Informational Overload

Much like I promised in my “About this blog” page, I have been horrible at posting these past few weeks. It’s been about a month since I last blogged and so here I am, attempting to make up for the void. To try and narrow my thoughts, I’ve gathered all my stories into nice little sub headings, for your viewing pleasure.

School

As a quick preamble, I can honestly say I never gave my teachers enough praise throughout my schooling years. I look back at my time as an over-eager elementary school student, or the over-angsty middle school version of myself, or even then overly-confident-but-still-angsty high school Amir, and I just thank my many stars that I had the most amazing teachers throughout my journey. Now, I am seeing through their eyes, and I just want to say thank you for all you did for me.

In the past weeks, I have taught lessons that ranged from how to properly wash your hands to a lesson entitled, “What is a Microbe?” where we investigated the differences between bacteria and viruses. It was my personal goal that every student learn that you can’t treat a virus with antibiotics, but I think they mainly focused on how you can stop the spread of germs by coughing into your arm like you are doing the “dab.” It’s hard to express the feeling you get when the kids come up to you in the hall to demonstrate their new coughing techniques, or when they sing the hand washing song you had taught them. Yes, I would love for them to be able to describe the difference between bacteria and viruses, but to me it is so much more important if they learn how to protect themselves. My goal is not for each of student to get a 100, but rather to live a healthier life.

When I found out I would be teaching as my primary Peace Corps position, I was disheartened. I had hoped to work in a clinic or an NGO, but every day I spend at school I become more and more enamored with the prospect of teaching. I’ve spent my life acting in different roles on the stage and I can’t help but to draw comparisons. It really is a performance in which I play the role of teacher, our lesson plan is our script, and our plot is how we move from the introduction to conclusion. I feel more at home in front of students than I ever thought I could. Of course, there are difficulties, but just like when a set piece doesn’t move or a line is forgotten during a play, you learn to adapt, change, and continue on.

IMG_2862.JPGSomething not so uniquely Moldovan, this past week was International Teachers Day! Thursday October 5th was the official day, and it started with a warm welcome from the students as I walked through the school doors. I was handed a rose freshly cut from the garden and a note of thanks. Instead of the typical first period, there was a meeting of sorts. The students gathered in front of the school and the teachers stood in front of them as one representative from each grade read poetry thanking us for what we do. The rest of the day’s classes were short, with some of them being taught by an older student! At noon, a few of the teachers, myself included, left for a concert in Stefan Voda. There were traditional dances, awards, and some incredible singers that entertained us for three hours.

IMG_2860Friday, the festivities continued. After fourth period, the 8th graders had prepared a special concert for the teachers. As I watched these students perform skits, poetry, and songs, I thought about how lucky I was to be welcomed into this community. That night, the teachers all traveled to the nearby raion center and celebrated with a huge masa! We spent the night, eating, drinking, and dancing! I learned three different types of hora and we played games like musical chairs. Getting to bond with my fellow teachers outside of our structured school day was truly a gift. They are an incredible group of people and I really enjoy their company. I have a feeling we will work well together over the next two years.

Family

I love my host family. Plain and simple, they are the best part about my Peace Corps experience thus far. Quick reminder on the family: I live with an older couple and they have four kids and 19 grandkids, but most live in Russia. My host mom is kind, caring, and terribly funny. We spend hours at the table after lunch or dinner, just talking about my day or the work she has done in the house while I was at school. My host dad is an industrial man to be sure. When he’s not working in the garden, he’s working with the animals, or harvesting nuts. This is pretty standard for a Moldovan man, but whenever he gets home he always greets me with a jovial “Buna!” and a joke. Every night at dinner, I’ll ask him how work was and he’ll respond with “Ca calul,” which basically translates to “I worked like a horse.” He finds it funny because the first night I was here, I had literally no idea what he said, so he had to mime out a horse.

