Monday, July 29, 2013

Road Trip to Bukovina

When I first announced that I would spend the summer in Romania, my history professor suggested that I visit the painted monasteries in Bukovina.  I mentioned the place to Buttercup in an email, and on Saturday my host parents took Buttercup, JJ and I on a journey to see the Orthodox monasteries.
What I hadn’t known prior to this weekend is that the Bukovina region is on the border of Ukraine; the drive was about 12 hours, round-trip.  The car ride was intense, to say the least, (Romanian mountain roads are narrow and none too smooth) and we returned to Udvarhely thoroughly exhausted.  However, the artistry of the monasteries made the lengthy trip completely worthwhile.  We visited five monasteries, each with a unique aura.  I took plenty of photos (when it was permitted, of course) to commemorate the experience.
The last monastery we visited was quite strict with its dress code...
JJ had to wear this "kilt" over his shorts
The Last Judgement, Byzantine style

Carpets for sale
Ukrainian eggs
Whimsical bread

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Snapshots of Székelyudvarhely

There are many things that I miss about Mădăraș.  I miss afternoon naps.  I miss my host mother’s quiet way of insisting that I eat another helping.  I miss walking everywhere.  I miss drinking lemongrass tea.  I miss watching American movies with Hungarian subtitles with my host sisters.  I miss the slow pace of life.
I’ve been in the city of Székelyudvarhely for over a week and am only now finding the time and energy to blog.  Teaching is intense.  Thankfully, my fellow LE volunteer, JJ, is my teaching partner so we share the responsibility of 50+ students. 
With some of our younger students
With Buttercup.  I love her!
My host family has been immeasurably generous and kind since I’ve been here.  My host mother, A, and my host father, L, both speak English quite well.  My nine-year-old host sister, Buttercup, has excellent English and the cutest hysterical laugh in the world.  A’s parents live here as well, Tata and Mama.  They don’t speak English but we can still play Rummikub without a hitch.
Three horses share the road with motor vehicles
Me, JJ, E, and J out in Udvarhely
There have been other matters on my heart and mind that I don’t care to share on this blog, which is another reason I haven’t known what to write.  (Don’t worry about me, though, my situation is okay!  It’s more of what I’ve been mulling over lately).  However, I do think that my host family’s hospitality will help me settle in here.  Also, it's been wonderful to have a friend to teach with (JJ), and we've made friends with E, who works at our school.  As much as I love kids, it's nice to interact with other twenty-somethings.

I do miss Mădăraș but I think I will carve out my niche here as well.

Until next time,

Friday, July 26, 2013

A Weekend in Oradea

Upon leaving my first teaching placement, I spent about 8 hours on a train from Harghita county to Oradea, Romania for LE's midpoint break.  I wasn't thrilled to go so far (on a fairly grody train) only to return to the same county three days later.  However, it was good to catch up with my teaching comrades and experience a new city.  I did some very deep thinking on the train ride back to Harghita (the thoughts didn't manifest into a blog post, but that wasn't entirely my fault as our seating situation on the train was not at all conducive to writing, believe me).  Since I'm quite behind on this blog, I'll end this blurb and post photos.
LE Volunteers
Stained glass
Night over the Crisul Repede
Romani girl
C, me, M, and JJ waiting for our train to Transylvania

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Next Step

I woke up at 4:00 to make my train to Oradea for LE's midpoint break.  I said goodbye to S and my host mother before K and my host father brought me to the train station.  It was more than 8 hours to Oradea, which was less than thrilling but I was able to sleep and watch movies for part of the ride.  It's nice to see the other volunteers and catch up on their experiences thus far in Croatia or Romania.

After the weekend, I'm returning to Harghita county to teach in Udvarhely and live with my second host family (with my 9-year-old host sister, Buttercup!)  I will post more when I've experienced more of Oradea.
Collage from K's wall.  (My host sisters in Mădăraș are incredibly creative).
Waiting for the train at 4:30 in the morning

Thursday, July 18, 2013

My Last Day in Mădăraș or, How Teaching in Romania Boosts Self-Esteem

Today was my last day of teaching in Mădăraș, which is quite bittersweet for me.  I love these kids.  In keeping with the Eastern European campaign to fatten up any and all guests, I was given a large amount of pralines and chocolate bars.  And kisses.  (I love the custom of kissing to show affection.  Be warned, my American friends: I'm bringing this tradition back with me).

Later this afternoon, four of my students (cousins to my host siblings) came over with a cake they had baked just for me.  My students also gave me drawings, beads, and flowers.  I now have more roses than I have ever received at any one point in my life.

