Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Summer of My Disconnect





It’s like this…you sign on for the Peace Corps after studying, working, living and breathing the fresh air whenever you can and maybe forty-five years later you get the chance to make your mark and soak it all in. For the past year, living peacefully by a large, untamed river in the middle of the Moldavian countryside had its perks. Cool feelings on a hot day, melodious sounds of the water as it traversed the rocky bottom on it’s way down from the mountain overlook, icy beauty nestled within the cotton-white pillows on the tall trees on the most frigid of snow days, the occasional dip or wade when the urge prevailed and once in a while a relaxing afternoon either fishing for a mini-snack or just sitting on the grassy bank writing poetry or recording a journal entry for posterity, just as I am doing now.

Then the flood came. On the last week of June, when the garden I’d lovingly planted was in full swing, along with the dream routine of teaching, learning, exchanging culture, partaking in favorite pastimes like photography, writing, drawing, painting, visiting and cooking with and without formal classes for the kids, the River Trotus had its say and washed all that away. I was obliged to move housing and thus was on the road for an early vacation of sorts away from the village and its people whom I’d come to know and love.

I’d planned to be away a week at a time to explore other parts of delightful Romania and then make my way back in the interim weeks to tend the garden, teach the International Cooking with English class I’d begun last summer and generally have some rest and relaxation fit for a queen after a busy year of classes and various other activities in the community. That was not an option now and so I took the two overstuffed bags I’d packed in hand and was off to hope for the best while I was away. The bulk of my belongings stayed behind in the schoolroom that the mayor provided and so I just needed a miracle to find another place to live as not to scrap all that I’d accomplished this first year in Peace Corps.

It was hard not to feel disheartened by all of this. Most of my neighbors had no running water or heat other than wood stoves and they certainly didn’t have much extra room for a volunteer, only a bit of space for their family members. I trusted my instincts and waited it out to see if something would materialize to afford me the minimal requirements to stay for the second year and not change course midstream.

As luck would have it, after weeks-seven exactly-a family came forward, parents of one of my students, and offered me a room in a quiet nook on the hillside overlooking a much smaller river with the sounds of a barnyard echoing through each day. They kindly welcomed me into their fold and now I can breathe a little easier knowing that I will be able to stay here and not re-acquaint myself with others in another place and leave the friends and children whom I’ve come to cherish as my home away from home. It will take a bit of time to organize and restart the projects which I’d had going all year, but with the support of others, my faith in God, and the patience I’ve acquired along the way, I think that in a few weeks, all should be back to normal.

Many people tried to dissuade me during my summer odyssey. My concerned family, loving friends back home in Charleston, the staff members who thought that it might be easier for me to reintegrate into another village as there were many villages without the luxury of an American volunteer this year, and fellow “Peace Corps-ans” who thought that I’d be better off not going through the waiting and wondering as it created more stress than I’d bargained for. I listened, I ruminated, I prayed and then I stood fast. I just knew that if I’d have bailed out, the hole in my heart over unexpectedly and unwillingly abandoning my classrooms, along with all the long walks, conversations and happy times with the people in my village, well, it would be too big. I wanted no regrets and if it happened that there was no housing, then I’ would cross that bridge. Luckily and by the grace of God, I am with bed, bright window, space enough to store my things, and a shared bath and kitchen. The family is kind, generous, happy and looking forward as I am to getting to know each other over the next school year.

So what did I do over the past seven weeks? Here’s a rundown of the highlights and lowlights in my Peace Corps road of life in summer, 2010:

