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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Eye of the Tiger Just Doesn’t Cut It

That is right, you are in the midst of a champion (via the internet albeit).  Old news though right? Ha, kidding.  But let me explain…

Volleyball is an extremely popular sport here, second only to soccer (or futbol, which you must be careful in pronouncing so as not to say a dirty word).  Both boys and girls play with fervor.  It is so universally enjoyed, that my school decided to form a teacher’s team, of which I was invited to play.  The first few practices were not quite so traditional in uniform or style, with teachers playing in skirts, high heels, and when unable to reach the ball deploying the “lovi cu picior” method, otherwise know as kicking it.  After a few practices, mainly teachers vs. students, we started to find a rhythm, tennis shoes started to be packed along to school, and I learned that the rules do indeed allow for the use of feet, as well as the head.  A month or so of practice trekked on by when I was informed that we will be travelling to a near by village to test our skills out against two other schools.

All 11 of us piled into a single car, and off we went.  Upon arriving we had a surprisingly official opening ceremony, and the games began.  Our team’s coach (the gym teacher, and one of 3 male teachers at the school) strategically placed me as the first server.  We won the first two matches 0-25, with me as the only server…. all under-hand.  We were headed to the raion (county) championships.

A couple of weeks worth of practice later, we head to our raion (county) capitol, where again we have an even more official opening ceremony.  These matches however are closer, with us winning the first and third game, the latter by a mere two points!  Exciting stuff.

This time around we weren’t there only for volleyball though, our men’s team also had a tug-of-war tournament (which we were the proud winners).  The women also competed in a standing long jump, which I took second place in.  A couple of weeks earlier when we were in the other village, while we waited for the men to finish playing I was asked to play a round of chess.  I gladly accepted, being a game, of any sort.  I got murdered, they take their chess extremely seriously here.  I was only able to capture one pawn from my opponent.  At the time I laughed it off, thanked them for the game, and thought nothing of it.  However, at the raion championships I was again told I had to play, turns out me accepting that first game made me our team’s official chess player, and what more, it was actually part of the country wide tournament!  So, once again I go to play chess, grudgingly, knowing that I am about to once again have my tail used as a mop.  I enter the little room, notice only men, and shortly there after find out that because I am the only woman that knows how to play, I automatically win.  Meaning, not only are we the raion volleyball champions, I am also the women’s raion chess champion!  It even came with a certificate (which they spelled my name “chim”) and a little prize money!
            *Money was used to purchase communal supplies for the teachers*

Our success was even announced over the radio! Making our whole team famous for bringing pride to the village!  My host dad even told me that my wicked under-hand has been topic of conversation, and that he gets pats on the back for “his American.”

Without avail however, I have been practicing my chess against my computer, because not only does our volleyball team move on to the regional championships, but I too must compete in the regional chess championships…. which has quite literally got me shake’n in my boots.

In other news, Vice President Joe Biden came to visit Moldova for a solid 7 hours.  It was awesome though, I happened to be in the capitol for a training, so I, with the thousands and thousands others, went to hear him speak with the Moldovan Prime Minster.  All the streets near by were barricaded, and American flags hung side by side with Moldovan flags up and down the streets, and on every corner.  I had never been so happy to see Old Glory in, well, all her glory.  After the speeches, U.S. Embassy employees and all of Peace Corps were invited for a private meet and greet with the US Ambassador, the VP, AND Jill Biden herself.  My spot was about 10 feet from the podium as all three of them gave speeches (with the secret service looming all around of course).  Afterwards Joe came to speak with all the volunteers separately, we took pictures, shook hands, and were given about 15 minutes of solid face to face conversation time.  It was rad.  I had to hold myself back from telling Joe that I miss seeing him sit next to Pelosi behind the President though, I figured it wasn’t the right moment…  It was however one of those moments that lets you in to the political world, lets you see them (those who are usually only accessible through a television screen) as people.  And as cynical as we/I can be about politicians, reminds you that they too got involved for change, that they too have good intentions.

Last but not least,  I had the remarkable privilege to be invited to a meeting at the United Nations.  I have recently began working with a group called R.I.S.E.  (Roma Integration, Support, and Education), and through them was invited to a meeting to discuss the topic.  This roundtable style meeting at the UN was organized by the UNDP, and included representatives from the UNFPA, UNESCO, and other national and international NGO’s.  Overall, lots of big wigs.  I did at one point pluck up the courage to speak out, but I basically had to sit on my hands to keep them from shaking.  Rewarded, my speaking up was actually rewarded though!  After the meeting I was approached by the UNDP representative and asked to write a formal letter outlining my ideas and suggestions.  Success.  A dream of mine has been to work for the UN, either as the next Kofi Annan or Ban Ki-moon.  Really either would do, I prefer the first, though am not quite sure how to get around the not having been born in Africa part…  No matter, the way I see it, step one has been accomplished.  Entering the building, check.  Next step, finding myself one of those Hillary Clintonesque woman suits.  

