Life Lately in Moldova

Peace Corps Moldova

I was awoken at 2:30 in the morning last night to an earthquake.  This morning, I found out the epicenter was in Romania, and it was a 5.5 earthquake.  The room shook pretty good, but nothing in my room fell at all.  And it was pitch black, so I wasn’t able to see anything.  I just stayed in bed under several layers of blankets (it’s cold here at night!), and when it finished, promptly fell back asleep.  I think under normal circumstances, it might have alarmed me more, but I was so tired, I wasn’t really processing what was happening.

In other news, I’ve read 5 books in the past week.  Despite working and teaching and planning, I have wayyyy too much free time on my hands.  I’m hoping to fill that time soon with an English club or other club with students, but I’m still figuring out what they want and need, so it’ll be a bit until I start that.  Although I’m bored, I do love that I’ve rekindled my love of reading and that I have the time to read for fun.  I’ve read almost 15 books since arriving here, and I think that’s more than I had read in the 2 years prior to that.  I had gotten some books from the Peace Corps lounge, but now that I’ve made my way through them, I’ve been very happy to have a tablet that I can use with e-books.  I still prefer a real book, but it sure is convenient to have an e-reader!

The weather is finally feeling like fall!  This past week was actually rather cool, and I even wore lined stockings one day!  I think after the hottest summer I’ve ever experienced, my body is having more trouble adjusting to the cool weather.  At night, it’s been quite cold.  My host mom has mentioned that she’s never started heating the house with the soba this early, but that she thinks she might have to, as it has been freezing in the house at night.  I’ve been pretty comfortable with a big pile of blankets and a couple of layers of clothes.  I’m really glad I was able to squeeze my favorite blanket from home into my suitcase.  It’s warm and has been keeping me warm for the past 10+ years, and it seems to be doing the job just as well now.  The only problem is staying warm if I need to make a late-night trip to the outhouse (and I know it’s only going to get colder) or when I have to climb out of my warm nest in the morning- brr!

I am seriously craving “American” foods, namely my mom’s cooking (especially mac and cheese!).  I also really want to bake.  I’m trying to figure out how to make chocolate chip cookies without brown sugar.  I’ve heard it might be possible to get brown sugar in Chisinau, but haven’t had time while there to see.

I think that’s all for my rambling thoughts.

Moldovan Cuisine Monday: “Borscht”

Borscht

Borscht: I used to think that borscht was a beet-based soup, and although that can be true and is what Americans generally consider it to be, there are many variations.  I have had the traditional, beet-based borscht once, and it was actually not too bad, but it seems that a cabbage-based borscht is more common.  Since moving to my permanent site, I have had cabbage borscht almost every single day, generally for lunch.  It seems to be mostly made up of cabbage, broth (which is red, so I think it is made using tomato juice), and potatoes, and not a whole lot else.  It’s actually pretty tasty, although after eating it every day for over a month, I’m not sure I like it as much as I originally did!

Finding My Place in Moldova

Everyone said that the Peace Corps would change me, even if no one could know how.  I knew it was true, at least to a certain degree, as every life experience changes you.  I changed in high school, I changed when I joined the track team, I changed several times in college.  So, of course, I knew that I would change in the Peace Corps too.  I don’t really think you can start a new chapter of your life and not change at least a little.  But I am surprised how much I have already changed.  I don’t think it’s that I’ve “found” myself, or that I’m a totally different person, but I have certainly changed.  My life has changed too, in some ways drastically, though it doesn’t really seem that drastic to me right now.  I always thought that people who just up and changed their life (like I have) had changed their lives in a drastic way, that their lives must feel so different.  But I don’t really feel that way.

