Thursday, March 22, 2012

One World Romania

Put on by the Czech Center, this international human rights documentary film festival reminded me of one of the positive aspects about living in a capital city, the cultural events.  In its fifth edition in Romania, the festival displayed a number of films addressing a large variety of topics related to human rights throughout the world.  The nine films I saw addressed topics from hip hop music to escaping communism, to genocide.  The topics for the most part were hard to deal with and for that reasons the films main image was made to be one hard to deal with.  It was an image of a women and a man wearing expressionless faces with an old-style shaving razor being held up to their manually opened eyes as if they were drones being forced to watch something that would painfully change the way the see the world around them.

The festival opening featured a band performing various styles of music interpreted by a diverse group of youth criminals who had to be police escorted to and from the stage.  The feature film was rather uplifting as it documented the beginning of hip hop music as the form of political protest that it once was and its disbursement in this form around the globe.  The Furious Force of Rhymes:

The following evening hosted a number of films but I chose to attend the free one, not only because it was free but also because it was the most relevant film of the festival in the context in which I worked for two years in Romania and in which many of my colleagues work at the moment.  That context is the Romanian educational system and the documentary entitled “Our School” documented the attempt for the EU to desegregate Romanian schools by integrating Roma into classes with Romanians, the attempt for the teachers to handle the changes in their classrooms and the attempt for the kids to go to school.  It was a very sad film but one that should probably be watched by teachers all over the world.  Our School:

“Our School” was shown in the New Cinema of Romanian Directors located at the Peasants museum.  Two major aspects about this cinema set it apart from the other three main festival cinemas; it is located quite far from the very center of town and entrance was free.  Once again, Thursday evening I went for the free choice.  O the life of a PC volunteer in Bucharest.  Even though I didn’t see all of the other films airing that evening I would say that I made a good choice catching the only showing of “Albanian Special”.  Albanian Special was a series of three short documentaries made by students of an Albanian film school that has faced its own struggle with oppressive authorities over the years.  After the films the director of the school came out to answer “questions” about the films and the struggles that his school has had to go through over the years.  I put “questions” in quotes because there may have been only one.  The talked through the entire discussion time only answering one question.  Either way I give him credit for being the only Albanian that I’ve heard of that can speak decent Romanian.  

Friday offered up a two-for-one special at Cinema Union with “A Murder Revisited” about a male homosexual killed in Serbia followed by the light hearted story of an old Czech man traveling through Russia.  It was an odd mix but the discussion following the second film was almost as entertaining as the movie itself.  The film followed the helmet and track suit wearing Mr. Triska around Russia following his father’s old war tracks to Siberia while actually probing the Russian public he interviewed for thoughts on politics, life in Russia and the recent disappearances of journalists.  I enjoyed the feature so much I decided to stay for the double feature that followed.  Mr. Triska Epoch Making Trip to Russia:

I went on to see two more films that week wishing that I had the chance to see the rest.  (,  Like the festival posters suggested they were truly eye-opening films and in some ways, like the posters suggest, their subject matter cut like a knife.  After last weeks film festival I was happily reminded of one of the positivies about living in a large city. 

One World Romania-

Monday, March 5, 2012

Martisor 2012

On the first of March each year Romanians celebrate Martisor.  My first Martisor came as a surprise.  I was not forewarned of the customs until about a week ahead of time when I asked my colleagues why there are stands up throughout the city selling decorations and flowers.  My second Martisor was spent presenting on the topics of Peace Corps and volunteerism to a small group of bright young individuals at a library in Craiova.  This past martisor was spent at yet another Peace Corps event hosted by the Gender and Development Committee helping with set up and looking on while art projects where displayed and awarded in their portrayal of this year’s theme, “Peace at Home, Peace in the World”.  March first has turned out to be a very important day in my Peace Corps service but what exactly does Martisor mean and why is it celebrated?

In trying to steer clear of the textbook/Wikipedia answer I’ll try to give a PCV perspective on the local holiday.  A week or two before March first, stands go up around town and the people standing behind the table are selling small gifts or flowers.  You walk down the street seeing table after table filled with little white boxes that say “1 MARTIE” in red at the top of the box.  Each little box has a small window revealing its contents which may be a 4-leaf clover, a chimney sweeper, a flower, or a number of other symbols.  A friend of mine even found a martisor that looked like a salted pretzel.  The one thing that each martisor does have in common is the red and white string attached to it.  There are various explanations for what each color represents but one explanation is that the white represents winter while the red represents spring, and the fact that the colors are woven together represents the transitions from winter to spring.  Looking back over the three different Martisor celebrations that I have had, though I’ve participated in 3 different activities in 3 different locations, there has been this one constant of season change.  Now when I think of the first of March, like most Romanians, I consider it the beginning of spring.  

Martisor 2012 presented an opportunity for me to get together with good people and get crafty.  My host country organizations MaiMultVerde (MMV) decided that it would be nice to gather some materials from around the office (materials that would have probably been otherwise thrown away or recycled) and make something nice out of them.  This year, instead of spending money on cheap, plastic gifts probably made in China, I spent hours with fellow MMV volunteers cutting paper, gluing various things together, and tying red and white strings around them.  I even learned some origami which is something that I wouldn’t mind learning more of if I have time.  The result was great.  Some of the gifts were sold to the GAD committee for their event while others were sold to MMV supporters.  The money that was raised will be used to support a tree planting activity that will take place in April.  

One quick fact that must be mentioned about March 1st is its intimate connection with Peace Corps.  Like all things super important there is a day dedicated to them.  Mothers are super important so there is a mother’s day.  Human Rights are super important so there is a Human Rights day.  Fooling people is super important so there is a Fool's Day.  Well Peace Corps is pretty important too, and so on March first we celebrate Peace Corps Day.  Though, in Romania, Peace Corps Day is usually overshadowed by the local Martisor celebrations it is no small matter.  March first is the day that President Kennedy officially established the Peace Corps.  Happy Birthday Peace Corps!