Life Lately in Moldova

Today marks seven months of living at site, here in my little village.  The time has passed so incredibly quickly.  We’re beginning to prepare to welcome the new group of volunteers in June, and most of us can’t believe we’re approaching the one year mark.  When we were preparing to come to Moldova, as the new group is likely doing now, we looked at the volunteers who had come a year before us and thought they were so wise, so integrated, and knew everything about Moldova and service here.  While we certainly know much more than we did then, we’re still learning, still working on feeling truly integrated, still surprised by little things now and then.  On that note, here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

On the way to church in Boşcana. Churches here are almost 100% Eastern or Russian Orthodox, and women are required to cover their hair with a scarf.

Took a little trip with my host mom.  We visited my host sister and her husband at my host sister’s mother-in-law’s house in Boşcana, slightly north of Chişinău.  It was a nice visit and then the following morning we went to church then visited my host aunt and her family that live nearby.  Everyone was welcoming to the “American” and I had a good time.

Observing an open lesson on the Holocaust in 6th grade

Observed a couple of “Open Lessons”.  Here in Moldova, every year teachers have to have “open lessons” where other teachers and administrators observe their lessons.  I observed a homeroom class where they discussed the Holocaust and a Romanian lesson.

Not from our open lesson, but playing “Concentration” in our 3rd grade class last week

Taught an “Open Lesson”.  My partner teacher and I taught our first open lesson together last week.  It went pretty well, but I dislike that you are expected to essentially put on a performance.

Visited our raion center.  Moldova is divided into different districts called ‘raions’.  Each raion has a town that is called the center.  I usually compare the raion center to a county seat, but they’re a bit more important.  The raion center usually is the biggest town in the raion and you can find larger grocery stores, banks, hospitals, and high schools there.  My host mom and I went in the hopes of getting my boots fixed (they need new heels) but the cobbler was closed.  It was a very, very cold day- I thought I might get frostbite!  Thankfully, I escaped with just a bit of windburn.

Started an English Club!  I began an after-school English Club with students in grades 7, 8, and 9.  I had so much interest, I’ve had to split the students into three different (mixed grade-level) groups that meet three days after school.  I have about 40 students come each week, and we’ve had fun learning conversational English and about American culture, traditions, and life.  This week we learned about greetings and the importance of handshakes in American culture (see the video above that we made for Peace Corps Week).  Here in Moldova, only men generally greet each other with a handshake, so we practiced doing firm handshakes with everyone.

Assembly honoring Grigore Vieru

Attended various school activities.  We had a small concert to celebrate Grigore Vieru, a prominent Moldovan poet, on his birthday.  We also held “Feşteliţa are talent” (Feşteliţa Has Talent) with the students.  Students could perform poems, dance, sing, or play instruments. The three top winners will go on to “Ştefan Vodă are talent” (Ştefan Vodă Has Talent; Ştefan Vodă is our raion center).  The winners were a 9th grade girl who recited a poem, a 9th grade boy who played the pan flute, and a 2nd grade girl who sang a traditional Moldovan song.

Went to Chişinău for a Language Training.  Peace Corps had a mandatory Romanian training for English and Health Education volunteers.  We spent the weekend in the capital and worked on improving our Romanian as well as learning about spring in Moldova.

Moldovan and American Women reciting “Phenomenal Woman” for Peace Corps Week and International Women’s Week celebrations in Căuşeni  (photo cred: Biblioteca Publica Raionala Causeni)

Celebrated Peace Corps Week.  To celebrate Peace Corps week, celebrated worldwide, I skyped with my mom’s 5th grade students in the United States and participated in a large event celebrating both Peace Corps Week and International Women’s Month in Căuşeni, a nearby town.  Fellow PCV Anne did an amazing time putting together the celebration, complete with awards, American, Moldovan, and African dance, African drummers, Moldovan theater, and poetry.  Some highlights were: a group of mothers in Căuşeni learned and performed African dances, volunteers shared about their work in Moldova, children that are a part of a “Dance and English” group performed a dance and sang in English, and the recitation of “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou by both Moldovan women (speaking in English) and American female volunteers (speaking in Romanian).

