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Adventuers of an American Vagabond
Life is calling, how far will you go?

Date: 2008-02-20 23:00
Subject: Leaving LJ
Security: Public
Alright everyone;

In an attempt to streamline my life, I'm getting rid of a lot of excess things in my life.  I cleaned my closet, thrown out moldy food from the fridge and even gave away some candy that I've been hording.  This shedding of unused stuff also extends into my digital life.  I've gotten rid of a few email addresses, my My Space account and now it's time to say goodbye to LJ.  I've got another blog that I update more frequently, so you're more than welcome to check that out.


Pa, I'm out.

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Date: 2008-02-19 19:55
Subject: Kate likes to read?!?!
Security: Public

My life in the Peace Corps is, to be perfectly honest, is kind of boring. Really. On some weekends I go visit a friend in a different city, or have a friend come visit me. But that leaves my weekdays, and some weekends, wide open. For my first year here in Romania, I didn’t have a television. Now I do, but I’m never really interested in watching Romanian talk shows or Spanish soap operas. So, the TV is normally turned off.

I was always an avid reader before, but it’s as though I had a “turbo” switch that was turned on when I moved here. I read, on average, a book a week. Also every week, the PC office sends all of us volunteers a Newsweek. But, giving a PCV one magazine a week is like giving a pro football player a piece of bread for dinner. It doesn’t last long, nor is it very filling. Most PCVs have also amped up their reading, and we’re all very good at sharing books among us. In the Peace Corps office, in Bucharest, they have two shelves filled up with books. Whenever you go to the office, always make sure to bring a bag of books that you’ve already read and are ready to pass on. Then you can re-fill that bag with books you haven’t read yet. There are some books that are so good, there’s a waiting list to get a hold of it.

Jonathan Sanfran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated is one of those. It’s about a young American Jew who travels to his grandfather’s native country, Ukraine. He hopes to find the woman who helped his grandfather escape during the holocaust. I think it’s been such a hit among us PCVs because Ukraine is one of Romanian’s bordering countries and so some of the situations this American finds himself in are similar to the things happening around, and to, us. Such as trying to explain what a vegetarian is and trying to find something to eat on a meat-leaden menu. A 2005 movie, staring Elijah Wood, does a good job of re-creating the story on the big screen. Also an interesting fact, Elijah Wood’s mother was a PCV here in Romania. She still works and lives here.

Another book I’ve really come to enjoy is Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson. Greg is an American climber who, after trying to summit K2, finds himself lost in a Pakistani village. He falls in love with the land, the people and the culture he finds there. He promises the village chief to return and build a school for the children. While trying to keep his promise, Greg discovers a true need for schools throughout the whole area. To date, Greg and his associates have built 52 schools in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. It’s a very inspiring book, especially for me as I’m trying to stay motivated in my teaching position here in Romania.

I’ve also read and enjoyed T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. Now, at 688 pages this book can seam a little overwhelming. But don’t worry; it’s actually four books in one. The Sword in the Stone tells the story of how a boy named Wart became the king of England, with the help of a wizard named Marlin (yes, very similar to the old Disney cartoon.). Next The Queen of Air and Darkness talks about the same king, now called by this proper name of Author, and how he rose to be a legend. The Ill-Made Knight discusses King Author’s right-hand man, Sir Lancelot. It also talks about the other knights of the round table. Finally, the last book, The Candle in the Wind, talks about the last few weeks of Author’s reign.

So, as you can see, I read a lot! While this might not be the most interesting blog, it does talk a lot about what I spend a good chunk of my time doing.

Other good books I’ve read here are:

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho; The Aquitaine Progression by Robert Ludlum; Ballad of the Whiskey Robber by Julian Rubinstein; Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet; Boy’s Life by Robert R. McCammon; Centennial by James Mitchner; The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow; Dracula by Bram Stroker; The Giver by Lois Lowery; The Godfather by Mario Puzo; Harry Potter (all 7) by J.K. Rowling; Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amor; Little Women by Louisa May Alcott; The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards; The Motorcycle Diaries by Ernesto “Che” Guevara; On the Road by Jack Kerouak; The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne; Shogun by James Clavell; A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini; The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas; Wicked by Gregory Maguire; and The Wild Girl by Jim Fergus.

