Tuesday, July 08, 2008

America's Birthday

There are a few days of year in the life-cycle of a Peace Corps Moldova volunteer that we – all of us – look forward to for months and months. I'm not talking about Halloween or Easter or Christmas. I'm talking about Wine Day and the Fourth of July, both events taking place in Chisinau with massive amounts of other volunteers, plenty of Moldovans, and everyone around in a great, jovial, celebratory mood. This year was no different. Rather than go blow-by-blow I'll just write about the many highlights.

1) In our first year here we paid no entry fee, there was a ton of food, as well as free beer, red wine, white wine, vodka, cognac, and coke. For everyone involved, things got a little nuts. One year ago we paid 100 lei (ten dollars) and got only free beer and intermittent food. It was fun but could have been better. This year we paid 150 lei and there was free beer, the two types of wine, and a lot of food. It was, despite the increased price, by far the best of the three. There were at least 120 Peace Corps volunteers there as well as another 100 Americans and a lot of Moldovans – it was a great combination of people, all of which were there just to have a good time.

2) Another difference compared with the first two years was the location: most of us agreed that the new place was a big improvement (a big statement because it was a great location in the past). It was basically a huge patio with a big pool in the middle. The party started at 3:00 in the afternoon and it took four hours for volunteers to start jumping in. We were just standing around talking when we heard a loud splash and turned around to see one of us in the water. It took literally seconds for others to follow. When I saw what was going on I turned to a friend of mine and asked him when we were going in. His answer?: after one more beer. Very soon after that, we had joined with the ten or so others in the pool, spending about forty-five minutes there. It was my first time swimming since June of last year and it felt amazing to get back into the water. The fact that I was there with ten friend with another 200 or so surrounding us and watching our spectacle made it that much sweeter.

(Apparently, when the first guy went in a Moldovan woman there turned to another volunteer and asked him what time it was. He told her that it was 7:04 and she said she was disappointed. The reason? Her and her friends had a bet on what time the first volunteer would jump in and she had 7:15. Sometimes in this country, our reputation proceeds us. The urge to dive ahead actually came from the wife of our country director who asked us, “Did anyone tell you not to jump in? Are there any signs? OK, what are you waiting for?” Her impetus pushed us over the top).

3) There was a Moldovan cover band there that has played the last two years as well and they're amazing. They play everything from Lynard Skynard and The Beatles to Jet and The Strokes. They played the last two hours and had everyone dancing.

4) I was especially excited because our new Peace Corps financial officer is from Minneapolis and had just gotten in the day before. I spent a good half-hour talking to her and her husband about life in my hometown (one of my favorite conversational topics).

5) They were also doing face painting for a small fee (two dollars for the biggest one). We wanted to pay my friend to get a teddy-bear painted on his neck but he passed. So my friend and I went with our own selection: a unicorn for me (which ended up looking like a horse with a saber through it's skull) and a kitty-cat for him. They were huge too, going from my ear to the center of the neck. The woman who painted them on thought we were totally crazy for doing it and laughed the whole time. Mine stayed on only for an hour or so due to my jumping into the pool but the outline stayed until the end of the night (4:30 in the morning). I got so used to the thing being there that I didn't realize until I woke up in the morning why I was getting so many odd looks all night at the bar – it was because I had an outline of a discombobulated horse on my neck. That realization actually explained a lot.

6) Another annual highlight is talking to the newest volunteers, those who actually aren't technically volunteers because they're still in training. It a lot of fun to have a few drinks and talk to them one-on-one, outside the presence of any authority and get a feel for them as well as have then have the chance to ask us some questions. This new group is really, really good, far better than my group was two years ago - we were and still are a very young group and at times were very difficult to work with. The new group and the group that came in last year, by contrast, are great. Part of me cant' believe that they have two more years here (which seems like a long time) but the other part of me can't believe that I was in the same position as them a mere two years ago (it feels like yesterday). It won't be long at all before they're dolling out the same advice that they were seeking on Saturday.

- As I'm sure you've noticed, my posting are getting a little more spaced out then they've been in times up to now. The reason is simply – my life has become increasingly simple. I'm in my village from Sunday afternoon to Thursday morning and in Chisinau the other times. There is simply far less going on in my life for me to report about. My village life is painfully simple: I sleep, play my Super Nintendo Emulator, run, and eat. That's it. In Chisinau on Thursday we go to one disco there for Salsa night, on Fridays we lay low, and on Saturdays we go out again. That's it. It's a rather enjoyable lifestyle and one that allows me to save a little money for my three week trip between August 1st and 21st.

It looks to me like now like I'll only post two more times but I think the last one may be a big, end of twenty-seven months type of entry. I'm still debating on if I want to write something like that but it's looking more and more like I will. Just don't keep your fingers crossed.

- One of the things that my Peace Corps lifestyle has allowed me to do is to read. A lot. So the following is a list of the literature I've gone through here, written in chronological order. On one hand it's a lot of books – eighty-five. But there are volunteers who have read far more, as many as 120, and one girl who left after the first year did so after reading 165 books. In eleven months.

In A Sunburnt Country - Bill Bryson
Rasputin’s Daughter - Robert Alexander
The House of Sand and Fog - Andre Dubus III
Running with Scissors - Augsten Burroughs
In Cold Blood - Truman Capote
Interview With the Vampire - Anne Rice
Made In America - Bill Bryson
Ben-Hur - Lew Wallace
Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim - David Sedaris
The Russia House - John le Carre
The Best American Sports Writing, 1998
Playing the Moldovans at Tennis - Tony Hawks
Into Thin Air - John Krackhauer
The Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell
The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
Mystic River - Dennis Lehane
Fever Pitch - Nick Hornsby
High Fidelity - Nick Hornsby
Bleachers – John Grisham
Skinny Legs And All – Tom Robbins
The Bourne Identity – Robert Ludlum
The Bourne Surpremecy – Robert Ludlum
The Rainmaker – John Grisham
Can I Keep My Jersey? – Paul Shirley
The Bourne Supremacy – Robert Ludlum
Naked – David Sedaris
The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
A Widow For One Year – John Irving
Blowing My Cover – Lindsay Moran
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Price – JK Rowling
The Game – Neil Strauss
Harry Potter and the Deadly Hollows – JK Rowling
Brual – Kevin Weeks
Cold Mountain – Charles Frazier
A Thousand Splendid Sons – Khaled Hosseini
The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck
I Know This Much Is True – Wally Lamb
The Lost Continent – Billy Bryson
Nickled and Dimed – Barbara Eirenreich
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time – Mark Haddon
The Intuitionist – Colson Whitehead
War And Peace – Leo Tolstoy
Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh
How Soccer Explains the World – Franklin Foer
The Last Czar – Edward Razinsky
About a Boy – Nick Hornsby
The Innocent Man – John Grisham
The Red Tent – Anita Dimant
Atlantis Found – Clive Cussler
River Town – Peter Hessler
The Cider House Rules – John Irving
Atonement – Ian McEwan
Blink – Malcolm Gladwell
100 Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Seabiscuit – Laura Hillenbrand
The Bureau and the Mole – David Vice
The Perfect Storm – Sebastain Junger
Band of Brothers – Stephen Ambrose
Theodore Rex – Edmund Morris
The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
Napoleon – Felix Markham
Mornings on Horseback – David McCullough
Life of Pi – Yann Matel
On the Way Down – Nick Hornsby
The Count of Monte Cristo – Alexander Dumas
The Three Musketeers – Alexander Dumas
A Train to Potevka – Mike Ramsdall
Kingdom of Fear – Hunter S. Thompson
How the Irish Saved Civilization – Thomas Cahill
Playing for Pizza – John Grisham
Hells Angels – Hunter S. Thompson
Lullaby – Chuck Palahniuk
The Good Earth – Pearl S. Buck
The Girl With The Pearl Earring – Tracy Chavelis
Rabbit Redux – John Irving
Fast Food Nation – Eric Schlosser
Choke – Chuck Palahniuk
The Godfather – Mario Puzo
The Education of a Coach – David Halberstan
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – Hunter S. Thompson
Othello – William Shakespeare
The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco
Stranger than Fiction – Chuck Palahniuk
The Russian Debutant's Handbook – Gary Shyngent
Snow – Orman Pamuk (in progress)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Finally, Some Good

