Friday, June 22, 2012

Making Things Happen

After my vacation I came back to my village and wanted nothing more than to sit back and relax after my whirlwind of a trip. Well I got what I wanted and after about a week I started to wonder if I would ever leave my village or how in the world I would spend the rest of my summer? Sitting in front of my laptop watching YouTube videos? Great for a few days to catch your breath but highly unproductive in the long run and unsustainable for my whole summer vacation...So what in the world will I do?

Most volunteers find organizations in their community or connected with Peace Corps to work with during their breaks in order to keep themselves busy and not catch any cabin fever from being stuck inside the village all summer. Unluckily for me the plans I made for the most part fell through and it always seems to me like I am kind of away from all of the action when I am in my village so what I needed was a trip to the capital to get me reconnected to what was going on.

Luckily for me another volunteer came in contact with an organization that is going to be leading a summer camp for Moldovan students learning English and she wanted some of the people who would be interested to join her in a meeting with the organization. So not only was I excited about this amazing possibility but it was also a good enough reason to finally brave the ridiculous heat and head to the capital. The day actually went better than I could have imagined.

First of all, if everything goes according to plan I should be spending three weeks at this summer camp in the Ukraine...more specifically the Crimea...and not using any of my vacation days. Of course technically I will be working but most of the job description was just having fun with the Moldovan kids and speaking English whenever possible.

Right after this exciting meeting we headed off to an Americans house who lives in Chisinau and works for the American Embassy and who happens to hold get together meals every Thursday open to any Americans that want to stop by their house. I don't think I can describe just how happy I was once I got there. To put it simply they had air conditioning and a table that was filled with delicious and spicy mexican food. Spicy food is a commodity that you don't see very often in Moldova so this was probably the first time I had something even remotely close to mexican food in a year. Once I loaded up my plate with a beef enchilada and homemade chocolate chip cookies my brain nearly exploded trying to comprehend the biggest decision I have come across since the start of my service...did I want Sweet Tea or Dr. Pepper? And did I mention there was a ice cube tray with honest to goodness ice cubes (that weren't contaminated with Giardia). Basically everything I consumed while I was at their house were like rare delicacies that I probably won't see again for another year or until the next time I happen to be in Chisinau on a Thursday and make it to their house for another amazing meal.

Anyway, now that I am back home I actually have realized I do in fact have a lot to look forward to. Starting with my host mothers grand children who are going to be visiting from Russia (and only speak Russian...) who will be here on Sunday. In the beginning of July I will be heading back to Chisinau to meet my new site mate and attend a 4th of July celebration and in late June/early August I will be heading off to that summer camp in the Ukraine. With school starting up again on September 1st I think I should be able to keep myself busy. Any time I do have left over will hopefully be spent preparing for the next school year. (Fingers crossed)

(It is currently 98 degrees outside and has been in the 90s all week. Someone needs to tell the weatherman to send me some cooler weather. Or in the very least some rain.)

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My Vacation

I finally made it back from vacation...and what a vacation it was. To give you a quick over view of my itinerary I left on Tuesday of last week and took an over night train to Bucharest. Spent the day in Bucharest before taking a very early flight to Paris on Thursday. Took the train to London late Sunday evening and took a plane back to Bucharest on Tuesday. Actually getting home was quite the adventure involving a plane ride, a overnight train ride, a bus ride and hitch hiking the last few miles to my village in order to make it back earlier than planned because at that point I was done with traveling and just needed to make it back and finally rest.

But what a trip it was. Four capital cities in a week's time. Traveling on my own through multiple countries only one of which speak English as a native language and doing so without any assistance from a travel agency or tour group. Altogether I think I was really successful.

For a start Bucharest was a lot more delightful this time now that it wasn't winter and I had more freedom to explore the city a little more. I discovered a couple things I missed the first time I was there and was the most surprised by the fact that the people there speak so much differently. I couldnt understand most of what they said and the feeling was mutual. Luckily they speak English mostly as a second language instead of Russian so I didn't need to rely on my Romanian skills as much.

