Thursday, December 29, 2011

Merry Christmas!

We had a wonderful Christmas! Some of our best experiences included:

Christmas Morning in Pascani

1) Christmas concert performed by 30 local priests.

Colinde by the Priests

2) Visits from volunteers Stephen, Anthony, Abby, and Aran.
3) Carolers on Christmas Eve, including two groups of Theron's students.

12A Stops by to Sing

4) Anthony's spaghetti sauce, which ended up feeding all of us for a week.
5) Decorating our Christmas tree with popcorn garland made by Theron and Anthony, and ornaments made by my 3rd graders. (The 3rd graders win.)
6) Christmas "breakfast" at the Judele's house including pork roast and sausage, fresh from the slaughter, and lots of homemade alcohol starting at 9:00 a.m.

Anthony, Theron, Stephen, Lucia, Sarah, Mădălina & Cristi

7) Traditional Moldovan Christmas meal (including răcitură, a meat jello) prepared by one of Theron's counterparts and her husband.

Răcitură!

8) Party for St. Stephen's Day which is the name day of Theron's principal's husband. "Name days" or "saint days" are like second birthdays based your name and the Orthodox calendar.
9) Seeing mini "parades" of people in traditional costumes playing traditional music, or in goat and bear costumes dancing.

A Christmas Parade

10) Knowing that New Year's is celebrated for three days and we still have two more weeks of vacation!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Well Done, Google!

Happy Ziua Naționiăl a României! Today is a Romanian holiday that celebrates the unification of Romania as a country. For most of its history, Romania has been occupied by foreign invaders. This holiday is celebrated with great pride, including school programs, parades, town-wide celebrations with music and dancing, and the ever present Romanian food, sarmale.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Intricacies of the Romanian Postal "System"

When I was a kid, one of my favorite TV shows was Young Riders, an action/drama about the beginnings of the Pony Express with lots of horse riding, show-downs, etc. Let's just say that my experiences with the Romanian Poștă are vaguely reminiscent.



The post office will not deliver international packages to our town; they will only deliver them to the county capital. Our county capital is an hour and a half by train. The post office is only open during the week and only the person whose name is on the package can pick it up. This makes holding down a job and receiving packages a difficult combo. Luckily we have a friend, Melissa, who lives in the capital of a neighboring county. It's also about an hour and a half way. So we have the packages sent to her - WITHOUT our names anywhere on the box. She can pick them up between 8 am and 12 pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It's unclear why the postal workers are not able to touch the boxes at other times.

Around the beginning of October, my dad sent us two boxes (yeah!). However, after five weeks they hadn't arrived. I called Melissa every week to check on the packages, but she never received a slip indicating that they had arrived. Finally my dad confirmed that the US Postal Service had delivered them to Romania three weeks ago. Another quirk of the Romanian system is that if packages are not picked up after 10 days, they will be returned to the sender. We were way past this time and figured that the packages were already westbound over the Atlantic. Finally, I begged Melissa to go the the post office and ask about them. She promised to do it the very next day.

The next morning at school, a random student came up to her and told her that she needed to pick up her packages immediately, or her dad (apparently the postman) would be forced to send them back to America. You heard this right; Melissa lives in the capital of her county, a city of 200,000 people, and she was informed about her packages by an eight year old. It's my hunch that the girl had been instructed weeks earlier to tell Melissa about the packages in lieu of the normal slip. Later that afternoon, Melissa was able to pick up the packages and was only charged a small "storage fee." But he drove her and the two boxes to her apartment, so all was good in the end... just like every episode of the Young Riders.

Monday, November 21, 2011

IASIMUN and More Fame

This past weekend five of my high school students participated in IASIMUN, a Model United Nations conference in the nearby city of Iași. It took place at Racovița High School, voted the best high school in România. I was extremely proud of my students, who held their own in the debates and were able to come away from the conference more confident and excited about participating in things like this in the future. The students debated issues ranging from the ethics of assisted suicide to the politics of the Jasmine Revolution, all in English.

Yet again, I took one for the team and appeared on the news in an interview. You will find an interview with another Peace Corps Volunteer, Amanda, for the first minute, and then you can find me at the three minute mark. This interview was in English, so I felt quite a bit more comfortable in front of the camera!

I am really looking forward to this conference next year. I am excited to know the format and what is expected of the students, and I am hoping to do a much better job to prepare them. For more information, you can go to iasimun.org.


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Hram in the Countryside

"Oh my God! What happened here? Look at all the blood!" exclaimed Sarah.

"Oh, that?" answered ten year old Mădălina cheerily. "Grandma just killed a chicken for dinner. After you help clean it, he'll kill a couple of rabbits for tomorrow. Theron, want to watch? Don't forget your camera!"

Welcome to the Romanian countryside! Sarah and I spent the weekend in with our friends, Lucia and Cristi, and their families for a hram in the village of Lunca Moldovei. I'm still not quite sure what "hram" means, but from my experience it's a lot of cooking, eating, drinking, dancing and conversing (in Romanian of course).

Grandma

As for the animal slaughtering, I consider this an easing into Christmas, where the tradition is to slaughter and roast a full size pig. I hear that the pig is going to be enormous. Don't forget Easter either, where we'll be eating fresh mutton (sheep) and goat.

This weekend we heard that you should not participate in the killing of an animal if you're going to be upset by it. This isn't for your benefit, but for the animal's. According to Romanians, your sadness will prolong the agony and death of the animal. Many members of the family have never even seen a chicken killed - they have always made sure they're somewhere else when it happens.

One of the coolest things about helping to clean the chicken was that there were eggs in there! There was one ready to be laid, with a hard shell. That one was taken out to fry up for dinner. There were a bunch of other ones in various stages of "doneness." They were bright red and soft, as though they were made of blood. I was pretty surprised to find that we just left them attached to the carcass when we threw it into the soup. We also tossed in the head (minus the beak), liver, neck, feet, heart, and stomach (aka gizzard). I was lucky enough not to find a chicken head in my soup, but I did get a heart and part of the gizzard. Sorry for the joke, but it really did taste like chicken!

As promised, we ate all four of the rabbits the next day. Lucia's brother, Vali, seasoned them and roasted them on a rotisserie over an open fire. All table manners disappeared when the rabbits were ready. A hoard of people literally tore off chunks with their fingers, swore at the heat of the meat, and smiled from ear to ear when they finally got a taste.

We cooked all of the food in a tiny room separate from the house, which they called the kitchen. The kitchen had no running water in it, even though there was running water in the house. Even though it was called the kitchen there was a bed in there, where people came to chit chat or to rest between some cooking task. Since the door was constantly being opened and closed, everyone was clothed in tons of layers and stocking caps while they cooked.

Sarah Bundled Up in the Kitchen

Everything is cooked on a huge wood stove, called a soba. There was a metal plate right above the fire where you could add or remove rings to expose a pot directly to the flames. I think this helped to regulate the temperature on the food. Despite the primitive way to regulate the temperature, I never saw any of the food burn, whereas we burn stuff on our gas stove at home pretty much daily.

There was also a huge ceramic tile section on the soba that warmed the room. Many of the Peace Corps volunteers here use a soba to heat their homes. As for us, we just turn a knob and our radiators get hot. Posh Corps!

