The Transylvania Joem: A Young Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania

Sprint to the Finish

Run, Joem. Run.

I am mid-sprint through the very end of my Peace Corps service. Here’s the brief break-down:

I went camping and took an epic 8 hour hike with Harlem, Morrison, and Miner. We drank cherry liqueur, broke teeth, waded freezing rivers, navigated dense fog, caught 14 trout and collected 3 bags of mushrooms, jaw-dropped beautiful scenery, chased sheep, smiled.

The next morning (at 4AM) I trained down south to spend two days with Pisto and Directoara, at their country home. I guzzled all of the home-made wine and garden-ripened tomatoes that one person possibly could. Bulging and buzzed were the best things to be.

I went back home for four hours, and then immediately took another train to Brasov, to play all day with a few of the beautiful, young souls I met at my Retezat camp about 6 weeks ago. All of those train trips constituted about 1300 kilometers in 4 days (and a bunch of cramped, terrible train-naps).

I was home one full day before I participated in my last Romanian wedding. In attendance were some sparse Americans from Alaska, a score of Bulgarians from the American University, in Sofia, and a slew of Romanians– and they brought the party. And the party was rocked. And I was way-whisky drunk and sweat-soaked and it was all so wonderful.

Yesterday was St. Maria’s day, so I munched all afternoon in Morrison and Petra’s garden. Come nightfall, Miner and I partook in one of our favorite activites– watching illegally acquired blockbuster films, fresh released. Ever seen THE EXPENDABLES in only Russian? We have.

Tonight I’m going to a birthday dinner at Leddy’s.
And the following few days are filled with coffee/juice dates, packing and, of course, home-cooked meals.

I recently relayed my schedule to my former Country Director, kg. And he said:

“(It’s) very tough to watch the days slip away, but it is indeed great to see you are sprinting to the finish. There’s no other way to go.”

So, sprinting I go.


Greatest Lesson Learned
August 5, 2010, 10:11 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Peace Corps has taught me so much– about myself, and about the inherent goodness of humanity in others. But were I to draw my greatest lesson, trait, theme, whatever from these last 27 months it would be this: Peace Corps has taught me how to give.

I have been relentlessly blessed by this community I was fortunate enough to be placed into. I am surrounded by caring, affectionate people who have contributed resources, food, and love to my well-being. It has been done without ulterior motive, and always without consideration as to what will be reciprocated in return.

This lesson has not been salient or singular to only my Romanian ‘family,’ but has been visible in my volunteer community, as well as in the hospitality of nationals in other countries. Romanians, Turks, volunteer friends, whoever– they have all taught me the true nature of giving.

The purest form of giving comes when you give on impulse without regard as to whether or not you can afford to. All too often we give only out of politeness and social consideration (and very infrequently outside of special occasions), but here I have experienced giving without hesitation and only to promote the well-being of others.

As I have worked to put this into practice, I have become more well acquainted with the ‘feeling,’ of giving in this way. It’s like this– if you get the impulse to give, a vacuum of Zen and detachment to the object immediately forms. You have one of two options:

  1. Follow your impulse into that void, and give the object in question without apprehension. I have found that, if the impulse to give suddenly exists, then the giving is right– I have yet to experience this impulse when it would have strained me past my own well-being.
  2. Or you hesitate, and allow the vacuum to suddenly fill and close. The human mind will rationalize a thousand reasons why the action should not be fulfilled. The moment passes, and the impulse to give has faded.

It’s a strange place, that Zen pocket, and I’m still learning to throw myself into it without baulking. I am not 100% consistent in this, but today I did it alright.

I saw two of my favorite 7th grade girls on the street, Lăcră and Laura. We stopped and hugged and excitedly chatted for a few minutes, lauding summer and lamenting my nearing departure from Romania. I mentioned all of my recent adventures– Retezat, Turkey, etc..

Lăcră looked to my wrist, where I was wearing a deep blue, Nazar bracelet made of glass. I had bought 3 of them in Turkey: a rainbow one for my brother, and a yellow and black one for a lover. This blue one would be mine.

“I love this!” Lăcră squealed as she grabbed my wrist to admire it more closely. “You got this in Turkey?”

The Zen void immediately presented itself. I looked deep into it, and leapt through.