Moved out of gazda central due to flood on June 26th. First week away I spent in Ghimes with my best friend’s family. Made my way to Miercurea Ciuc for a night then on to Bucharest for five days to decompress and while there visited museums, thought about my future, and tried to plan for anything. Spent a week near Brasov for volunteer camp activities at Ozanku Bai. Stayed in St. George with Hungarian friends two days after that. Left for Ploiesti to see a fellow volunteer, then on to Targoviste to visit with the new volunteer candidates for a few days. Back to Brasov to visit the famous Bran Castle which I’d not yet seen and a nice day in Poiana Brasov, too. I then returned to Ghimes to welcome a newly placed volunteer in a nearby village and then went back to Bucharest for some downtime with Romanian friends. On to Alesd to visit another volunteer before a stint at camp up north and then stayed with new Romanian friends a week in Astileu. A very good visit to Hunedoara and Deva with more volunteer buds and then a four day conference in Sibiu for mid-service training. Back to Astileu and Oradea by way of Arad for more relaxation time and then returned through Alba Iulia with a night in Lunca de Jos to have a bubble bath in a pensione after the long trip home to a new gazda house on the 15th of August. But even before I could settle in for more than a few days, I was off to Ocland for a week of camp volunteering again. After two days back in Brusturoasa, again, as my luck would have it, I was off again to the yearly medical exams in Bucharest. Finally, finally, I got back to stay for a bit longer this time-or so I hope!

Here I am now in the old place I’ve grown accustomed to for the past year with familiar people and a new host family. I’m full of hope that it will all get organized and for sure I have a store of new experiences and places that I will remember to share with others when I complete my service. I even took my cooking skills on the road with me and shared with others along the way to sweeten the veritable pot as I remained "semi-homeless" for the better part of this summer. See the article about that part of the trip here at http://www.acum.tv/articol/16625. After hours and days of crowded buses, endless waiting, frustrations, spent energies, long trains, sleepless nights, and even a nasty bump on the head that ultimately led to a concussion, I am done travelling for the moment until the next vacation, one that hopefully won’t include any natural disasters. But such is life. Here or there, lots of things sometimes can rain on your parade, but the sun comes out eventually. So, it wasn't all the "Winter (or summer) of My Discontent", rather it was just a kind of free-wheeling, unpredictable,disconnected, kind of funny, "life on the road" journey that happens now and then when you least expect it. Peace Corps year two: Here I come!






Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Year in the Life...



Dear Readers,

This day marks year one in of my Peace Corps journey and as I sit down to write, I just cannot think of how to express all that has happened. Usually, I am not at a loss for words. And for the past 13 months, writing has been such a big part of the experience here in Romania. Last night, I gave an interview after having written a story to a CNN producer based in London. The day before that, there was the writing of a piece for ACUM TV. Last weekend, there was a narrated slideshow for the In Their Own Words section of Peace Corps' Coverdell World Wise Schools. And on and on, I've written a history of sorts because all of the days are filled with things to share, note, describe, relate, and otherwise record for posterity.

During the time that I've been here, I've had so many things change and be changed, both for the worse and for the better. I credit my continuous faith in God for seeing me through each of those. Here in Romania, I've been able to see more of how the people's faith, ritual, spirituality and the teachings of old enriches the lives of so many on a daily basis. I've been present at each and every holiday both as a conscientious observer and as a member of this community. I've seen funerals, baptisms, Christmas and Easter, and various other celebrations and commemorations, all recorded for the camera and all will forever occupy a huge chunk of the annals of my memories. They are fresh reminders each time of why I am here and alive. A saying that I've now learned in Romanian which comes to mind is "Ati gustat cat de bun este Domnul".

And speaking of the camera, it's now become my obsession. The children whom I teach will now have lasting looks at their work, their play and their lives during a time when the Peace Corps paid a visit. The parents, the neighbors and friends will also have something to reflect upon when the day comes (if it does at all) for me to leave and continue on the paths that I will eventually be led to. I cannot wait to hear and to see what the futures of all of them might be. And so, by continuing to document everything, it is my sincere hope that these "archives" of a Peace Corps volunteer will be used to refresh the memories of the past of each and every one of them.

Ah, the past. Well, many say that is best kept in the past...but I don't believe that. My family, my dear friends back in Charleston and other parts of the world, and the things that have shaped my life all have an impact on what I think, do and feel about being a volunteer here in Eastern Europe. To be a volunteer has always been for me the single most important mission. Without the various hours, days, weeks, and years of volunteering for others, I cannot say that my life would have been filled to the brim.

