Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Year Comes to a Close

I won't be in Romania for Christmas or for New Year's Eve, so this will be last post written from Romania for 2011.  I'd have really liked to experience a Romanian Christmas, but I would miss my family and my boyfriend, Nate, way too much to stay away from the United States.  Since most of my friends in Constanta are returning to their respective home countries for Christmas, I might have found myself mildly bored anyways.  So, I'll be returning to the US on Thursday evening.  I'll take two flights: Bucuresti to London and then London to Boston.  It looks like a short little trip when you look at the departure and arrival times, but then you throw in the seven hour time difference and car travel on both ends and suddenly I'm travelling for about 22 hours!  Lucky for me, my friend Atilla is flying out of Bucuresti for Istanbul the same day, so I get to carpool to the airport in Bucuresti, rather than taking a series of buses or trains.  Woohoo!

Giorgos, who has, in fact, eaten pasta before.
Now, last time I posted I made mention of an upcoming pasta party.  I also mentioned that it was inspired by my friend Giorgos's inexperience with that delicious food.  Well it turns out that Giorgos has, in fact, eaten pasta before.  He has had little experience with noodles and apparently does not think that anything eaten by Italians counts, so a different use of terminology made our original goal of the pasta party a moot point.  Oh well!  Fortunately, just about everyone in the whole world who ever lived and did not have an allergy or sensitivity to gluten or wheat or normal food in general (*cough* LJ, *cough*) loves pasta.  So, everyone was still happy to come to our pasta party.
The ingredients for our pasta party
Some of the prepared food (but not all!)

We may have gone overboard.  I say may because the surplus of pasta we had actually helped to contribute to the overall vibe of the party, which was a success, so perhaps if we had merely made an appropriate amount of pasta the pasta party would not have been quite so fun...  Or I could just be making excuses...

Plenty of pasta
Based on this photo, I estimate that we purchased 4.3 kilograms (9.5 pounds) of pasta...for 7 guests.  Perhaps more than a pound of pasta per guest was more than we needed, but we really wanted to have a wide variety of pasta available.  We ended up only cooking about 3 kg of it... well, maybe it was more like 4 kg after you add in the homemade ravioli, which was pretty dense.  At any rate, everyone ate to his heart's content and then I continued to eat nothing but pasta ever since, and I was joined by people for leftovers, who consumed four meals of pasta.  Somehow I couldn't persuade the strapping young men in attendance to bring home bucket loads of the stuff.

I did not cook on my own, though.  I was assisted throughout the entire process by the magnificent, irreplaceable, Josephin.  And after a few hours, we were joined by my perfect counter-part, Hates-to-cook-but-loves-to-clean Angelina.

Josi gets creatively crafty

Josi was also the brain behind our decorations for the evening.  Besides making pasta and pasta sauce, we also tried to have a flag for each nationality present.  So, we bought flag toothpicks, but this set didn't have Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, or Russia, so there was a problem.  We decided to hack apart the flags of other countries to create flags for our guests.  This is where I should mention that I have no office or craft materials at my apartment.  I had: a blue pen, a black pen, paper that was printed on one side, candles, and sewing scissors.  With these materials, Josi created a Bulgarian flag and a Greek flag.  We considered making a Turkish flag, but the whole crescent moon and star thing was complicated, and we just ran out of time and got lazy for the Russian flag...  At any rate, considering the materials available, particularly that we were using melted candles as an adhesive, we did spectacularly.

The Greek flag, before we sealed it shut with wax and before we trimmed off the extra stripes on the bottom.

I won't go into painstaking details about the food present.  Suffice to say there was pasta in lots of shapes, and there were several varieties of sauces.

Daka and Josi just couldn't wait to try the tortellini.

