasses or red bull. The farmers markets on Mondays are always a hoot and their one can find most anything. For example if your looking for an axe you go up to the old man with different axe blades on his table and pick you favorite, then you head to the next old guy with axe blade handles and buy the one that fits your hand, then head over to the last of the three who will put them all together for you at a nominal cost.