Life Lately 7/22/16

Life has been busy!  Here’s my life lately in pictures:

Delicious cherry placinta (like a mini-pie) that my host mom made me!
Delicious cherry placinta (like a mini-pie) that my host mom made me!
I braved the "frizzerie" (hair salon) and chopped my hair off!
I braved the “frizzerie” (hair salon) and chopped my hair off! Also, I’ve mostly gotten used to wearing glasses all the time.  Mostly.
Celebrating a fellow volunteer's birthday with drinks and pizza!
Celebrating a fellow volunteer’s birthday with drinks and pizza!
My host brother turned 15!  My host mom even made watermelon "baskets"!
My host brother turned 15! My host mom even made watermelon “baskets”!
I've never been a cat person, but this kitten has become my best friend here!  His name is Mac (host brother named him).
I’ve never been a cat person, but this kitten has become my best friend here! His name is Mac (host brother named him).
We lost power one night recently and I was so happy to have my LuminAID solar-powered lanterns!
We lost power one night recently and I was so happy to have my LuminAID solar-powered lanterns! My host parents thought they were the coolest as well!
The power was back on, but playing cards by lantern seemed a lot more fun!
The power was back on, but playing cards by lantern seemed a lot more fun!
Preparing vocabulary pictures for practice school lessons- I can still draw!
Preparing vocabulary pictures for practice school lessons- I can still draw!

Fun times and barely a minute to spare!

I Still Can’t Believe It!

Yep! Moldova is beautiful!
Yep! Moldova is beautiful!

Thirteen months ago (one year + one month) from today, I submitted my Peace Corps application.  Applying to the Peace Corps is a LONG process.  I know other volunteers here who started the process two plus years ago.  I applied on a whim after randomly ending up on the Peace Corps website.  A day after exploring the website, I started my application.  It wasn’t something I thought about really hard before doing.  It just felt right.  I think I also wasn’t convinced I would be invited to serve.  2015 had the largest number of applicants in 40 years.  Out of 23,000 applicants, only about 4,000 were invited to serve.  I knew there was a strong chance I wouldn’t get an invitation.

Car trip to Festelita to visit my site
Car trip to Festelita to visit my site

So, to be sitting here, in my bedroom in Moldova, still feels a bit surreal.  Yesterday, I visited my permanent site again.  Due to an unfortunate situation (as I really, really liked the family), I am unable to stay with the host family I was originally placed with.  My trip yesterday was to check out some alternative options.  My program manager, Nina, went with me, and instead of taking a rutiera, a Peace Corps driver took us there.  It’s often difficult to see much when riding on a rutiera, and yesterday was also a particularly beautiful day, so it was a nice ride.  We also took a back-roads route to my future site, so I got to see many parts of Moldova I haven’t been through before.  We went through a number of very rural villages, a couple of slightly bigger towns, and past many fields of sunflowers and corn.   We even passed a couple of lakes and ponds.  I was struck, once again, by how beautiful Moldova is.  It was also one of the few moments I’ve had since getting here where I felt like pinching myself- am I really here?  Is this really be where I’ll spend the next two years of my life?  Am I really living my Peace Corps dream?

The sky was especially gorgeous yesterday!
The sky was especially gorgeous yesterday!

Yesterday marked seven weeks here and we swear in as volunteers one week from today.  Three of the original 59 volunteers in our group have chosen to go home for various reasons.  Although it might seem surprising, this is pretty normal and common.

Green fields and blue skies
Green fields and blue skies

I, along with my fellow English Education volunteers, am currently inching my way through “Practice School”.  Local students take a break from their summer vacations and come to school for several days.  Today was the end of the first part.  The first part was with high school students and we direct taught (meaning we taught on our own, without a partner).  Turn-out was very poor this year, so most of us had 2-5 students compared to the 15 we were expecting.  I worked with four 9th-grade boys.  I worked with a resource teacher, an experienced Moldovan English teacher, to plan lessons using the first 3 lessons in the textbook.  My lessons were focused around the topics of The Big Bang Theory, the origins of life on earth, and the stars and constellations.  The topics are pretty hard to understand in English, but my students did pretty well.  Next week, one of our partner teachers from our future schools will join us.  We’ll team teach a couple of lessons with our resource teacher, and then we will partner teach with our partner teachers.  We’ll work with younger students this time around.  I’ll be working with 4th graders, and I’m excited to start working with my partner teacher.

