Tuesday, December 27, 2011


"One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands alone and throws one's head and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happen until the East almost makes one cry out and one's heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun--which has happened every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so. And one knows it sometimes when one stands by oneself in a wood at sunset and the mysterious deep gold stillness slanting through and under the branches seems to be saying slowly again and again something one cannot quite hear, however much one tries. Then sometimes the immense quiet of the dark blue at night with millions of stars waiting and watching makes one sure; and sometimes a sound of far-off music makes it true; and sometimes a look in some one's eyes."
--Frances Hodgson Burnett (The Secret Garden)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

you're welcome

We have neighbors who blast music in the mornings, often on repeat, and since I'm usually gone in the afternoon/evening, I get to freely partake in their musical adventures. Lucky me, right? Actually, the thing is, their choice of music is sometimes so bizarre--or, rather, unexpected--that it's mostly just a good source of equal parts laughter and bewilderment. Besides the manele, here's a random sampling from the last few weeks for your reading pleasure:

I Will Survive--Gloria Gaynor

War is Over--John Lennon and Yoko Ono

La Gota Fria--Carlos Vives

Danger Zone--(no idea who sings this, just know it from Top Gun)

I Believe I Can Fly--R Kelly

I Will Always Love You--Whitney Houston

I Have Nothing--Whitney Houston (they seem to have the soundtrack from The Bodyguard)

(and, I kid you not)

Every Breath You Take--Sting

(and my personal favorites from their playlist--if this sounds sarcastic, I promise I'm being completely sincere)

River of Dreams--Billy Joel

Stand By Me--Ben E. King (YES!!!!)

There are lots of others I recognize from really vague memories of the stuff my mom liked in the early 90s but wasn't able to look up in time. However there is one song that would make this list complete and that is Yakety Yak. Kind of awesome, no?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

the strange and the wonderful

It's been a day for new experiences.

First, the strange: I went downtown today to get something for my
ingerasul (secret Santa) and while walking, a little girl came up and tried to sell me something. I wasn't really paying attention so it wasn't until I was about ten feet away that I turned around to see what she wanted, at which time I discovered she had a little piglet in her backpack. Did a double-take, realized it was actually a baby goat. Life continues to be strange.

But let's be clear here. It wasn't weird that she was selling a goat in the city center. I get that. I mean, where else are you going to go to do your selling except to the center of commerce. Fair enough. But I never expected it to be so clean and cute and hanging out in a little girl's backpack. Which was purple on the front. (**UPDATE** Apparently this is a New Years' tradition I was completely ignorant of. It's explained in the comments, but you touch the goat to have good luck in the new year.)

And tonight we went caroling, and let me tell you, having never done anything like that in my life, it was really really wonderful. We were out four or five hours and it rained (lightly) all but about ten minutes, during which it got cold enough to turn to almost-snow. The carols here are wonderful. Some of them are the same tune as ones we have but with entirely different words, others I'd never heard before. But they're beautiful. Some of the words from my favorite:

Cant Osana, cant Osana,
Cant Osana rege-al regilor
Cant Osana, cant Osana,
Cant Osana lui Isus
Parasiti turma voasta-n campie
Alergati uimiti la el
El va e singura bucurie

Which means:

(They) sing Hosanna, Hosanna
Hosanna, king of kings
Hosanna, Hosanna
Hosanna to Jesus
Leave your flock in the countryside
Run amazed to him
He's your single joy

At first the whole thing reminded me a little of Halloween because after you sing people give you fruit or candy. Or money, but we didn't take any. But people seemed so happy to hear it. We'd climb to the top floor in a bloc and then as we went back down to leave, other people would open their doors, cry sometimes even. Actually, funny thing--one old lady was so insistent we take the money and we were so insistent on not that she ended up sticking the money inside one guy's clothes. Oh, and also! It seems wherever I go in Romania, whether it's hiking or this, there's always a dog that appears out of nowhere and accompanies us the whole time. So this time as well. I baptized him Petrisor :)

So I have come to discover that caroling, even in the rain, even in the cold is just about the greatest thing I've gotten to do here yet. (The oranges they gave us aren't so bad either.) And we're going the next two days as well. So hopefully there'll be more to write about...

