Summer is Coming to an End

Outside the town library one day after English Club

We’re approaching the end of summer here in Moldova.  Next week, along with all of my fellow M31 volunteers, I have my mid-service conference (we’re past the mid-way point of our service!).  Next Friday, my sister is arriving for a week-long visit in Moldova, and the following Friday is our first day of school!

The weather has continued to be sweltering hot, but today is significantly cooler!  It looks like the rest of the week will be close to or below 90 degrees Fahrenheit, which is welcome after several weeks of 95 degree plus weather (including one day that reached 104 degrees!).  Today is a rainy, cool day and it feels a bit like fall.  I even wore a jacket on my way to my school this morning!

Yesterday was a beautiful clear day and I enjoyed a nice breakfast outside.

As school approaches, our grant project at the school is in full swing.  The walls and ceiling are in the process of being refinished and painted (they are plaster) and the floors are getting painted this week as well.  Then the furniture will go in, hopefully this week or next, and we can get our new technology installed and new and old books on the shelves!  I’m very excited to see it all come together!  I was a little worried it wouldn’t be completed before September 1st, but it looks like it might make it!

Behind those piles of dirt are 4-foot deep trenches for piping!

At the same time as the school library renovations are happening, there is also a bunch of other construction going on at my school.  My school was awarded a large grant (I wasn’t involved in this one) to get indoor toilets.  This is quite the project, as huge trenches have to be dug outside to put in pipes for water and waste, and a sewage system has to be installed, plus the actual bathrooms have to be built and outfitted.  Currently, it’s a maze to get into the school building due to all the trenches out front and to the sides.  The school has been working towards this project for a long time though, so I’m excited it’s happening!

I have two more weeks left of summer vacation, but I know they will fly by.  Between grant purchases and installation, summer English clubs, our mid-service conference, and my sister’s visit, I’ll be plenty busy!

Travel in Moldova: My Village

My host family with my parents
My host family, my parents, and me

After flying to Moldova, my parents drove their rented car to my village, where we spent the next three days.  This was one of the best parts of our trip, not because of all the cool sites we saw (although there were visits to our public library, my school, and walks to some sunflower fields) but because my American parents were able to meet and spend time with my Moldovan family and see the place that has been my home for a year.

My dad with one of my host nieces
My mom with another host niece

They got to see what my daily life is like, see firsthand how lucky I was to be placed with my host family, and visit the places in town I see every week.  They got to experience the joy of no running water (I usually do have running water and since living here, my host family has even installed an indoor toilet and shower, but there was a problem with our village’s water system while my parents were visiting, so it was all outhouse and bucket bathing for us!), eat the food my host mom prepares, play with my host nieces, and drink house wine.

Sunflowers on a drive through my village the first day
A dinner toast

Three of my young host nieces (ages 2, 4, and 7) were staying with my host parents when my parents were here, and we spent a lot of time playing with them and coloring.  Each night at dinner, I could barely get a bite to eat because I was so busy translating all of the conversations from English to Romanian and Romanian to English.  There were exchanges of gifts: my host parents gave my actual parents bottles of wine to take home and some little trinkets, my actual parents gave my host mom some oven mitts and an apron and my host dad a multi-tool.

My parents with the librarian and an assistant in the public library
My parents with the public librarian and an assistant, in the Casa de Cultura

We visited the public library, where my parents were treated like honored guests.  The librarian and an assistant presented them with the customary loaf of bread with salt, welcoming them and wishing them health and happiness.  We also toured the entire casa de cultura (cultural house), including the auditorium, music and dance school, and wedding hall, as well as the library.  After, we shared tea and cookies with the library staff.  Later, we visited my school and I got to show them where I spent a large chunk of time each day during the school year.

Our walk to the sunflower fields
Our walk to the sunflower fields
Overlooking my village

We walked through my village, and I showed them where the stores are, as well as the mayor’s office, preschool, sports fields, post office, church, and cemetery.  On our last evening, we walked to some fields at the outskirts of town to see the views of the village and the never-ending fields of sunflowers and wheat.  As we returned, we ran into one of the women who cleans my school and we chatted for a short while.

My mom, host mom, and the girls before saying goodbye

Though it was wonderful to see my parents interact with my host family, it was also a bit bittersweet.  When it was time to say goodbye, there were plenty of teary eyes.  We all knew that this is likely the only time my real parents and my Moldovan parents will ever meet.  I’ve been so incredibly lucky to have a host family that truly treats me as if I am their daughter.  As we said goodbye, my host mother thanked my parents for raising me in the way that they did, and my real parents thanked my host parents for welcoming me into their family and treating me so well.  And then we went on our way.

Balul Absolventilor (Graduates Ball)

The ninth graders awaiting their diplomas. (PC: Amir F.)

This past weekend, my ninth grade students had their “Balul Absolvenţilor”, or Graduates Ball.  This is a bit of a mixture between a graduation ceremony and prom.  It is also the last step for the students before they are truly finished with their mandatory schooling.  From my understanding, in many villages and towns these can be quite extravagant events, but because it was during the fasting period, my school’s celebration was a bit more laid back.

The teachers looking on as our school director wishes the graduates success and happiness in the future. (PC: Amir F.)

The students dressed up very nicely (girls in gowns, boys in collared shirt and tie/bow-tie) and their parents and teachers gathered with them in the school courtyard.  The evening started with a ceremony, and the students received their diplomas and did a few performances (some singing, poem recitations, and dancing).

This was followed by a masa (meal/party) inside for everyone.  Though it was supposedly a “simple” masa, it was still pretty extravagant- tons of food and drinks.  After some toasts and eating, the students went outside for a dance while the adults continued to eat and drink.  After everyone had plenty of time to eat, the adults were invited outside for dancing together with the students.  The music was traditional and popular Moldovan music, and there were several different hora (Moldovan traditional dance) dances.  After quite a while of dancing, everyone returned inside for round two of the masa and the students continued their dance outside.

The entire night was beautiful and memorable.  It was also a bit bittersweet.  After this summer, most of the students will go on to school or work in other towns, villages, and perhaps even countries.  I won’t probably see many of them much after this.  At the beginning of the year, this was a group of students that was a bit difficult.  But by the end of the year, I was comfortable teaching them and was quite proud of their accomplishments.  So I will miss them.

It was also bittersweet because it is one of the last big events in my village that I will experience as the only American.  In August, I will be joined in my village by another wonderful volunteer, who will be teaching health at my school.  Though I’m very excited to have a site mate and Amir, my new site mate, is really great, it was a little weird to realize that this is one of the last things I will experience “alone” at my site.  My new site mate was visiting this weekend to check out the village and attended the first part of the night (the ceremony part) but went back to his host family’s after the ceremony (and was very kind to send me the pictures he took since I didn’t take any).

I have a feeling this will be one of my favorite memories from my time here.  I had a great time and also felt a part of the community in a way I hadn’t completely felt before.

*All photos and videos by Amir F., used with permission.

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!

On Missing Home

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.