Upon getting to Paris my first impression was that I didnt really like it but then again it was raining and cloudy and in general looking depressing outside. But once the sun came out it was like a whole new city. Incredibly beautiful no matter where you looked or where you were in the city and it didnt matter if you had a map as long as you followed a reasonably large road you always ended up at some large magnificent building that was well worth the walk. My favorite part of the trip was probably the Eiffel Tower though. The walk up to it through the park was just perfect. And as you got closer you could see more and more detail in the iron work and it only made the tower even more beautiful. Tied for second place was the food shops selling amazing french pastries and the pantheon which is museum now but used to be a church and many of Frances most important citizens are entombed in the crypt underneath.

London was not as enjoyable. With Paris the weather was just a fluke but with London it is well known that the weather is very gloomy in general and gloomy weather has a way of always putting me in a bad mood. And in Paris there were a lot of times when the sun came out and lightened the mood but no such luck in London. It was either rainy and cloudy or just cloudy. The people were also not so easy to get along with. In general I had no idea what anyone was saying and as a person who quite enjoys the british accents and watches quite a lot of british tv shows I was quite surprised by just how little I could catch in real life situations. However, the accent did make dining in Burger King seem like a real restaurant. "How can I be of service to you my good sir?" "Shall you be dining in with us or shall we prepare you food as take out?" But aside from the pleasantness and politeness associated with the accent I found the actual people to be less polite. The best way to put it would be to say they were rude in their politeness, or perhaps polite in their rudeness. With the French it was more of a lack of politeness rather than the presence of rudeness. More apathetic I should say. In the end I would say my favorite part of London was for one finding a Dr. Pepper and for two just the overall quaintness of the town. It seemed more like an overgrown English town than it did a city in most respects and while I wouldn't say it was beautiful it was definitely charming. Which is in quite contrast to Paris.

Anyway. I am trying to rest after my vacation and this blog post is starting to feel like work. So I will simply provide the links to my Facebook albums with my pictures and inform you that as soon as I feel up to it I will be posting some YouTube videos of my trip. But for now just the pictures.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Busy, Busy, Busy

I feel like I have been going nonstop since the last day of school but thats alright I think I'd prefer a little bit of a full schedule instead of sitting inside all summer. But anyway, as you know already, I've recently finished school last week and went to a wedding saturday/sunday and came back really early in the morning so I wasn't too excited when someone called me up and wanted to meet me in Balti at 9 o'clock in the morning...which would mean I would have to be up by 6. But I made it work.

The meeting was with a woman who works at the University in Balti and she is trying to get a new program off the ground and more specifically launch a summer school training program for future English teachers. Another more experienced volunteer has been working with her for the most part this past year but that volunteer is soon coming to the end of their Peace Corps service and so I am going to do my best to replace her as a sort of consultant/assistent to the head of this new university program. My favorite part of today though was when one of her colleagues came and asked if we would be willing to review her doctoral thesis for her. How many people can say they've received that kind of an offer?

In other news it is super hot outside and on both buses all the way home the windows were closed. Im not sure how hot it was but I do know that the chocolate I had with me was liquid by the time I made it home. Luckily, however, it didn't leak out onto everything.

Now that I finally have a little free time I really should start packing for my trip seeing as how I plan on leaving in the morning...

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Moldovan Wedding

This is probably going to be a long blog post and I havent had much sleep so I apologize in advance for the quality of this least until I have time to fully wake up and edit it properly.

First of all. I havent been to many American weddings but I think I can say I understand what most of them are like or at least have a general idea of their most important features. The actual ceremony at the church and the reception afterward which may or may not have food  with certain traditions namely the cutting of the cake, throwing the bouquet and the garter belt. But other than that American weddings are extremely lacking in tradition and are fairly tame in comparison to a Moldovan wedding.

I had heard many tales of what Moldovan weddings are usually like and most of what I heard was completely true. Such as the fact that they start later, they dont take place at the church and they last all night long. I was a little worried about tackling this adventure on my own so I let everyone in Peace Corps know I was going to a wedding and asked if anyone wanted to accompany me. I was lucky enough to grab one of my friends from training site in Truseni to come with me. But little did I know what laid in wait for me...

