Monday, December 13, 2010

Pen Pals In America

This Blog is for the students in Ms. Wright's 6th grade class. I hope you enjoy the pictures my 12 grade class sent to you!

Moldovan homes in villages are usually surrounded by big gardens. Most homes in our village are one-story, but there are two storied homes as well. Rose gardens are plentiful in summer and spring. BEAUTIFUL!

While Moldova is a very poor country, it is one of the most beautiful. There are many rolling hills that contain dense forests. This is a picture of the forest found on the outskirts of our town Chiscareni.

Moldova is known for its delicious grapes and wine. Here a person is getting win from the barrels in the cellar.

Vineyards are plentiful in Moldova. Here is a picture of a family’s vineyard. Looks like it is ready to pick the grapes!

ANIMALS! Moldova is largely an agricultural society. Many families in the village own cows, chickens, geese, pigs, dogs, and goats. Roosters also provide your very own alarm clock!

Our 12th grade students wearing their traditional costumes.

The 12th grade students in their school uniforms.

Lia and Olga studying English in their English classroom. Olga is holding the Moldovan Flag.

Children in Moldova celebrate Halloween as well!

Local children sledding down the road in the center of town. This year we haven’t gotten a lot of snow so the roads are very icy.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Tid Bits

This summer is very quickly coming to a close and I've realized that I haven't written anything about the past few months. The school year ended much like it began and that was with a beautiful assembly where the graduating class released balloons into the air signifying their new found freedom. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you see it), many of them will leave Moldova to attend school in Romania but we're all hoping they will come back with their new skills and help improve Moldova.

This summer has been full of afternoon walks in the countryside, getting to know and train the new volunteers here in Moldova, helping my host family with repairs on their house, and of course some traveling. Justin and I (a fellow volunteer and my best friend) were able to go for a couple of days over to Odessa, Ukraine. It really wasn't until we were on the hot 6 hour bus ride that we realized that we really knew no Russian at all and that even getting to our hotel would be a challenge. (My Russian knowledge spands from spacibo "thank you" to random kitchen appliances which unfortunately for this trip proved useless). However, with some miming and at one point pictionary, we were able to get to all the places we wanted to. Luckily, for the upcoming trip with my parents, we will be in Romania where I definitely know the language!

The summer started out very cool and wet, with a rain shower almost every afternoon. This lead to some flooding around Moldova, and I know at least on of my partner teachers lost all of her crops due to flooding. However, the last month or so has been extremely dry and hot. Luckily, due to all the rain in the beginning months the land is still very green and beautiful. My eyes were always looking out for the sunflower fields that blanket much of the fields here.

This afternoon my host mom let me make borsi which is a traditional soup that is very common here in Moldova. My host mom has been keeping her own house since she was 18, so it's hard for her to let someone else do anything around the house. So for her to suggest that I peel and cut all the vegetables was a miracle. I jumped at the opportunity. I thought that finally, she was entrusting me with some of the house work and a meal nonetheless which in this culture is a sacrament almost. It wasn't until after we put the soup on the fire that she mentioned with a warm smile and knowing eyes that this would help my marriage prospects.There are still so many things that seem foreign to me in this country. I'm learning just to take them as it is for now, and hope that someday when I'm older and wiser I can look back at those experiences and find the connections beyond the cultural confusion.

School won't start back up until the 1st of September. I'll meet with my partners a week before and before I'll know it the year will begin and fly by, with many more challenges, lessons, and I'm sure a nice dose of humility and growth. Another volunteer will join me in my village and I'm excited to work with her and possibly get to know more of my community by collaborating with her partners.