We learned a few subtleties of the language while we were there. For example, to get a cat out of the room you yell "câț" (which sounds like a mixture between "cuts" and "kits", and you have to really pronounce that last 's' like cutssss). But to get a chicken out of the room you yell "huș" (which sounds like "whoosh"). There's another word to get a dog out, but I liked the dog so I didn't use it much, and forgot what it was! There are also three completely different words to get these animals to come to you. I'm almost positive these are specific to Moldova. What a language!

Drumul cu Ceață

The weekend was exhausting. And absolutely fantastic. This really is the kind of experience that we dreamed of when we decided to join the Peace Corps way back when. We're still learning new things about the culture, the language and the people of Romania every day, and we've still got almost two years to go. Who knows what treasures we'll discover!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

PST - The T Stands For Talent

We had fun in Pre-Service Training, aka PST for those in the know, especially near the end of it. One afternoon we got a taste of a few of the talents in our group.

Nick played the guitar while Grant led an awesome hula that included all of the Hawaiians in our group (Jessica & Denise) and a few guests (Raluca & Krisztina).

Ester was able to recite all fifty states in an incredibly short time, both forwards and backwards if you can believe it. Going backwards went so fast we didn't even have time for a picture! Anthony acted as the official timer.

Yours truly juggled a few apples, but mostly dropped them. I edited out any proof of the drops in the photo set below, though!

Kelly sang "I'm My Own Grandpa" entirely from memory. I'll have to have her explain that one to me someday.

Matt channeled Chewbacca. I still don't understand the gum on the forehead.

Whitley made everyone cry, and I mean everyone, with a beautiful poem about our time together.

Aran and Jason gave a lecture on a very specific dialect of American English - Rhode Islandese. They also made everyone cry, this time from laughter. Jovanka volunteered at one point in the lesson, although I'm still not sure for what.

Jon surprised us all with his uncanny ability to impersonate everyday people, namely us. I didn't make the cut, but Jeremy, Aran, Grant and Paula all got skewered.

Barbara showed off her newfound language skills and recited a poem to the group în limba româna!

Lindsey doubled up on the talents. First she displayed some serious gymnastic skills. Then she joined the west coast California crowd, including Kelly, Megan and Meg, with an original rap entitled "Tell Me When To Mergi." This was a serious highlight, full of inside jokes for both the California and the PST crowds.

Last, but definitely not least, you can see some great photographs taken by Melissa in the slideshow below.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Romanian Dancing

Wow I'm behind on editing my photos. Here are a few from way back in June, during a fun lesson on Romanian dances.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Plunging In

Who knew that you could find a friend while looking for a plunger? When we first moved to Pașcani, we wandered around town trying to find the things we needed for our apartment. Our toilet is pretty awful, so we went to the hardware store to find a plunger. Of course, we didn't know the Romanian word. So, like always, we started gesturing and using our limited vocabulary to explain. (Somehow these gestures seemed a little inappropriate to me, but when you have to get your point across....) The clerk engaged in our game of charades and we struck up a conversation. She was patient, kind, and interested in our story. Most importantly, we could understand her Romanian accent and she spoke slowly! Even though her store was across town, we returned to visit her each time we needed something. After going to the store three times, I asked her to be my Romanian tutor. And now we've become friends with her family. We've cooked sarmale, gone out for ice cream, visited their families in the country (which included a whirlwind tour of many of the monasteries nearby), and learned a lot of Romanian. This friendship is perhaps my proudest accomplishment of the last 5 months.


Lucia, Mădălina & Cristi at Mănăstirea Sihăstria

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Fame

School has started out here in Romania! Sarah had her first classes yesterday. I haven't gotten a schedule yet, but I have been dropping by my school regularly to stay in touch. When I popped in yesterday to sign some paperwork, cameras were waiting, and I did a surprise interview with the local press. All I could think was "good thing I wore a collared shirt!" Little did I know I should have been thinking about a grammatically correct sentence in Romanian.... Didn't exactly knock that one out of the park.

(Theron and his counterpart, Roxana)

If you speak Romanian, or are just curious to see my principal and shots of my school, zip to minute 7. If you want to skip to me, go to 10.

Here's the link to the News Pașcani interview.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Târgoviște Wanderings

Bran Castle

Way back in June, Sarah and I took a trip to visit what is popularly known as Dracula's Castle with the father of our host family, Jovanka, and Candice. Turns out that the castle has nothing to do with either the Bram Stoker book, or the historical prince the book was based on. It's just the most prominent castle in Transylvania and someone was really good at marketing. But, the castle is still lovely and we had a great time.

On the way up we stopped at a memorial site for one our host father's relatives that was killed by the securitate during the Ceaușescu regime. We also visited a memorial for a large battle fought in WWI in the area. We got a long tour in Romanian by someone at a small museum. I think Jo understood most of it, but I was clueless.

Don't miss the picture of Jo starting the biggest curent ever felt in Transylvania. Curent is what we would call a breeze or a draft, but here it is considered extremely dangerous to your health. Jo seems to revel in this risky behavior. And definitely don't miss the gummy Dracula teeth. They're scary sweet.

After the photos, I have included a text that we saw in the castle about a more ancient demonic myth, similar to vampires. My favorite part is how dangerous it is for a woman to go outside without covering her head.



Strigoi

In Romanian Mythology, Strigoi are the evil souls of the dead. The word is derived from the Romanian "striga," cognate with Italian, which means "witch."

The strigoi is born as any child, but they have a distinctive sign: a bonnet, a veil on the head or a nightgown. Such a child is given birth by a woman, who drank accursed water when she was pregnant, or when she went outside with nothing on her head. Then, Satan comes and puts a red bonnet on her head, just like the one he has. To prevent the child from turning into a strigoi, the bonnet must be removed off the child's head as soon as possible, or else the child takes the bonnet and swallows it undergoing the transformation.

A strigoi is said to be bald on top of his head. He does not eat onions or garlic, fears frankincense, and during St. Andrew's Night, he sleeps outside. His spinal cord is prolonged in a tail, covered in hair.

If there is drought in a village, it means that a strigoi exists there and hinders rain; if it rains and hail falls, then God is punishing the strigoi and if it rains while the sun is shining it is believed that a strigoi is getting married.

Infants who die not baptized, the dead who did nothing but bad deeds while they were alive, those who die of sudden deaths (hung, shot, drowned...), the sick who are not watched and walk over a cat, or the dead who have been walked over by cats, dogs, chickens or any other birds risk turning into one.

At full moon, they come out of their graves or leave their bodies and start dancing or doing all kinds of bad things. Their night is St. Andrew's Night (November 30).

The strigoi also steals cow milk, wheat, people's strength, hinders rain, brings about hail and death among people and animals. On St. George's Day (April 23), young men sprinkle water on young women so as not to be affected by the strigoi or turn into one.

In order to kill them, the grave of the one supposed to be a strigoi needs to be found and priests hold a religious service (but they are often powerless) and a stake, made of oak or ash tree, is driven through its heart, and then the creature is nailed to the coffin to prevent it from getting out and harming people.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Layover in Bucharest

One day, not too terribly long ago, we had a couple of hours to explore Bucharest, the capital of Romania. We didn't know where we were going or what to do there, but we had a fun time hanging out all the same.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Step-by-Step

When you move to a new country, you spend a lot of time not knowing how to do things. You don't know how to shower without a shower curtain. You don't know how to eat the whole tiny fried fish staring up at you. You don't know how to use the washing machine with its unknown symbols. If only there were step-by-step directions with pictures for all those little things we don't know how to do…


I have to admit that we definitely felt superior when we saw these directions for cereal. For the first time in months, we were the ones who didn't need instructions. When our friend saw our cereal box, she showed us this hilarious video of a comedian feeling superior about the directions that exist on pop tart boxes. Perhaps there are some Romanians out there who appreciate the instructions...


