Category Archives: Travel

So Soon

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Sydney posted this link http://www.buzzfeed.com/lucyh3/35-things-you-appreciate-about-america-after-livin-147h on my facebook wall today and I have decided to dedicate a blog post to answer each one of these things.

1. Convenience Stores

-Actually, most of the little markets in small towns work as convenience stores. These small stores are the only places that exist so I buy my meat, milk, and superglue all in one place.

2. Diet Soda

-My favorite soft drink is Diet Coke. I want my Diet Coke back. None of this “light” stuff.

3. Ice

-It’s not so much the ice but the quantity. People usually have ice but if they give you some it’s a cube or two. That just isn’t enough.

4. Ice Coffee

-I don’t like coffee.

5. Online Streaming

-You obviously don’t know how technologically savvy Romania is. This has not been a problem. I can list you 4 sites that rival hulu off the top of my head.

6. Driving a car

-OMG I CAN’T FREAKING WAIT TO BE ABLE TO GO PLACES WHEN I WANT WITHOUT HAVING TO TAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORT OR HITCH!

7. Froyo

-I’ve had it twice here. Not nearly as good and really expensive.

8. Electrical Outlets

-I’m happy that i won’t have to use adapters for 2 whole months and constantly have to switch adapters to various electronics.

9. Outlet Shopping.

-Ugh. I don’t want to think of how much of a headache that will be.

10. 24 hour drive-thru

-White Castle. That is all I have to say about that.

11. Wi-Fi/3G

-Has not been a problem. I have faster inet here than I had in the states. I’ll miss it.

12. Free bathrooms

-I don’t mind paying 1 leu for the bathroom if it is kept up but when I have to pay 1leu to piss in a hole in the ground with a door that smells like the inside of a sewage plant, I get annoyed.

13. Peanut butter

-I’m not a huge PB fan but not being able to have something makes you want it therefore I liked PB here. It was rarely available in the big supermarkets and really expensive. Like 5 dollars for a small jar.

14. Solo Cups

-The plastic cups here are the tiny little ones that are the size of the bathroom cups you use to rinse.

15. Personal Space

-I was huge on personal space before I left. This has probably changed the most about me. I love to hug and just have physical contact with people when I talk to them. Be it a hand on an arm, a handshake, whatever. I enjoy the lack of personal space more than I don’t.

16. Law&Order Marathons

-It’ll be nice to watch tv on a TV and not on a laptop.

17. No Smoking Zones

-OMFG I CAN’T WAIT TO GO OUT AND BE ABLE TO BREATH!

18. Sushi

-nom, nom, nom. For one person it’s about 60 lei which is hella expensive on an 800 lei salary.

19. Football

-I’ll miss most of football season ūüė¶

20. American Brand Candy

-The only one i miss is reeses.

21. State to State cellphone coverage.

-I’m in the middle of the mountains and have awesome coverage and internet all for about 10 dollars a month. Romania wins.

22. Swim Trunks

-It’s mainly the older generations that wear speedos.

23. Free refills

-I have paid so much for water at restaurants these past two years it’s ridiculous.

24. American Holidays

-I’ll be home for 4th of July. That’s it. ūüė¶

25. Ketchup.

-I love ketchup. Heinz Ketchup. I don’t like European ketchup and I can only get Heinz in the big cities.

26. Household appliances

-One word. DRYER!

27. Separate Checks

-It hasn’t been too bad. My budgeting/accountancy skills shave sharpened these past two years.

28. Pancakes

-These aren’t the issue. Maple Syrup is the issue. 33 lei ($10) for 300ml is highway robbery.

29. Air Conditioning

-My apartment is on the cold side. I have gotten used to the heat and sweating. It’s just a part of life. I’m interested to see how my lungs will react to A/C.

30. Drinking fountains

-We have one at school. It is used frequently but it scares me.

31. Food Delivery.

-Available in the big cities. Here you have to call the restaurant then call a cab to go pick it up for you if you really want it.

32. Screened Windows

-I have one screened window in my apartment that I made myself using my mosquito net. It hasn’t been fun.

33. Store hours

– I actually like this. You see more people enjoying themselves and having more time to relax.

34. Bagels

-I found one once, in a train station in Switzerland.

