Thursday, March 3, 2011

March 1st

Once again Peace Corps's birthday is the subject of the post. Fifty years ago on March 1st, Executive order 10924 established Peace Corps, though it was not authorized by congress until September. To commemorate Peace Corps's official 50th anniversary Peace Corps Romania held informational sessions promoting volunteerism at every "American Corner" around Romania. I was fortunate to be able to be a part of this project.

An "American Corner" is a section of a library that offers books in English and reference books on the United States of America. It may also include films and recordings from the United States. American Corners support local English instruction offering a variety of language learning materials. It may also include informational sessions about the United States or given by a citizen of the US. There are currently 8 American Corners in Romania. American corners exist in libraries all over the world.

My colleague Chelsea and I were assigned to give a presentation at the American Corner in Craiova. When I first signed up to help for this project I originally offered to help in either Craiova or Cluj. Cluj is a great city that I have been to a few times in passing but never to stay very long. I have not yet been in Craiova but I pass by it sleeping whenever I take the night train to Bucharest. Since there are not many volunteers near Craiova, and quite a bit of volunteers up by Cluj, I figured that I would end up doing the session in Craiova. Craiova is the largest city in the region of Oltenia. Oltenia is known for it's fast speakers, perfectul simplu tense, and flat landscape, though the northern part of Oltenia is mountainous. I frequently visit Oltenia because it borders my town, but I have not yet had a chance to wonder around Craiova.

Chelsea came up to visit the Sunday before Tuesday's presentation to hang out, plan the presentation, and get a slightly better travel option to Craiova. That travel option happened to be a 4:00am Personel train that got us into Craiova's beautiful train station at about 10:00am. Craiova's gara is the nicest train station that I have passed through in Romania. It is even heated. From there we took a 6 lei taxi to the center of town where the library is located. On the phone the American Corner director emphisized taking a Romnicon taxi. Romnicon is a taxi company in Craiova that appears to be a trustful one.

When taking a taxi in Romania the customer must be attentive, especially if they are foreign. One trick that the driver might pull is the broken meter. They will claim to have a broken meter and then when you reach your destination the driver can charge what he wants. Just looking in to see if there is a meter or not isn't enough. I either ask him to turn the meter on or I ask him roughly how much it will cost to get to my destination before even entering the cab. Negotiating the price before entering the cab works well because then he doesn't have the option of taking you all around the city before finally arriving at your destination.

I was impressed with Romnicon's service. Every time we took a taxi we went with Romnicon and every time it appeared as if we went directly to our destination with the meter running.

At the American Corner we were greeted by friendly staff, a coffee and some great cake that the AC director made for us. We had a bit of time to freshen up after the long train ride and then we were brought in to speak quickly with the library director. The library director seemed concerned about receiving a new volunteer. They had had a great Peace Corps volunteer working there for two years and I could tell that they really loved and appreciated her. They would like another volunteer but unfortunately they can no longer apply for one. Only teachers in nearby schools can receive volunteers now as PCRo has moved to an entirely TEFL post. If a volunteer from the next group ends up in Craiova they have a great contact with the library there that will provide them with dedicated counterparts and a rewarding secondary activity. After meeting the people at the AC I really hope a volunteer ends up there to help them out.

It was almost time for the presentation when Chels and I were called to the back to talk to the media. Speaking Romanian in front of a camera was not an easy task but I hope that the obvious mistakes were edited out before the footage made it to air, if it ever did. I have refused to search and find out if it was ever actually played on air.

The presentation went smoothly. Members of the audience were no strangers to volunteering. When I told them to "stand up if you have ever volunteered" everybody in the room was standing. They were high school students and I was quite impressed. With them we discussed volunteering, told them about Peace Corps, and shared stories about volunteering. Many of them were volunteers for "Salvati Copiii" a volunteer organization that some of my students are involved in. After Chels and I presented a couple of other organizations spoke shortly about what they do and how the young people in the audience can get involved. After the meeting ended Chels and I were surrounded by young volunteers interested in what we do, why we are here, and our impressions about Romania.

The day had only just begun. Madalina, an assistant at the American Corner was charged with the responsibility of showing us around Craiova. We wandered around the center seeing the Museum of Oltenia where we learned about the traditional costumes, beautiful rugs, farming, pottery, and puppets. A delicous lunch split up our museum visits and we wandered through another three story museum about the diverse plan and animal life in Oltenia. We took a long walk through an impressive park where we saw a small zoo and a nice suspension bridge over the park's lake. Finally we stopped in a nice corner restaurant for a tea to warm up after being in the cold for a while.

After meeting the friendly staff and students at the American Corner and taking the nice tour around Craiova, it is easy to understand how a volunteer had a rewarding two year experience there. It was so rewarding that she continued serving in Peace Corps by transferring to Nicaragua to start another two year service.

The trip ended with a three hour train ride back to Petro, sleeping just about the entire way. An appropriate celebration for Peace Corps 50th birthday I'd say.

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