Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Practice School part II

Light at the end of the tunnel…for the first week of practice school anyway.

So far practice school is exactly how other Volunteers have described it. Incredibly exhausting, busy, time consuming, but in a lot of ways rewarding. I felt like going into practice school that I was slightly better prepared because I have a little teaching experience whereas other volunteers in my town do not. However, my little bit of teaching experience only goes so far.

As a quick summary Monday was probably the longest day of my life as it started at 7 and went nonstop until 12:00 with high levels of stress included. My lesson went well and my students were excited to learn even though half the class was in the sixth grade last year and felt comfortable with the material, whereas the other half was in fifth grade and all of the material is new to them. The biggest difference between an American classroom at first was the constant talking, just whispering, but constantly and half of my techniques for classroom management fall on deaf ears because I speak English and they speak Romanian. It got so much better the next lesson as they started to understand all of my hand gestures/classroom management techniques and I felt so much more comfortable teaching the lesson. The next big difference is that when a teacher calls on a student the student must always stand up, for me this was a waste of precious class time but old habits die hard and I only have these students for a week so I haven't taken the initiative to reprogram new habits.

Tuesday went much smoother with very little classroom interruptions and with planning because I only had to teach one lesson on Wednesday instead of two (my resource teacher taught the other). Planning for me is very difficult because it requires me to think about how I would teach this lesson with a text book that is not the greatest…more on that later… with students from a culture I'm not familiar with, who speak a language I don't speak, and with a subject I have never had to plan a lesson for. Plus as much as I hated lesson planning in the USA I always planned my lessons a few days in advance at least and I only needed to plan one lesson to teach all day, but during practice school we are planning and preparing materials for two lessons that we will teach the next day. No planning ahead. We couldn't if we wanted to because we don't have time.

Lastly, to make matters even more fun a current Peace Corps Volunteer appeared in my classroom today and observed my class. Which was ok because I had been observed and evaluated on my teaching before but it was very unusual that I would not be told before hand. But afterward I could immediately see the light at the end of the tunnel, my lesson went well and now I have an observation out of the way and I've already taught 6 out of ten lessons and all that remains is teaching the lessons tomorrow and planning two more for the next day. The students also come on Monday and Tuesday but we are only reviewing and testing…and of course passing out certificates and taking pictures… but all of that doesn't require massive amounts of planning as a real lesson.

Oh, I also wanted to tell you about a note I found in the class after the students left today. Very roughly translated it says,

"Do you understand what he is saying?"

*check yes or no*

"No I understand nothing. Catalina understands a lot."

"so so" (In a third persons handwriting…presumably Catalina.)

"I don't understand anything but are you going to play in the street after school today?"



When so many things are different its nice every once in a while for things to be so familiar.

OK I wasted way too much time typing this and now I will be up all night hand writing my lesson plan and preparing materials but too late to change it now….

Friday, July 22, 2011

Practice School

On Monday I start practice school, which in case you don't know is a three week period that I will get to practice all of the skills I have been learning and to put them into practice. For all of next week and for Monday and Tuesday of the week after I will be teaching two lessons a day covering all of unit one to a group of 6th grade volunteer students, at the end of which I get to test them and hand out certificates. What makes this even more fun is that I get a one day reprieve on Wednesday and get to do it all over again Thursday, Friday and all of the next week again teaching two classes a day but this time to 10th grade students.

Today I meet my resource teacher, who is a Moldovan English teacher with excellent English who has lived in America…North Carolina in fact and has visited Myrtle Beach…How perfect! She is very nice, laid back and smiles a lot which is unusual for Moldovans. She is going to help me plan my lessons for the sixth grade (but I will teach them) and will be living in the same town as me for the next week until Wednesday when she is going to be replaced by my partner teacher from my future site, Scumpia. My partner teacher and I will then work together to team teach the tenth grade together.

With practice school my schedule gets even more fun. I still go to language classes in the morning but afterward I will have a 45 minute break then I will teach two 45 minute classes with only a 10 minute break in between. Afterward, I will plan with my resource teacher for three hours the next two lessons that I will teach the next day. My next three weeks are going to be hectic so I wanted to make sure I wrote a blog post to let everyone know what I was doing because I might not have time to write another one for a while.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Happy and content...until practice school

To give you a better idea of what I'm going through with my training I thought I'd provide you with a few excerpts from a book the Peace Corps gave all of the trainees. The tongue-in-cheek title "a few minor adjustments" hints at the tone and voice of the book overall. I found it fascinating in the way it was able to describe so completely all of the things I was going through even though the book was written more than 10 years ago by other RPCV's that probably did not live in Moldova.

