The Transylvania Joem: A Young Peace Corps Volunteer in Romania

The End of a (Big & Beautiful) Chapter
September 3, 2010, 5:37 pm
Filed under: Peace Corps Romania | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I’ve been back in America for about 2 weeks. I got home on a Friday the 20th, and ate a big Mexican dinner with my family. I partied on Saturday with a bunch of old friends, and moved up to Fort Collins, Colorado, on Sunday. On Monday, the 23rd, I began life as an official student, again.

Since then my life has been GO! GO! GO!– but in a good way.

None of this feels surreal, or heart-breaking. My time in Romania was perfectly ‘framed.’
I came. I saw. I experienced. I thrived. I loved and was loved. I grew and grew and grew.
And now the time has come to move on:

Closing time– time for you to go back to the places you will be from.
Closing time– this room won’t be open ’til your brothers or you sisters
So gather up your jackets, and move it to the exits– I hope you have found a friend.
Closing time – every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

I love you, Romania. Thank you for everything.
And now I’m on to the ‘next crazy venture beneath the skies.’

Take care. Namaste & Numai Bine.
JoeM out.



These five ‘city posts’ concern a trip I took through central Europe, beginning on July 2nd and ending late in the evening of July 14th
(Berlin, Dresden, Prague, Salzburg, Vienna):

I spent July 2nd in Bucuresti, as my begin-by-Berlin flight left at around seven in the morning. The “traveling-through” problem of Bucuresti was heavy on my mind–the airports frown upon sleep overs, and most Bucuresti hotels are really expensive. I’ve recently heard rumors that Bucuresti is the sixth most expensive city in the European Union. Whether this is real or reach, my humble Peace Corps salary necessitates that my excursions through the capital city be as… thrifty… as possible. The cab ride from the Peace Corps office to the airport alone can be 50 RON on offpeak hours (and depending on the driver). But, as often occurs, the universe provided me with a cheap and comfortable alternative, provided that I was prepared for adventure.

Through a professional contact, I found a cantaloupe-coloured French monastery on a quiet street in northern Bucuresti. I met the kind-hearted head-“frere,” Martin, and he let me sleep there for free (but first I needed to move furniture back into my fresh painted room) and welcomed me to dinner (if I wouldn’t mind doing all the dishes afterwards). Coffee, oven-baked bread, and jam were mine to enjoy the next morning (as I’d be waking up before the monks). I left a 20 RON donation on the dresser for good traveler’s karma, and took a cab for only 7 RON to the airport.

Berlin is buzzing, and the immediate first word that blinks into my brain for it is “young.” Perhaps inappropriate for a city present in the world since before the 1200s, but the most fantastic and interesting parts of Berlin are, to me, in its modern history. This is a city completely re-born of red phoenix fire in 1989, blasting hard and high into the cosmos of the modern world order.

Street art is ubiquitous in Berlin, which was a surprise for me. The East Side Gallery is a giant preserved portion of the Berlin Wall, and every few months new artists are allowed behind the metal chain link surrounding it to re-define what it says. However, city graffiti extends beyond the wall to almost any sprayable surface. From quick scribbles to massive, building high works by Blu, Berlin feels like a sprawling concrete canvas.

Our hostel, comebackpackers, was in the Middle-Eastern section of Berlin. This boy (me!) who loves exotic food celebrated by immediately eating a spicy falafel sandwich. During either of the twelve o’clock times, I could get a doner kebab wrap for 2.5 Euros, which was BY FAR some of the cheapest eats of the entire trip.

I took the Sandeman’s New Europe Tour of Berlin, which is a free tour directed at youth. Our tour guide, Sunshine, is a performance artist, originally born and raised in California– she was brilliant and bright. The New Europe guides operate on tips only, but they present the information (tons of history, anecdotes, factoids) in their fun, accessible, curse word-laden ways. My favorite story, as Sunshine told it, was about Berlin’s most infamous icon, the Bradenburg Gate (I apologize if my rendition is hazy and/or incorrect–feel free to correct me in the ‘comments’ section of this post):

Napoleon invaded, liked the gate, and took it to Paris following the Prussian defeat in 1806. The Germans weren’t happy about this, but they immediately vindicated themselves by defeating Napoleon and recovering the gate in 1814. The Prussians removed the oak leaves (symbols of Peace and Knowledge) from Victoria’s hands, and replaced them with an Iron Cross, the symbol of Prussian Rule. They then renamed the square under Victoria’s chariot to ‘Paris Platz.’

What does this mean? That now the Goddess of Victory was holding the Iron Cross over Paris Platz.
Or: ‘German Victory over Paris.’

But the best part is this: prior to being stolen by Napoleon, Victoria looked straight down Unter den Linden–the main drag of Berlin (like the German ‘Champs Elysee‘). Once she was recovered, however, the Germans put her at a slight angle, so that she would look down and to the left at a particular site in the square.
That particular site would eventually become the French Embassy.

Proof that, indeed, Germans have a fantastic sense of humor.


Holocaust Memorial: I was able to see all the touristed city sites, and of those I definitely recommend the Holocaust Museum. It is underneath the haunting Holocaust Memorial, just a short way from the Brandenburg Gate. It’s a small space, but it’s brilliantly organized to inform (and devastate). Of particular note is a room with a projector that, one by one, displays every name  of every Jew murdered in World War II. A voice states a few simple facts about that person, in both German and English.
It takes over six years for the display to honor each person, before it repeats. It’s a soul-stopping way to get a concrete sense of what 6 million missing lives means.

Pergamon Museum: I  was always planning on seeing this spot, if only to drink in the Pergamon Altar with my own eyes. Once Sunshine re-recommended the museum as a whole, however, I was more excited than ever to wander through its heavy, heaving marble halls.
And the altar was gorgeous, but not my high-light because I remember the exact moment when I passed into the room holding the restored Market Gate of Miletus. I was so stunned I couldn’t breathe. That second alone might very well have been worth my entire time in Berlin. I admit that I’m a super sensitive soul, and it doesn’t take much to fill me with joy and wonder.
But, be assured, that moment was a wicked holy and significant one. I imagine that very few people have ever stepped into that chamber without uttering an “oh my Gd.”
It is that amazing. It is that unexpected.
Go there.

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.