Sure, I squat over a hole to pee and poop, I bathe with a washcloth in a bucket that’s at best 2×3 feet.  I use one single bucket (maybe 2 gallons at most) to bathe.  I heat the water for that “bath” in a kettle, then add it to cold water until it’s just right.  I rely entirely on either my feet or rutieras (mini-buses) to get anywhere.  I speak 90% of the time in a language I didn’t know a word of just over 3 months ago.  I wash my hands at an outdoor “hand-washing station” which is just a glorified way of saying a plastic bucket that lets water out of the bottom.  I wear skirts or dresses 95% of the time.  I let my armpit hairs get way too long, and don’t even notice until it’s been about a week and I look down for a random reason and realize they’re a bit longer than I prefer.  I wash my hair, at best, every 2 days.  I often go two days without bathing, because it’s just too much work.  I can squat a good five minutes, which is five minutes more than I could before.  My clothes all get washed by hand, in a bucket, because there is no machine to do it for me.  They dry in the sun.  I spend hours each day just laying on my bed, doing nothing but listening to a local radio station and thinking about anything and everything or even nothing.  I make my bed every single day.  In order to drink water, I have to boil it, wait a couple hours for it to cool in the heat, then filter it.  I am dehydrated almost always because the process takes too long and I don’t have an additional container to store the filtered water in.  I’ve stopped caring that I step in chicken or geese or other bird scat that I haven’t yet identified every single day.  I’ve almost worn out the pair of good sandals that were brand new when I arrived here.  My leg hair is definitely long enough to notice, but most women here don’t seem to have clean-shaven legs, so I don’t even notice anymore.  Sometimes the power goes out for a while, and in those moments, I’m very happy to have my solar-charged lanterns, unless of course, they aren’t charged.  I don’t have a printer, so everything gets written by hand, as neatly as possible.  I’ve read more books in the one month I’ve been at site than I read in the entire year prior to that.  When I walk down the road, I might see a horse-drawn cart tied to a fence post (very loosely, I might add), or a nice car, or a car from the 60s, or a cart pulled by an engine that I’m assuming came from a tractor, though I don’t actually know, or a motorcycle that a friend has to run beside to get it rolling down the hill in order to get it to start, or a regular old bike.  I drink tea twice a day, with a good heap of fresh honey, and soup at least once every day.  I drink wine at least once a week, and though I can’t say I love it yet (especially the “black” wine, which is even darker than red), I don’t shudder anymore when I swallow it.  I’ve drank champagne and vodka (? Or whiskey? Or cognac? Still not sure.) with all of the other teachers and administrators out of a tea cup while sitting around tables set up in the school cafeteria.  I’ve made my way around a foreign city on my own, without a map or even data on my phone.  I’ve hitchhiked with my host mom in the back of a mini-van with the family of one of my students while sitting on my host mom’s lap, because they really didn’t have room for us but insisted that they had to give the American English teacher a ride.  I’ve survived two weeks without internet.  I’ve attended an Eastern Orthodox wedding and baptism.  I’ve lived with two families that aren’t my own.

Sure, all of these things are big, perhaps even drastic changes in my life.  But most of it feels pretty normal.  When I was in training, I would walk home after a long day, and when the big yellow wall along the road was in my view, the wall that meant I was “home”, well, I felt like I was home, not just arriving at some house that I happened to be staying in.  When I open the bright green gate here in Festelita and walk between the flower gardens to my front door, it feels, again, like home.  When I spent a night away from my home here to attend the baptism of my new host-niece, I was comfortable enough, but the next night, when I slept in “my” bed, it was the same as I’ve always felt coming home to my bed in my childhood home.  I’m still adjusting, I’m still figuring out things, I’m still going to experience my share of changes and new experiences and challenges.  But Moldova has already started feeling like home, in a way I hadn’t expected quite so soon.  And although I’m not really sure I could say in words how I’ve changed, I’ve certainly changed already.  As I look forward to the next two years, well, I’m sure I’ll change a lot more, but I’m excited (and, let’s be honest, nervous) to see what is waiting for me there and how those changes will manifest in me.

First Full Week of School

PST practice school
Full disclosure: this was from practice school and not from my actual school!

Throughout the summer, we were warned numerous times to be mindful that Moldovan schools operate a bit differently than American schools.  That seemed a bit obvious to me- we’re in a completely different country, of course it’ll be a bit different.  I think I underestimated a bit.  Now, I’m not saying that the “American” way is right, and the “Moldovan” way is wrong, but they are certainly very, very different, and that CAN be confusing.

