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

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).


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!