Monday, December 19, 2011

romanian sky

This was a good week. And I'm immensely grateful for that. Today it was colder than it's been these last few weeks and the sky was the sort of blue that is dark in regard to hue but otherwise bursting with light. I didn't expect it, so waiting at the bus stop for a maxitaxi that never came and watching the sky shine out of puddles on a filthy street, my fingers turned stiff and it woke me up fully.

But if I had my way, winter would be like this every day. Let the biting cold come if it means a sky like that one, all those hard straight lines and clear bright light. It makes me miss the mountain. Thankfully, we will be on it in February, in my favorite place in all of Romania: Ebe's cabin outside of Rasnov. When I first went there, it was mostly cloudy the whole time, but one morning I stayed behind while all the students went to ski. And sitting there writing and praying, the sun coming up from behind the mountain behind the cabin, in front and who knows how many miles away, these jagged mountains I hadn't even been able to see before just lit up. I called them the morning mountains until I found out this summer that it's actually Piatra Craiului. It could have been Middle Earth.

Most days aren't like that though. It's so overcast and it amazes me how much it affects my mood. But here is something to be thankful for: I live on the 4th (5th) floor. So despite the fact that I sleep on a mattress on the floor and the only space I have here that is mine, that isn't shared with two other girls, is a space equal to the size of a small box, I can stand by the window in the kitchen and see sky. And it is a good sky. It's been surprising me with its sunsets on the days that aren't overcast since I moved here.

And the coolest thing is that being this high up, both in regard to being on the top floor and being farther north than I've ever lived before, is watching how the sun moves across the sky. It doesn't get very high these days and I can see where it comes up and goes down from my window (well, coming up it's hidden behind a building, but if not for that I'd be able to see it). And the place where it sets has moved what to me is a dramatic amount since the beginning of October. Before, it was pretty far to to the right of the building in front of us and now it's starting to come out from behind it on the left side.

So there's that. Reminding myself that there's that. And I get to watch it, if not from our living room/bedroom, if not every night, then at least from the kitchen when I'm home and it's clear. And if you'll believe it, I think it's keeping me here. Today I went to look at another room for rent, and while there are lots of other pros and cons, one of the cons is that it's on the ground floor and instead of windows there's a laundry room. No sky. Little light, even on such a bright day.

Anyway, related in no other way except for that I am especially thankful for it, there's this beautiful verse:

"With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation."
--Isaiah 12:3

Saturday, December 17, 2011

fake english and other language fun

A quick post to say that I just heard the Albanian language for the first time and good gracious it just confused the heck out of me. It was playing in the background and something caught my attention and for a split second I thought I was hearing Spanish with a weird accent, but then I realized I was also recognizing words I know from Romanian. And for the life I couldn't figure out what this language was and why it seemed like I should be understanding it but couldn't.

Wikipedia tells me that Latin was a big influence on the language and that in the 9th and 10th centuries, Romanian borrowed a ton of words from Albanian. Good to know!

A similar thing happened for different reasons a couple of years ago. I remember listening to a song in Greek and feeling my head was about to explode because, hey, that sounds just like Spanish but that is most definitely not Spanish. I couldn't understand at all why I couldn't understand it. Really disorienting until I figured out what was going on.

Anyway, in the same vein, was linked to this video recently, I think through Language Log, and have been meaning to post it. I love listening to the sounds of languages when they're just sounds, separated from meaning, when you're just hearing the music of it. So here's English mostly that way:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

war is over

A strange thing happened tonight coming back from Mioveni. We went there, five of us in a small group, to have dinner together and walk around and look at the Christmas lights. For those who don't know, Mioveni is a smaller town outside of Pitesti and, let me tell you, their Christmas lights are wonderful. They even have some sort I've never seen before that look like melting icicles.

Driving back it was thick with fog. Another thing I've never seen before, at least not before moving here--fog this thick. It's done it pretty often this last month or two in the evenings. Tonight you couldn't see more than thirty feet through the windows and maybe fifteen in front of us.