Friday, August 12, 2011

Pictures of Pașcani (and Nearby Monasteries)

Here are some photos of our new town. When we came to visit for the first time, Sarah's principal took us to visit a couple of monasteries in the area as well.

As you can see from the panoramic shots of Pașcani itself, it's not a terribly small town, but not exactly a big city either. A few of these shots are taken from our apartment (on the 10th floor). Another one is taken from the top of Scarile Mare, a giant staircase in the middle of town. The town is basically split in two, between Dealul (the hill) and Valea (the valley).

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

101 Stray Dogs

Everyone agrees that Romania has a stray dog problem. According to some, many dogs were abandoned when Ceaușescu forced people to move into bloc apartments. Now, packs of dogs roam the street. Many nights I'm reminded of a clip from 101 Dalmations. I wonder what alert is being sounded each night…


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Brașov

On our way to visit our site for the first time, we were able to stop in Brașov. It is an extraordinarily beautiful mountain city in Transylvania. While many cities in România have a distinctly Soviet feel to them, due to the bloc apartment buildings that were constructed during communism, Brașov looks and feels like a medieval European city. Unfortunately we did not have too much time there, and the tourist sites we tried to visit were closed because it was a national holiday. That just means we'll have to go back!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Parcul Chindia

The most historic part of Târgoviște is Parcul Chindia. We had been there plenty of times, but never actually did a tour of it until late in our stay. When our counterparts came to meet us, we decided it was the perfect excuse.

A decent source of information about the tower and princely courts is Wikipedia.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Tennis in Chindia Park

It wasn't all work and no play during training. I was able to get away for an evening of tennis with some trainees, volunteer leaders and a language instructor. I was hoping to learn a few new curse words in Romanian, but no luck there.

One strange thing to me was that the tennis court cost money, and quite a bit by my new standards. A court was 30 lei per hour. Since I played one-on-one for two hours, I had to pay a full 30. That's only $10 US, but it was enough to keep me away for the rest of my time in training. To put it into perspective, a 1/2 liter beer is usually about 4 lei (or $1.25).

The tennis courts are in a public park called Parcul Chindia, which literally means Sunset Park. It is a very historic area. I'll have more photos from the area tomorrow. The first statue is of Vlad Țepeș, aka Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula. The second statue is his father, Vlad Dracul. These guys lived back in the 1400s and are heroes of southern Romania. The tower, called Chindia Tower, was begun during the reign of Vlad Țepeș and the ruins were probably his royal courts.

Thanks to Jovanka for the tennis action photos! I was too busy getting crushed by Chris to take any myself.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Mânăstirea Dealu

One day, a bunch of us walked to a monastery near our town. It was constructed in the early 1500s, but many of the interior paintings are 20th century. Some of my favorite paintings here are very modern and done with pointillism. On the trek up to the monastery, there was also a beautiful view of the city of Târgoviște from the hillside; Mânăstire Dealu means Hill Monastery.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Arriving in Târgoviște

Here is the first set of some long overdue photos. We finally have stable internet, so I plan on posting links. These photos are all from the city of Târgoviște, our home town for the first couple of months.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Chindia Tower, Târgoviște


Sarah and Theron from Chindia Tower



One of our favorite places in Târgoviște was/is Chindia Park. It is a beautiful area including the castle ruins, the tower, and an amazing park. On any Saturday or Sunday, you could expect to find a group of Peace Corps trainees hanging out.

Chindia Castle

Chindia Tower

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Listener Discretion Advised

After 8 days at an English camp for 5-18 year olds, I can now officially speak on the topic of popular Romanian music. At 7:30 a.m. each morning, camp-wide wake-up music blared. We were also serenaded late into the night from the disco. Let's just say the playlist was short and not so sweet. I'd estimate that the same ten songs were repeated 3-5 times daily and many of the songs would not be allowed on American radio. I'm not sure if it is disheartening or funny to see 5 year old children belting out offensive lyrics that they don't understand.

One song that will get stuck in your head is called Dansul Pinguinului (Penguin's Dance). Think of it as the Romanian Bunny Hop. It involves two kicks to each side, a hop forward, a hop backwards, and two hops forward in a conga-style line. Everyone, and I mean everyone, in Romania knows how to do it. We even saw a two year old who could do the steps.




Here are a few of the popular yet appropriate songs for your listening pleasure...














Thursday, July 7, 2011

Suntem Voluntari

Today, our group of 36 trainees became volunteers. This means that we have completed our training and we are officially part of the Peace Corps for the next two years. We leave for our new home this weekend.

It was a beautiful and emotional day. Here is a picture taken of our group and our country director, Sheila Crowley. Click the pic for more sizes on Flickr, or here are direct links to large and huge.

Suntem Voluntarii

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Legacy

The Peace Corps Romania Country Director has let us know that we will be the last group to serve in Romania. I have mixed emotions about this, as you might expect. But overall, I am very excited that the country has made so much progress. On the other hand I can't say that we aren't needed here. Then again, every country in the world could use more people volunteering more often, and many other countries have an even greater need than Romania.

This year is the 20th anniversary of Peace Corps in Romania, and we will be about half way through the 23rd year when we finish. I feel very lucky to get the opportunity to be part of it. Our whole group hopes to leave a legacy worthy of the Peace Corps name and worthy of all of the efforts over these many years.

If you're interested, here is some more information about the announcement: http://www.romania-insider.com/peace-corps-to-end-its-program-in-romania-by-2013/27419/

Friday, June 24, 2011

The New Normal

We've been here 8 weeks now. Several things that I found different at the beginning of our adventure are now normal.
• I'm served french fries by my host mom on a near daily basis. Who knew I would ever be required to eat french fries?
• It's not illegal to pass a police car here. My host father is going to the States this fall, and I had to make it clear to him not to do this there.
• We don't look before we cross the street…sorry moms. If you look, it is seen as a sign of weakness by the driver and invites negotiation as to whether or not they will stop. It is safer to walk in front of them.
• I now rank bathrooms on a 5 star system. One star each is given for the existence of: toilet, seat, toilet paper, soap, and paper towels. Stars are deducted based on cleanliness. Rainbow colored toilet paper garners bonus points. It is almost always necessary to throw the paper in the bin next to the toilet instead of in the toilet, so this does not figure into the point system.
• We see horse drawn carts on a daily basis. The horses wear red tassels next to their eyes for good luck. They definitely need it, given the "rules" of the road here.
• Romanian women regularly wear dark colored bras under light colored, generally see-through shirts. Before some of you start thinking this is a great idea, keep in mind that this is done by women of all ages and sizes.
• Cross ventilation, even in the summer, is a sure way to be sick the next day. If there is a Romanian in the room, it is polite to sit and sweat. Many of you have seen me with my little fan. Apparently it is appropriate to create your own personal air circulation using one, because many Romanian women use them. I've started a trend among the women in our Peace Corps group. The guys are jealous and like to sit to our left where they can get a little breeze.



Out our front door

Monday, June 13, 2011

Going Home for the First Time

Sarah and I are off to our new home this morning. We will be living in a large town of about 40,000 people. It is in the Moldova region and in the county of Iași. Iași city is considered one of the cultural centers of the country and will only be about an hour train ride from our town.