A little pond by the road.
A little pond by the road.

My 2nd visit to Festelita was successful.  I visited two different options, including a house that I could live in on my own after 3 months at site, if that is something I’m interested in, and my new host family (for at least the next 3 months).  The house is very nice, but they are doing renovations, so there is no bathroom of any sort currently.  There is a very open outdoor shower as well as a squat toilet.  The toilet isn’t that big of a deal currently, but it is pretty far from the house and requires going through a maze through various out-buildings.  My project manager is trying to convince them to install a toilet in the new bathroom they are building in the house.

It’s been a busy, tiring few works.  I’m ready for the mini-vacation we get once practice school is over and we move to our permanent sites.  We have a couple weeks before we have to get into school/teaching mode again, and it’ll be a welcome rest after pre-service training!

Life Lately 7/10/16

My host brother and host cousin playing badminton.
My host brother and host cousin playing badminton.

The past week was a bit of a long week.  We’re hitting that point in our training where we are all tired, and ready to be done with classes for 8 hours a day.  Here’s a recap of the week:

We had classes off on Monday afternoon so that we could celebrate the 4th.  We went to a restaurant in a nearby town and hung out there for several hours.  It was fun and a nice break from Costesti- also, the pizza there is quite good!

We made monsters in our Romanian class on Saturday to practice some new vocabulary!  Galina, our wonderful language instructor is on the right.
We made monsters in our Romanian class on Saturday to practice some new vocabulary! Galina, our wonderful language instructor is on the right.

We had language classes Monday-Saturday and learned the following:

  • Reflexive verbs (approximately 25 new verbs)
  • How to say what we did today or yesterday (including with reflexive verbs)
  • Future and past tense of reflexive verbs
  • Body parts
  • Physical descriptions of people (body parts + adjectives)
  • Characteristics/Personality of people
  • Possession (ex: his house, her house, Diana’s house)

We had technical sessions 3 days this week and discussed:

  • Our site visits.
  • How grades work in Moldova and the “catalog” that all grades go in- everything is done by hand and the catalog has to be perfect- any mistakes have to be stamped by the school director, a particular pen must be used (the same color and ink by all teachers in a school), and you must write in a particular way.  Grades are also very specific, and must be given each day (although not to all of the students).  As volunteers, we will give out grades, along with our partners, but we WILL NOT touch the catalog.
  • How to correct errors without eroding confidence.
  • Assessment- types of assessment and how it fits into Moldovan education.
  • Limited resources- teachers in Moldova are provided one box of white chalk for the school year, and that. is. it.  No other supplies are provided, at all, for students and teachers.  No paper, no markers, no scissors.  This session told us where we could get supplies, how to get (mostly, get people from home to send them!), and how to get by with limited resources.
  • Monitoring and evaluation- this is a Peace Corps requirement- in order to measure our effectiveness as volunteers, there are a number of evaluations we have to do a couple of times a year on our partner teachers, our community, and our students.  They’re lengthy and a bit burdensome, but very important.
Playing badminton against my host cousin.  I lost, and still owe him and my host brother 10 pushups.
Playing badminton against my host cousin. I lost, and still owe him and my host brother 10 pushups.

I spent time with my host family: I played badminton last night with my host brother and host cousin, I talked with my host parents, and I laughed with my host mom and brother about “tomato tea” and “green coffee”.

The white part of the birdie fell off, so my host brother decided it would make a good "coach".  I think it looks more like a soldier, but it's still pretty cute!
The white part of the birdie fell off, so my host brother decided it would make a good “coach”. I think it looks more like a soldier, but it’s still pretty cute!

I skyped into my family reunion back home yesterday, which was nice.  I got to meet my cousin’s youngest daughter, who is 3 (almost 4), but whom I’ve never met, which was really cool!  She’s a cutie!  It was also nice to talk with a couple other cousins and other family members, but I was sad that I missed the reunion.