At the end of my last entry I wrote about the glasses give-away that was to occur last weekend. It turned out to be one of the best, most fulfilling projects I've been apart of in my two years here.

As I mentioned, I have a good friend here whose cousin's wife works as a optometrist and who really likes doing mission work and who decided to come here to do free eye inspections as well as a give-away of glasses to those who needed it. Everything started on Sunday morning: my friend had put up signs throughout the village advertising the program while also noting that special attention would be paid to the kids who showed up. So on Sunday morning we walked into the building where we were going to work and set up shop: we had on registration by the door, in one room we had a place for the vision test and for eye drops, and in another room was the place where the doctor did the test of the actual eye as well as testing different lens strengths in order to appropriate the right glasses.

We were expecting a handful of people, maybe a few trickling in every few hours. We were wrong. Right away at 9:00 there was a throng of people waiting for us, a throng that never really diminished. My job at first was to sit in with the eye doctor and translate her instructions as well as questions and answers (all pretty easy work, as it was various combinations of the same words). However, after a lot of commotion outside in regards to who came and when, with different people trying to go right to the front. After about two hours my friend who was doing registration and told me how I had to switch places because, as he told me, “you know Russian and you can be rude with it, you don't know anyone here, and because you don't live here you can say what you want without having to worry.”

So I got to work door duty, which turned out to be one of the most frustrating and yet fun things I've done all year. (It should be noted that Moldovans in general aren't fan of lines or standing in them. It's actually not common at all to be standing in a store and have someone go right in front of you and start talking to the clerk. It happens often, actually). When I took over my friend told me who the first four people waiting in line were so I let them in order but after that it was chaos (there is a more accurate word in Russian, bordak, that sadly doesn't translate). I had to basically go on feel. It was always fun for me when a person tried to jump to the front of the line because I got very short with them, told them where to go, and gave them a mini tongue-lashing in the process.

The worst of it happened right before we broke for lunch. We decided to do a queue system so we could maintain some sense of order after we got back: I wrote down numbers on pieces of paper and gave them out to those waiting. The first ten or so were clear enough but after that it got a little murky. After a little while I said “who's next?” and all four people in front of me said, “Me.” I looked at them and said, “Listen. I have four people here in front of me. Only one of you can be next. You know the truth. There's only one truth and when I ask for it I get four voices from four people. I don't know anything – you yourselves know. So please, tell me, who is first?” They looked for a second at me, then each-other, then back at me before they all responded, “Me. I was the first one here.” It was amazing (I promptly moved them all to the back of the line. It would be a lie to say the power wasn't fun to wield).

Things got a lot better after lunch, when the queue system went into full effect and those who came in time to get help received it. There wasn't a whole lot of fighting but people had a hard time figuring out the system and what exactly it meant – they didn't comprehend that they could go home and come back and keep their place in line. For example, one woman came in after lunch while we were on number two and ended being in at number twenty-seven. She promptly stood in front of my desk – and DIDN'T MOVE A STEP – for the next four hours. I told her that she could go home and come back in, at the very least, two more hours but she refused. It was surreal in a way.

There were a lot of really nice aspects of the work, apart from just obvious. One woman came in, seventy-eight years old and physically strong and sturdy (although her face had the wrinkles of a person who has spent twelve hours a day, eight months a year, outside). As part of my work in registering them I had to get general information and things like that and when I asked her about her eyes she responded, “I'm seventy-eight years old. I see far. I see close. I have a few problems with reading so I want glasses for that.”

There was one man who came in, seventy-four, and my first questions to everyone was about their general vision and how they read. When I asked him how he reads he responded, “I finished forth grade. I can read.” “No,” I responded, “Can you read without problems?” “I have a forth grade education but I read well. No problems.” I chuckled a bit to myself and said, “I know you can read. But how about the letters on the page? Are they clear? Can you read them?” It was only now that he knew what I meant. It was a very enduring exchange (meant fully complimentary to the gentleman I helped).

Also, there are a lot of residents of the village who speak the same Ukrainian dialect that is spoken in my own village and a lot of people started to think they could talk about me, around me, without an issue (thinking I wouldn't understand). I took it for a while for me fill them in on the fact that I knew what they were saying – it wasn't until a woman came in and responded to all of my questions in Ukrainian with me writing the answers that people really got surprised. When I finished I told her that she was lucky I live in a village where I can understand all that she said – the room then got quiet and it was the last of the dialect that I heard.

It also led to one of the most rewarding moment's I've had as a volunteer here. While I was doing registration I went in back to where the doctor was examining eyes and there was a woman I had sent back there in tears, seventy-one years old and clutching her first ever pair of glasses. I asked her what was wrong and she said, “I'm seventy-one years old – I don't have much longer to live on this earth but I want to be able to see while I still can. Thanks to everyone here, I can.”

Think about it – you're in your seventies and finally you get your first pair of glasses and see clearly for the first time in as long as you can remember. It's heart-warming to imagine and was even more heart-warming to see.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Nothing big has happened to me in the last week with which I can use to introduce the rest of the entry – it's been a pretty slow last week. But I figure I should fill people in on what I've been up to: if I waited for quality material and stories, I wouldn't be able to post anything for quite a while.

- We got our new group of English and Health Education volunteers. They were a little frazzled coming in because they had no layover in Frankfurt due to a delay in their flight out of JFK – they had only a few minutes on the ground in Germany before getting on their connecting flight. I actually didn't have a chance to talk with them the first day because they got in a little late and

I was tired from my 5:30 AM wake-up call. The tradition here is for a lot of volunteers to meet the rookies at a bar near their hotel in the center of the city but rather than go there I went to a different place where they were showing Euro Cup soccer on massive TV screens.