And then once we got back into Pitesti, all wrapped up in fog, Happy Xmas (War is Over) started playing on the radio. I wondered what it would have been like living in the 60s and 70s and how it was when the war in Vietnam ended. Or what the people in the streets of London were doing at the end WWII or the people in the French countryside. I thought of Sarajevo the most, though. I'm not sure why, but when I think of this sort of thing, I always think of Sarajevo and an image of that city I saw sometime in college of a sidewalk, a crack running through it and up the side of the wall of a bombed-out building.

And suddenly it occurred to me what I read this morning. War is over. Today was the official last day of the war. Finally. Ten years is a long time (I think officially, the Iraq War, I mean, it's actually eight). So I said something to everyone else in the car, chiar este adevarat... cantecul asta. Am citit astazi ca Obama a zis... and so on (it really is true... this song. Today I read Obama said...).

Anyway, I don't want to get political, but it got quiet again after a little bit and in the few minutes left before we got to the apartment, everything all wrapped around in fog and grimy orange glow, I thought about 9/11. I was home from school that day so my memory of it is so much different than most of friends'. My mom was getting ready for work and I saw the second plane crash live.

But now it's all these years later and everything is so different than I would ever have guessed it. It would be dishonest to say that I thought much about the war, that it affected me in everyday life in ways I could point to. But even being here, that weird morning I found out about bin Laden while walking to my lesson, suddenly hearing Obama's voice in the middle of a crowded Tigani market--there is a breathing out. In sfarsit, I whispered in the car tonight and leaned my head against the window. Finally.

Just thinking about how my friends back home are feeling about all this. And the people heading back now from this side of the ocean to the other.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

my brother's keeper

It's strange, but thinking about my brother helps me to trust God more.

I haven't written about him in a while but thanks to Skype, we've been talking a couple times a week. In all the times I've written about him on here I've called him a boy. And he isn't any longer. He hasn't been, but we were fifteen and eleven the last time we lived together, we hardly knew each other, and the image stuck. The boy with skinny legs, bent slightly, standing on a mattress with his hand reaching out. It's the image that came back some three years later when God changed me in regard to my brother through the most unlikely of people.

But things are different now. What I mean is that it's easier, in a way, to write about him as looking back on that boy, to call him a boy, because somehow it made a more poignant description. But it's less true now. I don't just mean that he's older. He is, of course--5'10 and looking thoroughly man-like while still holding on to the few boyish features you see in a nineteen-year-old. Our mom sent me some Christmas pictures about a month ago and in one of them, he looks like he could be thirty with a wife, a job to go to, bank accounts. Someone whose life would grow toward children and having to cut the grass. And I wonder. But don't misunderstand me: these things could be wonderful for him, but there are other good things too, different things.

So now we talk on Skype. Sometimes it's serious but more often we're just talking. In a way we're getting to know each other, sharing pieces of life that are mundane. Just talking. Breathing. It all revolved around such dramatic things for so long, and that's still there at the root of all of it, the main thread, but things are starting to branch out now, being allowed to grow. There are new shoots, little bursts of green, of hope. When he got out of jail, he told me how, after an entire year without seeing sunlight, the sun gave him headaches. And I thank my God for sunlight for my brother. You see? The headaches meant the beginning of some good thing.

And yet there's still so much that could go wrong, that still is so messed up. It hasn't been made right and I don't know if it will. Some days all I want to do is go back there and do what, I have no idea. But be there with him. Pray beside him and with him instead of seven timezones away. Fix things. But I'm convinced God wants me here instead of there, and even though it doesn't make any sense sometimes, there's no way of denying it. It's clear, and it's over and over again. I put my hands up and say, okay God, I don't understand this, but if you say so.

Now I look at my brother and he's so complex. He's not 'a boy who...' and he's not a symbol, a vehicle through whom I can show that there are a hundred unanswered questions or hope for what could be, what God can do. He's not anything I can put in a sentence. I will say that if I ever write a book, and I really hope I will, I'd want it to be about him somehow.

The truth is that, thinking about him, even though there are no answers and there is no sure promise regarding my brother, it is abundantly clear God is at work in his life. And there have been sure answers to prayers. But while I am certain of what God can do, I don't know what will happen. Maybe that sounds like doubt. The funny thing is that while there are a hundred other places where it is difficult not to doubt some or to live in ways that reflect that faith, in this God has made me sure of himself.