Our Nepali dinner with fellow English Education M31 volunteers (photo cred: David J.)

English Education Volunteer gathering in Ialoveni.  David and Champa, fellow Peace Corps volunteers, hosted our English Education group for a Nepali dinner at their place in Ialoveni Raion.  The food was delicious, dessert amazing (brownies, apple pie, and pound cake!!), and we enjoyed getting together.

It’s been a busy couple of months and the coming months will be busy as well, as the school year comes to a close and we welcome the new group of volunteers (I’ll be one of the mentors, so I’ll be pretty busy with that!).

Happy Women’s Day!

If I were asked to name of all of the people here in Moldova who have so helped my experience here a positive one, the list would be long.  One person in particular stands out, though: my host mom.  In August, she (and her husband) welcomed me into their home with open arms.  It take long for her to become my best friend here.  I live in a small village with very few people (especially single ones) my age.  I have been so incredibly fortunate to have such a wonderful host mom; she is truly my second mom.

Almost every single night, we sit together and eat dinner and talk, often for hours.  She does my laundry by hand, helps me clean my room, and makes most of my meals.  She buys and makes foods just for me because she knows I like them.  She comes home from each trip to the store with a bag of Albinite, my favorite candy here.  This morning, she gave me a bouquet of flowers to celebrate women’s day and I was touched that she had remembered I had said I love yellow flowers.  When I’m upset or frustrated, she listens to me complain.  She helps me improve my Romanian each and every day.  We’ve talked about everything under the sun, even topics that are often taboo here.  We’ve laughed until we’ve cried.  

Thank you, Tanta Eugenia, for making my time here in Moldova such a beautiful experience.

Spring is Coming

Our road earlier this week
Our road earlier this week (I have to cross through the worst of the mud to get to my front gate, which is shown here on the right)

Having been in Moldova for nearly nine months, I feel like I’ve more or less settled into life here.  Don’t be fooled- it really does take quite a bit of time.  It feels like the past 9 months have flown by even though many days go rather slowly.  Last weekend, we had a language training for two days in the capital.  Although it was nice to catch up with Peace Corps friends and the training was useful, I was glad to return home to my village on Sunday afternoon.

On my way to catch my rutiera (mini-bus) back to Festelita, I ran into another volunteer that lives near me here in Moldova.  She is also from New York and we chatted for a few minutes along the side of the road.  It was a beautiful spring-like day, and she asked me what I had thought about my first Moldovan winter.  She mentioned that, being from New York, it hadn’t seemed too bad.  Besides my school building being a bit colder than I’m used to, I have to agree with her.  It was a relatively mild winter and besides one very cold week in January, the temperatures haven’t been too bad.  The one thing I am not as used to in the United States is the ice here.  Without salt to sprinkle on it, the roads and sidewalks (where they exist) are solid sheets of ice all winter here.

The nice, thick mud on the way home
The nice, thick mud on the way home

This week seems to have welcomed spring in.  In Moldova, spring is believed to start on March 1st, and the first little flowers have begun peeking out from the little remaining snow.  The temperatures are warmer, the snow and ice has melted, and everything is a muddy mess.  Even coming from a smaller rural community in the United States, I’ve never seen mud like this!  I’ve almost lost one or both shoes so many times.  It is deep and sticky and impossible to avoid!  I’m thankful to  have host parents that are generally willing to walk with me to the post office, where the paved road begins, each morning in order to switch from rubber boots to the boots I wear at school.  When I return, though, my boots get covered!  Washing your shoes and boots is a daily occurrence here.

Our road yesterday: it's starting to dry out a bit, but that's still a lot of mud!
Our road yesterday: it’s starting to dry out a bit, but that’s still a lot of mud!