My mentality with the new group is simple: while I wish them all the best and will be more than happy to answer any of their questions when they are received. But because I'll be in America by the time they get out of training I'll never have a chance to get to know any of them. And it's still amazing to me that I was in their position a mere twenty-four months ago.

- On Thursday I had a very fun and depressing evening, all at the same time. I went to the south of Moldova to a girl's going-away party which was very fun because it was celebratory, with a lot of food and wine and dancing. Everyone was in a good mood. It was depressing too because it was organized by the other teachers and it was 100 percent better than the going-away that will not be held for me in my village. (I forgot to write last time: how many words of thanks for my two years of service did I get on the last day of school? Zero. No recognition for all that I did here).

- On Tuesday I did something I hadn't yet done in this country – went fishing. One of my students who finished ninth grade actually invited me during the last week of school to go with him at some point this summer and after missing on a few days, we finally decided settled on last Tuesday.

When he first told me about it I was excited but with one trepidation: I had to meet him near our school at 5:30 in the morning. I thought he was joking when he first told me but my alarm going off at 5:15 in the morning convinced me that he was, indeed, very serious. He actually showed up twenty minutes late which really bothered me as I waited but my feelings of irk were dissolved when I saw him sprinting to our meeting place so that he could make up for lost time.

We went to our local lake with our arsenal – worms, bread, cornbread, and our fishing poles (I felt like Huck Finn – the poles were just eight-foot long sticks with eight feet of fishing line tied to the end with wooden bobbers and hooks). We sat by the lake for five hours and caught only four small fish, although one monster took our bait and was so big that he split the line in half.

- I was exhausted by waking up at 5:15 because 1)It was 5:15 in the morning, and 2) Because I had slept ten hours the previous two nights combined (although if should be noted that when I'm not in my village I go out of my way to not sleep at all, knowing that sleep is one of the tools I use to kill time when at home). The night before the one preceding sleeping I was in a village celebrating 'xram', the day of the city (or village), with eight other volunteers. I've written about these days many times before: basically, people eat and drink in the early evening then all congregate in the center for a huge dance.

At this particular dinner something amazing happened, something that hadn't occurred in almost two years: I ate some much I couldn't sleep anymore. It was a combination of Russian salad, sausage, cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers, chicken, fresh onion, rabbit (very tender), mushrooms, and rice wrapped in grape leaves. I think I ate half a rabbit just by myself. There was also plenty of wine and cognac to go around too.

At around 11:00 in the evening we went to the center where there were literally hundreds of people gathered around, all of them doing nothing but the national dance called the hora in which people lock arms around each-other, form a big circle, and proceed to circle around and around around for the duration of the song, doing some sort of cross-over step with their legs. It's simple and people here love it. I can't express this enough: they love it. At any even where five or more people are dancing, there'll be a hora. And because we were there with all the Moldovans, we fell right into lock step until 2:30 in the morning, when we decided to finally head home.

- The previous two nights I went to a town about two hours north of Chisinau called Singerei to hang with a friend of mine there, another volunteer who happens to have an XBox that drew my attention. I got there at 7:00 on Friday, played until 2:00 in the morning, woke up at 9:00 on Saturday and played until 7:00 at night, breaking for nothing more than the bathroom, a shower, and a three minute run to the local store. It might seem like a big waste of time to the casual reader but I not only would disagree, I would say that I can't wait to get back and do it again, likely next weekend.

In the evening we decided to go out and ended up at a great disco, one of the best that has to be in any regional center in this country. We ended up there and at another place until 5:15 in the morning and I have to say, there's nothing stranger than going to bed and walking past people who have already woken up to start their work day. It's something I did only once or twice in all my time in America but something I've done about a half dozen times both here and in Russia and I'm still not used to it.

- This weekend I'm actually going to do something productive. The cousin of a friend of mine is coming in from America and the cousin's wife works as an optometrist; they're bringing in 200 pairs of glasses and giving them out to villagers in my friends village. But it's a village in which about forty percent of the village doesn't speak any Romanian so I need to go and help translate. It promises to be a really good time, one that will not only benefit me but others as well. I'm already looking forward to it.

- I'll end with a few pictures. The one on top is of me at the wedding with my host-brother and his new bride, taken at about 5:30 in the morning. The second one is of the rather motley crew (said fully complimentary) I met at my host-grandpa's house on the last day of school. Grandpa is on the left, his best friend since childhood next to him, his neighbor next, and finally the woman who comes to take care of him on the far right.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


I realized something this last week: these next free seven weeks will be the last time until I retire in a few decades that I will have this much time off – seven weeks with no responsibilities, no duties, and the ability to form my own schedule in regards to work (my lessons with my kids in my village), doing as much or as little as I want and doing it when I want.

So far, my first ten days of vacation have been great. I've not really done much of anything. In my village, I sleep, eat, run, read, and . . . . That's about it. I've also developed a sort of reverse tolerance to life here; I can stand it for seventy-two, maybe eighty-four consecutive hours before I have to get out again, before I just can't take it anymore. I regularly forget what day of the week it is. When I'm not in my village I'm either in Chisinau or in a friends village and my plans change from day to day. On Monday of this week I was in the village of a girl who lives in the south of Moldova and I called my host-mom, telling her where I was and then saying how I had no idea when I would return home – maybe in a day, maybe two days, maybe in another week – and that no news from me means that everything was OK (I ended up returning home the next day due to a lack of clean clothes).

A good example of all this happened last week. My original plan was to leave last Wednesday to go to xram – the day of the city – in the village of one girl who lives about thirty-five miles from the Ukrainian border but the day before her mom de-invited me. Then I wanted to go to my regional center and hang-out with the girl who lives there on Thursday but she had too much work so I waited until Friday. From there I didn't really have a plan but got an invitation to go the south to another girl's village with some other volunteers. Again, my plan was to get there on Saturday and roll out on Sunday morning on the bus at 6:00 AM.

But all five of us went out to a bar/disco in the village on Saturday night (one of my top ten nights out ever in this country) and didn't go to sleep until 3:30, quickly erasing any thoughts I had of getting up two hours later. Which turned out to be a great decision because the next day we didn't really do anything. We woke up, ate pancakes cooked with Bisquick mix, then laid out on the sun all day doing almost nothing (more on this at the end). Two other volunteers showed in the afternoon, bringing the total up to seven of us (or five percent of Peace Corps Moldova), and they just continued in the laziness. It was great. The day ended with dinner, house wine, and Euro Cup 2008 soccer.

My plans for the next week? I got home Monday afternoon, I'll be here on Tuesday, leaving Wednesday morning, and not coming back until next Sunday. I'll be in Chisinau, in the North, in the South. Everywhere but home.

- On Wednesday the 11th we're getting our new group of volunteers, which is always a great day. It'll be a little odd because I'm not going to get a chance to really get to know any of them, but it's great because they all look at us second-year volunteers like we are wise sages.

