Today at lunch, I told my host mom that I was missing being home during the summer. As education volunteers, our summers are quite a bit less productive than during the school year, and I think many of us are struggling with finding enough to do (and people to do it with). Last summer, we were completing our pre-service training and beyond wishing there were more fans (and perhaps AC) in Moldova, I was too busy to miss summer back home. This year, however, things are more laid back, and so I thought I’d share the things I’ve been missing about summer in small town upstate New York.
I miss the smell of freshly cut grass. I miss kayaking down the river. I miss walks through the cemetery with my parents and our dog, sometimes my brother or sister. I miss sitting out on the porch eating my breakfast. I miss yogurt parfaits with fresh blueberries. I miss picking buckets of blueberries. I miss visiting with my grandparents. I miss bonfires and s’mores. I miss hamburgers grilled outside, as well as chicken or steak or potatoes wrapped in tin foil. I miss zucchini fried in garlic powder. I miss nightly dinners eaten on our front porch. Most of all, though, I miss the lazy afternoons and nights laughing and spending time with my family and friends.
Shortly after lunch, my host mom came to my bedroom door with a large bowl and told me to go pick the raspberries in the garden. She must have known it was what I needed just then. I spent the next hour or so digging through thorny raspberry bushes and filling the bowl with delicious, ripe raspberries, while birds chirped in the nearby fruit tree. After, my feet were dirty (a sure sign of a good summer day), my arms and legs a bit scratched up, my forehead a bit sweaty, and my belly full. A pretty perfect summer afternoon, if you ask me.
This past weekend, I joined the other teachers from my school on an “excursie” (field trip) to two monasteries in the northern part of Moldova, Saharna and Ţîpova. We departed from our village in a rented rutiera (small bus) at 5:30 in the morning. It was a bit over 3 hours from our village to our first stop in Saharna.
We walked around the Saharna monastery for a bit, visiting the main church. On the hills surrouding the monastery there are crosses that you can walk to. We walked up to one of them- it was a somewhat difficult, steep hike. Here, there were gorgeous views into the valley and overlooking the Nistru.
On our way back down the hill to the monastery, we stopped to take some pictures as a group. I handed my camera off to Maxim, the seven year old son of one of the other teachers, so I could get in some photos. He did a pretty good job!
Most of the rest of our group visited the izvor, or spring, that is located in the woods at the monastery. Here, you are supposed to change into a nightgown or robe and dunk yourself fully in the freezing cold water. The water is said to have healing powers. I did not participate, but I walked down to see the izvor. There were a lot of mosquitoes, so I went back to the entrance of the monastery with the Russian teacher from my school and we waited there for the rest of the group. While sitting by the entrance, I saw a woman who I thought was another volunteer, and it was! She was also visiting the monastery with her school.
From Saharna, we headed to Ţîpova Monastery. In addition to being a cave monastery, it is also a historical site and museum. We started off at the church at the top of the hill, which is actually a different monastery. From there, we walked down a steep incline and then back up and then down again. Ţîpova is located right along the Nistru River and the views were incredible! There is an entrance fee, though it’s pretty small, and our group paid for the guide.
Ţîpova is one of the oldest monasteries in Moldova, built in the 14th century. It is a cave monastery, built into the side of a small cliff. During Soviet times, it did not function as a monastery and fell into disrepair. Although some renovations and restorations have occurred since Moldovan independence in 1991, they are currently raising money to do more complete restorations, particularly, of the sanctuary built into the cave.
We visited the sanctuary, where services are held Saturday evenings and on major holidays. There is a small exhibit/museum off the sanctuary with some of the history of the monastery as well as images showing what they hope it will look like when restorations are complete. We also checked out some of the smaller caves down below and above, where the monks would have lived and worked.
After climbing back up the hill to the church on top, we headed back towards home. After a difficult day of hiking and climbing, we were all very tired and hungry. According to Orthodox faith, you aren’t supposed to eat before you visit a monastery, so our first meal of the day occurred an hour later when we stopped by the side of the road around 3:30 in the afternoon and had a large picnic.
Each of the teachers had brought boiled eggs, placinta, bread, sarmale, and other foods. Of course, there was also plenty of house wine! There were also some of the first cherries of the season! Once we had finished eating, we drove the final two plus hours home, getting back around 6:30. It was a very exhausting day, but it was fun! I especially loved Ţîpova and would recommend going there if you’re ever in Moldova.