I fear I've gotten off track.  I should have told you the attendees of this pasta party several paragraphs ago.  The responsible writer in me knows I should just insert may cursor in the text somewhere and remedy this problem, but an unidentified, lazy part of me would rather explain all this to you and then tell you now.  Clearly that lazy bit of me won out.  At any rate, in alphabetical order by ethnic nationality: Daka of Bulgaria, Josi of Germany, Achilleas of Greece, Giorgos the Macedonian from Greece, Angelina the Russian-Tatar Romanian who was born in Uzbekistan, Atilla the Turk, and Katelyn from the United States.  No two ethnicities were duplicated at our party.  Yay!
Our lovely guests

After dinner we played Apples to Apples.  Somehow Giorgos won.  (If I just leave that without explanation it sounds a bit mean.  Giorgos, God bless him, has the worst English skills of the bunch of us.  Apples to Apples is basically a vocabulary game.  He won rounds several times without even knowing the meaning of the word or phrase he was playing.  And he won the entire game.)

Other things of note at our pasta party: Daka brought homemade ketchup from his grandmother in Bulgaria.  It was my first time trying homemade ketchup.  It was yummy and has some sort of unidentified (by me) ingredient that tastes like Christmas.  I'm hooked.

Ketchup from Daka's grandmother.  I didn't snap a photo until I'd  already finished half the bottle.
On Saturday I went ice skating with a group of kids and trainers from Money Sense.  It has been four years since I last went ice skating, and I expected to be dreadful.  Far from it, after four laps or so, I no longer had to touch the wall at all!  This was truly a miracle to me, but I went on babbling about how grateful I was to my grandmother, since I was 1/4 French Canadian, and surely this was the reason I could stay upright on ice skates.  I am proud to say that I only fell once, and it was all Emil's fault!  One of my Money Sense students fell on the ice and I had no choice but to stumble to a hands-and-knees stop or to tragically skate over his fingers.  Sure, a good skater could have avoided the fingers without falling, but I was willing to sacrifice myself to save Emil's fingers....I'm just that heroic.

The Money Sense gang who came to ice skating.  To find me, look for my hat.
Such a pretty hair pin!
That evening Angelina gave Josi and I our Christmas presents.  She did such a great job picking them out.  My favorite gift is the amazingly beautiful hair pin she gave me.  It is from Russia and is carved from birch.  It is just gorgeous!  She also did her own translations of a Russian zodiac for me and Josi.  Now I'm not a believer in astrology and I'm not going to make any of my decisions based on anything I hear from astrology, but it's a little uncanny how accurate it was about my personality and about Josi's personality.  It more or less described our personalities to a T.

On Sunday I had dinner with Mihaela, my landlord, and her niece, Flori, and Flori's boyfriend, Cornel.  (I've mentioned them before in my earlier posts.)  We helped Mihaela to put up her tree and to decorate it.  Flori and Cornel also gave me a snowman mug and a big bar of chocolate for Christmas, and I took some special requests for souvenirs from the US.

Flori and the Christmas tree, pom de cracuin
On Monday I had a Christmas party with some of my students from the university.  Five students came.  The attendance was disappointing, but the turnout by food was exceptional.  There were several bags of chips, several platters of amazing pastries, four bottles of soda, and I brought crepes.  We listened to a bit of Christmas music and we watched Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town.  It was fun, but it would have been nicer if more students had come.
At the Christmas party.

Tomorrow is my last full day in Constanta before I leave for two weeks, so I have a lot to do.  I have to teach class, buy some last minutes gifts, and go to the closing event for Money Sense.  Then I hope to see Angelina one last time before I go.  To make things a little less stressful tomorrow, I have to pack and to clean my mortifingly dirty apartment tonight.  But I don't want to, so I am blogging instead...

Well I've procrastinated enough, so it's time to get to work.  Perhaps I will post something from the states, otherwise, see you all next year!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Christmastime is Here!

"Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat!"

Some of my Money Sense students had me pose in this Santa hat they brought.
I have never felt so multicultural.  OK, not myself, per se, but my life in general.  I am making more friends every day!  On Saturday night, Josi, Angelina, Atila (Angelina's boyfriend), and I spent the evening with Josi's neighbor, Achilleas, and his friend Giorgos.  Now in the course of the night, it was revealed that Giorgos has never eaten pasta!  He had only even tasted it once (twice after I had him try the rice noodles I ordered)!  Now Josi--who buys two or three kilos of pasta every time she goes to the store--and I decided hat this is a great travesty.  We then decided to remedy Giorgos's affliction and we have planned a pasta party so that he can sample different varieties of pasta and sauces.  If everything goes as planned, representatives of the following countries will be in attendance: the United States, Germany, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, France, and Romania--that's eight nationalities among nine guests (Achilleas and Giorgos are both Greek)!  It should be a fun night and a nice send off before Christmas, when we will part for two or three weeks.