I think a large part of the frustration is that, because of the additional language barrier, I miss a lot of key things during school meetings and when talking with other teachers.  Therefore, I have felt a bit like I never have a single clue what is going on around me.  That said, I’m excited for the school year to really get rolling!  The biggest difference I’ve noticed is in regards to the schedule.  In the United States, a schedule might change a bit after school has started, but it’s usually figured out in advance and is more or less set.  Here, the schedule is not at all set in stone, changes throughout the first month (sometimes very drastically), and we maybe have our schedule for the following day at the end of the current day.  At my school, two new (to the school- they’re actually very experienced teachers that have come out of retirement and are from the next town over) teachers started halfway through this past week, so the schedule basically had to be done all over again.

This also means that, because I teach with two teachers, my schedule is a bit wacky at the moment.  Currently, I am supposed to be in two classes at once more than one period a day.  I’m sure this will all get ironed out eventually, though.

I observed one partner teacher this week but planned and taught with the other.  I observed fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth grades and taught third and fourth.  I am really hoping that the final schedule will allow me to continue to work with third and fourth, as I have really enjoyed it so far.  It requires a lot more Romanian knowledge, but they are so excited to learn!  I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be teaching ninth, but if I do, I think it will be a whole new experience for me!  I’ve only taught up to sixth grade in the past, and seventh and eighth don’t seem that different, but ninth graders are a whole other story!

Learning how Moldovan schools work is definitely going to be a process, but I can’t wait to start working more with students and I’m sure we’ll get (more or less) there soon!

A Road Trip and a Baptism

Yesterday, on Saturday morning, my host mom knocked on my door to tell me to get up and get ready, because we were going to a baptism!  “Well, okay,” I thought, “I haven’t been to a baptism here, so I guess I might as well go.”  A couple of hours later, when we were both dressed and ready, we headed out.  My host mom mentioned something about Chisinau, so I assumed the baptism was in Chisinau.  Spoiler alert: it wasn’t.  We walked down the main road in town for a bit, then a car picked us up and took us to Causeni, the nearest big town, where we took a rutiera* to Chisinau.  There, we met a host aunt and host cousin.  The host aunt explained that she couldn’t come to the baptism but gave us some bags with gifts to take.  We waited some more (I think in all we waited almost 2 hours), and eventually my host sister came.  She also couldn’t make it and gave us another bag of gifts to take with us.  At this point, I had realized the baptism wasn’t in Chisinau, so I asked my host mom where we were headed.  Dubasarii Vechi.  I hadn’t heard of there before, so I googled it.  So we were headed north!

Eventually, the rutiera came, and we managed to get seats.  I think it was about another one and a half to two hours before we arrived in Dubasarii Vechi.  From what I saw, I believe it’s a fairly small town.  We walked to my host brother’s place.  I was greeted by Valerica, the host niece that was visiting for the first couple of weeks at site.  I also got to meet her baby sister, Eva, who the baptism was for.  After meeting most of my my host-sister-in-law’s family, we headed to the church.  The ceremony was fairly similar to baptisms I’ve experienced in the United States (I grew up in a protestant church).  The main differences: the ceremony was held as a completely separate service, the godparents were much more involved, and it was longer.

After the baptism, we walked back to the house, where there was a very nice masa**.  According to some of the guests, I “look Moldovan” and they thought I was my host mother’s actual daughter, and were wondering why I was so quiet (although I understand a lot when speaking one-on-one, it’s a lot harder when there are a lot of people).  When they found out I was American, they started to try to set me up with various male family members and acquaintances.  My host mom tried to tell them I’m young and have plenty of time, but they responded with “She’s 22! I had 2 kids when I was 22!”.  It’s a regular occurrence here, so I’ve learned to just laugh it off.  As it was getting dark, we headed out, along with several bags full of food to take with us.

I enjoyed getting to meet more of my extended host family!  It was a very busy, long day, so I slept really good last night!

*Rutiera: a mini-bus (kind of like an extra-large van).  / **Masa: literally table, but it is also used for meal or, as in this case, a special meal for a celebration.