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Change is good

de (26-5-2010)

Well, that’s been my mantra for as long as I can remember.  Most probably it became my theme song since life has dealt me many things…like many others who’ve lived awhile…many things unexpected, surprising and challenging.  The biggest surprise, unexpected and certainly challenging, has been my tour of duty in the U.S. Peace Corps.

At 51 years old, this „mission” would certainly be a change.  A change from the „good life” of charming, historic downtown Charleston, SC, USA. And a big change from the role of grandmother, tour guide, citizen, friend, and neighbor.  I came here to Romania to teach English and I’ve certainly done that.  But what I had come for (to fulfill a lifelong promise as a part of the Kennedy Generation) held no candle to what I received.  Now, as I mark the first year here in-country, I find that I cannot truly express all of the gifts that I have been given in this short article.  Not by a longshot.

For one, the hundreds of children whom I have come to know.  The ones that wait for me to walk home from school, those that cheer when I enter the classroom, those that learn to cook international foods with organic local ingredients in my gazda (host family) provided kitchen, and those that need an ear, a hug, a hand, or just some time to play.  And their parents.  All the ones who first knew nothing of my presence who now meet me on the street, speak to me after school events, and listen intently as I rattle off the praises that I have for their little ones or express my gratitude for their company here.

There are my fellow teachers and colleagues and community liaisons, the mayor and his wife, my counterpartRomanian teachers and all of the people who live and work in the school who may not hear every lesson that I give in the classroom, but they know that there is progress, as I know that I must constantly work to provide an interesting and creative way for my students to connect and to share culture and language with me.

Then there are the neighbors.  Those that have become like old friends.  They see me gardening or taking photos and they want to talk (always in Romanian, of course). They might be walking with their cows, or buying things at the local magazin (store) or picking up water at the well outside their gate.  All of them, without exception, have generously and kindly welcomed me as the new resident here. They have given me gifts of spirit, gifts of farm fresh goods, and gifts of wisdom every day.

The friends that I have made by way of introduction and of sheer effort have come to be close, familiar, and necessary to my life here.  Here in the mountains, along the river Trotus, I am within a pocket of nature and a communa of villages steeped with tradition that has proven to be the wonderland of sorts that I wouldn’t have dreamed of if I had never signed on for this job.

„The toughest job you’ll ever love”, says one of the slogans of the Peace Corps.  I remember that slogan from way back when.  And at times, it really is.  I’ve been faced with the death of my best friend from cancer just 2 months into my service.  I have thoroughly differed from any routine I ever had.  There’s been no heat, no water, and none of the things I used to know.  There have been long train rides, sleepless nights, and long waits between phone calls or packages from „home”.

Aside from all that, there have been moments of real beauty, serenity, and what I believe to be God-given miraclesboth in and out of school.  The Peace Corps and my past life had prepared me for all that I might encounter except one thing:  The absolute joy at knowing that not only am I able to provide something different and valuable to everyone I meet here, but I am also the recipient of the valuable asset of a time that I will never ever want to forget or be without.  And now, I think that I will write a new slogan just for my own unique experience.  It will say, „Peace Corps Romania:  Facing the Changes and Changing for a Lifetime.”

See what I’ve done, what I’ve seen, and how this country and its people have truly changed my life at http://myromanianholiday.blogspot.com.

Natalie Montanaro, M.Ed.

US Peace Corps
Sat. Brusturoasa
Jud. Bacau
Romania
607075

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