Starting out as a summer camp volunteer, then a hospital volunteer in the NICU, and several years volunteering as a firefighter, I found that time spent working to help (or save) others was a time to both give and receive multiple gifts. Time was not wasted. Time was not lost. Then, as I got older, volunteering for afterschool programs, volunteering for city projects, volunteering for the promotion of art and culture, volunteering for the elderly, the Red Cross Disaster Response Team,and so on, were all ways that changed me, my fellow volunteers, and everyone that we came in contact with...albeit sometimes in small, not yet quite detectable ways. I've made many friends, been a mentor, seriously challenged my limits, learned quite a bit, had such wonderful times, and certainly have been blessed by the faces of those whose lives I have touched as they have touched me.

My decision to volunteer and serve in the Peace Corps has been graciously named by others to be courageous, impressive, highly American, dedicated, powerful, awe-inspiring and other things. The people who write to me or speak to me directly each day have credited me with having all of these traits. To them all, I send a big thank you and much love back for their praise, support, understanding and interest in what I am doing here. But now, I give credit to the Romanians, yes, all of them young and old, Peace Corps staff, the citizens of Brusturoasa and neighboring villages and towns where I have new friends, a new and exciting lifestyle, and a look into a window that I never expected to see, and of course, the hundreds of children here who mean so much to the future of Romania, for all that this year has meant for myself, my friends, and family, and anyone else who has read about what goes on in this corner of the world through my blog postings, or any other of the news agencies, newspapers, or websites that have carried these stories of Peace Corps life in "Romanialand".

Without them, it would all have been "dust and shadow".

I can't wait to be here another year and hope that you will continue on this journey with me whenever you have time to take a look, drop a line, or laugh a little when you see me try to dodge a great big cow or two on the road!

(Hey...I just heard one of those cowbells...must mean it's another time again to take the Road Less Travelled...)
Peace,


Natalie

PS: This poetry reading was excerpted from http://scoalacomanesti.blogspot.com/2010/05/poezie-in-limba-engleza.html.



video

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Primavara, You Have Surely Arrived!




Dear readers,

Today, I realized that I hadn't posted a new story in two months, and as the schoolteachers in the region held a strike day, there was a free, but jam-packed-with-stuff-to-do day on the agenda and I thought, well, it would be a good time to revisit these pages! Instead of focusing on one particular event, I'd like to go ahead and show you some of the highlights of my busy, but very blessed, life here in Romania Peace Corps. After 11 months in the country, the language comes with everyday ease, the activities are piling up for the record books, and the rewards that come with volunteering are too endless to count.

I've been in contact with two soon-to-be volunteer trainees, one from the heart of the midwest, where some of my family lives, and one from my much loved college back in Charleston, SC, who will be coming here to experience some of what Romania has given to me. I am very happy for them and can't wait to meet them face to face to spend time being their own personal tour guide and mentor as the anniversary of my first year here approaches. They ask me all of the time what my "typical" day looks like and things like how much to pack and what do I do in my free time. Well, girls, the answers lie below, and they are anything but typical. As for the packing, it'll drive you crazy until you get here and you realize that not only can you do without most of it because you can eventually get it here, but, except for the most needed personal mementos and essential favorites, it's okay to leave the country and merge straight ahead and not look back. You'll find a new world here and for a time, it will be your only love. And lastly, the free time thing...well, free it's not, unless you don't want to be a living, breathing, and dedicated member of your new community that has a big heart which will be filled by each Romanian personal experience you will have.

And now for the news:

March came in like a lamb with a beautiful sunny day at church followed by a lovely family dinner with new friends. The sun was shining and the snow still lingered on the mountaintops. I brought home fresh eggs, and milk which they insisted I have, and then spent some time in the barnyard with the new arrivals. During the week, I was gifted by a huge amount of Martisore, those little tokens of love that appear every March 1st until March 8th according to the Romanian holiday calendar. Then, on the tail end of that, International Women's Day brought out the singers and dancers and the flowers that brightened my home here with every color of spring.