One of my favorite quotes from the book sums up the Pre-service training experience as "like no other training in the world, having something in common with college life, officer's training, Marine basic training, and a ninety-day jail sentence." I can say that this sums it up pretty well but to go a little deeper it also says "in training […] your time -- and, indeed, your life -- are not your own. Most PST's are tightly scheduled; there's a lot to cover and not much time. Which means spectacularly full days, partially-filled evenings, and pre-empted Saturday mornings. You are told when to eat, when to sleep, and when to go to the bathroom, not to mention what to think and how to feel. You feel at times that you're being treated like a child, which is at once something of a relief, for you are a bit shaky in these early days, and something of an insult. You understand that training has to be an orderly affair, that it's better if certain things are decided and done for you, that all in all it's not a bad bargain: you give up handy little personal freedoms and turn control of your life over to total strangers and get some very good training in return. Being adult humans, you quite understand this state of affairs, you readily accept it, and you smilingly acquiesce.

And if you're at all normal, you deeply resent it."

In a lot of ways being treated like a child makes sense for me right now because for the most part I am very much like a child. I only speak the language at a 2-3 year old level, if Im being generous, I can't cook for myself, I can't operate any machines without instructions beforehand, and I do things that no one understands and sometimes might be horrified by…though I haven't had any specific examples of this yet..thankfully.

The worst part is that all of this requires my brain to be more awake than it ever has before and as a product of this I am extremely tired all the time. Again to go back to the book, "suddenly nothing, not even going to the bathroom, is a routine. The loss of routines means the energy that was available for higher order, more sophisticated tasks now goes to basic coping and survival functions. With the minutiae of everyday life now demanding much of your conscious attention, bigger things, like learning a language or a technical skill […] take longer to accomplish." and for me leave me feeling exhausted…which is also apparently a symptom of Culture Shock as listed in the book. Specifically it says, "You begin to feel lethargic and require more sleep; you are easily bored, easily irritated, and effortlessly homesick." So far Im only feeling the tired portion but if my thoughts of fast-food restaurants continue to intensify I might be in trouble.

Lastly, the book also touches on an aspect of Peace Corps life that I found myself unable to avoid, even though I sincerely wish I had, being sick. As it says, "Getting sick heightens your already elevated sense of vulnerability and helplessness, your feeling of not being in control, in this case of your own body. Nor is it fun to have to think of food--even this food--as something to be wary of. The bottom line here is that when you're sick in bed, and that bed is located in a foreign country, things can look very bad indeed."

However, at this present moment:
I have eaten the most amazing food all day today (baby pancakes with apricot jelly! along with other amazing things…),
I have drank a full two liter bottle of water (trips to the magazin and my running water options had been limited the past few days),
I took a hot bath,
I had my Peer teaching lesson and it went great so my stress level is back to zero,
lastly, the heat finally died down and I would estimate that it is only about 75-78 right now (nearly midnight)

Which means when I finally finish writing this blog post in a couple seconds I will be able to go to sleep completely happy, contented, stress-free and with a slight cool breeze. I'll sleep amazingly well tonight.

Noapte Buna!

[UPDATE! I wrote this last night and I indeed slept amazingly well. And today was perfect weather.]

Saturday, July 16, 2011

50th Anniversary Concert

As everyone should already know by now this year is the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. As a celebration of the anniversary in Moldova there was a concert in the Stefan cel Mare Park.

(Sidenote: Picture Stefan cel Mare as the George Washington, Abe Lincoln, and all other great American leaders rolled into one. Unlike our money where we put a different person on our bills, in Moldova it is only Stefan cel Mare on every bill. In every town there is at least one street [usually the main street] named after him and I wouldn't be surprised if there was a town where every street was named Stefan cel Mare...I see his face EVERYWHERE.....)

Getting to the park required going to a different part of Chisinau than I normally go to but I was surprised to find how different it was from the Chisinau I was used to just a few blocks away. There was high rise buildings, well kept government offices, wide tree-lined street with spacious sidewalks and real trashcans. The park was also super nice with lots of shade and stone walkways. The concert was also pretty nice and even made the Moldovan News. Here is a link and I highly suggest watching the video if only to check out the facial hair of the male anchor. Also while everyone wearing a white shirt is probably someone I know, you wont see me since the footage was taken at the start of the event when I was still sleeping.

