My Last Day in Costesti and a Birthday Celebration

I'll miss this kitty- my host mom told me I could bring her with me to my new house, but I didn't think my new host family would appreciate that.
I’ll miss this kitty- my host mom told me I could bring her with me to my new house, but I didn’t think my new host family would appreciate that.

This past Wednesday we had our final HUB site day- where we talked about Peace Corps policies, the emergency evacuation plan, and monitoring and reporting. After, we spent our last evening with our PST host families and, of course, we also packed. After 10 weeks of training, in which we were given over 10 books on teaching English as a second language and countless handouts, notebooks, and supplies, we all ended up with quite a bit more than what we came with.

My last day with my host family.
My last day with my host family.

My last evening with my PST host family was also my younger host brother’s 11th birthday, so I had finished packing the night before, knowing that we would be having a party for him, which, in typical Moldovan form, would likely last into the morning hours. The masa (meal/celebration) was a family gathering, with many aunts, uncles, cousins, and my host bunica (grandmother). There weren’t enough seats at the table for everyone, so we ate in shifts- first the “kids” ate, along with the women, and once the “kids” were finished, they were replaced with the men. There was delicious barbequed meat (sausages and chicken), sarmale (a traditional Moldovan dish that is rice and vegetables wrapped in cabbage), fish, fruit, torta (cake), and several plates with different compilations on top of bread (the closest thing I can think of in American culture would be bruschetta- but these aren’t grilled, and they are topped with different ingredients- for example, one of the popular versions is bread topped with a thick smear of mayonaise, little fish from a jar that are uncooked, pickles, and finely shredded hard-boiled eggs on top). Of course, there was plenty of house wine to go around (this time it was a fairly cloudy house wine, that wasn’t as strong as many I’ve tasted and very sweet), as well as some beer (which comes in big 2-liter plastic bottles). When the cake was brought out we sang “Multi ani” (the Moldovan birthday song), and then everyone told me to sing the American happy birthday song, which a few of them knew.

Toasts are a big part of celebrations in Moldova, and birthdays are no exception. Almost every person gave a toasts, most along the lines of “multi ani, multi bani, success, si sanitate” (many years, much money, success, and health). I think I actually got more toasts than the birthday boy, though, as everyone knew it was my last night in Costesti. I left the party (it was at my house, so I really just mean that I went inside) pretty early- around 10 PM, but it went on way after I went to sleep.

It was a nice end to a wonderful ten weeks in Costesti for PST. I couldn’t have asked for a better host family. They welcomed me so fully into their house and family. They made me promise to bring my parents to visit them when they come next summer, and my younger host brother has already messaged me on Skype. I’ll miss them for sure!

Galina’s Poems and A Brief History of Moldova

Today, we had our final session with our language instructor, Galina.  Only this time, it wasn’t a language session, but rather a history session.

Our Last Language Class:

After our history session, Galina had two more quick language activities for us before she could send us on our way.  First, she wrote poems about each of us in Romanian.  She posted them all on the board, and then we had to guess who each one was about.  It was a really fun activity!  Some were much easier to guess (especially the one that spoke about moving with his wife–there is only one married man in our group, so that was easy-peasy!), and some were a bit harder to figure out.  Some were also quite funny, while others were more serious.  Here is the poem she wrote about me (first in Romanian, and then I’ll try my best to provide an English translation):

Permanent e zâmbitoare
Domnișoara profesoară.
Cu româna stă prea bine
Nu știe cuvântul lene.
Are nume de regină
Foarte activă la română.
Are fani printre elevi
Cine este, cine crezi?

The translations goes something like this:  Permanently is smiling / Miss teacher / with Romanian is quite well (good) / She doesn’t know the word laziness / She has the name of a queen / She is very active in Romanian / She has fans (admirers) through her students / Who is she, who do you think?

We also got some “wishes” or “fortunes”.  I received two: the first said, “O să te căsătorești în Moldova peste doi ani” (you will be married in Moldova in 2 years), and the second said “O să lucrezi în Moldova 5 ani” (you will work in Moldova 5 years).  I guess the two really do go together :).

A Brief History of Moldova Lesson:

As I mentioned, we also learned about the history of Moldova today.  Moldova has a long and complicated history.  The first civilization in the area that is now Moldova was that of the Dacians.  The civilization lasted from the 18th to 16th centuries BC.  The Dacians were tall and blond, characteristics that are pretty rare in Moldova today.

