Sunday, January 30, 2011

La Multi Ani Peace Corps!

Celebrate Peace Corps Romania's 20th Anniversary and Peace Corps Worldwide's 50th anniversary world wide with us! Please visit our celebration site at to learn more about what PCRo is doing and how you can help. You can also contact me at

20th/50th Anniversary Launch

La Multi Ani was part of the ending of every speech at the anniversary celebration in mid-January 2011. This year Peace Corps is celebrating its 50th anniversary and Peace Corps Romania (PCRo) is celebrating its 20th. With good reason to celebrate the PCRo staff put together a program including speeches from the ambassador, selected members of the PCRo staff, partners from the Ministry of Education, and finally the volunteers. The PCRo Country Director moved the program along as partners from Romanian NGO's, PCRo staff, and the media looked on. The large TEFL PM office became a small conference room for the day as people packed into every corner and empty space available. Despite the crowded environment there was only positive sentiment in the air as the speeches began.

Ambassador Gitenstein gave the first speech of the ceremony. Since his appointment to the office in 2009 he has been an outspoken supporter of Peace Corps in Romania, a quality that not every Peace Corps post enjoys in its ambassador. He has not only supported but has actively been involved in a number of volunteer projects including a Model UN conference and a Habitat for Humanity build. In his speech he stressed his support and belief in Peace Corps Romania. The highlight of his speech came at the end when read the words of a beneficiary of the program. It was a thank-you letter from a former student of a PCRo TEFL volunteer to her former American teacher now living in the US several years later. That former student whose life was so positively affected by a Peace Corps volunteer is now working to support volunteers as an assistant for the TEFL program in the PCRo office in Bucharest.

Speeches continued with the TEFL Program Manager outlining the future of the program, and the Ministry of Education expressing their support for the program. Ever few years the need for PCRo is evaluated. Within the past couple of years PCRo has made some big changes including moving to an all TEFL program where every volunteer entering PCRo will be entering as teachers of English.

Finally the volunteers presented themselves to a room full of Romanian partners and media. The three volunteers were PCRo's volunteer leaders Chris, Alicia, and Ben. After already serving two years at their respective sites Chris, Alicia, and Ben now work to support volunteers, develop training programs, and create partnerships with local NGO's. They impressed the crowd by conducting their speeches in Romanian. Opening with a small activity, they aimed to express the diversity of the PCRo program. Every person sitting down had a card, the 20th anniversary logo was printed on one side and the other side contained the name of a community that a current Peace Corps volunteer is serving in. The presenter then asked those who did not recognize the name of the community on their card to raise their hands. As the majority of the hands were raised people could see that Peace Corps serves communities that are not well known and not often served. The volunteers continued to speak about their experiences and about what Peace Corps means to them.

Following the speeches the crowd filed into other rooms of the Peace Corps office where they mingled with each other, snacked on appetizers, and eagerly waited the cutting of the cake. The cake had the new 20th Anniversary logo on it and was delicious. As the crowd mingled, images of volunteers and their communities were projected on the wall and one of the computers displayed the new 20th anniversary web site. After enjoying their cake and the company, people began leaving marking the end of the day's celebration. Even though that day's celebration had come to an end it was only the beginning of a year of celebrating through service projects around Romania and at Peace Corps posts around the world.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Do you like dogs?

Dogs are a fact of life in Romania. That first night in on the bumpy bus ride to Targoviste Michael mentioned, "I read that Romania has a lot of stray dogs". Hmm stray dogs? I hadn't really heard of such a thing. Corning has a lot of stray cats but I don't believe I have seen stray dogs. As the bus came to a stop at the spooky Hotel Valahia Michaels stray dog statement became real. There were stray dogs in the parking lot, stray dogs in the street, stray dogs in the square across the street. They were barking, fighting, sniffing around the plants by the hotel, sniffing around our bags as we unloaded them off the bus. I must say I was shocked and a bit scared that maybe they were all hungry, with rabies, and ready to bite.

Here I am with my close of service in sight and I have yet to be bitten by a dog (knock on wood). There have been a few close calls. Last fall, hiking on the railroad tracks with E we came upon a quite angry territorial pack. That was when I learned the magic of a single stone. Frightened I stopped and that only made the dogs more aggressive. Ernest told me to pick up a rock. I noticed that as soon as I bent down to get the rock the dogs began to back up a bit. Simply holding that rock allowed me passage. Another time I walked past the post office at 2 in the morning after a late train. Night time is their time to hold down their area and there was one in the park next to the post office ready to showed me that. He came running at me, there were no stones around but I bent down to grab one anyway. My motion to the ground was enough to halt the beast allowing me to quickly walk by. The last close call was outside the train station in Deva where I was just walking along, lost in thought, and I felt something nibbling at my pants. As soon as I turned around the dog backed off. He was a little guy.