I've said already: it is fraught with questions and no certain ending. Another funny thing is that Great is Thy Faithfulness is playing right now. And I'll tell you what. It is good to be getting to know him, to laugh with him. There are lots of big and heavy things, and while I'll pray for him as long as I'm alive, I wonder if I'm not meant to just delight in the fact that I have a little brother who is awesome and gross and a completely typical boy. To be there in the ways God gives me, yes, but otherwise trust those big things with him. My God is my brother's keeper--right?

Anyway, he's a pretty cool guy. Glad I'm getting to find that out.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

weird answered prayers

Last week sucked. Let's just be honest. There's something depressing about this place--I don't notice it all the time, but there is a real heaviness here. And plus, I miss my family, I miss my friends. It's all just sort of hit at once.

So sometime last week, feeling miserable and feeling generally sorry for myself, I prayed about playing. About the sorts of shenanigans we took part in as students and how depressing it is to never (should say not often, I suppose) be able to just delight in--in what, life? I don't know. Talking about having fun and playing and being thankful for being alive. Not that they don't do that here. Ah, it's coming out all wrong! Anyway, I prayed about all this and it probably made about this much sense. Luckily God understands me better than I do.

The first part of one of the weirdest answers to prayer here:

We were at a short student conference this weekend and the first night we were playing games. Then we played a new one and, let me tell you, it was a blast. You tie two people's legs together like a three-legged race and they have to run across the room together but only one of them can take the object they're racing toward and that person has to somehow get it back to the other side of the room without the other person getting it from them. Somebody volunteered Horace. For all who don't know, Horace is my stuffed dinosaur. Don't judge. He's a good pillow (and a good dinosaur).

Well, it took about two minutes into the first race and... Horace got his leg ripped clean off. Truth: I never thought I would be happy to see my poor dinosaur dismembered, but I laughed so hard I ended sprawled out on the floor for five minutes. And felt so much better. Currently Horace is being operated on and the hope is that he'll have four functioning legs soon. Here's a picture post-amputation:

And since we're on the topic of shenanigans (some of them part of this answered prayer in that, weird as they were, it just cheered me up; others... well, just weird):

A couple of guys stole my rings Saturday afternoon and sometime later that night I noticed one of them was wearing all three and just generally fidgeting with them. Right after I decided I was going to snatch them back from him, he dropped one on accident. Before anyone could do anything, our general secretary had his foot out of his papuci, grabbed the ring with his bare foot, picked it up and put it on the table. With his foot. Just like that. Almost died.

About an hour later I got locked in the bathroom for twenty-some minutes while the people outside tried to break me out and I hung out the window thinking about how I could get to the next window over (the boys' bathroom) without falling to my death. In the end they rescued me. About five minutes later another girl got stuck.

Then today after the retreat was over we went to the center of Sibiu to walk around and see everything. With us was a first-year student who speaks English so well that when we switch from Romanian I completely forget that I'm not talking to a Romanian. No accent at all. It's crazy. And he just learned from cartoons. Anyway, knowing we'd probably run into some foreigners in Sibiu, I told him that if we found any Americans, I bet the two of us could go talk to them and they'd have no idea he wasn't American. Right off the bat I heard a guy speaking English and went up to him and talked for about ten minutes. Turns out he was from North Carolina too! And I called it--he had no idea at all that my friend wasn't American.

And then the just plain weird. Santa Claus was hanging out downtown and as we walked by, our gensec asked him if he stomach was real and, I kid you not, he said, it doesn't matter what's in your stomach, it's what's below it! Dirty old man winked and everything. Half of us stood there gaping while the rest ducked behind kiosks stifling maybe-I-shouldn't-be-laughing-at-this-but-I-can't-help-it laughter. And then he said something I almost wish I could write just because you would not believe it at all, but it's sort of x-rated, we'll say. Santa is a seriously creepy dude. Kind of horrifying that kids were taking pictures with him.

It was a good weekend, though, in general. Still dealing with some things that are really frustrating, but God kept reminding me how much he loves us, how much he gave for us all, how much bigger that is than anything else. How he runs after us even when we're least lovable. So grateful. And put back on my heels. His love really just changes everything. Thankful for that now.

And just because, here's a picture from Sibiu today: