Sunday, September 25, 2011

Test for Claustrophobia

Today I rode the autobus to the Raion and was surprised by just how many people you can fit inside a autobus. It reminded me of the rutieras I was used to in Chisinau except this was with a bus. Our bus is not the full sized 'greyhound' bus and is supposed to seat 30 people and have a max occupancy of 50. Today, however, I am pretty sure we had at or near 100 people packed into the bus. It was extraordinary. I didn't think I would be able to get on the bus because it looked so full but little did I know that they were only half filled. Everytime I thought to myself that we were finished and there was no way we could fit on another person, someone else would walk up and jam their way in. Even after the bus started moving we still weren't finished because the bus still pulled over to let people on. I guess it is true what they say, "always room for one more."

The rest of the day was also exciting because I meet up with the other Americans in my raion, had some coffee together and then we went to a seminar on human trafficking. The seminar was put together by a french nonprofit though I was thrown off because during the presentation there would be an abrupt stop and then a minute of some random form of entertainment, such as a Moldovan folk singer, a play, a group of children dancing, and at the very end a rock band. Im not sure but Im guessing this means that Moldovans have short attention spans and need to be entertained in between being given short burst of information. Works for me.

To see pictures from my day today click here.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

School and Grapevines

Today has been one of the first days in my new site that I had the quintessential Peace Corps experience. It started off with my being bombarded by a large group of second graders who spoke in rapid fire Romanian that I understood none of. Later it transitioned to me teaching my best English lessons so far. About the middle of the day I was informed I was teaching another optional class of twelfth grade. That class might turn out to be a lot of fun because even though they don't know any English they all want to learn and I can teach them absolutely anything that comes to mind. Which is very liberating after having to stick to a textbook very strictly. When I left school I walked home with a 10th form student who asked if I would have more conversations with them in English as practice. Which for me means someone to talk to in my native language other than my partner teacher, who speaks great english but so far is the only one in my town that I have really talked to….which brings me to another great adventure. When I finally came home I was quickly given lunch and ushered out to the field to pick grapes. Because I had come home late from school because of my extra class most of the grapes were already picked. I helped for about 30 minutes by which time the vineyard was picked cleaned and all of the grapes were pressed and collected in a big wooden barrel. Juice, skin, and vine. In the field were three other people other than my host mother who were all very excited to test my Romanian skills and I was given an invitation to their house…although I didn't catch when exactly this visit would take place. To me this was very exciting because for the most part the past month I have kept mostly to myself. Mostly talking to only my host mother in Romanian and only my Partner teacher in English. But after today I have prospects in my future for meeting new people and speaking in Romanian and in English. To make my future even brighter I have a full weekend ahead of me with a baseball game on Saturday in another volunteers village and a meeting about human trafficking on Sunday. (Although I have no coordination to speak off I was reassured that none of the other players of the baseball game have ever played baseball before. Which means I might have a slight advantage only in the way that I will most likely know what is going on and have a slightly better understanding of the rules…At least I hope.)

Note to self: Next time more paragraphs.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Moldovan Food

In some ways I have wanted to write this blog post for a while now...but I have also been avoiding it. Partly because I wanted to make sure that I had given myself time to fully appreciate Moldovan cuisine before I write a post about it and also because I wanted my blog post to have pictures. Well I have never really had the opportunity to take pictures of my food before I eat it so instead I stole a bunch of pictures from the internet that will work just as well. I apologize in advance to any owners of pictures I have chosen to use.

For the most part my diet consists of a lot of potatoes, cabbage, sausage, chicken, grains, and whatever fruit is in season.  However, just like in any country Moldova has it's own traditional dishes and particular way it prepares it's food.

Mămăliga - Very similar to cornbread except it is a lot more moist and not as sweet. Unlike what is being shown in the picture I have mostly just observed people pulling small chunks off instead of cutting it.
Placinta - Equally as traditional as mămăliga, placinta (pronounced pla-chin-ta) is a thin layer of baked dough with variety of possible fillings. Such as apple, mashed potato, cabbage, and the most popular, brînza cheese with dill.
Usually I have seen placinta made as a sort of flat bread. Though it is also made to look more like a cannoli.

Zeama - Chicken noodle soup...not much I need to say here. Though mine never has the lemon slice as shown in the picture...

Borsht - Traditional Ukranian dish of cabbage and beat soup.
Parjoale - Minced meat patty. Like nothing I have eaten in America. Although its appearance is benign enough. I think its distinctive taste can probably be attributed to whatever meat it is made with. But good luck figuring it out.
Gruel (Not sure on the spelling) - This is my breakfast every morning...and coincidentally was also my dinner. The picture that I found that looked the closest to what I have been eating says it is Buckwheat porridge. Whodathunkit. (BTW the package that it comes out of says that it was grown it China)

Brînza - White cheese. This is one of Moldovas most popular condiment. I say condiment because they do not use it as much as a cheese but more as a topping or addition to a dish. Usually just shredded right on top. Personally I dont like it at all, it has a very 'fresh' taste that for me taste too much like grass, other people enjoy the earthiness of the flavor.
Smântâna - Basically sour cream. It taste a little different and is not as tangy but it has the same consistency as sour cream.