“Here,” I said, “You can have it.” I quickly pulled the bracelet off my wrist and pushed it into Lăcră’s hand.

“Oh my god!” she happily exclaimed. “Really?!”

“Yes– something to remember me by.”

We chatted a few more minutes, and then I excused myself to finish my errands. I hugged the girls goodbye– I know I may not see them again– and I went along my way. My naked wrist felt liberated. I didn’t miss the bracelet– I was happy that it had found its way to Lăcră’s light.

August 4, 2010, 8:12 pm
Filed under: Peace Corps Romania | Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Harlem and I tried to leave Turkey on Monday, July 26th.

The bus website listed the time of departure as 5PM. Thereby, Harlem and I showed up at the respective travel office at around 3:40, PM. When we arrived, the place was dark, and its sliding glass door was opened ever so slightly. Bad omens.

Inside, we found a friendly, albeit sleepy, Turk sprawled into two of the arm chairs in the adjoined waiting room. He happily explained to us that, during the summer, the bus leaves Istanbul at 3:00 PM, and that our only option was to come back the following day, at two.

I worried that we’d be imposing on Duygu, by suddenly staying at her place another unexpected night. I considered checking into a hostel for the evening, if only to alleviate our presence from her, our wonderful hostess.

Outside, we explained the situation to Dugyu, and her eyes widened. She excitedly hugged us both.

“One more day with Harlem and Joem!” she exclaimed.

So, we still had a place to stay.

The next day, Harlem and I were on time. We hugged our wonderful hostess goodbye, and took our 20 minute shuttle from the travel office to the main bus station in Istanbul. On the way into Turkey, our bus had been completely empty. Honestly, there were four other seats filled. Today, however, it was quite the opposite. Harlem and I were fortunate to grab two empty seats alongside each other, and there we sat and read and sweated something fierce.

I had noticed that there was a group of young Romanians in the back of the bus (4 men and 4 women), but we were too far away to share words. I put in my headphones and slept hard until the Turkish border with Bulgaria. I am lucky– I can sleep any time, and almost anywhere.

At the border, our stewardess frantically relayed some unhappy news to us: the entire bus needed to be emptied, including its massive intestines filled with cargo, so that customs officials could inspect the entire thing.

Harlem and I went to work alongside the 4 young Romanian men– together we emptied out the bowels of the bus. The contents of it were a little irregular:

  1. Thousands of pre-ordered pastry containers, ready to be folded into shape and used by some Romanian cafe that sold sweets.
  2. Enough car parts to re-build an entire Dacia.
  3. A half-dozen boxes of single-serving water bottles.
  4. A felt chair that resembled a recliner. It was royal blue, and had a steel support frame.
  5. A blue tumbling pad, also royal blue.

We emptied out the bus as fast as possible, and then stood by to rest as a few customs officials noted the contents and checked the nooks and crannies of the passenger compartment.

“What was with that chair?” I asked Harlem. “Why would you come to Turkey just to buy one of those?”

Harlem laughed and agreed, and we continued to comment on all of the weirdness that we had just unpacked.

“Well– whatever. It’s a good thing all of those guys were on the bus,” I mentioned. “They’re all jacked.” It was true– each of the young Romanians was in great shape, and it helped make quick work of all the heavy cardboard boxes & car parts from the cargo hold.

Next was a waiting game– for reasons unknown to us, we were informed that we would be waiting here at the border for an undisclosed period of time. A nearby Romanian man who made this trip often speculated that we’d be stuck for at least two hours.

So, to pass the time, I did one of the things I do best– I started jabbering. I started a conversation with two of the young Romanian men, Cătălin and Alex. I asked them what they were doing in Turkey.

“I’m an acrobat, and Alex is a juggler,” Cătălin replied. “We’re in a traveling circus troupe. We go to different countries and perform.”

“No way!” was my reply.

And it was so– Cătălin grabbed his laptop out of the bus, and showed us a couple of videos of his troupe juggling and flipping and tumbling. One special section showed the acrobats using a plank to launch one another into the air, where they would gracefully twist into a big blue recliner hoisted up onto a steel pole– the same recliner that we had pulled from the baggage hold of the bus. Later in the show, they flipped each other right-side-up onto a familiar blue tumbling pad.