First Few Days at Site

My new host niece, Valerica, and I.
My new host niece, Valerica, and me.

I’ve spent most of the last few days at my permanent site hanging out with my 6-year-old host niece, Valerica. She won’t usually be here, but she’s visiting her grandparents (my host parents) for several days. She is full of energy and wants to spend every waking second with me, including walking me to the outhouse every time I need to go to the bathroom. We’ve spent a lot of time coloring, drawing, and playing cards. Markers, especially good markers, don’t really exist in Moldova, so she has loved getting to use the Crayola markers I brought with me. She also loves to look at the stack of pictures of my friends and family that I brought with me from the US. Her favorites are my prom pictures from high school with friends. She’ll go to the stack and shuffle through until she finds her favorite picture. She originally said that my dress was her favorite, which isn’t surprising because her favorite color is pink and my dress was pink, but she’s since changed her mind, and now she likes my friend Beth’s dress the best.

She wanted to play pretend school, so I gave her an actual lesson and we learned the days of the week in both Romanian and English- and then she wanted to write them!
She wanted to play pretend school, so I gave her an actual lesson and we learned the days of the week in both Romanian and English- and then she wanted to write them!

She’s currently in gradinita (which literally translates to kindergarden, but is more like a pre-school which children can attend from ages 2 or 3 to 7, when they start school). She can count, knows most of her letters, and can spell and write mama and tata (mom and dad). She likes to use my Banagrams to spell those two words over and over.

When we walked to the valley, she insisted I bring my camera so we could take pictures!
When we walked to the valley, she insisted I bring my camera so we could take pictures!

On Saturday, we were at the house while my host parents worked in the fields in the “valley”. She decided we should go visit them, so we took a short walk to the valley. It seems that they mostly have potatoes, corn, grapes, and tomatoes, but I think they’ve already harvested some other things. They also have lots of pumpkins. We’ve also made a couple of trips to the store, which is very close by, maybe a 3 or 4 minute walk, to get ice cream.

Among the corn rows.
Among the corn rows.

One of the benefits of spending time with her is that we talk a lot, and she doesn’t know English, so that means I’m using a lot more Romanian than I was with my previous host family. Sometimes she gets frustrated when I don’t know what she’s saying, but we’ve been able to communicate pretty well! It’s a little harder to understand her than adults because she mumbles a bit and also speaks less clearly. In fact, I’ve only spoken Romanian for 3 entire days now- not a single word of English! That’s a really good thing, because once school starts, I’ll be speaking a lot more English, so it’s good to speak just Romanian for now.

On Friday morning and again this morning, I went to the school to do some work. I hung out in the library with the librarian, Elena, who is also 22 years old. She’s very nice and I think we’ll be able to collaborate with some things in the future. She also uses Google Translate when we can’t seem to understand each other, so that’s cool! She let me check out all of the English textbooks, and I’ve been going through the first units to make notes of possible things to do for lessons, and also through the entire books to get a better idea of what’s in them. Each of the textbooks is quite different. Although the curriculum flows well from one to the next, they are not at all consistent in terms of set-up, organization, and kid-friendliness.

Today, I spoke briefly with the adjunct director in charge of academics, and I chose which classes I will team-teach with my two partners. Peace Corps requires us to teach at least 18 hours a week and to teach with all of the English teachers at our schools (unless there are more than 3 English teachers, which doesn’t apply to me). My school is a gimnasiu, which means it’s only grades 1-9. English is taught starting in 2nd grade. Unless things change (which is always possible), I’ll be teaching 3rd form, 4th form (2 classes), 5th form, 6th form, 7th form (2 classes), and 8th form (2 classes). Because my school is so small, I have fewer options, and have to teach more levels than some volunteers, but that’s okay. Also, it sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t- each of the classes only meet 2 hours per week. I won’t know my schedule until possibly the first week of school, but if things are spread out well, I could only be teaching about three and a half hours per day (although I’ll have to be at school for all of the regular school hours). I also have met many of the other teachers at school, including the teacher (possibly French teacher? although I don’t think they offer French anymore) that hosted the only other volunteer that lived in my village, a few years ago.  I attended my first “conference” with my fellow teachers yesterday, but I think I’ll save that for next time!

On to the Next Chapter

All of my bags, packed and ready to go.
All of my bags, packed and ready to go.