Recent Happenings

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I’ve been slacking a little when it comes to blogging so I’ll recap what i’ve been up to since my last post which was Easter.

The Romanians celebrate Easter for 3 days which means the second day of Easter we didn’t have school and the third day of Easter (that Tuesday) we kinda had school. I got to school at 8am and realized that only a handful of students were present in each classroom and after seeing that most of their¬†colleagues¬†weren’t even at school they decided to leave after the first hour. All of the professors had planned on having a picnic after the school day had finished but since we ended up having an extra day off, we headed out to “iarba verde” a little bit earlier and spent most of our day in nature. There were about 30 of us that ¬†set up camp and ate, drank, played soccer and frisbee, and just enjoyed each other’s company. It was nice getting together with all of my fellow teachers since it’s a very rare thing.

 

I spent the next day at site as well and then I was off again to another training in the south of the country. This trip ended up being very interesting due to the ridiculousness that is Romanian travel. I had bought my train ticket online two days prior and when I was in the process of looking for the train that goes from my nearest train station to Bucuresti I saw that that train doesn’t exist anymore. The closest train that I could catch to Buc was about an hour’s drive away. One of my friends was nice enough to drive me to the farther train station. When we arrived at that station we were told that the train I was supposed to get on was not running due to a break in the tracks about 100km north. After the news we headed back to Singeorz and I decided to take a route through Cluj/Sibiu that left Singeorz at 5am and finally arrived to Craiova around 9pm.

The next day I met up with Madalina and Carmen, the two wonderful ladies who work at the Craiova American Corners, to deliver my training to a group of talented young adults that plan on holding their own development camps this summer for the elementary kids in their city. The rest of the day Madalina took me around the beautiful and might I add very clean city of Craiova. We finished the night off at her sister-in-law’s place where we attended a dinner party of about 8 people. It was really refreshing being with a group of Romanians close to my own age and discussing everything from their thoughts on the country, why they haven’t left, the economy, and the future of Romania.

Fast forwarding to last night-

The Balul Majoratului or Senior prom, organized by the 11th grade, took place at the Huka Club and, as always, was a great time. Those of you that know me really well know that I love large groups of people because I can wander. I love being able to hang out with many different groups all within the same environment. We had fun, danced, laughed, and even cried. A few of my friends and students made me cry throughout the night when they kept on telling me how much they are going to miss me with which they reminded me that I only have a short time left in Romania. One of my students even told me that one of the main reasons he transferred into the philology profile was because he wanted me to be his English teacher. That absolutely melted my heart and instantly made me tear up.

Thats the recap of the last two weeks.

On deck:

meeting with a group of Moldovans to talk about PC next weekend along with my first ever Romanian wedding.

Until next time, va pup!

CLICK HERE FOR PICTURES

Easter Vacation

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Since Orthodox Easter fell in early May this year, instead of having a 2 week long spring vacation, we had 1 week of spring vacation and now we just had a 5 day Easter vacation.

The first day we had off was May 1st which is International Worker’s Day or as we know it in the States as Labor Day. On Wednesday, our first day off, Varvara invited me over to hang out for the day since I hadn’t been over to her house in months. I had been promising her husband Adi some homemade chili so I figured this was the perfect occasion to fulfil my promise. Pot of chili in hand, I headed over to Maieru where I spent the majority of the day relaxing,¬†reminiscing, and enjoying the company of Varvara and her family.

Since I don’t think I can survive if I don’t travel, Thursday morning I headed out to Anthony’s site, Negresti, to spend the rest of the Easter vacation. I have been promising him that I would come visit for the past two years and I FINALLY made it, with 2 months to spare! Anthony spent the weekend introducing me to his closest friends and students and we even got a visit from Jason who was in Iasi for a day and decided to grace us with his presence.

I got a chance to meet two amazing girls, Adnana and Andjelija. They are Anthony’s students and not only are they really good English speakers, they are such sweet girls. Andjelija and I automatically bonded because she has Yugoslavian roots so we were able to speak Serbian to each other. Adnana was also so adorable and she impressed me so much when she told me that she had read my blog before. She even ended up getting us Easter chocolates with a personalized note that she dropped off later on during the weekend.