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A little out-dated, but that's not important, right?

Aah the holidays.  Being Orthodox, we celebrated Christmas on January 7th.  Small children come to your doorstep and rap on windows while singing carols.  In return they are given a few lei (Moldovan currency), candy and small cracker/cookie type thing.  All day long you sit at ‘masa’ (literally table, but meaning party) where the table is constantly filled with delicious food, and shots of homemade riku (vodka), wine, and conac are always flowing.  Your time at the table is punctuated by the ever flow of visitors – neighbors, friends, family, and of course the singing children.  At my house we stayed – at least in the kitchen, if not at the table – from noon until 7pm.  At our immediate family only breakfast masa, to pre-empt the Christmas masa, I handed out stockings to each of my host family memebers.  Included was the matching sock to make a pair (I recieed quite a bit ribbing for handing out lone socks, “is this the left or right?” “um, you forget something Kim?” “Oh good, so my left foot will be warm,”  and my personal favorite,  “well at least one foot will be warm enough to hora…”), candy, a sparkler, an orange, and a champagne popper (the small firework type thing) – which they had never seen before.  I got a good laugh at watching them nervously decide if they wanted to point it up or down, and close their eyes just before pulling to cord.  I also gave them some goodies I collect for them while on my travels.

When we were finally done with our 7 hour long masa, we freshened up, fed the cow, and walked down to grandma’s house where uncle was also waiting.  Again, we sat at the masa.  This time when we finished eating and drinking my host dad required everyone to sing a song, solo style.  I sang jingle bells.  This prompted my dad to turn on his phone ring which has been playing jingle bells all year long, so that I could sing along with the music.  A little while later I busted out with my one and only Moldovan song, but it was met with a standing ovation after, the whole table put their arms around each other and joined in singing as loudly as the 8 by 8 room would allow. 

In Moldova, Christmas actually lasts for three days, with the same masa-sitting tradition upheld each day.  On Sunday night, the last night of Christmas, I called my partner-teacher and set up a meeting so we could plan our lessons for the next day.  I walk across the village to her house, backpack and all ready to plan.  The door is flung wide open before I can knock and her entire extended family is on the other side ready to welcome me in.  We don’t plan.  Instead I sit at another masa, eating and drinking.  All the family was staring at me, all ear to ear grins, asking me question after question.  Apparently they had been waiting all three days to meet the American that she has been working with. 

With Christmas being two weeks later, New Years also is celebrated two weeks later than we do, on January 14th.  On New Year’s eve groups of boys between the ages of 8 and 14 go door to door, much like trick-or-treating, dressed up as old woman (or in my village’s case, as roma gypsy women)  sing a specific song, ring bells, hit pans, and make all sorts of noise until someone at the house gives them candy, a little money, and a traditional circular bread that is placed on a stick carried between two of the boys, proudly demonstrating their booty.  Some girls too go door to door, they too dressed up as gypsies, but because it is traditionally only done by boys, the girls also drew fake mustaches and beards.  Again, we stayed up at masa, waiting for the seemingly endless groups of boys to finally stop.  It happened around 11.

The next day, (Jan. 14th) on New Year’s day, I am dressed for school eating my breakfast alone in the kitchen in our quiet house as the sun hasn’t quite come up, and I haven’t quite opened my eyes fully.  All of a sudden my host mom and sister come barreling through the kitchen door and start throwing bits of grain at me reciting some poem.  I have graining falling out hair, down my shirt, in my coffee.  After this ends, I innocently ask why they have just thrown grain at me?  This country has more traditions than probably all the different cultures living in America have, combined.  To offer good luck, a prosperous year, and good crops in the new year, Moldovans throw grain, seeds, corn (or whatever else they have around the house) at people and say a short poem.  The walk to school alone, I was hit by 7 different students.  Walking into the school the 5 cleaning ladies had me trapped in a corner.  I learned quickly though, and upon entering each of my classes had my hand full of grain to pass along my good tidings, before the students could.  The kids thought it was hilarious, in the teacher’s lounge they were mildly impressed I knew the poem… whatever, some of them liked it.  The grain never stopped though as long as I was out walking in the village.  When finally I was changing into my PJ’s, I had a nice little pile of grain at the foot of my bed

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Time flies when throwing clocks

The approach to 9 months in country, has got my head spinning.  On one side I can't believe how much I have already done, how much I have experienced, how many people I have met, and how many awesome (and awkward) conversations I have had.  On the other side however, I feel time has been moving too quickly, that before I know it my service will be complete and I won't have finished all the projects I have in mind.

