A Look Back: The First Six Months

Today marks six months in Moldova.  I know it’s cliche, but it’s really, truly hard to believe that I have already been in this beautiful country for six months, for one half of a year.  I remember sitting on the plane as it took off from JFK airport and thinking, “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this!”.  I was excited and nervous and had no idea what was to come.  Here’s a recap of my first half year in Moldova.

Month 1: June.

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We landed in Moldova and were greeted by Peace Corps staff and volunteers at the airport.  We then spent 2 days in Chisinau getting adjusted, then moved to our pre-service training sites.  I got my first bee sting while waiting to be taken to meet my host family, and broke out the med kit for the first time.  We met our host families, got settled into our new rooms, and used the four or five rehearsed Romanian sentences we had learned.  Over the next month, we spent our mornings learning Romanian and our afternoons doing technical trainings.  We gained new friends, sweated more than we ever had before in our lives, and struggled through long days of training.  We figured out the public transportation system and got more or less used to rutieras.  I use my first outhouse, and then my first public squat toilet (ew!).  I attended my first Moldovan wedding.  We visited three gorgeous monasteries.  We also visited the National Museum of Natural History and Ethnography.  We attended several hub sites, where we learned about health and security and received our rabies vaccines.  At the end of the month, we had our site announcements, when we found out where we would live for our two years of service!

Month 2: July.

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We had our Site Team Conferences (with our school directors) and visited our sites for the first time.  I fell in love with Festelita and visited a nearby monastery.  We drew monsters in class, I spent a lot of time with my host brothers, and I laughed with my host mom about elephant green tea.  I visited Festelita again to meet my new host family.  I cut my hair, celebrated another volunteer’s birthday, and played with our kittens.  We began practice school, and we had our swearing in ceremony, officially becoming Peace Corps Volunteers.

Month 3: August.

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We completed practice school and had a mini-carnival to celebrate.  I helped my brother harvest onions, went to the Chisinau zoo with my host family, taught my host mom how to play Uno, and learned to laugh at a number of small mishaps (my host family’s kitten falling into the outhouse hole, the same kitten getting in a fight and injuring his paw, and my host mom backing the car into the garage staircase).  We had our final language class (and tried not to cry).  Our language instructor, Galina wrote us poems and we had a crash course on Moldovan history.  I packed my bags and had one last celebration with my training host family.  We loaded up all our belongings and moved to our permanent sites to start our next chapter.  I spent many days in the school’s library and attended a school open house.  I adjusted to village life, got to know my new host family, and started taking bucket baths.  I also read over ten books in two weeks and celebrated Moldova’s Independence Day in Chisinau.

Month 4: September.

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We had the first day of school, and I began teaching English.  I took a surprise day trip up north for my host niece’s baptism.  I continued to adjust to life in Moldova and in my village.  I experienced an earthquake, read many more books, and spent many hours alone.  I also spent each evening talking to my host mom after dinner.

Month 5: October.

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I went to Chisinau for a Tech4Dev meeting and ATIP Auction and attended the National Day of Wine while there.  I went to my raion center for the first time, watched my students do traditional dances, and celebrated National Teacher’s Day.  I continued to teach English at school, and still had lots of free time.  I made another trip to Chisinau and spent time with my host mom’s sisters and daughters, as well as attended a luncheon at the Ambassador’s residence.  My host family continued to work on the kitchen and bathroom renovations, and I was attacked by our rooster several times.  I spent many cool nights bundled up in my blankets, thankful for our soba (stove), and spent many evening talking with my host mom over sunflower seeds and ice cream.

Month 6: November.

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One of my partner teachers began her maternity leave and my schedule changed once again.  We had our fall vacation.  All of the M31 EE volunteers gathered in Chisinau for one week of IST (in-service training) for both language and technical trainings.  We learned the results of the United States election and cried and hugged each other, and then Moldova had its own elections.  I taught a few classes completely or partly on my own.  I ordered a new camera (hopefully arriving soon), and had less free time than before.  I called my grandparents on Thanksgiving, thus making my first international phone call.  I spent the weekend after Thanksgiving taking a surprise trip to Ungheni in the north to celebrate with other volunteers and drank plenty of house wine.  I made my first cookies in Moldova and shared them with my 7th grade classes as part of a lesson about making cookies.  Nina from Peace Corps came for my first site visit to see how things are going and I observed a Romanian lesson.  I got more comfortable teaching and felt like a real teacher again.

