(Written by Veronica Andreassen; delivered at  Peace Corps Swearing-In Ceremony for Group 26  – August 14, 2009, Targoviste, Romania)

Last weekend, my husband, David and I decided to head to Bucuresti on our own.  We went to the train station, here in Târgovi?te and as we walked, I rehearsed in my head how I would ask for the tickets in Romanian.  By the time we got to the ticket counter, I was sure of my language prowess and I confidently said to the woman: (in Romanian) “I would like two tickets to Bucuresti at 9:40AM ‘ieri’ (yesterday) morning.” She was momentarily confused and then a big smile came across her face.  She asked me: “Yesterday or tomorrow?” Embarassed, I replied, “I’m sorry ma’am, tomorrow.” I was peeved at myself because after 10 weeks of language classes, I confused yesterday and tomorrow.

But then, like a good, flexible, creative volunteer, I looked for the positive aspect of this brief interaction.  My mistake made her smile.  I realized that part of my mission here is to bring smiles, happiness, and hope to people.  And if my language mistakes make them smile, then that works.  I can do that.

In contemplating this interaction, I remembered a reading that, in part, inspired me to become a volunteer.  I would like to share it with you now.  It’s a reading from the Jewish tradition and it is read during Hanukah.

“One candle is a small thing.
But one candle can light another.
And see how its own light increases as the candle gives its flame to another. . .

. . . To do our daily part to increase this light, we must remember that:
A candle is a small thing;
A person alone is a small thing;
A nation is small thing.

Remembering this, we must recognize something much more than our need of others, we must remember their need of us. We cannot hope either as individuals or nations, to reach our highest capabilities until we help those around us reach theirs.

To be strong, the strong must serve.”

I like this excerpt because it emphasizes that we become better people and better nations when we share resources and build each other up.  Whether it is in small random acts, like the ticket lady’s smile, or whether it is in our daily life at site, as volunteers, we strengthen Romanians.  And through their hospitality, stories, history, visions for the future, sarmale, and papano?i, Romanians strengthen us.  Together, we spread light and hope to one another.

We want to thank our gazdas, Peace Corps Staff, and the community of Târgovi?te because you shared your experiences and built us up as we learned.  We hope that we reciprocated.

Now we remember and celebrate the friends that we made here and our excitement for our future in Romania.  David and I will be moving to Târgu Neam? where David will teach English and I will work with youth with disabilities.  Because we will become Moldovans, I wrote a poem, a limerick (a type of poem from Ireland) about a historic figure from Moldova.

Exista un rege dur care (There was a strong king who)
A fost chemat ?tefan cel Mare (Was named Stephen the Great)
Când el le-a batut (When he beat them)
M?n?stirii, a facut (Monasteries, he made)
A?a, ce rege SUPERTARE! (Alas, what a supercool king!)

Good luck, everyone.
Many thanks.