We left the house at around 6:00 in the evening to head out to the wedding. Because I have yet to mention it I should probably say that the wedding was for my school directors daughter and one of the teachers at my school. So first our first stop was to my school directors house. Once we got there we encountered two well filled tables of food set up on the outdoor patio with already 20 or so guests socializing with each other. This is probably where I should mention the next big difference between American and Moldovan weddings: the amount of alcohol involved. Now I know in many American weddings alcohol flows freely but in general in America if you decided to have a wedding without alcohol or even with just limited amounts of champagne that would be seen as perfectly acceptable. In Moldova, however, the alcohol is part of the traditions attached to the wedding and therefore is almost always present at every wedding and available in very large quantities. But enough of that I'll continue with my story. I was served a glass of champagne and as per tradition said my toast to the health and future prosperous life of the bride and groom and to the director and her husband. Once the toast was complete the feast began and I loaded up on some fruit and cake and made my way to find a nice place to sit out of the way of the action. But that was easy to do because even though there were quite a few people in not so big of a patio it wasn't very loud and everyone tended to just sit in their seat and speak with those around them. I should take point to note that there was a second party such as this taking place somewhere else in town with the guest of the groom. At this point the bride and groom are separated and the bride was taking residence inside the house and I didn't even know she had been there until about an hour later when the groom arrived at the house to claim her.

At this point the groom made his way up the walkway being slowed down by the brides brother and asked to perform tasks in order to be permitted closer to the house, such as declaring his love for the bride three times in as loud as a voice as he could. Once the groom finally arrives he headed inside and most of us on the outside could not tell what was going on...however a few minutes after he made it in someone came out looking for someone who knew how to tie a tie...and I was the only person who raised their hand, even though my friend also knew she just didn't volunteer, which is what I think the rest most have been doing because I saw quite a few men with ties on and unless they were clip ons I'm not sure how they would have gotten dressed themselves for the wedding. But anyway, to continue with my story I headed inside and was lead to the bride and groom and was asked to tie the grooms tie since whoever had tied it before did not do such a great job. Personally I think this contribution on my part made me an integral part of the wedding...but thats just me. Either way it gave me an opportunity to finally see the bride and groom together for the first time.

After a lot of pictures were taken of the bride and groom together inside we finally headed out to the waiting minibuses and made our way to the real wedding which would take place in a reception hall in the larger, neighboring town. I was caught off guard immediately once we stepped inside because it was a very nice place and there was a live band playing Moldovan folk music in traditional Moldovan dress. There was also 4 dancers dressed in traditional Moldovan dress that basically ran the ceremony by being the ones that people were watching and by setting up things as we moved from one Moldovan tradition to the next. For instance as we arrived we all greeted the bride and groom and their family and were ushered over to the table where the dancers were preparing champagne as we walked by.

The actual marriage ceremony took place pretty quickly after we arrived and was lead by a simple justice of the peace sort of person who read them the marriage vows and called upon them to sign the marriage certificate. At about this time the wedding had barely begun and it was already 9:30. After a quick hora with just the family in the middle of the room with the rest of the room watching we all left and went to our seats at tables that were very full of food. It might have been late already but everyone took this opportunity to have what was probably their fourth meal and talk with everyone at their table. For the next few hours the time was spent interspersed with heading to the dance floor to dance the hora and then back to the table to eat more food or drink a little coffee. In between there was also drinking a lot of toast to family members as they made their rounds to all of the tables.

By around 3:00 or so the dancers began to bring in the gifts and laid them down near the family or in some cases on or around the family members. After which the real gift giving commenced. At a Moldovan wedding it is not enough to simply bring a gift. A monetary gift is also necessary, generally this ranges from around 50 US dollars on the lower end to about 1,500 Euros if you are the bride's parents. Normally at this point every one would give a speech and finish by saying something a long the lines of, "on the part of the Smith family we give 200 dollars." Basically announcing to the whole wedding congregation how much your family was giving. But this particular wedding was a little more secretive in that we were provided with an envelope for each family and instead of everyone giving a speech only one person from each table gave a speech and then everyone from the table handed in their envelopes without announcing how much they had given...though the envelopes had our names written on them so the family would find out later. Also one thing I noticed about Moldovan toast or speeches is that they are always very generic and follow basically the same formula. "I wish you much happiness, good health and many years to live and prosper." At this wedding they usually added in something about also having a strong stone house and having many children. Which are great things to wish for but seem so impersonal in comparison to American toast at weddings in which people discuss the bride and groom. Maybe even retell an anecdote or two about their character before tailoring their speech based on the actual bride and groom. But I digress.