I also got to finally meet Razvan. Razvan is to Anthony as Ioana is to me. Former student turned best friend. Razvan was Anthony’s student last year and is now a freshman at the university in Iasi. He was in town for the holiday as well and we got to spend some time with him. It was nice finally meeting him because I had talked to him many times before so I felt like I already knew him and just needed to put a face to the name.

Easter Sunday was spent at Anthony’s former gazda’s house. Like any typical EE family, they pulled out all the stops for us and we ended up have a 4 course meal. We visited Dana, who lives about 5 minutes away from Anthony, and we got to not only meet her family but also got a tour of her zoo. When I say zoo, I kind of mean it. This woman loves animals, especially birds. After battling with our eggs (I ended up being the undisputed champion) and our first course, we took our first food “pauza” and headed onto the property.¬†After passing by the newly constructed soccer field/basketball court, Dana, along with her 7 and 4 year old grandsons Luca and Mario took us past the¬†greenhouse¬†where we encountered: a cow, about 5 dogs, many hens, rabbits, some that were born that morning, geese,¬†pheasants¬† quails, ducks, and last but not least, TWO PEACOCKS. The woman has peacocks. I thought that was beyond awesome.

I left Anthony’s at around 7:30am on Monday morning and after¬†hitchhiking¬†into Iasi (about 50km), since absolutely nothing was¬†running¬†during the holiday, and sitting on a 7 hour long, 90 degree train, I am back home for a few more days until I leave again on Wednesday night for a training in Craiova.

 

Until then,

Va pup

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Rompin in Romania

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This past weekend I met up with a group of my fellow PCVs to cheer on 4 members from our group in the Cluj Marathon. They ran as a team so each runner took one leg which was 10k. We had a great time at the race and were very proud of our team “Rompin in Romania” when the last runner crossed the finish line with a total time of 4:17. We followed it up by divulging in none other than American style hamburgers, fries, onion rings, and liter sized beers at a local¬†brewery.

This was the last time that I am going to see several of my closest friends in Romania which means that my waterworks were flowing quite hard. It was difficult saying bye to these people that I have such a bond with and that are the only ones that know exactly what I have been through during my service. I was even¬†emotional¬†most of the 4 hour ride back to site just thinking of how much has happened in the past two years and some of the crazy memories that we have made. I know that I will consider every person from my group as a lifelong friend. I’m also very jealous that many of them will be close to Washington D.C. and will still have each other while I’ll be across the ocean but I know that our paths will cross again sometime.

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Spring Break

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Not even a full 24 hours after I arrived home from the field trip, I was off on an overnight train and then bus ride to the small town of Tulghes which is also where the very amazing PCV Matt Paulson lives. About 8 of us PCVs and Matt’s brother, Will, met up at Matt’s site to celebrate him turning the big 30. We had a cookout with his friends from site and spent those days being bums while listening to our newest 5 favorite songs and eating plenty of cake.

After a few days at Matt’s, Megan, Meg, Kevin, and I headed up to Kevin’s site, Sarasau. Our first full day at Kevin’s we headed into the city and hung out a bit before Kevin’s friend, Maria, came to pick us up and take us to The Village Hotel in Breb. Breb is a tiny village about 25 km outside of Sighetu Marmatiei where the roads aren’t paved, tuica is drunk as medicine, and the livestock outnumber the people.

The Village Hotel is owned by an¬†Englishman¬†named Duncan whom I met at a hostel in Cluj during my birthday weekend. His¬†colleague, Maria, is the one who was born and raised in Breb and is the main contact for the hotel. The hotel is made up of 2 small cottages with a few more currently being built. The cottage we were in had 3 beds and was, for a lack of better words, very quaint. It was a mix of old and new. It had all new¬†amenities¬†but they didn’t disrupt the olden feel of the place and just added to the charm.

The second day we were in Breb, we decided to take a walk through the village and had quite the adventure. We all put on our rubber boots to battle the muddy roads and headed out into the town. It was nice having Kevin with us because he knows some of the locals so we got to stop at a few places and talk to people. We also passed by the house that Prince Charles bought a few years ago. You know, he is part Romanian.

