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Where is Moldova, anyway?

Musings on my Peace Corps experience in this small, Eastern European, Republic.

One Year Later

Friday, December 18, 2009

I've been in America for a year now - and - time is still being funny with me. Sometimes I feel as if my time in Moldova was ages ago, other times it feels like yesterday. Either way, I miss it tremendously - both the people that I met there, and the idea of Peace Corps - working and living everyday as part of a mission, an adventure.

It may sound corny - but that is what it was.

Imagine having your whole life, every move that you make, scrutinized...
Imagine not knowing what to expect, ever, when doing your day to day activities because you are living in a culture that although you are familiar with, is not your own...
Imagine that the littlest things - from talking to a neighbor to getting your mail - were part
of your job, because your job was cultural exchange...
Imagine that you always feel part of a bigger picture, a bigger Peace Corps mission, and being
able to deal with the small things, the frustrations, through that lens...
Imagine, now because of these things every moment of your day really mattering.

I guess that has been my biggest shock since I came back - the lack of meaning in my day to day activities, and the lack of tie in to a larger goal. Most PCVs and ex-pats, upon returning to the States, will feel a loss of "specialness" of "uniqueness" but I think what I'm feeling is more than that - that feeling I expected, and was able to properly label and understand. Don't get me wrong (if you have read my blog you know this already), I'm not romanticizing either life nor my time in Moldova - there were ups and there were way downs - and I'm thankful now to be closer to my family and friends, and within a 10 minute drive of a store selling peanut butter. It's just, while I was in Moldova, I always felt like what I was doing mattered.

Now, however, back in the US I sometimes feel like I am floating. Even though I am in graduate school, with a plan - working towards a degree in Community Psychology - a degree that will no doubt give me the skills to continue doing the type of work I was doing in Moldova - it's too easy to feel disconnected with a bigger picture, with larger goals, like my day to day actions don't really matter. This has left me very susceptible to getting caught up in the little stuff, to loosing touch with the energy of the kids I work with, and to forgetting how good it felt to get one small win - such as 10 minutes with the mayor, or one parent telling us they are happy their kids are working with us - in our village.

Today, for instance, I was frustrated because I spent an hour trying to get Dell customer support on the phone to help fix my dad's printer, frustrated that I kept having to repeat information like my phone number and email address to the various people I was transfered to. Last year at this time I would have been jumping for joy for a stable internet connection. Where has my patience, perspective gone?

I have to admit, I delayed posting on my blog since leaving Moldova because I was waiting for something insightful to say. Some overarching, cumulative, thought-provoking post. It never came to me, so you were left with this rambling and unfocused post, and for that I apologize. I just had to get it out. Maybe the take home lesson is this: it's not over, and that is why I don't have a conclusion to come to (sounds like a good excuse for a poor post, yeah?).

Youth development and leadership are still alive and kicking in Singerei. The first "generation" of kids I worked with are now in college and away from the village. My partner is in Belgium, doing her own "Peace Corps" type experience with a European non-profit. And the class and center are being run by a new "generation." I like the continuity, the "life after" - the progress. But it's weird thinking of "my" project going on without me.

The kids who graduated feel the same way - it's not a jealous thing, it's more an eeriness - a look at it go - type feeling. One of the kids I worked with, now in college in Romania, described it as "having a baby, teaching the baby to talk - and then handing it off to some other parents who will teach it to walk - and just trusting them to take care of your baby." Elegantly put. :)

Graduate school is a funny time - because it's a lot about preparing - while Peace Corps was a lot about learning while you do. Hopefully, in the next year, I will be able incorporate more doing, more real world into my education. And, the stamps in my passport are getting lonely... I'm ready for more travels, and to be honest, I miss my Moldovan friends.

Hope all of you have a healthy and happy 2010! La multi Ani, cu sanatatea si fereceria! (See I still got the Romanian... sort of!). :)

Last words from Moldova

Friday, November 14, 2008

This is going to be my last post from Moldova. I’m not really sure what to write, maybe for the first time. I left my village at 6 this morning – after a day of goodbyes, tears, promises to meet “somewhere, sometime,” hugs, kisses, and more food and wine than I have EVER consumed in one day before. Honestly, leaving Singerei was harder than leaving River Vale to come to the Peace Corps – because I always knew when I would see River Vale again, who knows when I will be in these parts again….

