Walking Through Fields

One of my favorite things about Moldova are the fields that stretch on and on in every direction.  There are corn fields, wheat and other grain fields, and sunflower fields.  Even though these fields surround my village and there are roads and paths that cross through them, I very rarely have walked through them.

On my very first visit to my village last summer, when I came here for just a weekend to check out this place I now call home, I walked with my host brother through the fields for an hour or two in the crazy heat.  It was then that I first thought, “I am so lucky that this is going to be my village!”  Although I’ve walked from my village to a neighboring village a few times with my host mom, we usually walk on more established roads.

Last week, over a year since I walked through the fields with my host brother last summer, I finally got to walk through some fields in my village again!  My sister was here and we were also joined by one of my volunteer friends (the three of us were heading to a nearby winery on our day off for Language Day).  Because I had never walked through these particular fields and we had a specific destination, my host mom, host sister, and host niece walked with us.

We started off by walking through our village.  As a group of six women, three of us with backpacks and clearly American, I’m sure every person we passed was wondering where in the world we were going.  At one point, my host sister commented that it seemed like the entire village was outside that afternoon and we’d be the talk of the town later in the evening.

Once we reached the outskirts of the village where the fields began, it was a much more peaceful walk without everyone watching us.  It was a beautiful, early-fall-like day, not too hot or too cold.  My host niece kept my sister and friend amused and busy.  We walked quickly for about an hour (we had a rutiera to catch on the other side of the fields), but still had time to pause a few times to comment on the beauty of the fields and sky.

Although the walk destroyed my almost-new sandals and my feet got disgustingly dirty, it will be a memory I’ll treasure: a beautiful late afternoon walk, perfect weather, clear skies, and fields stretching on in every direction.

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!

Travel: South Africa

Addo Elephant National Park

I just got back from an amazing 2 week trip to South Africa with my parents!  My sister is currently studying abroad there for a semester, and my parents were awesome and took me there as my graduation present.  I’ve mentioned before that my family loves to travel, and instilled that love in my siblings and I.  This trip was another trip of a lifetime, and I am so happy I was able to go before I embark on my new adventure in Moldova.  It was also an opportunity to see my sister one last time before possibly not seeing her again for two plus years.

I’ll share more specific details of what we did on our trip throughout this week (and possibly next week), but for now, I’ll provide an overview of our trip.  My parents planned this trip less than one month in advance, which is probably not advisable for most people, but is the norm and worked fine for our family.  Traveling to South Africa is not cheap, as tickets are very expensive.  I think our tickets were around $1,000 round-trip per person.  We didn’t plan lodging very far in advance, but you definitely want at least the first couple of nights planned before you land.  It is not like in the United States where you can easily drive down the highway until you see a sign with a hotel.  We ended up staying all but one night in places we found on airbnb.  We found this a relatively inexpensive and great way of finding places to stay, and would definitely recommend it.  However, if I were traveling alone or with friends my age, there are plenty of really cheap hostels as well that I probably would have utilized.  We stayed in various separate apartments most night, but stayed in someone’s home one night.  The only night we did not stay in an airbnb place was towards the end of our trip.  We were traveling with my sister, one of her friends, and their friend who was visiting.  We stayed in a backpackers there.  We rented a car for the entire trip, as we covered quite a lot of land and public transportation is very limited in South Africa.

We started our trip in the Cape Town area (stayed in Fish Hoek) for a couple of days, then headed on the Garden Route, ending up in Grahamstown (where my sister’s university is).  From Grahamstown, we took a 2-day trip to Hogsback, which is in the Eastern Cape, at the end of our trip.  We saw lots of coastline, visited several beaches, drove quite a bit, and saw some of the amazing wildlife found in Addo Elephant National Park.

This was our (approximate route):

south africa road-trip route

It was a trip that I won’t forget anytime soon, for sure!  Stay tuned for more details!

February Break at Home

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I was home this past week for our February break.  Usually my break lines up with my mom’s, who is a 2nd grade teacher, but this year, my break was a week later.  Oh well.  My brother came home the first weekend, and we all (well, minus my sister- she’s in South Africa for the semester!) went on a nice hike.  The rest of the week, I helped out in my mom’s classroom during math, watched lots of NCIS, relaxed, played my violin for the first time in about six months, and worked on a baby quilt (which I sadly didn’t get to finish).  I also ran into a man from my town that we just found out has been to Moldova a couple of times to advise a farmer there on better farming practices and such.  I ran track with and was friends with two of his sons during high school, so it was great to get to talk to him about the country I’ll be spending the next 2 1/2 years in!  He spoke very fondly of Moldova, and said he thought I would love it there, which is always great to hear.  I think it reassured my parents a bit too.

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I also sprained my ankle- thankfully, it was a very minor sprain.  I slipped on a bit of water in the hallway on my way to mom’s classroom and flew through the air while simultaneously twisting my ankle somehow- not really sure how that all happened, but it wasn’t too fun.  I even got to go to the nurse’s office- although I managed to convince her I did NOT need to go in the wheelchair.  I did that once in 3rd grade, and I didn’t care to repeat it as an adult (it was probably the same wheelchair!).  That time, I had hit my head pretty bad on the playground.  My mom was subbing at the school, and one of my classmates saw her and told her I was taken to the nurse in a wheelchair, causing my mom to panic and think I was badly injured.  I was actually fine, but the nurse was particularly cautious.  This time, my mom saw me fall and wasn’t too concerned about me.

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The weather was absolutely beautiful on Sunday, the day I had to drive back to college.  I think it reached the 60s and it was perfectly sunny!  Thankfully, I was able to spend a bit of time outside taking pictures on my film camera before heading back to campus.  Overall, it was a pretty decent break.  I didn’t really do a whole lot, and none of my friends were home, but I got to spend some quality time with my parents and brother, which is always nice.  Now back to the college grind!

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