I'll be teaching high school (although my school goes down to the same age as 6th graders in the U.S.) and Sarah will be at the middle school (but teaching 2nd through 9th U.S.). We met our counterparts this weekend, who will be a major component of our support system as well as teachers in our schools. The first impressions were great and we're looking forward to getting to know them very well over the next two years.

My counterpart, Roxana, and her fiancee are driving us there and we'll get to go through Brașov, a major scenic town in Romania. This is really our first time getting to see any of the country, besides the city we have been in for all of training. We are so excited and can't wait to share our thoughts and pictures!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Practicum

In addition to our language classes, we have also been doing "practicum" for the past 4 weeks or so. This is a chance for us to observe an English teacher in her classroom, as well as slowly start to do some teaching ourselves.

The Romanian system is different from the U.S. system in a few ways. The most noticeable is that the students typically stay in one classroom while the teacher moves around. That also means that the students stay together in the same group all day long. From what I can tell, this same group will stay together for years at a time, and they are heavily tracked. If you are in IX-a, then you are the top of your class for the ninth grade. IX-b is the second best and on down the line, etc. IX-a will typically become X-a with very minor changes, if any.

This can be a practical issue for teachers, since they do not have the ability to make a classroom their own. They can't keep a poster on the wall with the alphabet or common vocabulary, for example. On the other hand, the students take ownership of a room, and student work is often displayed.

I started out in high school with a group of four other volunteers. This went quite well for me, and I finished our two weeks there by teaching a full lesson on what it takes to be a good teacher. I got a ton of help planning from Alicia, one of the Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders. She's just finishing up her third year here in Romania, and she was a teacher in the U.S. before moving here. My small personal contribution was having one of my volunteer colleagues (who was also in the room) call my cell phone during class. Then we proceeded to have a conversation about what we did last night in front of the class, as an example of bad teaching. Everyone seemed to have a good time and I think they learned a little bit of new vocabulary.

After this we moved to middle school. We observed for one day and then I dove into a seventh grade class on the second day. This time I got a ton of help planning from Sarah. But, I was extremely nervous to teach this lesson for some reason. It was on the topic of music, so it should have been right up my alley, but the class did not respond to me at all. Maybe I shouldn't have started with that Nietzsche quote….

You might think I'm kidding, but I'm not. The quote was, "Without music, life would be a mistake," and I only asked them to agree or disagree. In any case it didn't fly and I was flustered enough to never fully recover. I bailed on our Romanian counterpart and asked her to take over the next class, on the same topic and with the same level. She took my (read Sarah's) lesson plan and knocked it out of the park. That was the most interesting and revealing lesson for me. Her changes were subtle, but very important. When something wasn't working, she moved on without taking it personally. When the students weren't engaged, she tried a different tactic. She also has known them for years, but that doesn't guarantee she has a good relationship. It means that she has built it carefully over time.

We had our last practicum yesterday and had a conference with our counterparts today to review our experience. We also had something like a midterm exam on language. Today felt like a real turning point for me, and it feels like training is nearing its end. In reality we have four weeks left, but we find out our permanent sites tomorrow, we meet our long term counterparts on Friday, we have sessions all weekend, and then we leave for our sites on Monday to return next Thursday. Once we get back, we only have two full weeks of class and then we swear in. It will be over before I have time to think about it. That's very exciting and very scary!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Temă

Much has happened since we last posted, and I am going to try really hard to put a few posts up in quick succession, including a few new photos.

In the meantime, I figure that folks in the States are curious how our language skills are progressing. This weekend I was supposed to write in my journal for temă (homework). I thought a post of my homework (and a translation following) would show how much we can communicate in just 5 weeks. For this, I have to give a huge shout out to our amazing team of language teachers. So far we've had three different teachers. Mine have been Simona, Octavian and Raluca.

This will also give you a sense of what our life is like here. A sneak peek: it is definitely not what I thought of as the stereotypical Peace Corps weekend.


Noaptea trecut eu, Sarah, și colegii am mers pe jos în centru. Înainte de cina eu am cumpărat o carte în limba română, "Atacul Mutanților." Kevin a citit asta carte în engleză când a fost mai tânăr, și a amintit învelitoarea cârții.

Apoi, noi am mers la papetarie. Au avut multe pixuri, caiete și altceva. Lânga mazin era un magazin de mâncare naturala. Vânzatoara a vorbit cu mine despre produsele ei. Ea a avut ciocolata fără zahar, și sare din mare și din atlantic. Toate produsele au fost foarte scumpe.

Mai târziu noi am mers la restaurantul C&C. Am luat cina și am băut bere. Eu am mâncat pizza quattro stagione. A avut o parte cu salam, alta parte cu șunca, alta parte cu măsline și porumb, și ultima parte cu roșii și ciuperci. A fost gustoasă!

Dupa china noi am vrut desert, deci am mers la restaurantul San Marco. Multe persoane au mâncat ciocolata caldă. A fost o budincă, nu a fost o băutură.

Dimineața eu, Sarah și gazdele mele am mers cu mașina în oraș la parastas. Am ajuns târziu pentru biserica și cimitir, dar am pus niște flori pe mormânt. Noi am mers pe jos din cimitir la casa mamei decedatului. Alt voluntar, Jason, a fost la casă pentru că decedatul era fratele gazdei lor. Eu am băut niște țuica și un pahar de vin alb cu apă minerală. Noi am mâncat supă cu tăiței, brânză, doa feluri de sarmale, mămăligă, și prajitura. Noi am mâncat pește și șnițel de porc de asemenea.

Acum eu fac temă, ascult musică, beau cafea și apa, și insectele mă enervează. Eu sunt afară, si cu excepția insectelor este foarte frumos și agreabil.

Mâine vom avea o zi liber. Nu știu ce voi face. Poate voi cumpara spray de insectă!


Last night my classmates, Sarah and I walked to the town center. Before dinner I bought a Goosebumps book in Romanian, "Attack of the Mutants." Kevin had read this book in English when he was younger, and he remembered the book's cover.

After, we went to the office store. They had many pens, notebooks and other stuff. Next to the store is a natural food store. The woman who works there told me about her products. She had chocolate without sugar, and salt from the sea and from the Atlantic. All of the products were very expensive.

Later we went to the restaurant C&C. We had dinner and drank beer. I had quattro stagione pizza. It had one part with pepperoni, another part with ham, another part with olives and corn and the last part had tomatoes and mushrooms. It was tasty!

After dinner we wanted dessert, so we went to the restaurant San Marco. A bunch of people ate hot chocolate. It was a pudding, not a drink.

This morning my host family, Sarah and I drove to the city for a parastas (anniversary of the death of a friend or relative). We arrived too late for church and the ceremony at the cemetery, but we put flowers on the grave. We walked from the cemetery to the deceased's mother's house. Another volunteer, Jason, was at the house because the deceased was his gazda's brother. I drank some țuica (strong, locally made plum brandy) and a glass of white wine with mineral water. We ate soup with homemade noodles, cheese, two types of sarmale (pickled cabbage or grape leaves stuffed with meat and rice), mămăligă (Romanian polenta or grits), and cakes. We also ate fish and pork schnitzel.

Now I'm doing my homework, listening to music, drinking coffee and water, and the insects are bugging me. I'm outside, and with the exception of the insects it is very beautiful and pleasant.