My amazingly precious granddaughter turned six back in the US and it was more than a bit sad to be so far away, but she loves her Nanny just as much as I love her and so for now, the happiness and the growing on both our parts is shared by old fashioned mail and modern technology. It's not perfect, but when I joined the Peace Corps I had to go with it, like it or not.

As the month of March progressed, there were Teatime Conversation classes, one focused on the culture of China as I revisited one of my former teaching destinations, and one fun class with a costumed and balloon festooned book party in the wonderland of Alice. There were some International Cooking with English classes. My favorite, Italian, was a smashing success. In a following class we celebrated the fruitful season by coloring eggs with natural dyes and learning how to make everything from over-easy to omelets.

After all that cooking, it was time to take the sled out a bit more, try some skiing before the snow all melted, and climb the muddy mountain behind the house, just because it was there, to pick some of the freshly sprouted ghioceii that perks up when the winter is ready to take a pause. (See photo above!)

Next, I went out of town for a weekend to judge a speaker's competition for the ESU, met up with a fellow volunteer, stayed in a nice hotel and had a good rest. In classes, we worked on newsletters, the nuances of expressive poetry, storytelling, and travel writing along with some mutual sharing of holiday traditions at Eastertime.

Speaking of Easter, one of the "only in the Peace Corps" experiences was to witness the preparation of the lamb for the religious celebration. I won't describe the details of that here since you can see them in one of my photojournal stories online, but I will say that it was probably one of the most difficult things that I ever will do, however, quite necessary, at least for me, to truly understand and to share with others what the religious tradition here entails. After that, there was a nice long road trip to Dragasani where I met such nice relatives of my gazda and enjoyed another first---Easter dinner outdoors. It was a spiritual week finished off with a huge, traditionally religious commemoration of the dead at our biserica here in the village when we returned. The whole town came out and we brought our delicious table fare outside once again.

I've been to birthdays and funerals, seen a lot more sunsets, planted a vegetable and herb garden, enjoyed my home life and my new toys, and heard sweet music while doing it, all in the course of the last two months which seemed to go by like a shooting star. There have been many sunny days, some with my students, others in church services, still others while out exploring on my own, or day tripping out and about in other small towns and villages in the company of my Romanian pals. There was also a nice long week spent in historic Sibiu with old friends and new, again, in the comfort of a shiny hotel, graciously provided by the Peace Corps, and the visits to museums, galleries, the theatre, a bit of shopping, and those much-missed restaurants. At the end of that I sped over to Galati to visit friends again, relaxed, and caught up. Then, on the way back to my village, went to visit two more elementary schools in the countryside who have also applied for a volunteer, and still had plenty of time to reflect on the peacefully long train rides about the days that had passed and those that would soon be---More sightseeing, more invitations, more memories, and more times to value far into the next years.

Here, I've had more than enough bonuses to weigh. Life has given me more than I ever expected and on March 28th, I also had the 52nd birthday-to-remember when I received a new clothes dryer (yes, no one has one here in the communa!), a brand new camera (for my ireports on CNN and other venues that I frequent to share photos and film), and many, many other beautiful, generous and amazing presents from friends, students, and family. I cannot thank them all enough for knowing what would make me smile like never before.

And that's not all, not only have I easily lost a total of 30 lbs. since leaving the US, but I've never felt better, or more delighted to be alive. Every minute is new, although at times a great responsibility, but still, a wondrously childlike challenge, and filled with unexpected pleasures. I work hard, write a lot(now I have more than a few blogs to contribute to and several sites as well) go out in the fresh air, and try to record what is happening day to day; and in the evenings, I still have a bit of time to keep in touch with family and friends far away. I miss them, I know that they miss me, and someday, we will share a bit of what it's been like for me to finally have a go at my long-wished-for Peace Corps dream. But not now. I have miles to go before I sleep and I am happy to have them here in Romania.

Today we had another special lesson, because it is Earth Day, and again, the children, my colleagues and friends, and my village's sights and sounds, opened up a new world for myself and others to see...just in the bit of time it took to recite a poem, sing a song, draw a picture, and then put the whole thing into motion in order to make a lasting impression. Ninety minutes that would be worth so much more to them in the future. And to me.