- I wrote that I was in a village on Saturday and Sunday but the word 'village' is a bit of a misnomer because it's basically a town of 6700 (or about five times larger than my village). They have things like flowers in the median, no-passing painted lines on the road, a large museum, gas and water. It felt like I had gone about 500 miles to the west. The host family is awesome, perfectly happy to have guests over. It's actually a Bulgarian village, the language heard everywhere there, but they all speak Russian too so I had no problems. It was a lot of fun, walking into a bar and having the girl point to everyone and tell the bartender, “They're my friends – they all speak Romanian,” to which I could answer, “Except me.”

- I've got a new pet-project here in my village: I'm teaching computers to the mom of my best student. It's a little odd because she has no clue about computers, not even knowing how to turn one off and on. I show her and explain to her how to do tasks like the opening and closing of folders, how to click on things and what not, but it's tough because she has no idea what she is opening and closing and I'm not really sure what to do. Even a basic program like Word causes a lot of difficulties because she has no idea how to use any of them.

But nonetheless, I really like my time there. The mom is really nice and always kind to me and it's good for the daughter because she has a chance to practice her English. They always feed me too, with the mom not letting me leave unless I've eaten an acceptable amount and the dad not letting me leave unless I've drank an acceptable amount of their home-made whiskey.

- I'll end by explaining what happened on Saturday that interrupted our afternoon of nothingness. We were lying in the driveway in the sun and on towels with music playing when the host-dad and brother drove in a tractor that was pulling a lot of hay that when set on the asphalt ended up being about 25 feet by 10 feet and 5 feet tall. There was another guy there from Iowa who actually grew up on a farm and we were quick to ask if they needed any help.

So they gave us two pitchforks and we joined them in their task of transferring it to the barn where it could be dryly stored for the winter. There were four of us total working, two Americans and the brother and dad. The brother and Americans manipulated the hay from the big pile into smaller, more manageable piles, then pushed those piles fifty feet (through a doorway) to near the barn, where host dad shoveled them into the barn itself. It was hard work, really labor intensive, and it had been over a year since I had done work like that. It was fun too because three of the girls there sat and watched while chatting with the host-grandma, making jokes.

It was great though. Half-way through we all took a break, drank some wine and ate a little. It was clear that as happy as we were to help they were equally happy to receive it.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The End

At the time of your reading this and me posting this, my time as a teacher of English in Moldova is officially done. All the grades are in, all the lessons have been taught, and we even had a ceremony today (May 30th) that officially ended it all. I'll spend the next few hundred words explaining just what that means to me.

In a way, I can't believe it. It's over. The concept of me being done is one that I'm still trying to wrap my head around. I think it really hit me last Friday when one of my kids was talking to me and made a grammar mistake and my 'teacher' instinct kicked in and I was thinking how I was going to have to review the word order for Past-Tense Conditional when it hit me – there is no next lesson. Ever. Everything these kids will ever learn from me has been taught. And it's amazing, both in a good and bad way.

I'll start with the bad so I can end on a good note. The mentality of my school is one that isn't necessarily supportive of learning English – of my kids, I can say that seventy percent have nothing more than a rudimentary interest in learning English, with certain classes having zero interest in the language. My eighth graders, for example, did basically nothing during my two years (in fact, my one regret from my second year is that I didn't tell my director on day one that I wouldn't teach them). In fact, last Thursday when I gave them their grades I went on to tell them how we were supposed to have two lessons this week but they had already wasted two years of my life and I wouldn't let them waste another hour and a half (that's a direct quote). Something last summer happened with my seventh graders, because in our first year they were great and always worked and I honestly couldn't wait to start working with them again this year; however, after our third week it was clear that something had changed, that all of their interest was gone and that it was going to be a trying year. I can't tell you how many kids, from many classes, showed up everyday without a pen, a notebook, or a textbook. I had one student in fifth grade who I told to write 100 words – in Russian – explaining why he didn't work and told him that he would basically receive a D- for every lesson until I had the work in my hands. How long did he take to write it? Six weeks. That level of stubbornness/disrespect/disinterest is something which I had to battle with on a daily basis for two years. My feelings would swing like a pendulum, with hurt on one side, anger on the other, and indifference in the middle. Thankfully, those time are over.

On a positive note, there are some kids in some classes that I absolutely, totally adore. My sixth graders, for example, are amazing. I would work with those kids for six hours a day, every day, if given the chance. They showed up everyday ready to work and when I taught new grammar or words it was clear at the next lesson that they had gone home and learned them. I went out of my way yesterday to thank them for everything they've done in our one year together to make my job that much easier. My top fifth graders (the best three – I can't talk about the whole class) are incredible. When I think of how much they knew on our first day of class compared with their level now . . . it's remarkable. A few weeks ago they had to translate a text about a hedgehog under a bed – the text was probably 200 words – and they not only translated it but translated it so quickly that I was stunned. They can listen to a conversation I can have with any of my American friends and if we speak slowly enough, follow along. My fourth graders are so warm; no matter how bad a day I had they could inevitably say or do something in the first minutes of our lesson that brightened my mood – I genuinely looked forward to our time together. And my ninth graders (again, the top four) are really, really good. I can't believe how much they've grown mentally and physically in the last two years. And their English is really solid, at least compared to what it was then they walked in my door of September, 2006. Sometimes they would give me homework and I would be genuinely surprised by the quality of what I received. About once a week I would say some obscure word in English (like 'scar') and one of them would already know the answer.

I think the biggest challenge facing me in my last two months here will be simply a change in identity. From the moment I touched down here on June 6th, 2006, my identity has been that of an English teacher; when asked to describe what I do here, I could always answer in the present tense, “I teach English.” I could aways say, “I am an English teacher.” Now, for the next two months, everything switches to the past tense, “I taught English”, “I was an English teacher.” It will be an odd transition to make.

- There are moments that, despite living in this country for almost two years, still surprise me, still catch me off-guard. Case in point: last Saturday night there was a group of walking around Chisinau when we stumbled on a free concert in the center, where a popular Russian band named Tokio was playing. There were literally thousands of people there listening and we had no idea, before getting close, that anything like that was going on.

Then, while listening to the concert, we wanted some beer so we went to a store in the center that we know to be open twenty-four hours a day. We got there and while the store itself was open, the doors were closed and there was a guard standing there, not letting anyone; apparently the place was too full. But rather than do the logical thing – when two people leave, two people are let in, and so forth – he let the line build and build while people left and left and then finally, he opened the doors and there was a mad rush in. Strange.

- My plans for the summer couldn't possible be any more open. I have no idea what I'll do – there are some dates where I have to be certain places for certain reasons but other than that, I'm free to do what I want. I'll probably be in my village 1/3 of the time, in Chisinau 1/3 of the time, and I'm planning on visiting friends – that'll take up another 1/3 of my time.