P.S. This blog was edited for American school kids.  I have even more books to suggest, but they're not meant for school children.  Out is one of them, as is A Painted Bird.  Read them!!!
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Date: 2008-01-25 10:47
Subject: MLK day in Romo
Security: Public

Coming from a different culture with different beliefs and traditions often means I celebrate different holidays than my co-workers and students. I always like to try and teach something about home to the kids. This past Monday was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and I thought that was a perfect topic for a cross-cultural lesson plan.

Tuesday morning at 8:00 AM, I walk into my seventh grade class ready to talk about Civil Rights and MLK. I have vocabulary words to teach, a cross-word puzzle to do and I even brushed up on my history in case the students had any questions. I write the vocab words on the board and start to explain them. “Segregation” is one of the words. I get about half way through an explanation when I realized I was talking to a segregated class. In my school the Hungarian students and the Romanian students are separated. Each group has their own building, own teachers even own principals. Mr. Babylon is the Hungarian principal while Ms. Ana is the Romanian one.

In parts of Transylvania there is still a lot of hostility between the two groups of people. I have a group of Hungarian friends that I hang out with, and a group of Romanian friends who I hang out with; the two groups rarely interact. Last Spring Break I went to Egypt with a group of teachers and students-all of them were Hungarian. I do not speak Hungarian at all beyond the very basic phrases. “Szia” means hello and goodbye; “igen” means yes; “nem” is no, etc. Even though everyone on the trip speaks Romanian fluently, I was asked not to. They would rather speak to me in broken English than Romanian; it was less insulting I was told.

On the same trip I asked a friend about this phenomenon. Attila is a history teacher and gave me a lecture about the history of Transylvania and the historical hostility between the various different peoples. I asked him what his family would say if he dated a Romanian girl and he said his mother would probably disown him.

So, this is one lesson that taught me more than it did the students.

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Date: 2007-12-02 15:24
Subject: Graphic pig killing...warning
Security: Public
Hey all, sorry for the long delay in updating. Things have been really busy here in Zalau. I went to a Halloween party, celebrated Thanksgiving, hosted a Special Olympics event, moved apartments and got a new roommate. Things have just been moving at lightening speed, and before I knew it, it was December first.

About a week ago I went to a party with a bunch of friends. Through a mutual friend, I met this girl named Ramona. She invited me, and about 8 other people to her parents’ house to help with the traditional pig slaughter. I was very excited and accepted this invitation quickly, as going to a pig slaughter was one of the things I wanted to see/participate in but hadn’t had a chance to yet.

About twice a year, usually in September and again in December, families here will kill a pig that they had been feeding all year. The meat from the pig will feed the family for about six months. Usually pigs are killed on or around December 20th, as to have fresh meat and sausages for Christmas. It’s a hard job, both physically and mentally (especially for people who have never done it before). You need about ten people to do it. Ramona’s family did theirs early this year because it was the only weekend the whole family could be there to help. And, they were really happy to have the help of 8 Americans even though we were all inexperienced.

Ok, if you’re squeamish at all, stop reading here. I’m going to describe the pig slaughter. I won’t go into too many details, but it’s still upsetting. So, stop reading if you don’t want to know what happens.

About 8 in the morning, we dragged the pig out from his pen. He weighed about 440 pounds and couldn’t even walk on its own. This meant there was a lot of good meat for the family. The pig didn’t want to leave his warm, safe pen so we needed five or six strong men to drag him out. My friend Dave compared the noise he made to the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park.

Once we got the pig out into the courtyard, Ramona’s father took a knife and cut this throat. Then we waited for it to bleed out. A lot of families collect the blood in tins to make blood sausage with, but Ramona’s family didn’t. The courtyard was built with a drain in the middle just for occasions like this.

After the pig was dead, we took a blowtorch and burned off all the hair and skin. Back in the days before blowtorches, families would wrap the pig in straw and start a big bonfire to burn all this off. It would take a really long time and smelled horrible, so most families now own their own blowtorch. Once one side was clean, we flipped the pig over and burned the hair off the other side. Then, still using the blowtorch, we blackened all the skin, loosening it from the body. Ramona’s dad let us draw on the blackened skin with our fingertips. Then, using really sharp knives, we scraped the skin off the carcass. The pig was a yellowish-pink color.

