Saturday, July 16, 2011

To be continued...

They say it ain't over till it's over and I guess that's why I decided to request to extend my stay here as a Peace Corps volunteer in Romania. It's been a long while since the first day in this place and the 50,000 plus photos and video are only part of the story that I've been able to share with others around the world. The real story is how others and myself have changed through the process of my service. It's obvious in the classroom for those whom I've taught and in the language skills I've acquired. But not so obvious in the details which are imbedded in my memory and that of others. Those things that we've experienced together, the children and I, their parents, my Romanian colleagues, the friends that I've made, and other volunteers who've been a part of that with me in these past two years.

I will adore telling these stories, although at times it will be sad or frustrating as there will be distance and time between us. Each day that passes there are many moments which I want to capture forever and I've tried to record everything that I could, but it's never the lens, the personal one, which we feel in our heart when there is a laugh, a smile, a touched hand, a view, a taste, a feeling that is all yours. As Peace Corps volunteers, those of us who put our whole selves in while away for 27 months, there is nothing that compares to the time which we spend away. That's the reason I asked to stay on and I know that it will all be worth any sacrifice which may come. After our country director and Washington agreed that it would be a benefit to the program for me to continue into 2012, I thought about how much I'd been able to accomplish and what a large responsibility I still had before me to put forth the best of what President Kennedy envisioned to other people who live far away.

The difference is that now, after twenty seven months, there are friends here, friends who are just as loved and admired as those I had before. There are children who will know things that I only I could teach them, the hundreds of them in Moldavia and elsewhere across Romania. There was the visiting, the adapting,the conversations about life, differences and similarities, the church-going, the cooking, the funerals, the christenings, the birthdays,the walks, the vacations, the work, the play and all the other things to never forget. There are familiar places, sights and sounds that I will be able to revisit to recapture once more. All of that and much, much more is on the horizon again. Also, many of you have ridden along with me by reading this blog, commenting on my Facebook posts or CNN iReports, or reading the articles which I've written for ACUM and Peace Corps publications in order to know a bit about the life here with all the people who've I've touched and touched me. And I am so grateful.

So into the next year, I will try to make more of a mark each day, just as I've tried to do each morning of each day since May 28th of 2009. And I do hope that you'll come along with me on this journey about Romania, whether you have a minute to view a picture or video, a coffee break to read a story, or a half and hour to write here to see what's going on. It has been a joy to be able to send home the message that despite our different nationalities, we are all a part of the same great big family.

Reporting from Romania Peace Corps, this is Natalie, looking forward to tomorrow in this wonderful world.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

This is Only the Beginning

"Be the person God meant for you to be and you will set the world on fire"-St. Catherine of Siena (Best quote from the Royal Wedding said by the Archbishop of Canterbury in his address to the newlyweds The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the congregation at Westminster Abbey)

Setting the world on fire isn't the easiest thing to do. Oftentimes things get in the way such as life's inconveniences and tragedies alike. But we try and try again despite the energy that it takes to do battle and the hope which sometimes gets lost amid the darkness of the day's events. As our world goes on around us, we can either choose to let it come crashing down and suffocate us or we can be strong and lift ourselves above what is happening to create a light on earth that can be seen by everyone else.

This month, we celebrate a new beginning, another triumphant time of the resurrection, another look into our God-given souls for the love and the trust to begin again, somehow saved from all that would try to extinguish our flames. On Easter, the celebratory candles continue to provide a guiding light into the way in which many of us pursue our heretofore unrevealed destinies.

I feature the photo of these lilies which I'd picked on Easter Sunday from a hill in Transylvania as a symbol, as was with the marriage bouquet of Kate Middleton, a commoner no more, in order to remind myself of all that can be accomplished, and all which should be remembered at this Easter season. We are all uncommon, really, and in that regard, all have the potential to bring to the world our own unique brand of light. Our individual impact is important and essential and when we look into the eyes of others, we can choose to deny that or choose to embrace it as we embrace the air in our lungs.

The folkloric meaning of these lilies is as follows:

It is said to be symbolic of a return to happiness, a purity of heart, a sweetness, the representation of the tears of the Virgin Mary, a completeness, and love's good fortune. The legend of the lily of the valley is that it sprang from Eve's tears when she was banished from the Garden of Eden. Known as the flower of the month of May, it is also believed to be a protector for gardens and living things.

On Easter and in the days and years that will always follow, we can have joy in our hearts for what God has given to us and make the most of what we have in order to bring a spirit and an unselfish gift of ourselves to others.

As a Peace Corps volunteer, that's an easy task. We are given the stage to open the minds of our neighbors and those of ourselves to the differences, the similarities and the wonders that exist far away from the confines and the comfort of what is familiar. We are able to open doors and make strides toward that person that God means for us to be. As Peace Corps family together we go into the future never to be the same again and we can know that we burn bright and have much to be grateful for.

