Tuesday 30 July 2013

The Way Home

We're home now and we've spent the last few days trying to catch up on sleep and spend time with family. The flights home were pretty uneventful and Miriam did very, very well despite us not having a bulkhead seat for the long-haul flight this time...She managed two 1.5 hour naps in my arms over the 8.5 hour flight and so we were able to relax a bit this time and even watch a movie (or two).

The rest of the time she spent playing wherever she could, which included the floor and the aisles at some points. She loved walking the aisles and saying hello to the other people on the plane. We even met another little girl named Miriam who took quite a liking to our Miriam.

Friday 26 July 2013

Teen Camp and Saying Goodbye

We've been having an awesome week at the Tenirii Exploratori camp. We've met some new Romanian friends and enjoyed spending time with our "old" Romanian friends too!

This is Florin's wife Dana and their son David (3 years old). He's enamoured with Miriam and even gave her a birthday kiss on the cheek yesterday:

Thursday 25 July 2013

Birthday Girl

Today is a very special day for us: it's Miriam's first birthday. We're so thankful God has given her to us and we are spending the day celebrating her precious little life.

We hope you enjoy some pictures of Miriam's special day!

Miriam's birthday gift from her daddy:

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Romanian Culture

About a week ago I was talking with one of the staff members here named Ema. She is Romanian and married to Erik, the only staff member here from North America. She lent me a book called The Essential Guide to Customs And Culture - Romania, written by a British author all about Romanians and their culture. Typically books like this are written with all sorts of prejudice and generalizations that don't give a clear picture of the culture as it actually is but Ema assured me that this book is very accurate and suggested that we read it while we're here to help us understand certain aspects of the culture here a little better.

I have finished the book (it's only 150 pages) and found it to be very enlightening. Here are some of the major points made in the book and things it cleared up for me:

- Romanian culture is a Latin culture and so people at typically demonstrative and loud, even if they're not angry or excited.

- Because of the influence of the communist-mindset people here generally have little motivation to gain new knowledge or engage in critical thinking, especially when it comes to health information. It is common here to believe in methods that have been used for generations or to act on superstition rather than scientific fact (especially in the rural areas).

- Men typically don't acknowledge women in public in the same way they'd acknowledge a man (by shaking hands, for instance), but this often doesn't apply to foreign women. A woman's value is largely in her physical appearance (hair, makeup and fancy clothes) although this also doesn't usually apply to foreign women.

- Foreigners are generally very well respected here and receive much better treatment from Romanian people than they would give to other Romanians.

- Also because of the influence of Communism, people here tend to be rather suspicious of one another and tend to assume the worst about another Romanian they don't know (During the communist time it was estimated that between 2 and 4 percent of the population were spies). Nepotism is a serious problem here.

- Romania is still very much a collectivist culture, so bettering oneself is not valued unless it is to gain monetary wealth. It's the "protruding nail gets hammered down" mentality instead of the "squeaky wheel gets the grease" mentality (east vs. west).

- Romanians generally don't understand a westerner's need for personal space or privacy and can often invade personal boundaries without realizing they've done so.

The last point has hit me really hard while being here. Because Romanians love babies (seriously...it's crazy how much attention Miriam gets here) I constantly have people coming up to me and taking Miriam away from me or kissing her all over her face, etc. One of the volunteers here even tried to feed Miriam food from her own plate using her own spoon!! Luckily I caught her in time and tried to explain carefully why that wasn't ok with me. There will always be cultural idiosyncrasies that take some getting used to whenever you're living in a country that isn't your own and this is one that has taken some work on my part. Boundaries are very important to me (especially when it comes to Miriam) and I'm realizing that my idea of boundaries is different from some of the people we interact with here!

While its impossible to write a book like this and not make sweeping generalizations, I found it helpful simply because it helped me understand why some of the Romanian people here act the way they do and therefore what an appropriate response should be. It also educated me on the history of the country and the influence that communism had (and still has) on the mindset of the people here. So, it's a great read AND it's in a series, so if you're thinking of travelling anywhere anytime soon it's something worth looking into.

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Our Day Off

Yesterday was our day off and it was SO nice to get away and relax as a family and see a little more of Romania. We were able to borrow a car for the day which made our day much more enjoyable!

We went to Brasov in the morning to stock up on baby essentials for the week (diapers, wipes, baby food...nothing too exciting) and to see a little more of the city. Brasov is a beautiful city with a nice combination of old charm and modern conveniences. There are a few long streets in the old town with cute little shops and restaurants and we enjoyed walking, window shopping and tasting some of the local fare. 

Jerry found a guitar shop, so of course we had to go in. It opened in 1837 and has been a music shop ever since. We're pretty sure the tile floor is original...the person who laid the tiles created a mosaic pattern of black marble in the shape of a music staff with a treble clef. It was pretty cool!