- I've got a new cell-phone number: 011-373-687-86-283. Feel free to call at any time . . .

- I'll end by describing what happened on Thursday with my sixth graders when, in an attempt thank them, I brought them to the local store so I could buy them ice-cream. Of course, I didn't tell them in advance of the plan but instead, as soon as they sat down, I grabbed my keys and told them to follow me. They were a little surprised and kept asking me where we were going – I kept saying, “somewhere.” Finally, though, we arrived and I told them to go inside and pick out their favorite ice-cream. They, however, were far too sheepish. They yelled at each-other to go because everyone was too scared to be the first. I finally got tired of waiting and just went in, bought something, and gave it out, telling them that I had already spend the money so they should eat it.

They smiled to each-other, thanked me, and immediately devoured the ice-cream. I figured it was the least I could do for them considering all that they've done for me.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Wedding Bells Are Ringing

Last Wednesday, I slept six hours because I had to get up Thursday at 5:30 and, because I had no lessons for the proceeding two days, I couldn't sleep

On Thursday I was at a conference with the others in my group and we celebrated a birthday – again, I slept five hours.

On Friday we celebrated the going-away of another girl and again, I slept five hours.

So you can imagine my trepidation when I went to my host-brothers wedding on Saturday, weddings here being endurance contests as much as anything else and events which require a depth of energy even under the best of circumstances.

But I showed up ready to go, getting home at 7:00 Saturday evening and after waiting for a ride from my host-cousin with my host-mom and host-grandma for a while, we were finally whisked away to the mayor's office for the signing of the documents (the irony being that we waited thirty minutes to avoid a four minute walk). We showed up and there were only a handful of people there, the mayor included, and my host-brother and his bride both dressed up and looking great. The others gathered around were mainly family and the young men and women of the wedding party – a total of maybe twenty-five. There they had their vows, we drank some champagne, the parents gave some words, and then it was off to our local sanatorium located about a mile away for the real party that awaited us.

When we arrived, after taking some pictures, we were met by a crowd of about 150 people who were cheering and in a very jovial mood. At weddings here the couple usually goes in first and waits next to an arch decorated with flowers while the guests file in, one by one or in pairs, and offer their congratulations to the couple and then take their seats. It should be noted that this didn't happen until 9:30 at night and I was already dragging badly from being so tired – it took a lot of mental energy for me to stay focused and I had to draw on the people in the room to stay up.

I was placed by my host mom at a table of twenty-five people, two of whom I actually knew: my host-brothers wife's neighbor who I had spoken to twice and who once picked me up when I was trying to hitchhike, and the wife's aunt who ate dinner with us once but with whom I'd never spoken to. That was it. Thankfully though, there was a married couple to the immediate left of me who were quick to befriend me and with whom I spoke for a while. At weddings, after people have sat around and eaten for a while, people go outside to dance for an hour or two. Me being alone, I just stood and watched the dancing but actually found it entertaining – I also didn't have the physical vitality to spare for dancing, especially because we were coming up on 1:00 in the morning at this point and I still had at least five more hours to go. So I went back inside and sat alone at my table alone for a while, having a drink and trying to recover a bit, although I tried a little too hard because the next thing I new the place was full and there was the married couple sitting next to me and giving me an odd look (apparently I had said some words to them in English, making me realize that I was indeed seventy percent sleeping yet part of me was conscious of the people entering around me. I then, however, closed my eyes only to open them fifteen minutes later with my host-mom telling me not to sleep and putting a cup of coffee on the place-mat in front of me.

I woke up at about 2:00 to the start of the traditional second dinner, when the equivalent of the best man and bridesmaid walk around the room with a decorated basket, approaching all the guests who in turn give little toasts, then announced how much money they were giving the newlyweds before throwing the money into the basket. I actually had a little toast planned but a combination of my total exhaustion combined with the mass of people around me caused me to hold my tongue – when they came to me I simply threw my money in the basket and told them I had no speech. They came to me at the end and my body was like a cellphone operating on the final bar and starting to beep loudly, demanding recharging. It was 3:00 in the morning – I was dying.

But then the most remarkable thing happened: I got a second (or third or fourth) wind. From somewhere, someone, I somehow started to feel better. My mood picked up, and thoughts other than my desire to crawl to sleep somewhere were able to enter my mind. I saw a woman I knew there, my host-uncle's wife and a woman who once a week or so goes to take care of host-grandpa (who, sadly, wasn't at the wedding) – I ended up drinking and talking with her for about an hour. At that point the crowd was starting to clear out while the bride and groom engage in a tradition in which they sit on chairs and all the clothing, sheets, and other wearable things they've been give are placed on them, after which the cake is cut and given out the holders-on.

Finally, about 6:00 in the morning I was basically drained and ready to go home, waiting and waiting and wanting to do everything possible to avoid the half-hour walk home. They kept promising that we would leave and then . . . the next thing I knew it was 6:45 in the morning and I was the only one left in the building. I must have sat down to relax and like a laptop computer turning off itself when the battery gets too low, just shut down. I didn't know what to do except that which I didn't want to do at all costs – walk home. But seeing no other option, I hoofed it home, arriving at 7:28 and passing out from exhaustion at 7:30 (only to wake up at 1:30 in the afternoon). It marked a great end to an event that I had been looking forward to for well over a year.

- Sadly, this joyous event was proceeded by a very personally sad one – the loss of my cell phone. It fell out of my pocket on the mini-bus home before the wedding and I was so busy with thoughts of the following few hours that I didn't notice until I walked through my door. I immediately went back and flagged down the driver who let me get on and search but I came up with nothing. I then went home and called myself (something I should have done right away) I heard it go right to voice-mail, meaning someone had found it and turned it off. Meaning that no-one had any intention of returning it to me.

On one hand the news was crushing – the days without a phone have been much harder than my time without a computer because gone is any communication with friends, the daily text-messages sent between us. There a few things that happen every day after which I need to tell someone but can't. But on the other hand, there are volunteers who have had computers or wallets stolen so in a way, I know it could be a lot worse. But it's still not fun. As soon as I get a new phone in eight days, I'll post my new number so that should the mood to call me strike anyone reading this, that possibility will exist.

- The conference that I wrote about at the start of this about the conference that all members were at – it was a little bittersweet, seeing as how it will be the very last time that we are all together. We spent the two days getting presentations from various Peace Corps staff and former Peace Corps volunteers who work with NGO's in Moldova, all of whom gave us information about what we can expect both in our last few months of service as well as out first few months back home.

We also had our final language exam and I got the score I expected on it, grading out at “Advanced-Mid”, the score I was hoping to get when I first found out about the scoring system. It's especially high for a Russian speaker – I've allowed myself a rare moment of pride over my accomplishment.

- Exactly three months from the day of this posting my feet will touch down in my hometown. Not that I'm counting or anything . . .

