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
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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.