A Look Back: The Second Six Months

Today marks one year in Moldova.  This means I am close to half through my time here in Moldova.  The time has passed incredibly quickly.  Though not without challenges, my first year here has been a positive, amazing journey.  Here’s a recap of my second half-year in Moldova (you can find a recap of the first six months here).

Month 7: December.

I participated in Dressember, to raise funds and awareness about human trafficking.  I took a weekend trip towards the north and Criuleni for a yoga retreat with other volunteers, stopping on the way in Chisinau and checking out some of the tourist sites while the snow fell lightly.  I got used to the winter weather, spent many evenings eating sunflower seeds with my host mom and talking, and continued to bucket bathe (though much more rarely as it was cold!).  I went to my raion center (Stefan Voda) to run errands with my host mom on the oldest bus I’ve seen in Moldova.  We celebrated the holidays at school: I taught my 3rd and 4th graders “Jingle Bells”, my 4th grade students surprised me with balloons for my birthday, and we had a afternoon and night of festivities at the school, with songs and dance.  I spent Christmas Eve in Chisinau with some other volunteers and ate at a really nice Italian restaurant for my birthday.  On Christmas morning, I headed back to my village and celebrated my birthday with my host family, school director, and partner teacher and her family.  The next day, my colleagues at school surprised me with a beautiful birthday present.

Month 8: January.

I celebrated the New Year with my host parents at home, enjoying the fireworks many of the neighbors set off.  I attended the village’s Winter “Carnival”, which was like a variety show, with my host-niece.  We celebrated the old (traditional Moldovan) Christmas and New Year, complete with carolers coming to our house (mostly my students).  The bathroom was finished (though the shower didn’t work) and I no longer had to use the outhouse!  We had a big snowstorm and very cold temperatures for a week.  I walked to a nearby town with my host mom.  I participated in the Blogging Abroad New Year’s Challenge (my posts: 7 Ways Globalization Shows Up in Moldova; 5 Ways My Students Give Me Hope; Cheating? What’s That?; and Looking Beyond Our Assumptions) and was featured on Design Mom.  We had a conference on grants and projects in Chisinau, and I visited MallDova for the first time.  I received a big, amazing package from my friends with all my most-missed foods.

Month 9: February.

My partner teacher and I held “English Week” at school.  We also had our first “open lesson”, which is an observed lesson.  I observed a couple of “open lessons” as well, a homeroom lesson and a Romanian lesson.  The weather changed and spring approached. I visited my host sister in Boscana and some other extended family near there.  We celebrated Grigore Vieru, a famous Moldovan poet and writer, at school with an assembly.  I went to Stefan Voda with my host mom and nearly got frostbite.  I spent a weekend in Chisinau for a language training.  At school, we had “Festelita Are Talent” (Festelita Has Talent), celebrated Dragomete (sort of like Valentine’s Day), and started our weekly English Club.  Peace Corps week started, and I skyped with my mom’s 5th graders in the United States.

Month 10: March.

We finished Peace Corps Week: my students helped create a video, and I participated in a Peace Corps Week event in Causeni.  Marţişor, which is the holiday that welcomes spring in Moldova, was celebrated.  My English Education group of volunteers gathered at our fellow volunteers’, Champa and David’s, to enjoy Nepali food and American desserts.  We had a short spring break off from school and celebrated International Women’s Day.  We had “control” at our school- which is essentially an audit and a week of observations.  I completed and submitted my VRF, which is the document that Peace Corps uses to monitor our successes and work in country.  My host mom and I went to my school director’s birthday party.  I spent a day in Chisinau for mentor training for the new group of volunteers.  The weather was beautiful and warm!  My partner teacher, Ina, returned from her maternity leave.

Month 11: April.

I went to Chisinau for a weekend to celebrate a fellow volunteer’s birthday and enjoy the gorgeous weather.  My host niece, Valerica, visited for a few days.  My English Club at school skyped with a friend’s 3rd grade class in the United States.  We enjoyed gorgeous spring- and even summer-like weather.  Tracey, our Peace Corps Moldova country director, visited my school and came to an English Club meeting.  My school and I worked on and submitted a grant proposal for a Peace Corps SPA grant.  I enjoyed Easter Break, and celebrated both Easter and Memorial Easter.  I walked with my host mom and visited her sister, who had a baby calf!  We had a huge, late snow storm that caused wide-spread damage throughout Moldova and left us without power for 2 full days.  Good weather returned quickly.  I went to Chisinau again with a partner from school (a Romanian teacher) to present our grant proposal (and we were awarded the grant!) and also visited my host sister in Boscana.