Tomorrow is a free day. I don't know what I'm going to do. Maybe I'll buy some bug spray!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Zarzare and Șuncă


Most of the food here is extremely similar to food in the U.S. and the rest of Europe. At our host family, we've had fried chicken, steak, pork chops, green salad with oil and vinegar dressing, apples, oranges, french fries and mashed potatoes. The emphasis is much more on meat, potatoes and cheese than our diet in the U.S. It is especially focused on salami, bologna, hot dogs and cheese; often what we get for our breakfast and lunch.

Despite the similarities, I have had a few new experiences in my three weeks here. On our first Sunday with our host family, we ate an excellent lunch of ciorbă (a slightly sour, meaty soup), followed by a large meal of pork chops and what is called orez pilaf (very similar to risotto). As we were finishing the meal, our host mom, Mioara, started telling us about a traditional grilled meat dish called mici (pronounced meech). Gabriel, our host father, told us that we'd get to try it at his son's place during a barbecue. Then they started to get up from the table and usher us along. He meant the barbecue was right now!
Photo by Gabriel Radic http://www.flickr.com/photos/gr/

It turns out that this was a major holiday in Romania similar to the U.S. Labor Day, where families get together to grill. It also turns out that their son, Robert, lives next door. So we walked outside, stuffed from rice, chops and soup, over to Robert's place for some mici. Needless to say, we found room for it and it was delicious. Imagine a meatball, but rolled out into the shape of a hot dog or sausage. There's no casing, but something in the recipe allows it to stay together. This time I asked what kind of meat was in it, and I think it was goat and pork. Sarah gently reminded me that maybe I shouldn't ask next time, because I might not want to know the answer.

Last weekend, I went on a walk to a beautiful monastery, called Mânăstire Dealu. We had the honor of joining in a junior high school field trip. There were two Romanian teachers of English, about fifteen Peace Corps Trainees and about 35 Romanian students. It is spring here in Târgoviște, and many of the Romanians were picking this small fruit from trees along the side of the road. It was a little bigger than a peanut, but soft and green. They were popping them like candy, but I was warned strongly to take a very small bite if I wanted to try it. They are called zarzare. Under-ripe as they are this time of year, they are one of the most sour and bitter things you can imagine. I found it not entirely unpleasant, but I stuck to a single berry. 

Sarah has been a bit sick as of late, with a very bad cough. Last night she skipped dinner entirely, so I was called from the couch at about 6:30 to "Hai să bea whisky." I joined Gabriel and Robert at the kitchen table for a shot of some nice Scotch, and munched on sunflower seeds. Gabriel and his son started a long, animated conversation in rapid Romanian. I was very happy if I could pick out a word or two. At one point Mioara tried to teach me how to open the seeds, and in broken Romanian and plenty of playacting, I attempted to explain that I have driven across the U.S. many times, spitting sunflower seeds out the window. That was my sole contribution to the conversation and it played for a big laugh.

Before too long, though, we got a plate of what looked like raw bacon placed on the middle of the table. Since I'm fast becoming a pro in situations like this, I kept my game face on, waited, and watched. Sure enough, Gabriel got a look of delight on his face, said, "Yum! Șuncă!," grabbed a piece and popped it in his mouth. Following suit, I did the same. On the șuncă, there was about a half inch of pure white fat and then a thin line of something clear. The clear line was harder to chew, but Gabriel had not spit anything out, so I soldiered on. Now that I knew what to expect, I found that it was quite good. From what I can gather, this is the wikipedia entry for it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salo_(food).

We weren't quite done with the oddities for this meal. Next, there was a call for usturoi and ceapă from Robert. Finally some words I know! But these are not usually things I would expect as side dishes. Usturoi is garlic and ceapă is onion. Out they came, perfectly raw. We skipped the ceapă and went straight to the garlic. Everyone got a clove or two, and you simply dipped them in salt and munched away. Frankly, I have always wanted to do this, but it is entirely socially unacceptable in America. This is my kind of country.

After a dinner of steak and french fries, I noticed Mioara was cooking more. I took a peek and noticed some small whole fish that she was dredging in flour and frying in a pan. I asked if these were for tomorrow, because I couldn't imagine that we would eat more. Note to self: if you are full, don't ask about what's being cooked because even if it is for tomorrow, you'll eat it now. The fish ended up on the table as a sort of dessert. I asked what type of fish they were and gathered that they were caught by a friend from a nearby river. Nobody here had a name for them, except "sweet fish." They were tasty, but a ton of work to get past all of the bones. Thankfully my experience taught me to wait for Gabriele to eat one first, and he stopped at the head.
Photo by Kristie's NaturePortraits: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kristieg/

If this is what I've experienced in three weeks, I can't wait to find what awaits me over the next two years!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Out of Place

It is so obvious to Romanians that we don't fit here. As we drive to school, my host father can point out other volunteers walking down the street. Perhaps our most obvious abnormality is our backpacks. One Romanian teacher asked us why we carry so much "luggage" to school.

I've also had some delightful experiences as the clearly out-of-place American. Students are so excited to meet Americans--so much so that I was asked for my autograph. Another student approached us on the bus and asked sweetly if she could talk with us in English. Theron and I were also offered seats on a crowded bus simply for being a guest in Romania. Who knew our 15 minutes of fame would come now?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Orange curtains and red pleather

It has rained every day since we've been in Târgoviște. Our school doesn't have heat and the temperatures have been in the forties and fifties. However, Romanians seem to have a penchant for orange curtains--including vertical blinds. When the occasional ray of sunlight bursts through them, it lights up the entire room. I never thought I'd say this, but we'll definitely be decorating in orange.

Another popular fabric in Romania is fake leather. I've seen black pleather pants, red pleather jackets, purple pleather skirts, and the ever-popular men's brown pleather bomber jackets. Will I soon be wearing pleather, too?

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Păcii

It looks like we have a puppy. Our gazda mamă found her outside and she has been staying in our house. She can not make it up the stairs, so we haven't had to decide whether we're going to kick her out of our bed.... yet.

Sarah has named her Păchii. If you are wondering what that means, you should be able to figure it out if I tell you how Sarah might introduce herself in Romanian: "Mă cheamă Sarah. Sunt voluntară la Corpul Păcii." My favorite thing is that "păcii" is pronounced "puh chee," and when Sarah first told me, I thought she said "poochie." How could you resist this cuteness?
Păcii Păcii Păcii!!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

First Impressions

It's hard to believe we've been in Târgoviște for only six days. It seems like much, much longer…in a good way. We've moved in with our host parents, Gabriel and Mioara. We have a nice room in a separate building from them. We eat at their house and spend our evenings with them while we study. Here are some first impressions:

Things we love about Romania:

1) Our host family is so generous. They insisted on buying our phones for us. They were $15 each plus an additional $15 each per month for service. While this doesn't seem like much, we only have $70 to our name, so this would have wiped us out.

2) To say you're full, you say m-am săturat. Literally translated this means I'm saturated. We have eaten so much! On Sunday we ate a huge lunch with soup and a main course. We then got up from the table and immediately went to a picnic next door where we were expected to eat more! It turns out it was a national holiday similar to our labor day, and families traditionally grill meat called mici (pronounced "meech").

3) We have met great people! The other trainees and the staff are wonderful. I feel completely confident in the language lessons we're receiving, our pre-teaching experiences, and medical care. Two more choice quotes from Dr. Dan: "Be careful what you chew on." and "If you put a cork in the muffler, that's not good."

4) Learning Romanian isn't impossible. Our language classes are conducted entirely in Romanian and we do our best to talk with our host family only in Romanian. It's amazing how much we already understand and can say. This is due mostly to the fact that language lessons are in groups of five, for four hours a day.

