Thursday, June 30, 2011
I have been in Moldova for the past 3 weeks and have not left my town I live in other than my weekly trip to Chisinau, what Peace Corps calls a hub site day. A day when all the trainees leave their training villages and come together in a central city (this year it happened to be Chisinau, the capital, but usually isn't). Peace Corps has these hub site days so that we can all receive necessary information as a single group. At our training site we usually have language in the morning and tech (in my case English Education) classes in the afternoon. On hub site days the sessions are usually lead by the medical office, the safety office or the country director. Thus far we have covered topics ranging from safe food preparation to diversity and sexuality to the economic outlook of Moldova, today's sessions were about nutrition, dental care, first aid, and safety awareness.
Oh and another common aspect to hub site days is vaccinations. If anyone was worried that I might catch some strange and mysterious disease I can assure you that if my medical kit doesn't have the cure then I probably have received a vaccine for it. So far I have gotten my Rabies, Typhoid, Hepatitis A vaccine while in Moldova and the medical clearance required I receive a Mumps, Measles, and Rubela booster and a Polio booster. (In the past Ive also been vaccinated for Hep B and Meningitis…as uncovered during the lengthy medical review) So Ill keep my fingers crossed just in case as there is still a few diseases we weren't vaccinated for. (Such as Hanson's disease, aka Leprosy, as one volunteer kindly pointed out.)
Lastly, the best part of our hub site visit is that it is pay day. As a volunteer pay day is sort of counter intuitive but the money I receive from the Peace Corps as my allowance is meant to be only enough for walk around expenses and for my host family. The money is broken down so that a lump sum that pays for rent, utilities (heat, electric, and water only) and food is given to my host family each month and I am given for myself about 1000 lei for a month. 1000 lei a month? Sounds pretty good right? Well 1000 lei actually translates to about 85 dollars. Which is meant to cover such things as cosmetic supplies (toothpaste, shampoo, soap, deodorant), snacks (any food not provided as the three meals from your host family, such as a bag of chips or a coke or most importantly a bottle of water) and any "additional" services you would like to pay your host family for, such as internet, washing clothes, or cleaning your room. Once it is written down like this it can seem totally impossible to live off of 1000 lei but not only was I able to do it last month but I actually had about 300 lei left over. This is partly because most products are a lot cheaper here than they are in America, unless they are imported, and because I don't really buy much to begin with. Just for an example on the money value in Moldova a bottle of 1.5 liter water cost 10 lei, a bottle of .5L Coca-Cola cost 9 lei, and a bar of dark chocolate cost 13 lei. I would provide more examples but I'm not really sure because I haven't really bought anything other then those three items…although I buy them quite often.
A few volunteers actually did splurge a little of our money today as we had a one hour break between sessions for lunch so we naturally made a run for the nearest McDonald's…and by near I mean a full mile and more than a 15 minute walk. It was well worth the walk and the money spent…not something I will do a lot since it was pretty expensive compared to my allowance. For a medium coke and a double cheeseburger it was 47 lei, which is basically the cheapest thing I could buy. The price escalated for more refined fare such as a BigMac or a beer…yes a beer. The building it self was very nice and I had heard from numerous Moldovans that McDonald's is viewed as a very nice restaurant…something they actually save their money so they can make a trip to the capital and go to McDonalds. To give you a better idea of what I am talking about the bathrooms had a keypad entry. In order to get in you needed to type the four digit number printed on your receipt. God forbid you lose the receipt on the way to the bathroom or have to go so bad that you can't type in the numbers. BTW if anyone wants to get into the bathrooms at the Chisinau McDonalds for free the numbers for today are 1-9-9-0.
I was quite caught off guard by the amount of people that spoke English and looked suspiciously like Americans. If I would have had more time and didn't have to rush back to the school to be back in time for the next session I would have questioned a few people to find out what in the world they were doing in Moldova.
The rest of the excursion was rather uneventful other than a woman who was handing out flyers that came up to us three Americans and said, "SSSHHHHHH!" I don't think I have ever been shushed as an adult…much less while I was walking around outside on a crowded street with much louder people. Needless to say we were very quiet Americans on our walk back.