After that, my part was pretty much done. The Romanian men, who were experienced in butchering, cut the pig apart and separated the meat/intestines/other parts by what they would be used for. The intestines were emptied and cleaned out and the shells of the intestines were used as the casing of sausages. The liver and kidneys were cut out to be cooked separately. They pulled off some skin and, after dipping it in salt, chewed on it like gum. Large chunks of fat were deep fried and eaten as a snack (very tasty). Even the ears and tail were used.

At first I was very upset by the killing. The noise of the pig being dragged out was sickening. But as the day wore on and I saw how every part of the pig was being put to use, and I tasted the fresh pork that we ate for dinner, I began to appreciate the whole process. The whole thing was very fast, clean and professional. And, as an end result, Ramona’s family gets meat for the winter. And, as a further bonus, they saved a lot of money by killing their own pig. They bought the pig for 25 lei (about $10) a year ago, fed it scraps and lost cost meal and in the end have food for the whole winter. In comparison, 1 kilo of pork at the butcher would be about 25 lei on its own.

Well, that’s all for this update. I’ve got a lot more stories to tell, but I’ll save them for another time. I promise my next one won’t be so grisly and graphic. Everyone enjoy the upcoming holidays! I know I will, I’ll be going home to Michigan for two weeks to spend Christmas with my family. I’m VERY excited. I haven’t been home in 18 months, and I haven’t seen most of my family in that time either. Enjoy the snow, if you’re lucky enough to have some!

If you want to know more about the killing, I've posted pics here.  But, again, I warn you that they're graphic.
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Date: 2007-10-24 10:46
Subject: German AuPair needs help
Security: Public
It's about Nina, the daughter of my aunts friend, she is in the US right now as an Au Pair but had real trouble with her family. Because of all the psyche stress and everything she lost a lot of weight and was just not doing well at all in that family. Now she is looking for a new family, who is either looking for an Au Pair or could just help her out for some time until she finds another family, as she has to move out the latest next sunday (Oct 28th) and otherwise has to return to Germany... She really wants to stay and turn this year into a good one, so if you know anybody or pass this on to someone else, that'd be great.
It's best to contact Nina directly - her email is nina_zulka@web.de and her phonenumber: 0017818017170

Thanks for reading :)
(and here's the original German version:

Nina, eine meiner Töchter ist Mitte Juli für ein Jahr in die USA als AuPair

gereist. In ihrer Family ist ihr ziemlich übel mitgespielt

worden, doch haben wir mittlerweile erreicht, dass Nina die Familie

wechseln kann. Auf Grund des ganzen Psychostresses

hat Nina an Gewicht verloren und wiegt jetzt noch 41 kg. Immerhin kann Sie

jetzt wieder essen. Sie muss aber bis Sonntag

28.10.2007 eine neue Familie gefunden haben, bei der sie als AuPair

arbeiten kann, weil sie dann aus ihrer jetzigen Familie

heraus muss. Hat sie bis dahin keine neue Familie gefunden, muss sie die

USA verlassen, es sei denn sie findet irgendwo

eine Unterkunft und kann von da aus weiter nach einer Familie suchen, die

ein AuPair braucht.

Nina möchte Amerika nicht verlassen, weil sie trotz allem gerne dort ist

und eine neue Chance haben möchte, sich als

AuPair zu beweisen. Ich suche also jetzt dringend Menschen in den USA, die

Nina aufnehmen könnten bis sie eine

AuPairstelle gefunden hat. Deswegen möchte ich alle bitten, die über

Kontakte in den USA verfügen, diese spielen zu lassen,

damit Nina geholfen werden kann, damit sie wenigstens aus diesem seelischen

Tief heraus kommt.

Mag sein, dass sie keine Stelle finden wird, aber dann kann sie wenigstens

sicher sein, dass sie alles versucht hat.

In dieser einen Woche ist es nicht möglich, so ein Gefühl zu entwickeln.

Ich hoffe, wir finden eine Lösung!

Hier Ninas Mail und Telefon: nina_zulka@web.de; Telefon: 0017818017170 - dann kann sie direkt

kontaktiert werden

Herzliche Grüße!
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Date: 2007-09-26 19:07
Subject: A few things:
Security: Public
Something happened to me today that is just too surreal not to share.

