So this past weekend we went on what the PC calls an integrated field visit, aka IFV (they love their acronyms here in the Peace Corps). My group travelled to Petrila in the south of Transylvania and in the Jiu Valley right in the Carpathian Mountains. While there we met with Joel who is a 2nd year volunteer who is completing his service in August. Another group was visiting Petrosani which is where we were staying in a hotel and they were meeting up with their volunteer Andrew, who actually stayed with my host family last year during his training. Here's the recap...
Saturday: Today was our day of travelling. We left for Bucharest by train around 9:00 and arrived there just before 11. We planned it this way so we could see some of Bucharest. First we went to the university where there are some of the last remnants of the "revolution" of 1989. There was a plaque which read (in Romanian) "Here they died for liberty 21-22 December". The more interesting part though was someone had vandalized it into a pretty cool political statement about the current state of the world. Right between "for" and "liberty" someone had written capitalism. After going past there and seeing the few remaining bullet holes, we went and grabbed a shaorma and headed to one of Bucharest's parks. There we ate our lunch and walked around for a little while. Truly beautiful and very relaxing, regardless of the heat. From there we walked to the People Palace which was built by Caucesceu and now is the Parliament building of Romania. It is the second largest political administrative building in the world next to the Pentagon, and Kyle and I decided to play frisbee on the lawn in front of it. Now to do that in front of the Pentagon.
We met up with the other group and rushed to catch the maxi-taxi (multi-seat van or mini-bus) to Petrosani. We loaded up and went on our way, for about a half hour, until the maxitaxi overheated and we had to wait for a bus to come pick us all up on the side of the road. We took that for most of the trip but then for the last 2 hours we grabbed another maxitaxi to take us the rest of the way to Petrosani. I've never really been carsick, but I was damn close to it this time since we were winding through the Jiu Valley in the night so we couldn't really see much of where we were going other than we were turning like crazy all the time. We got to Petrosani and walked to the hotel and then went out to watch the US play England. After that most of us went back to the hotel and crashed thanks to the long day of travelling.
Sunday: BEST DAY EVER! Today we went on a "hike", or in this case a long walk along a road which took us to where we were going. We arrived at a lodge where we were greeted by Joel and Andrew's friends where we had quite the spread. We sat down, grabbed a glass of beer, maybe a bit of tuica, and then they brought out an amazing vegetable salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onion (I couldn't remember for a second when writing this what the English for those were, I could only think of the Romanian). Next came out huge platters of grilled chicken and grilled sausages. Then they brought out the home made wine, which was amazing. Next came out the most interesting part of the meal, smoked and grilled pork back fat served open face on a slice of bread with red onions. While one of the oddest things I've eaten, it was quite amazing.
We decided we needed a little break so we went and threw around the football, the frisbee, and kicked around the soccer ball for a little while. Next we went and talked with some of their friends to get their takes on Peace Corps volunteers and how to integrate into the community. I had a tutoring session with Simona (since we went with our classes on the trip and our teachers were our guides). We were hanging out for a while and they said it was time for mici. Mici (meech) is a casingless sausage that is grilled and is five shades of awesome. Just once you think your done eating in Romania, it's time to eat more. Once that was done it looked like it was about to rain so we made our way back. It's safe to say that most people fell into food comas once we got back.
Monday: Today was one of those days you'll just remember. We went and visited Joel's school and talked with his counterpart and other people who work at the school (most of which we had met yesterday at the cookout from hell). We also met some of his students and played a language game with his students. Once that was done we went on a walk though Petrila to see where he lived. He took us to the Petrila mine where most of the community works. The Jiu Valley is known as a major coal mining area and Petrila was one of the powerhouses during communism. But during the times directly after communism, many were sold and privatized, only for those companies to sell them off for a quick buck. Talking to the students, who's fathers all worked in the mines, and hearing about the working conditions made me think of industrial revolution era tales of mine workers.
2 years ago there was a group of miners in the Petrila mine who were told to go down into a section of the mine which was known to be extremely hazardous. They were told to go, or lose their jobs if they refused. And of course, there was an explosion killing 4 workers. They sent in a rescue crew to recover those who died, only for there to be a second explosion, killing another 13 people. It was a national incident and the press flooded the area. And what do you think happened when the press arrived, the mine management told the workers that if they talked to the press, they would be fired. This was caught on camera by the news companies who were there.
We went back to Joel's apartment and talked with him about the Peace Corps in general and he also opened up his library of books to us for the taking. I totally took to that opportunity as there was a book about workers in post-socialist Romania and what their lives have become since the fall of communism. We then went out to lunch with Joel. We went back to the hotel after that and Kyle and I went down to the bar attached to the hotel to watch the WC and have a beer or two. We also just had a really good conversation about the weekend and what it had been for us.
The next day we travelled back to Bucharest and back to our training site. This trip really reminded me that our training time is only temporary and soon enough we will be in the field and getting to work. It made me forget of the small stupid things which may make me annoyed but in the big picture of things there is so much more to being in the Peace Corps than what I had seen up to this point. Seeing what site is like has given me something to look forward to, past the world that is PST.
"Sometimes we meet people in our lives where we may have only known them for minutes, and then never see them again. These people can sometimes have a more powerful impact on your life than those you may have known for your whole life."