I'm thankful for this summer and the ability to get to sit and really try and see what Moldova is all about. There are times when I am frustrated with it and want to head back home where things seem familiar and logical - but there are enough moments where I see the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of people's day's here: a young man giving up his seat for a older lady on a crowded rutiera, my host mom talking to her chickens like they were her children, my students saying "Hello" in English to me on the streets of my village, and the loyal friendships that the local women make between themselves in order to survive. I'm thankful for another year here where I can learn to see more of these moments and judge less harshly the not so pleasant ones. And I hope this will follow me when I return home.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Reflections On The Last Few Months

Well it's hard to believe but the school year is coming to an end here in Moldova. Our last day of school will be the 31st and the 12th grade students will then have their final exams the first few weeks of June. Before I delve into my thoughts about the end of my first year in the Peace Corps, I want to share a bit about my travels in Romania. I was able to visit this beautiful country during Easter break. This was a ground breaking trip for me because this was the first ever trip that I planned and booked, and for a nervous control freak such as myself it was a huge personal accomplishment. Luckily, everything went pretty much as planned. We traveled to Brasov,Bran, and Sighisoara (the latter two are famous for having connections to Dracula)and were able to see some amazing castles and Gothic churches and architecture.The picture directly above is a famous Lutheran church called The Black Church, due to a huge fire that damaged the entire church. It was interesting to notice some of the similarities between Romania and Moldova since Moldova at one point was part of Romania. However, it became very clear from the beginning that Romania is financialy more stable than my host country partially due to the revenue from touristy spots like Bran and Brasov. But without getting into the political, in short it was a lovely trip. Since we visited in the off season as far as tourist season goes, my boyfriend and I were able to eat in restaurants, tour museums and castles practically by ourselves. I'm hoping to take my parents to Romania this summer. Since I already know the language and its extremely close to Moldova (the only real hardship is taking a 10 hour bus ride up a windy path) it seems like the perfect spot to meet up with my parents before we set off for Moldova. Also in August (which is the hart of tourist season) Brasov and Bran are suppose to host beer festivals and Renaissance-like days which should be interesting to see.
So now that everyone is booking their trips to Romania :) I also want to share a little about the Easter holiday here in Moldova. Easter as it turns out, is the biggest religious holiday here in Moldova. I got the amazing opportunity to visit an Orthodox church both on Good Friday and on Easter. I was very nervous to attend the services because while I've tried to explain my host family and those I work with that I am Christain, it's hard to explain that I am not Orthodox and that our customs and traditions are different. So my nervousness stemmed from not knowing whether I'd be expected to know the traditions and rules of the church since I had labeled myself a Christian. But like I've been finding out here in Moldova and in the Peace Corps in general, people are extremely appreciative in whatever interest you show in their culture and I found myself being passed on from one old lady to the next in my church, guiding me through the service and showing me what to do. Luckily, my students were also at the services and took me in, asking me all sorts of questions like "is this how your church is back home?" and "do you like our customs?" While it was overwhelming at times (the Easter service lasts from 11 pm until 7am!) it was an experience I will never forget. The service had many different parts to it. Firstly, the whole community brought with them to the church food that would be their Easter meal. All the members layed their meals on the alter and around the church (picture below).This is done so that at the end of the service, the priest could bless their food with holy water. Then at the beginning of the Easter service around 12 pm, the whole congregation went outside and circled the church three times by candle light. Many of the men from the village carried banners depicting different saints and the choir repeated the verse "Chris has risen". The procession was lead by the priest and several other men who were holding an empty coffin that was covered with a black cloth (symbolizing the death of Jesus). Then the service continued inside with a slue of prayers and chanting lead by the priest and the choir which sang all night long. Then around 5 am in the morning, the priest began to bless all the food and the congregation. After being up all night I have to say being sprayed with water was one way to wake up! As we prepared to walk home from the service, I saw that the rest of the community (hundreds of people) had gathered and lined up outside of the church waiting for the priest to bless their Easter meal. The roads were lined with people and their baskets of eggs, bread and meats. It was a sight to see. My host mom and I decided to go straight back to our house to eat our meal and sleep for the rest of the day. Others, however, went straight from the church to the cemetery to pay respects to their relatives. In fact in Moldova, there are two types of Easter celebrations. There is the Easter celebration where the Orthodox church recognizes the death of Jesus and then a week later is Paştele Blajinilor which means "Memorial Easter, and this is where the community goes and visits the graves of their relatives. Many bring flowers (must be an even number), food and wine. Families actually have a meal right at the grave site in order to remember and pay respect to those family members. Unfortunately, I was in Romania at that time so I wasn't able to witness this particular celebration. Hopefully I'll be able to catch it next year.
Well I think I have caught everyone up on the latest huge events here in Moldova. The next exciting events that will be occurring will be our village's "Haram" which is basically the Day of the Village. Also as I said, the end of school is approaching along with the arrival of the new volunteers here in Moldova! Seeing them arrive here will certainly bring back memories of my first months in country. And finally, I have finished writing a grant proposal for my school and am hoping to hear news of possible funding in the next months or so. Thanks again to everyone who has sent packages and well-wishes back from the states. I'm expecially thinking of Bonnie and Pastor Clark as well as my mom and dad, and my grandparents back in Illinois. Thinking of you always!

