Thursday, March 11, 2010

Doings of late and a bit of venting

I've not been able to write in my journal of late, and in a way I feel like I've been looking in anyways with the ever changing schedule I keep.

I had a good week and want to share. Being in Peace Corps, I have lots of leeway to define my schedule. At times, I pressure myself to be busy, busy, busy. I think to myself: I could be doing more ECO Clubs, I could be taking on more English courses, I could be visiting the village outside town and the hospital. It's something of a habit of mine: putting too much on my plate. But, motivation runs everything and I'm not a TEFL volunteer (Teaching English as a Second Language) so, why overburden myself with classes? I get to define my schedule, so why not use this to my benefit!

Many of my in the works projects are bearing fruit. This presentation at the American Corner Library fulfilled a long term goal. While in Cluj, I had lots of time with Sean, my former site mate. We ate Indian food he'd prepared, went to interesting coffee shops, and met up with other volunteers and friends. One night we met up at a mansion with many Americans. An interesting mix! Gays and Christians! At the clubs were groups of foreign volunteers. Being overseas you come into contact with all kinds of interesting groups - and our foreignness brings us together. I've never met so many Christians - American included - since coming out here. I've met Mormons, Pentecostals, visiting groups of Baptists and more. Not having known many Pentecostals and 'Non-demoninationals' before, I had only media stereotypes to work off of - and the stereotypes (as they often tend to be) were more negative then positive. I'm a bit embarrassed I've had so little contact before now.

So, while in Cluj I was able to visit the Gay Club. Nearly empty! But this allowed me time to finish a play I'd written and am now directing for a high school drama competition! I met today for the third time with my high school troupe and it's been lots of fun. It's really a great opportunity.

I had some great classes this week - out at the church and with the kindergartens. I envisioned a project to fund for the church. I work mostly with a woman named Carmen there. I've been training her to teach English. The kids are all very poor but very cute. Their community is very lucky for their Church. Their ministry is really alive - feeding the kids, giving after school programs, bible study, opportunity to learn instruments, sing, etc. These kids home lives are often very difficult. I'm lucky that I can help them with English. Kids without means to have a private tutor at home quickly fall behind here. So, starting them early and giving the teenagers extra help is important.

The Church driveway is mud and the backyard is also sticky mud. There are some pitiful looking play equipment there. I'm hoping we can get that backyard paved. Asking how much it would cost, Carmen estimated about 500 lei. It's not a large yard - about 10 x 8 yards. 500 lei is about 300 dollars. The driveway would be about double that. So, for about 700/800 dollars we could get the back and the driveway paved. This would save on cleaning when kids come and provide a place to play. Right now the community has no paved place to play. The bathroom is an outhouse with no lights. Carmen said they'd need tiles. I've really taken to the kids and to Carmen who is a real saint for the work she does there. I too, tutor Sergio the church's pastor in English and he too is a great guy. I hope I can help them. I'd love to leave the church with a finished play space and a properly outfitted bathroom.

It's an interesting contrast here. I work with these hyper fluent (in English) middle class teenagers in town, and then there's kids and adults who go through the dumpsters down my street. Teenagers who don't know how to spell their name. And they live in the same neighborhood as teenagers who can put computers together, dress fashionably, and will be successful college graduates: engineers, computer technicians, etc.

I'm happy for being part of the church to have some positive constructive contact with poor people and Gypsies (Roma) in particular. I have all but given up trying to educate my friend about stereotypes and simply settled to saying: 'Don't say it around me.'

Last night, her 5 year old teased us calling us: 'Gypsies!' I can't stand to hear this kid being taught this is okay. She explained to me: when he doesn't want to go to school I tell him: 'do you want to be one of those kids who goes through the garbage can? Those uneducated kids?' She (and almost everyone) constantly say things: 'Don't talk with your mouthful like a Gypsy.' 'I was all dirty, like a Gypsy.' 'I stole this thing from you, like a Gypsy.'