You might enjoy a sprinkling of the highlights I just mentioned, and quite a few more, if you visit the links on this blog page. Until the next time...

Drum Bun, Te Pupe, and Hristos Inviat!

Monday, February 15, 2010

When in Rome (Or Romania)


February is in the air and the season of Iarna is now in full. Apparently, it snows here most every day in the mountains and it's truly a sight to behold. Skiing, sledding, skating, wondering, gawking, and letting the wet, cold, glistening drops of white prisms kiss your face without regard to catching a sniffle, well, I cannot tell you how much my opinion of the weather has changed since moving to Romania. All is a new adventure and many things(although either difficult or frightening for someone who had long ago abandoned the winter sports arena)are welcomed with open arms and kid-like snowsuits coupled with funny hats and a collection of boots to be proud of. The other day I even walked on the frozen river Trotus---even though a man of the cloth here and truly great friend said, "No, no, I am worried for you. That's dangerous!"---Jesus' trek notwithstanding, as I had once imagined---this was to be the start of a whole new way of life.

Visible to me everywhere now is a show of God's presence and each and every thing that happens here is a blessing as I celebrate the milestone of six months at site here in Romania as an official Peace Corps volunteer. In Brusturoasa and its communities, I have much to remember as evidenced by the thousands of photos and video clips taken here that have gummed up the flash drives and cds for the umpteenth time this year.

Although it seems like only yesterday, these past nine months in country have been chock full of unique experiences. In these experiences, documented by the photos, websites, and other avenues of third goal sharing which I utilize, there are some revelations that have become apparent during my service which I will pass along to you:

Purpose-After yearning for the knowledge of the purpose of my days, the Peace Corps has fulfilled that promise.

Volunteering-It is my middle name.

Money-Or lack thereof. Well, that's always an issue for everyone, but rewards, they are written in the faces of every child and new person that I spend time with.

Comfort-It's relative. Scratchy waffle-weave sheets to sleep on, occasional mice and angry dogs, on and off heat, hot water, and internet service, favorite places to go and things to do that aren't here, usual foods that are unavailable, long treks for short purposes, post office woes, washing laundry in a bucket for sometimes days of line drying, mud up to your shins, being too busy (or too tired) to wash your hair today, pens that never work even though you just bought them (my own personal pet peeve!), and buses that never run on time-are all relatively easy to dismiss when you know that there are other valuable things to consider about the arrangement.

Pushing the envelope-It's okay to do, again and again. These are things that are totally justifiable. Even if others not in "Peace Corpsland" say that is too bold, too crazy, not been done before, or otherwise not in their own vocabulary. Not, not, not...that particular word is NOT in my vocabulary!

Language is universal-After many years of language study, it has become clear that I don't love speaking English as much as I love learning to communicate in other languages as if it were live theater, with words, gestures, and expressions. You had to be there the day I held a dissertation on the supreme difference between spaghetti and macaroni and how I didn't want the spaghetti but as it was wrapped in the facade of the "Macarone" company name, the magazin owner thought otherwise. Consequently, my 3rd and 4th graders this week during the lesson on the value of the food pyramid and its benefits heard all about how to distinguish the distinguished pasta family. Being Italian, I know that my grandma wouldn't have had it any other way.

Patience-Mine, that is, is tested and reaffirmed every day that I must say, "stai liniste, merge pe scaunul immediat, niciodata nu razboi in clasa mea, serios? scrieti in limba Engleza, va rog, or de ce nu fac tema," etc., etc., etc.

Feed your mind-Whether I've wanted to manage a huge assignment or to climb a steep hill (literally) by having a strong mind, a good conscience, and the confidence to move up and accomplish a lot is the only way. And diet...all I can say is skip the slanina with the tuica chasers if you aspire to live to be 100.

Memories-Are those that tug at you and nurture you, take from you and give to you, but all are valuable lessons learned and priceless treasures which sustain the moments here without any familiarity from the old life.