One of the aspects I love most about Moldovan families is the extensive garden each family has in the sat (village). Sat life is hard, and it means you have to be self-sufficient and sustainable. All summer, my host parents harvested vegetables and fruits. What they didn’t eat in the moment they preserved by either pickling, canning, or making into jam. The grapes are picked and made into house wine, a Moldovan tradition, and the pears and plums make a moonshine concoction called țuica (pronounced tswee-kah). Whatever corn isn’t eaten is left on the stalk to harden. They are then harvested and transformed into feed for the animals. I love being able to help my host parents with whatever they have to do in the garden, much to my real parents’ surprise. I guess all those years of gardening and mowing the grass really payed off.

Community

I’ve started to make connections with members of the community outside of work. Doamna Galina and Doamna Raisa at the library are super welcoming and love to talk to me when I come over after school. The library joined a network here in Moldova that gave them three computers and a printer, which means it’s prime location for students to hang out after school. On any day, you can find 5-10 kids gathered around one screen watching dubbed American TV-shows like Teen Wolf or playing computer games.

IMG_2832.JPGI really liked the idea of working with students that I don’t teach as well as the partnering with the library, and Peace Corps gave me the opportunity to make that happen. After a short application, my village was selected to be a part of a Youth Empowerment Workshop. Along with Doamna Galina from the library and an 8th grade student, I spent the weekend in Chișinău attending several seminars that showed us how to create a club that is geared toward youth. My village is rich in is active and intelligent young people and I am excited about attempting to harness all of that energy and put it towards something like youth empowerment.

In General

On one of the first days we arrived here in Moldova, PC staff gave us a graph entitled “Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment” that described the ups and downs we would be facing as a volunteer. Until this point, it has been scarily spot on. Training was a lot of high highs and low lows, but because I was with my PC family I felt secure and supported. Now out in my village, it’s harder to feel that security, so the vulnerability really shines through. That being said, I feel like vulnerability is a good thing in this case. It forces me to go out of my comfort zone and try things I never thought I would ever do. I’m definitely not adjusted yet, but I can tell I’m finally on that upswing.

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My First Week

Buna ziua elevi. Mă numesc Domnul Amir și o să predau educație pentru sănătate timp de doi ani. Good day students. My name is Mr. Amir and I will be teaching health education for two years.

The words slipped out of my mouth as I stood in front of my 5th grade class, sweating partially from nerves and partially due to the non-air-conditioned classroom. I use the word “slipped” because instead of a calm, steady sentence, the words seemed to fall out of my mouth, each with a different accent and emphasis; clearly not the way I had rehearsed. It was my first lesson and although I had taught during practice school successfully, in that very moment, I forgot every word of Romanian I had learned in the past three months. And so began my career as a health education teacher.

The rest of my week was nowhere near as melodramatic as the first 20 seconds of my first lesson. I will say, 20 seconds is a just the right amount of time to contemplate all of your life choices and ask yourself why you decided to teach when you have never taught before in a language you didn’t know in a foreign country about a subject you have no real training in, but I digress. Thanks to my amazing partner teacher, the lesson picked up and the kids really seemed interested in me. I completely underestimated the power of being the “new American.” I walk down the halls and students ask me for pictures, which I obviously oblige, or they just stare at me and offer a quick “good day” right as I pass. I feel like a celebrity. All of the students know me from when I gave a little speech at the First Bell ceremony, something that seemed almost impossible to me about two months ago when I was struggling with the differences between the Romanian past and future tenses. The teachers all laugh because they say the 8th and 9th grade girls all have crushes on me. I guess this is what it feels like to be popular in middle school.

For any future Moldova volunteers reading this blog, be prepared to be flexible. The biggest struggle from this past week was the uncertainty. Unlike in America where the class schedule is planned months before school begins, the schedule is not finalized until a few weeks into the semester. I have come to school to find out the lesson I had planned for 5th period that was on the schedule when I left the building yesterday had since been removed and moved to last period of Monday’s schedule, which I did not teach on Monday because it’s now Wednesday and it was not on the schedule Monday. As frustrating and confusing as it seems, everything gets done. From what I’ve heard, the schedule becomes more fix by the end of September, so until then I’m just making sure I’m at the school as much as possible.

