Goodbyes and New Beginnings

Ringing the COS bell
Many of the English Educators group ringing the bell to end their service.

This is my last post as a Peace Corps volunteer (PCV) in Moldova. As you read this, I’ll already be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, otherwise referred to as an RPCV, and be on a plane headed west. It’s so strange to think that I have spent the past 25 months here in Moldova and that my time here has come to an end. It has been a wonderful journey that I am so thankful to have had.

A last picture with my host mom and host nieces.

The last week has been full of bittersweet goodbyes. I will dearly miss my host family, who has supported and loved me as a daughter. I will miss my host nieces a lot as well- they’ve given me plenty of laughs and cuddles (and a handful of headaches). I will miss my colleagues at school, who helped me navigate a new environment and supported my projects and ideas. I’ll especially miss the two teachers that I taught beside for two school years, Ina and Liuba. They helped translate when I didn’t understand me, and I’m really proud of the work we did together and the friendships we developed. I’ll miss my students, who have been at the center of my work here. They are the ones who often made a bad day better and who made me smile and laugh when things were hard or I was missing home. I’ll miss this village and community, who opened me with open arms. I couldn’t have been placed in a better place, and I loved living in this small, quiet community. And I’ll miss Moldova, with its sunflower fields, bright sunsets, hot bus rides, and beautiful churches.

A surprise farewell party at the school.

The goodbyes have been hard, but I’m also ready for the next stage in my life. I’m so glad I spent the past 2 years here. Now it’s on to new things and new adventures (though to be honest I’m still figuring that part out). For now, I’m returning to my hometown and I’m looking forward to  spending time with my family, picking and eating quart upon quart of blueberries, going hiking in the woods, and kayaking down the river. I’m anticipating that the adjustment back to life in the USA might be a bit difficult and might take some time. Thank you to everyone who has followed along on this journey for the past 25 months! I’ll still be posting here (first up: my COS- or Close of Service- trip to Iceland with my family), so I hope you’ll keep reading!

“Around the World” Summer Day Camp

The participants with their diplomas sporting big “American” smiles

This past week we had an “Around the World in 5 Days” themed English summer camp at our school with students in 3rd through 5th grade. Each day, we “traveled” to a country on each of the continents (minus Antarctica), learned about the country, and did a craft and/or game inspired by that country. The students had passports that we glued stamps into each day after we “traveled” to the country. We had a lot of fun and a decent turn out, so I’d say it was a success!

Day 1: Making mosaics
Day 1: Valeria with her finished mosaic of a pizza
Day 1: The finished mosaics

On Monday, we traveled to Italy in Europe. We learned about Italy, talking about some of the popular places people like to visit, then created mosaics from paper, inspired by the famous mosaics of the Roman Empire. The students also received their passports for the week and their workbooks. We learned some English vocabulary, such as boot (the shape of Italy), canal, and bridge.

Day 2: Learning African drumming thanks to our guest Peace Corps volunteer, Anne
Day 2: Learning an African dance
Day 2: Filling out worksheets for vocabulary and fast facts about Senegal

On Tuesday, we traveled to Senegal in Africa. A fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Anne, joined us and taught the students some African drumming and dance, which the students really loved! After, we learned a bit about Senegal and some English vocabulary such as grasslands, savanna, and prehistoric.

Day 3: Doing the Hokey Pokey
Day 3: Playing Simon Says
Day 3: Making, and then unraveling, a human knot

On Wednesday, we traveled to two countries: The United States of America in North America and Peru in South America. Some vocabulary we learned included stars, stripes, prairie, rain forest, and guinea pig. We played some classic American children’s games outside, such as Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and the Hokey Pokey. It was a lot of fun!

Day 4: Our camp workbooks and passports
Day 4: Playing Simon Says with our guest volunteer, Alicia
Day 4: The students with the mandalas they colored

On Thursday, we traveled to Thailand in Asia. A fellow volunteer, Alicia, joined us. We learned about Thailand, including some favorite Thai foods and English vocabulary such as spicy and jungle. We did some simple meditation while the students colored mandalas and listened to some meditation music (I’ve never seen them be so quiet!). After, we played a children’s game from Thailand called “Stealing the Leaves”, which was fun!

Day 5: Making paintings inspired by Aboriginal dot painting
Day 5: Water balloon fight
Day 5: Our finished paintings

On Friday, our last day, we learned about Australia. After learned some interesting facts about Australia and looking at a bunch of photos, we made some paintings inspired by Aboriginal Dot Paintings. They turned out quite well! Since it was the last day, we then went outside and played games, including a water balloon toss and fight! At the end of the camp, we handed out diplomas and reflected on the camp.

