Life Lately in Moldova

Peace Corps Moldova

I was awoken at 2:30 in the morning last night to an earthquake.  This morning, I found out the epicenter was in Romania, and it was a 5.5 earthquake.  The room shook pretty good, but nothing in my room fell at all.  And it was pitch black, so I wasn’t able to see anything.  I just stayed in bed under several layers of blankets (it’s cold here at night!), and when it finished, promptly fell back asleep.  I think under normal circumstances, it might have alarmed me more, but I was so tired, I wasn’t really processing what was happening.

In other news, I’ve read 5 books in the past week.  Despite working and teaching and planning, I have wayyyy too much free time on my hands.  I’m hoping to fill that time soon with an English club or other club with students, but I’m still figuring out what they want and need, so it’ll be a bit until I start that.  Although I’m bored, I do love that I’ve rekindled my love of reading and that I have the time to read for fun.  I’ve read almost 15 books since arriving here, and I think that’s more than I had read in the 2 years prior to that.  I had gotten some books from the Peace Corps lounge, but now that I’ve made my way through them, I’ve been very happy to have a tablet that I can use with e-books.  I still prefer a real book, but it sure is convenient to have an e-reader!

The weather is finally feeling like fall!  This past week was actually rather cool, and I even wore lined stockings one day!  I think after the hottest summer I’ve ever experienced, my body is having more trouble adjusting to the cool weather.  At night, it’s been quite cold.  My host mom has mentioned that she’s never started heating the house with the soba this early, but that she thinks she might have to, as it has been freezing in the house at night.  I’ve been pretty comfortable with a big pile of blankets and a couple of layers of clothes.  I’m really glad I was able to squeeze my favorite blanket from home into my suitcase.  It’s warm and has been keeping me warm for the past 10+ years, and it seems to be doing the job just as well now.  The only problem is staying warm if I need to make a late-night trip to the outhouse (and I know it’s only going to get colder) or when I have to climb out of my warm nest in the morning- brr!

I am seriously craving “American” foods, namely my mom’s cooking (especially mac and cheese!).  I also really want to bake.  I’m trying to figure out how to make chocolate chip cookies without brown sugar.  I’ve heard it might be possible to get brown sugar in Chisinau, but haven’t had time while there to see.

I think that’s all for my rambling thoughts.

First Bell at School

My sister and I my first day of 1st grade!
My sister and I my first day of 1st grade!

In Moldova, school generally starts on September 1st (unless, I’m assuming, September 1st falls on the weekend).  It’s a very different experience from the first day of school in the United States.  In the United States, you arrive at school, are shuffled to your classroom, and once you’re settled in, you start going over rules or expectations, or some basic classroom routines.  There might be an assembly with the rest of the students, but not always.

The first form students performed several songs/recited a really long poem!
The first form students performed several songs/recited a really long poem!

The first day of school in Moldova is a big deal, and it’s kicked off with a ceremony called “First Bell”.  The teachers had a short meeting in our faculty room, with wishes for success and a good year of school.  Then we headed outside, where all the students, as well as parents, were waiting in the courtyard.  All the students were dressed very nicely in uniforms- girls wore white shirts and blue or black skirts, while the boys wore dress pants, dress shirts, and ties.  The teachers and parents were all dressed very nicely as well.

The first form students with their first textbooks
The first form students with their first textbooks

Once everyone was organized by class, the ceremony began.  Two of the older students welcomed everyone, then the school director (like a principal) said a few words.  The Moldovan national anthem was played, and the flag was raised.  After, the first form (first grade) students were brought to the front steps of the school, holding hands with students from the ninth form.  First grade is the first year of school for students in Moldova, so this was their very first day of school.

The first form students parade around the circle before heading to their classroom.
The first form students parade around the circle before heading to their classroom.

A man from the regional educational agency handed out a few awards, and then it was my turn to speak.  As the newbie (and American), I had been asked to prepare a short speech in Romanian to present to the students.  I introduced myself, explained that I am a volunteer in the Peace Corps, and wished the students a year of success.  It was short and sweet, and a number of people told me I spoke very well!

The first form students head to their classroom
The first form students head to their classroom

After all of this, the first form students performed both a poem they had memorized and a couple of songs.  Then the second form students brought them their first textbooks.  At this point, one of the ninth form boys came forward, and he carried one of the first form girls on his shoulders as she rang the big bell to begin the school year, walking around the circle of students.  When she finished, all of the first form students walked around in front of the group of older students and parents, then headed to their classroom, and the rest of the students followed.