On Thursday morning, we gathered up our numerous packed bags (wondering how in the world we had managed to accumulate so much more stuff than what we brought), and said goodbye to our host families.  Of course, a proper goodbye in Moldova must include alcohol- at 7:30 in the morning, as I sat eating breakfast, my host bunica (grandmother) got out a bottle of cognac and poured a shot.  She said a lovely toast wishing me success, health, and happiness, and then took a shot.  She offered me some as well, but I politely declined.  We were picked up at our houses and loaded everything onto rutieras (mini-buses) to head to Chisinau to begin the next chapter of our Peace Corps experience.  In our PST village, we were divided into three rutieras, which meant there were 5-6 of us per rutiera (which are intended to fit 17-18 people, but can hold up to 40-some). Despite the fact that there were only five of us on our rutiera (the top of the hill folks), it was packed. We drove to Chisinau, where we unloaded all of our belongings and placed them in piles at the side of a building. Peace Corps had someone watching over our stuff, so we could leave our stuff there until it was time to load it into the cars that would take us to our new sites.

This is all of the bags loaded into the rutiera- with just enough room left for us to sit!
This is all of the bags loaded into the rutiera- with just enough room left for us to sit!

Before we could head to our new sites, our host families (at least one representative from each family) had to come to a host family conference. There was a short reception at the beginning, which we attended, then we were free until after lunchtime as our host families were taught all about the Peace Corps, requirements for safety and health, dietary restrictions, and much more. Several of us headed to a coffee shop to hang out, then I grabbed lunch with one of the other EE volunteers. We met our host families in the conference room and filled out and signed our housing contracts with the help of translators, then were released to leave with our host families. My host mother came, along with her 6-year-old granddaughter, Valerica, and we packed into a car that would take us to my new home. It was a very hot, long ride as it was in the 90s, humid, and the car didn’t have AC.

My new site!
My new site!

It was a bittersweet day for all of us. Although we’re excited to start our real work in our communities, this also means saying a (temporary) goodbye to all the people that you have spent 8 hours a day with for the past 10 weeks. The Peace Corps staff always stresses that your fellow volunteers become your family. It sounds a bit cheesy, but it’s true. For the past 10 weeks, we have spent countless hours with each other, we have supported each other when things were tough, we have had a blast, we have sang songs loudly during our breaks (I think the locals might think we’re a bit crazy), we have laughed lots, and we have become a family. Even though we’ll see each other again in a couple of months (perhaps sooner depending on where we all are), it was still a hard goodbye, and there were even some tears.

The gate and path to the house at my new home.
The gate and path to the house at my new home.

When I arrived at my new site, I was surprised to find my room was quite different than when I had visited. My host family didn’t have all of the furniture the Peace Corps requires, so my host family had bought new furniture for the room- a big wardrobe, some shelves, a dresser, nightstands, and a nice, big (and real!) bed. The room was recently renovated as well and has nice wood floors, big windows on one wall, and everything is very nice and clean. I also have a table and two chairs in one corner to do my work. The house is very nice, but because they are doing renovations, there is no kitchen or bathroom in the house currently. Like most homes in Moldova, there is a summer kitchen, so that’s not a huge deal. There is a small spigot in the house with running water, but currently no sink. The (lack of a) bathroom has been the biggest adjustment so far, especially as it will be awhile before there is one. There’s an outhouse, which is pretty far from the house (and it’s a squat toilet- I’m going to have very nice legs by the end of this!), but no place to bathe. So I have a medium-sized (I’d like to get one that’s a bit bigger- this one is a bit to small) galvanized “tub” (really more like a bucket), a bucket to tote water in, and a small handled pouring cup to bathe with. There’s an electric kettle in the (unfinished) kitchen to heat water up in until it’s boiling, which I then add to the bucket of cold water to get decently warm water. It’s a bit difficult and takes a long time, but at least I’m clean!

My new host family is a couple that are about 60 years old. They are very nice, and respect my need for privacy. There is currently no internet, but once I get my residency card, I’ll be able to secure it. Overall, I’m very happy with my living situation here!

My Last Day in Costesti and a Birthday Celebration

I'll miss this kitty- my host mom told me I could bring her with me to my new house, but I didn't think my new host family would appreciate that.
I’ll miss this kitty- my host mom told me I could bring her with me to my new house, but I didn’t think my new host family would appreciate that.

