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.


Travel Day
July 25, 2009, 12:16 am
Filed under: Peace Corps Romania | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

For all of our Peace Corps related training events, we have ‘Travel Days’ immediately before and after. They are appropriately named, as it takes a little while to maneuver around Romania if you don’t have a personal vehicle.

Today,  for example, I hopped onto a Bîrlad bus at 5:45 AM (in the east, about two hours south of Iași).
I got out of a taxi at my apartment at 9:55 PM, 700 km later (my site is in the mid-west, three hours south of Deva where those two rivers begin).

This is what happened today:

Potts and I had decided to grab a 6:30 maxi-taxi (mini bus) from Bîrlad to Brașov. Potts was going to see NIN play in northern Transylvania (near Tîrgu Mureș), and I wanted to be home the day before a wedding in Petroșani (I’d need at least a full day of rest). Potts and I jumped on a bus bound for the train station, where the city-to-city buses leave from.

I talked to the woman running the ticket office, and she kindly/quickly explained that the Brașov maxi-taxi was set to leave at 6:45, which meant Potts and I had 45 minutes to kill. Potts went to a booth inside the nearby train station and bought a grapefruit and a banana for 7 lei. After Potts told me this, I decided to walk a block to a mini-store across the way and buy two bananas for 2 lei. Train stations are ridiculous expensive.

At 6:40, I still didn’t see our maxi-taxi (there are usually destination signs posted in the windshields of the idling, white vans), so I wandered up to any driver that I could find. Each told me “I’m not going to Brașov,” or “that bus is coming immediately.” I eavesdropped on a woman nearby, and I realized that our maxi-taxi began its route in another town, so the departure time was elastic–when it got to Bîrlad, we’d climb on and leave.

It showed up a little after 7:00, and after each passenger switched out to a larger bus to accommodate us all, we took off at 7:25.

I let myself sleep within moments of sitting down–I had purposefully foregone my morning coffee so I could snooze through this part of the trip. It passed quickly, and we got to Brașov at around 12:15. Potts checked on his next maxi-taxi, and I bought a train ticket for 13:09, to Deva (I almost always have to connect through Deva when I travel). Potts and I then heaved our bags up to the second floor of a nearby mall to have some good falafel and coffee (finally).

Potts walked me to my train, where we hugged goodbye. My train was hot, and filled with tons of teenagers heading to the same music festival that Potts had tickets to. These teens had decided to take trains, rather than the roads. As I tried to climb up the train ladder into my wagon, a kid with long hair and a white, South Park t-shirt told me “you shall not pass,” in English. With so many young ‘rockers’ (as they’re referred to) in one place, I heard tons of English being passed back and forth, peppering their conversations with movie quotations and idioms. It was the most English I’ve ever heard on a Romanian train (without other volunteers onboard).

I made friends with the old couple in my compartment, but I was too anxious to sit still. I wanted to do my favorite Romanian train activity, which is to stand at the window, and watch the world roll by. It inspires so many beautiful thoughts, which are left tortuously incomplete. You continuously breed the beginning of some grand idea, and then have it wiped away by something new outside. And by the time you realize you’re off track and scramble to find your place, something new catches your attention. Building sand castles in the surf.

When I approached Deva, my train was running an hour behind. I decided to jump off the train in Simeria to catch my missed connection (Simeria is closer to both Brașov and Petroșani, as the route dips south a little, but it’s a smaller station so it has less options, overall). The cheap train I wanted to connect to had already passed by, but the conductor recommended I go with a more expensive train, and actually get to Petroșani sooner than if I had gone with the cheap train.

So, I ended the trip in an almost empty (expensive) train, with my head out of my compartment window. I watched the dusk writhe in its beautiful throes, and my thick Carpathian forest dimmed into solid masses of black-before-blue. I blasted my i-pod playlist–the one with all of my most favorite songs–but it was still quiet enough to hear crickets in the thick scrubs so close to the rails they could easily be touched.

The world felt right as I came back into familiar places after 35 days away. Honest to Gd, I felt like the whole quiet world was welcoming me in some patient, unspoken way. Or maybe it was just my sensation that this place has become home. And I had been away from here a little bit too long.