Second semester at school has felt like that pirate ship ride at carnivals.  You take your seat, and the ship starts up, all the while you are feeling extremely anxious only having a faint idea of what is in store.  Pretty soon the ship builds its swing a little higher, you start to get comfortable, begin thoroughly enjoying yourself in the relative safety and rhythm of it all.  But then, all of a sudden, you are upside-down.  You were aware this could happen, but like that o' too true saying about teenagers - you didn't believe it would happen to you...  In the end, you come swinging down the opposite side and have no idea how this is going to end up, will you be back where you started or somewhere entirely different?

About the second week into the 2nd semester my partner informed me that she will not be returning that next week, she will be taking her maternity leave.  This left my school and I in quite a pickle (hence the upside-down)  I, unofficially, became the primary English teacher/ for all practicality the only English teacher at my school.  My other partner, who is also the principal, taught a few classes, but I was left to teach nearly all of grades (which learn english) solo.  This actually caused my very first grey hair to sprout - as was so kindly pointed out by another volunteer.  Luckily though we just found a new teacher/partner, and she is great.  She is funny, nice, speaks excellent english (but aside from the actually planning for class we speak moldovaneasca together, which is awesome).  She is positive with the kids and is willing to try out different methods (ie my hair-brained activities/games).  She does like to touch though, I have gotten better (forcibly by circumstance, albeit), but none-the-less my bubble still exists, making our interactions extremely, huh, amusing.  To close circuit with my analogy, this new partner is my final downward swing on the pirate ship, although we practically go through all the motions as I did with my previous partner, it is a completely different ride.

In other mentionable notes, I attended my first Moldovan wedding.  My older (as in 19, so older than the little sister) host sister got married.  The wedding was beautiful, fun, and not as different as I had expected going into it.  Part of it may just be me becoming overly accustomed to the culture and not noticing any more, but overall they did many of our same traditions: bride and groom dance (although it was a little more choreographed than we tend to do), throwing of the bouquet (which I later learned is a new tradition borrowed from other cultures), and yelling "amargh!"or something similar which means they had to kiss.  I had to give a toast into a microphone - being my second public-microphone-speaking-in-front-of-large-audience experience, and I must say this one was a bit better, at least I think so from the applause by the audience afterward.....  The wedding started at about 6pm and we danced, drank, and ate, then danced, drank and ate again, and again...and again, until arriving home at about 7am.  We then had guests over for smaller parties for the following four nights.  After a straight week of teaching by day and celebrating by night, I was exhausted.  But worth it, needless to say this will be an experience I never forget.

After living with host families (one during training, and then my current while at site) I have learned many of the intricacies of Moldovan culture, but have decided to start the hunt for a house of my own.  In fact I meeting the owner of house (well brother of the owner, the owner lives in Italy, which is common to Moldova.  About 50% of my village, I would guess, lives abroad) this afternoon.

Lastly, two days ago was Peace Corps 50th anniversary, and 18th here in Moldova.  To commemorate we have decided that at least one volunteer will post onto our website what he/she did that day.  So if you are interested in seeing what exactly we do on a day to day basis please feel free to check it out.  I am also the proud editor of the introduction video, so poftim!  (there ya go).  Check it out at http://www.365peaceandfriendship.com/.

Just to give an idea, of what I'm up to at least, here's a list of my current projects:
- English Teacher (grades 2,4,7,8,10,11)
- After school English Club (grades 2, 4, 7/8)
- "Aduce Apa" (kids draw and deliver water from the wells to the elderly who otherwise wouldn't be able to)
-  Mentor Coordinator (for the volunteers arriving in June, I organize activities, information, and assign current volunteers as mentors for them)
-  Adult English Class
-  State University seminars for future english teachers
-  Building a library at my school
-  Fundraising events for a communal laptop for the teachers at my school (aka kiddie disco)
-  Pen-pal program with the states

And my baby in the works:  Summer Slow-pitch Softball Clinics throughout Moldova! holler.

Oh yeah, and some tutoring on the side.  Plus I'm still working on my cow milking skills, it has proven to be much harder than I ever expected!

Anyway, va trimit mult iubite! (I send you all much love)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Winter Vacay, and all that ensued

Our last day of school was December 23 but the days leading up to vacay however were some of my most memorable in teaching here so far. 