Lastly, no trip to the capital would be complete without a ride on the public transportation, basically vans called rutiera or maxitaxi that are filled with as many passengers as possible. Although there are usually seats for about 12 people and the rest have to stand. I keep meaning to count how many people we actually squeeze onto them but every time I either forget or I am surrounded by so many people I really cant see anything at all. Today, however, I was in luck. I had a good position by the door and counted as everyone left. At highest capacity we had 26 people packed in the rutiera including the driver. Pretty impressive.
For my next blog adventure I will be describing the 4th of July festivities in Moldova. You might be surprised.
Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I had heard a rumor from people around the town, from my host family, and from other volunteers that someone would be staying in Truseni, the town I am living in now. That rumor is confirmed according to the list provided by the project manager but she also mentioned that the medical team had requested that someone stay at this site for medical reasons (because it is close to Chisinau and would allow medical better access to the volunteer if needed.) Seeing as how I don't have any medical conditions that would require attention I think it is safe to say that I wont be staying at my site. Also she let us know that another town that has volunteers is also going to keep one volunteer after training for the same reason (close to Chisinau/medical team requested), and that it would be a swap. So someone now living in Truseni will move to the nearby town and someone from the nearby town will be moving to Truseni. So basically even if I was unsure if my unknown medical condition would influence their decision it is now certain I will not be in Truseni.
So that basically knocks two towns out plus one that is labeled as Russian. So really I have a 1 out of 12 shot of guessing my permanent placement. Lets make it a game and Ill go ahead and put my money on number 10. Anyone else want to guess? (Also as a reminder Moldova is the size of Maryland so I wont be too far from away no matter where I am placed.)
(Upcoming blog posts preview - hub site days, money, July 4th in Moldova, my Russian lesson, and my official permanent site placement. Stay tuned….)
Monday, June 27, 2011
In other news my Romanian has progressed significantly now that I can form a multiple verb sentence. Such as…"Eu vreau sa beau ceai." -I would like to drink tea. This in combination with my dozen adjectives, half dozen prepositions, and some vocabulary related to family, food, clothes, and household objects gives me the language skills of possibly a two year old? Im not really sure…but I am very satisfied.
Tomorrow, as part of my training I am required to teach a group of my peers an English lesson I prepared. We have been learning techniques for teaching English and how to write a lesson plan the way Peace Corps likes, which is harder than it sounds because it is a very in specific lesson plan format. My lesson is designed for a 5th form (grade) class and will cover animals. In the very least it will be a lot of fun to be a teacher again instead of a student if only for fifteen minutes.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
One thing that I find the most fascinating about Moldova, or at least the town that I live in, is the houses. In a country that is mostly considered to be lesser developed and agricultural most of the houses appear to be much larger than I would have expected and are in various states of completion. A common denominator for most people in my town seems to be that each family has its own property and someone living overseas. As the person sends money home or as the family makes money by other means they put all of the money into improvements to their property instead of into a savings account. I have been told by Moldovans that they do this because the money fluctuates so much that it is much safer to "save'' their money in the form of a house instead of a bank account. Plus the improvements to the house do them more good than a bank account anyway.
So walking around my town you will see structures such as this…
or even amazingly nice houses such as…..
Another note is that from the houses I have seen everything is done in phases and it depends on the family what they choose to improve first. Such as the exterior or the interior of the house. I have been in a house that from the outside was nothing but concrete with no paint or exterior decoration but on the inside had what looked to be marble floors and a modern kitchen (outside the kitchen, however, there might be bare walls and concrete floors….constant work in progress.). While on the other hand some of the houses that appear to be complete from the outside might not have running water or an indoor bathroom.
