When I began this blog, I made it a goal to post at least once a month. “One blog post every four weeks,” I said to myself, “How hard could that be?” Let me tell you something, once life starts to pick up in Peace Corps, it really picks up!
Over the course of the past month and a half, I have wanted to write about so many things. The first was the beauty of snow and the joy it can bring. In mid-January, my village was blanketed with a few feet of snow. Ever since I was a child, snow has brought me a sense of euphoria. Even in Boston, when other students would moan about the upcoming storm, I cherished it. Every droplet, every flake, was a reminder of how beautiful life and nature can be. I and my fellow Moldovans were saddened that we didn’t have a white Christmas, but a few days later we were greeted with a blizzard!
The snow began early on Thursday morning. As I walked to school, the wind beat my face and the ice felt like shards of glass; but I couldn’t help but smile. Arriving at school, I had icicles hanging from my hood and my face was red and raw. I could feel an energy in the air – the students could barely contain their excitement as they ran through the halls to look out the window. Classes ended early and we were promised a snow day on Friday. You can imagine how that went over with the children of my village.
Early Friday morning, I decided to leave my home to walk around my community. The storm had subdued and the snow had settled. The sun glistened off the snow crystals and the cold air awakened my lungs. There was a hush about the village – the kids had yet to disturb the perfect wind-swept dunes and the crowing roosters and howling dogs seemed to agree to let peace take over, at least for just a while. After lunch, my host nieces and nephews arrived with sleds in hand and I took them to a hill close to my home. Gathered there were several of my students from all grades. I could hear them gasp and whisper to each other, “Domnul Amir is coming!” Somehow, I became the target of a vicious snowball fight. It was all against one until a third grader came to my rescue, alerting me anytime someone was coming up behind me to fill my face with snow. My site mate, Beth, also joined in and was the second target of the snowball war. I laughed harder than I have in a long while. It brought me back to my own childhood, waking up early to watch the news and waiting to see if our classes were canceled for the day. The whole experience just reminded me that no matter where we are born, we are more similar at the core than we may realize.
I would be lying to you if I said it was all positive, though. Another promise I made to myself as I was creating this blog was to be as brutally honest as possible, including both the good and the bad. Winter is hard. Many people in states suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, and it is a well-known and accepted reality. Unfortunately, in Moldova I have felt the effects of SAD more so than in the past. The sun didn’t rise until 8AM and it got dark around 4PM which inadvertently forced me to be homebound after work. My home is heated by a wood fire, and we only lit the heater at night, leaving the mornings extremely cold. Most of you know me as a social person, so not seeing people after the sun went down was very difficult. However, I have finally found some coping mechanisms that work for me. I decided to pick up the guitar, a task much harder than I had initially anticipated. I am working out (don’t laugh, it’s really happening!) and I am trying to read more books. Creating a daily schedule that I try and stick to has been my saving grace. Now that the sun is starting to rise a little earlier and go down a little later, I can already feel my tension begin to lessen.
To leave you on a brighter note, I am really loving my job. We as volunteers were told to sit back and really try to observe the first few months of service. I attended Romanian and Russian lessons taught by my partners or other teachers, I talked to students, and I taught my classes. Now, however, I’m ready to be more active. The teachers have started to notice I am good with technology, so I am helping with every PowerPoint and every movie presentation. I have applied to more PC committees and I am participating in international campaigns to raise awareness about human trafficking and modern-day slavery. I started a youth-based leadership club that meets once a week, and the ideas that these children have about problems in their community and country makes me feel positive about the future of Moldova. Filling up my hours with activities at school and in my community has brought me back to why I’m here in the first place. I’m busier and I’m happier. Don’t worry, I still find plenty of time for a good Netflix binge.
Below is a video of some of the students from the leadership club attempted to undo their human knot.
