Friday, February 20, 2009

"I am the king and I want my dumplings!"

I am waiting for spring more then ever as I look out my frosty classroom windows. Today it actually became warm enough to snow ending a short two day snow sabbatical colder then a wizard’s nipple, as my dad would say. Winter here has lingered on like a stale fart that just won’t clear the room and I can only pretend I don’t smell it for so long. To escape the winter’s stench I will be spending my weekend in Sibu, the Cultural Capital of Europe in 2007, and hopefully come back with some decent loafs of German bread.

Played European handball last night with some of the locals and not only is it completely different then the handball we have in the States, but its like 3 times as dangerous and fun as well. Instead of smacking around a little ball in a court you have two teams of seven who try to throw a ball the size of a kid’s soccer ball into a goal about twice the width of a normal doorway. Its like what happens when you combine ultimate Frisbee with basketball and football. Fouling is seen as good strategy for disrupting the opponents concentration and apparently you don’t have to skip the third helping of mamalega in order to be fit enough to play, half of the townspeople on my team could barely see their own feet let alone wear our teams blue colored singlet. This being my first time seeing or playing handball I wasn’t sure how I would fair, the opposing team looked pretty intimidating and hungry. But the feeling one gets after knocking over a 300 pound fat man with your throw just can’t be beat.

In the beginning of the school year I would pass out chocolates to the students who did all their work and participated in class but it turned out to not be as effective or healthy as my new method of bribery. Now for correct answers and class participation I pass out chewable one a day multivitamins as a reward and I have noticed a remarkable improvement in my more malnourished students. For the past week I have been focusing mainly on the wide world of adjectives and today when asking the students to throw out some adjectives they would associate with feeling, the first word is yelled out, “pain”, every time. We have very happy bunch here on Firdays.

If you ever come here to Abrud, Romania there will probably be a few things that might furrow your brow in puzzlement. Let’s start with the local shops. At the local market you will find all of your alcoholic beverages resting lazily inside a whole row of refrigerators, giving the impression that they are actually on and cooling said beverages. This is something that will take some getting used to because it is hard to accept the fact that they are just being used to hold and not cool, acting as very expensive shelves and nothing more, but this is Romania and this phenomenon is seen in nearly every city. Lets say you want a 3 liter bottle of Ciuc (beer) which will cost you around 5.40 lei, about 2 dollars. You would think that after giving the casher 6 lei for your purchase 60 bon is owed to you, but instead you receive two sticks of gum. This means that the store is out of change and now has reverted to trade; this too is universally accepted as payment. But collecting the sticks of gum that have accumulated over the months and trying to buy something of lesser or equal value will not work, so don’t even bother. Waiting in line with the elderly or derelict should be avoided since you will find yourself at the end of it anyway.

My ride is here so I hope you all have a good weekend.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Hope is a Waking Dream

Today marks the day of internets glorious return to my humble little village. I don’t know what the hell happened the last three weeks, maybe the wooden wheels of the ox drawn service provider fell apart or maybe the string between the two tin cans snapped. Either way I don’t know how long this will last. Again I will try to pick what has occurred within the last month and grind it into some sort of palatable tasty read, though it still might bring indigestion.

Let’s see here, our trip to Sweden proved to be a great change in climate both in temperature and attitude. While waiting in the airport we had the opportunity to check out the local shops with Hungarian hand crafted gifts to buy, including a whole row of crucified Jesuses and large wooden dice with different sexual positions painted on each side. The thing was that they were right next to each other and the look on his face as he looked down on all of those dice was just priceless. We booked our flights with Wizzair, a discount airline, and in exchange for 15 Euro plane tickets we were dropped off in a small town hours away from Stockholm. The cost of taking a shuttle to the city and back cost more than the flight itself and I would have felt ripped off had it not been for that drunken woman barking out obscenities at whoever was speaking Arabic in the back of the bus. We stayed with a group of EVS volunteers living inside an apartment connected to the school they volunteer in. The cultural differences were obvious from the moment we got to the metro station. Everyone spoke perfect English, metros were on time, no gypsies or crazy old men could be heard, clean, and venders sold fresh produce along with REAL coffee. The Swedes love coffee and I love the Swedes. You will find coffee shops every where, even in places that I would never have thought a coffee shop should belong; like in a bath and body shop or a pharmacy or a movie rental. I was also impressed with what little clothing the women were wearing considering how cold it was outside, I had two jackets on over a long sleeve shirt and I was still freezing.