I went to school tonight to meet with class VG's parents. As I walked onto the school grounds a parent was walking beside me. The main building was locked (that was ok for me, I was going to building B) and she just went off about stupid people who work in schools. She then asked me what I did. I said I was a teacher. She looked taken aback and then asked me something else-I think about my age because I look way younger than the other teachers. I didn't really understand her so I said so. She then realized I was "that American teacher" and went off about how she loves me and America and how God has surely blessed me. Then, for some reason, she told me about her mother who she had just committed to a mental institution because she "went crazy due to my husband." I must have looked confused, because she said it again and then said her husband had hit her mother in the head very hard. I still must have looked lost because she then took both her hands, but her thumbs lightly on my temples and head butted me. Yes, she did. Then she told me exactly where she lives and asked me to come visit right then. I politely declined, saying I had to go meet with the parents of my students. She nodded, gave me the directions again and told me that I was going to stay with her all weekend. "It will be ok." She informed me. "My mother will stay at the home and I will make my husband sleep with the animals. We have pigs! 15 of them!" I thanked her, pointedly looked at my watch and said I had to go. She gave me a giant hug and two very wet kisses on each cheek (side note: she smelled like onions and B.O.) and let me go.
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Date: 2007-09-19 15:45
Subject: Romo fests
Security: Public
I love fall in Romania. The leaves change color, the air turns colder (hey, I’m from Michigan; I love the cold!), but most importantly, autumn means harvest festivals! I really love harvest festivals. Each farming community has their own, and they are spread all throughout the end of August, all of September and the beginning of October.

A few weekends ago I went to a nearby village called Pericei with my PCV friend Lauren and our Hungarian friend Timi. Timi’s family is from Pericei, so we just stayed at her parents’ house for the weekend. We hung out with her many cousins; the only names I remembered were Attila, Chuba, Zoli, István, Balázs, Ella and Sanyi. Pericei is a Hungarian village, so 90% of the people there only speak Hungarian. And, since I don’t, it made talking to people a little difficult. But luckily for me, Lauren speaks English and Hungarian and Timi speaks Romanian and Hungarian. So as long as I was with one of them, I was fine.

The whole festival started off with the conjoining together of a giant onion rope. Each family had their basket full of onions straight from the gardens, still with the long rope-like ropes attached. Then they just braided them all together, like a French braid, and made one giant rope out of it. I was told that the whole thing was over 5 K long. That’s over 3 miles of onions tied together!

Then we went to the un-veiling of a new statue for the village; it was a giant bronze onion. It looked kind of like a giant tear-drop, but the people were very proud of it. They had the statue placed in one of the few public spaces in the village, which turned out to be the school playground. After showing off the statue, we went to the city hall for a feast. There’s a traditional stew called bogracsos. It is soooo good. I’m not sure what’s in it, but I know there were potatoes, beef and paprika for sure. Traditionally it’s one dish that only men are allowed to make. They cook it outside in a giant pot over a roaring fire. It’s something like goulash, but I’m told they’re not the same. After eating there was traditional dancing and songs-also on the playground. Around midnight, the traditional music stopped and we danced the rest of the night away to a rock band.

The next weekend was another festival in a different village called Crasna. One of my PCV friends, Ed, lives in Crasna, so again Lauren, Timi and I, together this time with our friend Dave, went and crashed at Ed’s host family’s house. We arrived in Crasna just in time to see the parade. It consisted of horse-drawn chariots, traditional dancing, non-traditional dancing, a marching band and the county’s K-9 unit. Not a typical parade for us Americans, but a lot of fun. After the parade was more bogracsos (Crasna also being a Hungarian village), then dancing and music.

The next day we went to a chariot racing event. It’s kind of like an obstacle course for old fashioned chariots pulled by two horses. The horses were beautiful; most of them were dressed up for the occasion with tassels, ear-muffs and bells. The drivers were also dressed up in traditional costumes, top hats and ties. My friend Atti knew one of the drivers and got us a ride in one of the chariots. It was so much fun! Dave, Lauren and I were all in the back seat and we were so squished we couldn’t move. But it helped whenever we rode over ruts or bumps or else somebody would have fallen off.

Ed’s host family, or gazda in Romanian, owns a small house up in the hills just outside of town where they grow their own fruits and vegetables to eat. They also have a grape vineyard and make their own wine. We met with the neighbors and sat around and talked for about an hour, eating grapes right off the vine and apples off the trees. One of the neighbors invited me to marry one of his sons, but I politely declined. Dave got an invitation to go skiing, once snow falls, which he did not decline.