After those few close calls I have learned to be attent in certain situations but for the most part I have learned to love Romania's canine population.

Lately it seems that the dogs have been out in full force. Maybe it has been the spring-like conditions of the past week or two, maybe I have just been getting out to more populated areas lately. Whatever it is, their presence has been enjoyed. After Sunday's hike in Straja I realized that with all of the hiking I have been doing in Romania, I don't think I've gone for one hike without seeing a dog. Usually one accompanies us on our hike at least part way. If there isn't one walking next to us we at least see some on the way. In Straja a group of 7-10 puppies that were born in the fall came running out after their mother to play with us as we passed by their house. They even tried to follow us for a while but their tiny legs couldn't keep up.

Of course by now I have my favorites. There are two wonderful dogs that hang out by my block. I'm not sure if they have names but they are always around. I can count on them to be there in the morning when I leave for school and I can count on them to be hanging out somewhere nearby when I return. There is a large black one that appears to be quite old and a smaller, younger looking blond one. At first they were a bit mean but it didn't take long for them to get used to me. The blond one lets me pet it from time to time when its in a playful mood. I found out by a growl that the black one prefers not to be touched. On sunny days they lay out on the walkway and take in the sun to warm their bodies up. Usually during the day time they're resting after a long night of fighting with other neighborhood dogs. Sometimes I hear them barking at each other when I go to bed. One cold morning I opened my door and almost tripped over the blond one. He found my door mat to be quite comfy.

When I sit down and think about the things that I'll miss about Romania when I leave a number of things run through my head. The people, the landscape, the language, the food, and of course the dogs.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

NYE- Budapest

It was an early idea but a late decision. About two weeks before the first of 2011 the hostel that was printed on our leave forms just happened to be booked, but not by us. The next hostel on the list was booked, and the next, and the next… Slightly panicked I continued down the list and found a few hostels not yet filled for New Years Eve but with a 4 night minimum stay, we only needed three: then there was Interflat Youth Hostel. No minimum stay, under 20 Euro, decent rating, decent location, BOOKED. It was a bit risky and I was a bit worried but it was the only option left.

The late decision made for a low participation. The email with NYE-Buda info went to many but in the end it was just two of us in Budapest, J and I. It was J’s first experience staying in a hostel and my second. Little did I know when I booked it that Interflat would be more than just one of twelve beds in a room, it would be the center of my Budapest experience.

After spending a night in Arad to break up my trip I took the early train to Budapest. It was another late decision to take the early train alone instead of the later one with J. I was able to get the most out of my leave day and get oriented in a new city. I decided to just wander around Budapest, settle into the hostel, get lost, found, and come up with a plan for that first night before J arrived at 8:50. On our way to the hostel I told J of a Balken party at a club that I kind of wanted to make it to. That plan fell though when we were shown the living room of the hostel. We peered in through the window of the small room and saw it filled with people drinking and singing. They waved us in and set up two small chairs in the corner for us where we were offered a drink. The room was split between a large group of Slovenians and a large group of Croatians. Added to the group now were two US citizens and a Canadian. It was there we stayed until the early hours of the morning getting to know our new friends, singing along to the occasional song played in English, and listening to two Slavic languages intertwine.

New Years Eve started with a late morning walk though the cold to catch a free walking tour which took us to a number of sites in Pest, including the Jewish quarter. On the tour we met Blair and Daniela, two students from Philadelphia on their last leg of a trip though central Europe. After the tour we ate some hummus and wandered though the Christmas market together until they left for a service at the grand synagogue. A hot wine and metro ride later we were back at the hostel getting ready for New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Much like the previous evening the plan was to go out into the center of the city, and just like the previous evening we didn’t make it. We were once again distracted by the partying of our fellow Interflatters only to a greater intensity, this time it included nice attire, earlier drinking, a wider variety of drinks, and more people brought in from other locations. Our spot was the spot. At about 11:30 people were finally getting ready to leave the hostel at least to check out some fireworks at the nearest square which offered them. I made it out with some Croatians but I can’t say the same for my partner J who I found a couple hours later sleeping. Like a champ he woke back up to hang out with the other Interflatters and myself until early morning. It ended up being a pretty awesome new years eve celebration that will not be forgotten.

The Budapest experience continued. Our train out wasn’t until the second of January so we still had the first to explore Budapest a bit more. We took another walking tour but this time to the Buda side where day turned to night and we could see the lights of Pest shining bright from up on the Buda hill. Even though we were cold and tired it was a pretty nice way to spend the first day of 2011. That night after a nice nap we went back out to eat some delicious Mexican food for dinner and get a beer at a pub. It was a much welcomed chill night out after a couple of crazy hostel nights. Thus ended our NYE-Budapest experience as the next day we simply packed up and headed out on a late-morning train.

Buldog uj evet!