This past Wednesday we had our final HUB site day- where we talked about Peace Corps policies, the emergency evacuation plan, and monitoring and reporting. After, we spent our last evening with our PST host families and, of course, we also packed. After 10 weeks of training, in which we were given over 10 books on teaching English as a second language and countless handouts, notebooks, and supplies, we all ended up with quite a bit more than what we came with.

My last day with my host family.
My last day with my host family.

My last evening with my PST host family was also my younger host brother’s 11th birthday, so I had finished packing the night before, knowing that we would be having a party for him, which, in typical Moldovan form, would likely last into the morning hours. The masa (meal/celebration) was a family gathering, with many aunts, uncles, cousins, and my host bunica (grandmother). There weren’t enough seats at the table for everyone, so we ate in shifts- first the “kids” ate, along with the women, and once the “kids” were finished, they were replaced with the men. There was delicious barbequed meat (sausages and chicken), sarmale (a traditional Moldovan dish that is rice and vegetables wrapped in cabbage), fish, fruit, torta (cake), and several plates with different compilations on top of bread (the closest thing I can think of in American culture would be bruschetta- but these aren’t grilled, and they are topped with different ingredients- for example, one of the popular versions is bread topped with a thick smear of mayonaise, little fish from a jar that are uncooked, pickles, and finely shredded hard-boiled eggs on top). Of course, there was plenty of house wine to go around (this time it was a fairly cloudy house wine, that wasn’t as strong as many I’ve tasted and very sweet), as well as some beer (which comes in big 2-liter plastic bottles). When the cake was brought out we sang “Multi ani” (the Moldovan birthday song), and then everyone told me to sing the American happy birthday song, which a few of them knew.

Toasts are a big part of celebrations in Moldova, and birthdays are no exception. Almost every person gave a toasts, most along the lines of “multi ani, multi bani, success, si sanitate” (many years, much money, success, and health). I think I actually got more toasts than the birthday boy, though, as everyone knew it was my last night in Costesti. I left the party (it was at my house, so I really just mean that I went inside) pretty early- around 10 PM, but it went on way after I went to sleep.

It was a nice end to a wonderful ten weeks in Costesti for PST. I couldn’t have asked for a better host family. They welcomed me so fully into their house and family. They made me promise to bring my parents to visit them when they come next summer, and my younger host brother has already messaged me on Skype. I’ll miss them for sure!

Galina’s Poems and A Brief History of Moldova

Today, we had our final session with our language instructor, Galina.  Only this time, it wasn’t a language session, but rather a history session.

Our Last Language Class:

After our history session, Galina had two more quick language activities for us before she could send us on our way.  First, she wrote poems about each of us in Romanian.  She posted them all on the board, and then we had to guess who each one was about.  It was a really fun activity!  Some were much easier to guess (especially the one that spoke about moving with his wife–there is only one married man in our group, so that was easy-peasy!), and some were a bit harder to figure out.  Some were also quite funny, while others were more serious.  Here is the poem she wrote about me (first in Romanian, and then I’ll try my best to provide an English translation):

Permanent e zâmbitoare
Domnișoara profesoară.
Cu româna stă prea bine
Nu știe cuvântul lene.
Are nume de regină
Foarte activă la română.
Are fani printre elevi
Cine este, cine crezi?

The translations goes something like this:  Permanently is smiling / Miss teacher / with Romanian is quite well (good) / She doesn’t know the word laziness / She has the name of a queen / She is very active in Romanian / She has fans (admirers) through her students / Who is she, who do you think?

We also got some “wishes” or “fortunes”.  I received two: the first said, “O să te căsătorești în Moldova peste doi ani” (you will be married in Moldova in 2 years), and the second said “O să lucrezi în Moldova 5 ani” (you will work in Moldova 5 years).  I guess the two really do go together🙂.

A Brief History of Moldova Lesson:

As I mentioned, we also learned about the history of Moldova today.  Moldova has a long and complicated history.  The first civilization in the area that is now Moldova was that of the Dacians.  The civilization lasted from the 18th to 16th centuries BC.  The Dacians were tall and blond, characteristics that are pretty rare in Moldova today.

