Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A trip to the countryside.

When I decided to join the Peace Corps I had in mind what I think many applicants have in mind, rural life. I had that mental image of me having to leave my grass hut in sub-Saharan Africa to fetch water 3 km away. Two months into service I would finally learn the secret to getting it back on my head without spilling a drop. Well I did not get sent to Africa and I did not get sent to a rural site. After my first week in Targoviste I realized that those images of Peace Corps that I had had been squashed. The dream of living in the countryside was revived during my IST when I saw the site of a fellow volunteer in a comuna. When I found out that I was going to be sent to a city, a little part of me was bummed. I thought that I’d never get to experience those neat traditions that they have in the countryside, cutting the pig, making stacks of hay, making cheese, making tuica, raising animals, the list can go on and on. I expressed my concerns to my PCVL’s and they assured me that it is still possible to experience many of those things if you live in a city. Their advice was to ask, and to be persistent.

I have been at site for three months and I have been asking my landlord to take me with him to the countryside for 2 and a half of those months. Last weekend I finally had the chance to go with him. Luckily for me the plums had been setting, rotting since early September and it was time to make them into ţuica.

We went to a little village called Nucşoara at the foothills of the Retezat Mountains about 30 minutes from Petroşani by car. The first thing I noticed when we were inside the gate was the animals. My landlord’s parents have roosters, hens, chickens, pigs, dogs, cows, geese, horses, and cats. The roosters and hens walk around freely while most of the other animals are kept in their gated areas. Christi worked with a friend on building a railing. I just watched and ate pumpkin seeds that his mother gave me, shoving handfuls into my pockets. I would occasionally lend a hand when it was needed until Christi’s dad started splitting wood. I adopted the job of stacking the wood. At that point I realized that it had been a very long time since I had done some actual work. Stacking wood never felt so good. The gorgeous day and beautiful scenery helped.

After the porch railing was finished and we ate lunch, the caruţa was backed up to the opening of the shed. We started loading on the rotten plums. These plums had been sitting in barrels for 2 and a half months and we were passing them in small buckets, transferring them and all their juices into large barrels on the caruţa. I admit that all their juices didn’t make it to the barrels. My clothes soaked up quite a bit. After the caruţa was loaded the horses were brought out and hooked up. My first caruţa ride was about to begin. I sat on some of the many logs piled in the back as we made our way down the road. We didn’t have to travel too far when we arrived at a small shack inside a gate. This small shack was the ţuica shed. It had a large area where the fire was made and the wood was loaded. Above the fire was the container that the fruit went in which had a crank nearby so that the fruit could always be turned as it boiled. A long tube connected the main section to a large container of cold water. Finally at the bottom of the cold water container was an opening at which a pot was set to collect the ţuica.

It took a while to get the fire hot and the fruit boiling but once it began to spit out ţuica it didn’t stop. Once it starts to yield product the testing begins. As the taste started to get bad, less strong, it was time to wash out the container and put in another batch of fruit. This cycle repeated until all the fruit was gone and we came out with several liters of ţuica.

I had the great opportunity to catch a glimpse of a tradition that’s practiced every year in the Romanian countryside. I could have never pictured myself sitting in a shack making alcohol with mostly strangers in the countryside of Romania. I’m sure it was strange for them to see an American, maybe their first, hanging out in the shack with them, but everybody was welcoming to me despite the fact that I didn’t understand a lot of what they were saying. I hope that this was one of many traditional Romanian experiences that I am able write about.

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