Tomorrow I will have to wake up at 4:00 to make the train for Oradea, which is about 9 hours from here.  After a few days with the LE volunteers, I'll come back to Harghita county for my second placement.  I will end this in order to nap and finish packing before dinner.  I've already decided that I want to come back.  I adore this village and its people.

Group hug with some of my little munchkins

One of the sweet pictures from my students.  It warms my heart that an 11-year-old boy would take the time to draw this for his teacher and then unabashedly kiss her on both cheeks.

My teenagers.  I love them!  Everyone kissed me before they left.

Gifts from my students
Class 2 with their "diplomas"
My desk at the end of the day

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Snapshots of Life in Harghita County

My time in Mădăraș is coming to a close and I'm feeling melancholy and nostalgic about leaving at the end of the week.  Over the past several days, I've sunk into habit of mentally composing blog entries that seamlessly mesh my experiences in Romania with philosophical concepts that reveal something essential about the meaning of life... Unfortunately, these virtual attempts at writing seem to sap all the energy I have for actual writing.  Therefore, this post probably won't say as much as I'd imagined it would say.
Sheep of Mădăraș

I find desolate shacks charming.
In my last post I felt pretty confident about teaching; Friday, however, didn't deliver the results I hoped.  Classes 1-3 went well, but the adjective/past tense/preposition exercise I facilitated in Class 4 somehow stretched out into pointless tedium.  On the one hand, the kids seemed to have grasped the concepts; on the other hand, it was a royal waste of class time because they clearly "got" it.  After class, my translator said as much and although I agreed, it still stung to hear from someone else.  This is something I've noticed about Eastern Europe: people are honest.  On a superficial level, honesty is hailed as a positive quality.  And it is, I think.  Acknowledging that something went poorly is much better than pretending that everything is okay; now, I know what not to do.  Repeating Friday's activity is not going to constitute learning.  But, as I am both incredibly sensitive and a product of socialization in the tradition of passive-aggressive "Minnesota Nice," even this tiny dose of honesty hurt. 
Working on my "European Smile"
S and a mushroom we "hunted" in the mountains
My host mother and K in the Carpathians
Later that afternoon, I spent a good amount of time pondering honesty and contrasting it with polite lies.  I think that honesty is often avoided in safe, Midwestern social circles because true words make people uncomfortable and might come across as "mean."   But the more I thought about this, the more I realized that it's not necessarily "mean" to be honest.  In fact, isn't it more damaging to pretend that things are running smoothly if they aren't?  Despite the bruise to my ego, I resolved that getting bent out of shape because a friend verbally expressed his thoughts about the lack of success of one mere hour is an overreaction.  
Sweet, silly students from Class 3
Sz observing class from the window
Eugen Jebeleanu's poetry offers a glimpse of life under Ceaușescu's regime
That evening, S invited me to play hockey with her friends, most of whom are students of mine from Class 4.  As I chased the tennis ball and hit it with a stick, I decided that someone else's honest criticism shouldn't destroy my perception of myself.  It was one day, one class.  For some reason, the American utilitarianism is still stuck in my introspection: if I don't give an amazing performance, my worth will diminish in the eyes of others. In Romania, this utilitarian model isn't present.  (At least not with the people I've met).  Relationships trump goals.  Community, family, and hospitality are sacred.  These are values that I can relate to, and I think I would do well to adopt a bit more honesty myself.  So, while we were sitting on the bench between matches, I asked the girls what they would like to learn.  The told me that they'd rather practice speaking that writing, and that they'd like to know practical conversational phrases.  I can do that.  I also might use more audio-visual sources to make class more interesting for them.  Had I not been prompted by an honest observation that class didn't go very well, I probably would not have thought to ask for their input.
Orthodox Church in Csíkszereda
Icons on the ceiling
Since it was Friday, K and I met up with Sz and his cousin E at the pub that night.  It was a relief to be done teaching for the week, although I was (and am) feeling sad about having to leave soon.  (I have to go all the way to Oradea on Friday morning for LE's midpoint break.  I'm looking forward to hanging out with the other volunteers but I kind of wish I could skip it and just stay here for a few extra days since my next placement is also in Harghita county, and I am *so* not looking forward to 18 hours on the train.  But it's mandatory and I'm sure I'll like Oradea.  I suppose a good part of my reluctance to go is the fact that I'll be leaving all the wonderful people I've met in Mădăraș.  I really, really hate goodbyes).  At any rate, the four of us had a good time and I realized that I wasn't so bothered by honesty anymore, not in this instance at least.

Well.  I am getting quite tired and I still have to shower and lesson plan for tomorrow.  I will write more later, although I will be trying to spend as much quality time with the good folks of the village as possible.  I will again leave you with some snapshots of life here in Harghita.  Good night!

Urban Deco
In Csíkszereda