After just five days I feel my blood pressure returning back to a healthy level. There isn’t much else to say about the first week other than how excited I am to continue. Every time I doubt myself, something happens that reignites my fire. It is going to be a hard two years, much harder than I even expected. There is a lot of alone time which is something I was not prepared for, but that just means there are free minutes that I can fill with positive, forward momentum. I have so many ideas for my community and I can’t wait to see them through.

A New Beginning

img_2420.jpgThe road surrounded by sunflower fields seemed welcomingly familiar as I made my way to my permanent village in Ștefan-Vodă. Instead of an overly packed rutiera, I sat in the back seat of a small two door coupe with my baggage spilling over onto me. My school director had come to pick me up from swearing in, but there was no way for her to imagine how much baggage a 23-year-old American could bring with him. To my defense, I had accumulated quite a bit from the Peace Corps including but not limited to bags of textbooks, a fire extinguisher, water filters, and yak-tracks. With the car windows open (thankfully), I watched as the country side flew by. Those brilliantly bright sunflower fields now appeared faded, or gone all together, already harvested for the year. Instead, not quite ripe grape vines lined my way into my new home.

I’ve tried to sit down several times to write this entry. So much has happened since my last long form blog post and my mind is swirling with thoughts and I just couldn’t put them into words. I have decided to steal an idea from my fellow PCV, Claire, and tell my story through a series of pictures.

img_2352This first picture is dedicated to my PST group: The Văsienies. Just look at all those beautiful faces, wide eyed, ready for the world ahead of us. The three lovely ladies sitting in the center of the picture are our LTIs (language instructors): Doina, Galina, and Aliona. I cannot thank them enough for all they did for us. I remember our first day of language when we went over the alphabet and I was having the hardest time pronouncing the differences between a, ă, and â. Don’t even get me started on the pronunciation difference between the masculine singular “voluntar” and the masculine plural “voluntari” (the final i makes the r softer and I can promise you our ears are just not trained to hear the difference). Now, when I sit at the dinner table and talk to my new host parents in Romanian about the intricacies of Moldovan history, I can’t help but laugh thinking about that first day.

Leaving Văsieni proved harder than I had thought it would be. I had grown accustomed to the routine that I created there, the cows and horses that roamed the main street grazing, fresh harbuzul (watermelon) and roșii (tomatoes) from the garden, the smiling faces of my host mom and dad as I told them about my day, and the family of other volunteers that I created. I already miss our late nights at the school working out our micropredare lesson plans or watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones (yes, I have been keeping up and this season is AMAZING). I miss our hikes to the top of the hill overlooking all of the life below. I took for granted having them next to me every day, but I know that they are just a phone call away. We are already planning our epic reunion which I look forward to daily.

img_2415That fine-looking gentleman to the left is yours truly, just after being sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. That day I woke up as a trainee in in my training village and I went to bed a volunteer in my new home. When I was in high school, I imagined running of and joining the Peace Corps as a form of escape. As I grew older, my reasons for joining matured with me, but the desire remained. My life path has so many twists and turns, I keep track of time based on the period of time I spent working towards one career path or another (oh, that was when I wanted to work in communications, which was after wanting to be a neuroscientist but before I wanted to work as an ambassador), but the Peace Corps has been with me the whole time. With my right hand held high, I repeated the words of the Moldovan Ambassador and for the first time I said aloud, “I am a Peace Corps Volunteer.” I had chills. I could hardly believe that it was real. I already posted a vlog about the day so if you watched you will know that the day was rather emotional. There were tears, there were hugs, there was a ton of free food. After the ceremony, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

img_2452Since then, I have been living with my new host family. I now live with an older couple. They have four kids and 19 grandchildren, however three of those children and 13 of the grandchildren live in Russia. The rest of the group live in the Raion center very close to my village. The first night I had arrived, I was like a shiny new toy that had just been opened Christmas morning that all of the kids wanted to play with first. I felt their energy and tried to absorb every ounce of it. They asked me things that ranged from questions with simple, one-word answers to what was my life philosophy. Now, they call me uncle because I’m technically their grandparent’s new son, and I love it. We have gone swimming, we’ve picked vegetables and fruits, we’ve sat around the table talking for hours, we’ve played Uno. The 4-year-old, Sebastian, and the 8-year-old, Andrea, have become my best friends. I like the think it’s because of my child-like energy, but I’m pretty sure it’s because we speak Romanian on a very similar level.