Here in Moldova, June 1st is both the first day of summer vacation from school and Children’s Day, which is celebrated as a main holiday. Some towns have begun to celebrate Children’s Day on the last day of school once school has been released, but my village still celebrates it on June 1st.
It’s a day of games, singing, dancing, and free ice cream for kids! In my village, we celebrated at our park, which is fairly new (when I visited for my site visit last July, the “park” was just a wide open space, but now we have a large playground, swings, and even a small pavilion).
The day started by a performance by 2nd grade students and continued with various singing and dance performances, including some by our traditional music and dance school.
The last performance was by a group of graduating 9th grade students, who performed the same dance they did on the last day of school.
After the scheduled performances, there was an open mic competition for poetry and singing, as well as a chalk drawing competition. These were judged by teachers from our school and there were several winners in each category, all of whom received some small prizes (balls, notebooks, drawing pads, and pens).
It was a beautiful day and most of the activities were set up in the shade. I really enjoyed the day and it was nice to see everyone enjoying the celebrations.
Today marks one year in Moldova. This means I am close to half through my time here in Moldova. The time has passed incredibly quickly. Though not without challenges, my first year here has been a positive, amazing journey. Here’s a recap of my second half-year in Moldova (you can find a recap of the first six months here).
Month 7: December.
I participated in Dressember, to raise funds and awareness about human trafficking. I took a weekend trip towards the north and Criuleni for a yoga retreat with other volunteers, stopping on the way in Chisinau and checking out some of the tourist sites while the snow fell lightly. I got used to the winter weather, spent many evenings eating sunflower seeds with my host mom and talking, and continued to bucket bathe (though much more rarely as it was cold!). I went to my raion center (Stefan Voda) to run errands with my host mom on the oldest bus I’ve seen in Moldova. We celebrated the holidays at school: I taught my 3rd and 4th graders “Jingle Bells”, my 4th grade students surprised me with balloons for my birthday, and we had a afternoon and night of festivities at the school, with songs and dance. I spent Christmas Eve in Chisinau with some other volunteers and ate at a really nice Italian restaurant for my birthday. On Christmas morning, I headed back to my village and celebrated my birthday with my host family, school director, and partner teacher and her family. The next day, my colleagues at school surprised me with a beautiful birthday present.
Month 8: January.
I celebrated the New Year with my host parents at home, enjoying the fireworks many of the neighbors set off. I attended the village’s Winter “Carnival”, which was like a variety show, with my host-niece. We celebrated the old (traditional Moldovan) Christmas and New Year, complete with carolers coming to our house (mostly my students). The bathroom was finished (though the shower didn’t work) and I no longer had to use the outhouse! We had a big snowstorm and very cold temperatures for a week. I walked to a nearby town with my host mom. I participated in the Blogging Abroad New Year’s Challenge (my posts: 7 Ways Globalization Shows Up in Moldova; 5 Ways My Students Give Me Hope; Cheating? What’s That?; and Looking Beyond Our Assumptions) and was featured on Design Mom. We had a conference on grants and projects in Chisinau, and I visited MallDova for the first time. I received a big, amazing package from my friends with all my most-missed foods.
Month 9: February.
My partner teacher and I held “English Week” at school. We also had our first “open lesson”, which is an observed lesson. I observed a couple of “open lessons” as well, a homeroom lesson and a Romanian lesson. The weather changed and spring approached. I visited my host sister in Boscana and some other extended family near there. We celebrated Grigore Vieru, a famous Moldovan poet and writer, at school with an assembly. I went to Stefan Voda with my host mom and nearly got frostbite. I spent a weekend in Chisinau for a language training. At school, we had “Festelita Are Talent” (Festelita Has Talent), celebrated Dragomete (sort of like Valentine’s Day), and started our weekly English Club. Peace Corps week started, and I skyped with my mom’s 5th graders in the United States.
Month 10: March.
