The Transylvania Joem: A Young Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania


The Second Greatest Coincidence
November 6, 2008, 11:06 pm
Filed under: Peace Corps Romania | Tags: , , , , , ,

The following is 100% true:

The teachers are striking today, so my trip to school is for show. Instead of teaching, I will receive three bags full of foods from three older women that love me. I have to make room in my fridge for jars of sour soup, buttered rice with parsley, plum compote, and minced-pork cabbage rolls–everything wrapped lovingly in old ice-cream containers, rubber bands, sandwich bags, aluminum foil. After I put these away, I thirty-second myself back to school to throw away the moldy Jack-O-Lanterns from the sixth grade Halloween party.

On the school front steps some of my fifth grade girls wait in the slim, fall sunshine for dance practice. I get a handful of short hugs. The shy one that I love most makes me promise that I’ll come by her dad’s apartment this weekend for a movie. During the movie I will probably eat egg soup and bread, or a tomato and pate sandwich with beer and instant coffee and a big shot of brandy. The girl tells me, in Romanian, “we will be waiting for you,” like she always does. Her dad (Miner) says the same thing. Her aunt, my director, does too.

My other director, Luna, asks me to walk with her to the ATM while the school secretary faxes my tutor reimbursement form to Peace Corps. Luna and I walk along the block-shaded back road behind main street because it’s warm and sunny today, and we both dressed too warm. I would’ve dressed cooler, but today the guilt got me: I receive reprimands from the forty women I work with whenever I’m inappropriately dressed for the weather. I have realized that I don’t dress for situations–I go for a median. Jeans and a thin long-sleeve are generally all I need.

On our walk back, we discuss the upcoming American election. We both wish Obama would win. Luna tells me she likes him because he’s younger, and represents a new era of thought and change. I smile and squeeze her arm in reassurance. Luna asks me when I’ll run for politics. I tell her I’m a good boy, but not good enough for politics. I also say I don’t have the belly for it. She tells me it’s something I should consider, as she believes I’m articulate, charismatic, and capable of changing the world. Kind words, but I can’t help and muse that I probably project none of those things when I speak to her in Romanian.

If I could’ve, I would’ve really said that I’m unable to live and die for just one political system, and that it’s the freedom of the whole world I’m interested in. I’m not tied to any one government or country to hold close no matter how salient it has been to me as I’ve been grown. But I cannot. So I squeeze her arm again and take the stringed compliments kindly.

Luna thanks me for my company as we climb the school steps. The secretary has the fax receiver to her ear, and tells me the Peace Corps number isn’t working, but she’s trying one more time. This time, as I stand in the doorway, the fax goes through. The secretary jokes that I must have good Karma–I admit that I didn’t know Karma was a word to be used in Romanian. I then joke that this can’t possibly be true– that I have the sort of Karma that soothes a stubborn fax number. Luna gets stern for a second and tells me that it’s so.

I wander away from school to meet my wonderful site-mate, SMK, and walk and talk for a little before she leaves tonight for a week-trip to Turkey. We do what we do well–spew gratitude for our Jiu Valley and offer each other favors in gestures of good will. As we walk, I see that my favorite second-hand store has received a shipment today. I make mental note.

SMK continues to her work and I retrace to my second-hand store. I wander about, touching cheap nylon hats and quick glancing across rows of kids’ clothes. Along the back wall is a line of new winter jackets, just received today– the day I don’t have school because of the teacher strike.

I crank the jackets across the rack and an older man approaches from my side. He has just tried a jacket on, disapproved, and placed it on its hanger to hang back on the rack. The zippers swing, and some immediate familiarity flashes. They read DNA, and DNA is my favorite winter clothing brand. When I was a ski instructor for Vail Resorts, my tangerine and ash ski uniform was built by DNA. I bought a black DNA under-fleece from the employee center at Keystone, and ultimately brought that same black fleece here with me to Romania.

The second-hand jacket is great–large, and black and red for 40 lei, which is approximately $13. I open the jacket abdomen and feel a twinge of recognition. Across the small, white bit of address tag is a sharpie’d serial number. I know exactly what this means: Vail Resorts does this to track which employee uses the jacket, in order to ensure that it’s returned at the end of the year. I turn the jacket over. There’s a large H sewn into the middle of the back. H stands for ‘Heavenly,’ Vail Resorts’ mountain in Lake Tahoe. There’s a spot over the heart where a velcro name tag might go. I have about 6 of these name tags in my drawer in Morrison.

The severity of the coincidence begins to sink in. Somehow, a Vail Resorts employee sold this one-season-old jacket in such a way that it came across an Atlantic ocean and European continent. It passed into my Peace Corps country, and up roads or railways into the Jiu Valley to my little mining town. The jacket was placed in my favorite second hand store the Monday I had no school because of a one-day-long protest. An old man returned it to the rack in front of a former Vail Resorts employee who has “warm, waterproof, nicer/ winter coat” on his second-hand list taped to the violet of his bedroom wall.

I can’t believe that this sort of thing could happen. I told my friend, DP that it’s essentially unfathomable. She told me to fathom it, and she’s right: I have the jacket in my closet for proof. I told DP I don’t deserve this sort of karma. She says clearly I do. Two of the wonderful women in my life have soothed my karmic confidence, today.

I’m reminded of a note I taped to my bedroom door when I was living in south Denver after college. I wrote it in black sharpie on a small, white bit of scratch paper after I meditated one afternoon. It’s still one of the most salient thoughts I’ve ever had. It was:

“Is the path happy?
The path is happy.
The happy path is.

I’m going to make the same note, and tape it to my bedroom door here in Romania as a simple and significant gesture of gratitude. And then I’ll go to my little kitchen and heat and eat some homemade sour soup.