Spirituality-And the wholeness of what it means to be alive sings to me in every moment that I spend in Romania. Having the opportunity to also share in the traditions of the old world either outside in the pastures, inside the walls of a stunning Orthodox biserica, at the table of a neighbor, or travelling with new friends, just makes it that much sweeter.

Disorganization-Better get used to that. Whether someone makes plans for you and changes them yet again, or you just can't finish all the things that you have on the agenda, or you just plain forget things all the time. Like today, when I forgot my camera and so missed out on a huge (at least 1/3 ton) spotted pig escaping his farmyard happily crossing the river over the rickety slat bridge oblivious to my presence, or the convergence of three, yes, three confused horse-drawn carute each loaded up with about an 8 x 10 foot mass rectangle of hay under the train bridge all at the same time as the passenger train went overhead.

Once in a lifetime-
It's kind of funny how easily we all miss the things right under our noses.

TAKE YOUR CAMERA!


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

When You Wish Upon a Star



A few weeks ago, I was shopping for some small trinkets to dress up my room for the first Christmas holiday here in Romania that I would spend without the people that I love. I came across an electric light, in golden cardboard paper, made in China, and in the shape of a 3 dimensional star, for the low, low price of what amounted to less than 4 US dollars. Taking it back to the house with the rest of the little items that I could afford and some candy for good company, I assembled it, hung it on the door next to my bed in my Peace Corps "hut", and proceeded to go about my day. Praying for some miraculous event was not a priority. The snow was falling again, my room was cold, I needed to stoke the fire, and that was that. I did not know it yet, but there were wonderful things about to happen.

Miracles, some say, do not exist. They do not live in the practical world, the world of actuality, the world of secular sanity. Some even say that folks who believe in them are doomed to fail and to be forever lost in a world of fantasy beliefs.

I say bunk.

I say---You haven’t spent the holidays living among the people in the countryside of Romania.

Beginning with Christmas Eve, I would have surprise after surprise, blessing after blessing, and feelings that I thought were lost, were again found, time and time again. In small doses, rapidly and with the energetic spark of light that shone each night beside my bed from that star which I hung up for luck.

At first I thought, no. The world has offered me people who are cold and narrow-minded. I have seen and heard things that are too ugly to absorb. I have encountered those whose misplaced ego, greed and lack of true compassion deadens my senses. I have known those who do not have conscience about the shame that they bring down on themselves and others by their actions. I have a sickness in my heart that will never die for the way that others misuse the trust and love given to them as a powerful vehicle for a means to a wholly personal and selfish end. For some, disrespect and disloyalty are the only comforts they will ever know. In them, there are no gifts.

But now, I have learned that here, in this place, there are moments every day filled with the capacity of love that I might never have known if I had not lived it. Christmastime brought a host of wonderfully ancient traditions, most of which included the talent, goodness, and loving smiles of the children whom I teach here. On occasion after occasion, during the entire week, I was met with evidence that, yes, love exists. Not the kind of love that is spoken without true devotion, but the kind which you can keep close to you, without fear, without reservation. The kind that has meaning and unfathomable generosity. The kind that nurtures your soul.

All of the moments, from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day have been memorable, surpassed by none ever in my life, and are sure to be forever burned into my heart. Just when I thought that the surprises were over, more came and in droves. Today was Epiphany, and I walked as I normally do each Wednesday, to one of the village schools here, as the snow fell and the river flowed nearby. The mountains kept the cold from biting too much as they held on to the winding, lean-to, sun-bleached fences with their tattooed faces from visits many and often by the woodpeckers in residence. There were bird songs, cow ballads, sheep salutations, and turkey calls along the way and as I made my trek up the hill, I looked forward to seeing the third and fourth graders who I knew were waiting for me.