Some Brasov sights:

One "new" thing for us (or maybe old-new...takes some getting used to again) is the double and triple lane traffic circles. You're never really sure when or if you're cutting somebody off, especially when the lane markers are questionable or non-existent:

After our morning in Brasov we headed to Bran, a town about 12km past Râsnov famous for Dracula's Castle. It's a bit of a tourist trap but it would have been a shame to be so close to it and not see it. It was built in the 13th century and the legend is that Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Impaler) stayed at the castle for a short while on his way to Brasov. Vlad and the castle were the inspiration behind Bram Stoker's Dracula, but the connection is a pretty loose one. Stoker never actually visited the castle or Transylvania.

The castle belonged to the Romanian royal family until it was seized by the communist regime in 1948. It was restored to the royal family after the end of communism and opened as a museum shortly after that. 
The inside of the castle is very beautiful and we had fun walking through its tiny passageways and secret staircases:

The inner courtyard:

The outside of the castle:

We told Miriam to say goodbye to the castle, so she waved bye-bye:

After our tour we took a micro-nap on the grass outside:

And because one castle just isn't enough for one day, we drove to Râsnov to see if we could tour the castle there as well:

We drove part of the way up and were informed that the castle was closed to the public because of a movie shoot, but we were allowed to walk the rest of the way up and tour the outside of the castle, so we did. And we are so glad we did! Check out these views:

(Just to give you a frame of reference, the big V in the RÂSNOV sign is right outside the doorway above and about 6 feet down)

And we managed to get a somewhat-successful family photo:

By this point we had had enough castles for one day and decided to grab some dinner in Brasov:

It was tasty! And it totally redeemed Romanian pizza for us...Romanians like to put ketchup on their pizza and in restaurants it is sometimes served with ketchup instead of tomato sauce (yuck!). We discovered this the hard way once, and thankfully this pizza was made with real tomato sauce. Even Miriam liked it!

Jerry is on an 8-hour hike today with the teen camp and Miriam and I decided to stay back to recover from yesterday's excitement and to help with some of the housekeeping while the centre is quiet. His head is feeling a lot better and Miriam only woke up once in the night last night which allowed us to get a little more sleep than we have been getting. 

We hope you're all enjoying the sunshine and summer as much as we are!

Saturday 20 July 2013

Kurtos and Headaches

To wrap up the Max Bike week we had a nice big bonfire together as a group. Because the baby monitor we're borrowing ran out of batteries I was thinking I wouldn't be able to participate in the fireside time...it was one of those parenting moments when you question whether or not breaking your child's routine is worth the consequences you might face later (or in our case, in the middle of the night). We decided to bring Miriam to the fire despite it being waaaaay past her bedtime. She had a blast watching the flames dance in the dark and snuggling with us by the fire (although she looks more shocked by the flash of the camera in this picture, she really was having a great time):

We roasted a traditional sweet bread over the fire. It's a snack called Kurtos that's actually Hungarian originally, but the Romanians have adopted it as their own. To make it, you roll out a piece of sweet dough into a long snake and wind it around a branch. Then, you roll it in sugar and cinnamon and slowly roast it over the fire until the sugar caramelizes and the heat creates a crispy exterior and a warm fluffy interior. It's a really tasty treat.

The trick is to wind the dough at the correct thickness around the branch; too thin or thick and it will burn. Ours was a little too thick but it still worked well:

Our friend Elvis' was perfectly done...he is Romanian after all, so he's had some experience with this:

In bakeries the Kurtos is baked around a metal cylinder on a rotisserie in order to get an even caramelization. We are hoping to find a Kurtos bakery to taste the real thing before we leave Romania!

We went to church this morning in Codlea with a bunch of the staff from PDF. It was a nice time and we arrived back at PDF in time for lunch and to discover a long line of girls outside the bathroom on our hallway. We quickly learned that there has been an outbreak of lice at the camp and that the girls were waiting to be treated with lice shampoo. Apparently this is a normal practice here during the Exploratorii weeks since many of the children and teenagers who come are from very poor backgrounds and don't have access to appropriate hygiene practices. The camp leaders actually do a lice screening on the first day of camp...all the children are checked for lice to avoid a large outbreak. Elke told us that one year every child had lice and they had to treat everybody and wash everything (PDF supplies the sleeping mats, sleeping bags, and tents since the kids often don't have their own gear), which was a huge hassle and very exhausting for the leaders. 

It's a little inconvenient for us to now have to use the bathroom on another floor for the next few days, but we would much prefer that to catching lice. So, please pray that we don't catch it somehow because that's one headache we would prefer not to have to deal with.

Speaking of headaches, Jerry was playing ultimate frisbee with the Max Bike group a few days ago and was hit in the head quite badly by another player. He is ok, but he has a mild concussion and isn't feeling 100%. We would really appreciate your prayers for him right now as he is pretty involved with the camp this week and isn't able to rest much. 

