Turul Moldovei (Walking Tour of Moldova) 2017

Most of the group, with me and my host sister (in red) at our house before they headed out in the rain. (PC: Tatiana S.)

For the past couple of years (I’m not entirely sure when it started), a group of Peace Corps volunteers, along with Moldovan volunteers, have done walking tours through different parts of the country to promote peace, explore different areas of the country, and spread information about Peace Corps in Moldova.  This year, the group walked for six days through the southeastern part of the country.  Although I was not part of the walking group, I was very excited that they were walking through my region of Moldova, and I was happy to host them in my village towards the end of their trip.

A group of four volunteers (3 Peace Corps, 1 Moldovan) arrived at my village this past Sunday afternoon.  After a morning of walking in the rain, the weather had cleared up, and it was a nice afternoon (neither too hot or too cold).  After introductions with my extended host family (my host sisters, my host-brother-in-law, and three of my host nieces were visiting), most of them took a long nap.  This was their second-to-last day of the trip and they were very tired.  One of the volunteers, one of my good friends here in Moldova, decided to forego the nap and we hung out with my host nieces.

After every had a much needed rest, we hung out outside on my host family’s patio.  We had a delicious dinner with my host family, consisting of a potato, cauliflower, and squash dish, traditional “sarmale” (rice and veggies wrapped in cabbage or grape leaves and boiled), homemade bread, fried breaded zucchini, and more.  Of course, there was wine as well!  It was approaching dusk when we finished our meal, and we put on some music.  Several of the volunteers danced with my host nieces, who really enjoyed it.  Then, we headed inside to get to bed.

Discussing Independence Day with some students. (PC: Rebecca L.)
At my school with some students after our discussion. (PC: Chris F.)
Selfie! (PC: Chris F.)

On Monday morning, after a breakfast at my house, the rest of the volunteers joined us (they had stayed the night with another volunteer in a neighboring village), and we went together to my school to meet with students.  Only three students showed up (apparently, 9AM on a Monday was a little too early) so instead of a more formal meeting, we just had a conversation about the differences and similarities between Independence Day in the United States and Moldova, as well as about ourselves, our backgrounds, and what we hope to do in the future.

Waiting outside in the rain in front of the Casa de Cultura. (PC: Rebecca L.)
Visiting my village library, with both librarians, my host niece, and one of my students. (PC: Chris F.)
The “sala de festiva” (festival room) at my Casa de Cultura, during our visit. (PC: Chris F.)

After a photo with the Peace Corps flag, we walked the short distance to the Casa de Cultura in my village, where a smaller group of us visited the public library (my first time!) and admired the beautiful, renovated building.  We spoke with the librarians and handed out information about Peace Corps before taking a photo and a short tour of the library.

Fellow volunteer Rebecca, with the horse that often hangs out at the neighbor’s gate, before heading out. (PC: Chris F.)

Most of the volunteers left right after that, but two stayed to catch the rutiera (mini-bus) to their final destination (one had a foot that was hurting) in Stefan Voda.  After tea and snacks, I walked with them to the bus stop, where we met a group of people from my village, including one who spoke English very well (I had never met any of them).  They were very curious what a group of Americans were doing in our small village!

I had a really great time hosting everyone and showing them around my town!  I’m so glad they stopped by!

Running Errands

The front of the very old bus.
The front of the very old bus.

On Friday, I took a short trip to my raion center, Ştefan Voda, to run some errands with my host mom.  We boarded a very old bus, along with about 20 other people from my town.  It was a very chilly day, and the doors to the bus didn’t close all the way, so I was frozen by the time we arrived in Ştefan Voda just 30 minutes later.

These very well-behaved dogs patiently waited outside the pharmacy.
These very well-behaved dogs patiently waited outside the pharmacy.

Once there, we made our way to the local hospital, where my host mom had a doctor’s appointment.  The hospital seemed largely vacant and was made up of many very old, somewhat crumbling buildings.  There was one building that had “maternitate” (maternity) painted outside, but otherwise the buildings were poorly labeled or not labeled at all.  We entered an unlabeled door into a building that was in pretty rough shape.  The doctor’s office we then entered, however, was actually very clean, newly renovated, and had technology I wouldn’t have expected.  This is often the case in Moldova- buildings that look like they’re crumbling on the outside, hallways and stairwells that don’t look much better, and then very nice apartments or offices within.  The outside of the buildings rarely indicate the condition on the inside.  We waited for a while for my host mom’s turn.  A godmother to my host siblings was also there for an appointment.  It seemed that the appointments were first come, first serve and weren’t scheduled in advance.