With the welcoming of spring also comes a handful of celebrations and holidays.  Today is Dragobete.  From what I understand, this is a holiday that celebrates both love and the welcoming of spring.  For more information, check out this Wikipedia page.

March first is Mărţişor.  People give one another small pins, which represent peace and love, to wear on their coats and shirts and celebrate the beginning of spring.  These pins are worn throughout the month of March for good luck.  At the end of the month, the mărţişor are placed on trees branches.

8th March, International Women’s Day, is a very large and important holiday here to honor women.  There is no school on this day, and poems, songs, and dances are performed.  Women are not supposed to work on this day and are given presents.

Orthodox Easter will be celebrated on April 16th this year.  Although usually a different date than Catholic and Protestant Easter, this year it is the same day.  This the most important and celebrated holiday in the year.  Most people fast for the 40 days of lent.  Those that strictly obey the fasting rules do not eat meat, oil, butter, milk, or other animal products (though I believe honey is allowed).

One week after Easter, Pastele Blajinilor (or Memorial Easter) is celebrated.  Everyone goes to the cemetery, bringing wine and lots of food.  There is a big meal, and each family brings gifts (a towel, a special bread, a bowl with candies, a candle, and a box of matches) for each loved one that has passed.  The priest goes to each grave to bless loved ones who have passed, and then a glass of wine is poured over the grave.

Săptămâna Engleză (English Week at School)

My partner teacher (in the yellow skirt) explains directions during our after-school rehearsal
My partner teacher (in the yellow skirt) explains directions during our after-school rehearsal

Each school year, my school (and most other schools in Moldova) have a week or two when they celebrate the English language and American and British culture.  At our school, this was the past two weeks and was combined with Russian Week.

Students work on some grammar exercises during a competition between two teams
Students work on some grammar exercises during a competition between two teams

During this week (or weeks, in our case) the English teachers plan additional activities to do both during and outside of English classes which culminates in participation in a school assembly at the end.  This year, various students in 7th, 8th, and 9th forms memorized simple English poems, which they recited at the assembly.

Students work on a grammar exercise during a team competition
Students work on a grammar exercise during a team competition

They also made posters about the United States, Great Britain, or English writers and created “lapbooks”.  “Lapbooks” are basically like interactive posters.  Each grade level (7-9) was given a list of different topics they’ve learned so far this year (like clothing, families, health, etc.) and had to be creative to include those topics on a poster that opens like a book.  They did a really wonderful job!

Students work to figure out a riddle
Students work to figure out a riddle

In all of our classes, we learned poems, did new activities (charades to practice action verbs, pictionary to practice nouns), and read some stories that are not included in the curriculum.

Students work on a riddle
Students work on a riddle

After school one day, all of the students who had made lapbooks or were reciting poems at the assembly gathered to do a short rehearsal and then we played some different activities.  The students seemed to really enjoy some English practice that we usually don’t have time to do in classes.

I think it was a success and it was a good motivator to get an English Club up and running!

From Snow to Mud to Ice

Our muddy road on Monday
Our muddy road on Monday
Freezing rain coming down and making for a nice solid layer of ice
Freezing rain coming down and making for a nice solid layer of ice
Don't let it fool you- that's ice, not snow!
Don’t let it fool you- that’s ice, not snow!

I’m from Delaware County in New York State.  At least once a year a meme circulates about how there aren’t many other places in the world where you can experience all four seasons in a week.  This past week in Moldova felt a little like that.  We started the week off with some regular, winter weather.  Cold, but no snow, nothing unusual.  And then it warmed up on Monday and it was warm (about 40ºF) and super muddy.  By Tuesday, it was cold again and we had freezing rain, which covered everything with a solid layer of ice (though it looked like snow).  We had freezing rain and a dusting of snow later in the week.  Then yesterday, it was around 5ºF with a strong windchill.  Brr!