Thursday, December 04, 2008

End of Tour

Yesterday I left my site as I have completed my tour. It
is always a bitter sweet time, nostalgic and dreaded.

Despite hardships at the beginning with integrating, learning
a new language and adapting to the new customs, those
memories all seem to have gone away in the last few days. In fact, it
is those challenges that have made the experience a rich one.

I must state at this time that I prefer the way that people
left while I was in Senegal. Those who were leaving usually
would get away around 4 or 5 in the morning. I did this
and it was easier as I walked out alone with my thoughts.

But here in Romania people like to say goodbye ... which is
really great but ... it is also very emotional. Saying goodbye
to the friends I have made and shared so much with over
the last 2 and a half years is difficult. I have a lot of good
memories from my time here and they are the reason why.

As I have mentioned in other blog articles, for me it is not
the end. It is said as one door closes another one opens.
In my case the door on Romania is just about shut.

So as this door closes the thoughts of a new one opening
is ever present. With a new open door comes visions of
meeting new friends and encountering new challenges. It
will seem that in no time the call of Africa and Namibia
will be answered.

I would like to thank the people who came to this blog
over the last few years. As mentioned the Namibian blog
will begin in earnest sometime around the beginning of
March. Hope that you'll consider spending the next
few years reading about some of the new adventures.

Befitting an end I thought it appropriate that
I should post a picture of a Romanian sunset.

.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I am kind of happy

As I mentioned in many other prior articles, I've
been participating and interested in the town's
Roma Dance Troupe.

I really pushed for the Roma Community to have a full
time active dance troupe. From my other experiences
in the other countries I knew that more important than
the activity itself ... was participation.

When I arrived no one in the Roma community
wanted to get involved in anything of that nature.
The poor Roma man that I've worked with must have
wanted to kill me as almost daily I would bug the
heck out of him ... we need a dance troupe
... we need a dance troupe.

Finally after being persistant the Dance Troupe
organized and now they are pretty much full time.
They don't practice consistently but they are
available as the events continue to trickle in.

I must say with pride that the town's Roma dance troupe
is one of the better ones' around. I could just imagine if
they would practice 2 or 3 times a week without taking
time off. But I don't want to push any more as they need
to manage it themselves at this point. I am seeing that
the Troupe is getting regular invitations.

At the moment they are in the middle of practicing
to go on the 6th of December to Hungary to participate
in a minority festival.

For me, as I go to watch the practice session and with
two weeks left here in town ... well ... I am happy to see
that the Troupe has come along. I see that there is a
person willing to take the responsibility of running
the Dance Troupe. I see dancers who've come a long
way during the last year. They have not only improved
their dance skills they have a new 'air' of confidence
and willingness to participate. This is exactly
what my goal was when pushing for the Troupe.

It wasn't just the dancing, it was to find a person willing to
take the lead. It was also to develop the young dancers
confidence and character that only comes with getting out
and seeing new places and meeting new people.

I am very lucky to have been able to see this before leaving.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Time is winding down

  Well, there's three weeks left in Romania. At this time
in the Peace Corps service it is very bittersweet. 

  I'll be leaving new friends behind and in my case, going 
on to meet new friends in another country. It is at this time
that I usually take time to sit with the people
that have been a big part of my life over the past two and
half years.

  There are also surprises right to the end. One in case 
happened just this morning. 

  When I arrived I would go faithfully to this one coffee shop.
I stopped going there about a year ago because the people 
predominately spoke in the Slovakian language (which I 
haven't learned) ... so I would just sit there while people would
have their conversations. The people knew that I couldn't 
understand and I felt (it was pretty obvious) that they didn't
want me to participate in their conversation.

  So, I decided, what ta heck, there are other coffee shops. So
I tried out a couple until finally deciding on one where the people
would speak to me in Romanian. 

  To me, this wasn't a problem at all. If people want to communicate
... good ... if not ... good. 

  This morning on a whim I decided to go to the coffee shop that I used
go to. While I was there I saw the usual group. One of the friendlier 
guys asked me how long I had left and I told him ... two weeks left
in town. So, we started making a conversation while the other 
people were there and somehow in the conversation it came to 
the point that ... I mentioned that all I ever wanted and tried to do 
here was to be open and friendly. 

  The craziest thing happened after that ... everyone spoke in Romanian.
They spoke in Romanian about all topics. I was kind of surprised 
because for two years they spoke Slovakian only when I was around.

  I know that it is the end here but ending with a gesture like that 
makes me feel good. It isn't a big deal, but I like leaving on a high
note.

 I am feeling that Namibia should be better than them all.
I think that all the experiences and things that I've learned
and take with me will make my time there ... the best yet. 

  But, despite the tendency to look ahead I still have the feeling
of leaving some friends behind. But I am happy to have the melancholy 
that comes from it because to feel that way I have had to have made
some connections. 

  Thank goodness to the internet and technology we will stay in touch.

  But, it is about time to close the curtain on Romania. 