Such things are said with Gypsy friends around. My friend who makes such comments has a Gypsy colleague and Roma students. She doesn't go out of her way to be mean to anyone and there's one student of hers who she'll give food and odd jobs to. But then, she'll turn around and say: 'I think if I was a Gypsy and I married a Romanian, I would be proud.' (And if the marriage were to another Gypsy, this would not also be worthy of pride?)

This friend of mine is great in countless ways, is my best friend here in town, feeds me and my friends, is a good mother, is a great person. But hers and Romania's racism drives me absolutely crazy. Being in a different country, another culture really forces you to be open-minded and to fight judging others. Racism everywhere is ugly. Racists can be good people. Roma People have to be the ones to change and direct their destiny first. Their movement is very young. to simply leave it to God.

So, after Cluj I had a great time with my meditation circle with friends Sorin and Adriana. Also in attendance - good friend Juba (Hungarian) and Carolyn (American.) I took a ride with Juba from Cluj. When I arrived at his place, I got the Romanian treatment. First was some bread and cheese and jelly which I filled up on not having breakfast. Then came soup. (uh-oh!) Already full and I'm at the beginning of a 3 course meal! This isn't the first time this has happened to me. But really! Would you ever drop in on someone unexpectedly and find yourself being treated to a three course meal of homemade food? This is the kind of thing I'll so miss of course with my friends who are for me, the face of Romania.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

movie: 'Precious'

Today is Saturday. I've been trying to watch all the Oscar nominated films and just finished watching 'Precious.' The movie is produced by Oprah and Tyler Perry. Would this story have come to screen without these producers?

I'm writing this for two reasons today. One - about something that happened in the middle of my viewing; the other for a review I read.

First, about the movie: It's a hard tale from 1987, inspired by the book 'Push.' The director was behind the movies: 'The Woodsman,' with Kevin Bacon, and 'Monster's Ball.' Central to the director's life and Oprah's as well are themes of poverty, abuse, and rape - both things that these two have experienced in their life.

Precious is 16 years old and pregnant with her second child. She is a Republican's worst nightmare. Her mother, sits fat off the welfare system while she grooms her daughter for the same. Precious's mother tells her she wish she'd aborted her, that she's a dummy, and beats her. Precious has never had a boyfriend. Her children are from her father. Her mother we find is so terrible to her because she resents her for 'stealing her man.' Grim stuff. Believe it or not, that's not the worst of it, but I don't want to give any more away.

The story follows a somewhat predictable story arc of redemption through education and the entry of people who -for once in her life - give a damn. She begins learning to read, finding friends in her small GED class, and manages to get away from her mother.

It's a tough story, but one that needs telling - and it shows how dreams can shelter us. Mention the word 'dream,' in front of some people, and you'll face snickering. One critic (in the minority) felt he'd take the air out of the good reviews:

"Daniels (the director) doesn’t really have subjects — they’re pawns, campy cut-outs at best — and even then he’s so readily bored by them he allows screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher to saddle them with clich├ęs and platitudes."

"Equally embarrassing: every second Lenny Kravitz appears on screen. That casting alone identifies Precious for what it is: an extended group-hug, a chance for slumming posh celebrities to show how 'real’ they are. The only problem? There’s no 'real’ here."

Now contrast that with these words from the director:

“One of my earliest memories is of being put in a trash can,” he says in a quiet voice. “I was 5 years old. My dad was playing cards with some of his friends. I put on my mother’s red high heel shoes because they looked pretty to me. He saw me and he got furious. He said I was gay and would never amount to anything, and he threw me in a trash can. And I remember the only way I could deal with it was to escape to a fantasy world. That’s what gave me the idea for the fantasy scenes in the movie, which were not in the book.”

I think this critic gave such a negative review because he doesn't trust the director; the artist. I know a lot of people don't like abstract art - they don't understand where it's coming from and fear they're being manipulated. Many people distrust religion for the same reason - I'm being manipulated. They turn off the news - 'they're trying to scare me.' They're getting angry at their friends: 'You're condescending to me.' They write blogs about politics with vitriolic anger at the other political side. What if we were to open our hearts and trust? I think many fear we would be moved to compassion, and that would put us in a weak position.