Having dinner, desserts, and drinks at the Irish Pub

Have I mentioned how tall Romanians are?

I can't believe I forgot to mention it in my last blog post, but on December 2nd, I got my residency permit to continue to stay in Romania for more than 90 days.  I'd love to show it you, but I am sure it would be an awful idea to post a photo of my ID card online...  Having my residency permit could be extremely helpful when I return from the US to Romania after Christmas, since the airlines sometimes won't let you on to the plane if your return ticket is scheduled for a date in more than 90 days, unless you have a residency card.  I just squeaked by with 87 days from my entry to exit of Romania for this leg of my stay, so I didn't have any troubles, but other ETAs had some problems and were nearly turned away from their flights.
The city hall wishes you a Happy New Year!

Now from the title of the post, I am sure you have been expecting to hear about Christmas here and are starting to despair, thinking I have strayed away from the most heartwarming holiday season.  Fear not!  Constanta is all aglow with lights, and I paid a visit to the Christmas piata.  What is so Christmas-y about this piata?  Well...not all that much, but there were gingerbread cookies!  Now, it may not have been very strong in its Christmas theme, but it had a nice variety that is missing from the other ordinary piatas.  In fact, there were no fruit or vegetable sellers.  Vendors sold meats, cheeses, candies, cookies, apple cider, tuica, palinca, carved wooden wares, ceramics, hats, scarves, preserves, and homeopathic remedies.  I bought an amazing hat for myself.  It is super fun and warm, and I love it!  After seeing it, Achilleas and Giorgos decided they needed hats just like mine for themselves, so yesterday they each bought one, in gray.
My new hat!

The Chrismas piata, at Casa de Cultura
Now, continuing on the subject of Christmas, I was hard at work...er...spending the earnings of my work...buying Christmas presents for folks back home.  I got a gift for my parents that I am really excited about, but can't mention because it will ruin the surprise, but I'd just like to say it is great, and now I want to buy more for other people.  I did a lot of this Christmas shopping near and at one of the biggest piatas in the city, Tomis III.  While I was there, I stopped in a dairy and bought, among other things, some raw milk.  Today I turned some of it into hot chocolate, and it sure was delicious!

Raw milk
Also on the topic of Christmas, Josi and I were hunting for Christmas presents at one of the malls when we kept running into green-shirted middle schoolers with plates of cookies.  We were very confused about it all, and then we got to the mall's top floor.  It was covered with costumed children, masquerading as Santas, Christmas trees, snowmen, and other Christmas-y or wintery disguises.  We had stumbled upon a costume contest and craft fair.  There were also many tables where ladies were selling their handicrafts.  If I hadn't spent so much money already earlier that day, I might have gone hog-wild, but I thought of all the nice things I had bought and restrained myself.  As it turned out, those middle schoolers were part of some sort of eco group that promoted sustainability and something to do with raising money for housing for the elderly (although I am basing this on the broken English of a 12 year-old, and the connection between the two must have been lost in translation).

I'm not sure if she's supposed to be a sugarplum fairy or a snowflake, but this little girl sure is cute in her costume!

On a completely unrelated note: Can you tell college students live here?  (A view of a dorm window)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Pudding, Scented Toilet Paper, and Cranberries

Chocolate pudding.  In the US, the identity of chocolate pudding seemed so straightforward and clear to me, but now that I live in Romania, I am met with confusion surrounding this delicious, viscous goop.  The first problem is that chocolate pudding sometimes masquerades as other foods.  For example, if you serve chocolate pudding hot, it is "ciocolata calda," or hot chocolate.  Of course, what we call hot chocolate or hot cocoa goes by this very same name.  Therefore I was unpleasantly surprised at one restaurant when the ciocolata calda I ordered was in fact warm, thick pudding that could not be drank but was nonetheless served in a mug.  Similarly, I bought a packet of mix for chocolate "ingetata," ice cream.  Today I made it, following all the directions correctly.  When I tasted it, I was once again unpleasantly surprised, for this "ice cream" was just frozen chocolate pudding.  And again, at the store I bought some sort of prepackaged dessert that was advertised as some sort of mousse.  When I tried it....yep, it was chocolate pudding...with small chocolate lumps.

