Posted in Life & Such, Peace Corps, Reflections

21 Things I’ve Learned from a Winter in Moldova:

  1. Fur-lined pockets are the bomb*.
  2. You wear that cap pulled down over your ears and your forehead for warmth, not back in your hair where it looks nice.
  3. Also, it’s not overkill to wear the hood of your coat OVER that cap.
  4. Respect the ice.
  5. I WILL survive face-planting in the snow in front of a bunch of laughing children, if I don’t follow rule #4 above.
  6. Yak Trax are awesome. (Google it if you don’t know!) 🙂
  7. Cell phones stop working in sub-freezing temperatures. This can make snow photography really difficult!
  8. Respect the mud.
  9. Stuff your hat and scarf into the arms of your coat so you don’t lose them in restaurants, stores, offices, etc.
  10. Walk on the edge of the trampled path in the snow: in the middle it’s slippery, but off to the side the snow is too deep.
  11. Fur-lined boots are also the bomb*!
  12. It’s possible for the bottom of your feet to get cold, right through your boots, when walking on snow. (Who knew?)
  13. Other people are not as impressed by snow as I am.
  14. Triple ditto for icicles.
  15. People pull kids on sleds.  (I used to think they were only for sliding down hills).
  16. If I want to get anywhere on time, build in 10 extra minutes for putting on all the outdoor clothes.
  17. When exiting restaurants, start putting on all the outdoor clothes about the same time you ask for the check.
  18. Laundry dries on a line in sub-freezing temperatures.
  19. If you drop a wet sock in the snow, it freezes stiff before you can hang it on the line.
  20. Sometimes snow comes down fat and lazy, and sometimes it comes down in stinging pinpricks, and sometimes it’s in-between.
  21. I’m not the only one who enjoys gazing out the school window watching the snow fall.

*Don’t worry, it’s fake fur.

Posted in Life & Such, Peace Corps, Reflections

Through the Looking-Glass

Slowly, I blink myself awake and stare in befuddlement at the ceiling, trying to work out what time it is (what day? what city?) … What a lovely dream I had! There were airplanes, and chocolate chip cookies, and my husband was there…  Wait!  That really happened!  This isn’t my bedroom in Cahul, or some hostel bed in Chișinău, this is the bed in Alabama, where I woke up every morning for many years!  Although my morning-fuddled brain hasn’t processed it yet, I’m here to spend Christmas week with my family.

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Christmas Morning

In my same old robe, I wander around the kitchen making coffee… reaching up to tap the tricky light over the sink in just the right way to make it come on… working the coffee maker by instinct (although it’s been almost 7 months since I’ve had drip-filtered coffee)… drifting over to the cereal cupboard… reaching for a bowl without looking. Just as if I’d never been gone.  Just as if nothing had changed.  I marvel at the ease with which I take up the mantle of this everyday life.  (Mantle (n). A long decorative cloak which conceals everything beneath it.  Probably an apt metaphor.) It seems incredible that these little things do NOT seem strange after so long away.

And yet…

Most of my thoughts are with people half a world away.  I find myself obsessively checking FaceBook and repeatedly regaling my ever-patient family with other volunteers’ adventures in Salzburg, Budapest, Rome and Madrid. I wonder if Barzig the kitten has climbed my host mom’s Christmas tree again. What are my partner teachers are doing at the school today? KrispyKreme Little things surprise and delight me: Diet Dr. Pepper, light switches inside the rooms, dried pineapple, unlimited drink refills, ice! I take a selfie with Krispy Kreme donuts (I confess that I posted this to Facebook as a sort of passive-aggressive counterpoint to my friends’ glorious cathedrals, fountains and monuments).  When people ask me about Moldova, I talk and talk and talk and talk…  I am surprised to find how much I have to say!

While I slip easily back in to some familiar routines, the person behind my eyes is different. I like the changes I find in myself.  I am grateful to the people who have made me more confident in my worth as a person; and to the experiences that have shown me my ability to cope with… whatever!

Posted in Life & Such, Peace Corps, Reflections

Outlander?

Have you seen the series Outlander? Or maybe read the books? They feature an English nurse at the end of World War 2 who is unexpectedly transported to 1740s Scotland. On the bus coming home from Chişinău I watched an episode in which our nurse is traveling with a group of Scots. She is surrounded by people from the place where she currently lives, but is not from. They understand the way things work in that world in a way that she, the outlander, does not. Most of the time they are friendly towards her, but sometimes they are suspicious, since the two countries (England and Scotland) have not always been friends. They are bilingual, and she understands only one of the languages they speak. They frequently joke among themselves in the other language. And I feel a great kindred for this character, as I realize, there on my bus, that all of these statements apply to me and my fellow travelers, as well!