If there is one thing I’ve learned here in Moldova, it’s that the holidays just keep coming! Today is January 14, 2018 and per the old-style calendar, that means it is the New Year! Throughout the day, children of all ages come to your door and throw a mixture of corn, seeds, and wheat as they sing well wishes of a healthy new year and a bountiful harvest. In return, we hand out candy.
Yesterday, the music and dance ensemble from my village was asked to travel to the capital and perform for a national radio station. Below is a video of a few of my 8th and 9th grade students demonstrating the traditional songs and dances of the holidays. (The man in the beginning is simply introducing the group. The traditions begin at the 2:25 mark.) This group is truly astounding and I am so proud of them. Just a few weeks ago, they competed in a national competition in the capital and won the Grand Prize! We may come from a small village, but the spirit and love is strong here and I could not be more happy to have been placed in Feștelița!
But wait, Christmas is December 25th and the new year already started! What is Amir talking about?!? Has he officially been abroad for so long that he has lost all sense of time and space?!? The answer to that question is, probably yes, but that’s not why I’m wishing you a Merry Christmas now!
Moldova is an orthodox country, and as such, it celebrates Christmas on the night of the 6th of January passing into the 7th of January. It’s actually the last holiday in the cycle of New Year’s holidays that starts on the 31st of December and ends on January 7th. Six weeks before the big celebrations start the fast or post. The orthodox fasting pattern excludes any animal products from the diet, meaning everyone is pretty much vegan for the month of December. This means that I have eaten more potatoes than I could have possibly imagined and have subsequently bloated to the size of a manatee, but I digress.
New Year’s Eve in Moldova is very similar to that in America. It is believed that no person should spend the night alone, as it is the night when the new year, represented by a baby, is born—and the old year, represented by an old man, is replaced. I was unfortunately not in Moldova for this, but my host mom filled me in on some of the traditions. She told me of a tradition in which friends, neighbors, and families “seed” each other, meaning they throw corn and rice at each other to wish the family good luck and a rich crop for the coming year.
About four days before Christmas, the preparation begins. Much like in America, Christmas in Moldova is a holiday celebrated with the family. This means that uncles, aunts, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, all come traveling back to their home village to celebrate together. Of course, a Moldovan celebration wouldn’t be the same without a giant masa (feast). My host mom has been frantically making food for the past few days, baking colaci, killing and preparing the meat, etc. Our house has smelled of cookies for the past week and I am not one to complain about it.
Christmas eve brings even more traditions! Groups of people, young and old, go from house to house singing colinde or carols at the gates. The idea is that children and adults walk door to door to congratulate their neighbors and friends with the coming of Christmas. After the kids have finished singing, it is common for them to receive treats or gifts such as money or candy. The tradition reminds me a lot of our Halloween, actually. As the carolers move from one house to another, they carry with them several symbols: plugușorul (the plow); a skin-covered barrel through which a tuft of hair is pulled, imitating a bull’s roar; and a goat costume which they use for a traditional play. If you watch my video that I posted recently, the kids at my school put on their own version of these performances!
Another symbol that Moldovans and Americans share is the Christmas tree. Where they differ, however, is when the tree is erected. It’s typical in America to put up the tree after Thanksgiving. In Moldova, the tree isn’t decorated until Christmas eve! Moș Crăciun (Santa Clause) brings presents for the little ones and places them under the tree for them to find the next morning. This is, however, a more modern addition that many in my village don’t participate in.
Today, January 7th, was incredible. When I awoke at 8am, we already had carolers at our gate and they continued to visit throughout the day. My favorite moment was when three of my 6th grade boys came to our door. Something tells me they didn’t know I lived here, because the moment they saw me they all turned bright red and wouldn’t look up from the ground. Around noon, the family began to arrive. My host family’s daughter who lives in Russia arrived with her 4 children and then my host dad’s sister from Cahul surprised us halfway through the afternoon. We sat around the table from 12 until 6, eating, drinking, singing, and telling stories about our childhood. I even sang a little something for them in English. As I type, the festivities are still continuing without me as I take a little break. There was a moment where I began to miss my family at home, but just as I felt the grip of sorrow begin to clasp me, I looked around and saw my current family, my Moldovan family, who had welcomed me with open arms into their home. My host nephew sat on my lap with his head against my chest and bunica (grandma) began to cry as she watched us all sing. I’ve heard the saying “home is where the heart is,” and today I realized that my heart is here in Moldova.