Toilet Paper.  I have observed that Romanians like scented toilet paper.  I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty sure this is a Europe-wide sensation, based on the multi-lingual packaging of the TP.  Since I always considered scented TP to be a novelty item, I was delighted to see so many different colors and scents of the stuff available in the stores here.  There are periwinkle-colored, lavender-scented rolls and orange-colored, peach scented rolls, and last week at the store I stumbled upon seasonal scents.  I discovered and bought a pack of "winter perfume" toilet paper.  It's an unexciting white color, but it smells of oranges and cinnamon and makes my bathroom smell pretty.

My winter toilet paper

Cranberries.  These are apparently an exotic fruit in Romania.  Not only is it ridiculously difficult to find fresh cranberries, most Romanians I ask have never eaten a cranberry before, except possibly in juice form.  This has been devastating to me.  When Thanksgiving rolled around, I was able to more or less recreate all my favorite foods, except cranberry sauce.  Ever since, I have been scouring the city for this evasive berry, but to no avail!  The closest I got was an old man at the piata (farmer's market) who told me he has some at home and would bring them the next day.  Well, I returned the next day, asked about the cranberries, and I got the same story; he had some at home and would bring them tomorrow.  Not wanting to eternally repeat the process, I ended up buying what they told me was a compote containing cranberries, but I think it must have something else mixed in too, because it has a bit of a prune-y taste to it.  I haven't given up hope of finding cranberries, but until then, I'll slather my next chicken meal with his bizarre compote and see if I can convince myself it's cranberry sauce.

What I've been up to:
Last Thursday was Romania's National Day of Unification.  December 1, 1918 marked the unification of Transylvania with the rest Romania, completing the country.  The main boulevards of Constanta were decked out in Romanian flags and the university was closed down, but that was the extent of celebration of the holiday.  Actually, that's not completely true.  I did spend my evening at a Turkish friend's apartment, eating Turkish kebab and then playing Apples to Apples with a crowd mostly consisting of Romanians.  So, I went to a party, but it had little to do with Romanian nationalism.  

Meat at the Turkish butcher.

And now it is cooked, perhaps too much.
On Friday I went out to a karaoke night with students and trainers from Money Sense.  We had lots of fun!

Choosing a song at karaoke.

 That night, the hard work of some city workers was made manifest when the snowflakes lights all lit the main boulevard in Constanta.
Bulevardul Tomis all decked out for Christmas
 I've continued to have lots of fun at Money Sense.  Sometimes we aren't always on task...
Doing the Romanian penguin dance.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Three Trips and Then Some

Wow!  It has been such a long time since my last entry and I have so much to write about.  I'm not sure I'll be able to remember all the things I've done in the meanwhile.  I'll start with the most important things, and then I may go back to more details later.

The Casino is the most iconic building in Constanta. recently it was bought by an investor who intends to renovate it.  For some reason that appears to be related to the upcoming renovations, they opened up the interior of the Casino for tours.  It is quite ramshackled now, but I could tell that is must have been quite spectacular in its glory days.
Angelina, Josi, and me by the grand staircase inside the Casino.
The first weekend of November I went to Bucuresti for the Money Sense Train the Trainers session.  I can't remember if I mentioned Money Sense yet on the blog, so I'll go ahead and tell you about the program now.  Money Sense is a program designed to teach high school students about personal finance.  In Romania it it taught through the coordination of the international student organization AIESEC, and it is funded by RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland).  I am one of two trainers for the course.  My co-trainer is Deliana, who has lived in Constanta all her life.  We have eight sessions a week: one each day, plus two on Sundays.  This means I don't sleep much, but I'm having a lot of fun working with the high-schoolers.
One of the three classrooms in which I teach the Money Sense program
Alina, me, and Deliana at the Money Sense Train the Trainers program in Bucuresti
Back to the training in Bucuresti for Money Sense... I attended the training with Deliana and Alina, who is the project coordinator for Money Sense in Constanta.  There were many other international students at the training in Bucuresti who will be doing Money Sense in other cities.  These internationals come from Canada, Cameroon, Egypt, Georgia, Moldova, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the Czech Republic.  It was a really fun time, and I'm glad I got to go.