Posted in Peace Corps, Reflections

Double Vision

Like many people I know, I recently saw the new Justice League movie.  Unlike most of them, I was in a movie theater in a small Post-Soviet republic in Eastern Europe.  Like them, I entered the theater, bought tickets and popcorn, and put on a pair of 3D glasses.  Unlike them, I was treated to previews (and possibly advertisements, who knows?) in Russian, with Cyrillic characters. As I enjoyed the movie, I pondered more subtle ways in which my experience probably differed from theirs.

You see, in this movie there’s a sub-plot where we discover a family in peril in a small Russian village.  When this family spoke to each other in Russian, most of my American acquaintances probably heard something very exotic, outside their common experience; I had just heard Russian-language movie previews.  The person at my side and everyone behind me understood what was being said; in America they probably had subtitles.

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Not actually the building where our hostel was, but the very similar building next to it. Looks a lot like the one in the movie, doesn’t it?

A little further into the movie, during a pitched battle in the same area of Russia (spoiler alert!) Superman threw a huge building at the forces of evil. He threw what looked to me like a Cold-War era Soviet apartment building.  In fact it looked a lot like the building where I had slept the night before.  I wonder what it looked like to my friends back home?

Putting on 3D glasses results in a completely different experience. Without them the images on the screen are doubled, distorted, and flat. Don the glasses and suddenly everything jumps into a sharp, surprising, very different perspective. Experience is like that. What I saw, filtered through the lens of my own recent experiences, couldn’t help but be different from what was seen by others with different sets of experiences; different lenses. Noticing the differences, trying to understand from both points of view, is kind of what the Peace Corps experience is all about. Developing… double vision.

Posted in Culture, Language, Peace Corps, Reflections, school

Word Wednesday: Grădinița

img_3830Kindergarten. What does the word bring to mind?  Brightly colored furniture, and colorful decorations depicting the alphabet, colors, and numbers.  Lots of different manipulatives (aka t.o.y.s) for active young minds and hands to explore.  Materials for “make-believe” — young learners’ way to discover more about their world.

img_3832Lots of inviting books for children to browse through and teachers to read. A barely-controlled buzz of activity at all times, as little ones develop their language and understanding of the world, exploring, interacting and talking.  If you are reading this in America, sadly, many of these elements may have disappeared from today’s kindergartens.  But I found all of them at the grădiniță (“gruh-deen-eet-suh”)* that I was privileged to visit last Friday.
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I’m told that this building houses many classrooms like this, catering to somewhere around 200 children, ages 2-6.  The classroom I visited houses 25 students, aged 5 and 6, with their teacher and an aide.  They eat a hot lunch in the room, and take a two-hour nap afterwards in real beds.

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This is a public school, funded by the government, with some support from parents.  (Incidentally, working mothers also get a 3-year maternity leave, with their job held for them, mandated by law).  Show of hands: how many of my kindergarten teacher friends now want to move to Moldova?

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In Moldova, you leave your shoes by the door, and wear sturdy slippers indoors.

 

*pronunciation approximate

Posted in Reflections

Winds of Change

“The world is closing in. Did you ever think that we could be so close, like brothers?”

These words are from Winds of Change, by the Scorpions; a song written to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. And right now, I, an American, am sitting in an assembly hall in a former soviet country, listening to this song performed in English by a young Moldovan!  The world is full of awesome things. 

Posted in Life & Such, Peace Corps, Reflections

On Celebrations

Expressive young singer at the First Bell ceremony on Friday

My host mom has the TV turned to a talent show on the Russian-language channel, so I have no idea what the storytellers and poetry-reciters are saying.  But I recognize the cadence of their voice, the dramatic expressiveness of their gestures, tones and expressions, as something they have in common with Moldovan performers.

Skit at the Independence Day festivities

In the past week I’ve attended three different celebrations here in Cahul: Monday was Moldovan Independence Day, Thursday was a celebration of “Limba Nostra” (our language), recognizing the moment when the Republic of Moldova decided to speak Romanian rather than Russian, and Friday was the “First Bell” ceremony, when the opening of school is celebrated all over Moldova. At each of these ceremonies I’ve been privileged to witness numerous speeches of congratulations, songs, dances, skits, and poetry recitals by performers ranging from 5-year-olds to adults.  One thing that has struck me is the enthusiasm and dramatic flair with which such things are delivered.  Small children already know to used large arm gestures combined with fervent expressions and intense tones of voice to compliment the meaning of the piece being performed.