- Last Thursday, the first day of our conference, also marked the birthday of one of my best friends here, a girl celebrating her twenty-fifth year. As part of my gift to her I had my youngest classes, my fourth, fifth, and sixth graders, all make by hand cards for her with notes written inside them. I have to hand it to my kids – they did a great job and the cards were great, so great that the girl I gave them to actually teared up a little. It made me so happy with my kids that I can't describe it.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Last Trip

I'll start this entry about my nine days of vacation with my favorite story from times spent in and around Moldova with friends.

Two Fridays ago we went up to a town located forty-five minutes north of Chisinau called Orhei for the going-away party of a girl in my group who, sadly, will be leaving us early. We all, five of us in total, took a mini-bus to the town after putting our sleeping bags in the back before leaving the bus-station in the capital. So we got out in Orhei, made our way the fifteen minutes to the house, and twenty seconds after walking in a guy with us got a panicked look in his face and remarked how he had forgotten his sleeping bag on the mini-bus. It took me a quarter-second to realize that I also was responsible for one and had forgotten it as well.

So we took off to the bus-station and spoke to a girl there who told us that the mini-bus we came in on had gone to the final parking lot for the night and gave us directions there. We went to one lot – not the right one – and from there got directions for the final one. We walked up to the people working there, explained them our situation, and they allowed us to walk around to find our ride and which we discovered within seconds. The men working there were not really sure what to do but were very helpful, making calls and eventually telling us that either the driver would come with the key or we would have to wait until 10:00 the next morning. A few minutes later they gave us the good news, that we would have to wait only ten minutes to get our things.

To thank the driver for coming back to help us my friend and I went to the store and bought a bottle of beer and when the driver (an elderly, shorter guy) opened the door and let us take the bags I gave him the bottle and said, “For your help.” He got a little smirk on his face, brightened up a bit, and made this sound that Moldovans do which is like a long, drawn out “hey” but without the “h”. I responded by shrugging my shoulders with a bigger smile and saying a slightly higher-pitched version of the “hey”. It was classic.

Notes (rather than a blow-by-blow of the whole vacation, I'll list off the highlights):
- As written about in my last entry, on April 27th we celebrated Orthodox Easter here in Moldova. I went with a friend of mine to visit a girl in the south of Moldova. We arrived on Saturday and went to the church to join the people in the village at the church at 3:00 in the morning, having gone to sleep at 10:30 the night before. We were there for an hour and a half, watching the cross being carried around the church with the 400 or so people also gathered there while the priest also sprayed down everything and everyone with holy water. After that we returned to the house we were staying at for a little meal and two shots of vodka (at 5:15 in the morning). We returned to sleep and rested all day before having the big meal at 4:00 in the afternoon, four of us Americans sitting around talking with each-other and with the parents of a buddy of mine who called while we were there.

- We spent two nights, three days in the town of Vadul lui Voda, which I previously described as the Breezy Point of Moldova. It was a plan dependent on the weather: good weather would be a great time, bad weather would put a serious damper on the occasion. Well, it rained non-stop for two days, leaving us with nothing to do but sit around all day, go on walks when the weather cleared for a while, and sat in the sauna for two hours a night. Of the three, I'll let you guess what was the most enjoyable.

- Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday of the week marked four of the best evenings I've had in my three years. On Thursday night a group of fifteen of us went to a disco in Chisinau where they had salsa dancing, a great time. I had no idea how to do it upon walking in the door but a good friend of mine here is a girlfriend from San Diego who turned out to be a proficient teacher. On Friday it was that aforementioned party at the house where I was 100% in my element, walking around with a drink in one hand while talking to the fifty or so other volunteers who I knew there. It was great to just go from room to room in this huge house, chatting up groups of people. On Saturday night (after a three hour nap in the afternoon) we went to a bar where we heard an amazing Doors cover band. And on Sunday we went 120 miles to the north of Moldova to a town called Glodeni for a Cinco de Mayo celebration with another twenty volunteers.

- On my way home from Chisinau on Monday I saw a sight I never expected to see in my village. We were on the road in on a mini-bus when, on the side of the road, I saw three people, clearly tourists and all holding stuffed frame-packs with lost looks on their faces. As we drove by they started to point the other way and I saw them mouth in English, “Are you going there?” I didn't do anything and just continued to sit for the final few minutes to my house. I have – and will never have – any idea what they were doing in Hirjauca.

- I've written before about how in the last month or so I've started running, mainly as an effective means of passing the time but also to get some exercise. My stamina is getting pretty good – I'm up to fifty minutes, three times a week, while adding five minutes per week until I hit an hour. Naturally, this much time spent on the road leads to some interesting reactions

The most basic reaction, especially from the elderly crowd, is disbelief; most people have no idea why any person would want to waste their time by running (although basically, they can't comprehend it because no one around here really has time to run as there is just too much work). There can also be some mis-comprehension, as people will stop me on their horse-drawn carts or cars offer to stop and pick me up, thinking I'm running to/from something. And for my kids . . . it's usually a combination of shock and awe. And just yesterday a drunk guy – from the front seat of the van he was driving – yelled at me that 'vodka is the other way.'

- There's two articles that we've been shown that I'll pass along links to: the first one is general just about the Peace Corps. I actually agree with eighty percent of what he says. The second one applies directly to Moldova and is really interesting while being very sad at the same time.

- My host-brothers wedding in next Saturday and I'm as excited about it as I've been about anything in a long time.

- My favorite part of vacation was written about at the start of this entry but my favorite part of my time spent in my village happened on my visit to Grandpa on Wednesday afternoon. I think that my favorite moments with him are when I say something that makes him really, really laugh, when he leans back a little with his mouth open – those times are great for me.

I was lucky this week because I had two such moments. First, when talking about my host-brothers wedding next Saturday, I asked him if we would be there and he responded that he didn't know about the transport there and back. I told him that if no one came for him I would bring him and he answered that he can't because of his knees – I told him that I'll carry him on my back for the two miles of no one comes, which elicited the first laughter from him. Then I told him that at the wedding there will be a lot of girls and maybe we, me and eighty-one year old grandpa, can find girls there.

He laughed so hard it was likely the best part of his week. It certainly was the best part of mine.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

And I'm Done

For all intensive purposes, at the time of this posting my time as a TEFL teacher in Peace Corps Moldova is done. Yes, I won't leave this country until August 1st and won't arrive back in America until August 21st (I bought the tickets last weekend), and while we still have technically five more weeks of lessons, I'm counting myself as done. Allow me to explain.

Technically my vacation started yesterday at 11:15 in the morning when I left school – I'll write about my plans in a second – and after our vacation we have four short weeks of school. However, we have no lessons on Monday and Friday of the first week (Monday for Easter of the Dead, Friday for Victory Day), and the week after I'll have Thursday and Friday off for a Peace Corps conference. Then there's only two weeks but the last week doesn't count because grades are due a week before the final day of classes, making the final five days in school an exercise in creatively killing time. Therefore, we have only one real full week of lessons where we are supposed to pass along a semblance of education to our students.