Month 12: May.

I spent a lot of time outside on the wooden swing my host dad built.  We celebrated Labor Day (which was uneventful in my village) and Victory Day (celebrated by all of the students gathering by the monument in our village, a few gun salutes by veterans, and flowers laid by the monument).  I took a mini-vacation within Moldova with my friend and fellow volunteer Andrea.  We visited the Victory Memorial and Eternal Flame monument and park in Chisinau and attended the opening of a new Himalaya Restaurant, along with a number of other volunteers.  The following day, we went on a guided tour to Curchi Monastery and Orhei Vechi.  I wrapped up my English Club for the school year with a competitive game of Jeopardy.  School began to wrap up with end-of-year exams and restless students as well as a Saturday day of classes in the form of a Day of Sports.  I helped my host mom harvest flowers from locust trees (used to make tea) and we took an afternoon trip to a nearby town’s hram (where we met up with fellow volunteer Erika).  I ate the first strawberries of the season and helped my host mom pick locust flowers to make tea with.  And, finally, the school year ended with the Last Bell Ceremony.

It has been a pretty good first half of this Peace Corps journey!

A Busy Week

4th grade students making up their post-test.

May always seems to be one of the busiest months of the year in the United States, and it seems to be the same here as well.  School wraps up, summer-like weather beckons us outside, and there are various events to celebrate.

My “9-A” class on our last day together.
My “9-B” class on our last day together.

This past week was a busy week.  We had post-tests in 9th, 6th, and 7th grade classes.  We had our final lessons with our 9th grade students, who I will miss next year as they go on to high school, professional/vocational schools, or work.

One of the adorable kittens we visited.

On Thursday, I went with my host mom to Ermoclia, the next town over.  We enjoyed a masa (meal) with her nașii (wedding godparents).  They had two tiny kittens, which were very cute!

The monument in the center of Ermoclia.

Then, we walked to the center and met up with my fellow volunteer and friend, Erika, who lives there.  Together, we enjoyed some of the hram (village day) activities that were taking place in the center.  There was a wrestling competition- with the champions being awarded roosters or a sheep!  By the casa de cultura (culture house), there were different rides and such set up for kids, and we bought a stick of lemon-flavored cotton candy (yum!).  We also visited the monument in the center, which honors the men who lost their lives in the military.

The Praznic service at the church in our town.

Saturday night, I joined my host mom and sister at our village church.  They were there for a praznic, which is a church service that blesses the souls of loved ones who have passed. The service is very long (over 6 hours!), so I only stayed for the first part.

I have a few tests left to correct and grade this afternoon.  We have lessons tomorrow and Tuesday, and then Wednesday will be our last day of school!  From what I understand, we will not have lessons, but everyone will come to school for an end-of-year concert and assembly.  The celebrations supposedly vary from school to school, so I’m excited to see what it will be like at my school.

Life Lately in Moldova

The past month has been pretty busy, with lots of longer and shorter vacations.  Here’s what I’ve been up to lately.

Doing an activity in English Club.

I continued my English Club. This has continued to be a success, and we’ll be wrapping up the club soon for the end of the school year.  Many of my favorite moments and memories have come from this club, which I’ve really enjoyed.

My country director, Tracey (far left), with my English Club.

Our country director visited my village. My country director, Tracey, visited my village and attended a meeting of our English Club, along with a fellow volunteer from a nearby village.  My students had a number of questions for both of them, and it was nice for my two “jobs”, Peace Corps, and my work at my site, to combine.

We had our Easter Break.  This is the second longest break of the year, and I was very ready for it.  I spent the entire break at site with my host family relaxing.

My host sister, bathed in candle light

We celebrated Orthodox Easter. My first Easter in Moldova was full of learning about different traditions and celebrations.  It was pretty laid-back, just my host parents, one host sister, and I.

Moldova was hit with a heavy and very late snowstorm.  The snowstorm caused a lot of damage, and we were without power at my host for over two full days.  It was a pretty boring two days.  Thankfully, the warm weather returned quickly and the damage in my area wasn’t as bad as expected.

Memorial Easter Masa

We celebrated Memorial Easter. This usually involves going to the cemetery and eating and drinking wine, but because of the snowstorm, my town’s celebration was moved to the church and a simple service (which I didn’t attend).  After, we had a small masa with a teacher from the school who lives alone.

