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!).

Life Lately in Moldova

This month has been a bit of a whirlwind, so here’s a bit of an update on my life.

design mom

I was featured on DesignMom.  

I’ve read this blog for a really long time, and was happy to share an overview of my day-to-day life here in Moldova.  You can check out the link here.

My host nieces, Sofica and Elisaveta helping set the table for "old" New Year
My host nieces, Sofica and Elisaveta helping set the table for “old” New Year

We celebrated the Orthodox New Year.

Moldovans celebrated the “Old” New Year on January 14th.  My host sisters and their husbands/families surprised us with a visit.  My host mom had been pretty sad that no one was coming to celebrate with us, and just after she said that, a car pulled up outside.  One of the traditions is to throw seeds (sunflower, birdseed, etc.) at one another along with wishes for success, health, and happiness in the new year.  Several groups of students also visited our door and received bread, candy, and money in return.

Volunteers and local partners during one of our training sessions
Volunteers and local partners during one of our training sessions

We had a training on planning for projects and writing grants.

This past week I went to the capital with one of the Romanian teachers from my school to participate in a Peace Corps training on project planning and grant writing.  It was a long week.  This is not at all my area of expertise, so it was a very exhausting 4 days of training.  Our school partners headed back on Friday afternoon and evening, but we had an additional session to meet with our country director, so we stayed until Saturday.

MallDova at night
MallDova at night

Visited MallDova for the first time.

Moldova has one large and very modern mall in Chisinau, which I visited for the first time this past week.  It’s huge and has a mix of clothing stores, stores for children, and even a huge food court.  I bought my first item of clothing in Moldova at LC Waikiki (a turtleneck sweater).  I was also able to find Dry Shampoo at the mall!  I am almost out of the supply I brought with me and thought I wouldn’t be able to find any in Moldova, so that was a very pleasant surprise!

Yummy pancakes with New York Pure Maple Syrup!
Yummy pancakes with New York Pure Maple Syrup!

Received some awesome packages from friends and family.

A group of my college friends got together and set me a package of my most missed food items from home, along with letters and drawings,.  I also got a couple of small packages my parents sent me and another college friend sent me a Christmas care package.  The package from my friends including maple syrup and pancake mix, so I made some pancakes this morning!  They were so yummy!

Life Lately in Moldova

A sunset from my front door.
A sunset from my front door.

After four months at site, I feel like I have finally settled in well and that my day-to-day life has begun to have a normal routine once again.  I wake up in the morning, throw on several layers of cold, my coat, and my host mom’s boots (several sizes too big, but they’re warm and water proof), an tread to the outhouse.  It’s gotten rather cold in there, but with my multiple layers, only my bum really gets cold.  I eat breakfast, get dressed, grab my bag and head out the door to walk to school.  At school, I teach my lessons, plan with my partner, and then walk back home.  The school is pretty chilly most days, but I’ve learned how to layer (tanktop, long sleeved shirt, dress, and cardigan on top; two layers of fleece-lined leggings or stockings, an additional thin pair of socks and high boots on bottom) and I usually don’t get all that cold.  I eat lunch, go online, and maybe do some work, draw, or read.  I eat dinner with my host mom, usually followed by a snack of sunflower seeds, ice cream, and hours-long conversation with her.  Then I go to bed or on occasion boil the water and bathe in my bucket.  To be honest, that doesn’t happen all that often.  I cuddle up under my blankets, grateful for the woodstove (soba) that heats the wall by my head and keeps me warm all night.

School is going more-or-less well.  We read, we translate, we discuss.  We learn new vocabulary.  Most of the students behave, some do their homework, and a few are “obraznic” (cheeky/naughty).  The younger students get very excited when I teach them how to sing Jingle Bells and the older students grumble when I ask them to repeat their response in English.  The students are shocked when I tell them after class and in Romanian that I didn’t know a single word of Romanian 6 months ago.  They count how many years they have learned English and then they are very impressed.  A couple of my 9th graders realize that I still can’t remember which student is which so they make a little cardboard sign and when I look their way to call on someone, they flip it up, revealing their names with arrows to help me out.  After just one day with the sign, I can remember both of their names without a problem.

The weather has gotten cold and the days have gotten short.  The sun doesn’t rise until after seven o’clock and sets before four-thirty.  I enjoy the rare moments when the sun is shining through my large window.  The sunsets are usually pretty, and sometimes they are absolutely stunning.

I’ve traveled around Moldova a bit more, seeing Ungheni in the north-west, Criuleni in the north-east, and much of Chisinau in the center.  Cathedral Park and Chisinau streets are gorgeous when the snow is falling down hard.  One day, I ate lunch in a small cafe that was fully-decorated for Christmas and had American Christmas music playing while watching the snow fall outside the window.

I speak Romanian more than I speak English, and sometimes when I talk to my parents in the United States, I start to say something in Romanian before I realize they won’t understand.  Other times, I respond to a teacher at school or my host mom in English before I’ve realized it’s the wrong language.

