Read other short pieces about PCV experiences
Andy's previous articles:
Teaching high schoolers free-market economics
Looking for Ben Franklin in Timisoara
Partying with Peasants and A Letter to America
Romania Themepark Mania
The Neighbor's Goat
Corrupting Future Prosecutors
Some of Andy's photos are at Yahoo
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by Andy Trincia (Romania 2002 )
THERE ARE ALWAYS faces you never forget, especially when traveling or living abroad. Sometimes its a stranger youve befriended or simply someone with whom you had a chance meeting, perhaps a person who performed a brief act of kindness. Maybe you learn their name or not. In my travels over the years, there are certain people Ill never forget. Faces.
For example, Mele, a young man I met some years ago at a tasty taqueria in Oaxaca, Mexico a proud Mexican with Indian heritage who volunteered to take me around his hometown, even talking his way past armed guards at the state capitol to show me incredible murals of Benito Juarezs heroics. Or the poor Vietnamese couple living on a tiny fishing boat in Halong Bay, who gave me, a friend and our guide a much-needed lift when our rented boat began to leak. As a thank-you, I presented to them a few bucks, cigarettes and airplane-sized bottles of Jack Daniels, all of which were recommended to me as useful gifts in Vietnam. Ill never forget their broad smiles, which stretched their tough skin, weathered by sea and sun.
The gregarious owner almost cartoon-like of a fabulous tapas restaurant in Mallorca, Spain; the high-ranking Cameroon politician I met in Morocco, where he was trying to drum up tourism for his country; one of the most beautiful women Ive ever seen, a shy clerk in a remote roadside convenience store in Iceland; and an ever-so-hip Bulgarian couple who stopped me and another Volunteer on the street in Sofia last summer, offering unsolicited directions amid the Cyrillic signs and head-shaking yess and nodding nos that so confused us. There are many faces from many memorable moments.
Here in Romania, which has been my home for going on two years, too often the faces are, well, just plain sad, or suparat in Romanian. Poverty, slow progress, a string of economic and political disappointments for its citizens since the 1989 fall of communism, as well as a fatalistic, glass-is-half-empty culture, are the main reasons. At times we Volunteers get caught up in this, especially in the gloomy days of winter, and Im sure we, too, look sad. Ive gone through entire days here without seeing a single smile.
So all the more reason to be relieved, even thankful, when you do see a smile, or meet an upbeat, motivated person what a huge difference that makes for those faces now etched in my mind. Sure, there are faces I wouldnt mind forgetting from my time in Romania. Countless moments of rudeness and certain callous remarks linger in my mind, along with more pleasant memories. As I begin the homestretch of my service in Romania, I want to remember those people who, despite the tough surroundings here, try hard at work and life, remain positive and unselfish and inspire, perhaps unwittingly.
Take a mid-20s lawyer named Ioana from Brasov, Romania. We recently shared a train compartment for a 9-hour journey, but only talked near the end. She was on her way to Hungary to see a medical specialist, for a second opinion on her hearing, after getting bad news from three different Romanian doctors. She is slowly going deaf. The determination in her dark eyes and on her face, not only to overcome the hearing problem, but to flourish in her career despite a corrupt system and other hurdles not to mention learning English from TV shows and movies is admirable. She is a true optimist in a land with too few of them.