Doamna Valentina, my project partner, interviewing our students in preparation for our grant proposal presentation.

We completed and submitted our grant proposal.  My school and I worked really hard to get our grant proposal together, and I presented the proposal with a Romanian teacher from school.  We are very happy that our proposal was accepted and we were awarded the grant!  There are a few things to finalize money-wise, and then we can start our project of renovating and modernizing our school library, which is very exciting!

Moldova celebrated Labor Day and Victory Day. Labor day was a simple day off in my village, but all of the teachers and students gathered at the school then walked to the village’s monument, where we placed flowers on the monument, some veterans did a gun salute, and then we all returned home.

Orhei Vechi Valley

I visited Curchi Monastery, Orhei Vechi, and spent some time in Chisinau. It was a really wonderful mini-vacation.

Life Lately in Moldova

Green grass, freshly planted gardens, and sunshine; view from our courtyard.

Enjoying Spring: The weather has been absolutely gorgeous outside the past few weeks.  There have been a handful of cooler or rainy days, but for the most part, the days have been warm and sunny.  The winter wasn’t really that long or hard compared to winter in upstate New York, but my mood has definitely been lifted the past few weeks.  Our time changed two weeks after the time change in the United States, so I feel I’m still adjusting to that slightly, but it’s nice that it’s bright in the mornings and evenings now.  Last night we had the first pretty big thunder and lightning storm I’ve seen since coming to Moldova.

The view from the balcony of Peace Corps- flowering trees and green grass.

A Mini “Vacation” to the Capital: This past weekend was busy but good.  I went to the capital to celebrate a fellow volunteer’s birthday party.  While there, I also did a ton of walking and went clothes shopping with another volunteer.  I am not a fan of clothes shopping, especially when I really need something specific, so I was glad to have a friend to go with.  Thankfully, after visiting several stores and lots of walking to those various stores, I did come home with some new clothes.  This was one of the first times I’ve shopped for clothes here, and from what I can tell, a lot of the popular styles seem to be similar to those in America (though I suppose now that I’ve been out of the US for 10 months, those styles may have changed).  Clothes are quite expensive here (especially when you look at people’s salaries) and the quality isn’t great, but you can usually find most things you need without too much of a problem.  To give an idea on prices: I paid the equivalent of about $25USD for a pair of jeans, $10USD for a pair of sweatpants, and $23USD for a dress.  All were on sale.

Our night consisted of a large group of volunteers playing board games.  It was a lot of fun (even if I’m really quite bad at Trivia Pursuit!).  We even had American-style cake with the most delicious chocolate frosting (a rarity here).

Reading in the volunteer lounge.

On Sunday, I went to brunch with some friends and then hung out at the Peace Corps headquarters.  Our volunteer lounge is a couple of floors up and has slanted ceilings and low windows.  It’s really quite cozy and yesterday, I spent some time curled up on a comfy couch in a quiet corner, reading a book while a nice warm breeze came in through the window.

Playing with my host niece. Photo cred: Tatiana S. (my host sister).
Me with my host niece. Photo cred: Tatiana S. (my host sister).

A Visit from My Host Niece: I returned home Sunday afternoon and caught a rutiera along with my host sister and host niece.  When we got home, I played outside with my host niece for awhile.  It was the perfect weather and I was happy to spend some more time outside! A couple of my students walked by while I was doing some exercises with my host niece.  They looked surprised to see me, though maybe it was just because it was the first time they’ve seen me wearing sweatpants!

Skyping with “America”: The last month has been busy with school and secondary projects.  My English Club is still going strong, and we even had a special event where we skyped with my friend’s 3rd grade class in the US.  My students were shocked by how large American classrooms are, that the English alphabet has only 26 letters (the Romanian alphabet has 33, according to my students), and that the students were sitting on the floor (wouldn’t they get dirty??).

Project and Grant Writing: I’ve also been working with a team of individuals from my school to write a grant and project proposal.  The application is due next Saturday, so we’re definitely spending a lot of time weekly working on it!  We’re hoping to renovate, rearrange, and modernize our school library, as well as update our book selection (almost all of the books we currently have are written in Cyrillic, either in Russian or in Romanian, and are from the Soviet Era).

I think that pretty much wraps it up!