Forest Excursions..and a LAKE

Because of my site visit last weekend I didnt really get a weekend and this week has been even more packed than usual so it has felt like I have been on the go for two full weeks nonstop...but luckily that all changed yesterday when some other volunteers and I went on an expedition. One of the volunteers had been lead by a Moldovan through the woods behind our town to a nearby lake and offered to lead us there. It has been in the 90's all week and yesterday was no exception and when we began the trip it was in the hottest part of the day. Great Idea! In order to get to the lake you have to basically climb up one steep hill and climb down the other side. Altogether the walk took more than an hour but when we got there we were rewarded with a large gathering of Moldovans making a day of it out by the lake. Generally swimwear attire was quite different from what you would see in America but other than that it was a lot like any lake you might find in the Mideast US. The best part of the trip was that I was able to "fac bronza" (make bronze, IE. tan). Seeing as how swimsuits wasnt something we had thought of (all of the males in the group would have stood out in our American swim shorts anyway [and swimming in lakes is something Peace Corps discourages]), so making bronze became the thing to do for the hour or so while we were there.

Alas, again I forgot to bring my camera...but I do have a picture of the lake from a distance.

Although yesterday should have been a day of rest since I hadnt been able to get any until that point I think our trip was amazing and in some ways was relaxing since we didnt have to think about classes or future projects for a few hours. Although now I am going to really be dead to the world this weekend...

Monday, July 11, 2011

Site Visit

Waking up at 5:30 is never fun. Waking up at 5:30 and still being late is even worse.

Yesterday I left the comfort (read: familiarity) of Truseni and Chisinau to finally explore the "real" Moldova. (Also this post was mostly written for my own future recollection and as such goes into a lot of unnecessary details. Scuzați!)

On Friday night all of the EE volunteers met with their school director (or representative) and discussed as best we could what our qualifications were, what we hope to do while we are in their town, and what the town we were going to be living in was like. I was surprised when my director waved at me as she came in the room (How in the world did she know I was her volunteer? Apparently our pictures were posted on the map down the hall.) We each came up and talked about where we were from and pointing it out on a map of the US. (Some of us even choose to do it in Romanian, including moi.) Our director did the same for the village they were from with a map of Moldova. The most fun, however, was the first opportunity they gave us to discuss openly with our directors who spoke only Romanian (and Russian of course). Needless to say the room was fairly quiet with short bursts of conversations erupting every little while. My director surprised me by asking if I wanted to go to Scumpia tonight instead of tomorrow morning, even though I did not bring anything at all to the conference other than the clothes I was wearing. That didn't seem to be an issue from her perspective but I convinced her (with some Romanian translation help) to wait until tomorrow like we had planned. That's when she informed me I should be at the school in Chisinau at 7 in the morning tomorrow, which seems reasonable but count in the unreliable rutieras, and the fact that before I could leave I needed to eat. Before I could eat, someone needed to prepare the food. Before they can prepare the food they have to be awake, and unfortunately my wake up time was lost in translation. When I finally made it out of the house I had to wait more than ten minutes for a minibus and the minibus decided to take every street through Truseni picking up people before heading to Chisinau. Luckily however I only ended up being 15 minutes late but I hate being late for anything. (It was 15 minutes only because I had given myself a lot of extra time…not enough though…)

The director and I walked from the school to the North bus station and after buying tickets had to wait for almost a full hour before leaving for the Raion center. The bus was an actual full sized greyhound type bus and since everyone bought a ticket before hand everyone mostly had their own seat. (Though occasionally someone would flag the bus down and stand for a while before on a jumping off after a few minutes.) Since it was already getting hot all of the blinds were down and I couldn't see much but I did get a few glimpses of fields and fields of sunflowers. Entire hillsides colored bright yellow by them. It was pretty impressive. (Moldova has some of the best soil, if not the best, in the world. They can grow everything here and grow it abundantly.)

Public transportation in Moldova can best be summarized by me so far as cheap (only about 6 dollars from Truseni to Scumpia ) but with a lot of waiting. When we finally made it to the Raion center we again had to wait for almost an hour before another bus left to take us to Scumpia. When I finally made it to the Directors house it was about 12:00. A ridiculous amount of time for a distance of only 150 KM (100 miles).

