A 24th To Remember

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.

img_2977When 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!

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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.

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.

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.