This holiday season has had me thinking about how lucky I am. This year, I celebrated New Year’s Eve in Romania and will be celebrating Christmas with my host family in Moldova. Last January, I rang in the New Year in a national park in Kenya with Mount Kilimanjaro looming over me. The year before that, I was in Israel for the holidays and the year before that I was preparing for a semester abroad in Madrid, Spain. Ever since I was little I wanted to travel, explore the world, and really get to know new people and new cultures. As I reminisce about all that I have been able to see and do, I can’t help but smile knowing that young Amir’s dreams are continuing to come true.
I vividly remember the first moment I stepped foot in Moldova, the first breath I took of Moldovan air. It all seemed like a blur, gathering our luggage and driving through rolling hills to our lodging for the night. It’s been six months since my first night in Vadă Liu Vodă. Half a year. I’ve celebrated the Fourth of July, my birthday, Halloween, and Thanksgiving all in a country I hadn’t heard of just over a year ago. I’ve lived in two villages with two host families. What once seemed impossible, I learned Romanian over the course of 3 months and have since gained more fluency and the ability to actually teach in this foreign language. It’s hard to believe, but I feel more at home here than ever thought possible.
One common thread throughout my service has been laughter, mostly due to Romanian skills, or lack thereof. There is something so purely comical about two people trying to communicate through a language barrier, both trying their hardest, using every hand motion or sound possible. My first night in my training village involved me trying to explain the gift I had brought. This started a 45-minute experience that included calling the neighbor to translate and ended in a marriage proposal.
Since that day, there has been no shortage of laughter. One of my fondest memories has been with my host mom. As many of you know, I am not a morning person and without my morning coffee I am practically useless. This particular morning, I was sitting at the masa eating my hrisca (buckwheat) when my host mom (everyone just calls her Bunica which is Romanian for grandmother) sat next to me. She’s a feisty woman with a high-pitched voice and I was not in the mood to translate at 8 in the morning. She would speak, I would say the occasional da, and we moved on. After I finished, I began to leave and she said to me, “Amir where do you think you’re going? You just agreed to help me.” This is why you don’t just say da to everything.
She guided me to the yard where we keep all of the animals. There are geese, chickens, ducks, even some rabbits, all gathered in a fenced off area in the valley by my house. Bunica had disappeared so I bent down to play with Iulia, our dog. From the corner of my eye I saw something move. I turned to see a gaggle of geese flapping their wings, necks stretched forward, all charging directly at me, with my Bunica at the helm herding them my direction. The whole thing seemed happened in slow motion. As any city boy would do, I jumped about five feet into the air and ran screaming. Oh, did she think this was the funniest thing she had ever seen. Bunica was on the floor, clutching her chest she was laughing so hard. My heart pounding, I yelled, “What did you do that for!” Unbeknownst to me, I had agreed to catch one of those creatures so we could eat it for dinner.
Having properly prepared myself, I nodded to her so she could herd them my direction again. She began waving her broom and the birds came running and I grabbed one by the neck. Success! Bunica laughed, kissed me on both cheeks, and then took the bird to the chopping block. She wouldn’t let me watch the beheading, saying I would never eat it if I saw the brutality of the act. What can I say? She knows me.