We finished Peace Corps Week: my students helped create a video, and I participated in a Peace Corps Week event in Causeni. Marţişor, which is the holiday that welcomes spring in Moldova, was celebrated. My English Education group of volunteers gathered at our fellow volunteers’, Champa and David’s, to enjoy Nepali food and American desserts. We had a short spring break off from school and celebrated International Women’s Day. We had “control” at our school- which is essentially an audit and a week of observations. I completed and submitted my VRF, which is the document that Peace Corps uses to monitor our successes and work in country. My host mom and I went to my school director’s birthday party. I spent a day in Chisinau for mentor training for the new group of volunteers. The weather was beautiful and warm! My partner teacher, Ina, returned from her maternity leave.
Month 11: April.
I went to Chisinau for a weekend to celebrate a fellow volunteer’s birthday and enjoy the gorgeous weather. My host niece, Valerica, visited for a few days. My English Club at school skyped with a friend’s 3rd grade class in the United States. We enjoyed gorgeous spring- and even summer-like weather. Tracey, our Peace Corps Moldova country director, visited my school and came to an English Club meeting. My school and I worked on and submitted a grant proposal for a Peace Corps SPA grant. I enjoyed Easter Break, and celebrated both Easter and Memorial Easter. I walked with my host mom and visited her sister, who had a baby calf! We had a huge, late snow storm that caused wide-spread damage throughout Moldova and left us without power for 2 full days. Good weather returned quickly. I went to Chisinau again with a partner from school (a Romanian teacher) to present our grant proposal (and we were awarded the grant!) and also visited my host sister in Boscana.
Month 12: May.
I spent a lot of time outside on the wooden swing my host dad built. We celebrated Labor Day (which was uneventful in my village) and Victory Day (celebrated by all of the students gathering by the monument in our village, a few gun salutes by veterans, and flowers laid by the monument). I took a mini-vacation within Moldova with my friend and fellow volunteer Andrea. We visited the Victory Memorial and Eternal Flame monument and park in Chisinau and attended the opening of a new Himalaya Restaurant, along with a number of other volunteers. The following day, we went on a guided tour to Curchi Monastery and Orhei Vechi. I wrapped up my English Club for the school year with a competitive game of Jeopardy. School began to wrap up with end-of-year exams and restless students as well as a Saturday day of classes in the form of a Day of Sports. I helped my host mom harvest flowers from locust trees (used to make tea) and we took an afternoon trip to a nearby town’s hram (where we met up with fellow volunteer Erika). I ate the first strawberries of the season and helped my host mom pick locust flowers to make tea with. And, finally, the school year ended with the Last Bell Ceremony.
It has been a pretty good first half of this Peace Corps journey!
Today marked the last day of school, which is known in Moldova as Ultimul Sunet or Last Bell. Since my village’s school only goes up to 9th grade, this was also a bit of a farewell and best wishes to our 9th grade students.
Last Bell is a ceremony, generally held outside on the school’s courtyard, and is celebrated at every school in the country. Students, teachers, and families all attend. At my school, the graduates (9th graders) entered once everyone else was in place and wore sashes to signify the importance of the day. Then, certificates were handed out to the students who had significant achievements throughout the school year in academics, sports, and extracurriculars. After, some poems were presented by the 4th graders and 9th graders and the 9th graders thanked all of the teachers for their work that year (I got a special shout-out!) and handed out flowers to the teachers. I came home with a pile of flowers so big I had to use two large vases to contain them.
The 9th grade students performed a beautiful dance, along with their two homeroom teachers. They also danced the hora (Moldova’s traditional dance).
After, the ceremony ended with a 9th grade boy and 1st grade girl walking around the perimeter while the girl rang a large metal bell, and students were released into their homeroom classrooms for one last class period.
My partner teacher had to leave to go to the local kindergarten for a celebration there, so I got to be her homeroom class’s diriginte (homeroom teacher) for an hour. This last class period consists primarily of the teacher reading off the final semester and year grades for each subject for each student, as students do not receive report cards here. I’m glad I know my numbers pretty well! Finally, we were all free to go and the school year was officially over.
While I am ready for summer and vacation, it’s a little surreal to know that my first year of teaching in Moldova has come to an end. I will miss my 9th grade students, who I’ve gotten to know pretty well over the course of the year. It was a year full of many challenges and also many rewards. My students, partners, and fellow teachers welcomed me with open arms and I am so grateful to them for such an amazing first year here in Moldova.