I’m so thankful that I’ve gotten to spend the past half year exploring the culture and landscapes of Moldova and that I get to spend another one and a half years here.  If the past six months are any indication, my time here is going to fly by more quickly than I can imagine!

My First Peace Corps Thanksgiving

Ungheni

This past week was the first time I’ve celebrated Thanksgiving abroad, without my family.  The actual day of Thanksgiving was almost like any other day here.  I went to school, taught 5 lessons, several of which didn’t go particularly well, then planned with my partner for several hours after school.  At one point I was a little sad and homesick as I thought about what I was missing at home, but I had the opportunity to skype briefly with my family in the United States, which helped a bit.  Then, right before bed, I managed to catch my grandparents on the phone for a quick conversation.  It was my first time talking to them in over 3 months, and I miss them very much, so I was grateful for the 30 free minutes of international calls each month we get on our Peace Corps plan.

I hadn’t planned to celebrate with other volunteers, mostly because I had some work to do at home and have travel planned for next weekend, and I just thought I could use a quiet weekend at home.  On Friday, I had to go to the capital to pick up some medication and while at Peace Corps, I ran into another volunteer.  She encouraged me to come to the north of Moldova for the weekend to celebrate with a group of volunteers.  In the end, her promise of mac and cheese won me over, and after a quick phone call to my host mom to make sure it was okay, I headed to the northern bus station and hopped on a rutiera to Ungheni.  Ungheni is located in the northwestern part of the country, about two hours from Chisinau in the opposite direction of my town.  We lucked out in terms of transportation: we arrived at the station five minutes before our rutiera was due to leave, bought tickets, and then were granted two seats in the front row with the driver.  They were real seats like you might find in a car, and they were very comfortable and provided us with an excellent view.

We arrived in Ungheni and met up with a couple of other volunteers, all of whom I hadn’t met before.  We had some drinks, went grocery shopping for the feast the following day, and grabbed some pizza at a local restaurant.  We then headed to one of the volunteer’s houses, where we spent several hours eating, drinking, and talking with his very generous and kind host parents.

Aaron, one of the other volunteers, attempting to play the accordion
Aaron, one of the other volunteers, attempting to play the accordion

On Saturday, we headed to the house of another volunteer to prepare our feast.  Our menu included: mac and cheese, barbequed chicken legs, gumbo (made by a native Louisian), mashed potatoes, an Italian casserole dish, homemade cookies, bruschetta, house wine and other house alcohol, as well as some store-bought beer.  We cooked and baked most of the day, and then sat down to enjoy our feast.  There were eight volunteers, and three host family members.  The food was delicious and mostly American, the wine was plenty, and the company was great.  The host dad that had allowed us to use his kitchen and host the feast in his house even played the accordion for us and one of the volunteers played guitar.

Towards the end of the night, one of the volunteers skyped with his grandmother in the United States, who had immigrated from Poland.  Our Moldovan host played, at his request, a Polish song on the accordion, which was a very special moment that involved three languages, plenty of translation, and some tears.

Ungheni

The next morning we played some Bananagrams over breakfast, then walked through the town to the lake, which was peaceful and chilly before heading back home.  Although my trip home was long and not-so-pleasant, I was glad I went and enjoyed a great weekend with new friends.

IST Conference

A gorgeous fall day in the capital during IST- Cathedral Park
A gorgeous fall day in the capital during IST- Cathedral Park

Our M31 EE group had our IST (in-service training) this past week in the capital.  It was a busy 6 days of various sessions.  Last Saturday and Sunday we started off our IST with two days of language training along with the M31 HE (Health Education) volunteers.  We split up into groups of 5-6 volunteers and worked on learning Romanian each day for about 8 hours.  We also had some cultural sessions where we discussed winter holidays, celebrations, and traditions in Moldova.  It was an exhausting two days, filled with some really tough grammar.

Then, Monday through Thursday, we had our technical IST.  I think we had approximately 30 sessions on things ranging from using the textbooks, to phonemes and morphemes, to being more aware of the content of the textbooks in terms of gender stereotypes and gender equitable practices.  On Thursday, we ended with an Open Space session, where we split up into groups to talk about topics that we had come up with throughout the week.  During the Open Sessions, I talked with a group of other volunteers about handling stress and coping strategies and also about working with our partners.