  It has been a good time.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

It may be a little early to start thinking about this ...

I am talking about a calendar for 2009 that is.

What I did was make a down loadable calendar for
2009 using some pictures of the Roma Dance Troupe
we have in town.

So if anyone is interested in downloading it and printing
it up for 2009 click here.

Get one and I almost guarantee that you'll be just about
the first and only one on your block that has it.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Do you believe in signs?

  If anyone has ever watched the movie ' Fools Rush In'
... there is a part in there that gives importance to signs 
and how they are put there to aid us clarify the path 
in life. 

  A few weeks ago on a Sunday the next door neighbors 
were having a little informal cookout in back of the house. 


It was small, only about 7 people including me. It was 
a beautiful day and as you can see they were cooking 
kebabs ... which was only about 25% of the total menu. 


  So I was hanging out with the people making general 
conversation and the people knew that my time here 
in Romania was winding down. They asked what was 
next, I told that as of now, the plan was to return 
home for a couple of months then off or actually, back, 
to Africa. One man asked me if I knew where in Africa. 
I told him that I would be going to Namibia. 


  He says "you know, I've been to Namibia" ... I was kind
of taken by this. Why would I be? I have to say that after
all my years of life and of all the people that I've met, 
he is the only person that I've met that's been to Namibia. 

  About 15 or so years ago he was a fisherman and the boat
he was on fished off the coast of Namibia or at least they 
would enter Namibia through the port city called Walvis Bay. 

  As the heading of this article refers to ... signs ... I am taking
this as one. Yeah, we interpret things in our way and I know 
that I am probably magnifying this to suite myself ... but ... 
I find it kind of crazy that the only person that I've ever met
to have ever been to Namibia was sitting right in back of my 
house and is a resident of this town in western Romania. 

  This has to be a sign that confirms the path to 
Namibia was destined to be.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

This article is not for vegetarians ...

When there is 3 months or less left in
my tour I try and spend the majority of time with
the people who've been a big part of my life.
This means hanging out, and with
two years of the language under my belt, it's actually
fun to sit around, make conversation (important
things or not) and share in the local activities.

My next door neighbors have a farm they work
with the normal lineup of animals ... cows, sheep,
chickens, turkeys, pigs and so on.

Yesterday, Friday the 19th, I was in my house when
the next door neighbor came by to ask me if I smelled
the cooking that was going on. In fact I didn't, the
reason being that the weather is getting cold and I
had the doors and windows closed.

So I went to see what was going on. What I saw was
a pot of goulash (click here see prior article on how
they cook it) in the middle of it's preparation.



I asked, how come you guys are making this goulash?
My neighbor answered that it was the result of the
passing away that day of a 500 kilo (about 1,100 lbs
or so
) 13 year old cow from the farm. They explained
how it died ... it swallowed a spike/nail.

So for that reason they had to cut it up and prepare
or sell the meat that day.

I kind of thought ... what better way to spend one
of my last Friday nights in Romania, than to hangout
with my neighbors and experience what one does
when their cow becomes late.

The best part about this is the scene. Here we are sitting
around a pot of cooking goulash
with the remnants of the cow hanging out with the rest of us.

I mean it was really ... literally the remnants of the
cow hanging with us as we cooked the goulash. Here is
what I am talking about ...



You can see that I wasn't joking concerning the cow
hanging around with us. Those are the cow's lungs.



I really don't know what this is, other than it was
explained to me that it is something that's part of
the lung/breathing system. That's all I know about it.



This is supposed to be the spleen.



This picture could be called ... Have a Heart.



This is the cow's tongue.

I am wondering after writing this article if anyone
who has read this article will return to this blog.

But this is a point that the Peace Corps asks us at
our pre-selection interview. The question is ... are
you capable of accepting sacrificing of goats in
your honor or situations of that nature.

Over my years in the countries, I've seen
all kinds of things like this. It comes down to being
capable of accepting people's cultures, their right
to practice their daily cultural habits in their
own countries, without criticism.

I have found that my experiences have opened my
mind to alternative ways to do the same thing ... live.

I guess without getting out of our comfort zones we
never do get the chance of seeing
life from other peoples perspective.

I really like the fact that I am understanding this, and have
to say that my world has gotten and continues to get
bigger as I eliminate the borders that come from the
mind's perception of what is correct in the way of passing
one's life. The results ... there are fewer ideas that bring
thoughts of judgment. There are fewer situations
where a thought of judgment could exist. And with that
comes the gift of eliminating ideas that bring stress in
one's life.

That's one thing I've always said during my time in the
Peace Corps ... I wonder if I've helped the people as
much as they've helped me.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Today is the kids' favorite day of the year ...

Or is Christmas the most anticipated day of the year?

What am I talking about? Well, the first day of school of
course. Maybe I should rephrase this a bit and say that ...
the first day of school is most probably the parents most
anticipated day of the year.