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What Peace Corps has shown be so far is how flexibility can be one’s most useful resource. Growth and change are eminent, and to be scared of either of those things is detrimental. In a span of three months I have learned another language, started a job I did not study for (teaching), lived with two host families, resided in two different small villages, eaten meat I helped kill and skin hours prior. If you had asked me a year ago what I would be doing in this moment, I certainly wouldn’t have said any of those things. I had expected to be sent to Africa or Latin America due to my language skills and my studies in school, but instead I am in Eastern Europe and I couldn’t be happier. I think about those fields that line the drive to my village and how as the seasons change, so too do the crops that grow there. Time brings change, but with it comes growth. How will I grow over the next two years? Who is to say? I guess we will have to wait to see.

Swearing in! 

This past Wednesday was filled with so many emotions. I woke up in my training village, brought my bags to the curb and said my goodbyes to my host family.  I was sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. I said hello to my new host family and was greeted with homemade bread and compot. It was a crazy day and I just can’t believe it was all real. 

Școala Practică

So I made another vlog! These past two weeks have been crazy and my mind is swirling so I haven’t had time to sit down and put my thoughts into words yet. As the end of PST gets closer, I am having a harder and harder time believing that it’s almost over. In the meantime, enjoy this video! 

Student Teaching: Day 1

Today was the day!

For the past few weeks we have had a pretty regular schedule: language class in the morning and then tech class in the afternoon. Today, however, we started practice school. This week, one of our partner teachers joined us in our village and we got to practice creating a lesson plan, teaching in front of real Moldovan students, and giving each other feedback. Today was hard, full of Romanian, but it was so amazing. Next week our second partner teacher will come and we will teach a totally different lesson.

I just wanted to give you all a taste of what we experienced today. A more thought out essay will come after both weeks.

July 8-9, 2017: A Visit to Remember

img_2073         I looked out the window at the rolling hills of yellow and green as my rutiera (minibus) made its way from Chișinău to Ștefan-Vodă, the raion (district) I would soon be calling home. The sunflowers were just starting to bloom, creating an ombré effect that looked like brilliant yellow fireworks exploding in a dark green sky. The inside of the rutiera could not have juxtaposed our surroundings any more starkly. In a vehicle that is meant for about 18, about 30 people were crammed together, waving our hand fans as vigorously as possible. It is a common belief in Moldova that “the current” can make you sick. This means they do not open any windows and there is certainly no air conditioning. Let’s just say these rides won’t be the highlights of my PC experience. That being said, I was so transfixed by my journey I hardly noticed the sweat dripping from my brow.

It was Saturday afternoon and earlier that day, I had signed a contract with my school director, committing myself to working in my community for two years as a health teacher. Me, a teacher. We were heading to my new village for my site visit. My school director is an extremely kind and patient woman. She was thrilled with my Romanian skills and spoke to me with such vigor and energy. As much as I want to say I understood everything she said, the majority of our conversation consisted of me pretending I knew what was going on and nodding my head with interspersed da’s and desigur’s. Because of this, I agreed to come to a graduation ball that night at my school without even realizing it. I have a feeling this may end up being a trend during my service here in Moldova.

When we pulled up to my village, I was in awe. The main road is paved, which is certainly a rarity among the villages here. The roads were lined with houses and colorful fences that were barely holding in the overflowing gardens filled with fruits and vegetables and flowers of all varieties. My director helped me out of the bus and guided me to my hosts’ house. I had been warned that it would be rather far from the school, but was not aware of the steep hill that was between them. Luckily, my host sister met us with a car and drove us the rest of the way. The house’s entrance was covered in grape vines, providing a cool escape from the pounding sun.

