The Transylvania Joem: A Young Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania

October 26, 2009, 11:03 am
Filed under: Peace Corps Romania | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Part of Romania’s uniqueness is the balancing act it plays between its old-world heritages and its simultaneous attempts to step into modernity.  However, it’s clear that mentality moves at a slower pace than industrial progress (for better or for worse), and this leads to some interesting hybrids of that ‘old’ and ‘new’. I’ve written about this juxtaposition before–the ways in which the new democracy and the old ideals sometimes swirl together.

Therefore, it’s not uncommon for me to see families of pigs rummaging through nearby trash dumpsters. They’re not wild, by any means–a nearby farmer simply feels confident enough to let them wander around the town in a sort of ‘urban free-range,’ feeding. It terrifies me because these pigs are enormous. From tail to snout, they’re probably as tall as I am, and they weigh at least 3-4 times as much. Despite their size, they seem anything but dangerous–they happily sift through the trash munching up any foodstuff that’s remotely edible.

Last Wednesday, as I walked home from school, I was relatively unshaken to find two cows grazing alongside the entrance steps to my apartment building. One looked up at me, with her enormous, unsurprised, brown-cow eyes before she continued grazing. The second was completely unaffected by my presence, and ignored me altogether. Nearby, two teenage boys with pierced lips and red camouflage hoodies played music out of their mobile phones and joked as cow #1 swayed and ate less than five feet away from them.

And, a few nights later, I went to Miner’s and watched an illegally downloaded copy of  “Surrogate,” while we drank a beer or two. I left at 12:30AM, and walked down the steep hill from Miner’s apartment building to my own. There, alongside the road, was a mare alone in the dark. She had no bridle or lead, and there was no one else around. The mare sniffed through a few piles of dirt before finding a mouthful of wet, fall grass to eat. I approached her slowly, and clicked my tongue, and held out the flat of my palm. She smelled me lazily, quickly determined that I had no food to give, and turned away from me to sniff out more clumps of grass.

A taxi rolled by, with its bright, blue, neon ground-lights burning into the moonless dark. Unphased by me or by the horse on the side of the road, the driver blasted techno as he sped on. I watched the cab quickly turn a corner, then pulled my own brown and black camouflaged hood over my head, and continued my short midnight walk home.

Close Call

This weekend, Harlem and I took a trip to Turda to see AMAC and J-dub. I’ve written before that public transportation in Romania is generally the stuff of crazy adventure: characters are met, novel experiences are had, and ‘patience, patience, patience’ becomes my mantra. This trip, however, aside from the typical ‘outside of your comfort zone’ stuff, I had a little ‘life-flashes-before-your-eyes’ experience.

The first set of things were ‘normal:’ Harlem and I almost missed our first train north, and then almost hopped off it a station too soon (this is easy to do, and I’ve done it before). We got hit up for money by the same man three different times at the next train station before we almost boarded the wrong train. Then, I carried a thankless woman’s 60 lb bag through three sets of long train corridors. Dub me awkward.

The near-death moment, however, came when Harlem and I arrived at our final stop, Campia Turzii (about 45 minutes southwest of Cluj-Napoca). J-dub and Hummingbird told us that directions to J-dub’s apartment were really difficult to give from the Campia Turzii train station, and that it would be best if we paid for a (cheap) cab ride.

Harlem and I were walking down the concrete platform, alongside the train we had just exited–it was between us and the station. As we walked, I pulled out my phone to check J-dub’s address, and Harlem said “wow, look how far out the train is hanging over the platform.” In hindsight, this was clearly the stuff of foreshadow.

I stopped at a place where Harlem and I could cross the train tracks once our train left. Each set of tracks were separated by a 1.5 meter wide patch of concrete, and this is where we stood. As Harlem noted before, trains bulge outward, which closes the gap significantly. With my head down, and the train next to us wheezing and hacking,  I couldn’t hear the train coming in the opposite direction. My duffel bag was hanging out into the air behind me, and that space was about to be filled by a fast-moving train headed in the opposite direction.

Harlem saw this, and grabbed me to move me forward just as the other train came by. We were trapped for about ten seconds between both trains, being whipped by the blast of air forced down the platform. The second train continued on, train one suddenly lurched and slid away, and I stood dazed on the platform, illuminated by the now unobstructed station.

“I almost got hit by a f***ing train,” I almost yelled. My adrenaline rush became laughter, and I surpressed all my ‘what might have been,’ musings that wanted to ripple through my mind. Really, it wasn’t so bad–it seemed fairly normal given the tone that the night had set for us.

Parângul Mare
October 5, 2009, 3:24 pm
Filed under: Peace Corps Romania | Tags: , , , ,

From August 08 to August 09, Parângul Mare loomed over me, from my kitchen window.
It’s the third highest peak in Romania, but I, a self-proclaimed wilds rambler, hadn’t found my way to its summit.
On September 12th, however, I finally found my way there with three other PCVs, and three Romanian friends.
The pictures can be seen on flickr. Enjoy.