First Romanian School

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Hello, beautiful weather!

Mother Nature tried her best. For a few mornings, it would spit snow, only to melt straightaway. She decided to give it up, and now we have a beautiful Spring happening in Brasov.

Boy, am I thankful. As a solar-powered person, I was seriously lacking in much needed energy. Also, I was dead sick of boots. My feet needed to BREATHE.

We’re studying some various topics in Romanian classes, one of them being the Romanian educational system. Our Professor was kind enough to arrange a field trip to the First Romanian School, happily located in Brasov (Schei neighborhood).

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We took the bus to the Piata Unirii station and met our guide outside of Biserica Sfântul Nicolae din Brașov (St. Nicolas Church).

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Our guide was just the best – he had a great sense of humor and explained everything to us in detail. It was his birthday so we sang La Multi Ani to him.

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Technology in the first Romanian school: abacus = early computer; chalk tablet = early iPad

There were many things for sale – maps and books and etc. The guide said he’s written over thirty books that no one’s read – HA.

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Costumes of the Junii Brasovului – the founding families of Brasov

The books in the museum ranged from biblical to scientific. The ones we saw were either written in Romanian Cyrillic or in Greek. Fun fact: the Romanian language was written in Cyrillic until the late 1800s. To me, visually, it’s very beautiful – but alas, totally unreadable to me.

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Many of the books were from as early as the 1500s. Lots of the them had been printed right there in the school. During Communism, all of the texts were hidden in the church. By doing this, they were able to save over 30,000 of Romania’s historical documents and books.

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The entrance price is ten lei for adults and you can easily walk there from the Black Church (Biserica Neagra) or take a quick bus (4 lei for a round trip ticket) to Piata Unirii.

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I love Romanian stoves! These are original from the 1700s.

After we toured the school, we went into Biserica Sf. Nicolae and our Professor bought us some candles to light “for our health”. Because the church is so old, they have a separate building for lighting candles. We finished our trip by taking a tour of the grounds.

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The whole experience was really great. I love books, especially old ones, so I was in hog heaven 🙂

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Doina

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How you doina?

Just kidding.

I do a fair amount of scouring YouTube for music in the Romanian language. It helps me learn the language and sometimes I find a jewel hidden in between all the manele.

When I found Doina, I was kind of shocked that I had never heard about it before. It seems to be a very important part of Romanian folk tradition and heritage of the people. You would think that someone would’ve mentioned it (or maybe I would have seen mention of it somewhere!), but for whatever reason, I had to discover it on my own. Perhaps I’ve been hearing it all along, and I just never realized it 🙂

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Doina is a type of traditional Romanian music. The improvisational style of Doina melodies is what makes it so beautiful; they are the expression of the melancholy soul and its longing (dor).

There are different kinds of Doina: the songs of shepherds and peasants, drinking songs, lullaby, outlaws, and perhaps one more familiar to American audiences, klezmer. Yes, klezmer music is descendant from the Doina music form (don’t forget that until the 1930s, Romania had a population of over 750,000 Jews). Doinas can be sung without accompaniment, with simple instruments such as flute or even a leaf (!), or enhanced with multiple instruments like violin or accordion.

In 2009, UNESCO added Doina to its list of “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity“.

Without further ado, here are some of my favorite Doina songs so far:

Doina Oltului (instrumental):

 

Doina Basarabia (instrumental):

 

Doina din Wallachia (instrumental):

 

Outlaw’s Doina (Doina haiduceasca):

 

Doina din Maramureș by the lovely Maria Tanase

 

Lullaby Doina (again by Maria Tanase!)

 

Doina Klezmer:

 

Doina de Jale (of grief):

 

Argatu’ also has a Doina de Jale for a more modern take:

 

Perhaps my most favorite modern Doina of all, from Subcarpati (of course):

Mărțișor în România

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Even doggies get the winter blues

Last year, I was in America for the Mărțișor holiday. I received a red and white bracelet with a lovely card in the mail. I wore the bracelet until the end of March, and then I tied it to a flowering tree in the hopes it would bring me good luck. Thankfully, it did – and I like to think the Mărțișor luck was the cause 🙂

In Romania, Mărțișor is the first day of spring. Technically, they are correct because March 1st is the first day of meteorological spring. Indeed, it feels like someone flipped the switch here from winter to spring.

 

We went from negative temperatures to consistently having days reaching 15c. Which, if you have just spent the last two months hibernating in temperatures as low as -20c, makes it feel like SPRING (all caps). Seriously, it is such a change.

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My handmade Martisor and beautiful snowdrop flowers

The holiday itself is very popular here. There is a big market for Mărțișor, the red and white strings usually made into jewelry. Everywhere you go, they are selling these things. People set up tables on the sidewalk to sell them. I discovered that there is an expectation for the men to buy all the women in their lives one of these trinkets. Only in some parts of Romania (Moldova) do the women purchase them for the men.

I received several of these sweet trifles – one from my sweetheart and a few from family and friends. It’s a sweet reminder that people are thinking of you. They also want you to receive the benefits of the magical Mărțișor – the red and white strings represent the transition of winter (white) into spring (red). Some people say that the colors represent life and victory or passion and wisdom. It really depends on who you ask.