How will I pass the time? For starters, I'm giving tests to four of my six classes, doing a review of all information given since our last vacation a long seven weeks ago. As for the rest of the year, my kids are getting one large assignment that will be due sometime during the last two weeks in May in which they will have to use all of the grammar we've learned this year: I tell them the grammar, the times it need to be used, and how many points they will receive for each usage. The topic is simple – they have to write about themselves. That's it. I've told them that they can give me only two rough drafts to check over and that I'll be more than happy to do so when requested. I'll only check their work twice because if I did it any other way I would get the question, “How do you say this?”, at least 100 times from everyone; to nip that I've had to make a few changes.

And those changes mark the beginning of the end of my two years in my school.

- Outside of the classroom there is one problem that I've made my personal crusade during my second year. It's cellphones.

During my first year I didn't have any problem with cellphones because there was no real coverage in my village and as a result, it didn't make any sense for families and students to spend money on purchases that were obsolete for all intensive purposes. About this time last year, however, a new European company called Orange bought out one of the service providers here and made an effort to expand coverage – it wasn't long until they put up a tower in the village next to mine (I can tell you the exact date, May 2nd, when coverage finally arrived).

With this expansion of phones has come an equally large dislike of them by me. Fortunately for me and unfortunately for my kids, I've had to implement and enforce a 'no cellphone' in my classroom. The second one foot crosses my threshold I don't want to hear as much as a peep from any phone in the room, even through headphones. I tell them that what they want to do in the hallway is their own business but once they cross past the door they are in my territory and I can ask for what I want.

I finally totally obliterated the problem last month when on Tuesday I, already in a fired-up mood, took a phone that the kid had decided to play music through, in the middle of a lesson. I promptly deleted all the sounds. Ten minutes later another phone went off the girl holding just grinned. All her sounds were gone twenty seconds later.

Needless to say, it was the last time I've had a problem.

- I'm (and have been) looking forward to this next vacation with such excitement that I can't even begin do describe it. I'm heading down to a girl's village in the south on Saturday where I'll spend the Easter holiday on Sunday – it's the same village I've been to twice already and have always had a great time. Then on Tuesday there's a group of us heading to a town called Vadul lui Voda, located about ten miles from Chisinau and the place that is most popular within country for Moldovans to travel to and a great place to relax (the best way to describe it would be to compare it to Breezy Point in Brainerd. For anyone outside of Minnesota reading this, that will make no sense. But that's the best comparison I can come up with). We'll be there for a few days too.

That's it. That's the plan. A whole lot of nothing, which is exactly what I want.

- One thing I've become increasingly cognizant of during my almost two years here is the weather. It may seem like a thing that is totally obvious but until you live in an environment like this, where the quality of life of everyone greatly depends on what comes (and doesn't come) from the sky, it really changes your awareness.

If you'll remember, last year we suffered through the worst drought seen in this country in over sixty years. We had three days of rain from the middle of May through the first of August, causing the costs of food to skyrocket and, in some cases, wells to dry up. The ramifications of this were felt in everyday life and by every person here; the most basic example is that most people were forced into a situation in which they had to dump a lot of the animals they normally keep because, with a lack of corn that didn't grow, they had nothing with which to feed the livestock. It may seem like something not too significant but in an agrarian society like the one in which I live, it's a massive blow because those animals need to be replaced with money that is hard enough to come by as it is.

Thankfully, the weather this year has been a totally different story – it's the perfect spring. It rains usually two days a week, then there's enough time for the soil to dry out. Just when it starts to get a little too dry . . . the rain comes. It's the ideal combo. And it's the perfect opposite to what we went through last year.

- I'll end this by simply stating that one aspect of life that I've become totally accustomed in my village that will be hard to leave will be the absolute silence that is everywhere – it has to be experienced to be believed. Sometimes, if I sleep in in the morning, I just stay in bed until I hear a sound – any sound. It's almost always a few minutes.

And on my daily walks to and from school there are two sounds that are constant: the songs of birds and frogs. It's a combination I think I'll never encounter again, especially at the volume and frequency with which I bump into them here.

Monday, April 14, 2008

(Not) Making Sense of it All

There are many aspects of being an American here in Moldova, many parts of life, that can make a born and bred Western like myself crazy. And I'm not talking about amenities like running water and a toilet inside. I'm talking about day-to-day goings on that simply make no sense and that, if added together, can drive someone like me nuts.

The most obvious examples of this happen in Chisinau, where being in the capital of a European nation makes some people and establishments feel like they are more important than they really are. For example, a few months ago I went to meet with a girl in Chisinau who had spent last summer in America and who wanted to talk about her experiences there. She told me to meet at a certain hotel in the center, a lower-class place in any other European nation but one here that is just middle-class (it costs twenty-five dollars a night), and a hotel that we Peace Corps volunteers are very familiar with because we hold a fair amount of conferences there. Upon walking through the door I started to scan the lobby for the girl but before I got too far I (dressed in normal every-day clothes) immediately had the guard at the door ask me in Russian for what reason I had come and what I wanted there. I told him I was just looking for a person but that is really beside the point – the point is that, at this little hotel in this little capital, I was grilled by this odd guard (I should have just looked at him oddly and answered something in English). Compare this reaction to the one we had at the Hilton Hotel in Cairo, where my two friends and I walked in also dressed like normal tourists and which where a room costs 125 dollars a night - were greeted with nothing but smiles and welcomes when our only goal was to access the ATM there.

Or even in my village we have two stores side-by-side (THE only two stores), both of which work the exact same hours; even their breaks are the same. Am I crazy or does this not make a whole lot of sense – shouldn't they tier their breaks so at least one is always open? And to make matters worse, both choose to close at the one time of day that would likely be the highest in traffic, right at two o'clock in the afternoon when school gets out and a mass of one hundred hungry and thirsty kids goes by the two places that can placate them.

These two previous observations are just tips of the iceberg, just little examples of goings on that can really start to bother someone like me. But recently, the government raised the price of basic transport as high as fifty-percent, all in one hike. From the moment I first got to my village in June 2006 to the week before last the cost to get to Chisinau, one way, was 25 lei (about 2 dollars). Then, all of a sudden, last week they raised the price to 34 lei, which on one hand is only 75 cents but on the other hand is 1)Quite the percentage raise, and 2) Means that the passenger pays an extra 18 lei for a round trip, around 75 percent of the original total cost and enough to discourage many people on a strict budget to even think about such a trip (and this is just an example from my village – similar hikes occurred everywhere here). Now, while I realize that the cost of gas has gone up a lot in the last twenty months and that such a rate hike was likely totally necessary, but in most places in the world it would have been a gradual, incremental hike done month-by-month or something along those lines. Here? All at once. Just another line on the list . . .