Stockholm is wonderful for how clean and organized it seems to be, even in the heart of the city I saw barely any traffic and zero homeless. In Sweden education is free (you even get paid to go to school), as well as child care and hospital visits. I read in the latest magazine of ‘The Economist’ that people in countries who have a more socialized government like those in Northern Europe believe less in god since all their needs are taken care of, while the belief in god rises in governments who provide less for their people; USA was second to the last on the list, above Turkey. People greet each other by saying ‘Hey Hey’ and it is hard to spot a road without at least one candy shop and one souvenir shop selling post cards of the king. When visiting the kings palace you will still find dressed up guards standing perfectly still like little pawns around its perimeter. All of the lakes around the city as well as parts of the Baltic Sea were frozen and there were more people on the ice skating then on the sidewalks with full families hand in hand, mothers skating with baby carriages, fathers racing their sons, it brought a tear to my eye. We barrowed some ice skates of our own and skated across to a lonely island where I nursed my sore heels. I can’t ice skate to save my life, I appear to have epileptic seizures with every movement forward and it was the duty of every Swede who passed to give his or her own opinion on how not to look like a complete idiot, but it helped little.

Now Sweden isn’t all gum drops and candy canes for those who have to weather the weather during the winter months and apparently many people take anti-depression pills as a result. What I was told however is that the tap water actually has a large amount of this medication in it because it can’t be filtered completely out of the water supply. I am not sure if this is true or not but it sure did taste nice. In Sweden it is very important to scream if you drop anything on the ground to warn the Gnomes so they can get out of the way and avoid a bad knock on the noggin. Apparently if you don’t they will come to your house and hide your stuff, like car keys or birth control pills. I also like the wide variety of cozy Ikea like shops all selling interesting appliances and house wares and coffee, making me wish I had a house to put them all in. I bought this great neon green spork, which combines the spoon, fork, and even the knife, into one multi-ethnic master utensil. I figured it would cut the time I spend doing the dishes by more then a third. Now I carry it with me where ever I go and it’s been so helpful I am thinking about knighting it and giving it a name, like Sir Sporksalot, but I got nothing so far. In the heart of the city the ‘Publikhause’ towers over the main plaza, the clothing stores, and candy shops. The public house is where we spent most of our time and is something that I wish would be copied in the States, but never will. The first floor was a cool medieval museum with free games and a miniature floor model of old and new Stockholm. The second floor had a huge Ikea like library with a place to sit and read all of the world newspapers that filled one side of the hallway or listen to new music that you could check out while sipping coffee. The third floor was a combination Child care play room packed with mothers and cartoon furniture and a modern art exhibit on the other side. The last floor was a large restaurant slash coffee shop for students which gave a panoramic view of the main city square. Looking down we watched as people gathered to protest the continued conflict in Sri Lanka as a panel of professors across the room discussed the latest actions of the Swedish government. The fact that it was all free seemed to surprise no one else but myself. I could live here very easily.

Our time came too quickly and soon we found ourselves on the plane again, heading toward Budapest, which turned out to be another city I would easily say yes to living in. Beautiful, historic, clean, and well managed, I never wanted to leave though that first night Maria and I weren’t feeling too well on account of a whole days worth of bad dietary choices. For breakfast we had Cinnamon rolls and jam, an airport sandwich for lunch and after finding no place agreeable after landing, we for some reason ate at Burger King, not one whopper, but two…each. Our first night with Debi, our couch surfing host, didn’t go as planned since we just flopped on her couch and instantly fell asleep. The next day we walked along the Danube River on the Buda side, taking in the sights of old castles and historic monuments. On the Pest side I got sucked into walking along the fashion street where we stared at clothes we could never afford. We walked past opera houses and beautiful buildings, showing influences from every period since the 15th century. The people proved to be the most helpful people I have come to meet so far, I you pause to look at a sign for more then a second people will cross the street just to ask if you need help. We were on our way to look at the torture museum but we kept getting side tracked by coffee shops and book stores. I picked up a great book on the revolutionary year of 1848 in Europe and tried in vain to find a shop selling old man pipes. That night Debi brought us to her favorite hang out spot which you would never had noticed if you didn’t know where it was. There was a secret knock too and this place turned out to be what looked like someone’s apartment tuned speak easy bar. It was furnished with antiques, people were drinking on top of sowing machine tables, others on top of an antique bread making machine, the place was packed, and you could only get in if you or your friend had a ‘key’. I was introduced to some new types of Indian (India) Trance which was more then tolerable and informed about the many bad ass music festivals during the summer that I will have to check out. We stumbled home happy but sad that we had only planned two days for Budapest. Our plane back to Romania was delayed by more then 5 hours which brought a sobering sense of what I was in store for back home.

I received my first education inspection from my organization yesterday and it went better then I had hoped. Apparently all the students and teachers think that I am doing a great job and the lesson I had planned for her inspection involving the use of metaphor gave the impression that I know what I am doing. Alls well that ends well and now I just have to begin my secondary project with the community and see it through before the semester ends.

Before I left for Sweden my English counterpart and our schools music teacher got together and found me an accordion to play, which has been coming along quite nicely. My previous knowledge of the piano has made learning it fairly easy and I now have all the Mario Theme songs down including the water level from Mario 1 and the main theme from Mario 2. I strap the accordion to my chest while I study so I don’t have to move if I want to take a break. I hope to start learning some traditional Romanian songs which I have been trying to find to play on this site, but no luck just yet.