Over the next year after checking in for a bit in the US, I'll also be trying to set the world on fire, with God's help, as I'll now have the privilege to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer once again for an extension of my tour here in Romania. And when Eastertime rolls around again, next spring in my Romanian-Hungarian town, I'll have more to be thankful for, to be proud of, to learn about, and to share with my friends and family around the globe-God willing.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Thoughts on Being Over Fifty... the over-50 Peace Corps:

You, my friend,

Are fifty.

Old enough to-

Speak your mind

Abandon convention

Decide for yourself

Surprise the heck out of them

Welcome your spirit

Be a kid when you want

Worship the sun

Nurture free time

Travel the world

Relish alone time

Feel like a woman

Grab the brass ring

Enjoy being alive

Kick up a storm

Master singing and dancing

And wish upon a star

To follow who you are

At fifty.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Ringing in the New

Here I am, 19 months and 11 days since embarking on a journey in the U.S. Peace Corps which has taken me from East to West Romania traveling throughout this country of contrasts, all the while making a conscious effort to share the experience with audiences near and far. It's difficult sometimes to try to express the emotions which come with being in this position. On any given day, I have short and long conversations with people who may or may not remain in my life. Whether it be in Romanian (which most times it is) or in English peppered with Hungarian (a more frequent occurence these days here in Transylvania), I've gotten used to the nature of my existence and every day go to bed with an attitude of thankfulness waking up with the knowledge and the responsibility of what it means to be a Peace Corps volunteer. Many have asked me why I do what I do. They've gotten an earful of my President Kennedy commitment, the insight into how this mission has affected my choices along the way, and a sense of one person's European-American globally grounded outlook with a large dose of personal belief that open and honest extensions of friendship will inevitably change the way we all may view our own corner of the world. I've visited families, taught hundreds of children, seen spectacular architecture, worshiped in historic churches, braved the winters I'd left behind in New England long ago, learned about things I've never expected, and made the most of every minute s a volunteer abroad. Now, well into year-two of my service, I've had a hard time realizing that my birthplace still exists and that one day, certainly, I will tell these stories of Romania and all its people whom I've come to know from across the miles instead. It's not a day which I look forward to, although I miss my friends and family who've been beside me in spirit all the way. I think about how I can inspire others who might wish to take a similar journey Surely there will be years...the rest of my retell, relate, and renew the times of this life which are already seeming too brief. Those times which are a part of me now, the present, which will someday migrate to the past, and which will become the fabric in the veritable quilt of these years spent overseas. All the words in the English language cannot do enough to describe sufficiently the who, what, when, where and how of the life I've had here in Romania. There are days which I feel as if I've always been here, and other days when I catch the edge of the sun going down and with it a glimpse of the life I once had in South Carolina. Neither is it a life without meaning nor is it without gratitude. Either in the United States or in Romania, I have been blessed (it's only the way I see it) with great memories, cursed by situations out of my control, and gifted with a fresh outlook while being touched by visions of my own Eastern European ancestry on my mother's side through present-day traditions still being performed diligently and religiously here in this country. The first part of my service began in training, then it brought me to Moldavia and ultimately here into the Transylvanian heartland. Romania has had its surprises and I've been changed forever by them. Even in the moments when there have been hardships, there has never been a time when I've allowed those negative circumstances to deter me from what I believe to be the most important work of my life. I've had to say heartbreaking goodbyes, back in the U.S. because of death or distance, and here in-country as well. But either here or there, because we are human, our brains dictate that we feel both pleasure and pain sometimes unexpected and undeserved, but in all ways valuable to who and what we will become. Until that day when we take our last breath, we can choose to be vulnerable to all of it, or not. I've chosen this path to be that willing subject of life's never-ending roller coaster of joy and disappointment, effort and effortlessness, work and rest, comfort and discomfort, conformity and enormity, love and loss, success, promises broken, challenges and change. My Peace Corps life has been that every step of the way. And now that 2010 has come to a close, I can safely say that "ringing in the new" in 2011 was just as exciting as it was on the brink of 2010. Then as now, I see the hope and the realization of yet some more dreams made possible by those simple words said almost 50 years ago. From far away along the airwaves and into a black and white television set to a modest home back in Providence, Rhode Island, the voice had sincerely asked what we could do for our country and now all these years later, the Peace Corps has answered time and time again. Now, I can leave behind "auld aquaintances", yet still keep them close, taking another few steps each day and another giant leap of faith into this next year and beyond without abandoning the old or the dear or the familiar. Here's to 2010: Romania days to remember---for its friendships, its celebrations, its enlightenments, and always and forever, its praises---as a Peace Corps life in living color. La Multi Ani!

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