After that we walked back into town where we got to ride on what is called a “dragon” in Hungarian. It’s more like a motorized hand glider. I had to wear a giant helmet and winter coat. The coat was way too big on me, and I must have looked ridiculous, but I didn’t care. It was totally worth it. From the sky I could see not only Crasna, but the neighboring village of Vârşolţ as well. And I could just make out Zalău in the distance. The pilot of the dragon only spoke Hungarian, so I think he was explaining the landscape to me but I couldn’t understand him. I felt like I was only up in the air for about five mintues, but when we landed Timi told me I was up in the air for about twenty. Either way, it was way too short.

In two weeks from now, the weekend of September 29th, there are two more festivals. One in Şimleu Silvaniei and one in Turda. I have friends in both places, so I just have to decide what I want to do/see. Either way, I’m excited!
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Date: 2007-08-16 13:13
Subject: Time to say goodbye
Security: Public
Location:Zalau, Romania
Music:Jumper by Third Eye Blind
I have been in Romania now for about 1 year and 3 months, or about 63 weeks, or 442 days now (wow, that was some quick mental math!). For all but the first ten of those weeks I had the awesome chance to have wonderful sitemates, Allan and Autumn Henderson.

A & A COS today. (COS means Close Of Service. They finished their two years and are free to go home.) I’m really happy for them, because they both had fantastic experiences here in Romania and are leaving with positive attitudes and glowing reviews. But they’re leaving. It amazes me that 53 weeks ago I didn’t even know them, and couldn’t even fathom how much they would encourage, support and inspire me.

I just keep thinking of all the stuff we had planned to do, but ran out of time to do it. Allan and I were going to watch all the James Bond movies in chronological order; we’re three short. Autumn was going to teach me how to cook something editable. There simply just wasn’t enough time. And this was just my first year; they say the second year goes even faster than the first!

It amazes me how close I’ve become with some of the other PCVs here. And it makes me sad to think of the time after Romania when we all move back to the States. I live in Michigan-Gogoaşa lives in Texas; Steve lives in Connecticut; Scott lives in Hawaii; Dave in Nebraska; David Bruce in North Carolina; Lauren in Oregon; Doug in Colorado; Hollywood in Mississippi. The list goes on and on. And that’s just the Americans, what about all these great HCN friends I’ve made? Romona, Eti, Bogdan, Attila, Timi… (HCN means Host Country National. I can’t say they’re all Romanians, because most of them are actually ethnically Hungarian.)

As sad as this makes me, it also makes me really excited for the future. If I didn’t know these people 63 weeks ago, who am I going to meet in the next 63 weeks? The possibilities are endless. Plus, look at all the cool places I get to go to now to visit my friends.

The best part is, A & A and Ed live in Indiana-fairly close to the Michigan boarder. In fact, A & A live less than two hours away from my sister (I MapQuested it). Just because they left Romania doesn’t mean they got rid of me by any means.
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Date: 2007-07-14 23:19
Subject: Ethan Mitchell
Security: Public
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Date: 2007-07-13 17:48
Subject: Gone
Security: Public
So, I know I've been not-posting for a REALLY long time now. It's not that I have nothing to say, it's just that I don't know how to express myself to people back home. So, in short: life is good. School ended in June, the next week I worked a Prader Willi conference in Cluj; two days later my parents came to visit and we went to Turkey, where my older sister also joined us. In a few days I'll go to Buc to see the Rolling Stones. Then in August my German host sisters will visit me, then I'll go to the Black Sea for a PC conference. Then my twin and friend Bekah will come visit. Then school will start again.

Umm...yeah, that's about it. I doubt I'll be posting much this summer, I'm just slightly busy. Plus, now PC monitors our blogs and, as much as I love the office, I don't really want them inside my brain via my blog. So when I do post, it'll be less and less informative. If you want, let me know and I'll add you to my e-mail list. I send updates very sparatically.

On a much happier note: WELCOME TO THE WORLD ETHAN MITCHELL McQUEEN!! The fourth of July is a great birtday, and when I get home you and I are going to have a blast! Remember, I'm the cool Aunt Kate. Your biological Aunt Kate is...well, not as cool. I send really weird presents from really random places! Who got you that 3-headed dragon from Prague? Bretta or Ryan, read this to him; I'm sure a nine-day-old baby can't read yet.
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February 2008