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.


An Enlightened December – Part I: “‘Good’ Peace Corps Volunteers”
January 5, 2009, 6:31 pm
Filed under: Peace Corps Romania | Tags: , , , , , ,

Peace Corps In-Service Training (IST) occurs after one’s group has spent 6-8 months in country. In Romania, the volunteers congregate in the town of Miercurea Ciuc, and stay at a hotel for about six days. My group (25) had language classes in the mornings, and technical trainings in the afternoons. At night, we went out and drank a lot and hugged a lot and talked excitedly because we had missed each other.

But secretly at IST, I was a little mournful. Each time I thought of my little town, I had an unwarranted tendency to focus on negatives. I compared my visible-breath cold kitchen and bathroom against the comfortably heated hotel. I graciously dug into the buffet omelets and fresh coffee and brooded because at home I would have had to chop onions first or wash dishes after. IST was a full schedule for me, but I only had to offer my mere presence and (sometimes) routine participation. I knew I had vacation blues—an unwillingness to leave that ease.

However, when I woke the morning of December 13th, the last day of IST, I’d reached the tipping point and was ready for vacation to end. But, I immediately realized something deeper was also there. A greater shift and epiphany had budded—the same special day that, in a way, marked the end of my first quarter Peace Corps Service.

The weeks before, I’d dwelled incessantly upon this pertinent question: What does it mean to be a good—or even great—volunteer? I’d known that it is something subjective, dependent on so many things: country, program, site, and even the volunteer s themselves. Despite the relativity, however, I wanted to find a tangible answer. An iron idea birthed of so much mist.

I talked to a few volunteers on the downward ends of their services. I also spoke extensively with a few Peace Corps Volunteer Leaders; volunteers that have enrolled into Peace Corps Romania for a third year. I spoke at length with my Program and Training Officer, Lis, in the hotel café as we both sipped tea. Lis showed me hundreds of pictures from her time as a volunteer in Cote D’Ivoire, and as Peace Corps Staff in Guinea. Finally, I talked as much as was possible with my Country Director, kg. kg has worked in four countries with the Peace Corps, and has thus become my “Peace Corps Sage” of sorts. After all that, this is what I’ve decided about ‘good’ volunteers.

The best volunteers treat service like a real job. They remember that they volunteered for this opportunity, and are here to ‘give.’ They repeat the old Peace Corps maxim “the hardest job you’ll ever love” like it’s mantra.

The best volunteers do the necessary work to truly feel at home in their communities. The only tangible, external characteristic I’ve routinely identified in ‘happy’ volunteers is that they love their sites and communities. They have Romanian friends, and they spend more time smiling at site than imagining they were away from it.

Most important, the best volunteers give the very best they have, with whatever their subjective situation merits. Great volunteers are just ordinary people in a sort-of extraordinary situation, but they rise to meet that challenge with all the hope and determination they can possibly muster.

So, I asked questions and listened in hopes of learning. Interestingly, I realized that I hadn’t merely harvested these wise words of experience. When I woke that Saturday morning, I could feel these truths in my own experience and aspirations. It’s presumptuous to consider myself a good or great volunteer, but I will state that, at my best moments, I feel myself approach these virtues. At the very least, it was a beautiful and brilliant thing to realize that for the first time since stepping into Romania as a volunteer (whether I’m a good, bad or mediocre one), after seven months I finally feel like a real PCV.