Being in a foreign country can be exhausting because of the concentration it takes to simply communicate with others who speak a different language than you...your brain has to work overtime to keep up and so having little free time, Jerry's head injury, on top of Miriam's erratic sleep patterns (she won't sleep for more than 4 or 5 hours at a time) is all making us really really tired. We are very much looking forward to tomorrow - it's our first day off since we've been here, so we are hoping to be able to relax a bit and just do our own thing. We're planning to go to Brasov in the morning and then to Bran in the afternoon to visit the Bran Castle (Dracula's castle). We'll be sure to take lots of pictures to share with you!

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Watch Out For The Horses

So it's only kind of funny that right after we posted about how awesome the WiFi is here that the Internet was down for 24 hours!! We're back up and running again and we've been keeping pretty busy and have lots to update you on.

The staff and volunteers for the teen camp (Tinerii Exploratori) arrived yesterday and all of a sudden PDF is bustling again. We've really enjoyed the quietness during this past week and we're a little sad to be losing some of our privacy for the next week (we're sharing 'public' bathrooms with several other people now). The Max Bike camp ends tomorrow morning and the teen camp begins tomorrow afternoon, so there really is no break in between the programs. We're hoping to be able to get away for one day soon just to have a day off as a family and visit some interesting places in the surrounding area like the Bran Castle (it's the one known as Dracula's castle).

This week Jerry has been extremely busy with the Max Bike camp: they've had one 3-hour block of free time all week and instead of writing a blog post, we decided to take a nap (a decision we definitely don't regret)! The bikers were away all day Tuesday and Wednesday on a multi-day bike tour and have had shorter day-long rides on every other day this week. They are leaving for their last ride as I write this. 

In order for the group to begin their bike tour on Tuesday, we had to drive them about an hour away from here to their starting point. I was appointed one of the drivers, which made me a little nervous, but I took comfort in the fact that it would only be a "quick little drive" as one of the Romanian leaders informed me. I should have known that this comment is akin to an Austrian person saying we're going on a "little hike" when what they're really talking about is climbing an entire mountain for hours and hours. It was certainly not a quick little drive... We drove the group several valleys away over crazy mountain roads and through quaint little villages at a speed I'm definitely not used to driving (especially over roads in the condition these were). Another complicating factor of the drive was all the horses on the roads. Many people here still use horses and carts, especially in remote areas, so dodging these while driving certainly makes the trip interesting. Romanians are also known for being a little crazy (maybe daring is a better word) behind the wheel, so dealing with all the high-speed passing and weaving in and out of oncoming traffic was interesting as well.

Andy (Ebbe and Elke's son) and Deborah hopped right in the back with Miriam when we were about to leave! I was fortunate enough to be able to drive the little Skoda instead of one of the big vans:

A good shot of the 6km gravel road between PDF and Râsnov:

To give you an idea of the area and the roads (unfortunately we don't have many pictures of the worst parts since Jerry was too busy talking me through the drive to snap photos):

This week Miriam and I also got to go help with the shopping for the kitchen. We went to Metro, a Costco-like grocery store here and helped Elke buy the groceries for the week. It was fun trying to read labels and signs in Romanian and there were many words I recognized because of the Romanian language's connection to Spanish, French and even German. 
For example:
Carne = meat
Lapte = milk
Legume = vegetables
Fruct = fruit
Apa = water
There are so many cognates of these languages in Romanian which is very helpful when reading the language but it doesn't help a lot when listening to a Romanian person speak. Romanians speak SO fast...faster than many other languages I've heard and so it is very difficult to recognize familiar vocabulary words when listening to someone speak. We're trying though, and it is getting a little easier every day. Fortunately, the non-Romanian staff here speak Romanian a little more slowly so it's easier to understand.

Yesterday the group did the ropes course here at PDF. It seemed to be a great (and some what terrifying) experience - Miriam and I watched from the ground and took photos:

The participants make their way from platform to platform embarking on various challenges and eventually end at a zip line though the forest. Eric, the only other North American here, is in charge of the ropes course.

The participants are briefed and fitted with equipment before going up:

Ebbe at the beginning of the course:

Our friend Elvis doing the first part with his eyes closed:

Costi, one of the leaders:

Other parts of the course:

Jerry going through the course:

Jerry and Jonathan, Ebbe and Elke's oldest son:

In the afternoon yesterday the bike group did a timed obstacle course. Miriam and I watched (and cheered) and Jerry came in second!

After the group was finished, we let Miriam take the obstacle course for a spin:

She totally rocked it.

Other than tagging along with the bike group when they're doing non-bike things, Miriam and I have been spending time with the other volunteers here: Lisa (from Germany) and Bianca (from Bucharest) are volunteers here to help with housekeeping and so I try to help them out when Miriam is napping. During their off times we often sit outside in the shade and we even went swimming this week in the swimming hole that was built here this year, even though it's full of frogs and tadpoles. Miriam really enjoyed pointing at all the little creatures in the water and even tried to grab at the frogs.

It's just about time for lunch here, so we'll try to post again soon!

PS: for anyone who wants some European chocolate (or anything else for that matter), give us your order soon!