We had about 2 hours of class with our homeroom class.  This was mostly spent doling out classroom responsibilities, choosing electives, and figuring out the schedule.  We also spent a little bit of time playing some English games- hang man and a form of concentration.  The students asked me a couple of questions- they wanted to know if I had brothers or sisters, how old I was, and what my family name is (my last name).  They had me write my name and there was a short discussion about my first name (teachers go by their first name here).  Although Elisabeth isn’t too difficult for Moldovans to pronounce (minus the h at the end- they pronounce it Elisabet), the Moldovan version of the name is Elizaveta.  And we also explained Mrs. and Miss to them.  I have a feeling some of them will be calling me Mrs. Elizaveta.  We’ll see!

Around 11, students were released for the day and the teachers gathered in the cantina for a masa (special meal).  There were many toasts, and I was wished (to the best of my Romanian-understanding abilities): health, many years, that I will find a husband in our town and never leave, that I will stay with them many years, and much success in the school year to come.  And then, around 1, we all headed home!

It was a good first day and I’m excited to start teaching!

Moldovan Cuisine Monday: Zeama

One of the things I was most worried about before arriving in Moldova was the food.  I’m a pretty picky eater and I knew that being a picky eater in the Peace Corps was going to be an adjustment- I was going to have to learn to eat things I didn’t like and expand the foods I eat.  However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that, for the most part, it hasn’t been that much of an adjustment.  It helps that Moldovans are okay with food being left on the plate or not eaten, as they have plenty of animals that need to eat as well, but I really do eat almost everything I’ve been served here.  Of course, as anywhere in the world, there are foods that are typical day-to-day, and foods that are sometimes reserved for more special occassions.  Each Monday, I’ll share one food that seems to be common in Moldova or one ingredient Moldovans especially like.  Today’s food is zeama.

Festlita

Zeama: zeama is a soup that is probably the thing I’ve eaten the most since getting here.  It is composed of chicken-based broth, noodles, potatoes, very finely chopped carrots, onions, and usually a full chicken leg (or other part of the chicken), with skin and bones.  It’s similar in taste to chicken noodle soup in the United States, with the addition of potatoes, and with a full chicken leg (or occasionally organs) instead of smaller bits of chicken.  It’s usually served piping hot and it is popular on the hottest of days (go figure!).  Although it’s pretty tasty, I have a feeling I will be a bit tired of it after 2 years here.

School “Open House”

The first poster I've made!
The first poster I’ve made!

Note: I have had very limited internet the past couple weeks but I do have some posts that I will get up when I have access to internet.

I’ve been working a couple of hours a day at the school since I arrived at site.  My partner teachers are still on vacation, so I go and hang out in the library with Elena, the librarian.  I’ve gone through the first unit of all of the English textbooks to take notes and get some ideas, but I really don’t have a whole lot to do yet.  I spent two days this week working on a painted poster for the library- a big, bright book.  Because posters are very expensive and teachers have to pay for all supplies (except perhaps a couple of pieces of chalk), the walls are pretty bare in many classrooms.  The classrooms are also, in the words of fellow EE volunteer Alex, “pale colors galore”.  In my school, almost all of the classrooms have the lower part of the walls covered in various wallpaper- each room is different.  My school director has already told me to make our English classroom more pretty (especially as they’ve already figured out that I can draw and paint fairly well).  I have a few ideas for that, but I need to talk to my partner teachers first before I can implement them.

Last week, however, there was a scheduled work day with many, but not all, of the teachers, as it was an open house day.  Parents and students came, as well as teachers, and we worked in separate groups (parents, students, and teachers) to discuss what the school does well, what needs work, and focus on the theme of “access and quality”.  I was in the teacher’s group, and it was really interesting to see what a “conference” looked like in a Moldovan school.  It reminded me a lot of teacher conference days in the United States- there were interactive activities, a brainstorming session, teachers worked in groups on different things, and at the end, everyone filled out a survey rating 30 different aspects of a good school.  According to the answers the other teachers provided, the school has students that are very involved in extracurricular activities and faith activities, but maybe isn’t quite so strong at using current teaching methods and practices (I think, it was all in Romanian, but I’m pretty sure that’s what they said).

After each of the groups worked on their own for a couple of hours, we all crammed into a classroom (only 2 students attended, but quite a few mothers were there) for a presentation by Doamna Feodora, the school director.  It was essentially a breakdown of all of the possible data from the previous school year- how many students in each class, how many students scored at different levels on their exams, how many teacher there are, those teachers’ credentials and educational attainment, how many classrooms, cafeteria, etc. and the square footage and capacity of each, how many students participated in each extracurricular activity, the outside organizations the school collaborated with throughout the year, basic budget figures, and so on and so forth.  It was interesting to learn more about the school, but given how much information there was, the speed at which it was given, and the amount of numbers involved, I did struggle a bit to understand everything.  After, there was a discussion with the parents (all mothers), which turned into a debate over school uniforms (I’m under the impression that students will be required to wear a school uniform this year and that this is a new rule).  The parents were not in favor of the uniforms from I could understand.