I think that most people's lack of trust - be it in the director of this movie, or in friends, teachers, family, or in music, abstract art, intellectuals, or others - comes from a fear of being open to feeling. Such detachment - in review a movie, responding to beggar's, or tuning out other's quiet pleas for help, lead us to avoid being compassionate in our lives; perhaps doing things a different way.

Halfway through watching this movie, my doorbell rang. I wasn't expecting anyone. It was a woman who has visited me before. Last time she asked for food as she was this time - for her two children. I gave her half a loaf of bread. She came back again a few minutes later - I was sure to ask for more; money perhaps. She'd recieved an open container of soup upstairs and wanted to know if I had a container with a lid. I told her to wait; took the soup, closed the door.

My friend once quoted Jesus to me: (to paraphrase) "Don't throw parties and invite your friends, and feed them. You'll receive back from them in time. Invite in the poor and hungry to your homes, for you'll find your reward in heaven." (I'll work to update this quote properly)

Thinking about this, I returned to invite her inside. We spoke in my foyer as I placed the soup into containers for her. I learned she is expecting a third child, has no husband, and that her oldest child is three. She asked if I had diapers as her child was wetting the bed and that she had resorted to using cellophane. Undoubtedly, she and her children sleep in the same bed.

I put on my coat and we went to the store to buy pampers. I encouraged her to see the church in town who can help, and when kindergarten begins next year, to send her oldest child. I asked her if she went to kindergarten. She told me she couldn't remember. She said she didn't have the conditions to go. She told me she could do odd jobs - beat my rugs and clean. Thinking of this very pregnant woman beating my rugs breaks my heart. It reminds me of when I meet the very old in the States at the cashier register - they forced to work despite being 70, 75. Why don't we care for one another? We parted ways and I returned to finish watching the movie.

I was moved to compassion by this movie. I recently watched 'The Blind Side,' as well and was similarly moved. I wonder how one person can take on every difficulty which one encounters. We can't take in every stray cat. We can't always give to the hungry. I need money for traveling around Europe - I can't give to Haiti. These are always excuses that I use to not do something; to put off being compassionate. Compassion is never as easy as apathy.

I only hope that hearing this, you who's reading this is moved to act compassionately towards another. This probably means continuing what you're doing - loving your children, brothers, friends, coworkers as much as possible. Or maybe it means you have to try harder - to give the next time someone asks for help. Or volunteer. Sometimes the person most in need is ourself, and we're not giving enough to our own self. What matters is that we feel compassion and reassurance. Then we, like the character from this movie can stand tall and encourage those around us to do likewise.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

My cats

So, of all things to report - that would seem important to blog about - 2 birthday parties for my 30th, getting into Mozambique, upcoming projects, what I'm signing into write about tonight is my first quiet night home in a while. I finished reading 'Charolette's Web,' which is plain nice. I have these two cats right now whom I've really bonded with. I'm caring for them until they're adopted out. They were hand raised after being saved from a dumpster by another volunteer. They're so friendly they'll sit on my chest while I read. I'll find myself drowning in cat. They're siblings -a boy and a girl. The girl and I talk. She's very cute. The boy is intense - doesn't make eye contact like the girl or speak - but if I'm sitting for more then a moment, he's in my lap rubbing against my face. A little much. So, tonight I took a bath. And he jumped up and was pawing at the water. I realized he was trying to dig the water like he's accustomed to his litter. How strange that despite his digging it never got deeper! Of course they have a bowl of water available them all the time, but never a full bath tub! It was so pleasant to watch him experience the phenomenon of water for the first time and made me appreciate it more. He dipped his paw in the water, shook it out, dipped again, licked his paw, and went back to trying to dig the water. Such is the life of a cat under house arrest: extremely sheltered.