At any rate, you must wear it through the month and then tie it to the branch of a flowering tree. This will ensure that the new year will be a lucky and bountiful one for the wearer.

Other symbols of Mărțișor holiday include the ghiocel (in English, snowdrop) flower. It’s usually the first flower you see at the beginning of spring. It pushes its way up through the snow and greets you when the snow finally melts. Right now, you can see these little pretties everywhere. We have a bunch out behind our bloc.

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Some lovely backyard flowers (left) and Ghiocei (far right)

One last cool March tradition that I want to mention are the Zilele Babelor (Baba Days – where Baba = The Old Woman). Baba is an old woman from Romanian folklore. Her days are the first nine days of March. Your Baba day is the day of your birth (my birthday easy because it’s the 8th, so March 8th is my Baba day. If your birthday is the 14th, you add 1+4 = 5, so your Baba day is the 5th of March). On this day, you check out the weather and the weather forecasts your year. If the weather is crappy on your Baba day, well, that’s just Baba. She can be a cranky old lady.

Romanian Traditions: Moș Nicolae

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The night of December 5th is an important one in Romania. On this night, before going to bed, children shine and clean their boots because a special visitor will come in the night and fill them with treats. The special visitor is Moș Nicolae, aka Saint Nicholas. St. Nick celebrates his day on December 6. Moș is pronounced like “m-oh-sh” in one syllable. Not like “mosh” (as in mosh pit).

If the child has been bad, he gets a stick. Or maybe you get a stick to remind you not to do anything bad before Christmas 🙂

jos-nuielusa-totul-despre-mame-624x415I wonder if this is related to how we got stockings in our modern Christmas holiday tradition. Romanians do not hang stockings because their fireplaces don’t have mantles. So treats in boots translated to treats in socks over the fire? Who knows?

Above: examples of Romanian fireplaces

Other people who celebrate on December 6th are people who have names deriving from “Nicolae”. It’s their name day, so these people will have extra celebrations in addition to getting treats in their boots.

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In our house, Moș Nicolae came and brought age appropriate treats (for Clau – cigarettes and beer). I got chocolate and a stick (fitting).

The oranges this time of year are delicious! I’ve never had citrus that tasted this good, not even in Florida (sorry, Floridians!). They’re also crazy cheap.

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Multumesc, Mos Nicolae!

Learning Romanian: Memory Palaces

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I’ve mentioned before the love I have for the book “Fluent Forever” – it gave me some great tips on how the process of language learning works in the brain. I’ve taken some advice from this book and some other websites and started applying some of these concepts to my own pursuit of learning Romanian.

The first technique I started using was the process of spaced repetition. For this, I found the app Memrise to be the most helpful. People have created lots of Romanian resources including my personal favorite, “Random Romanian Sentences”. These sentences are truly random (i.e. Tom died in bed), and seemingly make little sense, but you actually end up learning the sentence structure. Later, you can substitute the words and retain the actual structure of the sentence as a Romanian would phrase it.

The second technique I am using is creating schema. I am creating Power Point slides with picture examples of words so I can learn the cultural meaning of the words. Maybe it would be better to describe them as visual constructions of meaning.

I think I mentioned doing this in a previous language learning blog. It’s not enough to know that bunica is grandma. American “grandma” and “bunica” are two entirely different cultural constructs. Bunica gives you supa. Grandma gives you candies in glass bowls (bonus points if they’ve been out in the bowls for days…or weeks). Bunica walks to the piata on Saturday and Grandma plays bridge at the senior center. The same goes for words like “church” – churches in Romania look nothing like they do in the U.S, inside and out (I think the biggest difference is the inside seating – Romanian Orthodox barely have any, and they’re located along the wall).

The last method and the one I’m having the most fun with lately are memory palaces. These were invented by the Ancient Greeks as a way to spatially memorize items. Basically, you build a mental house and every time you learn a new word or phrase, you place it in the house in a meaningful way. Later, you can mentally “walk” through your house and recall the items you’ve placed in each room. Sherlock Holmes also used this technique. If you want more information, there’s also a great TED talk on why this works so well.

I read an article where someone went a step further and created a memory town. I loved this idea and decided to steal it for myself. I thought about the hardest thing for me to learn in Romanian class, and I realized I struggle the most with the gendered nouns. Romanian is not like one of those nice pretty languages where the nouns play nice. Oh, no, my friends – Romanians nouns can be feminine, masculine, or neutral. And sometimes, they change genders based on number.

In order to save some of my sanity (whatever I have left at this point lol), I made a memory town with three parts. The old city (feminine nouns), the new city (where the man nouns live), and the island of misfit toys, I mean, neutral nouns. If you look at the image I’ve chosen, you’ll see it resembles Paris. That’s on purpose – I’ve been there and I’m familiar with walking around the streets. I like the feel of the buildings and I can visualize making houses and putting concepts into buildings.