I returned home to Constanta late Sunday and then left on Tuesday afternoon for Bucuresti again.  This time, I was only staying for the night to take a really early flight on Wednesday to Sofia, Bulgaria with the other ETAs from Romania, to the ETA conference for most of Eastern Europe.  ETAs were there from Estonia and all the countries directly south, down in a straight line to Bulgaria.  The conference ended on Friday and we returned to Romania on Saturday.  Sunday morning I returned to Constanta.  My trip to Sofia was not without its speed bumps.  Since Bulgaria is on a different currency, all the ETAs planned on getting Bulgarian  leva from the ATM at the airport.  Brilliant plan, right?  You'd think so, but our plan had some flaws.  Two out of five of us got money from the ATM, then it was my turn in line and neither my US debit card nor my Romanian debit card worked at the ATM.  The two Romanian ETAs behind me tried to withdraw cash, too.  None of them were successful.  Then, a worker comes out of the currency exchange office located adjacent to the ATM, telling us that the ATM is empty.  That's right, the ATM ran out of money.  Luckily, the two people in our groups who had successfully withdrawn money from the bank had enough money for the two taxis we needed to get to the hotel.

At the hotel, I tried another ATM.  Again, my US debit card didn't work!  I tried my Romanian debit card and was successful in making a withdrawal, but it was the end of the month, and I didn't have very much money left in the account.  I ended up running out of money by the end of the trip, but Jessica, the ETA in Timisoara, lent me some money, which I repaid to her in Romanian lei.  Of course, I was still able to buy way too many souvenirs and now have many mementos of my trip.  Also, after an hour online at the hotel, my internet cut out and simply would not come back.  I tried every troubleshooting option I could find online, and it wouldn't work!

A view of southern Sofia out my hotel window.

St. Alexander Nevsky Bulgarian Orthodox Church, built on the highest  point in Sofia.

Some traditional Bulgarian musicians.  Just after this picture, in the middle of the song, on of the musicians fired off blanks from a pistol.  It was really alarming!

Me and Jessica, the ETA in Timisoara, at a traditionally Bulgarian  themed restaurant

One of the dancers who entertained us during our meal

The Romanian ETAs
Aside from the conference workshops, we got to do a few other things.  We all went to Mt. Vitosha on the outskirts of Sofia, to a restaurant with traditional Bulgarian food, decorations, dancers, music, and costumed staff.  We also had a bus tour of Sofia, then we were dropped off to do our own thing in the city.  The last morning, three of the Romanian ETAs went into the city before out afternoon flight.  we went shopping and went to an archaeological museum.  I was quite pleasantly surprised by all the rich history of Bulgaria, which it is sometimes easy to forget was part of many early civilizations in Europe.  Among other things at the museum, I saw a 15 kg gold vessel and the oldest sign of humans in Europe, a stone with man-made scratches dated at over 1 million years old.  Despite no internet and no money, I overall had a very enjoyable time in Bulgaria.

When I returned to Romania, my US debit card worked just fine, and my internet connected without any problems at the hotel in Bucuresti.  I have no idea why either didn't work in Bulgaria (my bank says they did not block my debit card), but I sure am glad they worked just fine!

The following week was pretty standard: I taught four classes at the university, seven for Money Sense (the eighth session conflicts with my classes at the university), attended several hours of Romanian class, and spent some time with friends.

On the 21st and 25th of November I put on an activity on Thanksgiving at the American Corner in Constanta.  American Corners are libraries and study centers funded in part by the US Embassy for the purpose of educating and inspiring people about the United States.  This activity was mandatory for all the students in my class, in lieu of class while I was in Bulgaria, but was open for others to join in.  On each day there was one person who was not one of my students.  I gave information about Thanksgiving history and traditions, and we watched two Peanuts movies about the Pilgrims and about Thanksgiving.