5) Our host mother thinks we're crazy for wanting to eat raw carrots and doesn't believe that there is such a thing as banana bread.

6) Theron loves that a double shot of espresso is $.40.

7) Today is Man's Day, so wish your favorite man la mulți ani de ziua bărbatului and buy him a beer!

Things we're still getting used to:

1) The bathrooms at school lack soap, toilet paper, and toilet seats. Romanians are afraid some will steal them.

2) We're eating a lot of "hot dogs" for breakfast.

3) We don't have the freedom right now to choose what to eat, how much to eat, where to go, or how to get there. Either our host family decides, or we're following our schedule at school (9-5, five days a week).

4) The showers here don't have curtains or glass. It now takes me twice as long to shower (even though I use about 1/4 of the the water). I have to be very careful to keep the water in the tub. We haven't mastered this art yet.

5) It has rained every day since we've been here.

6) Our host family's 25 dogs, which live outdoors. They also have one very special pup named Molly who lives indoors.

Here are a few pictures of our room. We live by ourselves in this giant building that used to be a hotel and restaurant (we think). It has all kinds of passages and rooms we have yet to see.

This picture shows our favorite (very creaky) doorway, which we pass through to use the internet.


We'll post some pictures of the outdoors when it quits raining!

Finally, here's a picture of the view from our hotel room, where we stayed for our first two nights in Târgoviște.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Quote of the Day

One of our Peace Corps Medical Officers, known to most around here as Dr. Dan (but to some as Dapper Dan, and definitely not Lieutenant Dan) had the best quote of the day, "Remember, all butt itchings do not come from pinworms." I will be sure to keep this always in the forefront of my mind.

On a more serious note, even though this particular malady sounds horrible, I get the strong feeling we are in amazing hands with the medical staff here. They know exactly what we're in for these next couple of years, and they know exactly how to handle it.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

And We're Here!

We're a little jet lagged and a lot excited to have arrived in Târgoviște! We actually arrived about 4:15 PM local time, so for those keeping track we were on the road about 31 hours by the clock and 24 hours if you don't look at time changes.

Our hotel seems great (free wi-fi in the lobby), and the town is beautiful. Kelly, Sarah and I found a nice botanic gardens on a walk before dinner, which is going to start in about 15 minutes. We've got a full day of training tomorrow, and from what I hear we'll meet our host family on Saturday!

All of our compadres are excellent. There's a huge diversity in about every way you can imagine. We're slowly getting to know everyone, but I can already tell we've got a fantastic, energetic and motivated group. Romania, I hope you're ready for us!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

And We're Off...

Sarah and I officially became Peace Corps Trainees yesterday in Philadelphia, PA. This morning we hop on a bus to NYC at 9:15 AM and if all goes well, we should arrive in Târgoviște, Romania tomorrow at about 2:30 PM tomorrow. That's 29 1/2 hours on the clock and 22 1/2 hours to our bodies. Wish us luck, or as we'll be saying soon "noroc!"

Goodbyes


These past few weeks have been taken up with saying our last goodbyes. We're really lucky to have a large community of people whom we love and who love us right back. Unfortunately that means that leaving for two years has been all the more difficult. But, as one of our dearest friends, Posie, said, "Be happy you have people in your life that are hard to say goodbye to." I couldn't agree more but that hasn't made any of the goodbyes easier.

Some of these wonderful friends threw us a going away party a week ago. It was so nice to see everyone under one roof but tough to spend quality time with people. Sarah's parents provided the all-important drinks and some food, Marjorie provided her house and more food, and Ted, Linna, and Posie helped with even more food. It all went off perfectly, and we even had a beautiful day for people to hang out on the deck.

Then last week, we had practically every "last" meal planned with someone. Plenty of tears were shed during the week as we faced the reality of not seeing our friends and family for two years. We were lucky enough to have an intimate Easter dinner with our closest family and friends. Dan gave a beautiful prayer, tying together the promise of safety in Passover, the idea of rebirth from Easter, and our journey. Carol cooked an amazing meal.

The highlight of our departure was the fact that Theron's brother, his wife, and both of Sarah's parents were able to see us off at the airport. The LaBountys drove to and from Mitchell, NE today, six hours round trip. We're feeling the love!

There is some consolation about leaving because of the communication possibilities of the Internet. But even if we do have 24-7 video chat, it's not going to be the same as giving Posie a call for a last minute burger night; dropping by Ted and Linna's place for Chinese Hot Pot, and playing hide and seek with Cameron and Kate; or walking over to Marjorie's house for a late night philosophical discussion. Nor will it be the same as spending time with Sarah's family.

Now we're off for one more round of goodbyes before our first round of hellos. In Philadelphia, we're meeting with our long time friends Clara, Frank, Lindsay, Miren, and Robb. They all just happen to live in Philadelphia (Except Clara who timed her vacation to Philly to coincide with us!). We are so lucky to see these awesome friends before we go. It brings tears to my eyes.

We've been reminded many times that we'll make new friends and that two years from now we'll be saying more goodbyes as we head back to the U.S. No doubt that's true, but it definitely doesn't make these goodbyes any easier. We are excited to start this journey together but leaving still sucks. Tomorrow we meet Peace Corps Romania Group 28 face to face for the first time. All of the goodbyes will be worth it worth it when we leave Romania with new friend-for-life friends.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Trip to Omaha

Last weekend we were able to make a quick trip to Omaha to visit Sarah's extended family. We had a great trip! It was wonderful to see everyone. The highlight was definitely my grandpa's concert. Thanks to the Kafkas for hosting us and the Riggles for loaning us their car. Here are a few pictures:

Tom & Carter

Sarah, Teta & Theron

Lisa, Sarah, Theron & Sheena

Debbie & Krista

Ben

Bapi

Theron, Angie & Sarah


Amy & Sarah

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Stuff

Twenty eight days to go. I'm going to sit here and let that sink in for a moment. Less than one month. Slow inhale. Slow exhale. Relax. It's all going to be OK.

We decided to take five weeks off of work before we leave for Romania, so we've been off for a week now. For both of us it was the bittersweet ending of great jobs. But we haven't missed work once. I'm sure that part of the reason we haven't missed work is the insanity of getting ready for our garage sale and selling things on craigslist. On Saturday,we sold everything we can't carry on our backs. (This is not entirely true. Family and friends will be kindly babysitting a few choice items such as our flat screen TV, Dean road bike, Bowers & Wilkins loudspeakers, and a few other things we couldn't bear to permanently part with.) We've made enough money to pay for a used MacBook and all of our new gear (e.g. long underwear, backpacks, more long underwear....).

We've met people from all over town, and all over the world, through craigslist including a guy who bought (and subsequently returned) our kitchen table and chairs. He had lived in eastern Europe for fifteen years and returned to the U.S. about a year ago. He told me, "We're trading places in the world." He also mentioned that he hasn't owned a kitchen table in over a decade. What a concept! I wonder what's changed so that he feels as though he needs to own one now.