After the money speeches came the throwing of the bouquet and the bride and groom getting wrapped up and covered with any and all of the clothing or textile portions of their gifts. The veil was also taken off of the bride and put onto the next person who will be having a wedding which in this case just so happened to be the bride's brother and his fiancee.

I left for a little while to see my friend to the bus station so when I returned the wedding was officially over so I didn't get to see what was the definitive end though I can tell you it couldn't have come soon enough because by that point it was already 5:30 and the sun was well on its way past rising. I finally made it home on the minibus at around 6:00 and went straight to sleep and didn't wake up to about 1:30. Now the real fun for me will be when I have to get up at about 5 tomorrow to head to a meeting and then getting up again at 7 the next day to head to Chisinau to start my vacation. I dont think I'll make it back to a normal sleeping rhythm until well into the middle of June. But at least I'm keeping myself busy.

Preparing the wedding papers to be signed.

Dancing the hora.

Our feast for the night. Most of the food I didnt recognize from America or Moldova. But we did have quite a bit to drink as well. Two bottles of champagne, cognac, vodka,  lemon flavored soda, and carbonated water, along with one bottle of home made red wine, home made white wine and home made vodka.

The live band which played all night with very few breaks. Also on the left you can see the male dancers...not sure where the female dancers ran off to at this point.

This is one food item I did recognize, Racituri, or chicken jello as I like to call it.  A very traditional Moldovan dish.

Being entertained around midnight to keep us awake

The bride and groom literally being showered with gifts.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ziua Copiilor și Ziua Mea

Yesterday was my first day off from school so naturally the first thing I do once I get up is head off to school. As I mentioned in my last post June 1st is the first official day of Summer and Summer vacation. In America the last thing any American students want to do is head back to school on their first day off. But in Moldova...When I arrived at the school (earlier than I would normally be there on a school day) there were probably 100 or more students. At around 9 o'clock they started another assembly much like the one for the last day of school except this one was more about younger students. The students sang songs and danced and afterward all of them were given vanilla wafers like cookies and a juice packet. The students all left in quite a hurry as soon as the refreshments were passed out and I was left to wander around the school and watch all the teachers working to prepare their class rooms for next year. Although mostly they were just preparing their rooms for Monday when all of the parents come to school and voluntarily help to repair everything that needs repair before the next school year. The number one thing on that list of things to do is painting. And I dont know what it is but paint in Moldova has a much stronger smell then it does in America. Unfortunately for me someone started early and had begun painted and it didnt take long for the fumes to spread through the whole school. Not to mention that none of the windows were open which is always a definite no no by American standards. But anyway. The rest of the painting will be taking place while I am out of the country so I guess I'm off the hook on that one.

Also I almost forgot to mention the lovely congratulations I received from everyone wishing me a happy birthday. In addition to more flowers and even a few gifts. I always feel Im getting mixed signals when students give me flowers because they generally tend to be roses which is great but they generally tend to still have the thorns. So once you have collected a few it can become quite difficult to hold them all at once without stabbing yourself.

Last but not least we now have 3 baby chicks at my house...we had four...but our cat apparently decided mouse were difficult to hunt and we werent feeding it enough so it stealthed its way into the kitchen and kidnapped a baby chick. Unfortunately my host mother caught him in the act and executed a death sentence on the spot. Apparently it was an unpardonable offense.

The crowd of students assembling for the singing and dancing.

One of our luckier baby chicks.

Our sour cherry tree. The last cherries on the very top or giving me some trouble trying to pick them.