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Left side “Old Town” = feminine / island = neutral / right side “New Town” = masculine

For example, the word for purse, geantă, is feminine. I created a handmade purse shop in the “Old Town” part of the city. The name of the store is Geantă. Creative, I know. Boring names aside, now I can remember what the heck a geantă is – and I get a visual when I try to recall the meaning. A large storefront with big windows full of handmade leather bags – it fits right in with rest of the old city charm.

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The town can be as big as I need it to be. It’s not even limited to the three sectors I’ve created so far.

I even have people living on the outskirts of town in the countryside. I have trouble remembering the sound difference between “Look at!” (Uite) and Forget (Uita). It’s basically an “uh” versus an “eh” issue. To solve this problem, I mentally created some WHEAT (uite) farmers who happen to be Canadian (Eh?). Look at them harvest their wheat, eh (uite)?

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Now I’ll never forget!

If you’re trying to learn a language and you’re afraid you’ll never remember anything – try some of the things I mentioned above. A lot of it is training your brain to automatically categorize and connect ideas – something that we’ve lost in the age of technology, I think.

Memorizing used to be very difficult for me until I actually started practicing it, and now I think it’s a bit easier. I’m not sure it’ll ever be easy, but at least with some of the tricks I listed above, I have a chance! 🙂

Health Insurance

I normally write happy lovely things about Romania and Romanian culture. I love it here. I love the people, the scenery, the food, everything.

But I have to get something off my chest.

I want to talk about the healthcare system in Romania. I’ve been trying to navigate it now for two months and I finally have some grasp on how the system works. Maybe.

Let me paint you a picture of frustration.

First, let’s start with the residence permit. In order to apply for the permit, I had to have proof of health insurance. We went to the place where you pay your tax to get the insurance and they told me that I had to have a Romanian ID number before I could apply.

Okay…so I need to have the residence permit before I can get the health insurance and I need the insurance before I can apply for the permit. Makes total sense.

I ended up getting three months of private health insurance so I could apply for the permit. Bine.

By the way, when we went to the place to pay the tax for the health insurance, the woman was convinced that they “didn’t do that here” (in Romanian, this famous phrase is “nu se poate” i.e. it’s not possible or it’s not going to happen). After some insistence from Claudiu that yes, they do indeed do tax for insurance there, she asked a colleague who provided us more information (and yes, they do the taxes there, lol – just not for me, the non-residence permit holding foreigner).

So when I got the permit, I was very excited to get the health insurance. I had two weeks to prove to the immigration office that I had paid the tax and obtained the insurance, so we started right away. First, we had to go to an office where I requested the insurance. They couldn’t find me. Nope, not in any system. Hahaha. Sometimes you just have to laugh. She called another office where they were able to find me in the system,so she was then able to give us a paper to take to another office where we’d pay the tax. Because for whatever reason (sigh), they don’t accept the taxes there.

We drove twenty minutes to the tax office and we were guided into the back of the office and I paid my 800ish lei for a year of insurance. I got a lovely paper with some neato stamps and they told us to take it to another office to get another paper.

What.

Okay, so the next day, we went to this new office and waited in line until we spoke with another woman who gave us another piece of paper. However, this paper wasn’t finished because we needed to get five signatures on it and the people who needed to sign had gone home for the day (it was 3pm).

Bright and early the next morning, we went to the Office of Signatures which is located in a building with the most confusing layout. We went up (and down?!) the maze of stairs to get to Narnia, I mean, this special office where signatures live and waited an hour for the paper to get signed. Eventually, it came back to us, like a work of art. Five beautiful signatures. No idea who the people were that signed it or why they had to sign it, but whatever. I got it!

With the magical piece of signed paper, I can now see a family doctor. How it works in Romania is that everyone has a family doctor. You have to see this doctor to get recommendations for other kinds of doctors (endocrinologist, ob-gyn, etc.). So I found a family doctor (she is lovely and helpful) and she made all the recommendations. She printed official papers so that I could make appointments. At no point has anyone told me I need anything else – no other papers, cards, proof of anything, etc.

I got to the first appointment. At the front desk, the first thing they ask for is my insurance card. ??? Insurance card?? According to the receptionist, because I have no card that means I have no “proof” of insurance and I have to pay full price. Mamaliga ma-tii.

Keep in mind that I had a recommendation for this appointment from my family doctor – you can’t get a family doctor unless you have the health insurance. So even though that logic makes perfect sense to most people, the front desk insisted that I had to have the card to prove that I have insurance. The next day, we went back to the office and asked for the money back because there is a way to look me up in the system to see if I have insurance. They did – and lo, and behold, I am insured.

So – the cards. They don’t give them to foreigners. Only Romanian citizens get them. So what am I supposed to do? I guess I’ll just face this problem every time. Including every time I go to the pharmacy where I have to put in my Romanian health insurance card to get the medicine my doctor prescribed for me. Hilariously enough, it just has to be a number. A very nice gentleman behind me at the pharmacy offered to put his number in so I could get my pills. A stranger. What sense does that even make? What is the point of putting in a number if it means nothing? Why put any number at all? Because (according to the pharmacist) without the number, it’s nu se poate.

So friends, there it is. The Romanian health care system.

(BIG SIGH)