The directors house was very nice but it was interesting to me because it was in pieces. There was one building with a living and dining room, another building with a bedroom and table area, another building for the bathroom, and another building I didn't go in. The director also found a way to make my trip super awkward by offering that I could stay at her house instead of my host families house if I want. This was awkward because in the past that is how Peace Corps decided on the host family. The town would offer three choices, the volunteer would visit all three, and after less than a day make a decision that would effect their next two years. So I was happy to find out that Peace Corps had already made the decision for me, or at least so I thought. With the directors offer my trip became super awkward and when she dropped me off at my host families house she asked me again if I wanted to stay there or go back to her house. I simply said I would spend the night with the host family as Peace Corps expected and make a decision later. Even though Im really hoping they will fight it out amongst themselves and I will be able to avoid making a decision. (I hate confrontations)

The host family's house was like the director's, in separate buildings. (I can already imagine amazingly fun situations when it comes time for winter, putting on my shoes outside, sprinting from one building to another, avoid slipping on the ice [Peace Corps in Moldova holds the Peace Corps record for injuries while walking], and taking my shoes off again when I get to the other building.) The house also has amazing amounts of animals, chickens, geese, a dog, and a pig and the kitchen wasn't quite in the condition I would prefer, but the room that would be mine in a month was nice and I would have no issues with it.

I was the most impressed with the school though. It was very nice, had a large room that served as the cafeteria with sinks and running water, and three floors of classrooms. All of the desks had been painted and looked very cared for. Also inside the school was a room that served as the community museum holding community mementos and traditional relics. Altogether it is visually appealing (although like all schools it has a very Soviet feel to it) and very clean (which is likely to change come September…) OH and in order to get to the school from the city center you need to climb an army of stairs. They are amazing. (I cringe at the thought of ice…or snow…) Which brings me back to my pro-con list. The directors house is near the city center and would require me to walk up hill both ways (always wanted to say that…) to and from school (a good ten minute walk) but the host families house is right beside the school (less than a 5 minute walk) and I don't have to climb any stairs.

Gosh I feel like I am rewriting War and Peace…but to finish this off Ill simply mention that the ride home went much quicker. Not much waiting for buses…(completely based on luck) and the bus was able to some how or another make the trip in only 2 hours. So on one day it took about 6 hours of traveling, on another a little less than 4. (An extra hour just to get to Truseni, so from Scumpia to Chisinau we will say it is about a 3-5 hour trip.) In the future I think I will stick to simply traveling to the Raion center and saving trips to Chisinau only when expressly necessary.

(I think parentheses are my favorite part about writing blogs.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Site Announcements

I apologize in advance because I know this will be a long blog post…but with good reason, I received my permanent site placement today. The announcement came after nearly four weeks of waiting and tantalizing clues from our program director. To make it even worse when we came to Chisinau today we had to go through four, maybe five, hour long sessions, an hour long lunch break and sit through a 2 hour long tech class. After having gotten up at 6:30 in the morning and being super anxious made the time pass by really slow until 4:00.

When it was finally time they directed us outside to the front of the school which has a very large pavement yard on which they had drew an approximate map of Moldova and had labeled the towns that we would be going to. One by one the country director called our names randomly from a hat and directed us to our new town and our program director handed us an awesome packet with a map and lots of information about our site. If you scroll down to the map from a couple blog post ago, I will be living at number 11, a village called Scumpia.

As for the amazing information in the packet, the village has a population of 2,700, and is about 150 km from the capital (it also gave me the names and phone numbers to the mayor, the doctor, and the chief police, but those mean little to me right now). The school I will be working at holds all grades and has 500 students, 238 of which are learning English. An interesting figure provided by the packet is that out of the 500 students 135 have a parent living abroad, and 66 of them have both parents living abroad. Lastly, to top it all off the town lies on a railroad and I will have access to Chisinau and the Raion center (like county seat) by train. From what I have heard trains are a cheap, slow, safe way to travel, while the minibuses on the other hand are slightly more expensive, a lot more dangerous and fast (especially when measured by the speedometer). I'll withhold judgement about which form of transportation is the better choice until I actually get a chance to try out the train but I really like the idea of a train being so accessible.

Lastly, the most fun part is the housing. In Peace Corps they call the family you live with a host family, so on the paper listed as my host mother is a 64 year old woman who list her occupation as teacher (retired or active it doesn't say). At 64 she would not qualify as host mother she much more fit the description of a Baba or Bunica. A person in Moldovan society that almost all the volunteers will say is their favorite. Although it doesn't say whether or not she was married or if she is a widow, it merely mentions her children who are both adults and live abroad.