Квас or Cvas - A drink made from yeast that wins against Dr. Pepper for having more than 23 flavors. At first taste it was a mix of cream soda and root beer, but also has a fruity, grainy, and even a slight beer presence. The beer taste makes a little bit of sense because it does indeed contain 1% alcohol but is sold on basically every street corner in the capital to young and old alike. My favorite way to describe it comes from a 2 1/2 year old who called it, "bere pentru copii" or "beer for children."

Okay, well that gives you a slightly better understanding of at least the main food items of Moldovan Cuisine. Of course they also have a lot of dishes that are very similar to American dishes which I did not mention for obvious reasons. Thinking about food for so long has made me hungry.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Trains, Doctors, Americans O MY!

Remind me to never blog when I am sick. It is very depressing…

Anyway. After I wrote my last blog post I went straight to sleep and amazingly slept all the way through the night and when I woke up the next morning I felt better…not perfect…but better. I was able to go to two classes on friday so that way I only missed one and a half days of work instead of two full days and immediately after my second class I made a run to the bus and went to Chișinău. The medical office at Peace Corps wanted to make sure I was really better so they asked for me to come into Chișinău so that one of the doctors could examine me. This began my sojourn back to the familiarity of the capitol…

Buses in Moldova, as I have mentioned before, are very cheap, crowded, but usually very convenient. On this occasion the buses were frustrating. I made it to my raion center in 30 minutes and theoretically I should be able to hop on another bus once I get there and head to Chișinău. However, the next bus to leave from the raion was not until 1 hour and 40 minutes later. In addition the bus ride took 3 hours instead of the 2 and half hours I was expecting. All of this is important because by the time I arrived in the capital it was about 4:20, the medical office closes at 5, so I was cutting it very close. I sprinted from the bus station to the Peace Corps office and made it in only 10 minutes and the medical interview only took 10 minutes, which left me with only 20 minutes to spare.

As for the actual interview, the doctor just wanted to ask me a couple questions in person and to reiterate some tips and suggestions for proper food preparation and nutrition. Afterward I had my vital signs taken and was given a boatload of medication. A bag of pills for acid reflux (20mg of Prilosec), a bag of pills for nausea (200mg trimethobenzamide), and lastly an anti-parasitic (500mg Tinidazole). The best part was since I got the pills straight from the doctor I was left to either remember the doctor's instructions perfectly OR read the doctor scribble written on the bag of pills, (Yes doctor scribble is universal), no middle man pharmacist would save me this time. To further fill my brown paper bag of pills I was given two packages of Gatorade mix. I have never been so happy to see Gatorade.

In order to make up for me having to come into Chișinău on short notice and so late in the day the medical office gave me permission to spend the night in the TDY…(Which apparently means Temporary Duty and is a military acronym…The things you can learn with the internet.) The TDY is basically an apartment that Peace Corps keeps open for medical use. I was amazed by how nice it was. It had three bed rooms with two beds in each room, two bathrooms, one with a shower and one with a bathtub, and a well stocked kitchen, not stocked so much with food but with cooking utensils.

It was sort of bittersweet spending the night in the TDY because it was so nice it reminded me a lot of an apartment in America and was my first real experience where something really reminded me of home. In addition my doctor also prescribed that I take a long relaxing bath while I have the opportunity and use this night to relax. I always follow doctors orders and even though I packed in such a hurry that morning that I didn't even bring any soap or shampoo I still thoroughly enjoyed simply soaking in hot water for once. However, the TDY wasn't completely sunshine and butterflies as the bed and pillows were horribly uncomfortable which pleased me because it gave me an excuse to not feel as bad about leaving and going back to site. My bed and pillows at site are HEAVEN.

I felt bad as I talked to other volunteers however and mentioned I was staying at the TDY. "But you don't even look sick…" and "Ive never gotten to stay there yet, I thought you had to be near death to get to stay there." were the most common responses.

Speaking of volunteers another highlight of my trip was the opportunity to reconnect with all of my friends that I have not seen for the past three weeks. While living in a town with only one other English speaker has really helped my Romanian it has also been a little isolating. So it was great to be in the presence of 20 or more other volunteers in the last 24 hours  and speak a little "American" for the first time in a while.

But all good things must end, and in this case the end came in the form of a train.