And none of the houses are complete without a garden….and I was excited to know that I was able to recognize all of the plants in the garden even with my limited agricultural knowledge. In my garden they have corn, beans, potatoes, cucumbers, watermelons, cherries, strawberries, squash, cabbage, and here is the surprising one…..amazing amounts of dill. As much dill as they have potatoes. One thing they have used the dill for in my house is for a Moldovan dish called Placinta, (pronounced PLA-CHIN-TA) Which is basically a thin layer of dough covering a layer of half cheese and half dill, and Im not exaggerating about those proportions, and it is cut up and eaten very much like a pizza. While dill is not my favorite seasoning I can say that I do enjoy the placinta and might upload a recipe if I can work out the translation….
Monday, June 20, 2011
As a sort of divinely appointed penance for my slothfulness, at breakfast this morning I was finally presented with the Moldovan food of my nightmares. Chicken Jello. Yes Chicken Jello. Think of jello, change the color to a pale yellow and imagine instead of chunks of pineapple or grapes there is instead two whole chicken legs floating in the middle. My Romanian is not so good so I still have a lot to learn about talking my way out of situations so despite my best efforts I still ended up with a little chicken Jello on my plate. I built up my courage and was able to force myself to take a bite. Surprisingly it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be…don't get me wrong I didn't go back for seconds but I would relate the taste to cold KFC gravy with a little extra salt. Edible just different from what I'm used to. Which is something I am learning to appreciate more and more. (And if I was to make a comparison, at least all Moldovan food is very natural, compared to most American food which is packed full of preservatives and artificial ingredients.)
Moldovans in the town that I live in do things a lot like I am used to but with slight differences and it is getting easier and easier to appreciate and acknowledge the differences in our cultures. The town that I am living in now, however, is more of a suburb of the capital city and I am sort of curious about what the more rural parts of Moldova are like. I won't have to wonder for too long as we are scheduled to visit our permanent sites in early July. I think that the situation I have now is the best situation Peace Corps could have given me. I have a lot of set rules to follow, a lot of my time is already planned and I am near the capital. So everyday is not as much as a culture shock as it might have been in another town in Moldova. Makes it a lot easier for me to get used to living in a new culture and learning a new language in a place that isn't as much of a culture shock as I was expecting. And learning a foreign language is so much easier when you can leave the classroom and test everything you just learned with every person you pass on the street in contrast to in learning it in high school or college where that is nearly impossible unless you are lucky to have a friend that is already familiar with the language. In addition the the handy practice I get from the unsuspecting Moldovans I am also extremely lucky to have the best Romanian teacher I could ask for. She has been teaching Romanian to Peace Corps volunteers since the beginning of the program 20 years ago and teaches either French or Russian when she isn't teaching Romanian, that's language training experience you cant argue with. Our class even asked her why she never taught English and she said teaching three languages was, "sufficient" even though her English is very fluent and accent free.
So you will understand when I say that I feel very confident that by the time I leave my training I will be as prepared as I can be for my Peace Corps service and so incredibly thankful that everything has worked out as it has so far.
Thursday, June 16, 2011
However in Romanian there isn't a word for "the" so in order to form the definite article you have to change the word, specifically the ending…for instance.
Copil = a child
Copilul = the child
Copii = children
Copiii = the children (Not a typo. There are seriously three i's in this word.)
Copil is masculine noun, for feminine nouns they are completely different….
Fiică = a daughter
Fiica = the daughter
Fiice = daughters
Fiicele = the daughters
If this wasn't enough fun there is more. Every time you want to say 'my' you have to choose the appropriate form of 'my' to match the noun.
And of course as you might have noticed 'my' comes after the noun. In addition to all the rest that alone makes my head hurt even more.
So other than this piece of Romanian grammar the rest of Romanian is pretty easy, except for my unexplainable inability to say câine, pâine, Corpul Păcii
or any other word that has an 'â' sound, especially when it is in combination with a 'i'.