I think after this whole Peace Corps thing sinks in, as well as the whole leaving thing sinks in, I might write something else here, more reflective and clear. But until then – I have two more days in Moldova, and I leave you with the two biggest things I will take away from this experience – perhaps things that aren’t so obvious, and that maybe I haven’t mentioned before.

1) An interest in being a host family to a foreign student in America. I’ve lived here for 2 years with the same host family, and they have been wonderful – really instrumental in allowing me to be successful here. Before that, during Peace Corps training, I lived with another host family – I have learned the good and the bad, seen it all, heard it all, been introduced to it all, been forced dresses, forced fed, and forced to talk to company. I’ve also been invited to parties, treated as a sister, and expected to do chores. I think it would be a really great experience for me (and my future family) to host an exchange student, and give him or her the kind of experience I had in Moldova – the experience of feeling at home somewhere far from home. Also, its probably not a bad idea to expose children to foreign cultures from an early age.

2) The world has no corners. Maybe potential Peace Corps volunteers are dreaming of arriving and working in their “corner” of the world – remote, secluded, not-connected. But I have to squash those dreams because these corners, in my opinion, no longer exist. Obama in his acceptance also addressed those in “forgotten corners of the world.” - maybe these “corners” existed in the past, but right now I think it is an outdated notion. Especially when the majority of the world can get on the internet through almost any phone line, where tv uses satellite, where the kids in my village know more Eminem lyrics than I do, where people travel, books are translated, radio broadcasts stronger… not many people exist in seclusion. Maybe not everyone personally has access to the internet, or a telephone, but word of mouth travels where technology does not. We are more interconnected than you think. Just because places border with other foreign places, and not with America, does not mean they exist in a corner, in a vacuum – they just have different influences, different neighbors. The world is definitely round, and is, much, much smaller than you think.

Last Views - By An Outsider

Thursday, November 13, 2008

This is the last of my aunt's observations about Moldova, and Peace Corps in Moldova. I don't like posting things that are self-lauding, but I know if I don't post it, she will be on my case forever. So I leave you with her last impressions - as well as commentary on my work here. So at least you have a witness to the fact that I didn't disapear for two years to lay on a couch somewhere....


Sharon will be closing down her blog very soon. I want to add a few observations.

1. Moldova is a beautiful rural country.
2. Private places are maintained, public places are not.
3. Traditions sometimes out weight comfort and common sense.
4. Sanitary conditions leave much to be desired.
5. Americans are still feared by some of the older rural population.
6. Old wives tales are still believed even in the face of science.
7. Income is sometimes supplemented by bribery.
8. Teenagers are the same all over the world.
9. Moldovans are wonderful, generous people.
10. Peace Corps Volunteers are wonderful, generous people.
11. I would not survive in Moldova.

What Sharon has accomplished in Singerei with the youth will last forever. She has done more than physically building and opening a youth center. She has changed lives. The teens have been given a voice in their future and the tools needed to change their future. They have attended leadership camps and workshops and they are already using these skills. They have learned what it means to volunteer and to take pride in their country and their village. The community of Singerei has already noticed the difference in their youth and the youth have noticed the differences in themselves. All Peace Corps volunteers have special gifts and the hearts to share these gifts. They have unselfishly given up twenty seven months of their lives to help others. Where do they get their generosity and strength to make this sacrifice? I know where Sharon gets her love of others and her desire to serve. She gets it from her mother, Susan.

Editor's Note: Some of the claims in this post have been disputed. :)

Recipe - Pace Mondiala

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This is for my Romanian and Moldovan readers (I know you guys are out there, however few you may be!) For the rest of you - sorry, but I'm not in a translating mood. :)

A little background - our region has a bi-weekly youth newspaper called "New Generation." It started last year and the leadership approached me to write a column talking about differences between American and Moldova cultures. Seeing where that could lead to problems, I counter-proposed them that I would write a cooking column - listing American recipes that are possible to be made in Moldova. So far it's been a huge success. My host mom and I make them before I write them up, so that she can help me with the Romanian cooking verbs. It's funny to see her reactions to the ingredients - for chocolate chip cookies "Sharon, you made a mistake, it doesn't need THAT much sugar..." - for apple crisp "But you forgot to write how to make the dough... and you want to put OATMEAL in DESERT!" and - "everything in one pot?" with chili.