And one last "treat" for all those carnivore lovers. Here is an excellent picture of my Easter dinner - frozen and all! Bon Appetit!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Signs of Spring!

It seems as if Winter is unwilling to give up its grasp on Moldova. A few weeks ago it seemed like Spring was actually upon us. All the snow had melted and there was that Spring scent in the air. Unfortunately for this desert creature, winter has begrudgingly kept its presence over the land. Snow continues to fall just when it seemed the ground has cleared itself from it. As you can tell, I am frustrated with this weather. My host mom told me that at this time last year, they were planting seeds in the garden and preparing for Spring. Hopefully in a few weeks or even days, this will be the case. However unwillingly the weather is acting concerning the change of seasons, it is evident that the people of Moldova and the animals are anxious for Spring to be among us. So far some of my favorite holidays and celebrations have happened in the first week of March. The first day of March, Mărţişor (pronounced
Marts-e-shor) as it is called here, is a quaint and lovely celebration where the people of Moldova celebrate the beginning of Spring by wearing decorative red and white pins (an example of this type of pin is shown to the left). I was lucky to be in the Capital around the first of March for a seminar and all along the streets were women vendors selling these pins in every shape and size. There is a legend that goes along with the tradition and many people wear these pins all throughout the month of March. At the end of March, people go outside and place these pins on their favorite tree and this is a wish/hope that this tree with have many blossoms in the Spring time. Since it is so bleak and cold outside, it is so nice to have this beautiful reminder that Spring is really around the corner! For more information about Mărţişor, here is a link to a good website that explains the legend.

Another great holiday happened on the 8th of March. This is International Women's Day. Many people were surprised when I said that this day isn't really celebrated in America as much is it is here, though I highly recommend that America looks into doing so! Schools aren't in session and everyone gives the women in their life a small gift as a token of their appreciation. My host father gave me and my host mother flowers and chocolates and we drank a bottle of champagne. I gave my host mom a new set of knives for the kitchen since they work a lot with meat and they cut huge loaves of bread for almost every meal here. She's so cute with them. She likes them so much that she only used on of the knives once to check it out and then immediately put it back in the wrapping! She said that she liked the gift so much that she doesn't want to ruin them! Hopefully they will get more use later on!

Finally, a sign that Spring is almost here, is that our dear cow Florica, gave birth to a baby boy a few weeks ago. She gave birth to him over night without any help. The next morning my host mother ran into my room at around 6 o'clock screaming something in excitement. As I was rubbing the sleep from my eyes and simultaneously trying to translate her excited Romanian, I figured something huge much have happened. And as I went into the kitchen to have my breakfast, there laid the newborn cow right smack-dabb in the middle of our small kitchen. It was really quite a sight (and a smell) and even more of an experience when he started standing up for the first time in order to get to my breakfast. Me naturally assuming it was a Moldovan cow and could understand Romanian, I started screaming "Opriţi" which means "STOP". But apparently, the translation was lost on him. :) So he stayed in our kitchen for a few days since it was really cold, but now he is outside with his mom and doing quite well. My host parents were sure that I was deathly afraid of him, and I have to admit that I was a little timid of him being so close to me. I mean, baby cows are the size of what seems like small horses! I think Florica the cow needs to have some loving on Women's Day for all the work she had to do to give birth to this little one.

In short, change will be upon us soon here in Moldova, and like many things dealing with my Peace Corps experience, it will involve patience to see it come true. Right now I am trying to wrap up my classes at school and trying to keep all my students as focused as I can. Recently I went to a seminar on grant writing and my school director, partner teacher, and I are trying to come up to realistic projects that we could complete while I'm here. I'm also in the process of trying to get some donations of English books and magazines for my school. And lastly, but very importantly, I'm starting to plan a trip to Romania for our Easter break.