In 106 AC, the land was conquered by the Roman Empire, which is where the physical characteristics of today’s Moldovans came from (darker hair and slightly darker skin).  The Roman Empire built a lot, as well as imposed their alphabet and culture on the Dacians.  This is why Romanian uses the Latin alphabet and has much in common with the other Romance languages.  The Roman Empire only ruled the land for about 2 centuries.

After the Roman Empire left, there was a period of relative calm, with some small, minor wars. In 1359, a medieval state began in which the name Moldova first popped up.  It was at this time part of Romania, which consisted of 3 states: Transilvania, Muntenia, and Moldova.  The area that was called Moldova included the present-day country of Moldova, as well as a large part of present-day Romania.  Stefan cel Mare (Steven the Great), considered the greatest ruler in the history of Moldova (but he wasn’t a king- only a ruler), ruled the state of Moldova from 1457-1504.  He fortified the borders and won 46 out 0f 48 battles that he fought (primarily against the Turks).  After each victory, he built a church or monastery.  Although some are located in present-day Moldova, many are located in present-day Romania.  In Moldova, he built the famous Soroca fortress.

After his rule, the Ottoman Empire ruled Moldova from the 16th to 18th centuries.  Although the Turks/Ottomans conquered the land, they did not impose their culture or language on the Moldovans.

In 1812, the Moldovan Empire divided into two parts.  One part (present-day Romania) was taken by the Turks, while the other part (present-day Moldova) became a province of the Russian Empire.  The province of Moldova, ruled by the Russian Empire, existed from 1812-1918.  In 1918, the council of Moldova declared it wanted to be reunited with Romania, and it was a part of Romania from 1918 to 1940.

In 1940, Moldova became part of the Soviet Union as part of an agreement between Stalin and Hitler.  During World War II, about half of the population served in the Soviet Army, while the other half served in the Romanian Army (under Hitler).  In 1944, the Soviet Army took over.  From 1944 to November 27, 1991, Moldova was part of the Soviet Union as one of the 15 Soviet Republics.  A national movement had begun in 1989, and in 1991, Moldova was declared an independent state and the first democratic elections were held.  The communist parties continued to hold the power until 2009, when the democratic parties gained control for the first time.  They continue to maintain control today.  The next election is this fall.

In addition to an overview of Moldovan history, we also learned about life under Soviet rule, including both the negative and positive aspects.

It was very interesting to learn more about the history.  It’s one thing to learn about the history of countries other than your own when you are sitting in a classroom in the United States.  It is a very different thing to learn about the history of another country when sitting in a classroom in that country and being taught by someone who has lived there throughout some of that history.

What We’ll Leave Behind and What We’ll Take

Costesti

We had our last language class this morning.  It was mostly a review of some of the more difficult grammar we’ve learned, but we also learned a couple of new things, including the conditional tense.  We also wrapped up our PST through our language lesson.

Our language instructor, Galina, asked us to think about our experience here in Costesti.  She then asked us what we would leave behind in Costesti and what we would bring with us from Costesti.  I think we all got a bit teary-eyed completely the assignment.  It was a moment for us to really consider our time here and how it has changed us.  I’m not sure any of us could really fully answer those two very big questions in Romanian, but we tried.  I’m not even sure any of us could really fully answer those two questions in English, but I’ll try.

What will I leave behind in Costesti:  I will leave behind a deck of Uno cards (with my host brother), my gratitude to my host family, impressions of me (hopefully good!), my amazing host family, the two kittens who have slowly become some of my best friends, and a piece of my heart (corny but true).

What I will bring with me: Many, many amazing memories, as well as some that perhaps weren’t so amazing, the love and support of my host family here, plenty of stories, new friendships, a lot of new grammar and teaching books, plenty of clothes, and many pictures.

I’m both excited and nervous to leave Costesti and move to Festelita.  After just over two months here, this place has really, truly become my home.  Often, I would get back to the house after a long day of training or teaching, and I would have an overwhelming sense that I was home.  It will be hard to leave my host family here.  It will be hard to move away from all of the amazing PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer) friends that I’ve made here.  But I’m also excited to continue to work with my partner teacher Ina, who spent the past two weeks here teaching with me, and to start working with my other partner teacher, Luiba.  I’m excited to move into my new house.  I’m especially excited to meet and start teaching my students and to go for hikes through the fields and forest.

It Really is the Little Things

Costesti

It’s hard to believe I’ve already been here for over 2 months.  As I’m sure you can imagine, being thrown into an entirely new culture, country, language, and “job” can be overwhelming and hard at times.  But even when things are overwhelming, I’m feeling down, or things are just downright hard, there are so many good things happening in my life right now.