We ended up at the house of Ion and Maria. We randomly saw a bunch of sheep in a yard and decided to stop and take it all in when Ion came out and Kevin remembered meeting him sometime last year. Ion invited us in to hang out while he fed his animals and that was where we met his mother, Maria and where I was officially sold into marriage. Ion is about 45 and is a bachelor. Initially he mentioned how he would take any 3 of us girls as his bride but then after seeing how much the new baby calf liked me, he decided I was the one; that I was the “Romanca adevarata”. Without even having to discuss it, both Meg and Megan offered me up for two cows, one for the each of them and that was it, the deal was made and I was then officially filled in on what had just happened.

Ion and Maria invited us into their house for some carnati cu hrean (fried sausages with horseradish sauce). We hung out inside for about an hour so. Our guests told us about Ion’s recently¬†deceased¬†father, their British friend, William Blacker, who had spent several years in Breb and then later went on to write a book about it (Along the Enchanted Way). They also showed us many pictures including some that were taken with Prince Charles himself. After our lunch, Ion¬†escorted¬†us to the wooden church and that is where we parted ways with our new friend.

We headed back to Sighet after our walk and made a straight shot for the border to walk around the¬†Ukrainian¬†city right next to Sighet. Our final night is Sighet was spent at, in my opinion, one of the best pubs in all of Romania called “Friends”.

After a solid month of travel, I am finally back at home even if it will be only a week. This weekend I’ll be heading to Cluj to cheer on some PCVs in a marathon, celebrate Megan’s birthday, and take care of some issues with my glasses. End of service is only about 65 days away and it is closing in fast. I am staying extremely busy and have almost every weekend planned which will hopefully keep my mind off of the sadness of leaving.

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»ėcoala Altfel

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This year for scoala altfel my school did the same thing as last year which was to create various weeklong workshops that the students could attend. The new one that was added this year was the “tourism” workshop, aka a 5 day field trip, which I decided to chaperone.

After arriving home from COS conference I had a day long break to detox and then had to repack my bags and head out for another week. We all met in front of the high school at 8am sharp on Monday morning where we loaded up the busses and headed to our adventure. Here is a list, by day, of all of the places we visited.

Day 1:

  • Cluj city center
  • Turda salt mine
  • Turda Canyon
  • Alba Iulia Citadel
  • Deva

Day 2:

  • Hunedoara castle
  • Prislop Monastery
  • Targu Jiu (Kissing gate, Table of Silence, Infinity Column)
  • Tismana Monastery

Day 3:

  • Drobeta Turnu Severin
  • Iron gates outside of Orsova
  • Orsova (Danube boat cruise)
  • (we also spent the night at a high school dorm in Orsova. Said dorm has a capacity of 700 students and only has 11 students currently living in it. The conditions we stayed in were laughable. Without warm water or heat, we made the most of our time there and the 40 students crowded into 3 rooms for warmth.

Day 4:

  • Resita train museum
  • Dacian/Roman museum and ruins in Sarmizegetusa
  • Densus church which was constructed in the 3rd century
  • Deva
  • (We stayed at the¬†gymnastics¬†high school that trains all of Romania’s gymnasts and where Nadia Comaneci trained)

Day 5:

  • Deva Citadel
  • Monastery – can’t remember the name
  • Gold Museum in Brad
  • Dinner in Cluj
  • HOME!

We encountered some pretty bad weather at times, forgot a student after a stop, froze and almost got¬†pneumonia, but all in all it was a fun trip and i’m happy I got to have a good time with my kids.

 

COS Conference

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COS (Close of Service) is just around the corner, 85 days away for me, and the last and final group in Peace Corps Romania got together this weekend for our very last conference during our service and the very last time to see some of our fellow volunteers.

Wednesday, Megan, Meg, and arrived in Sibiu around 5pm from Meg’s site and headed to our hotel. We unpacked, met up with a larger group and headed to dinner. Dinner was followed by drinks and a night of some pretty interesting karaoke.