Hope this update finds everyone healthy, happy, and optimistic about what Spring can bring for us and for the world.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dreaming of Cactus

I have never quite experienced anything such as a Moldovan winter. Being from Phoenix, Arizona this doesn't come as much of a surprise, but this being said, I never thought I would miss the sight of a cactus or a dry sandy mountain in all my life. The air here sinks right into your bones and into your lungs. As soon as you step outside you find yourself catching your breathe and shielding your face from the stinging air. And your 5 layers of clothing quickly dissolve and you are left feeling like you are wearing nothing. The last three days it has been between -20 and -30 degrees Celsius which in Fahrenheit translates to from a range of -4 degrees to about -22 degrees Fahrenheit. And for a native Arizonan, that translates into misery. In my naivety, I thought that I had seen the worst of what Moldova had to offer in terms of winter weather and laughed at the people who warned me that I might suffer a little bit during these months. Part of this was due to the fact that I thought that December would be the coldest month of the year (again, this is my Phoenician experience speaking). Little did I know that in fact January and February are the coldest months. Oh, but I've caught on quick. It's amazing how fast the winter weather makes you dream and long for the hot summer days; even those nights when the lack of breeze leaves the air stale and stiff. But even amongst all the hardships that the winter might bring, it's amazing how the beauty of it all is juxtaposed right along the unforgiving aspects. For example, these last few days when it's been the absolute coldest, the sun has shone so bright and caused the snow to almost glitter all around you. If you can stand to take a second to stand still (just a second though) and hear how still and quiet everything is around you, winter can also give you an amazing sense of peace and calm. Everything and everyone is stripped down to the bare essentials, and staying warm becomes the main priority for man and animal alike. A true equality of all living beings is reached. So as I am laying underneath a sleeping bag and three sheets trying to become motivated to do work, even though the blood in my veins feels like it has turned into slush and causes every movement to require more time and even more effort, I am trying to reflect and focus on how this experience is not only teaching me to toughen up a bit but also teaching me how even the most harshest of circumstances can provide opportunities to see and experience amazing beauty. Hope this message finds everyone thinking warm thoughts and even warmer feet :)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Crăciunul Fericit ! Merry Christmas!