I spent the afternoon at another volunteer’s house yesterday, in order to practice an a capella version of “The Star Spangled Banner” that we are hoping to sing at our swearing-in ceremony in a couple of weeks.  Her host mom came home from work just to make lunch for us, which was so sweet of her!  It was my first time visiting another volunteer’s house, and it was interesting to see another home and meet another family.  They had a piano, which was helpful for us when learning a bit different of an arrangement.

Although the week was long, there were also some great moments throughout!  This week is our last full week of language classes, which is crazy to think about.  Then the following week, we start “practice school”, where local students come in and we teach them for 2 hours a day.  It’ll be a stressful, but really beneficial time!

Site Visits: Sunday in Festelita

Colorful outdoor area at my host family's house in Festelita
Colorful outdoor area at my host family’s house in Festelita

I woke up around 7:30 on Sunday morning.  I slowly got ready, wrote in my journal, and then joined my host family for breakfast- which was similar to pancakes, but they were fried.  We then joined my school director, and drove to a nearby monastery.

On our way to the monastery, we stopped to visit a piata- my first time actually going to a Moldovan piata.  There were lots of fruits and veggies, as well as eggs, meat (it was hot sunny day- ew), homemade brinza (cheese), and even some animals for sale.  It was pretty cool to see what a piata is like, but I was not too keen to see all of the meat laying out, completely un-refrigerated, and with flies flying around.  My host family got some peaches and some apricots.

Wooden church at monastery near Festelita
Wooden church at monastery near Festelita
Wooden church at monastery near Festelita
Wooden church at monastery near Festelita
Monastery near Festelita
Monastery near Festelita
Monastery near Festelita
Monastery near Festelita
Beautiful gardens at the monastery near Festelita
Beautiful gardens at the monastery near Festelita
My host parents, Maria and Nicolae, at a monastery near Festelita
My host parents, Maria and Nicolae, at a monastery near Festelita

We then drove a bit further to the monastery.  It was a Sunday and a service was taking place, so it was very crowded and busy.  We checked out the gift shop, then observed part of the service from a doorway, as it was too crowded to go inside.  The grounds were quite large, so we then walked around for awhile, admiring the nice gardens.  Below the main church, there was a church that looked a bit like a log cabin.  It was pretty cool!  We were unable to go in, but even from the outside, it was cool to see.  I think my host dad said that it was modeled after some Austrian churches.

Gorgeous sunflower fields in Stefan Voda Raion
Gorgeous sunflower fields in Stefan Voda Raion
Gorgeous sunflower fields in Stefan Voda Raion
Gorgeous sunflower fields in Stefan Voda Raion

On our way back from the monastery, we stopped on the road to take in the huge fields of sunflowers stretching out below us.  The sunflowers are gorgeous, and were in full bloom.  They are so beautiful!  And the color is my favorite!

Pretty sunrise in Festelita while waiting for my bus at 5 AM
Pretty sunrise in Festelita while waiting for my bus at 5 AM

In the afternoon, I mostly just relaxed.  We had a late lunch/early dinner, and my school director and her husband joined us.  The food was quite good- chicken and fried potatoes, as well as cooked vegetables and some sarmale and stuffed peppers.  We also had whiskey, house wine (which was vin negru, or “black wine”), and beer.  When I first came to Moldova, I kept hearing about vin negru, and kind of just assumed it was red wine, until someone once said they made vin rosu (red wine), vin alb (white wine), and vin negru (black wine).  This was my first time actually sampling it.  It is pretty close to black in color, although it is actually a very, very dark red/purple.  I’m not a big fan of red wine, and assumed this would probably be even worse, but it wasn’t too bad.  It was fairly sweet and not too vinegar-tasting!  Our guests stayed until fairly late.  I went to bed pretty early, after my host mom came in my room to inform me that the bus would leave at 5 the following morning, back to Chisinau!

Site Visits: Saturday in Festelita

The beautiful, peaceful fields in Festelita
The beautiful, peaceful fields in Festelita

As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, we visited our future sites this weekend.  I met my school director in Chisinau a little before 8:00 on Saturday morning (which meant getting the 6:30 rutiera from Costesti).  I was pretty proud of myself for making it to the Stefan cel Mare monument, our designated meeting place, all on my own.  From there, we hopped on a trolley to the Gara de Centru, the bus station in the center of the city.  We then boarded a rather crowded, hot bus, and started our trip to Festelita, about a 2-hour ride.  We had to stop a couple of times to let a little girl who was carsick off the bus, but otherwise didn’t stop many times.  We passed a lot of wide-open fields of wheat, corn, and sunflowers.

