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!