More information gleaned from the packet include: the baba speaks no English, doesn't smoke, and listed her reason for housing a volunteer as wanting to communicate. The house is listed as 4 rooms, five minutes walking distance from the school, with indoor bathroom with tub and running water, no indoor pets, outdoor animals include a goat, a pig, a dog and hens (however it doesn't list the quantity of animals)

Overall the site was not what I was expected but I don't think it could be any better and I am super excited about it. The real test will come Saturday, however, because we are going to visit our permanent sites for the weekend. I thought today was going to satisfy my curiosity but it only made me even more anxious for the site visit.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Learning Russian and Foarte Frumos Hillsides

Today being the Fourth of July the Peace Corps gave us a lighter schedule with only three hours of Romanian instead of four hours and no tech classes. However, I still had to get up at 7:30 and instead of four hours of Romanian it was three hours of Romanian and one hour of Russian. The one hour of Russian was awesome and definitely sufficient for me. I had a new appreciation of just how happy I was to be learning Romanian instead of Russian. I like the way the language sounds and I am super excited to be able to recreate a few nearly intelligible Russian phrases. Such as добрый день, спасибо, and до свидания. (The letters alone make me want to cry. Although I'm getting better at sounding out the words seeing as how half the things in the Supermarket are labeled only in Russian, so being able to at least fake my way around Russian is kind of essential to my survival.)

After an amazingly exhausting hour of Russian, we all ate lunch and after a little Apples to Apples decided to go for a walk through the hillside above the city. It was a beautiful day and when we made it to the top of the hill we were rewarded with one of the most spectacular scenes of nature I have ever seen. Unluckily for me I didn't bring my camera so you will just have to believe me until the next time when I can take pictures to prove it.

On the way home I passed a Moldovan with an American flag on his shirt, there is no escape from acknowledging today as Independence Day…even in Moldova.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Fourth of July Moldovan Style

Ok so celebrating American Independence while in Moldova was not one of the things I thought I would be doing. But as it turns out the American Chamber of Commerce, yes there apparently is an American Chamber of Commerce in Moldova, throws an annual party in celebration of the Fourth of July and invites anyone who wants to come. There was a 250 lei (22 dollars) admission fee but that granted us access to an unlimited supply of coke, sprite, water, juice, wine and beer. Food was also served but was a lot harder to come by as the Moldovan way for getting food isn't for everyone to stand in line and wait. Instead, everyone crowds the table forming a barrier and as a group they all circle the table until they have what they need and then they fall out of the group and if you are lucky you are able to jump in before someone else does. If not you might go hungry. Luckily the lines died down a little while after the food was served and I was able to get some food without having to fight anybody off. The first thing they served was spicy chicken wings, pasta salad, and some sort of couscous. Spicy food is very hard to come by in Moldova so that was a hot food item for most Americans. Later in the night they introduced more food such as hotdogs, hamburgers, and baked potatoes.

As for as entertainment it seemed like every ten minutes they had some activity planned such as a raffle, a hotdog eating contest, limbo, and a tug of war. (As a sidenote, never challenge Moldovans to a tug of war contest, you will lose.)

In the last hour of the night when all the drinks were completely diminished, and the only thing they had left in any quantity was beer and water, the band, Snails, finally started playing. They were surprisingly amazing and started off their set list with the White Stripes Seven Nation Army. Later they ran a gamut of classic rock music such as Proud Mary, Johnny B. Goode, Shout, Sweet Home Alabama, and finally I Feel Good as the closing number.

All in all it was not at all like any Independence day celebration I have been to but was well worth the 250 lei I paid to get in…oh and as of yet no second round of food poisoning, even from the McDonald's ice cream I ate last night.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Amazingly sick.

So I came home from Chisinau yesterday wrote up an very entertaining blogpost and was about ready to go to sleep when my body went into mutiny. The squimish should turn away and disappear. Starting at about 10 o'clock last night I started to throw up once an hour...EVERY hour all night. Luckily Peace Corps gives us a number to call if things like this happen so we can be advised by a doctor about what precautions and steps we should take. Unfortunately for me the only thing I could do about it was to keep hydrated and take Pepto Bismal tablets. For someone that hasn't been sick for about 10 years last night was incredibly hard to deal with. The Peace Corps doctor was super nice though and called me every so often to check how I was doing to make sure the situation wasn't getting worse and to give me some tips. Finally at about 8 o'clock the doctor called and asked if I was still vomiting and told me that I had in my medical kit a drug called Tinidazole which was used as both an anti parasitic medicine but also a drug that was used during the soviet era to keep alcoholics from drinking alcohol as it has a very nasty reaction with alcohol. As it is, the drug stopped my vomiting but now I have an upset stomach, headache, and physical fatigue, compliments of either the drugs side effects or the final stages of my sickness. At least let's hope it is the final stages.

I stayed at home today and have for the most part been sleeping since 8 o'clock catching up on all the sleep I didn't get last night. The medical officer blames the illness on food poisoning and when I informed her of what I ate yesterday she let me know that it was most likely McDonald's that gifted me this amazing sickness. No more McDonald's for me.