Most of the people who have bought stuff from us this week have wondered why we're cutting so deeply with this sale. This is a move unlike any we've experienced. We're selling items that people simply don't sell in a "normal" move. It isn't even normal for most people entering the Peace Corps. Many are either just starting their careers or just finishing them. They either don't have a life's worth of stuff to get rid of or they will likely come back to their home when they're done with their service. We're shedding our stuff so that we can be open to anything this life changing experience brings. After all the questions about selling our stuff, I'm wondering if one of the biggest reasons people don't do what we're doing is their stuff. Stuff can be a comfort, but it also feeds into our culture of consumerism. Buying and selling stuff keeps the economy growing. Owning stuff keeps people from getting bored. The amount of stuff a person has is a way of keeping score. Maybe we are nuts for selling everything, but at this, point being nuts is just fine with me.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Dreams

TeslaAt one point today (46 days to go, but who's counting?), I remembered a couple of dreams I have had in the past few nights. In one, I was wearing my new ice cleats, but they gave me no traction whatsoever. I couldn't stay on my feet no matter how hard I tried. In the other dream, Sarah and I were trying to finalize all of our plans before leaving for Romania and I suddenly remembered the brand new sports car that we just purchased. How could I have forgotten something so huge and how were we going to sell it so quickly?

Whatever could these dreams mean? Usually dreams are so easy to interpret but these are completely mysterious to me.

It's really hard to believe that we're getting so close to departure. Sarah and I are both in the process of finishing up our jobs. We planned ahead, saved some money and are taking about a month off of work before we leave for Romania. We only have 6 work days left. It's a mad rush to finalize everything, and say goodbye to friends and colleagues. Even though we're leaving for something so exciting, there is still a ton of stress in handing off the projects we've cared about and worked very hard to make successful.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Invited!

Well this is old news but I've finally gotten together the photographic evidence of our Peace Corps invitation. My excuse is that our computer's hard drive crashed the day we took this photo. But if you do the math, you'll realize that this was nearly two months ago! Time flies these days.
The Kiss

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Happy Birthday Peace Corps!

50 years ago today President John F. Kennedy signed legislation that created the Peace Corps. It's going to be an honor to serve during the golden anniversary year. Here's a picture of the law being signed, courtesy of the Peace Corps.

Sold!!!

We signed a contract for our house this afternoon! We're please with the price we agreed to and we won't lose a cent. In this market, we feel like that is a success. Hopefully everything will go smoothly from here. Now it's time to start off-loading stuff...need anything?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Shopping Spree

We have made a few purchases for our trip:




Osprey Porter 65 Backpack










Why do we like it?
  • It can serve as a backpack and a duffle bag.
  • It folds down very small for storage.
  • Unlike a regular backpack where you can only access it from the top, you lay this bag on its side and unzip it that way.
  • Osprey uses the same strap system as in their regular backpacks, so the weight gets well distributed.
  • The straps all get zipped up, so there isn't a problem when flying.
  • We got a great deal on it at backcountry.org. Check out peacecorpswiki.com for details on their discount.
  • It weighs 3 1/2 pounds.

Ice Trekkers Diamond Grip











Why do we like them?
  • There are no crazy spikes on which to impale yourself.
  • They're light weight.
  • We've heard they stay on better than Yaktrax.
  • We got another discount from backcountry.com.

Campmor Goose Down 20 degree Rectangular Sleeping Bag

Why do we like it?

  • Goose down packs very small.
  • We are getting two that zip together.
  • The rectangular bag is not a constraining as a mummy bag.
  • We're planning to use the two zipped together as our regular comforter.
  • It weighs 2 1/2 pounds.




Saturday, February 19, 2011

About Romania

My two 95+ year old great aunts are having a hard time remembering which country Theron and I are headed to. So, I condensed some info from wikipedia, enlarged it to 20 point font, and mailed it to them. I thought you might be interested, too, even in slightly smaller print. It is kind of long, but my aunts don't have a whole lot to do.

Romania

The name "Romania," first used in 1859, reflects the influence of ancient Rome on the nation's language and culture.

Communist History

During the period of Soviet rule, Romania's resources were drained, and there were hundreds of thousands of abuses, deaths, and incidents of torture against a large range of people, from political opponents to ordinary citizens. The nation is also known for the despot Nicolae Ceauşescu who developed a cult of personality, deepened the country's communist police state, and imposed policies that impoverished Romanians and exhausted the economy.

Climate

In the extreme southeast, Mediterranean influences offer a mild, maritime climate. In Bucharest, the temperature ranges from -20.2°F in January to 84.2°F in July. Rainfall, although adequate throughout the country, decreases from west to east and from mountains to plains. Some mountainous areas receive about 40 inches of precipitation each year. Annual precipitation averages about 25 inches in central Transylvania and only 15 inches near the Black Sea.

Geography

With a surface area of 92,043 square miles Romania is the largest country in southeastern Europe and the 12th-largest in Europe, or slightly smaller than Oregon.

Romania's terrain is distributed roughly equally between mountainous, hilly, and lowland territories. The Carpathian Mountains dominate the center of Romania, with 14 of its peaks reaching above the altitude of 6500 feet. Romania's geographical diversity has led to an accompanying diversity of flora and fauna. The country has the largest brown bear population in Europe, while chamois, lynx, wild cats, martens, and capercaillies are also known to live in the Carpathian Mountains.

Natural resources include petroleum timber, natural gas, coal, iron ore, salt, arable land, and hydro power.

Its capital and largest city is Bucharest, which with 2,082,334 inhabitants, is the sixth largest city in the European Union. Located in the southeast, it is the industrial and commercial center of Romania.

Government

Romania is a semi-presidential democratic republic where executive functions are shared between the president and the prime minister. The president is elected by popular vote and serves five years.

The prime minister, who is nearly always the head of the party that holds a majority in the parliament, heads the Romanian Government. If no party holds 50 percent + 1 of the total seats in parliament, the president will appoint the prime minister.

The legislative branch of the government consists of two chambers – the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The members of both chambers are elected every four years under a system of party-list proportional representation. All aged 18 years and over may vote.

The justice system is independent of the other branches of government, and is made up of a hierarchical system of courts culminating in the High Court of Cassation and Justice. There are also courts of appeal, county courts and local courts. The Constitutional Court is responsible for judging the compliance of laws to the constitution, which was introduced in 1991, can only be amended by a public referendum. The Constitutional Court comprises nine judges who serve nine-year, non-renewable terms. The court's decisions cannot be overruled by any majority of the parliament.

Economy

Romania has a large, upper-middle-income economy, the nineteenth largest in Europe. Its capital, Bucharest, is one of the largest financial centers in the region.

Romania is a country of considerable potential, with rich agricultural lands, diverse energy sources (coal, oil, natural gas, hydro, and nuclear), a substantial, if aging, industrial base encompassing almost the full range of manufacturing activities, a well-trained work force, and opportunities for expanded development in tourism on the Black Sea and in the mountains.

The average gross wage per month in Romania is 1387 lei, equating to $600.17 based on international exchange rates and $827.57 based on purchasing power parity. About 88 percent of all Romanian citizens have a color television set in their household and 90 percent have a refrigerator.

Demographics

Romania has a population of 21,680,974, which is expected to gently decline as a result of sub-replacement fertility rates. Life expectancy at birth for the total population was 69.93 years in 2000.

Ethnicity

Ethnic Romanians make up 89.5 percent of the population, Hungarians 6.6 percent, and Roma about 2 percent. The remaining 1.9 percent is made up of Germans, Ukrainians, Lipovans, Turks, Tatars, Serbs, Slovaks, Bulgarians, Croats, Greeks, Czechs, Poles, Italians, Chinese, Armenians and others. Before World War II, there was a large Jewish population, but almost 400,000 Jews were killed during the Nazi years, and many of the remainder emigrated to Israel. Today the Jewish population is estimated at less than 10,000. Estimates of the Roma population range from 400,000 to one million—their transient or nomadic lifestyle poses difficulties for statisticians.