I was given very specific instructions from my host mother that I had to take the train home even though I was allowed to take the bus to go to Chișinău. I didn't question why I simply nodded my head. (Mostly because questioning anything requires higher level Romanian skill than I am capable of)

I was lucky enough to get instructions from another volunteer about how to get to the train station and was even more lucky that the person at the ticket counter didn't ask me any questions when I simply said 'Scumpia' and handed her a 20 lei. She simply took my 20, returned me three lei and a ticket (Bus=47 lei, I like the idea of saving 60 lei every trip to Chișinău if I go by train). One issue arose however when I reviewed the ticket…it was in Russian. I had no idea what the train number was, when the train would leave, did I have a specific seat? I was clueless. Though I have recently become a master at the art of people watching and imitation and so I did what I have learned to do and merely followed whatever else was doing and made my way to the nearest train….The nearest train being three train tracks over…No matter everyone simply walks from the platform right onto the tracks to the middle platform and back across another set of railroad tracks to the right platform. Its the little things like that which still catch me off guard.

The train looked to be a 1940's model, though possibly built within the last 30 years as I have noticed a lot of things look a lot older than they really are. It was freshly painted, though this did not help the comfortability factor of the wooden seats. I was lucky that even though I had failed miserably with the bag I had packed I did somehow remember to toss in my iPod AND my headphones. Miraculous. The train ride took a little less than 4 hours but felt a lot longer. In the end I have to say that I might prefer taking the train as it offers the opportunity to stand up and stretch your legs and it is guaranteed to get you to your destination on time, unlike the buses. Every stop we made today was right to the minute, better than clockwork.

hmm...gotta love really long blog posts. Last thing I wanted to mention was that Fall has appeared with a vengeance and out of nowhere. When I packed my bag I was under the assumption that it was simply cool because it was morning, and because it had been a pretty constant 85 degrees everyday this week, so I tossed in a pair of shorts and a shirt. Little did I know that it would stay a pretty constant high 60's with a slight breeze, even colder in the shade. Now I may start to have a clothing crisis as I dont really have a jacket...though I do have a sweater and a sweatshirt. Is now a bad time to mention that I'm scared for what winter will bring?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sick...Again. Say it ain't so!

Read at your own risk. Candid description of my physical illness.

Moldova has once again defied the natural order of the world by causing me to be sick yet again. Once again I will place the blame on some sort of food poisoning related to what I ate. I take all the blame this time however because I came home from school yesterday earlier than my host mother and reheated some food to eat. Being an American it didnt even cross my mind to fully cook the food and bring it to a boil on the stove before eating...instead I simply heated it in the microwave...Not positive that this is what did it but Id be willing to put money on it. The wierd thing is that I could almost feel myself gettting sick as I eat it. Like my stomach recognized that it wasnt any good. I choose to disregard and didnt feel the full effects until about 12 o'clock that night. The last time I was sick was completely horrible with me in the bathroom once every hour for about twelve hours. However, this time has not been that dramatic it has persisted for a longer time. I have been in a constant state of lousiness, mostly nausea, cramping, and upset stomach since last night but only throw up twice. So far it feels about the same as it did last night. The last time the sickness just let up all over a sudden and I just felt perfect like it had never happened. Now I spent my whole day waiting for it to do that again, however, I have not been so lucky.

The worst part is not being able to do anything to help my situation. I can handle sickness better if I can find some comfort if only for a while. However, the only advice I was given by the medical office was to drink plenty of fluids, water or green tea, eat only rice, and take Pepto-bismal tablets every hour. None of which seems to have any effect.

I also feel terrible because I have kind of left my Partner-Teacher to fend for himself for today and probably tomorrow as the Medical Office has asked me to make a trip to Chișinău to be checked out by one of the doctors just in case. I was planning on going to Chișinău on Saturday but now I get to go one day earlier and stay in the Medical Office apartment. The problem will be if I can make it there without having any sleep. I have really only had a few one hour cat naps since yesterday and tonight isn't shaping up to be any different.

On a slightly more positive note. My Director has called me twice today to check on how I am and even though I am in a terrible state with a monster headache I was still able to relay my condition to her and hold a pretty extensive conversation in Romanian on the phone. (Talking to people on the phone in Romanian is way harder than in person. No body language or facial expressions to work with.)

I hope to write a more uplifting blog post in the next few days. Until then, WISH ME WELL!

Friday, September 2, 2011

First Real Day of School

Early to bed. Early to rise. I am by no means a morning person and when I am reminded of the early bird getting the worm the only thing I can think of is why was the worm out so early to begin with? Two days in a row of getting up at 7 o'clock has made me slightly irritable but that will pass once I get back in the groove of school hours instead of my ridiculous amounts of sleeping in I have been doing…Trying to make up for lost time during PST, when I only woke up past 9 o'clock on a handful of occasions the entire two months.