Each class, grades 1 – 5, prepares a small Christmas skit with poems, songs, dances, and costumes to perform for their parents and guests of honor, Santa and Mrs. Claus (12th grade boy and girl).  Because I teach 2nd and 4th grade, I was invited to come watch, then the other teachers were jealous and invited me as well.  So I attended all.  You can imagine how adorable these skits were with kids dressed up as rabbits, foxes, a bear, various birds, in traditional Moldovan clothes, or in formal wear (we’re talk’n true suits here).  The 1st grade dance was my favorite, the whole thing was done in pairs, and included spins, dips, and ended with a dip over the knee.  Near the end of each skit after Santa had arrived, all the students and Santa danced the hora together around the Christmas tree.  Being the token foreigner, I was pulled from my chair as the only adult dancing the hora with 12, 5 year olds, Santa, and Mrs. Claus.  In all my time mentally preparing for life here in Moldova, never did I think I would be dancing the hora with Santa himself.

The next day my grand adventure ensued.  I travelled to the capital to catch an overnight bus with my partners in crime to Bucharest, Romania (Capital). 

Twelve hours later we arrive in Bucharest and meet up with our couchsurfing host, Dan or his nickname Creţu (Curly).  Creţu turns out to be a hardcore anarchist punk, so it wasn’t a big deal we were there over Christmas.  The first day we were there he his metal punk band had practice, so we tagged along.  They had converted a cell in an old prison into true studio.  It was pretty rad.  The following three days we spent touring the city which was incredible – you could see the different influences literally stacked one on top of the other.  In a single building the first three floors would be ancient Roman type, the next three Soviet cement, and finally the top three would be super modern architecture.  All over the city were churches dating back to the 1500’s, statues of Vlad the Impaler (Dracula), and memorials/tributes to their revolution in 1989, where thousands died.  Each night we met up with Creţu’s friends (groups of punks usually).  A particulary hard-core looking man, with hair longer than mine, stopped me as we were all leaving and said, “I just have to tell you one thing, you are the flower of flowers.”  Flattered for sure, but more stunned to hear such a thing come from this otherwise intimidating man.

Early Monday morning we hopped a bus to the border, flaged a taxi to cross, and finally took a train to a small town in northern Bulgaria called Veliko Tarnovo. Snow covered, sitting on a huge gorge, meandered by a river, and a castle towering over the the medieval period village.  It was easy to get lost in the winding cobble stone streets.  They use the Cyrillic alphabet and speak a language close to Russian, making it difficult to verbally, but it is amazing how much you can still understand.  The part that threw us was that in Bulgaria they nod their head for “no” and shake it for “yes.”  Many conversations I ended up just moving my head in a circle, not knowing to imitate or react as normal.  We stayed in a hostel here, where they grew alpha sprouts in the small common room, and I could have lived because it was so comfortable.  The next stop was a town called Plovdiv in the south.  The train ride there was cramped, but entertaining as we shared beers with old Bulgarian men and had very animated conversation to enhance understanding as well as throwing out our random Russian words.  Plovdiv was very cool too,as it is the cultural capital of Bulgaria, home to a gigantic soviet statue that sits on top of a mountain overlooking the whole city, and many ancient Roman ruins.  One of the ruins is an amphitheatre was just discovered a few years ago during a landslide and sits right under the main pedestrian street down town.  The other we visited was an almost entirely intact amphitheatre too looks over the whole city.  In this town we befriended a waitress who told us of a local, hole-in the wall, heavy metal bar.  So we went, and it was awesome.  We appreciated a change of music, and met some amazing Bulgarians.  By the time we left, we had made such good friends (without speaking Bulgarian) that two of them were crying during our good bye that lasted well over 15 minutes.  We then went for dinner at a falafel place that we ate at almost every night because it was awesome, and cheap.  As soon as we walked up the workers cheered at the sight of us and started yelling Falafel! Falafel! Falafel!  I think they liked us.  We then caught an overnight train to head to Istanbul, Turkey.  The border crossing at 2am though was not so much fun, and we were erroneously told we needed to buy a visa.  So I may be travelling back to Turkey for my 84 remaining days allowed.