Wow! What an amazing few months it has been! Christmas and New Year’s celebrations are just wrapping up over here. Here is Moldova people have the opportunity to celebrate Christmas and New Years two different times in the year depending on which style calendar they follow. For example, my village celebrates what is called the Old Style Calendar. That means that the people in my village celebrate Christmas the 7,8 and 9th of January. Other villages and cities here celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December just like in America. For Christmas, it is common for children to get maybe one present. This is often fruit or chocolate. One of my students got a computer for Christmas, but that is very uncommon. Food is the main attraction here for Christmas. Families get together and hold “masas” which are like the meals we have at Thanksgiving. Many toasts are made for good health and prosperity. Carols are also popular at this time, although for my village carols were sung primarily on New Year’s Eve. The Old Style Calendar celebrates New Year’s on the 14th of January. This is actually the day for Saint Vasile so both Saint Vasile and the New Year are celebrated at this time. New Year’s Eve (the 13th) is really interesting here. Children go from house to house and sing carols, dance, and recite poems wishing their neighbors good health, prosperity and happiness in the New Year. It is sort of like Halloween because the kids go from house to house and their neighbors give them money, candy, and coloci (a round loaf of bread). Some of the boys can choose to wear masks, but none of the boys in my village did so. One thing that is similar is that families stay up until midnight and drink champagne to celebrate the new year. The next day which is New Year’s say, I still had to go to work….even though most of my students did not attend! For New Years Day, the neighbor children come over and throw seeds in your house and as I found out, on their neighbors as well! As they are throwing the seeds they recite words of (again) good health and happiness in the new year. It is a sign of good luck for the person to catch as many seeds as they can as your neighbors are throwing them at you! At school many of my fellow teachers and my director also threw seeds at me, but as I told many of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, I had a pocketful of seeds but no students! Even though school was officially open, most students stayed home, which was a little frustrating on the part of the teachers. Finally, Friday the 15th of January is the birthday of a famous Moldovan poet Mihai Emenescu. My school had a assembly to commemorate his work. Romanian is already a beautiful language, but it is so inspiring to hear it in a poem. It is also amazing how many of my students had memorized his work and were able to speak it so lyrically. I think that as an English teacher it is important for me to hear my students express themselves in their native tongue. Poetry here is very big, and many people here, especially teachers, are able to recite tons of poetry beautifully.
For Christmas (25th of December) I was able to spend time with some other volunteers and have more of a traditional American meal. The guy who hosted the party even bought all of us Christmas presents and had a little tree up in his living room. It was nice to listen to some Christmas music from home and spend some time just relaxing and catching up with the other volunteers. Then amazingly I was able to spend New Years in Rome! Me and two other volunteers went together. We took a rutiera (a 15 passenger van) from the capital of Moldova all the way to Bucharest (the capital of Romania). It was about a 10 hour trip and by the end of it I was aching in every part of my body. We left Moldova at about 5 pm and got into Bucharest around 3 in the morning. Then we took a quick two hour flight into Rome. It was like night and day over there! There was no snow, you could walk around with only one layer of clothing (though it did rain a lot), and most of the vendors spoke some English! We only ran into a few minor snags along the way. The major one was that in Rome we could not exchange Moldovan lei into Euro. Me and one of the other girls wanted to use most of our Peace Corps money to pay for the trip, but very quickly we found out that that was not going to happen. So anyone who is ever going to travel around Europe in the future, just remember - Moldovan lei is not taken in most other countries around Europe! Good to know :)
We were able to see the Colosseum, the Vatican, Palatine Hill where Rome was originally formed from, the burial place of Cesar, The Spanish Steps, The Borghese Museum, and many gelato bars and fine establishments where Italian wine and cheese are sold! I was very lucky to have traveled with two other girls who have more of what I would call "street smarts" than I. But overall, we all worked as a team to get to all our sites, and really with the metro system they have set up in Rome, it was very easy to get from one place to another. We stayed for about 6 days and we stayed in 2 different hostels. The hostels we stayed in where so interesting. They're extremely cheap and it was fun talking with the other people in the hostel, since most of them are from all around the world. One of the hostels we stayed in offered free breakfast and a few nights they also offered a diner.
I think the height of our trip was New Year's Eve. One of the reasons we chose to visit Rome was that one of the girls had a friend who was studying art in Rome. We met up with her and she then introduced us to all the friends she had in town. Ironically, all the people were from around the world. We met a few people from France, one from Germany, and a few from Romania. It was truly a cross-cultural event! For New Years we all bundled up under our umbrella's it was raining pretty hard) and headed out along with the rest of the city toward the Colosseum. There the city let off fireworks, people were dancing in the street and toasting to the New Year. It was a once in a lifetime spectacle. It was also so cool to see how everyone from around the world gathered together and celebrated this important night. It's like no matter where you are in the world, New Years translates into a fresh start and new beginnings.

So now I am back in my village and I am beginning my second semester as an English teacher here in Moldova. It was very hard to get back into the swing of things, but now that it is the end of this first week, I'm feeling a lot more comfortable and relaxed. There is fresh snow on the ground, the sound of chickens in the backyard, and a horse-drawn carriage sitting in the middle of our street...all in all I feel like I am back home.
I hope for all who read this a happy, safe, and exciting New Year full of new discoveries, patience, humility, and courage.

La Multi Ani Cu Sanate !(To Many Years of Good Health)

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Let it Snow, Let it Snow!