In class, I was given a slew of hand-made Christmas cards and then we all sang in a circle as I had asked the children to teach me a few new songs. From carols to the Romanian national anthem we sang, the children laughed, I felt speechless, and we held hands. The morning was sunny and excitement filled the air inside our classroom. Recess came and we went outdoors. I watched the boys and girls sliding down the hillside and running and laughing up a storm. Next, a snack of milk and bread, utter chaos, and then I read them a story. The children reread the story aloud one by one and then crowded around as it was time for us to go. I was on my way to the Orthodox biserica back in my village for the Epiphany service and the children asked if I could go with them to the church there. At first I declined and said that I needed to get back to the church in the center of the communa, but after I debated for a few minutes, I then decided to go with them rather than making the walk back alone. The uproar was enormous. All of the children grabbed their coats and rushed me out the door and down the road to the church at the top of the hill. There were over thirty of us, along with the first and second graders, and on the way, we met some cows, took photos of the goats and the scenery we encountered, spoke to some of the villagers, then entered the church together.

The little ones huddled around and the service was beautiful. There was a gorgeously decorated tree with tinsel, bells, candy, hearts, and glittering ornaments made by the children in the transept and the candles were lit to illuminate the silver icons and the frescoes of biblical scenes above and aside of us. We knelt together, the chalice was brought out to kiss our heads, the children came and went like little butterflies (first next to me, then behind me, then in front of me at times),and after many recitations and reflections, a large brass lantern with candles came down from the ceiling which was then raised and lowered again. I lit my customary two candles as I do every week in biserica--one for my loved ones who have died, and one for those I love the most here on earth---then, making our way toward the front all together, we each received the holy bread from the preot, wrapping it in the colorful paper cut from the daily news pages that was passed around by the parishioners in front of us. After that, we all went outdoors where a beautiful cross made of ice was dressed with flowers and all around it were candles and buckets of water holding dried herbs on three tables making an altar. The children, and many others, lit all of the candles for some minutes as the townspeople waited for the rest of the service to start. The floor of the snow-covered ground was dressed with a huge mass of dried hay as the preot continued this Epiphany service outdoors under the tall and glistening white mountains. I watched, grateful, as the sun shone on the church’s tin spires, and the snow came down in cool, soft pellets. During the readings, there were six men who each shot off hunting rifles and vintage shotguns one at a time into the air as the crowd, many of them old ones, looked on from this circle. The readings ended and we all took with us an empty bottle to fill with water from the buckets that had been blessed along with a generous handful of the hay.

Afterwards, inside the church, the children all got a package filled with candies, gloves, small gifts, and other things, at which time I was invited to enjoy a glass of hot wine and conversation along with the preot, the mayor and his group of friends. It is not customary in the Orthodox church for women to discuss and socialize with men here on the right side of the church, but as I am the visitor, the teacher, the Peace Corps volunteer in resident, the person, the woman, who people have come to know, I was asked to stay. It was a time for me to reflect upon the day and the goodness of the people who have invited me here. They all continue to be the solace and the strength that I need to go on every day.

In the end, the walk was clear and refreshing. I had bared my feelings once again to God and to others. I was renewed and grateful for this day, grateful for the times that I continued to have these past weeks. The Christmas tree, the carolers, the bear parades, the bands, the dinners, the gifts, the lights, the rituals, the snow, the sledding, the talking, the hand-holding, the love. And despite not being able to share all of it with anyone from my other life who truly knows me, I could now relish the meanings and the beauty of it all. Although the tremendous things that happen here and the simple beauty which I see every day does not fully erase those things which taint and sour it underneath, still, it is livable and it is a gift.

Tonight, I once again thought to myself not only about these holidays, but about all that had happened over the past year. I checked the sprig of basil that was placed under my pillow four nights ago by my neighboring preot (just to make sure it was still there.) And then I turned on the star next to my bed. I have decided that it will be a kind of symbol of my good fortune here. And so, I will leave it up-at least for a while.

Lastly, I pray every day for miracles. I pray each night for the people in my life who I wish could see what I see. I pray for them to see what they refuse to see. I pray for those whose lives are closed and not open to the wonders of all things. And at the end of the day, I pray that I will live a life that is good and long so that I may return home to tell about these moments of joy in Romania.

Just another day in Paradise

Just another day in Paradise

To Welcome Me to the Biserica

MISTO!

MISTO!
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