Sunday, June 28, 2009

Experiencing Some Romanian Orthodox Traditions

The following are entries from my journal about two aspects of the concepts of death and dying expressed by Romanian Orthodox followers in two small villages on two different weekends which I was fortunate to share in first hand this month. I felt the need to write about these in light of how we all contemplate death at some time or another, especially this week, when the world has experienced the too early loss of the iconic and supremely talented King of Pop, Michael Jackson. And so it is---an unfortunate and unavoidable part of living.

June 6, 2009:

Today will surely be one of the most memorable days I will spend in Romania. I believe it. My gazda family and I went to a biserica in a small village on the outskirts of Targoviste called Razvad. Here we visited during the ceremony for the Remembrance of the Dead. All brought large baskets filled with cakes decorated by traditional crucifixes and libations in old soda bottles that were lit by long, thin candles as the Parenti (Priest/Father) chanted in Romanian as there the visitors looked after their relatives and friends since gone. As the doors to the altar opened and closed and the incense and holy waters were passed among them, I thought of how in earlier times this ritual was the same. The blessing of the basket offerings ensued and the people young and old took part in age-old customs. For over 500 years, this structure had welcomed those who looked after the memory of their dead and it made me realize the meaning of my own ties to religion and how it has always been such a huge part of my life. The music was deep and I will never forget how it touched me for the first time as a visitor to Romania. We then walked out with baskets to commemorate the day and offer the libations and cake to each other and especially to the deceased as they lie silent in their graves beside the church in the yard. I was invited to the country home of a bunica and her family who offered me more cakes and plate of eggs, chicken, chocolate, nuts, and cheese to feast upon and drink it all in under the arbor of newly bloomed, young green grapes.

June 27, 2009

Another wonderful and spiritually laced day in the tara (countryside). This time I visited with my gazda family their extended immediate family in the village of Marcesti, about 30 minutes outside of Targoviste. I met my gazda's brother and sister-in-law and their children and her elderly father the bunic (grandfather). I got a tour of their modest property, complete with garden, cherry trees, and an assortment of animals in pens and loosely exploring the grass and mounds of dirt left astray for their enjoyment. The place was alive despite the concrete garage open bucaterie (kitchen) and the old and many times repaired wooden sheds that housed animal feed, supplies, tools and the like. The house had been restored and retained remnants of the original roof and flooring and was appointed with many books and an array of oriental-style rugs. It was clean and busy and the family made us ciorba, pork and salad complete with fresh cheese from their cow whom I was able to milk later on in the day (My first time and no movie-style kicks, thank goodness!) The best part of the day however, was to attend the funeral of a local man, 76, and with a large family. The whole village came out and as I sat in the small room next to the body laid out for the past three days in the hall in a grand casket with a veil, I remembered how my mother told of the Polish custom similar to this in her girlhood and felt so lucky to be welcome here. The granddaughter pinned a small black velvet band on my blouse and looked at me with tired but friendly eyes that seemed to say "thank you" or maybe just "I am a young girl, wondering everything here---welcome stranger." The ritual went on as one of the aunts and a cousin passed a live chicken and a pot of red roses under the coffin as it crossed the threshold to bless the deceased and the crowd followed the horse drawn carriage, all of us, as the wife, sisters, and children wailed and cried aloud asking why and how this could be. As the gentleman was brought to first the church and the cemetary, I could only think of how calm and peaceful he seemed, how strong his hands were, and how much he was loved, despite the blue black visage of rigor mortis which had taken hold. I thanked my gazda family for this day of blessings and went to bed early in hopes of another tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

First Week Teaching 5th Grade

This has been a great week and I thought that I might share some of that with you. First of all, I have been "chomping at the bit" to start working and being able to teach finally has been a fabulous burst of energy for me. The children are endearing and intelligent, some shy, some very dramatic, and of course this makes it so much more interesting. Monday was a lesson on Charleston, SC with a follow-up to their creating a brochure of their own about Targoviste. All of them know how to say "Smiling Faces, Beautiful Places!" and we had a great time. The second day, teaching was in poetry format and I read some original as well as a couple of short poems to illustrate how to create free verse from photos and mental pictures. I had cut up a National Geographic and they went to town with that. Today there was weather instruction for the first hour and geography the last hour. One of my favorites to teach in an English class. I really love that the children all now know how to say and define climate, meteorology, precipitation, Appalachian, Mississipi, and Tornado Alley. Kind of cool for us EFL teachers since we can use all subjects to get the message across. My second day had a little glitch and it was kind of funny later since I helped the med staff present nosebleeds and eye injuries, so go figure, I get a nosebleed in the middle of Tuesday's class. No problem---since I've done this before---and so we marched on with the lesson.

Having a lot of long days since I am out exploring town and on the weekends spend lots of time with my gazda family. Next week, I will be teaching high school and then we all find out about our permanent sites on the 8th of July. I can't wait to start researching the new home and planning for the move. Had a meeting with the country director this afternoon and will meet with the TEFL placement director tomorrow so wish me luck!!!

PS: Language classes are going great and that's one of the perks that I joined PC for. I hope that when I get to my site there are many opportunities for chatting it up with the locals. Yesterday I had a nice long talk with an old man outside the pharmacy and in the park on Sunday was able to meet a nice Bunica and her grandaughters and we talked while being serenaded by accordians and music from the Orthodox church as a wedding ceremony began.

So, I am on my way home before dark again....the caine vagabonde (stray dogs) have been out in force and the packs keep us up at night with the growling, howling, and barking right outside the window. Like a good student, I will write a poem about that in Romanian for you next week.

Bye for now and remember---Be well, do good work, and keep in touch!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

On the Way to Onesti

If this trip to Romania weren't surreal enough, then how about some of the most amazing scenery from back in time? I am in awe of the fabulously friendly people and how hard they work day to day to bring to life their land and to carry their heritage on their backs for all to see. In their faces are the hardships and the lasting memories that their grandparents, their "bunici", gave them. The cities here are paradoxical, the countryside is fantastical, and the days here are sweet.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Bine ati Venit Targoveste!

Today after the first week of Peace Corps training I am grateful for the sunshine to take a long walk this morning from the train station to classes at the other end of town. I am grateful for my Romanian Gazda family who are most gracious hosts and I am grateful for the time to get to know these people whose geography I will share for a time all too short. I am grateful for knowing enough Romanian to get around on my own sometimes and grateful for the diversity of my fellow PC trainees. I am grateful that I was not on Air France last week. I am grateful for the continued success of the Peace Corps and the mission which JFK conceived. I am grateful for the fluffy towel I remembered to bring with me. I am grateful for the health and happiness of my friends and family until we can meet again. I am grateful also for the absence of spitting and canine droppings on the sidewalks that I encountered in China and Italy on former trips abroad respectively and, I am grateful that I will be having the time of my life in multiple ways.

Talk to you next week when I will post photos!

Just another day in Paradise

Just another day in Paradise

To Welcome Me to the Biserica


We have surely arrived!

I'm Going to Brusturoasa!

I'm Going to Brusturoasa!
Can't Wait to Meet My New Neighbors

My Wonderful Gazda Family!

My Wonderful Gazda Family!
On the Way to the Party on the 4th