I think the kids really enjoyed the camp and they learned a lot about some places and countries they didn’t know much about before. They even asked if there would be another camp next week! This was my last official project in Moldova, and the last time I will work with my students. Friday was a bittersweet day because of that, but I bought the two older students that helped a ton throughout the week some ice cream and we sat and talked for a while. These two students are in 6th grade and I only taught them for part of my time here, so I didn’t know either well before the past two weeks. I was so impressed by both of them and the camp wouldn’t have been so successful without their hard work!

“The Future is Ours” Summer Day Camp

My site mate Amir and I decided to go all out for our summer work this year and planned two one-week day camps for June. The first camp wrapped up this past Friday, and we had so much fun! The camp was a half-day camp about leadership with students in 6th through 8th grade. We had 24 students sign up but only about 8-10 showed up daily. Although a little disappointing, I think the students that did come really enjoyed it, and it was a success!

Day 1: What are our values?
Day 1: What are some of our skills?
Day 1: What are some of our skills? Individually? As a team?

Because our students are younger and have little leadership experience, we stuck to the basics and also made sure to include lots of team-building and fun activities as well. The first day we talked about our values and our skills. The students made posters about the values they had in common, such as family, health, friends, and peace. They also wrote poems about the camp. We chose the one we liked best and said it throughout the week (translated to English):

“We have a beautiful camp, Here we feel at home, We discover many things, And learn about everything. It’s summer camp, It’s hot outside, We are joyful, That we are here. We meet our friends, And talk with them day by day, We’ll do our best, We won’t return home!”

Day 2: What are some leadership qualities?
Day 2: Some examples of famous leaders
Day 2: Playing Simon Says

The second day we talked about what a leader is and some examples of internationally recognized leaders. We discussed the qualities of leaders and also named some people in our community who demonstrated those qualities and who are leaders in the community. We played some games outside as well. I was surprised to find out that these middle-school-aged kids were perfectly happy playing classic American kid games such as relay races, Simon Says, Red Light Green Light, and even dancing the Hokey Pokey! I guess for them these were just fun games and they were mostly new games for them! The students’ favorite activity of the day, however, was “The Number Game” where they had to try to count to 20 as a group without any communication or gestures (every time two people say the next number at the same time, it starts over at 1- it sounds easy but is actually quite challenging!). and the “Chair Activity” in which the students sit in a circle with their chairs close together then lay their head on their neighbor’s legs. The chairs are then removed from beneath them, and they have to see how long they can support one another without anyone falling.

Day 3: The “Chair Activity”- learning to support one another
Day 3: Playing a Moldovan volleyball game
Day 3: Building marshmallow and spaghetti towers

On Wednesday we discussed team leadership and solving problems. We did some fun activities this day as well, like the Human Knot (where everyone links hands with two different people and then have to “unravel” the knot so that they all form a circle again) and building marshmallow and spaghetti towers in teams. Another volunteer, Alicia, from a nearby village joined us this day, and the students taught us three Americans how to play a volleyball-based game, which was a lot of fun! The students really loved the “Chair Activity” in which students sit in a circle with their chairs close together then lay their head on their neighbor’s legs. The chairs are then removed from beneath them, and they have to see how long they can support one another without anyone falling.

Day 4: “Poisonous” Spider Web game
Day 4: Visualizing our dreams for the future (Mrs. Maia, our school accountant, is on the left and was our primary partner for the camp. She helped us a lot on this day helping explain why goals are important!)
Day 4: Confidence building activity by writing anonymous compliments on each other’s backs

Thursday was another fun day and we talked about setting and working toward our goals. The idea of having a plan for our lives and then taking active steps to achieve it is not very common in Moldova, so the students struggled with this part of the day quite a bit. Our main goal was for the students to understand that although our goals may change throughout our life depending on circumstances and our wishes, it’s important to think about where we want to end up and then take some small steps now in order to reach that dream. By the end of the day, the students demonstrated that they now understood the importance of having a plan and knowing what some steps might be to achieve their goals. Since it was a difficult lesson for them, we planned some less serious activities for the afternoon. They made summer bucket lists and did a photo scavenger hunt, which they LOVED. We also talked a bit about Self Confidence and wrote compliments on one another’s backs.

Day 5: Receiving diplomas
Day 5: Water balloon toss
Day 5: Water balloon toss- good thing it was really hot outside!

Our last day, Friday, was a more laid-back day. We reviewed what we had learned throughout the week and handed out diplomas, then headed outside for some games. After our snack break, we recited our poem once more and did the chair activity again. This time, they were able to hold the circle up for over 3 minutes! We then finished the day with a water balloon toss followed by a water balloon fight and a couple of team “photo challenges”.

Day 5: Photo challenge with the prompt “people dancing”
Day 5: Water balloon fight

It was such a great week! The students are begging my site mate to have another day camp later in the summer (I’m wrapping up my service and leaving in two weeks). It was a great way to finish up my time with my older students, and I’m so glad they enjoyed it so much! I definitely enjoyed it as well!