The American Corner, decorated for my Thanksgiving activity

My students, plus a guest at the Thanksgiving Activity on the 25th

In between these activities at the American Corner, I took a two-day trip to Bucuresti for a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Romanian Fulbright Commission.  The dinner was in the evening on Wednesday, 11/23.  Since one of my colleagues at Ovidius University was a Fulbright grantee to the United States, she was also invited to the dinner and traveled with me by bus to Bucuresti.  At the dinner, I gave a speech on Thanksgiving traditions in the United States immediately following a speech on the history of Thanksgiving by  Nicole, the ETA in Brasov.  Since it was the middle of the week, there were quite a few of the current Fulbrighters who did not come.  Mostly they were those who lived the furthest from Bucuresti.  Since Constanta is only 3 hours away, it is much more convenient for me to make the journey than for the others.  Back to the Thanksgiving dinner: it was a tiny bit of a let-down.  Had I expected more, I might have been more disappointed, but the optimist in me likes to look at the glass as half full.  Firstly, I should mention that the appetizers were completely Romanian.  As for the main course...it was announced when the lights were dimmed, candles were lit, and dramatic music was played, and giant platters with four roasted turkeys (small ones) on each were processed out to the buffet table.  The theatrics were taken to a level beyond what I am used to and consider classy at Thanksgiving, but at least they tried!  The other food for the main course was mashed potatoes and roasted potatoes and cooked carrots, which were garnished around the turkeys.  There was no gravy, no stuffing, and--worst of all--no cranberry sauce! (Side note: I can't find cranberries anywhere.  Not frozen, nor fresh; I miss cranberry sauce sooooo much!)  For dessert we had a sort of strudel with a squash and carrot filling.  It was a bit bizarre, but not altogether bad.

On Thursday, November 24th, the real Thanksgiving, all the American Fulbrighters were taken on a trip around Bucuresti.  Our first stop was Mogosoaia Palace.  After visiting Peles Castle, I was expecting something a bit more grand, but it was still lovely to visit, with a modern museum collection.  For me, the highlight of the Palace was the original mosaic flooring, which was especially notable as it was constructed of two levels of clear glass, with gold leaf in between them.  The floor was a bit dirty, but when you looked at it in the right light, it shone, and I felt rather guilty about walking on it during the tour, especially since someone was hard at work restoring the floor where some tiles had come loose.  After lunch at Mogosoaia, not far beyond the city, we continued onward.

Our next stop was the National Museum of Art, which is located in the old royal palace in Bucuresti's Revolution Square.  Since it had been damaged in the Anti-communist revolution in 1989, the palace has very little of the original decorations or features from its days as the royal residence.  Still, the renovations were quite lavish, and I was pleasantly surprised at how refined the museum is.  The grand staircase is still intact.  It was amazingly impressive, and I felt like Cinderella as I descended three stories, as the staircase split and rejoined at  every level.  We went to exhibits for Romanian artists and for some of the classical masters.  I definitely enjoyed it, although it was too much at once, and I got very fatigued by the end.

We next grabbed drinks and snacks at a cafe, then went to an orchestral concert at the Romanian Athenaeum (Ateneul Roman) concert hall.  I wish I could have taken pictures inside, because it was breathtakingly beautiful!  Not only did it have a beautifully painted dome ceiling, the architecture was unexpected but very elegant and lovely.  If you get a chance, visit this site to see pictures of it.  Romanian Athenaeum
This is the building where Ceausescu was holed up when the Revolution began in 1989.  The obelisk impaling the cage is a memorial to the Revolution. 

My stuffed, roasted chicken
The next morning, bright and early, I took the earliest train back to Constanta so I could go to Money Sense and then be at my second session of my Thanksgiving activity at the American Corner.  That evening (Black Friday), on a whim, I decided to cook my own mostly-Thanksgiving dinner.  My friends Angelina and Camille came over, and we had a roasted chicken, stuffing, mashed potatoes, squash, apple pie, and cranberry...preserves (it was the closest thing I could find).  Overall, it was a success, despite the bottom of the pie burning.  I had to bake it in a round clear casserole dish, in a gas oven.  I guess I'm just not used to gas ovens, yet, especially since I don't have a thermometer and never know the temperature of it.
Camille, Angelina, and our Thanksgiving dinner

My plate loaded up with Thanksgiving dinner.
Today I learned the Romanian superstition that whistling inside brings bad luck.  This explains why people keep incredulously asking me why I'm whistling.  I asked some Bulgarian classmates from my Romanian language course, ad they told me that in neighboring Bulgaria, whistling indoors means you will lose money.  So, I guess from now on I'll only whistle outdoors...or in my apartment, where no one else can hear me!