But people have made them - they stop me on the street and tell me they like them. Once due to a typo in a recipe for Granola, we had a few kitchen incidents that had people putting 2.5 cups of oil into the recipe instead of .25. Oops.

This is the last recipe I wrote - it will appear tomorrow. I thought I would share it with those of you who can read it.

Bon Apetit! :)

Am inceput sa scriu aceasta rubrica pentru ca sa va impartasesc putin despre cultura americana voua, cei care ati impartit cultura moldoveneasca cu mine in acesti doi ani de zile. Vroiam sa va transmit lucrurile care eu le stiu, si anume recete care le pregatetim zi de zi pentru masa in America. Poate nu sunt sofisticate, dar sunt destul de importante pentru mine, sunt o particica din ceea ce sunt. Sper ca v-au placut. In caz ca nu ati incercat sa le faceti pina acum, incercati acuma. Sunt gustoase. Va promit.

Am avut placerea sa fiu aici, dar nu numai atit, am invatat foarte mult – mi-am deschis inima la alte pareri despre lume si chiar mi-am schimbat viziunea. Eu stiu ca niciodata nu voi putea sa vad lumea cu ochii unui moldovean, dar in viitor, eu nici nu voi privi lumea prin prisma americanilor. Eu sunt afectata de parerele voastre, de viata voastra; eu le iau in consideratie cind ma gindesc la orice. Cred ca voi, care ati petrecuit mult timp cu mine, ati fost si voi afectati de mine. Dar sper ca – pozitiv. Ar fi bine sa gindim cu totii ca niste cetateni, dar nu doar ca moldoveni sau americani. Cred ca acesta ar fi un pas destoinic spre intelegerea intre popoare, un pas mai puternic decit este redat in filme sau massmedia. Vreau sa multumesc fiecaruia pentru ajutor, pentru cuvintele frumoase de incurajare, pentru lucrul care l-ati facut, si ajutorul care mi l-ati acordat. Deci, in continuare voi transmite receta care am invatat-o aici, in speranta ca o veti folosi in viitor.

Inainte de a veni in Moldova, imi era frica – nu de a trai intr-o cultura noua, o tara noua sau de a vorbi intr-o limba noua – dar imi era frica sa fiu asa de departe de familia mea, prieteneii mei, de a ma simti singura. Dar nu s-a intimplat asa. Datorita voua, mai ales Maria, mama mea gazda, Nadaya, partnera mea si buna prietena, si baietii si fetele de nadejde de la consiliul local al tinerilor in Singerei, au fost doar clipe de singuratate. Si in final ma simt in Singerei ca la mine acasa. Dar vreau sa ma repet: Ma simt ca acasa, cu familia, intr-un loc care doar 2 ani in urma n-am stiut ca exista. Daca acesta nu inseamna progres, atunci eu nu inteleg ce este progres.

Iata si receta - Pace Mondiala

- Tineri energici, deschisi, din doua sau mai multe culturi - virsta nu conteaza, trebue sa fie tineri la suflet.
- Timp (mult) – cit este necesar.
- Rabdarea (dupa gust si stilul fiecaruia)

- Jocuri
- Mult umor, haz
- Bomboane (in special, ciocolata)

Eu nu sunt sigura de procesul pentru a face pace mondiala, nici n-am incercat s-o fac. Doar am vazut ca este posibil. STIU ca este posibil si incepe simplu de la doi oameni. Doar trebuie sa ne intelegem – sa petrecem timpul impreuna – sa mincam impreuna – sa stam la o masa - si vom gasi o limba comuna, un scop comun. Poate aceasta suna prea idealistic, dar adeverat. Eu astept ca voi sa aflati receta exacta. Cind o aflati, o folositi, o impartiti, voi astepta si eu sa simt rezultatul lucrului vostru chiar si in America.

Pofta Buna, Viata dulce, si sa ne mai vedem in viitor!

A Change of Character...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

6 days left.

6 Ways I have become a “moldovanca” since living here...

1) I never go to people’s house empty handed anymore – even if it’s just a short visit. I bring apples, wine, baked goods, or candy

2) Tights under my jeans – and other innovations in warmth have just become second nature by now.

3) I carry plastic bags with me EVERYWHERE I go - who wants to pay for a bag at the market?

4) When making appointments or engagements, I remember I need 30 – 45 minutes to walk there.

