Riding Rutieras

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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.

Ultimul Sunet (Last Bell) 2018

The beginning of the ceremony, which was moderated by two 8th grade students
The raising of the flag and national anthem
The primary students wait for the ceremony to begin

As I mentioned in my previous post, last week was the last week of school in Moldova. I’ve written about the last day ceremony, called Last Bell, before. This year’s Last Bell was similar, but the graduating 9th graders were different.

The 9th “A” class entering with their homeroom teacher
The 9th “B” class entering with their homeroom teacher

The ceremony started with all of the students and teachers gathering in a horseshoe shape in the courtyard in front of our school. Once everyone was was in place, the 9th grade students entered the courtyard from the school, accompanied by their homeroom teachers. The same homeroom teacher stays with a group of students from 5th to 9th grade, and the relationship is supposed to be very close between the students and their homeroom teacher (the students also stay together usually from 1st grade until they graduate in 9th grade).

The 1st grade students reciting a poem
The entire 9th grade class

There were the typical speeches, by a police officer from our raion (district), a representative from our raion’s department of youth and sport, and our school director. Certificates were handed out to many students for participation in various activities and for academic achievement. The 1st grade students recited a long poem.

Me being presented with a diploma and a speech by the director
My partner teacher thanking me for my time here and giving me notes from the students
An 8th grade student reciting a poem she had written for and about me

Since this was my very last official day at school, I was also honored during the ceremony. I was given a certificate and my partner teacher Liuba gave me a packet of notes and drawings from my students. One of my 8th grade students, Maria, wrote and recited a touching poem in English thanking me for coming here. Unfortunately, nobody got a full video, but it was very sweet. I did my best not to cry, but my eyes did tear up a bit.

The 9th graders performing a dance
The 9th graders performing a dance
The 9th graders performing a dance

The 9th grade students generally prepare dance/song performances and recite poems as part of the ceremony. A small number of them did a nice dance, one of the girls sang a song that is often used to thank teachers, and they recited a poem. There were two 9th grade classes this year, and one of the classes prepared a very touching (all of the women and girls in the crowd definitely teared up, as did several of the boys in the class) tribute to their homeroom teacher, Valentina.

9th grade students doing a touching tribute for their homeroom teacher
9th grade students doing a touching tribute for their homeroom teacher

They asked Doamna Valentina to stand in the middle of the courtyard, and then each student approached her, gave her a flower, hugged her, and gave her one end of a ribbon. This was accompanied with a short “the first candle is for…” thanking her for various things. This continued until she held one end of a ribbon attaching her to each of the students in her class. They then asked her to cut the ribbons, leaving part with her and the other part with each of the students. This was followed by a group hug and lots of tears.

The last bell being rung by a 1st grade student on the shoulders of a 9th grade student

The ceremony ended, as always, with the ringing of the final bell of the year. This is done by a 1st grade girl on the shoulder of a 9th grade boy. Then students went inside for their last homeroom class then went home. I spent some time in both of the 8th grade classrooms, then I also headed home to change for the teacher’s barbecue in the forest on the edge of our village.

The teachers celebrating the end of the school year with a barbecue in the woods

The teachers gathered together to eat, drink, and celebrate the end of another year. We went to the forest this year, and everything was very delicious and everyone was very relaxed. We had a lot of fun and stayed for over 6 hours! It’s a day I doubt I’ll ever forget.

Last Days as a Teacher in Moldova

The second graders: I actually only taught half of these kids, but we did a combined lesson on the last day.
Half of the second graders I taught this year.

This past week I wrapped up my time as an English teacher in this wonderful country of Moldova. For the past two years, I have taught English to 262 students in 2nd through 9th grade alongside my two amazing partner teachers, Ina and Liuba. I have spent at least 1,600 hours at school teaching and planning with my partners. I couldn’t have asked for a better placement: I have loved my school, my community, and my village.

One of the 3rd grade classes that I taught this year.
The other 3rd grade class that I taught this year.

My students weren’t always well-behaved, didn’t always do their homework, and sometimes wouldn’t stop chatting when they were supposed to be quiet, but every second was worth it, and I loved working with them.

The fourth grade class. I only worked with half of them this year, but worked with all of them last year.
One of my 5th grade classes. I worked with them both this year and last year.

When things got tough (and when you’re a Peace Corps volunteer, there are plenty of tough moments), they reminded me of why I am here and encouraged me, made me laugh, or just happened to say something I really needed to hear.

My other 5th grade class. I also worked with them both this year and last year.
My 7th graders. I worked with them both years.

When I think of leaving in just over a month, I tear up thinking of saying goodbye to this village, but especially to these kids. So many of them are motivated, talented, and hard-working, and I’m sad that I won’t get to see them grow up or how their lives unfold. I hope that each of their futures are full of happiness, success, and that they know how much I enjoyed working with them.

One of my 8th grade classes (about half the students escaped before I could get a picture- though it appears the whole class is girls, there are 3 boys as well). I worked with these students both years, and many of them came to English Club.
My other 8th grade class. I worked with them both years and several of them came to English Club as well.