Up by 7:00 and at school by 8:30. However, my first class was 2nd grade which I will not be teaching so I merely sat in the back of the class and spoke my American English when called upon by my partner teacher. The second graders were sort of frightening with their eery ability to sit simply in their chairs, not moving, not talking, just listening. Im going to assume this was a freak occurrence having to do with the fact that this was the first day of classes and that in a few weeks they will soon start to resemble an American class of 2nd graders. Otherwise my other classes acted in a way that was very typical for their age level. The next two classes after the 2nd were tenth grade and other than looking older than 15 they were not much different from what I expected. I had a break during the fourth period and planned my lesson for the 8th grade and 11th grade then. Probably the closest I have ever planned a lesson to the time I planned to teach it. Remarkably, even though the lessons were planned on the spot they worked out well and the school day was over before I knew it. My favorite part from these lessons is that almost all of the 8th grade students labeled themselves as 'Early Birds' since our lesson was about being an early bird or a night owl. Tn the tenth grade we talked about goals and when my tenth grade class 'grows up' half of them will become doctors, while the other half will be teachers, two or three want to be athletes but were open to the possibility of being a doctor or teacher if being an athlete doesnt work out.

My partner teacher made sure put me in the front of the class and tell the students to ask me any questions they wanted as long as it was in English…However none of the students from any of the classes felt comfortable enough with their English to hazard a oral response. I simply informed them I was from America. Pointed where in America on a map. Said I was 22 years old and that I had studied History and Geography for 4 years at university. (Even though technically I was a Social Studies Education major I felt like history and geography were words they were better able to understand.)

Now I am free for the weekend until Sunday when my partner teacher and I will meet to plan for Monday's lesson. Again I have 2 classes of 10th grade which I already have plans for, so we should only have to make plans for the 6th and 7th grade classes we will be teaching.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

First Bell

Today is Ziuă Conștințelor, or the Day of Knowledge, and I will presume that today was given this honor because every year school begins on the same day, the first of September. Which is quite different from the randomness of the beginning of school in America. Today, however, was much more of a celebration rather than an actual school day.

All of the students came to school best in their best clothes…for the boys that was a shirt and tie, and maybe even a jacket, and for the girls this was a skirt and a fancy blouse. In addition to dressing their best the students also brought amazing amounts of flowers for their teachers. For the most part it was roses but I also noticed carnations, and daisies as well. The main event of the day was an assembly in which everyone congregated in a semi-circle around the front of the school, including all the teachers, the director, the priest, and the mayor. Mostly it was a lot of welcoming in a new school year and the same speeches you hear every school year. But it changed slightly when the 12th form students lead the 1st form students to the front of the school, a representative of the 12th form then bestowed upon a representative of the 1st form a (fake) key to the school as a token of welcome. After which the 12th form sang a song that I had trouble understanding except for numerous uses of the word "children." The first form children were given a folder with paper and pencils and then were lead to each individually give a speech…yes 1st form students were each asked to say something in a microphone…mostly this amounted to a very simple rhyme about leaving the preschool, saying goodbye to August and hello to September, but still impressive to me. And of course it wouldn't be complete if the 1st form didn't sing a song as well.

After all of this I was even more nervous about what my director would expect for me to say in front of the crowd in Romanian. Especially if they even had 1st form students speaking…luckily after the director introduced me to the school she simply handed me the microphone and made me say "Buna Ziuă." Crisis Averted. After the director, mayor and priest had each said a speech the assembly was over and the students were lead inside to take attendance. This amounted to about 30 minutes of a getting to know you/ taking attendance class with their dirigente (home room teacher), thankfully I am not a dirigente…so I just sat in the office with the other non-dirigente teachers and waited for them to finish. Once that class was finished we had a quick meeting with the director so that she could write down how many students came to school and who was absent. I was given permission to leave by the director at around 11:30 (after past misunderstandings I always make sure I have permission to leave before I go home). Basically a 3 hour workday and I didn't even have to teach classes. Fun!

Tomorrow, however, the real fun begins. I will be teaching four classes, two of the 10th form, one of the 8th and of the 11th. The best part is that I already have lesson plans for the 10th form from practice school. So all we needed to plan was for the 11th and 8th forms. Even though I will only teach four classes tomorrow, my partner teacher has 5 classes, because he will teach the 2nd form on his own…(I am very thankful for this). He was also able to convince the vice-director in charge of the schedule to create an optional German class for him to teach in addition to his English classes. Apparently with my help he feels like he can take on more classes then he usually does. Hopefully this doesn't come back to bite us…

Unfortunately I didn't take any pictures of today's events but if you wait until next year I'll remember to take pictures then….hopefully.