A long and stuffy 13 hours later we arrived in Istanbul, it was New Years Eve.  Before the actual events of this portion of the trip I’ll explain the city, because it was one the coolest places I have ever seen and highly, highly recommend it to anybody.  All the roads are cobble stone, it sits on the black sea and on every block there is some kind of historical building ranging from 300 A.D to 1700 AD.  Two of the largest Mosques in the world sit across the street from each other and breathtaking.  On almost every corner there is a mosque, totaling 2,000 in the city alone.  There are over 100 churches, and over 50 synagogues. Half of the city sits on the European continent and the other half on the Asian continent, and just by crossing a bridge you can tell by the food, architecture, and people.  Because of how many tourists come each year and how many restaurants and stores there are to choose from each has a worker standing outside saying funny things to try to get you to come in.  Normally it would get old after a while, but things they said were so clever you couldn’t help but laugh.  Their traditional drink is a clear liquor that tastes like black licorice, it is served with water that you are to pour in, and by doing so the liquor turns a milky white and actually tastes pretty good.  Kebab madness is the best way I can think to describe it, then throw in some tasty seafood, and yoghurt.  The Grand Bazaar  alone was bigger than my entire village, and we promptly got lost.  The spice bazaar tested my will power, knowing my host family here probably wouldn’t go for the hot curry, but I definitely picked up a few things to curb my Mexican food withdrawal.  I could go on for hours, but won’t.

Our hostel threw a party on New Years, all you can eat “sultan feast” with all the traditional foods, unlimited Turkish wine, and belly dancer – which I think my dance moves were a bit better…. All on a roof top where you could see the whole city’s parties and a view of the black sea for all the fireworks.  I also brought my own sparklers, thank you Moldova for them only lasting 6 seconds.  Afterwards we were shuttled to the “times square” of Istanbul for some live music.  Then we taxi’d it home around 5:30, where the after party included me earning a free beer for fixing sandwiches for people until about 730 am.  Only two people in the room spoke the same language which made our late night conversations that much more interesting.  

The following days included lots of sight-seeing, and staying up way too late each night.  I even went for a Turkish bath.  It was one of the oldest in Istanbul and had a dome ceiling with stars to let light in.  You lay on a giant circular stone that is hot, hot hot, and wait for a, uh…we’ll say extremely voluptuous Turkish woman to come wash you.  She uses a brillo style scrub to rub down your naked body and gives you a little spank when she’s ready for you to turn over.  I was amazed how apparently little my bucket bathing has cleansed me as I watched dirt stream off… Then comes a giant pillow thing of soap, she give a relatively rough massage and scrub, then throws buckets of cold water on you.  Followed by a hair washing, and soak in the actual “bath,” kinda like a hot tub.  My friend I went with, a fellow volunteer, gave her Turkish woman a hug at the end of her scrub down, but I wasn’t quite so ready to have that kind of close contact.  We got down with kareokee while there as well which was awesome.

The best and worst events happened on the same day in Turkey.  We took a big day trip to the west central Turkey to a place calledEphesus (you should google it) right on the Aegean sea.  We flew out early in the morning and rented a car for the day.  In Ephesus is one of the largest ancient Roman cities, kept incredibly intact, 6 km worth of city built 3000 years ago.  So pull into the lower section of the ruins and park expecting to walk up, and then back down to our car.  We go to look for a map at the little stores and a worker tells us there is a free shuttle to the top, we say awesome and hop in the shuttle.  As we are driving he tells us that we just need to take a quick look in his store and then we’ll go to the top, its kind of the toll for the shuttle but don’t have to buy anything.  So we’re reluctant say no, but he is driving so about 7 km from our car he pulls into a store without much surrounding it.  Immediately as we get out of the car, 5 large Turkish men come out from next to the store.  As we walk into the store, the only girl working immediately walks outside.  We immediately sense this is very, very wrong.  It is a leather store, which the area is known for, but it doesn’t have any windows.  Nick, a friend we’re travelling with is led downstairs to look at the coats, the two other start to wander, and I notice a few of the men lingering near the only door, and then see one of the men go to the electronic locking system.  I immediately dart to the door and just catch it before it latches.  The men try to convince me to come back in, the other two volunteers see me leave and quickly follow.  We wait for Nick to come out as the men are trying to get us to come back in.  What seems much longer than it was, Nick comes out.  They say ok, they will take us to the top now, and try to get us to get into a different, for lack of vocabulary, sketchy looking car (my guess are no handles on the inside).  We say no, and start walking down the somewhat desolate road.  The man that originally took us there drives down the wrong side of the road to convince us to get in to go to the top.  We don’t, and walk a good 3 km before hopping a bus, and then walking the rest of the way back to our car, the whole time looking over our shoulder for a car full of Turkish men to come abduct us.  End of the story is we make it back to our car, try to explain what happened to the entrance guy, he doesn’t speak English, and high tail it out of there as we see the original guy sitting out the back of his store again.