We arrived in outskirts of Ermoclia, a small town near Festelita, and got off the bus, where my future host dad, Nicolae, met us.  He drove us the rest of the way to Festelita.  We immediately went to the school, where the two English teachers were awaiting our arrival.  I talked to both of them, and got to see a bit of the school.  By American standards, the building is in rough shape, but it’s not too bad.  There were new-ish computers in the office, as well as internet, but I’m not sure if there are any computers for students to use.  The school has a small museum, a library (no English books), and a large “cantina”, or cafeteria, with a stage.  The cantina was pretty big and the stage is BRIGHT yellow, which I thought was awesome!  I only got to see one classroom, which is the classroom for special education students.  Students with special needs often don’t even attend school, so this was a pleasant surprise!  The classroom was neat and clean, had relatively new furniture, and had plenty of bright picture books and even a large rainbow painted on one of the walls.  It was bright and cheerful!

After my brief tour of the school, I got to check out my future house.  The house is located on a really quiet street (although that isn’t saying much, as every street in Festelita is very quiet) and is bright coral!  There’s a nice grapevine-covered driveway/patio, as well as a smaller courtyard-like space with a table and sofa out back.  There is a huge garden, pigs, chickens, and rabbits.  Inside, the house is fairly simple, but pretty large.  T

here is indoor plumbing, including a full bathroom, complete with toilet!  There’s a pretty decent-sized kitchen, a large entrance hall (that could probably function as a room), 3 bedrooms, and a casa mare (special room reserved for special occasions).  My room is quite large, and has two sofas that fold down into beds, a large wardrobe, and a large table with chairs.

I talked for a bit with my host parents, ate a late breakfast, then went to my room to put my bag away and fell promptly asleep for two hours- whoops!  I was very tired from our busy week!  After I woke back up, I was introduce to my host brother, Denis, who is 16 but lives in Chisinau.  He was just home for the weekend.  We had lunch, and then I read for awhile.  Around 5, Denis asked if I’d like to walk through the town or perhaps check out the forest or fields.  It was a very hot, humid day, but I was excited for the chance to see what there is!

The town is very small, very quiet, very peaceful, and very quaint.  There are two schools- one is a gradinita (kindergarten, which is actually ages 2 or 3 to 6 here), and the other is a gimnasium (in this case, a primary school combined with a middle school- it houses grades 1-9).  My town does not have a high school.  The entire Stefan Voda Raion (kind of like a county within a state) only has 3 lyceums (high schools).  There is one nicer, larger magazin (grocery store), and 2 or 3 alimentaras (smaller corner stores).  In addition, the town has a primaria (town hall) and a casa de cultura (literally, house of culture).  The Casa de Cultura also houses a traditional music and dance school, the only of its kind in Stefan Voda Raion.

We walked through town, then veered off the road onto a path to head towards the forest/fields.  I chose to check out the fields, and we walked for at least half an hour.  There were fields of wheat, corn, sunflowers, and grapes.  No one owns the land, so you’re free to walk where you choose.  There were cows grazing.  There are no fences, and instead the cows are kept in one area by a herder.  It was a beautiful walk- truly breathtaking.  We cut across the fields to return to town.  We walked right past some cows.

Saturday evening, I went to the Casa de Cultura along with my host mom, school director, and both English teachers (and their young kids).  Here, we surprised the students of the music/dance school, who are in grades 6 and 7.  These will be my students in the fall, and it was the first time they found out that a volunteer would be in their school.  They were very excited!  A few of the students asked me some questions in English.  Their English is pretty good.  Then we went into the auditorium part of the Casa de Cultura, which is very new and very nice.  There were lots of new, plumb, auditorium-style seats as well as a large stage.

The students did a really good job!  I was very impressed!  Many of the songs included very fast footwork.  Three of the boys also played the music for the dances.  It was really cool! After, the music instructor, who also works at the school, showed us around the school- there is a nice barre dance studio, as well as several music rooms.

I returned home for dinner at 10:30, then promptly headed to bed!