Language

The official language is Romanian, an Eastern Romance language, which has Latin roots that date back to the Roman occupation, and contains words from Greek, Slavic languages, and Turkish. In the fourteenth century, the country adopted the Cyrillic alphabet, but it later reverted to Roman lettering. Romanian is spoken as a first language by 91 percent of the population, with Hungarian and Romani being the most important minority languages, spoken by 6.7 percent and 1.1 percent respectively. Until the 1990s, there was also a substantial number of German-speaking Transylvanian Saxons, even though many have since emigrated to Germany. Serbian, Ukrainian, Slovak, Czech, Bulgarian, and Turkish are also spoken. In localities where a specific ethnic minority comprises more than 20 percent of the population, that minority's language can be used in the public administration and justice system, while native-language education and signage is also provided. English and French are the main foreign languages taught in schools.

Religion

Romania is a secular state with no state religion. The dominant religious body is the Romanian Orthodox Church, whose members make up 86.7 percent of the population according to the 2002 census. Other important religions include Roman Catholicism (4.7 %), Protestantism (3.7 %), Pentecostal denominations (1.5 %) and the Romanian Greek-Catholic Church (0.9 %). Romania has a significant Turkish Muslim minority of 67,500 people. There are also 6179 Jews, 23,105 people who are of no religion and/or atheist, and 11,734 who refused to answer.

Romanian Orthodoxy descends from the Great Schism between Eastern and Western Christianity of 1054, and has a more mystical slant than Roman Catholicism. Icons—images representing Christ, angels, saints, and other holy figures—are believed to be incarnations of the saint, and are considered a link between the physical and spiritual worlds. Under communism, religion was suppressed, churches were destroyed, and clergy were arrested. The government restricted religious practice but did not forbid it. The Romanian Orthodox Church did not oppose the regime, and priests helped the administration.

The belief in vampires popularized in the nineteenth century story of Dracula, is a part of Romania folk culture. The belief is that sometimes the spirit does not leave the body after death, but remains, without decaying, to haunt the village, and can claim victims with a touch or a glance. Garlic is believed to keep vampires away, as are food offerings made on the holy days of Saint George and Saint Andrew. Mirrors are covered in the home of the deceased for fear that the spirit of the dead person will see its reflection and not be able to leave.

Men and women

The communist regime gave women equal rights in marriage and the workplace, and tried to get large numbers of women into the work force. While most women work outside the home, they have lower-level positions in traditional women’s jobs, such as primary school teachers or agricultural workers. Women who have a full-time job are expected to do all the cooking and cleaning at home. The Ceauşescu regime required women to have at least five children. Efforts to increase the population burdened women with unwanted children, and made many seek illegal and dangerous abortions. The government required gynecological examinations of women of childbearing age to prove that they had not had abortions. Already poor families could not afford to feed or clothe their children, and orphanages filled with abandoned babies.

Marriage and the family

Traditionally, the couple's parents arranged marriages through a matchmaker, the bride's family contributed a dowry of linen and embroidery, and rural weddings involved the entire village. Today, young people choose their own spouses, although some traditions persist. The bride's hair is still elaborately braided, she wears a crown of flowers, jewels, and ribbons, and the groom wears a white leather vest and a hat decorated with feathers, flowers, and leaves. The best man shaves the groom's beard, symbolizing his departure to a new lifestyle, and in the ceremony, both ask their parents to forgive them for leaving. Wedding feasts include kegs of wine and a big round loaf of bread shared by the bride and groom.

Traditional families were large patriarchal units, with many family members available to work in the fields. The domestic unit still comprises several generations living together, which is also a result of housing shortages. The culture puts great value on helping members of the extended families, which allows accusations of nepotism. Traditionally, an estate passes to the oldest son, although women are entitled to inherit property.

Education

Education in Romania is free and compulsory from age six to 16. Children attend elementary school to age 14. After this, they must pass examinations to enter secondary school. About half these students go on to vocational schools; others continue their education at technical institutes or teacher-training programs. Romania has a high literacy rate—97.3 percent of the total population age 15 and over can read and write.

Class

Most people are poor, and the standard of living is low compared with Western Europe. Under the communist regime, a small elite had access to luxuries. Some of the old elite have retained their wealth and power. Cars, which are rare, and imported consumer goods and household appliances, which are expensive and difficult to come by, both symbolize status. The ability to send one's children to the best day-care centers and provide private tutoring is a mark of wealth.

Culture

Romanians are hospitable and generous—guests are always fed. Men show their respect for women by tipping the hat, kissing the hand, or offering a seat. Moldavia is known for its painted churches, with their fine exterior and interior frescoes. Romanian folk tales and poems are about love, faith, kings, princesses, and witches. Transylvania is the location of the story of Dracula, based on the local tradition of vampires.

Clothing

City dwellers wear Western-style clothing, while in rural areas, some still wear traditional garb—embroidered wool skirts and vests for women, and a white blouse and pants with a wool or leather belt and a cap or hat for men. Roma people stand out in their brightly colored clothes. Women wear long flowing skirts, and men dress in white shirts with colorful sashes. Unmarried women wear their hair in traditional braids, while married women cover their heads with cloths.

Cuisine

Romanian cuisine is diverse, greatly influenced by the cuisines of Germans, Serbians, and Hungarians. One of the most common dishes is mămăliga, a cornmeal mush, long-considered the poor man's dish. Pork is the main meat, but beef, lamb, and fish are also consumed. Different recipes are prepared depending on the season or for special events. For Christmas, a pig is traditionally sacrificed by every family to provide: cârnaţi (a kind of long sausages made with meat), caltaboşi (sausages made with liver and other intestines, piftie – made with the feet or the head and ears, suspended in aspic, and tochitură (a kind of stew) is served along with mămăligă and wine, and sweetened with the traditional cozonac (sweet bread with nuts or rahat). At Easter, the main dishes are roast lamb and drob - a cooked mix of intestines, meat and fresh vegetables, mainly green onion, served with pască (pie made with cottage cheese) as a sweetener. Desserts include baclava (sweet pastry), pretzels, donuts, Turkish delight, pie, sponge cake, rice pudding, and crêpes. Wine is the main drink and has a 3000-year tradition. Romania is the world's ninth largest wine producer. Beer is highly regarded, generally blond pilsener beer. Romania is the world's second largest plum producer and almost the entire plum production becomes the famous ţuică (a plum brandy).

Folk traditions

Romanian culture has strong folk traditions. Traditional folk arts include wood carving, ceramics, woven wool rugs, and embroidery of costumes, household decorations, dance, and richly varied folk music. Doorways, gates, and windows are carved with elaborate designs. Traditional costumes are works of art, often displaying elaborate embroidery and a trimming of tiny glass beads.

Famous People

In the 1976 Summer Olympics, the gymnast Nadia Comăneci became the first gymnast ever to score a perfect "10", and won three gold medals, one silver and one bronze, all at the age of 15. Her success continued in the 1980 Summer Olympics, where she was awarded two gold medals and two silver medals.

George Emil Palade, a cell biologist and a teacher, became the first Romanian to receive a Nobel Prize, winning the 1974 prize in physiology or medicine for describing the structure and function of organelles in cells.

Elie Wiesel, a Romania-born American novelist, political activist, and Holocaust survivor, received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986.