Monday, June 13, 2011
Walking around the town was great because we have all been very limited in what we knew about the town. The buses only drove down some streets and drove super fast so it was hard to really get a grasp of mental map of the town in your mind. We ended up visiting an Alimentara (food shop) and I was delightfully amazed to find that most everything I could ever want can be obtained from it. Later we made our way to the city center and saw the cultural center and a monument to the people who died from Truseni during the separation of Transnistria from Moldova about 20 years ago. The best part of the journey was visiting one of the volunteers house and meeting his host mother who was super nice and very excited to invite us all inside (8 of us altogether.) Like many Moldovan women she made sure we didn't leave without trying her cherries and some yellow cake and of course showed us all pictures of her family.
I had to leave a little early because I wanted to be back to my house so that I could finally meet the head of the household. Luckily I had already had two language lessons and was somewhat prepared because she spoke zero English and was surprised by my level of Romanian…in a good way. Especially when she understood that I did not know any Romanian before I came to Moldova and that I had only had two language classes so far. However telling her that took a very long time, lots of broken Romanian and a handful of gestures. And again like most Moldovan women would do she made sure to send me straight to the kitchen and fixed me lunch with many Turkish sweets for dessert. Foarte gustos.
Afterwards I followed everyone outside and helped picked cherries while entertaining a 7-8 year old with strange new English words.
We came back in and had a quick dinner. To give you a better idea of what meals are like I am usually given my own plate and utensils while the rest of the family just kind of sits at the table one or two at a time and after one person is finished another person sits down and starts eating whatever the other person didn't eat adding more food to the plate as necessary. One large glass of water in the middle of the table suffices to keep everyone's thirst quenched. Made for a very lively dinner table.
After dinner I was invited by the older teenage (19) boy of the family to watch an American street dance movie that apparently he likes alike. I hadn't even seen previews for the movie so either it is super new and it was bootlegged from some Russian website (very possible) or it was just a low budget film with little publicity (also possible) but I knew it was at least somewhat new because it featured Alicia Keys and Jay Z's Empire State of Mind prominently. However the movie was dubbed in Russian so I had no idea what was going on which I think made it ten times more entertaining then it would have been normally. And if you thought foreign films were entertaining when dubbed into English you haven't seen anything. With Russian dubbing it is usually just one very burly sounding Russian guy dubbing the entire film, both male and female roles. And from what I have noticed it seems like it is the same guy that dubs every single film. Either that or all Russian men sound exactly the same.
Anyway, rather it was the "amazing" American movie or the fact that everyone was super tired from picking cherries all day, I don't know but when I looked around the room ten minutes after the start of the movie everyone was asleep. I was about to join them when 3 phones all rang at once to announce that it was time to head to the discotheque. Yes the disco.
Going out is taken very seriously by Moldovans and everyone prepares themselves as such for the occasion. Unluckily for us as soon as we left the house it started raining. Luckily, perhaps unluckily, we were merely one phone call away from a ride in a Mercedes. I say unluckily because I have only noticed one driving style consistent throughout the areas I have visited. Everyone drives super fast and there are no traffic rules. So as soon as the doors are closed and 6 people are packed into a 5 seated Mercedes, we are careening down the wet dirt road at 50 km an hour with little to zero visibility because of the rain/lightning.
I was counting my many blessings after we arrived at the building three drift turns later and was very let down to see the place we had arrived at reminiscent of a train's snack car. Altogether five tables and about twenty people. It was a nice place with a flat screen TV, refrigerated drinks, a radio blasting European/American pop music. However about five minutes in the lights flickered and we lost the radio and the TV and were left with just our drinks, some chips and a pack of cards to keep us entertained. On top of all that the cards were a Russian deck of cards and in case you didn't already know, with a Russian deck of cards there are only 36 in a deck, so I was completely lost with every card game they tried to play.
When we finally made it home we were greeted with a dark house and candles. Luckily my cell phone has an awesome flashlight function…not just the screen turning white, but an actual flashlight. This particular function has come in handy so much that it is single handedly helping to alleviate a little bit of the withdrawal from not having my smartphone. (That in addition to the fact that my phone plays snake...)
Ok that was super long and drawn out but I really wanted to write it down so I would be able to read it later and remember it for myself. I hope you enjoy.