Most of the sessions were led by volunteers, both those from my group and several that are in their second year in Moldova.  I facilitated 4 sessions: Language Awareness, Using Textbooks, Classroom Assessments, and MR&E: How We Share Our Progress (which was about how to present projects and needs assessment results to our community members in order to get their backing).

We were on our own to find housing, as well as for meals, though we did have “snack” breaks with food, coffee, and tea.  I shared an AirBnB apartment with another volunteer.  We had a kitchen, which was really nice!  We also ate at a number of great restaurants, including a Mexican restaurant, a Greek restaurant, and several other restaurants.  The food was amazing and a nice break from the food I eat on a regular basis.

I really enjoyed getting to spend so much time with my fellow volunteers.  As much as I love my site, it was also nice to have a bit of a break and get away for a bit.  And, at the end of 6 days, I was ready to return home and spend time with my host family.

Finding Light in the Darkness

Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.   -Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

I don’t usually talk about politics on here.  But, as you probably know, the US elections were this past Tuesday.  I know people from the other side of the election don’t understand, but Wednesday was actually one of the hardest days of my life.  I was devastated.  Not because my candidate didn’t win, but because I feel like America voted for all of the values that I don’t believe in and against all of the things I stand for.  That they voted for racism, for sexism, for rape culture, against immigrants, against LGBTQ people and rights, against female reproductive rights, against blacks and Hispanics and Muslims.  As a Peace Corps Volunteers, we fight for equality, we fight for diversity, we fight for love and peace.  On Wednesday, it was hard to see how we were supposed to continue to share our “American” values with our host countries when we aren’t sure exactly what “American” values are anymore.

On Wednesday, my English Education volunteer group was in Chisinau for a week of our In-Service Training.  When we woke up at 7 AM Moldovan time, the election results were not yet official, but it was pretty clear who would win.  We dragged ourselves out of bed and hauled ourselves to our training center, where it was immediately clear we were unfocused and upset.  The Moldovan Peace Corps staff member that was presenting the first session charged forward, but didn’t force us to work in groups or talk really at all when it became apparent we weren’t willing to do so.  It was in the middle of this session that the final result came in.  As we learned about it, some volunteers left the room for a minute, others cried in their seats, and we all collectively were in shock.

While I can talk for days about why I am unhappy about the results, I want to focus on the support and love we were given that day.  Our Moldovan staff members were incredibly understanding and supportive.  We were given extended breaks and a much extended lunch break so that we (the volunteers) could just sit together and process things.  One Moldovan staff member, who has lived in the United States as well, said something that was truly remarkable.  She talked about how she had never once seen a Moldovan cry over the results of a presidential election.  She said that she was awestruck because she was realizing that we were so passionate about our country and so confident that we, as citizens, could actually affect change in our country.  That we were so proud to be Americans that we were actually heart-broken about the results.  That we truly believed in our country.  She said that in Moldova, this response seemed so unusual because many Moldovans don’t believe their vote truly counts.  That many Moldovans don’t believe in the system and don’t believe things can change based on their vote.  That our tears were actually a beautiful thing, because it shows that we do believe we have the power to change our country and our world.

I think that Wednesday was also a defining moment in the service of each and every volunteer that was in that room.  We cried together, we hugged each other, we sat in silence with each other.  We talked about our fears and our hopes.  I don’t think that at any other point in my life I have felt so fully supported.  Many volunteers questioned whether they should go home, that perhaps that right now in this moment in US history, they might be more useful fighting the fight at home.  Others were glad to be and stay in Moldova.  The staff reminded us that this is exactly why we’re here.  That we’re here to promote peace and friendship and tolerance and acceptance. That we need to do this now even more than before.  That we don’t want the media that makes it here to be the only view Moldovans have of the United States and Americans.

And, we ordered a huge order of MacDonald’s food for all of the volunteers and ate it together sitting together in the Peace Corps lounge (they deliver here!) while figuring out what this all means for our country, for our lives, and for our service here in Moldova.  It may have been a very difficult day, but in many ways it was also a really beautiful day.

Life Lately in Moldova

I’ve been in Moldova for almost five months now and at site for about two and a half months.  I’m starting to feel like things are finally settling in and I’ve gotten more or less used to life here in Moldova.  So what have I been up to?

Teaching English

The teacher's room at our school features a painting of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.
The teacher’s room at our school features a painting of Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus.