A few things in the last couple of weeks that have brightened my days:

Helping my host brother with some of his chores.  A couple of weekends ago, I helped my 10-year-old host brother cut the “stems” off the onions that my host family had harvested from the garden in order to store them for the year in the cellar.  It wasn’t hard work and I really enjoyed having something beneficial to do.  I’ve always loved working with my hands- and this was a way for me to help out my host family as well.  It made a day that was not going particularly well a lot better.

Eating Mac and Cheese at Smokehouse BBQ
Eating Mac and Cheese at Smokehouse BBQ

Eating mac and cheese (and then ribs, too) at an American BBQ restaurant.  My very favorite food is mac and cheese in basically any of its forms (though homemade is DEFINITELY better).  After 2 months here, I was definitely missing mac and cheese more than pretty much anything.  Last Friday, after swearing in, a group of us went to eat at Smokehouse Restaurant, which is an American BBQ restaurant owned and run by former Peace Corps Volunteers.  The mac and cheese portions were wayyy too small by my preferences (though that may have to do with the fact that I was seriously craving it), but it was very yummy!  Later, at the same restaurant, I had ribs- which were also very, very good.

Drinking tea and eating snacks with my host mom.  I drink tea everyday here.  Sometimes, if we’re eating a later dinner, or sometimes after dinner, we’ll have tea and snacks.  Generally, my host brothers (plus host cousin and sometimes a friend) are there, but every once and a while, my host mom and I get to enjoy a quiet “tea time”, which I really enjoy.  It gives us a chance to talk, and I know she really appreciates it as well.

A really nice Sunday afternoon out with my host family.  A couple of weekends ago, I went to the zoo with my host mom, host dad, and younger host brother.  Although the zoo is not quite as nice as others I’ve been to, it was really nice to spend time with my host family and get out of the house.  It was the most relaxed and carefree I’ve seen them, and it was a very relaxing afternoon- and we even got popcorn and cotton candy!  After, on our drive home, we stopped to see my host family’s grape fields.  I hadn’t been to see them before, so I was very excited!  The grapes weren’t quite ripe yet.  The fields stretched on further than I could see, and it was so pretty!  After, we had barbecued sausages and garlic rolls back at our house- yum!

When my host brother brings me chocolate…and fruit.  My younger host brother sometimes brings me a bar of chocolate or a fruit to enjoy.  One night last weekend, he brought me a chocolate covered cookie.  I went out to the porch to eat it, and then my host parents showed me the very first ripe grapes from their vines.  We ate them, as well as fresh watermelon.  Everything was very yummy!

Playing Uno with Mac, the cat...but actually with my host brother
Playing Uno with Mac, the cat…but actually with my host brother

Playing Uno with my host brother…and teaching my host mom as well!  I play Uno with my younger host brother most nights before bed.  He really enjoys it and it is a game that we can easily play regardless of language barriers.  Last night, we taught my host mom how to play as well.  After a round, she then taught me a game- I didn’t completely understand it, but it involved saluting when a king came up, pinching your nose when the jack was put in the pile, slapping the pile when there was an ace, and saying something for both the queen and the ten.  It was funny even if I wasn’t really sure what I was doing!

Skyping with 3 of my favorite kiddos.  On Thursday night, I got to skype with 3 of my favorite girls, who are visiting with my family in the US right now.  It was great to see and hear them- and they made me laugh a lot :).

And then of course there are the things that weren’t necessarily funny, but are good stories nevertheless:

One of our kittens fell into the outhouse hole.  We have two kittens, and one of them somehow managed to fall in the outhouse hole.  Using rope, my host parents somehow managed to get him out.  We had to give him several baths in the next couple of days, but he no longer stinks.

Junior with his bandaged paw- which is all healed up and fine now!
Junior with his bandaged paw- which is all healed up and fine now!

The same kitten got in a fight with a neighbor’s cat. When I got home from language classes earlier today, my host brother told me the kitten had gotten in a fight, then showed me his paw- it was twice the size it should have been- yikes!  There aren’t any veterinarians in our area, so we soaked his paw in salty, cold water for half an hour (which he did NOT like), then bandaged him up really well, with antibiotic ointment.  That’s what our Peace Corps-provided medical kits are for, right (no?)?

