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.