The Transylvania Joem: A Young Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania


Miss the Amazing
June 28, 2009, 10:38 am
Filed under: Peace Corps Romania | Tags: , , , , ,

MB and I were sitting across from each other. Both of us perched Indian style, backs straight, attentive. There was an open and half emptied bottle of wine nearby. The conversation was so heavy that even the light oozed lethargic, barely slithering above the bristles of my rose petal Romanian rug.

And this beautiful, intimate moment birthed one of the most salient epiphanies of my recent memory. I had already realized that the greater my life becomes, the more wonderful and amazing the souls that I will crash against. And I say crash because it’s always a big thing. It pierces my skin and rattles my bones and all of that body stuff that surrounds the ‘me’ is swept away so that these two souls can intertwine into each other and touch in some way that extends beyond the physical into the supermassive black hole of spirit that is out there always and cannot be touched. And it is poetic inescapable–clearly–as I write these gaudy words in an attempt to brush against that untouchable ineffable that comes when we experience the holy of the world.

It is a crash of kindred. The kind that could make a whole universe.

The new epiphany was this: I must learn to miss the amazing ones. We will meet and love and laugh, but ultimately and relentlessly and always we part ways onto our separate adventures. The amazing cannot sit still–they have a big world to save, and that necessitates a life that hums and burns with the motion of new experiences. The amazing cannot rest, even at the soul crashes.

It’s like Ben Harper says:
“I hate to say I love you/
because it means that I/
will be with you forever/
or will sadly say ‘goodbye.'”

And forever is far too long, and we aren’t made to last. So the goodbyes will always come heart-breaking and hard. But I told MB that I love him and appreciate him and always and forever I am a better human-being that we have been friends. And that may be the greatest (and only) thing that I, this little human being, can do.

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The Adventure Continues
June 28, 2009, 10:05 am
Filed under: Peace Corps Romania | Tags: , ,

This is what my last month has been like:

I finished up a couple of projects in and around school and even a few having to do with the P-C-R-O.
And, in the process, I finished teaching my first year of English. And I saw that all of this was good.

I hosted a group of five fresh and curious smiling, laughing, shining trainees.
We went hiking (three times), ate all sorts of the grilled and good Romanian meats, met my kids, friends, colleagues, wanderers-by.
And we saw that (all of) this was good.

Now, I’m living in a town down south, Tirgoviste, for two weeks. Each day, I go to a school and sit in ‘practice’ classes taught by the trainees. We talk serious and laugh hard and I watch them, bright-eyed and soaking it up and it’s a wonderful thing to see each grow so great day by day.

Meanwhile, I’ve been preparing an itinerary for a trip to Germany, the Czech, and Prague with one of my favorites, Kwondo. I’ll be gone for about ten days, and I’m setting the same sort of travel plan that I made for Springbreak Chernobyl because I want things to seem seamless and be brilliant. And I have a sort of OCD fixation on these sort of things. That means printing maps, copy/pasting hostel directions, and researching the ‘do this/do thats’ of Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Salzburg, and Vienna.

And so, the adventure continues, but for a month it will be away from my town. Away from my little green mountain and my kids rollerblading by and yelling their beautiful “hellos!” whether they’re coming along or going away.
Away from the new apartment that already feels safe and warm and home. Away from my extended family of adopted moms and dads that tease me and adore me despite me.
And away I go.



Remember And Guilt Will Become Gratitude

The following is the most unexpected, personal epiphany I have learned during my Peace Corps service:

Last Thursday, I celebrated my 25th birthday. It was my second birthday in Romania, and effectively marked the first week of my second year of service.

I knew that my community would lavish undue amounts of hospitality and love onto me–such is their way. As a result, on Monday, May 25th, I began a list in my daily planner of every gift I received. I kept it until Friday, the 29th.

At the top, I wrote, “TANGIBLE GUILT,”
because that is how these presents made me feel, at first.

At times, the gifts would make me grit my teeth, and tense my arm and back muscles awkwardly.
I’d immediately think about school projects I wanted to complete, but hadn’t started. I’d think about broken commitments, or times that I was cranky or unresponsive. In short, all of this good made me remember the few bad things I’d done. I was determined to make myself feel unworthy for this  outpouring of love.

But, at one point, I remembered.
I thought of the time that Luna took me to the nice grocery store to buy me food for an upcoming train ride. I felt guilty and decided to flatly refuse her offering. There, in the snack aisle, I told her I would not take anything that she bought, and that I felt uncomfortable.

For the first time ever, Luna angrily narrowed her eyes at me. “You are annoying me,” she hissed. She stared at me intensely, and I had an enormous realization: she was trying to perform an act of kindness–and I was ruining it by feeling guilty.

You see, guilt is the response that is created when we have done something wrong. Guilt is what we feel when we have the realization that we have erred. And somewhere along the way, I have developed a guilt complex that whines in the face of the good intentions of others.

I realized that, not once, did I implore or beg Luna to buy me snacks. I didn’t give ‘hints’ to try and manipulate the situation–in fact, Luna is far too clever for that. Had I tried to manipulate her, she would have immediately known.

Luna was there with me because she cares for me, and loves me like family. And in feeling like I had done something wrong, I was spoiling this love. There in the snack aisle, I apologized, gave Luna a hug, and helped her pick out my favorite train treats–unsalted peanuts, bagel chips (pizza flavored), Honey Nut Cheerios.

And I tried to remember this realization at school all week.
My arms and back would relax, and my jaw would soften. I would remind myself that: no where along the way had my intentions been deceitful or dishonest. That these gestures from my kids and colleagues were acts of compassion, and I would do well to reciprocate them as such. Refusing this love only extinguishes it–and that rather than stifle this tangible affection, I should revel in it and let it burn beautiful and bright as it so deserves.

Guilt has no business in the realm of hospitality and kindness.
Gratitude is the only appropriate way to reciprocate that care.
A receiver with the best intentions should never stifle the best intentions of someone who cares enough to give.