We were met by my host mother who had prepared enough food for an army of Amirs. Another thing that I’m going to have to get used to, much to my waistline’s dismay, is the sheer amount of food Moldovans prepare for special occasions. There were stuffed peppers, salad, a pile of meatballs, bowls of potatoes, and of course several loaves of bread. Moldovans love their bread. The meal felt like a marathon and like any good marathoner, I took a nice long nap directly after.

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The ninth-grade class dressed to the nines!

At 8PM my host sister and her cousin escorted me to the ninth-grade graduation ball. I am lucky enough to have another volunteer, Beth Ogden, at my site. She is an M31 (I’m an M32), so she has been around the village and knows the ins and outs pretty well. Beth had warned me to wear the nicest clothes I had brought with me (which were khakis and a button down like the good Southern boy that I am.) What I saw was closer to an American prom; girls wearing long dresses with heels and hair that was teased to the heavens while the boys opted for the classic blue dress pants with white shirt combo. The teachers were in their Sunday best and I was thoroughly under dressed. Beth assured me it was alright, but my inappropriate attire only added to the stares. All of the students were wondering, who is this strange brown man? I don’t blame them either, I looked suspicious. They speculated that I was Beth’s boyfriend since I attached myself to her the whole night. The professors were all thrilled with my Romanian (again, lots of da’s and desigur’s) and they informed me the children were surprised because they very rarely have male teachers, especially ones that are so frumos which means beautiful in Romanian. Their words, not mine, I SWEAR.

The ceremony was short. The students were called to accept their diploma in order of their class ranking. Beth, who had English to these students, was emotional. She told me that the village didn’t have a high school, so these kids would be either leaving the country to find work elsewhere or leaving the village to continue school. This is a trend I’m learning more and more about, but that’s for another blog post. Now when I said the ceremony was short, I meant the actual awarding of the diplomas. What came next was speech after speech from each student and several teachers or parents. Then came dancing and singing and poetry reading. The village has a youth dance group that has one national competitions in both Moldova and Romania, so the students put on quite a show. I watched with amazement as they danced and intricate routine of partner work and weaving choreography. I was filled with joy as I watched and could not help but become more and more excited for my future with the school and its students.

 

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Me with my two partner teachers, my school director, Beth, and a few of my future students. Look how thrilled they all look to see me.

The next day I met Beth, my director, and my two partner teachers at the school for a brief meeting. Whereas Beth teaches English and thus her partner teachers do as well, neither of my partners speak English. They were extremely nervous to meet me, knowing full well I had only started learning Romanian four weeks prior. Up until this point, I had only thought about how nervous I was, but it was eye opening to realize that these women were just as nervous because they are going out on a limb to work with me. Neither of them have a background in science and I have no history with teaching. However, when we sat down and discussed our future, our worries started to drift away. I will say, thanks to my Spanish language skills, I really can understand much more than the average PCT at this point in our training. We were able to communicate, and laugh, and joke around, and it all started to feel natural. They took me to the courtyard where I met some of my future fifth-grade students. Although they were shy and timid when speaking to me, I was assured by Beth they would not be so quite once they got used to me.

After our meeting, Beth walked me around the village and showed me all of the important monuments: the casa de cultură, the primăria (mayor’s office), and the church. It’s a small village so the tour only last about 45 minutes, but my sister invited Beth to our house for lunch. To be honest, I was relatively worried about have a site mate. Beth has such an amazing handle on the Romanian language and she is loved by the school and the community members. The bar is set high and it is an extremely daunting work environment to enter. That being said, after spending the afternoon with her, I can honestly say I am thrilled to have her in my village. Our next year will be thrilling and to be able to share that with her is going to a treat.

 

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I loved this because it looked like the moons of Tatooine in Star Wars. 

The rest of my night was spent relaxing in my home and wandering around the town with my host sister and cousin. I watched the sun set and the full moon rise over the sunflower fields. Every second I spent in the village, I fell more and more in love. Every person on the street greeted me with a “bună seara” and a friendly hand shake from the male community members. (Side note: the male/female dynamics in Moldova are very interesting. Don’t worry, there will be a future blog post about just that.) I found myself ending my night trying to catch chickens by candle light as they ran around the backyard avoiding my very unsteady hands. I have got to learn to stop saying da or desigur to everything. I went to bed early because the only rutiera to Chișinău leaves at 5:50 AM which meant an early wake up call.