Here’s a video with even more photos from the camp:

Riding Rutieras

Image result for rutiera moldova sprinter
A typical, newer rutiera in Moldova (source)

Have you ever wondered what transportation is like in Moldova? As I approach the “finish line” of my Peace Corps service, I finally got some photos (albeit grainy cell phone photos) of the primary form of transportation in Moldova and especially for Peace Corps volunteers: the rutiera. I’ve probably mentioned rutieras once or twice before, since they are the transportation, besides walking, that I use the most.

Rutieras are “mini-buses” more commonly known in the United States as commercial sized vans. Most of them are Sprinter or Mercedes vans, which are then customized and outfitted per the drivers’ or owners’ preferences. While there are some fancy ones (one time I even got on one that had brand new leather seats, air conditioning!, and seat belts at every seat) most are well-used and not necessarily comfortable. Most rutieras have about 20 narrow seats packed pretty closely together, plus there’s extra standing room in the aisle. While they’re meant to hold around 20 individuals, I’ve been on ones with 30-40 people. In the middle of the summer. Without air conditioning. With the vents closed (Moldovans believe the “current”, or any moving air circulation, will make you sick). Let’s just say those situations are highly uncomfortable, sticky, and hot.

The interior of a rutiera, facing the front- you can note the signs, which are sometimes in Romanian and sometimes in Russian

While not necessarily comfortable, especially in the summer or when they’re very comfortable, they do have some positive attributes. Nearly every village in the entire country is connected to the capital with at the very least one trip there and back each day, though most villages and all larger towns have multiple trips per day. It’s also typical for there to be a rutiera trip to and from the raion (district) center each day. The rutieras usually are very regular and have specific departure times, plus you can wave them down along the route (you don’t have to board at the first stop in most cases). They’re also fairly reasonably priced, especially in comparison to American public transportation. Taking a rutiera in the capital to any other place within the city is only 3 lei or $0.18 USD. The rutiera from my village to the capital, 100 km away costs 47 lei or $2.79 for about a 2-hour one-way trip.

A fairly typical interior, facing towards the back, in an older rutiera- on the right side there are usually two seats side-by-side, and on the left there is usually one seat. The aisle is narrow but can fit a surprising number of people crowded together, and the last row consists of four tightly-packed seats.

My village has two rutieras that go directly to the capital each day. One leaves my village at 5:40 in the morning and leaves Chisinau (the capital) to return to the village at 1:40 in the afternoon. The other leaves my village at 5:50 in the morning and departs Chisinau at 2:50 in the afternoon. While not ideal as every trip to the capital means getting up by 5:00 in the morning and then a 4-hour round trip, I’m lucky that there are almost always seats available. Because my village’s rutiera routes are limited, I’ve gotten to know most of the drivers. When I returned home from the USA at Christmas, my host family was able to call the driver and tell him to be sure to pick me up at the airport (since it’s along our route) to bring me back to the village.

While I’m not sure I can honestly say I will miss travelling via rutiera, I will miss having the option of public transportation. It’s something the United States, outside of large cities, is lacking. And I do enjoy the naps that are really the only way to survive long rutiera rides!

International Festival of Ancestral Traditions, Straseni

The opening act of the festival- all other photos are of the dance ensemble from my village

On the last day of school, the founders and teachers at the music and dance school in our village casually mentioned they had a couple of spots left on the bus for that weekend if anyone was interested in going with the group to an international festival. Knowing that it was likely the last time I’d be able to watch many of my students, who are part of the dance ensemble, perform, I jumped at the chance!

I’ve written about my village’s dance and music ensemble, Ansamblul Vatra Satului, before. There are actually three levels of students at the school: the “little” group, the “middle” group, and the “big” group. For this festival, the “little” and “big” group performed. The students are in 2nd grade through 10th grade, and one of my favorite things in Moldova has been getting to see them perform!

The festival was held in a small park under the shade of trees. There were many groups that performed, mostly from Moldova but a few groups came from other countries as well. There was dancing, singing, instrument performances, and even some skits. We didn’t stay until the end, but I got to watch several groups before my students went on stage. They performed for about 15 to 20 minutes and did a really great job!

After our group performed, the kids had about an hour to play, walk around the park, and get some food and ice cream to eat at the various vendors. I joined the founders of the school (colleagues of mine at school- she is a primary school teacher, he teaches music), a married couple in their 40s and two of their music accompanists for some barbecued meat and beverages. It was a beautiful day and it was nice to relax outside!

I will miss Moldovan dance when I return to the USA. I’m not sure if I’ll get to dance the “hora” (Moldova’s traditional dance) again before I leave, but maybe I’ll have to attempt to teach some Americans back home how to do my village’s version! The video below is the only video I got- this is the dance the group ends every performance with. The conductor of the ensemble yells out “like us in Festelita!” and then they do this quick dance.