Monday, October 31, 2011

One Month Down, Eight to Go!

Another week has gone by.  Many of the things I've done are now routine: going to class, teaching class, spending time with Josi and Angelina.  This week we were joined by a fourth friend, Camille, a theatre student from France.

The industrial harbor of Constanta

On Friday we went to the Cafe International, which is a little place operated by the missionary organization Youth with a Mission.  It's very small but so nice.  They were having a live concert by a young woman from Britain who arrived in Constanta to join in missionary work only a few weeks ago.  She was excellent, singing, playing guitar, and playing keyboard.  They have smoothies, coffee, hot chocolate, and tea, and all for exceptional prices.  And the people there are so nice.  Everyone was super friendly and we met people from Britain, Hong Kong, Sweden, and Oregon.  The cafe is only open in the evenings, and each day of the week has a different featured activity.  For example, Monday they are having conversational English lessons, and Thursdays there are guitar lessons.  I really enjoyed spending the evening there.  Afterwards, Josi, Camille, Angelina, and Atilla (Angelina's boyfriend, from Turkey) came to my apartment for pizza and a game.  We played Apples to Apples, which I brought with me to Romania, thinking it would be a great game to play with students to help them to improve their English skills.  It had a good reception with all my non-native English speaking friends, so I hope to schedule a time for interested students to play at the American Corner of the University.

On Saturday we celebrated Halloween.  Now, I should first tell you that Halloween simply is not celebrated in Romania.  (This may be surprising for people whose knowledge of Romania--at least before finding this blog--ended at "That's where Dracula was from.")  Halloween decorations are hard to come by, as are costumes.  We found three stores with VERY limited costume selections and even sadder selections of decorations.  However, we were able to scrape together so costumes for a Halloween party hosted by two German girls studying in Constanta.  I went as an angel, Camille was a witch, Angelina used her lab coat from medical school in Russia and went as a nurse, and Josi was a policewoman.  It wasn't bad, but it just wasn't the same as Halloween in the US, so I found myself with my first bout of homesickness--ever.  I was never homesick when I went to summer camp or when I left for college, but I got homesick for an American Halloween and all the traditions and people that go with it.  That said, I should let you know that it was fleeting.  While I still miss everyone back in the US, I am quite happy to be here in Romania and I'm looking forward to the exciting things happening in the weeks ahead.

Sunday I woke up not-so-bright-and-early as I thought I did.  Daylight Savings Time comes a week early in Romania and I was oblivious to the change.  (To be perfectly honest, though, I never expect the time changes.  Twice a year someone inevitably "reminds" me that I'll need to change my clock that evening and I am saved from any disasters in punctuality.)  I had to attend an orientation meeting for the program I just joined, called Money Sense (more on that in a moment).  It was scheduled to start at 11, but attendance was a bit sub par.  Noting that some people may have been confused about the time, I was suddenly informed of the time change.  It was only then that I noticed my watch was an hour ahead of my cell phone.  Luckily, while I was oblivious to the time change, my cell phone, which I use for an alarm clock, was not and took car of everything for me.  I got an extra hour of sleep and didn't know it.

Back to Money Sense.  Money Sense is a program imported from Britain, for high school students, about personal finance.  As a budding social studies teacher and former captain of my high school Life Smarts team, I am just nerdy enough to be super excited to be involved in this project.  Since I applied for the Fulbright grant, I have wanted to additionally get involved with younger students in Romania.  This program brings a series of lessons on personal finance, free of charge, to high schoolers.  It's being organized here in Constanta by the NGO (Non-Government Organization) AIESEC.  AIESEC is about international leadership among young people, and there is a student office of the group at my university here.  Interestingly enough, they found me, or rather, they found Josi.  Since many of the students in the Romanian language course are part of the educational exchange program Erasmus and since Money Sense is taught in English, AIESEC was scouting the international students for volunteers to help out with the project.  They got Josi's name, and then Josi told me about the project.  It runs through November and December.  This upcoming weekend I will be attending a training session in Bucuresti for Money Sense.