It was a really useful day for me as I try to get a grip on how things work in the school, and it also gave me an opportunity to meet several of the other teachers.  At the same time, it was pretty overwhelming- there were a lot of people speaking Romanian very fast, often at the same time, and it was definitely harder to understand than when I’m just speaking one-on-one with other people.  I had a headache at the end from concentrating so hard.  But I did understand almost everything that was said and went on, so I do feel that my Romanian is getting there!

First Few Days at Site

My new host niece, Valerica, and I.
My new host niece, Valerica, and me.

I’ve spent most of the last few days at my permanent site hanging out with my 6-year-old host niece, Valerica. She won’t usually be here, but she’s visiting her grandparents (my host parents) for several days. She is full of energy and wants to spend every waking second with me, including walking me to the outhouse every time I need to go to the bathroom. We’ve spent a lot of time coloring, drawing, and playing cards. Markers, especially good markers, don’t really exist in Moldova, so she has loved getting to use the Crayola markers I brought with me. She also loves to look at the stack of pictures of my friends and family that I brought with me from the US. Her favorites are my prom pictures from high school with friends. She’ll go to the stack and shuffle through until she finds her favorite picture. She originally said that my dress was her favorite, which isn’t surprising because her favorite color is pink and my dress was pink, but she’s since changed her mind, and now she likes my friend Beth’s dress the best.

She wanted to play pretend school, so I gave her an actual lesson and we learned the days of the week in both Romanian and English- and then she wanted to write them!
She wanted to play pretend school, so I gave her an actual lesson and we learned the days of the week in both Romanian and English- and then she wanted to write them!

She’s currently in gradinita (which literally translates to kindergarden, but is more like a pre-school which children can attend from ages 2 or 3 to 7, when they start school). She can count, knows most of her letters, and can spell and write mama and tata (mom and dad). She likes to use my Banagrams to spell those two words over and over.

When we walked to the valley, she insisted I bring my camera so we could take pictures!
When we walked to the valley, she insisted I bring my camera so we could take pictures!

On Saturday, we were at the house while my host parents worked in the fields in the “valley”. She decided we should go visit them, so we took a short walk to the valley. It seems that they mostly have potatoes, corn, grapes, and tomatoes, but I think they’ve already harvested some other things. They also have lots of pumpkins. We’ve also made a couple of trips to the store, which is very close by, maybe a 3 or 4 minute walk, to get ice cream.

Among the corn rows.
Among the corn rows.

One of the benefits of spending time with her is that we talk a lot, and she doesn’t know English, so that means I’m using a lot more Romanian than I was with my previous host family. Sometimes she gets frustrated when I don’t know what she’s saying, but we’ve been able to communicate pretty well! It’s a little harder to understand her than adults because she mumbles a bit and also speaks less clearly. In fact, I’ve only spoken Romanian for 3 entire days now- not a single word of English! That’s a really good thing, because once school starts, I’ll be speaking a lot more English, so it’s good to speak just Romanian for now.

On Friday morning and again this morning, I went to the school to do some work. I hung out in the library with the librarian, Elena, who is also 22 years old. She’s very nice and I think we’ll be able to collaborate with some things in the future. She also uses Google Translate when we can’t seem to understand each other, so that’s cool! She let me check out all of the English textbooks, and I’ve been going through the first units to make notes of possible things to do for lessons, and also through the entire books to get a better idea of what’s in them. Each of the textbooks is quite different. Although the curriculum flows well from one to the next, they are not at all consistent in terms of set-up, organization, and kid-friendliness.

Today, I spoke briefly with the adjunct director in charge of academics, and I chose which classes I will team-teach with my two partners. Peace Corps requires us to teach at least 18 hours a week and to teach with all of the English teachers at our schools (unless there are more than 3 English teachers, which doesn’t apply to me). My school is a gimnasiu, which means it’s only grades 1-9. English is taught starting in 2nd grade. Unless things change (which is always possible), I’ll be teaching 3rd form, 4th form (2 classes), 5th form, 6th form, 7th form (2 classes), and 8th form (2 classes). Because my school is so small, I have fewer options, and have to teach more levels than some volunteers, but that’s okay. Also, it sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t- each of the classes only meet 2 hours per week. I won’t know my schedule until possibly the first week of school, but if things are spread out well, I could only be teaching about three and a half hours per day (although I’ll have to be at school for all of the regular school hours). I also have met many of the other teachers at school, including the teacher (possibly French teacher? although I don’t think they offer French anymore) that hosted the only other volunteer that lived in my village, a few years ago.  I attended my first “conference” with my fellow teachers yesterday, but I think I’ll save that for next time!