It is hard to know exactly what was going to happen had I not caught the door, but we’re fairly confident it would not have been good.  In the hostel there was a warning that said tourists are tricked into going into stores where they are forced to buy expensive things, or just plain robbed.  I believe one or both was about to happen, and I hate to think of what kind of forcing is used.  No mater, we were relieved to be in our car with the doors locked, and very reluctant to leave it again.  After a while though we found the correct, more populated spot to begin the tour from, and then walked one of the most amazing places I have been to, rivaling Machu Pichu status.  After exploring for majority of the day, we drove down the coast Aegean Coast line to a little town where a castle sits way out on the picturesque white rocks.  Explored for a while, then ate fish sandwiches and calamari at a little bar that sat directly on the beach.  Drove back to the airport, and flew back to Istanbul, had another full day of exploring the city the next day and flew back to Moldova.

We were too late arriving though to travel back to our villages, so we stayed the night in the capital where other volunteers met us.  When there we rent from the same apartment building each time, as it is cheaper than a hotel and can fit more people.  These are straight from older soviet times though and do not have fire escape stairs, just two real nerve racking elevators, one not big enough for more than a three person squeeze.  Heading out to the bars, just between the 11th and 12thfloors, as luck would have it, our elevator abruptly stopped, as the clock struck midnight.  There is no emergency phone, and it’s a weeknight so everyone is asleep to hear us.  We call the landlord and try to explain in our best moldoveneasca our predicament.  Half an hour passes, then 45 minutes, and finally we hear someone seemingly searching for us.  After about an hour of being stuck finally with help from both sides we pry the doors open and each of us are lifted up out of the elevator.  Needless to say, we did not try the super scary little elevator and stayed in the rest of the night.

The next day we all travel back to our respective villages, I make it about an hour from my village to the town I change buses in (well oversized vans) to find out because it is Christmas eve (orthodox celebrate the 7th of Jan.) my route isn’t running.  I was forced to hop a different bus, get off about 10 km from my village and walk, trying to hitch-hike with my big backpack, in the dark, in negative 15 degrees weather, along the highway, in the snow, on Christmas eve.  You can imagine how many cars there were out driving, let alone willing to stop.  As luck had it after a little more than 4 km a car stopped for me, and it happened to the our village bread guy who has picked me up on more than one occasion (although never in the dark!), he laughingly shaked his head at the idiotic American girl and drove me right up to my house.  I don’t think I have ever been so thankful in my entire life.  I didn’t have any bani (Moldovan money) so I offered him the dollar bill I have been carrying since arriving in Moldova and he was over-joyed with that prospect and kissed my hand in gratitude.

I ate dinner with my host family, and fell asleep by 7pm, not waking until 10:30am for my first Moldovan Christmas.  That however, is an entirely different post.

Merry Christmas everybody and Happy New Year!  Welcome to 2011, and I can’t wait to see you in 2012!  SAFE travels, and I love and miss you all!

Crăciun fericit!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


I am wrapping up 6 months here in the land of ‘ova’s…. that being Moldova.  Each night I am lullabied to sleep by the gentle snorting of 8 pigs, and the tender ca-coo of 3 roosters that seem to be either blind, or off their rocker as they announce the morning’s arrival, every half hour, throughout the night.  I feel one with nature, or at least one with the farm as my head rests four feet, separated by a pane of glass from their (the animals) seemingly endless conversations.  Everyday we open the gate to the chickens’ lair so they can rummage freely throughout the now dried and brown garden.  It actually has been a source of entertainment for me, after lunch I usually sit out –when warm enough- in the yard reading, watching the hens peck away at the flowers, the roosters chasing one another from their respective hens, or the clan of ducks quacking as they round the corner of the house into view.  Unfortunately though, winter has reappeared.  The first two weeks of October the temperature hovered around 0° Celsius.  There was no heat.  Not in the house, not in the school, my sleeping bag took residence in my bed.  Getting out of bed to visit the outdoor bathroom takes much mental preparation when one can see their breath, inside.

  Half way through October was warm again! I could reclaim my seat outside to prepare my lessons as the roosters chased one another under my bridged legs.  My clothes still froze on the line at night, but the stiff feeling was welcomed as a false-sense of scotch guard.  My hand-washing skills have seriously gone downhill with the cold weather.  Or maybe it’s a lack of patience…

  Halloween came and went, a week of training came and went, my nights at the Russian karaoke bar came and went, and finally came day of the turkey, gobble gobble day, Thanksgiving.  Again, I travelled to the capital early one morning and assumed my role as leader of the mashed potatoes group.  Four volunteers personally “delivered” four turkeys for our feast of over 90 people.  By delivered I mean, selected, axed, defeathered, and cleaned.  Luckily they kept many of the feathers for us to wear during our meal, but we did have to give it a good squeeze before attaching it to our headdress – there were some remnants….  You can see facebook for mine.