I hold on to moments like this one for dear life because they are what get me through the rough times. It’s hard to explain to someone who hasn’t experienced it, how in one day you can go from pure ecstasy to existential crisis or vis versa all within the span of a few hours. I underestimated the difficulty of service. Before I left, I talked to many current PCVs and a few returned PCVs, each told me their story of how they struggled with different mental hurdles. I, naïvely, believed I was above that. But no one is immune to moments of doubt. We doubt that we are making difference. We doubt that the work we spend hours on each day is being appreciated. We doubt that anyone is noticing. I have experienced my fair share of doubt, but I have found my way of handling it and its by remember those highs of service, no matter how small.
A moment that has lifted me up for weeks was a simple encounter with a man in my village. I was walking to the magazin (convenient store) when a man stopped me from entering. He was sitting on a truck bed and I realized he was a double amputee. He started speaking in Russian and when he noticed I couldn’t understand, he had another man translate. He asked me why I was here. He wasn’t accusatory, simply curious. I told him about the Peace Corps and he stared at me in awe. After I was finished explaining my role in the community, he reached for my hand and said, “Thank you for coming to our country. Thank you for leaving your home to help us. I lost both of my legs to diabetes. These children need to learn about health and you will teach them. Thank you.” For weeks, I have soared with the help of his words.
These first six months have brought so many highs and lows, but that is to be expected of any service. In fact, I embrace them. I can feel myself getting stronger and growing as I learn how to climb out of those moments of doubt. Every day I learn something new about who I am and what I want in life. It feels as if I stepped off of that plane, blinked, and now I am 6 months in. Before I know it, I will be posting a year in review. I just hope I can enjoy and absorb every step along the way.
It would be a lie if I told you I hadn’t worried about my birthday before I departed for Moldova. I feel vain and slightly childish admitting it. My youth was filled with fond memories of creative parties organized by my parents, of handmade cakes in the shape of serpents and treasure chests, of swimming pools and roller rinks. As I made my way into adulthood, the parties became more about gathering with friends around a dinner table at my favorite restaurant (most likely Indian food). My birthday was always a day in which I was reminded of the amazing people I surrounded myself with and of the love I had for them. When I imagined what my birthday would be like in a foreign country without those friends, without those parties, without Indian food, I thought this year would be depressing and dreary.
I could not have been more wrong.
When I woke on the 19th of October, I was greeted with the most amazing surprise: a video of my friends wishing me a happy birthday. What was so special about this video was that it included friends from Peace Corps, college, high school, and even my family. It truly had me in tears. At school, I was bombarded with well wishes from the students and teachers. A particularly fond memory was an overly eager 3rd grader who saw me from across the school yard and bolted toward me, all the while screaming “DOMNUL AMIR, LA MULȚI ANI DOMNUL AMIR!” She ran into me at full force and the other students who were around joined in. The teachers all pitched in and gave me a beautiful handmade vase that will always remind me of my time here in Moldova, and a book about the history of our village. In the afternoon’s English club, I was serenaded by the students who were extremely excited to sing in English.
Later that evening, my host family had a birthday masa (party/dinner) for me. Moldovan tradition states that it is the birthday person’s responsibility to cook and provide food for the masa, but my host mom didn’t trust my ability to cook for the masses. Rightfully so, I might add. Instead I provided the cake, which I purchased and absolutely did not bake myself. The night was perfect. I was surrounded by my host parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews as well as our special guest, Elisabeth, the other volunteer in my village. We ate and drank and celebrated until we simply couldn’t anymore. My sides hurt from laughing and my stomach and heart were full.
Due to some postal issues, I received a care package from my parents a mere 11 days after my birthday. In it was cards from my grandparents and my neighborhood squad. Reading their letters just made me so happy and I couldn’t thank them enough. So, if you are reading this, mulțumesc frumos, which means thank you very much!
My point of this post is not to brag about how many friends I have. Rather, this year, my birthday provided me with something I needed more than anything, it showed me that my community has embraced me. I guess I’m trying to say that I really am beginning to feel a part of this small, wonderful village I call home.
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.
The 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.
This 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.
That 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.
Since 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!