Where my trek to the village was less than desirable, my ride back home was rather luxurious. The rutiera had extremely comfortable seats and plenty of room. There was even high speed wifi! What a world. I spent the drive with my head racing: What lessons will I be teaching my students? How am I going to help these teachers with years of experience when I have none? What makes me qualified to do any of this? What will my secondary projects be? How in the world do I write a grant? Will I get giardia from the well water that I drank even though I definitely should not have? (Update: did not get giardia.) It was strange because I didn’t feel nervous, per se. Get ready for a horrible metaphor. It felt like that moment right after you strap yourself in to a rollercoaster and you start to hear the clicks as you ascend higher and higher. It’s an exciting nervous. It’s a “I love this so much but holy $*@& why did I get myself on this ride.” It’s crazy to see how close the peak of that ascent actually is right before I am sent soaring.

As a quick addendum to my post, the reason I have been rather vague about my host family is because due to some housing issues, I have since been assigned to another family. There was no drama, but the house was rather far away and my room was under construction and Peace Corps felt that it would be better for me to be with another family. The Tuesday after site visit, I returned to my village with one of our Program Managers and visited another family. We were greeted with lots of food (honestly some of the best I’ve had while in Moldova) and some very warm hearts. I instantly felt at home with the family and after just 30 minutes, we agreed this would be a better fit. My new home is about 5 minutes to school whereas my other home would have been a 45-minute walk and literally uphill both ways. I don’t know much about my new family, but I can’t wait to find out more.

IT’S OFFICIAL!! 

I officially know where I’m going to be for the next two years!! My village is in the Ștefan-Vodă district which is right next to Ukraine. Everything is so overwhelming right now so I haven’t been able to write anything down, but a fellow volunteer (Scott Ondap) made an amazing video of site announcement that I just had to share.  I’m new to the WordPress thing so until I can learn how to embed videos, here is a link to the video on YouTube. Enjoy! 

Site Announcement by Scott Ondap

Chicken Fried and Fourth of July

It’s a strange thing celebrating the Fourth of July when you’re in a foreign country. Back home, I could always depend on a lake side BBQ, country music, water tubing, and being surrounded by amazing friends. To be honest, today has been the first day I’ve been homesick since I left for Moldova. July 4th has always been a staple in the Feinberg household and it’s bizarre not to be celebrating it the way I’ve always known.

This year, instead of celebrating on a boat underneath the fireworks I gathered with my new “government mandated family” and we shared Independence Day with our Moldovan hosts. Each volunteer prepared a traditional American dish and we gathered in the park near the school. (And when I say “each volunteer” I mean each volunteer except for me. I acted as emotional support and entertainment. No one wants to eat anything I’ve cook, believed me.) We had fried chicken, potato salad, deviled eggs, garlic bread, and most importantly hot sauce. Sprinkled in there were some American takes on Moldovan dishes like an apple plăcintă (Moldovan style pie) made by our very own Gina. To my Misty Waters family, don’t worry, country music was played. A lot. And as far as being surrounded by amazing friends, we had that one covered too. It’s crazy to think that I’ve only known them for a month (and yes, it’s been exactly a month since we first met), but the amazing people who live in my village have truly become my family. I don’t know how I would get by without them.

One thing I’ve learned in all my travels is that America is pretty great. We have our problems, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a country filled with so much culture and so many different types of people. It’s a country where a boy like me can live exactly how I want to be, and sometimes I think I take that for granted. Today let me think more critically about what it meant to be an American. All I can say is no matter where I am on Independence Day, I will always bring with me a little bit of my American pride.

Cum se spune românește “what a weekend”? 

While my week followed my normal schedule, this weekend has been filled with amazing surprises and I decided to Vlog about it! Not featured in the Vlog was an amazing barbecue at another volunteer’s host family’s house and an early morning hike overlooking our town. Every day that I’m in Moldova, I fall more and more in love. ​

I’ve added some photographic evidences of the aformentioned barbecue and hike.