  Real Thanksgiving came (we celebrated the weekend before) and I gave a presentation to my students, all in Moldovan.  My formal presentation was apparently much clearer, because after doing a quick, off-the-cuff explanation to some fellow teachers, I over heard one telling another it was when Columbus came to America.  I’m pretty sure I didn’t once mention Columbus, and specifically said pilgrims.  Thanksgiving dinner was not the same without party potatoes, I explained them to my host mom – not so much the ingredients but about the party that occurs in your mouth when eating them.  My sister especially appreciated my elaboration of it being a small discotec beginning in your mouth, and ending in your stomach; the need to discuss its further journey seemed well, gross.  Pickled watermelon, yup, pickled watermelon, that was my Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s not something I will be bringing back to the States with me, but after quite a few sit-downs, stare-downs, and force-downs, it has actually started to grow on me.

  The day after Thanksgiving it snowed.  It snowed a lot.  The 10th graders also put on a performance for the upper grades.  It was all fun, wholesome, and disorganized, until the last skit.  Three boys dressed as cavemen walked in carrying a long stick suspended between their shoulders.  Another boy was hanging on the stick, bbq fashion.  Once they reached their spots the boy on the stick jumped off, too all of the audience’s surprise he was very scantly dressed as a Roma Gypsy.  (Background: Roma people are discriminated against here and it seems only I feel it might be hurtful…)  So that the cavemen wouldn’t eat “her” for dinner, “she” performed a pole dance on the previously mentioned stick.  I think I will use this opportunity to ask him embarrassing questions in class on Monday.

  It snows about every other day now making the trek to school everyday seems to be a little more hazardous than the day before, and I’ve even contemplated wearing my Peace Corps issued “yak-tracks” for the jaunt to my bathroom.  It feels like Christmas all the time though, and my host dad’s ring tone has finally begun to seem appropriate (jingle bells).   I have about two weeks left in the first semester at school, and yeah, I do feel like giving myself a pat on the back for that one.  There were good days, and uh, not so good days.  Some days flew by and I found myself laughing with the kids - although my laugh seemed to startle the a little being so loud...- in every period.  Other days I wanted to throw my sponge (chalkboard eraser) and pull out my hair - especially when my Moldovaneasca just wasn't flowing.

  I have a grand adventure planned for my christmas/new years break, but until then, I will spend the next two weeks dodging sledding children, running in to the school to avoid the all-school snowball fight, and building 'baba de zapata' (old women of snow - aka snowmen).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Fall, or is it ending?

Besides being in my bed – after it has warmed up from my presence – my favorite part of each day is the walk to school.  A (and I’d like to emphasize the “a”) rolling hill a short distance away marks the edge of my village.  Colorful houses dotted between tall trees that seem to have withstood from medieval times.  Rows upon rows of grape vines – with colors ranging from white to green, red to purple, and seemingly everything in between – recently cut corn fields, gathered to resemble miniature teepees, until the deep purple sky, fading to pink, to green, and ultimately a spectrum of blue obscures what would become the neighboring village.  A Ukrainian village non-the-less, known for their “harbujaria,” or large pastures of watermelon,  where Russian is the only language spoken and the fork in the road forces a quick left-or-right decision, will it be into the corn or sunflowers this time?

At the gate of each house piled high are ears of corn and intermingled pumpkins.  Nearing the thousands, each corn of ear was hand cut, hand picked, and delivered by a horse and cart (which was probably bribed into the job by the prospect of ryciu –home made vodka).  I had the good experience of preparing the corn.  The temperature had dropped to a brisk 35 degrees and after about 5 hours of kneeling, foraging through each stalk for the hardened ear of corn, my back, fingers and I were all ready for warm bowl of borscht.  Easily, these are some of the hardest working people I have ever met.

Grape season has also come to close.  We picked each grape, picked up those that had fallen, and never had my back been so sore as that following day…..and days.  After picking, we ran each grape through a hand cranked “squisher” into a large wooden barrel.  A few days later we again pressed the grapes, using a different hand-cranked machine.  They was so much pressure on these grapes that they held the form of the barrel they were pressed into, and continue to hold form after the barrel was turned over to release them, and still a week later continue to hold form.  A bucket is placed at the bottom of this extraordinary machine to catch every last drop of juice.  It is all placed back into the large wooden barrels and left to ferment.  We have four different types of wine fermenting, natural juice, and compote (a different kind of juice that is boiled with sugar and other fruits and is delicious both hot and cold).