Overall, life is good here in Moldova.

A Look Back: The First Six Months

Today marks six months in Moldova.  I know it’s cliche, but it’s really, truly hard to believe that I have already been in this beautiful country for six months, for one half of a year.  I remember sitting on the plane as it took off from JFK airport and thinking, “I can’t believe I’m actually doing this!”.  I was excited and nervous and had no idea what was to come.  Here’s a recap of my first half year in Moldova.

Month 1: June.

june-2016-collage

We landed in Moldova and were greeted by Peace Corps staff and volunteers at the airport.  We then spent 2 days in Chisinau getting adjusted, then moved to our pre-service training sites.  I got my first bee sting while waiting to be taken to meet my host family, and broke out the med kit for the first time.  We met our host families, got settled into our new rooms, and used the four or five rehearsed Romanian sentences we had learned.  Over the next month, we spent our mornings learning Romanian and our afternoons doing technical trainings.  We gained new friends, sweated more than we ever had before in our lives, and struggled through long days of training.  We figured out the public transportation system and got more or less used to rutieras.  I use my first outhouse, and then my first public squat toilet (ew!).  I attended my first Moldovan wedding.  We visited three gorgeous monasteries.  We also visited the National Museum of Natural History and Ethnography.  We attended several hub sites, where we learned about health and security and received our rabies vaccines.  At the end of the month, we had our site announcements, when we found out where we would live for our two years of service!

Month 2: July.

july-2016-collage

We had our Site Team Conferences (with our school directors) and visited our sites for the first time.  I fell in love with Festelita and visited a nearby monastery.  We drew monsters in class, I spent a lot of time with my host brothers, and I laughed with my host mom about elephant green tea.  I visited Festelita again to meet my new host family.  I cut my hair, celebrated another volunteer’s birthday, and played with our kittens.  We began practice school, and we had our swearing in ceremony, officially becoming Peace Corps Volunteers.

Month 3: August.

august-2016-collage

We completed practice school and had a mini-carnival to celebrate.  I helped my brother harvest onions, went to the Chisinau zoo with my host family, taught my host mom how to play Uno, and learned to laugh at a number of small mishaps (my host family’s kitten falling into the outhouse hole, the same kitten getting in a fight and injuring his paw, and my host mom backing the car into the garage staircase).  We had our final language class (and tried not to cry).  Our language instructor, Galina wrote us poems and we had a crash course on Moldovan history.  I packed my bags and had one last celebration with my training host family.  We loaded up all our belongings and moved to our permanent sites to start our next chapter.  I spent many days in the school’s library and attended a school open house.  I adjusted to village life, got to know my new host family, and started taking bucket baths.  I also read over ten books in two weeks and celebrated Moldova’s Independence Day in Chisinau.

Month 4: September.

september-2016-collage

We had the first day of school, and I began teaching English.  I took a surprise day trip up north for my host niece’s baptism.  I continued to adjust to life in Moldova and in my village.  I experienced an earthquake, read many more books, and spent many hours alone.  I also spent each evening talking to my host mom after dinner.

Month 5: October.

october-2016-collage

I went to Chisinau for a Tech4Dev meeting and ATIP Auction and attended the National Day of Wine while there.  I went to my raion center for the first time, watched my students do traditional dances, and celebrated National Teacher’s Day.  I continued to teach English at school, and still had lots of free time.  I made another trip to Chisinau and spent time with my host mom’s sisters and daughters, as well as attended a luncheon at the Ambassador’s residence.  My host family continued to work on the kitchen and bathroom renovations, and I was attacked by our rooster several times.  I spent many cool nights bundled up in my blankets, thankful for our soba (stove), and spent many evening talking with my host mom over sunflower seeds and ice cream.

Month 6: November.

november-2016-collage

One of my partner teachers began her maternity leave and my schedule changed once again.  We had our fall vacation.  All of the M31 EE volunteers gathered in Chisinau for one week of IST (in-service training) for both language and technical trainings.  We learned the results of the United States election and cried and hugged each other, and then Moldova had its own elections.  I taught a few classes completely or partly on my own.  I ordered a new camera (hopefully arriving soon), and had less free time than before.  I called my grandparents on Thanksgiving, thus making my first international phone call.  I spent the weekend after Thanksgiving taking a surprise trip to Ungheni in the north to celebrate with other volunteers and drank plenty of house wine.  I made my first cookies in Moldova and shared them with my 7th grade classes as part of a lesson about making cookies.  Nina from Peace Corps came for my first site visit to see how things are going and I observed a Romanian lesson.  I got more comfortable teaching and felt like a real teacher again.

I’m so thankful that I’ve gotten to spend the past half year exploring the culture and landscapes of Moldova and that I get to spend another one and a half years here.  If the past six months are any indication, my time here is going to fly by more quickly than I can imagine!