Thursday and Friday we had sessions from 9-5pm. Some were very emotional and reflective which made some of us tear up and others were more administrative based discussing paperwork and various procedures. My favorite part of the conference was when the program managers gave us letters that we had written to ourselves the day before we took our oath as volunteers. I totally forgot about them and couldn’t remember what I wrote. I was so surprised to see what I wrote that I¬†immediately¬†teared up because I had achieved my goal that I set for myself two years prior. My letter read as follows: “I want to empower the youth of ROmania (main the girls) to be all they can be and for them to believe that anything is possible.” Our last session on Friday was held at the Astra outdoor village museum just outside of Sibiu. We danced some traditional dances, at some cozonac and got to tour the facility in horse drawn carts, bikes, or on foot.

After we got back we hung out at the hotel and slowly got ready for our dinner that staff was going to throw for us. I also took my LPI (language proficiency interview) at this time and am happy to say that I scored an Advanced High-Superior level on Romanian knowledge which lets me officially say that I am somewhat “fluent” in the¬†language.

At the dinner we celebrated our service and were awarded superlatives both from PC Staff and a committee of PCVs chosen at random. The superlative it got from staff was “Most GLOW-ing” and the one I got from my fellow PCVs was “The Romanian Army Knife” because I apparently can do anything. There is a story behind the second superlative but we won’t go into that.The night ended in the wee hours of the morning just before sunrise. I said bye to the volunteers that I wouldn’t get to see before the end of service and went up to me room for a 3 hour nap before heading on a bus back to site.

I’m currently at site until Monday morning when I leave again, this time with my school, for a week long field trip around Romania.

Until then, Va pup!

CLICK HERE FOR PICTURES

Pasul Rotunda

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For the weekend of March 8th, about 15 of the profs decided to head out to one of the peaks within our local mountain range and spend a few nights in a wonderful and secluded cabin. Friday night we headed to the cabin and spent the night unpacking, relaxing, and cooking dinner. Saturday was spent by a cozy fire, taking a hike which was cut short due to extreme fog and so much humidity in the air that my hair iced over, and riding around the mountain on an 8×8 which is like a mini tank and was such a surreal experience since the visibility was at around 50ft. At certain points it felt like there was absolutely nothing around us and we were just surrounded by snow. All in all it was a very fun weekend and really nice to hang out with my fellow¬†colleagues.

This Thursday I’ll be heading to Serbia for Tanja’s wedding and am very excited to see one of my good and oldest friends get married. I’ll be there for a week and then I’ll be heading back to Romania for a girls weekend in Brasov followed by our COS (close of service) conference in Sibiu.

Until then,

Va pup!

Teamwork and Communication Workshop

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This past weekend I did something that, even a year ago, I never thought I would be able to do. I facilitated a weekend long training workshop IN ROMANIAN! I’m not gonna lie i’m pretty proud of myself and ecstatic that it went so much better than I had planned.

About 2 months ago, Loredana approached me with the idea of creating a weekend long getaway for all of the county inspectors to help them develop their teamwork skills while also giving them something they can take back to the classroom. I was a little skeptical at first since it was going to be all in Romanian and it would just be me presenting about 90% of the time. After a few more “please”s I caved and agreed to do it.

The inspectors couldn’t work out a good weekend to attend since they are in the midst of all of the academic olympics competitions so we got the school psychologists to come instead. Matt and Megan were kind enough to offer their help for the training so I had them come up as well.

Friday after school, the psychological county director picked the 4 of us up and we headed to a secluded cabin in the even more secluded village of Fiad which is just over a mountain to the west of me. After dinner, we did some basic introductions and then just had a very relaxed social meet and greet hang out. Around 10pm is when things started getting very interesting. I was working upstairs in my room with Loredana and prepping for the following day when I hear the very distinct “w0oo”s of Megan and Matt. I go downstairs to check out what is going out and it is a full on dance party. Every single person was dancing and singing at the top of their lungs. At that moment I knew this was going to be a fun group to work with.

Saturday started off a little rocky since some last minute changes had to be made to the agenda but since no one knew the agenda except for me, all things were good! We talked about being a team and grouped them off into teams that would compete with each other for the rest of the weekend doing various exercises to earn points. The day was followed by some American football taught by Matt which they got REALLY into. Matt brought all of his flag football gear but that did not stop the group of mainly women to tackle each other into the snow as if they had full pads on. After lunch we had an egg drop activity, jeopardy, and we ended the day with a dance competition which Loredana and I judged.