My family has almost completed preserving all of our food for the winter – cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, cabbage, WATERMELON, various salads.  Their timing has been impeccable as the last week has proven that old man winter is well on his way, and in a very noticeable way.  A few days have reached 0 degrees Celsius, and other days aren’t too much warmer.  I thought living in Montana’s winters had hardened me a bit to cold weather, but we were always able to enter a warmed house, or to build a fire, or you know jump in the shower.  The cement of the schools and houses don’t exactly warm-up quickly when the sun hits it during the day.  All of us teachers keep our coats on during class, and so do the students.  I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit nervous for the true winter to hit, that being it is the beginning of October still…

Not to worry, my family has what is called a “Soba.”  It is a wood-fire stove type contraption with ceramic tiles the covering the wall all around it.  As you build a fire in the soba, the entire wall heats up and soon the whole room is warm.  I have a feeling this winter I won’t be lingering too far from our common room, that is, where the soba is located.  I also have a feeling that my long johns might become second-skin.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Recent Times: Highlighted

Here is a list of recent highlights

*Conversations with neighbors:
      - On our way home from fetching the cow with my sister (Dumitriţa), we passed our neighbors, gave the customary "Buna Seara" (good evening) - which is required since the two women were older than us - and continued on our way.  After corralling our cow into place using fallen corn stalks (read: quick slaps from my sister, effective, and slowly increased pressure from me, ineffective) the neighbor women called down to me, "Domnişoară Kim, Veniţi aici va rog" So I walked back over and they asked I would start an english class during the evenings for the adults of the community, because their son had learned so much from me already and said English was his favorite class!! AWESOME! He is in the 2nd grade, and is adorable.  I told the women that if people from the community wanted I would definitely start a class for them too. 

*Watermelon talk:
      - When I first arrived to Moldova it was cucumber season.  I didn't have the language skills, or the foresight quite yet to fully understand what that would mean.  All I understood was that I was eating two length-sliced cucumbers with breakfast, between 4 and 6 whole cucumbers (eating it like a banana, but without the peel or monkey noises) for lunch, and 3 to 4 with dinner (cutting style depended on the cook for the evening).  After 30 consecutive days of 10+ cucumbers, I started to grow tired of the vegetable.  What I did not understand was that after cucumber season, which only lasted 2 or 3 months, I would not see another for a year - other than in pickled form.  I know understand why my family and I ate so many cucumbers in such a short amount of time, simply, it doesn't last.  Now that I sit here cucumberless, I know I took it for granted and next year will eat cucumbers until my toe-nails turn green.

      - Cucumber season has passed, but it has given way to something so spectacular that I promised myself I would not let another season go for granted.  It is watermelon season.  I have eaten more watermelon in the last month than my entire life combined.  Maybe I was too cheap in the states, but I always thought watermelon was too expensive - unless you get the kind already sliced with various other fruits - and hence only really associate it with the 4th of July..... or not that this is the time or place, certain river rafting trips.  When asked if we have watermelon in America I said yes, but that I thought it was too expensive and therefore rarely bought it myself.  They took this as -rightfully so - a source of pride that they are literally brimming with watermelons right now.  My family of 4 averages 1.5 large watermelons eaten per day, usually with dinner....or as a chaser for my father's homemade vodka.  They even decided it would be worth bringing me along to the "harbujarea." They told me to bring my camera so they could take pictures of me with a pile of hundreds of watermelon to send back America.  We drove in a friends' soviet era LADA, trailer-in-tow to a village settle by Ukrainians, a little ways from mine.  After, what I would consider four-wheeling, for 15 or 20 minutes we reached the giant guard dog for the watermelon farm.  A very attractive young Ukrainian/Moldovan man helped us select our watermelons, and after lots of Russian that I did not understand and taste-testing 2 whole melons of each variety, we paid roughly 120 Lei ($12) for 150 kilograms (330 lbs) worth of green watermelons, white watermelons, and yellow melons - which are my favorite, kind of like a cantaloupe but a bring yellow shell without the pocks and a lighter colored, softer and sweeter fruit part.  So we will be eating as well as conserving - and yes that means pickling - all 330 pounds of our watermelon.  I'm not sure how the pickled watermelon will taste, but apparently everyone in my family is really looking forward to it.

*Let there be light
      - Unlike the veceu (outhouse) at my old house (yes the one where that poor chicken met its fate....), my new one is a solid structure, not made of wood where light naturally comes in.  The door is solid, the walls are solid, the ceiling is solid.  This means, you must memorize where exactly to stand, and cross your fingers before entering and shutting the door.  Leave the door open then right? Not unless you want various animal guests as company - the chickens, ducks, the cute little cat that follows me everywhere.  Recently, and probably the highlight most shimmering in my eyes, my Tata has installed a light!  Day, night, afternoon....shut that door and I can see.  I even know where the toilet paper is....right above my head, who'd a known?