A mural of Snow White at the art school
A mural of Snow White at the art school

After the doctor’s appointment, we walked to the center of the town and stopped at an art school to make some copies of documents.  The school, though by no means a new or newly renovated building, housed some pretty cool murals and we could hear a concert happening in another part of the building.  Students’ artwork was also displayed near the entrance.

Our last stop was to walk a fair distance to the piaţa (plaza).  Here we purchased a flower pot at a hardware-like store.  The store also sold things like plates, cooking ware, wallpaper, paint, tools, and even portable stoves and ovens.

We then made our way back to the bus and headed home.  One thing that struck me was that the passengers on the bus talked and joked with one another, which is generally not the case in Moldova.  I think perhaps it was different because they were all from my little town and therefore knew each other well, as well as being a shorter trip.

It wasn’t a particularly eventful trip, but it is the first time I’ve accompanied my host mom on errands outside of our town.  It was also my first time on a smaller bus in Moldova!  I was a little worried about how safe it was, but this is a normal mode of transportation here and clearly the bus manages to make it to our raion center and back every day, so I figured it would be okay, and it was.

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.

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 Bell at School

My sister and I my first day of 1st grade!
My sister and I my first day of 1st grade!

In Moldova, school generally starts on September 1st (unless, I’m assuming, September 1st falls on the weekend).  It’s a very different experience from the first day of school in the United States.  In the United States, you arrive at school, are shuffled to your classroom, and once you’re settled in, you start going over rules or expectations, or some basic classroom routines.  There might be an assembly with the rest of the students, but not always.

The first form students performed several songs/recited a really long poem!
The first form students performed several songs/recited a really long poem!

The first day of school in Moldova is a big deal, and it’s kicked off with a ceremony called “First Bell”.  The teachers had a short meeting in our faculty room, with wishes for success and a good year of school.  Then we headed outside, where all the students, as well as parents, were waiting in the courtyard.  All the students were dressed very nicely in uniforms- girls wore white shirts and blue or black skirts, while the boys wore dress pants, dress shirts, and ties.  The teachers and parents were all dressed very nicely as well.

The first form students with their first textbooks
The first form students with their first textbooks

Once everyone was organized by class, the ceremony began.  Two of the older students welcomed everyone, then the school director (like a principal) said a few words.  The Moldovan national anthem was played, and the flag was raised.  After, the first form (first grade) students were brought to the front steps of the school, holding hands with students from the ninth form.  First grade is the first year of school for students in Moldova, so this was their very first day of school.

The first form students parade around the circle before heading to their classroom.
The first form students parade around the circle before heading to their classroom.

A man from the regional educational agency handed out a few awards, and then it was my turn to speak.  As the newbie (and American), I had been asked to prepare a short speech in Romanian to present to the students.  I introduced myself, explained that I am a volunteer in the Peace Corps, and wished the students a year of success.  It was short and sweet, and a number of people told me I spoke very well!

The first form students head to their classroom
The first form students head to their classroom

After all of this, the first form students performed both a poem they had memorized and a couple of songs.  Then the second form students brought them their first textbooks.  At this point, one of the ninth form boys came forward, and he carried one of the first form girls on his shoulders as she rang the big bell to begin the school year, walking around the circle of students.  When she finished, all of the first form students walked around in front of the group of older students and parents, then headed to their classroom, and the rest of the students followed.

We had about 2 hours of class with our homeroom class.  This was mostly spent doling out classroom responsibilities, choosing electives, and figuring out the schedule.  We also spent a little bit of time playing some English games- hang man and a form of concentration.  The students asked me a couple of questions- they wanted to know if I had brothers or sisters, how old I was, and what my family name is (my last name).  They had me write my name and there was a short discussion about my first name (teachers go by their first name here).  Although Elisabeth isn’t too difficult for Moldovans to pronounce (minus the h at the end- they pronounce it Elisabet), the Moldovan version of the name is Elizaveta.  And we also explained Mrs. and Miss to them.  I have a feeling some of them will be calling me Mrs. Elizaveta.  We’ll see!

Around 11, students were released for the day and the teachers gathered in the cantina for a masa (special meal).  There were many toasts, and I was wished (to the best of my Romanian-understanding abilities): health, many years, that I will find a husband in our town and never leave, that I will stay with them many years, and much success in the school year to come.  And then, around 1, we all headed home!

It was a good first day and I’m excited to start teaching!