But after all that, that isn't the point of this article. The actual
point is that of a new progressive change is teaching methods.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer we are called on in many diverse
situations to participate. My counterpart is a high school teacher
in the big city which is about 45km ( 30 miles or so ) from this
town. As is usual, bigger city people are more apt to be open
minded.

Almost from the first day I arrived here in mid 2006 my
counterpart has spoken about how in her opinion, teaching
methods are a bit outdated. Right from the beginning I've
been explaining to her that with today's technology it
doesn't have to be that way.

Last year she worked part time in the town's school system and
together we used video (with the 5th grade students being the
teachers) to try and make the students more interactive and
participatory in the classes. We made a few little movies
concerning plants, parts of plants, photosynthesis ... etc. What
happened was the fellow teachers were critical and mentioned
that all it was, was playing. The majority of the teachers in town
are still using their lesson plans from 20 years ago.

I am not writing this article to criticize these teachers. I just
want to describe the situation as it is now. We all know that
to have change it takes effort and getting out of one's comfort
zone.

So, fast forwarding to mid summer 2008.

Over time my counterpart has been thinking about using
technology in her classes. So, during the summer I went to her
house and showed her some of the tools available ... things like
basic podcast (audio clips), filming the most difficult lessons
that the students never seem to get and so on.

So for the last month or so we've been filming lessons of how
molecular formulas react. You know, this hydrogen with this
oxygen gives you this or that. We've put these on a DVD that
will be distributed through the classes. In fact these are really
nothing more than a copy of the lectures that they will receive
throughout the year. The idea being that if they didn't get it the
first time, they can just go to the respective video and
see the lecture again and again if necessary.

Also there are audio clips/podcast that she's put together
which the kids can put on their MP3 players and listen to 
while they are on the bus ... etc.

Each audio clip and film are connected to a certain lesson.
She has the program setup with which film-podcast goes
with which. It is up to the kids to study.

But what is really satisfying for me is what could be (not in town
but in the bigger city). My counterpart's principal is also one
with an open mind. The principal saw what my counterpart was
doing and called a meeting with some of the other teachers
to have her demonstrate.

The result is that there are about 5 younger teachers who
are willing to try these new methods. Each one with a
unique idea of their own as to how they could use the
technological tools.

For those who read this from other parts of the world that
have been using these techniques for a while, this probably
doesn't seem all too exciting. But for here (western region
anyway) this is all new. No one has seen or heard of it before.

Also, thanks to the forward thinking of my counterpart's
school principal they are putting this into the category of 
'pilot project'. With that, it is allowing the budget to buy 
about 60 MP3 players for the students.





One of the original challenges was to have this technological
direction inclusive for the poor kids whom didn't have or couldn't
get the money to buy an MP3 player. But now that is solved and
it will help even the playing field ... so to speak.

Another result ... which I believe will go far ... is that the small
group of younger teachers and my counterpart will meet weekly
or bi-weekly to share their ideas and experiences. Best way to
describe what I think about that is with the analogy ... two
heads are better than one.

How this affects me as a Peace Corps Volunteer is that it always
seems that these things happen at the end of our tours. I've found
that we don't always get to see the result of our efforts. In my
case, I have less than three months left and they are just
today starting to implement this new strategy. As I told my
counterpart, there will be ideas that don't fly and that is part
of beginning anything new. But after changes, tweaking this, 
getting feedback from that and so on, it'll be fine.

But I do know that things happen after we're gone.

An example is from my time in El Salvador and Senegal. There
I was in the agroforestry sector. At times trying to get trees
planted was a little difficult. At one point I would settle for them
planting anything at all.

So like any other Peace Corps Volunteer, I had to come up
with something to convince them to plant trees.

Senegal and El Salvador are exactly the same lattitude 15 degrees,
so the trees that would grow were similar. There was this tree
called 'Flor del Fuego" in El Salvador and 'Flamboyant' in Senegal
see below ...


It is a flowering tree (around May when the rains come) and the
people were saying to me ... why should we plant this tree ... it
doesn't give fruit and it's not even a great wood to use for cooking.
I replied ... the reason why I'd like you to plant this tree is because
every year in May you'll see the flowers and remember that I was
here.

I am lucky that I was in contact with the volunteers that
replaced me and they mentioned that when the trees flowered
(I didn't get to see them flower because it needs at least 2 or 3
from seed to flower) that the whole village was talking about me.

To me, this is just an example of how things happen after
we're done with our tours. And just as those trees have
grown and flowered, I know that so have the effort of
all the volunteers who've ever been wondering if they've
done any good.

So again, I hope that this project with my counterpart will
develop and flourish. I think that I'll have an opportunity this
time to see how it is progressing. We'll stay in contact after
I leave.

To finish this article I will mention that in an egotistical way
I am feeling good about myself because I was able to help
get this new thinking started. If it works, it could help change
the teaching methods (or at least open minds to alternative
methods) and how could that affect the future of the kids
of Romania?

Where else could an simple old guy like me be a part of
something that could bring such an impact?