Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Peace Corps Invades Cluj

With the insider help of veteran volunteer Doug, Peace Corps Romania descended on Cluj in full force on the weekend of 12 March 2011. The American forces started to move in on the western Romanian city on the evening of the 11th. That evening PCRo's rookie committee, the Multicultural Awareness Committee(MAC) held their inaugural meeting bringing together volunteers from both groups 26 and 27 to discuss the committee's mission and future involvement in the upcoming PST. Meanwhile volunteers were filing in from all parts of Romania to attend the following days' events. Those events included the spring GAD and VAC meetings on Saturday, and Sunday's annual Warden training.

Arriving by train late on the evening of the 11th, I attempted to find my way to the hotel in the city center on foot. I had been through Cluj before but only in transit. On a couple of occasions Cluj has acted as a stopping point for me connecting one leg of a trip to another. My last encounter with the Transylvanian capital was a four hour stop between a return flight from Venice and my train back to site. During that four hours I wandered through the city center snapping photos, drinking coffee, and reading my book next to the city's impressive St. Michael's Cathedral. I arrived in the city center cutting down taxi costs but eventually had to find a ride to the hotel that I was not familiar with. Still feeling ill from a cold that I caught earlier that week I decided to stay in and rest up for Saturday's meeting.

After a nice breakfast at the hotel and some miner last-minute preparations for the meeting the group of PCRo staff and volunteers made their way to Cosul Verde, a small organic food shop with a coffee shop upstairs which would be the VAC meeting room for the day. With increased participation due to other meetings that same weekend, Cosul Verde was the perfect location, just large enough to comfortably fit all participants. In classic VAC meeting style the scheduled 6 hour meeting lasted 7. The morning cruised by on schedule with a large variety of agenda topics leading straight into lunch at 1:00 on the dot. Two of the staff members present were experiencing their first VAC meeting in Romania. One was the PTO who recently came on board in November and the other was the Peace Corps Security Officer for the region stationed in Albania. Their presence added great value to the discussions as well as important information on the direction of PCRo and PC worldwide. An added bonus to the group of participants was veteran PCVL Chris. The Lunch Box was the perfect spot to get all of the VAC, MAC, and GAD members sufficiently fed and rested for the joint afternoon hour to come.

While VAC and GAD held their meetings at the same time but in different locations, GAD and MAC representatives were able to join the VAC meeting in the afternoon to present their committee updates. After the joint committee hour GAD reps returned to their meeting location and VAC continued on with survey presentations. This part of the agenda took longer than expected as the results of both the VAC annual survey and the group 27 site integration survey came under heavy, but necessary discussion. Finally the end of the meeting came one hour past its scheduled timing.

The beautiful spring day allowed me some time after the meeting to snap some pictures of the large statue outside of the cathedral. The statue is of Matia Corvin a former king of Hungary. Though I had visited Cluj on previous occasions this was my first sighting of the statue as it had been under construction during my earlier visits.

The evening began with a satisfying dinner at 360 where I ordered a plate of delicious fries, a cheeseburger and some cole slaw. It was the most American meal I had had since my cheeseburger meal at the small Irish pub, McGowen's, a year earlier in Medias. From there we wandered through the old Romanian-Hungarian streets hopping full bars until finally arriving at an artistic 2nd floor joint called insomnia. It was an interesting bar with several rooms that get redecorated every six months. It was there where we chatted over Stejars until heading back to the hotel.

Luckily the next day's warden training was pushed back from 9am to 10:30 allowing us all some time to rest a bit more and eat a nice breakfast before getting starting. For many, the warden training was a refresher in case there is an emergency in Romania. As for myself, I was receiving the information for the first time since I have only recently become a warden. Basically a warden simply relays information between staff and volunteers, and keeps things under control if there is an emergency in the country. The training didn't last too long but it was thorough and helpful. It was also the last meeting, closing out the weekend in Cluj.

Even though the last meeting had ended, my Cluj time continued. My next best travel option was at 9:30 the following morning. That evening after the warden training I wandered around with my colleague Cbrown and we found the less-than-impressive cock church. Instead of a cross at the top it has a rooster. Next we ate some really good Indian food where I said goodbye to her and a couple of other colleagues venturing south to Turda. A bit later on that evening, wandering through the downtown walking streets with Chris and Ted, we heard some music that would turn out to be a major highlight of our Cluj trip. In a second-floor bar we found a young group of musicians playing some great sounding jazz music. Sitting there in the corner with our Silva's we admired the music and introduced applause to the room after each song. The band was made up of a keyboardist, bass player, drummer, and a violinist, student musicians jamming out with each tune they played. We stayed there until the band finished and even found one other bar to have our last drink of the night. It was a proper ending to the weekend of PC meetings in Cluj.

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