- Last Saturday some of my friends and I, in an effort to add a little culture to our usual weekends, decided to spent 2.50$ and attend the theater in Chisinau for a two-hour performance. The bad news is that it was all in Romanian, leaving me in a state of dis-comprehension that was tough to get out of. The good news is that my time here has given my mind the ability to fill vast amounts of free time with nothingness. Teacher meetings, four-hour bus rides that go only 100 miles, hours of conferences that repeat information for the hundredth time – compared to such events, the play was a feast for the senses, far more entertaining that my usual mind-occupancy tasks such as counting the amount of times in my life I've flown or the amount of US capitals I've been to or naming all the coaches of every NFL team as well as many coordinators as I could. This was

- I've written before about the life-cycle of animals here and how they come and go so frequently that it doesn't really make any sense to get too emotionally attached to them. Farm animals are the ones who naturally go the the quickest – I've even refrained from naming our pig because while I talk to her if she's out eating I also know her days are numbered (in regards to her, I've maintained so emotionally dis-attached that I would be her executioner in a heartbeat if given the chance – it would be one of the highlights of my service too).

However, this cycle applies to 'pets' as well. I wrote back in September how my favorite cat was ran over by a car, the one named by my parents last June. A new cat had since taken his place as the one I preferred, but when I woke up this last Wednesday I walked past the barn and saw her dead as a doorknob, eyes wide open but splayed out on her side, body intact and not moving. She was fine the night before and in the morning, dead. No one really has any idea what happened either. I'm 33% sad, 33% indifferent (it was just a cat), and 33% of me is laughing at the oddness of the situation. And if any of this sounds cold – as I'm sure it maybe does – you just have to realize that this rapidity of life and death is something that all of us here just get used to.

- Last week my friend and I had a plan we had been working about for a few weeks; we were going to do a surprise visit to her village, to just show up out of the blue. The only catch was that we wanted to call her host-family and get their permission first, thinking it would be merely a formality and that we would be welcomed with open arms. So I called the house one day when I knew our friend would be at school and when the host-mom answered I told her that it was likely a little strange but that I didn't want the American, that I wanted to talk to the mom herself and explained the situation, again waiting for the expected welcoming words of invitation. So you can imagine my shock when after my suggestion she responded with a, “well . . . this Saturday will be difficult. It'll be better another time.” I was stunned with disbelief and the only thing I could mutter was, “OK . . . . well then, we won't come on Saturday.” I went from being 100 percent happy to 100 percent incredulous in a few seconds.

- If you want to watch something new about Moldova and have thirty minutes to kill, go to YouTube and search “BBC Places that don't exist Moldova” and you'll find a three part series, each ten minutes, about a guy from the BBC who goes to the breakaway region of Transnestria. It's really interesting to watch and you'll also get some images of the capital city here. For example, the park where they have the ceremony that the woman crashes in right in the center – I see it all the time and all of us here use it as a common meeting place.

- I spent last weekend in the village of a friend in the north of Moldova, about 120 miles (or four hours) from Chisinau, going up there with another girl in my group for a trip that was six weeks in the making. Before we went, however, we decided to play a little joke on our host. We sent him two frantic text messages telling him how the bus was full and the driver wouldn't let us stand up because of a police crackdown; we then told him how we were going to the cheapest hotel in Chisinau and would roll in the next day (he told me that the first bus leaves at 8:00 AM – I said that was too early just to rub it in). He naturally panicked and the girl I was with couldn't keep it together on the phone so I, being the colder blooded of the two of us, had to take over. It was classic – we kept him on a string for a long, long while. It was so great that even when we got to his village it was clear that he was still seething. It was one of the top five jokes I've ever perpetuated in my life, and despite the fact that my buddy hated it, I would do it all again. In a second.

Saturday, April 05, 2008


At the end of this entry you'll find a series of pictures that I've been meaning to post, mainly because it's been a slow week and I don't have much to write. Just a few little observations . . .
- I can't begin to describe the differences between my life here in Moldova and my life in America – I could write 3000 words on just this topic alone. But the difference that strikes me I think most odd (apart from the outhouse and lack of running water) is my daily proximity to animals. Not just cats and dogs but to fowl and livestock as well.

I've written before how, every time I go to the outhouse, I walk past a pig, two cows, a horse, and any number of ducks/chickens/turkeys that happen to be on the little path. Sometimes I get home and there are literally a dozen turkeys sitting on the stoop to the house. When I walk to school I again walk through a heard of various birds and, now that it's spring, a few horses and cows. The oddity of this whole situation didn't fully hit me until a week ago when, walking home, I passed a group of chickens that refused to get out of my way. Being higher on the evolutionary scale I thought I should assume right-of-way and when the offending chicken refused to budge, I just clapped my hands a bit and yelled out, startling the offending bird and freeing up my path. I then realized, the moment after I had passed, just how odd my world has become, how I can count on one hand the amount of times in America that I had seen a real live chicken before coming here but how now I have gotten to the point where 1)Seeing animals like this doesn't even phase me and 2) Yelling at them to get out of the way doesn't phase me either. It's an odd state of mind to live in.

This point came to full fruition a few days ago when I was finishing my run and wanted to end at the stadium around the track located near school but I had to avert my path because there instead was a woman with three goats (another animal I never really saw close up in America: I can report that they are very creepy looking up close) walking them and they were in the way. How many times could/will I be able to say that?

- As I wrote about last in my last entry, I was lucky enough last Saturday to have two friends come visit me. They came in on our bus and the first thing we did was head to visit my host-grandpa, of whom I have written about almost ad-nausea. We got off the bus and walked right there, with them being especially surprised because he lives in the boondocks of the next village - “This is Peace Corps,” said a friend of mine. We dropped in – I warned him the day before of our coming – and he was pumped to greet us. He naturally offered us wine and when the first batch was gone he sent my friend and I to the cellar to fetch more from one of the barrels there. There's no tap present; instead you need to take a little tube, place it in the opening on the top of the barrel, and siphon it out with the mouth. Usually it's a simple process that takes a few seconds but for some reason we were unable to do so. Grandpa sat at the top of the stairs yelling at us in Romanian – something hilarious, I was told – and he was insistent that we get wine, so we just knocked away the supporters keeping the barrel upright, rolled the thing until wine started to pour out, filled up the pitcher, and returned everything to it's proper place. It was one of those odd, surreal moments that had to be really seen to be believed. It was the type of story too that Moldovans find amazing – my host-mom almost lost it when we retold her later on.

- I'll end with a description of the pictures that accompany this entry: I figured it's been a while since I posted any I got some good ones.

The first picture is of my friend and I hoisting glasses of with with host-grandpa in the background. Under that is a picture of where he lives, with the outhouse in the foreground and the house itself a little ways right behind it. The third picture is of me and my host-mom (finally – I think it's the first of her that I've posted). I'm ready to go to the new bar. And finally, there's a picture I took last September and am pretty sure that I haven't yet posted – it's taken from across the lake that I usually walk/run around and in the distance you can see the village I live in. It's one of the best pictures I think I've ever taken and it's one of the images I'll use in the future whenever asked to describe my village.