Sunday morning was more communication activities and the last event was a scavenger hung with a list of 20 things the teams were to find around the cabin/area. Some of them got very creative such as finding pictures of a cow in a newspaper while others wanted to be as authentic as possible and went out into the village searching for a cow they could take a picture with.

After all of the activities we debriefed about the entire weekend and I was really glad to see that some of the participants were very reflective and realized the issues that presented themselves throughout the weekend in regards to functioning as a team and that they were discussing way to incorporate all of the activities into the classroom.

I would not have been able to do this without my amazing fellow PCVs Megan and Matt and I thank them so much for being the social butterflies they are and hanging out when I needed to plan or just recharge.

Budapest and Vienna

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New Years Day, after a fairly late start, Megan, Kaitlyn, Robert, and I got on a 3:00pm train headed for Budapest. After our 7 hour train ride, we arrived in the glorious capitol of Hungary and our first mission was to find food. Not just any food though, American food. We ended up at the TGI Friday’s in Deak Ferenc Ter and gorged on big juicy burgers. Witht his meal also came a revelation, I don’t do salt as well as I did before. Western food is way too salty for me and even though the burger was amazing, it was just too intense for my¬†dilapidated¬†taste buds.

The three days we were there were filled with showing Robert around the city, since he had never been, and then meeting up with Meg and later on, Kevin.

After our three day visit, Kevin, Robert, Meg and I headed to Vienna for the last leg of our winter vacation. After checking into our hostel, we decided to spend the first day just roaming around the city. We walked through the downtown area which included many parks/gardens, museums, and shops. We finished day one off by enjoying a traditional Viennese schnitzel and some beer.

Day two brought some awful weather. It was raining fairly hard all day and we were soaked by the end of it. Since it was such a nasty day outside, after roaming around and finding a great bagel place to sit down and eat some lunch, we decided on the Albertina Museum which has an exhibit on Monet and Picasso. It was really cool to see so many beautiful works of art and to learn about the history behind said art. Due to the weather, and the overall dampness of everything, we decided to call it an early day and just lounged around the hostel until midnight when we went back out to get some food so I can officially celebrate Christmas in Balac family style by breaking my Christmas Eve fast.

Day three’s weather was much nicer than the previous day’s. Although the temperatures dropped quite a bit, it was dry which let us roam around the city freely. We first headed to the Hofburg Imperial Palace outside of the center ¬†where the¬†Hapsburg¬†family used to live and took an hour long tour of the building. The building was enormous and very well preserved. The coolest thing that we saw within the palace was the room where a 6 year old Mozart played his first concert. It was such an amazing feeling to stand in the same location that Eurpean royalty once sat while listening to a child¬†prodigy¬†play the piano. After the palace tour, we walked around the vast grounds of the palace which are filled with gardens, zoos, lakes, and even a human maze.

After finishing at the palace, we hurried to the opposite side of town to the¬†cemetery¬†where Beethoven is buried. Unfortunately, we arrived around 4:30 and the sun was almost set that we barely saw the names on the tombstones, let alone found Beethoven’s grave within the enormous complex where over 2 million people are buried.

The last part of our day was going to be listening to a concert at one of the music halls called Muzikverein where an orchestra was performing a medley of several classical pieces but not before we enjoyed some tasty sushi that we have all been missing very much during our service. The concert, enjoyed from our 5 Euro standing room area was extraordinary. It was probably one of my favorite experiences, to enjoy beautiful music in such a culturally rich city.

After a 12 hour day of travel back to Romania, we said goodbye and good luck to Robert, who is moving on to a post in Armenia for the next 6 months.

I finally arrived home about 6pm yesterday and have just now warmed up. My apartment had been abandoned for 2 whole weeks and when I entered, it was so cold I could see my breath. After lighting a roaring fire, I settled down to relax when I was called up by one of my students. He asked if I was busy, I said no, he then said that he along with a few other students and friends of mine were going to stop by to welcome me back. I was greeted with about 10 people at my door ranging between the ages of 15-25. We hung out a little in my living room and after they left, I decided to try to go to sleep in the freezing cold apartment under what I consider the thickest comforter I have ever come in contact with along with sweat pants, two sweat shirts, gloves, a scarf, two hats, and an electric heater along with the fire in the soba.

It’s going to be one long and cold winter!