My host mom somehow managed to back the car into the metal stairway-railing that goes to a room above the garage.  I went to go use the outhouse, and when I got to the driveway, there was my host mom and host cousin in a bit of a predicament.  My host mom looked at me, flustered, and just said, “help!”.  I went over to see what was going on, and she had backed into the railing and couldn’t figure out how to get the car out without damaging either the car or the railing.  With my host cousin and I pulling the railing back with all of our weight and using a towel to protect the side of the car, we managed to get the car out without only one very small scratch on the car.

PST Practice School

I taught 29 fourth graders this day!
I taught 29 fourth graders this day!

Although we swore in as volunteers a week ago, the EE (English Education) and HE (Health Education) volunteers are still technically in PST (Pre-service training) until this coming week.  For the past three weeks, we have been (mostly) taking a break from our technical and language sessions and instead we have had Practice School.  Practice School is essentially a summer school in which we get to practice what we have learned all summer with actual students!

Teaching 4th graders alongside my partner teacher, Ina (in the orange dress)
Teaching 4th graders alongside my partner teacher, Ina (in the orange dress)

Our first week, we direct taught high-school-aged students.  Direct teaching means that we taught by ourselves, without a partner teacher.  We did, however, have very experienced Moldovan resource teachers who joined us for the week.  They helped us with lesson planning, observed all of our lessons, and gave us valuable feedback.  My resource teacher, Angela, was such a great resource!  I taught 9th form (grade) students.  Unfortunately, overall during the first part of practice school (9th-12th forms), we had a very poor student turn-out.  Several volunteers had only 1 or 2 students.  I was one of the luckier volunteers as I had 4 students, all boys.  Despite such a small class, it was a very good experience.  The Moldovan Ministry of Education requires us to use the textbooks pretty closely.  While some of the textbooks are very good, the upper grades are really quite difficult.  The 9th form textbook starts off with a unit on: the Big Bang theory, the origins of life on earth, the stars and constellations, and the universe.  It really is pretty complex stuff even if you were a native English speaker.  For example, my students had to learn about “red shift”, which I had to research in order to teach (if you’re wondering, it’s the tendency of everything in the universe to move away from the center of the universe over time).  But other than that, everything went very smoothly for me.

My 4th graders often showed up more than an hour before classes started- this is about 45 minutes early (many days they were in the classroom when I arrived- on time!)
My 4th graders often showed up more than an hour before classes started- this is about 45 minutes early (many days they were in the classroom when I arrived- on time!)

The second part of Practice School was two weeks and we taught students in forms 3rd through 8th.  We had a much better turn-out with the younger students.  It was the first time they had allowed 3rd and 4th graders to attend and as a result, those grades were the best represented.  For this part of Practice School, we team-taught with a partner.  Our actual partner teachers from the schools we will work in for the next 2 years came to Costesti for two weeks to work with us.  The first day they arrived, we team-taught with our resource teacher, and the following day we started working with our partner teachers.  This experience was even more beneficial, as it gave us a chance to start to figure out how to make the whole partner-teaching thing work in a less stressful environment with students we won’t actually be teaching at site.  I taught 4th form this time, which was a LOT of fun!  I was the only volunteer that was assigned to 4th form, which meant I had ALL the 4th-formers.  There were 24 students (the most of any of the volunteers) on my list, but I ended up with 32 total students!  Thankfully, I never had all 32 come on the same day- although I did have 29 one day!!  It was exhausting, but a very positive experience all the same.

During Practice School our schedule was: an hour to prep before students arrived (and I still had students arrive before me- they were that eager!), a 45-minute lesson, a 15-minute break, another 45-minute lesson, then students went home and we had the afternoons to plan and prep.

Playing twister!
Playing twister!
Playing twister!
Playing twister!
5th graders ready to sing (and dance) "The Hokey Pokey"
5th graders ready to sing (and dance) “The Hokey Pokey”
Another student performance
Another student performance
These students performed poems that they wrote
These students performed poems that they wrote
Dance performance
Dance performance
These students did a dance for us
These students did a dance for us
Lots of students watching student performances
Lots of students watching student performances
These 3rd graders sang Old MacDonald
These 3rd graders sang Old MacDonald
Watching a student performance
Watching a student performance
Waiting for the celebrations to begin!
Waiting for the celebrations to begin!

Yesterday was the last day of Practice School and we organized a bit of a fun celebration to end it with.  Throughout the past week, we taught our students “American” song and dances, as well as some poems and jokes, and performed them for the other students.  There were also some games to play after.  My students were very excited to sing (with hand motions) “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”.   It was a good end to a good 3 weeks of Practice School!