At first, it was quite an adjustment getting used to the ways in which schools are scheduled and run in Moldova, but things are starting to make more sense to me now.  Peace Corps requires us to work 18 hours a week, which for me, means I teach 9 different classes, 2 times per week.  At my school, there are one or two classes per grade and if the grade has more than one class, the class is denoted with a letter (9A, 9B).  At first I was teaching 3rd, 4B, 5th, 6th, 7A, 7B, 8B, 9A, and 9B, but then the entire schedule changed again and the classes I taught changed again.  For the past month I’ve been teaching 4A, 4B, 5th, 6th, 7A, 7B, 8A, 8B, 9A, and 9B.  One of my partner teachers is pregnant and is starting her maternity leave this coming Monday, so my schedule will be changing once again because I’ll need to teach my 18 hours all with the other English teacher at my school.  It looks like I’ll be teaching 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, and 9th grades.  I’m sad I’ll be unable to work with the 7th graders, but I’m hoping to start a club with them.  5th grade will also be particularly challenging, as before it was split into two groups for English and now we’ll be teaching all 29 of them together.  The partner teacher that will be on maternity leave is planning on returning in March, so it will hopefully be a temporary situation.  I’ve found that I really enjoy teaching the “middle school” grades, especially 6th and 7th.  It’s a challenge to teach students who barely know the language you speak (and are teaching), but it’s slowly getting better.

Daily Life

A lunch of bean soup, freshly baked bread (still warm and super yummy!), and compot (homemade juice, in this case, plum juice).
A lunch of bean soup, freshly baked bread (still warm and super yummy!), and compot (homemade juice, in this case, plum juice).

I continue to enjoy living with my host family.  They treat me as if I am their own daughter and have been absolutely wonderful!  I spend a couple of hours each night talking to my host mom over dinner, which I really love.  It’s also been great for improving my Romanian.  I do miss my real mom’s cooking quite a bit, as well as a lot of the foods I loved in the United States.  My host family currently doesn’t have a kitchen in the house or a bathroom (due to renovations), so I haven’t really been able to cook or bake anything yet.  The bathroom is pretty close to being completed (yay! I can’t wait to take showers again!!) and then they can work on the kitchen.  The walls and such are finished in the kitchen, but cabinets and appliances (besides the fridge) haven’t been installed yet.

The evil (or as my host mom says, cheeky and bad) rooster at our house that keeps trying to attack me!  Here he is tied up as punishment.
The evil (or as my host mom says, cheeky and bad) rooster at our house that keeps trying to attack me! Here he is tied up as punishment.

I’ve been having a problem with the rooster.  I didn’t see him the first month I was here, then a couple of weeks ago, he appeared and has been trying to attack me every time he sees me since.  I have to pass by him to get to the outhouse (my only toilet option).  Usually, I don’t see him on my way there, but when I opened the door after, he is standing right in front of the door blocking the path, with his chest all puffed out.  When I move, he starts charging at me!  He’s a pretty big rooster, and definitely pretty mean, so I’m pretty sure he could hurt me if he got close enough.  At first I just yelled at him and backed slowly back to the house, but then I told my host mom.  So then I had a broom to hit him with if he tried to attack (which he did!).  Yesterday, my host mom saw him attack the outhouse door rather viciously while I was in the outhouse, so she decided he needed punishment.  So today he is tied to a fence with a 3-foot rope.  He doesn’t seem to like it very much and tries to run in the opposite direction of me, so I’m hoping this will change his behavior!

Rochie sneaks some bites of the corn while my host dad isn't looking.
Rochie sneaks some bites of the corn while my host dad isn’t looking.

My host family is preparing the corn they harvested for feed for the animals for the winter.  Our friendly dog, Rochie, seems to really like it!

Trying to Stay Warm

On the left is the wall in the hallway where the wood or corn cobs are loaded into the stove; on the right is the wall that the heat is channeled into to provide heat to my bedroom.
On the left is the wall in the hallway where the wood or corn cobs are loaded into the stove; on the right is the wall that the heat is channeled into to provide heat to my bedroom.

The weather has begun to get cold, and we had a couple mornings with frost this week.  Up until yesterday there was no heat at school, and the classrooms were freezing!  I could even see my breath in some of the rooms!  Thankfully, the heat was on and working yesterday!  At my house, it’s pretty warm, thanks to our soba (a wood stove that is built directly into the wall).  I’ve been layering up a lot to keep warm at school, but no matter how many layers I wear, I’m never quite warm in some of the classrooms.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately (besides watching Netflix!).