5) Don’t see a need to refrigerate eggs anymore

6) Feel like it is perfectly acceptable to ask personal “prying” questions to people – I have a right to know this stuff!

6 Ways I have retained my Americaness through these past 2 years

1) Dirty shoes still don’t offend me

2) I am not afraid of getting sick from the “current”

3) I still relish in my personal space and quiet, alone time

4) I do not think mayonnaise and sour crème go with every meal.

5) My shoes are comfortable and not stylish – still don’t walk around in high heels, to the disgust of many of my friends here.

6) I tend to still have a positive outlook – I may have thought I was a realist, but when looking at the bigger picture, Americans tend to be optimistic in a way that almost no other culture (that I know of) is.

Guest Posts - Public Transportation and the Winery

Monday, November 10, 2008

We looked forward to our visit to the winery in Milestii Mici, that Sharon highly recommended . We took a taxi to get to Milestii Mici from Chisinau, because we tried the public transportation system in Chisinau. It was an adventure, but definitely not something that we wanted to repeat. The bus that we took reminded me of the buses that you would see on a National Geographic show. No one was actually hanging out the doors and windows , but I wished I had been. When we got on the bus, it was only crowded. With each additional stop more and more people crowded in and no one got off. The influx of more passengers, pushed us further and further into this very close space. We could only move if someone else shifted just slightly, as a result we became very “ friendly” with our other travelers. The windows were closed. Sharon explained that the draft from open windows was thought to make you sick. This was apparently an old wives tale that was held by most of the populace. By this time, I wished everyone had considered a shower before they had gotten on the bus. It seemed as if each person was carrying large sacks , filled mostly with produce. They were probably on their way to the piazza. The man with the sack of sticks and limbs was probably on his way to…??? After we opened our mouths and the passengers looked at our clothing , we were the Americans no one could take their eye off . As a result, we were pushed closer and closer together until I was sitting on a large sack of something I couldn’t identify. When I exited the bus, it seemed as if I was a cork exploding from bottle of champagne. Every day was a new adventure that we would not have changed for anything.

We were going to meet Sharon’s first host Mom at the winery and I was a little anxious. Maria knew Sharon for more than 2 years and now she was going to meet some of Sharon’s American relatives. What were Maria’s opinions of us going to be? Maria had invited us to stay with her; in fact, Sharon said that Mara had insisted that we stay with her. When we met Maria at the winery, we were greeted with open arms and a beautiful welcoming smile. Maria had arraigned a private tour of the winery for us with an English-speaking guide. The winery was incredible. The outside of the tourist center was a huge fountain . It was designed to look like bottles of red and white wine pouring wine into wine glasses. One side of the fountain poured red and the other white. What fun! Maria is the winery’s biochemist in charge of maintaining the quality of the wine. Both the winery and Maria had won international medals for their wine. The medals were displayed proudly on the walls of the winery’s museum. Entering the winery was overwhelming. We faced 50 kilometers of wine. Only one third of the available underground space was currently being used. Can you imagine? The temperature was a constant 52 degrees F. A refreshing temperature for this Texan. The winery contained 1.5 million bottles of wine and 400 million (you did read that right) liters of wine. Americans are not aware of Moldovian wine because of import/export problems. Can you imagine what the output would be if these restrictions were lifted? What a boom to their stagnant economy. Our taxi driver joined us on our tour and he had no idea that such a treasure existed in his country. I found this hard to believe. I think this was an indication of a prevailing mindset of a many of the citizens. They had great pride in what was their own private personal realm but however ,no awareness of their own country’s wonders . (Editors Note: Or simply can't afford it. The wine cellar, unfortunately, is geared towards foreign travelers, and is out of the reach financially of most Moldovans).