Sunday, June 12, 2011
The staging experience is nothing compared to what awaited me after we left the Philly on a bus for JFK. I was up by 7:44 and by my calculations have yet to sleep more than 2 hours which would mean Ive been up for about 30 hours.
The bus ride was rather uneventful and we were all surprised by the lack of traffic anywhere near New York. We got to the airport a little earlier than planned, had a moderately smooth wait at check in and a speedy security check. Because we did not encounter many obstacles on our way to the terminal we were basically free for about 4 hours to just sit around and/or visit the nearby shops. Shops in an airport…in New York City? Crazy expensive right? Actually not really. I was very surprised by the prices and even though they weren't cheap it didn't cost an arm and a leg to buy a lunch and a couple souvenirs.
Four hours stuck at an airport is not the most exciting way to spend the day but we were kept entertained by all the hustle and bustle going on near the terminal for a flight to Paris. Of course this being the only thing near entertainment most of us found our way over to find out what all the commotion was. From my untrained eye it appeared as if there was a squad of secret service looking guys surrounding an entourage of well dressed men and women. It didn't take long for the rumor mill to begin production and I was soon in the know that one of the men was the president of some African nation...though no one seemed to know which one. I took a chance and was able to get close enough to see the flag button on the man's lapel and after consulting Wikipedia it appears to be the Central African Republic.
The free time we spent in the airport did little to prepare us for the 8 hour flight to Germany. However, I was able to entertain myself by speaking in German to the Flight Attendants. I had been excited about the possibility of trying out my Deutsch before the flight and when the flight attendant automatically spoke to me in German and the others around me in English I couldn't resist. I think I was rather convincing as they never tried to switch to English when they spoke to me but there was a close call when I ordered coffee and she asked, or I assumed she asked, if I wanted cream and sugar, when I replied "nein" she looked at me funny and gave me the cream and sugar anyway. I was later thankful because the coffee was absolutely horrid and would've been nearly undrinkable without the cream and sugar.
I thought it was an appropriate experience to start my journey to Moldova as it required me to take my very limited knowledge of a language and use it in combination to deciphering context clues and body language to reply appropriately.
When we finally did make it to Germany we were ten minutes early some how or another, though by the time we made it across the airport and through another round of security we made it just in time to board. Boarding was in itself a fun experience because we went through the gate and it lead to a bus instead of a plane and the bus took us out to a smaller-than-I-am-used-to plane and we entered through stairs on the tarmac. Once we were on the plane the flight attendants immediately started to complain about our amount of baggage and in the end the pilot ended up deciding to leave some of our checked baggage in Germany, about three people from our group had the pleasure of one of their checked baggage not making it to Moldova with them...luckily not my bags.
When we did arrive in Chisinau I was very surprised by how nice the airport was and by the very well put together Moldovans in the airport. Mostly head-to-toe Prada or some other very expensive and fancy European brand. We immediately were taken to a high school nearby to Peace Corps headquarters and after a short lunch of pizza and soda we heard some short presentations about medical, safety and what to expect the first night with our host family. It was very difficult to pay any attention to the speakers even though what they were telling us was very important we were also super tired and super hot. However we all made it through and Im pretty sure I remembered most of what they said….
After we collected our medical kit, cell phone, safety package (fire extinguisher, smoke detector, and water purifier) and Moldovan money we were rushed into waiting vans and dropped off at our host families house. I am lucky enough to have a beautiful house and someone in the house who speaks pretty good English. So I spent a lot of time explaining things, eating, and learning Romanian words. (Side note on the food: Bread, Chicken, Strawberries, Cherries, and hot tea, what about all those horror stories I heard about the food?)
And now it is about 10:40 Moldovan time and I still haven't slept yet and I have class at nine…Time to go to bed.
I have another post I wrote that was supposed to come before this one but the computer Im using wont open it from my jump drive. Expect more posts soon.
After my first few days here in Moldova I am slowly starting to feel more comfortable and getting into the grove…
I can speak very basic Romanian and be understood.
I can find my way from my host family's house to the school (which is about a fifteen minute walk.)