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Young dancers enthusiastically marching to their performance on Independence Day

This provides somewhat of a contrast with more mundane interactions.  Having been used to the American custom of smiling broadly at newcomers to a room, and the Ecuadorian custom of greeting everyone, friends and strangers alike; it has been somewhat of an adjustment to be greeted with solemn nods, or not at all.  I’ve learned that smiling at strangers on the bus can be misinterpreted, and that most often a solemn expression, or an enigmatic half-smile is deemed appropriate for photos.

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Cahul locals (and one PCV) placing flowers on the statue of a famous author on Limba Nostra day.

Nonetheless, I am entranced by Moldovans’ obvious love of pageantry.  It no longer seems particularly unusual to see people at special occasions wearing (probably rented) traditional garb.  And I love that any occasion worth celebrating is worth singing, dancing, reciting poetry, and presenting flowers!  I love that everyone from small children to the Romanian Consul is invited to participate, and the tremendous variety of talents they display.  I feel fortunate to be present to share in these celebrations with the people of Cahul.

“Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.” – Freya Stark

The life of everyday…

Posted in Food, Life & Such, Peace Corps, Reflections

Fruit Stories

IMG_0824Looking back… It was my second week in Moldova; week two of language classes. Our teacher was introducing the Romanian words for fruits. As she displayed each hand-drawn picture, my mind filled with little tales. How had I crossed paths with each of these fruits in my short time in Moldova?

caiseCaise (apricots)

My host mom is trying to explain the different things that are growing in front of our house. I understand tomatoes and cucumbers (mostly because I recognize the plants), and now she’s trying to explain the little green balls that are growing on the tree out front. Zarzare! She exclaims, growing frustrated. Fructe! Zarzare! None of my three electronic dictionaries recognize the word. Finally I ask her to write it down (a complicated process which involves searching for her glasses and a pen), so I can show it to my language teachers later. Turns out it’s a slang word in the local dialect for — you guessed it – apricots

Vișine (sour cherries) visine

So, after two-plus years of working in the afternoon and sleeping late every morning, I was feeling pretty good about adjusting to the training schedule, getting up early and being awake and in class by 8AM. That is, until one morning  about 6:45 on my way back around the house from the bathroom, I ran into my host dad with a 5-gallon paint bucket full of sour cherries. I’d been up long enough to brush my teeth, but my 70-something host dad had already picked an entire bucket of cherries!

prunePrune (plums) 

At lunch time we go out to the courtyard in front of the school and eat the lunches our host moms have packed. So I’m sitting on a bench in the shade, with my classmates, eating lunch, when suddenly I feel this tremendous blow to the top of my head! Shocked, I search for the culprit, only to discover that one of the unripe plums from the tree above me has bounced off my head and rolled across the courtyard!

Struguri (grapes) struguri

I went to study with a fellow trainee, and was thrilled when her host family invited me to eat with them!  The meal was wonderful, and the family was very friendly, asking all kinds of questions and waiting patiently while we struggled to answer.  Along with the delicious food, we had to sample the homemade wine, and her host dad kept using a strange word: poame.  After the meal, he insisted on showing us around his garden, pointing out the chickens, the tom turkey, and his many food plants.  I recognized dill, and was taught the word for it, and managed to understand that the unseasonable snow they had here in April (!!) ruined one of his apple trees, but not the other.  Finally, he showed us what were clearly grape vines, and used the word for wine, and again that strange word poame.  I pointed to the vines and asked Struguri?  Da, he replied, Yes! struguri.  Poame. 

capsuniCapșune (strawberries) – saved the last one

On the table in the kitchen is a little bowl with strawberries in it.  All of the strawberries except one are about the size of a nickel.  One is more than twice that big (think of the biggest strawberry in the supermarket strawberry basket).  My host mom tells me that that one is for me.  “There were three big ones,” she says, “I ate one, my husband ate one, and we saved the last one for you, because you are part of our family.”

Posted in Life & Such, Photo, Reflections

Backcountry Roads

“While traveling onward, on a backcountry road, I came on the village where first I grew.  I stopped to climb up the hills once again, looking back down on the gray slate roofs”

These words from the song Timeless Skies by Al Stewart frequently wander through my mind as I make my way around the village of Costești.  I find myself stopping frequently to notice the everyday beauty of these “backcountry roads”. (click to enjoy larger images)

 

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I am intrigued my the contrasts.  Powerlines by ancient wells.  Satellite dishes side by side with traditional tinwork.  And I hear the ending of the same song:

“I left the village behind in the night, to fade like a sail on the darkening sea.  The shifts and changes in the patterns of life, will weather it more than the centuries.”