It's strange, but in a lot of ways it doesn't feel like Christmas. Maybe because I'm not bombarded by advertisements for the latest gadget that "will make a great gift" or commercials blasting their half-off sales for everyone to hear, or even the fact that there are no Christmas trees to decorate. But I feel that in a way this is good, in that it can help ease the homesickness of being away from my family and friends for the first time during Christmas. One thing that I do have here in Moldova that I definitely did not have in Phoenix is snow!There have been a couple of mornings were there were a few snow flakes falling from the sky, but this morning was the first time that it actually stuck to the ground! I'm quite content with this amount of snow, but I know this is only the beginning. Luckily my host family's house is nice and cozy and my school is also very well heated. Besides the news about the weather, there are so many stories to choose from since the last time I wrote: so many emotions to recount; some of frustration and a feeling of a total lack of control, exhaustion, and of course the pleasant unexpected surprises. Which emotion and experience to highlight and focus on when documenting and recalling my time here is Moldova is a constant theme for me during my service. It's so easy to focus on the failures and the frustrations, especially when they are the emotions that you find your feeling mostly in a week, but I've found that my saving grace is always to take a step back and allow yourself to view the whole picture; to realize that that one lesson is not the defining factor in this experience, or that maybe this feeling of a total lack of control is a lesson in itself and one I should embrace rather than fight...but enough of that analytical/philosophical talk. Some of the highlights from these last months have been 1) the celebration of the 40th anniversary of my school here in my village and 2) the survival of my first site visit by my Peace Corps director.

I didn't quite realize the scope to which my school would celebrate the 40th anniversary. I knew that Monday that we would be having some sort of event on the weekend to acknowledge this occasion, but because of the language barrier that is still in affect, and partly on the part of some cultural issues, I was totally unprepared for how far my school was going to go to celebrate. That Friday I was told almost on a whim that we were only going to have the first 4 lessons and that the rest of the day would be spent preparing for the meal on Saturday. At first I was annoyed because I had already planned and prepared for all my lessons that day, and did not like the fact that we would again be setting outside events above lessons on the priority list..but I took a deep breath and just let it happen. Surprisingly, while lessons were cut short, I was able to find that this experience provided a great opportunity to integrate with the other teachers of the school. After the fourth lesson I went into the school cafeteria, not really knowing what to expect or what I would be asked to do, and I was immediately set to work. Some of the teachers were gutting these huge fish, I set off to stuffing apples with fruit and pealing carrots, other women were sifting through flour by hand in what seemed like dividing the good grain from the bad. Later, I joined about 8 other teachers and we all made sarmole. Sarmole is like stuffed cabbage with rice filling inside. It's extremely difficult to make because there is a specific way to wrap the cabbage around the filling. The ladies got a kick out of my lack of sarmole making skills, but after I was schooled by the math teacher, I finally got the hang of it. So imagine all these older women (and the lone American) sitting around this huge bowl of rice filling, dipping our hands into the bowl and wrapping steaming cabbage leaves (or actual dried leaves from trees) all the while gossiping about all the latest news of the village. It is a moment I will never forget. The celebration the next day was beautiful. It started at 10:30 am and lasted until about 6, when the
last o
f the teachers the dancing and drinking behind. We had some visitors from other villages and our neighboring raion who came with gifts and stories of teachers who had come and gone. The school even prepared a wall full of pictures from years past all the way to the present. Of course a Moldovan celebration would not be complete without dancing the hora! I absolutely love this dance. There are only a few variations of it, and it's extremely easy to learn (however, Moldovans will be extremely impressed if you can dance it). Here is a little video of some of my colleagues dancing it up. As you can see, people here are really into dancing and there is a real spirited nature about them when you get music going.

Real quick. I also had my first site visit by my director from Peace Corps. Basically she comes and views all the education volunteer to make sure that they are 1) following the guidelines of the project plan set down by PC Moldova and 2) to make sure we are volunteers have all that we need in terms of support in order to follow through with our service. It was extremely stressful because our project plan has set out some very strict, specific and challenging goals for us as educators. Since these things take time, of course my partner teacher and I have areas to work and improve on, but overall our evaluation of our classes went very well. It was nice to hear some encouraging words not only from my PC director, but also from my school director and fellow partner teachers. Of course, they focused on how well I can dance the hora, my increasingly adaptation of European dress, and my culinary education here in Moldova, but I figure that's all a part of the experience here!

Before I end this post, I would like to give a HUGE thanks to the ladies of Grace Lutheran who donated some amazing school materials. I would not to able to do half of my activities in my classes if it weren't for your help. I hope this finds everyone enjoying the holiday season and as I take my winter vacation to ROME :) I will be sure to take plenty of pictures to share with all of you back home!