On the last couple of days of lessons, we played some games, sang, and had fun. I took a picture with each of my classes, though apparently a lot of students just don’t show up the last week of school, so a lot of students are missing. I’ll miss them so much!

*Not pictured: the current 6th grade students that I taught last year as 5th graders (I didn’t teach them this year), the current 9th graders (I only taught them for 2 or 3 months last year when they were in 8th grade and didn’t teach them this year, but several of them came to my English Club), and both of the 9th grade classes I taught last year (they’ve since graduated from our school and moved on to high school, vocational school, or work). 

A Look Back: The Fourth Six Months

Today marks two years in Moldova! I almost can’t believe it! In some ways, it seems like just yesterday that I was getting off the plane in Chisinau and taking my first steps on Moldovan soil, while in other ways it seems like a long time ago. This last quarter of my time here has been filled with its share of both ups and downs. According to the “cycle of vulnerability” as a Peace Corps volunteer, this is apparently quite normal. I still a little over one month left here, but I’m sure that time is going to pass quickly. The past 6 months have been a whirlwind of emotions, both excitement that I’ll soon be returning home, eating American food, and spending time with my friends and family, and sadness that I’ll be leaving this beautiful country and its wonderful people behind. In particular, I’ll miss the abundance of fresh fruit and veggies in the summer months, the sunflower fields that stretch on forever, my host family, my teaching partners, and my students. I know it’s almost time to move on to the next chapter of my life, but it is definitely bittersweet. Anyway, here is the recap of my fourth six months in Moldova (you can find the recap of the first six months here, the second six months here, and the third six months here).

Month 19: December.

At the beginning of the month, I accompanied the dance ensemble from my village to an international talent competition in the capital, spending the day with my students and their dance instructors. I observed a Russian lesson with 8th grade students and didn’t understand a word. In English Club, we did a US state poster project, which the students got really into. We had some gorgeous sunsets, as well as our first light snowfall. We celebrated Sfantul Andrei, and I attended a Christmas/New Year concert, also with the dance ensemble, in our raion center, and spent a morning in the capital with my host mom and her friend, Natasha. I spent Christmas at home in upstate New York with my family, with two weeks packed with holidays, celebrations, and spending time with family and friends.

Month 20: January.

The month started off at home in the US, skiing and hanging out with my grandparents, family, and friends. The trip back to Moldova was a bit of a terrible adventure, when I got stuck in the JFK airport for over 24 hours. Celebrated Moldovan Christmas at home with my host family, and welcomed carolers and seed-throwing kids to welcome in the New Year. One of my 8th grade classes sang Happy Birthday to me on the first day back to school.  Celebrated Mihai Eminescu Day outside in freezing temperatures. Went with one of my partner teachers to meet a man who is bed-ridden and who really wanted to meet the “American” in the village, had a really great conversation with him. Had our first heavy snowfall, and even a snow day! Was ambushed by some neighborhood kids by snowfalls and fistfuls of snow. Lost power and spent a night in candlelight. Had our COS (close of service) lottery and found out when I’d be going home.

Month 21: February.

The snow started to melt a little. Celebrated English Week at school and taught an open lesson with my partner teacher. Wore my hair down to school for the first time and got lots of compliments. Attended a 100 Days celebration with 1st grade students and stayed for a masa afterwards. Attended my host cousin’s wedding, and danced with my host nieces. Accompanied two students and my site mate to a GLOW mini-camp in the capital. Every student in one of my 8th grade classes did their homework (a first!). Kicked off Peace Corps Week with a mini “International Film Festival” with our students, showing short videos made by volunteers from all over the world. Spent much of the month relaxing and hanging out at home.

Month 22: March.

We continued Peace Corps Week with a video-chat with a class in the United States and inviting several other Peace Corps volunteers to come speak to our students about where and what home is to them. Both events were a big success! We celebrated Martisor, as well as International Women’s Day both at school and in the community with a big concert. Had “control” or an audit at school and helped my partner teachers prepare food for the guests one day. The first flowers started showing up in the garden, and we celebrated my host mom’s birthday.

Month 23: April.

The village prepared for Easter, and students got out of lessons early one day to do a village clean-up. We celebrated Easter by going to church early in the morning and then eating and sleeping the rest of the day. My host niece, Valerica, visited and we spent a lot of time playing together. Ate cake for Valerica’s 8th birthday. We celebrated Memorial Easter (in memory of loved ones who have passed) at the cemetery and at our house with a meal after. The flowers began to bloom in full force, and the fruit trees blossomed. Met with the Parent’s Association to make plans for a summer day camp, and got their approval! Went to my partner teacher Liuba’s birthday party, and had a lot of fun.

Month 24: May.

Started off the month at our COS (close of service) conference with my fellow volunteers. Victory Day was celebrated in my village with a short ceremony at the World War II monument and students and community members placed flowers around the monument. Ate the first strawberries of the year, and picked cherries. Had an “American masa” with my English Club to thank them for coming so regularly throughout the past two years- we ate a lot of yummy American foods. Attended Peace Corps Moldova’s 25th anniversary celebration along with my partners and school director. Had my last lessons with my students and celebrated Last Bell, the celebration that marks the end of the school year, and further celebrated with a barbecue in the woods with my fellow teachers.