I went into an Alimentara or shop in Chisinau and was able to purchase a bottle water and a Mars candy bar, basically a snickers sans peanuts, for a total cost of 20 lei or about 2 dollars.
I have not starved after three days of Moldovan food.
I have access to reliable electricity and an indoor bathroom (other volunteers weren't so lucky with the bathroom).
Some areas that I am still working on…
Under most circumstances I have no idea about anything anyone is saying….other than the very frequent "American".
I am for the most part watched over very closely which makes it good for my safety and transitioning but makes it difficult to be independent.
I am not thrilled by some of the foods that I have been presented with. My first night was awesome with basically Paine (bread), pui (chicken) and cheai (tea). However I was also given what resembled a crab cake for dinner last night and was not excited by the taste. and was definitely not thrilled when I was given my lunch for today and saw that it was basically a half dozen more of the little fishy tasting cakes. As a positive though I was able to tell them today what foods I liked and didn't like in Romanian so I think the food situation will only get better, plus this is the season for ciriesa (cherries) and capsuna (strawberries) and they everyone is literally begging everyone else to eat more of them. The soil here is amazingly fertile.
Internet. There is internet in the house but only one computer has access to it so it is usually being used. Which I don't mind Im trying to learn the language and adjust so I think the internet would just be a distraction but soon I plan on getting my own internet. Internet is apparently very cheap and very accessible both through the phone line with a DSL modem or with a 3g mobile card which is what I hope to buy and it will provide me with 3g internet throughout the country. Moldova has a very reliable 3g throughout the country apparently but for the most part not indoor plumbing....go figure.
Monday, June 6, 2011
I spent the last three days visiting my hometown in SC. A couple days by the beach helped a lot to calm my nerves, (and I was all nerves for the past week,) before hopping on a few planes and making it to Philly. Although I would have preferred a temperature about 5-10 degrees cooler I cant really complain because I spent much of the time in the pool or in air conditioning.
Now I have been waiting years for this day but that didn't make getting up at 5:30 to head to the airport any easier. One thing I came to appreciate today was the amount of signs in airports. I had worried about not being able to find my way or not knowing what to do before I left but today went perfectly. Even though I had a connecting flight in Charlotte I didn't lose my way once and had plenty of time to make it through all of the lines and was lucky to not have to wait for too long (even found time for a coffee and a bagel in Charlotte)...but that all changed when it was time to leave the airport. While in the airport I happened to notice someone with a Peace Corps emblem on their back pack and introduced myself and together we made our way to find a bus to the hotel. Unfortunately for us we did what made sense and went outside to wait for the hotel shuttle along with all of the other hotel shuttles. However, when a shuttle finally arrived from the appropriate hotel company it informed us that it didn't take people to our particular hotel even though they were both run by the same company. We followed his direction and made our way to the complete other side of the parking deck as instructed and was informed when we got there that we would have to wait longer and also pay money for the shuttle. When the shuttle eventually did arrive it waited until the shuttle was completely filled with people before leaving and it made sure to take us through the scenic sights in Philly, i.e. the oil refineries, the manufacturing plants, and a good proportion of the cities abandoned houses. After that tour who wouldn't want to visit Philly more often?
After two flights and dealing with the bus I was ready to relax but instead I was hurried to finish paper work and sit for about three hours doing meet and greet activities, taking a short break and then back to more activities. I wouldn't say it was boring or a waste of time but it was just hard to do after all the I had been through today. After we finished all of us headed to the lobby and conversed about the possibility of going out to dinner but none of us went anywhere for about 20 minutes. Luckily a group of us finally edged ourselves close enough to the door that we couldn't hold out any longer.
So what exactly does one eat when they go to a restaurant in Philly? A cheese steak of course. In the end about twenty of us ended up eating at the same place. We were pretty much the only people in the whole restaurant and I'm sure we made the owner a very happy person.
Tomorrow we all get up bright in the morning to head to New York and wait for about five hours for our flight. If we didn't spend enough time getting to know each other today we will definitely have time to chat tomorrow.