When we arrived back in Chisinau, we rented a car so we could get around better. The international driver’s license we needed was known as a VISA Card. Now Curt would be driving with all the speeding Moldovian drivers. Sharon navigated and I sat in the back and watched the country go by during our return trip back to Milstein Mica Turning off the single main road, we faced narrow, deeply rutted country dirt roads. The houses were all hidden behind tall decorative metal fences. It was impossible to see the houses. When we opened the gate to Maria’s home, it was like entering a villa. We passed under an arbor that was weighed down with delicious, ripe purple grapes. We had to sample more and more as we walked. Maria had beautiful gardens, both flower and vegetable. Like the rest of her neighbors, she also raised chickens and had a plot of land not far from her home, which she cultivated. Maria had water well in the front yard and an outhouse in the side yard. I am not sure if they were far enough from each other, if you know what I mean. All the homes and public buildings that we visited had outhouses. Now, these were not your typical American outhouses. There were no seats, just a 6-inch hole in the ground. This was not the ideal situation for an old, arthritic, over weight American woman who was also suffering from “tourista”. Maria took compassion on me and let me use her newly installed bathroom that was not used often. For the reasons mentioned above, I was the exception. Even with Sharon’s translation, I never could understand why the toilet was not used. I believe it had to do with the difference between the gauge of the pipes in the house and the pipes running to the outside. (Editors Note: there is no real "piping" running in and out of the house - thus when you use the bathroom inside, it needs to be physicall emptied).

Maria’s home was sunny, neat, and clean and since her son was working in Moscow, there was room for us to have our own room for the night. Maria had recently up dated her kitchen with new cabinets and granite look counter tops. Her apartment sized appliances were also new, even the microwave Maria’s position at the winery allowed her to have a better quality of life than most of her neighbors. When Maria arrived home we started on dinner, I helped the best I could. Women worldwide are the queens in their own kitchens and work faster without help than they could with help. We enjoyed a delightful meal outside on the patio. Maria gave us some wine as a gift. Along with the wine, she gave us a towel. A towel is always given when a gift is presented. This tradition was “ lost in translation” to me and perhaps not known by Maria herself. Maria was our first introduction to the warm generous people of Moldova.

"but he's black..."

Many of you have asked me the reaction of average Moldovans to Obama's election. That is their reaction, plain and simple. Not pro or con, just an observation that they can't help stating.

The word on the street here is that "America is going to change a lot." Not sure where they are getting that information - or what kind of change the average Moldovan is looking to see from America - but that is the feeling here, that a "new leaf" is being turned over. The Romanian radio stations seem to be supporting this - but truth be told - i haven't heard anything from the Russian news stations about the elections since they happened.

In general, I have found that Moldovans are very interested in American politics. Explaining the electoral college has been extremely challenging to my Romanian vocabulary. Often enough people ask me about Bush "Ce mai face Bush?" as if I know him -- and once a police officer asked me about Condi. They know American politics - and they laugh at "ignorant" Americans who cannot even name their president - or laugh at Americans getting caught up in things like the Obama's new puppy (Yes, that news made it here). They understand, however, that what happens in America affects them - and not so much the reverse. They do get annoyed, however, that we seem to know nothing about Russia. The feeling here was pretty against McCain from the beginning because of his "offensive behavior towards Russia."

I tell Moldovans that this is not something on the average American's mind - how Russia feels. They found that hard to beleive, it being such a big country. We are, worlds apart. And this American, for one, is excited to move back into the non-Russian influenced hemisphere. Can't wait.

813 down; 7 to go

With barely a week left in Moldova, I am half going crazy, half sad and half very excited. I know, that's three halves. I have more emotions right now than normal - so I get an extra half. I've said it before -- something I will miss in Moldova is sincerity - people take the time to be extra, extra nice to you - and words are heavy here - you say something, you mean it. If you don't say something, what's your problem, dude?

So here are the top 7 things people have "toasted" me for in Moldova. (Instead of a simple "cheers" toasts are personal, include wishes for future, health, and the state of the world. And they happen pretty often).

1) My health
2) The health of my family
3) The health of my future children
4) To find love - not someone beautiful, but someone who understands you
5) To stay how you are, always
6) Happiness, wealth and success.
7) Most recently - that we will meet again, and soon.

inca 10 zile

Friday, November 07, 2008

10 more days in Moldova.

Here are 10 Romanian words I am most likely to use everday when speaking (or trying to) English upon return to America.

1) hai! - used in any context to mean "come on.." or "let's go"
2) Pentru, Prin, cum, ca ... and other prepositions
3) asa - the moldovan equivalent of "like," basically a verbal filler
4) poftim - general interjection to express confusion
5) si - and?
6) scuza - scuse me
7) ce? - what?
8) Oye, aye, and Opa - verbal expressions like "oh man..."
9) fac - verb for I'm doing
10) magazin - easy to slip in because it is an English word, but in this sense, it means "store"

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