On Sunday, all I had to do was introduce myself to the student participants.  When I announced that I am from the United States, there was a small, collective gasp among many of the high school students.  Now, I can't say if it made me extra proud to be an American or other such things, but that little gasp did remind me how special the idea of America is to many people today.  I'm not saying this to sound pompous and assert that America is better than all the other countries, but to quite a few people, especially youth, America is still that land of dreams that so many immigrants have pursued over the past few centuries.  From my experience in such a short time, I can tell you that many young Romanians have dreams to visit or move to the US and seeing these dreams makes me feel two things: one, extremely fortunate to have been born into the country of so many people's dreams; and two, a strong sense of responsibility to make sure that I exemplify all the things that are truly good about the United States and down let their fascination with my country die because of my actions or demeanor.

After the orientation I went to the high school where Josi is teaching, to join her and a few of her students for their cooking project.  The four girls who participated in the activity made some traditional Romanian food: sarmale and mamaliga.  It was really delicious!
The girls from Josi's school cooking
Josi tries to grate some really soft cheese
The meal: mamaliga, sarmale, and sheep milk cheese

It's dark so early now:  Looking down the street at the church
I returned home to my apartment for a short while before heading to evening mass.  As I've been doing for the past four Sundays, I half muttered along in English and occasionally extremely broken Romanian.  Afterwards I went to the little religious shop in the back of the church to ask if they had a book with the mass parts written out so that I could follow along and learn the responses and prayers.  Luckily the young woman at the window spoke English quite well and was very helpful.  With the help of her mother, who runs the shop, she tracked down the lectors' book for October and gave me a copy, with a promise to get me one for November, she also sold me a little booklet with the standard prayers in Romanian.  Lastly, she told me that she thinks she has a book at home with the words to the liturgy all written out, and she promised to leave it for me at the little shop for the next time I come to mass.  She also gave me her number in case I need anything.  (Sidenote: I have an awful crick in my neck and her business card says she does massage, so if my crick won't go away, I know exactly who to call to help make it go away!)

Caviar from Russia
Angelina prepares the bread for caviar

Yep, fish eggs

After mass I went to Josi's apartment, where, with Angelina, we watched most of V for Vendetta, which I'd never seen before, but was really getting into.  Angelina also brought us a special Russian treat--caviar!  Josi doesn't like hates fish and was NOT a fan.  I had one half-slice of bread with it.  It wasn't terrible, but I can't say I fancied it.  The taste was very potently fishy and as you ate the eggs they popped in your mouth, which I found weird, but is Angelina's favorite part about eating caviar.  It was nice to try it, especially since Angelina gets it from Russia for much cheaper than I could ever buy it in the US, and now I know I shouldn't spend loads of money ordering in a restaurant.

Eaten on buttered bread with a cup of tea, per Angelina's recommendation
Ready to try it.

I have such a busy schedule coming up.  For November: 3rd-6th I have the "Train the Trainers" session for Money Sense in Bucuresti.  The 8th I return to Bucuresti and on the 9th I fly to Sofia, Bulgaria for a regional conference for English Teaching Assistants.  The 12th I return to Romania and on the 13th to Constanta, where I will be attending an opera that evening.  Today I just got the word that on the 23rd and 24th there will be a Fulbright get together in Bucuresti for Thanksgiving.  Flanking this little trip I have a Thanksgiving activity at the American Corner at Ovidius University on the 21st and the 25th.  And throughout this time I will be teaching classes, taking Romanian lessons, and participating three times a week in Money Sense.

Is it weird that I think this ambulance is cute?

Lastly, today Mihaela took me to the police station to register for my residency card.  I gave them all the paperwork and they accepted my application.  My card should be ready for pick up from the police station in about a month.

As promised to a commenter, here is an overhead view of Constanta, courtesy of Google Maps.  The lake I talk about is the pinpoint in the map:

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