Life Lately in Moldova

Today marks seven months of living at site, here in my little village.  The time has passed so incredibly quickly.  We’re beginning to prepare to welcome the new group of volunteers in June, and most of us can’t believe we’re approaching the one year mark.  When we were preparing to come to Moldova, as the new group is likely doing now, we looked at the volunteers who had come a year before us and thought they were so wise, so integrated, and knew everything about Moldova and service here.  While we certainly know much more than we did then, we’re still learning, still working on feeling truly integrated, still surprised by little things now and then.  On that note, here’s what I’ve been up to lately:

On the way to church in Boşcana. Churches here are almost 100% Eastern or Russian Orthodox, and women are required to cover their hair with a scarf.

Took a little trip with my host mom.  We visited my host sister and her husband at my host sister’s mother-in-law’s house in Boşcana, slightly north of Chişinău.  It was a nice visit and then the following morning we went to church then visited my host aunt and her family that live nearby.  Everyone was welcoming to the “American” and I had a good time.

Observing an open lesson on the Holocaust in 6th grade

Observed a couple of “Open Lessons”.  Here in Moldova, every year teachers have to have “open lessons” where other teachers and administrators observe their lessons.  I observed a homeroom class where they discussed the Holocaust and a Romanian lesson.

Not from our open lesson, but playing “Concentration” in our 3rd grade class last week

Taught an “Open Lesson”.  My partner teacher and I taught our first open lesson together last week.  It went pretty well, but I dislike that you are expected to essentially put on a performance.

Visited our raion center.  Moldova is divided into different districts called ‘raions’.  Each raion has a town that is called the center.  I usually compare the raion center to a county seat, but they’re a bit more important.  The raion center usually is the biggest town in the raion and you can find larger grocery stores, banks, hospitals, and high schools there.  My host mom and I went in the hopes of getting my boots fixed (they need new heels) but the cobbler was closed.  It was a very, very cold day- I thought I might get frostbite!  Thankfully, I escaped with just a bit of windburn.

Started an English Club!  I began an after-school English Club with students in grades 7, 8, and 9.  I had so much interest, I’ve had to split the students into three different (mixed grade-level) groups that meet three days after school.  I have about 40 students come each week, and we’ve had fun learning conversational English and about American culture, traditions, and life.  This week we learned about greetings and the importance of handshakes in American culture (see the video above that we made for Peace Corps Week).  Here in Moldova, only men generally greet each other with a handshake, so we practiced doing firm handshakes with everyone.

Assembly honoring Grigore Vieru

Attended various school activities.  We had a small concert to celebrate Grigore Vieru, a prominent Moldovan poet, on his birthday.  We also held “Feşteliţa are talent” (Feşteliţa Has Talent) with the students.  Students could perform poems, dance, sing, or play instruments. The three top winners will go on to “Ştefan Vodă are talent” (Ştefan Vodă Has Talent; Ştefan Vodă is our raion center).  The winners were a 9th grade girl who recited a poem, a 9th grade boy who played the pan flute, and a 2nd grade girl who sang a traditional Moldovan song.

Went to Chişinău for a Language Training.  Peace Corps had a mandatory Romanian training for English and Health Education volunteers.  We spent the weekend in the capital and worked on improving our Romanian as well as learning about spring in Moldova.

Moldovan and American Women reciting “Phenomenal Woman” for Peace Corps Week and International Women’s Week celebrations in Căuşeni  (photo cred: Biblioteca Publica Raionala Causeni)

Celebrated Peace Corps Week.  To celebrate Peace Corps week, celebrated worldwide, I skyped with my mom’s 5th grade students in the United States and participated in a large event celebrating both Peace Corps Week and International Women’s Month in Căuşeni, a nearby town.  Fellow PCV Anne did an amazing time putting together the celebration, complete with awards, American, Moldovan, and African dance, African drummers, Moldovan theater, and poetry.  Some highlights were: a group of mothers in Căuşeni learned and performed African dances, volunteers shared about their work in Moldova, children that are a part of a “Dance and English” group performed a dance and sang in English, and the recitation of “Phenomenal Woman” by Maya Angelou by both Moldovan women (speaking in English) and American female volunteers (speaking in Romanian).

Our Nepali dinner with fellow English Education M31 volunteers (photo cred: David J.)

English Education Volunteer gathering in Ialoveni.  David and Champa, fellow Peace Corps volunteers, hosted our English Education group for a Nepali dinner at their place in Ialoveni Raion.  The food was delicious, dessert amazing (brownies, apple pie, and pound cake!!), and we enjoyed getting together.

It’s been a busy couple of months and the coming months will be busy as well, as the school year comes to a close and we welcome the new group of volunteers (I’ll be one of the mentors, so I’ll be pretty busy with that!).