In 106 AC, the land was conquered by the Roman Empire, which is where the physical characteristics of today’s Moldovans came from (darker hair and slightly darker skin).  The Roman Empire built a lot, as well as imposed their alphabet and culture on the Dacians.  This is why Romanian uses the Latin alphabet and has much in common with the other Romance languages.  The Roman Empire only ruled the land for about 2 centuries.

After the Roman Empire left, there was a period of relative calm, with some small, minor wars. In 1359, a medieval state began in which the name Moldova first popped up.  It was at this time part of Romania, which consisted of 3 states: Transilvania, Muntenia, and Moldova.  The area that was called Moldova included the present-day country of Moldova, as well as a large part of present-day Romania.  Stefan cel Mare (Steven the Great), considered the greatest ruler in the history of Moldova (but he wasn’t a king- only a ruler), ruled the state of Moldova from 1457-1504.  He fortified the borders and won 46 out 0f 48 battles that he fought (primarily against the Turks).  After each victory, he built a church or monastery.  Although some are located in present-day Moldova, many are located in present-day Romania.  In Moldova, he built the famous Soroca fortress.

After his rule, the Ottoman Empire ruled Moldova from the 16th to 18th centuries.  Although the Turks/Ottomans conquered the land, they did not impose their culture or language on the Moldovans.

In 1812, the Moldovan Empire divided into two parts.  One part (present-day Romania) was taken by the Turks, while the other part (present-day Moldova) became a province of the Russian Empire.  The province of Moldova, ruled by the Russian Empire, existed from 1812-1918.  In 1918, the council of Moldova declared it wanted to be reunited with Romania, and it was a part of Romania from 1918 to 1940.

In 1940, Moldova became part of the Soviet Union as part of an agreement between Stalin and Hitler.  During World War II, about half of the population served in the Soviet Army, while the other half served in the Romanian Army (under Hitler).  In 1944, the Soviet Army took over.  From 1944 to November 27, 1991, Moldova was part of the Soviet Union as one of the 15 Soviet Republics.  A national movement had begun in 1989, and in 1991, Moldova was declared an independent state and the first democratic elections were held.  The communist parties continued to hold the power until 2009, when the democratic parties gained control for the first time.  They continue to maintain control today.  The next election is this fall.

In addition to an overview of Moldovan history, we also learned about life under Soviet rule, including both the negative and positive aspects.

It was very interesting to learn more about the history.  It’s one thing to learn about the history of countries other than your own when you are sitting in a classroom in the United States.  It is a very different thing to learn about the history of another country when sitting in a classroom in that country and being taught by someone who has lived there throughout some of that history.

What We’ll Leave Behind and What We’ll Take

Costesti

We had our last language class this morning.  It was mostly a review of some of the more difficult grammar we’ve learned, but we also learned a couple of new things, including the conditional tense.  We also wrapped up our PST through our language lesson.

Our language instructor, Galina, asked us to think about our experience here in Costesti.  She then asked us what we would leave behind in Costesti and what we would bring with us from Costesti.  I think we all got a bit teary-eyed completely the assignment.  It was a moment for us to really consider our time here and how it has changed us.  I’m not sure any of us could really fully answer those two very big questions in Romanian, but we tried.  I’m not even sure any of us could really fully answer those two questions in English, but I’ll try.

What will I leave behind in Costesti:  I will leave behind a deck of Uno cards (with my host brother), my gratitude to my host family, impressions of me (hopefully good!), my amazing host family, the two kittens who have slowly become some of my best friends, and a piece of my heart (corny but true).

What I will bring with me: Many, many amazing memories, as well as some that perhaps weren’t so amazing, the love and support of my host family here, plenty of stories, new friendships, a lot of new grammar and teaching books, plenty of clothes, and many pictures.

I’m both excited and nervous to leave Costesti and move to Festelita.  After just over two months here, this place has really, truly become my home.  Often, I would get back to the house after a long day of training or teaching, and I would have an overwhelming sense that I was home.  It will be hard to leave my host family here.  It will be hard to move away from all of the amazing PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) friends that I’ve made here.  But I’m also excited to continue to work with my partner teacher Ina, who spent the past two weeks here teaching with me, and to start working with my other partner teacher, Luiba.  I’m excited to move into my new house.  I’m especially excited to meet and start teaching my students and to go for hikes through the fields and forest.