Yesterday was the final bell here in my beautiful village!!! The ceremony acts as a way to close out the school year. It’s a time to celebrate all of the year’s successes and to wish the 9th grade class luck as they prepare for graduation. It’s a bittersweet moment for me, on one hand I am so ready for summer but on the other I am really going to miss these kids. I’m in such positive spirits as I finish out my first year as a PCV and a longer more thought out post is sure to follow. In the mean time, enjoy this little vlog.
For the past few weeks, my official saying was “Aștept cu nerăbdare pentru primăvara,” which roughly translates to “Can spring get here ASAP I don’t think I can handle one more day of this dark depressing winter please don’t make me wear my big jacket one more time.” No, in all seriousness, it basically means “I can’t wait for spring to come.” And come it did.
The first day of sunshine and warmth brought a wave of euphoria over me and the rest of my village. I swear I heard a collective sigh of relief from every Moldovan family waking up that morning. If there is one thing I have observed, Moldovan’s in my village despise being indoors. Their work is outside, in the sun and the fields and the gardens, and when they are cooped up in the house for the majority of winter, I see a huge shift in their moods. Seasonal Affective Disorder is real y’all and it is cross cultural! Now, with the start of spring, it is as if every bloom is releasing ionized Prozac into the air and we are all breathing it in. Ok, that may have been a tad bit much, but I just want you all to understand the severity of the change in all of our emotions.
With the start of spring is also arguably the biggest celebration on the Moldovan calendar: Paște, or Easter. As you all know by now, Moldova is an Orthodox country, so we celebrated Easter one week later than those of you in the United States. Leading up to this holiday is post, or the fast. It’s 40 days in which Moldovans abstain from eating meat or dairy products as well as drinking alcohol. While most vegans will say this is easy, try living in a country that does not have access to Trader Joes or Whole Foods with their aisles of avocados and fresh vegetables. We instead resort to something a bit simpler: the humble potato. I have never in my life eaten so many potatoes. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good potato, but I swear I ate so many that they began to take root in my stomach and grow. My body was about 80% starch, 15% pickled tomatoes, and 5% dill. Joking aside, this is a time for Orthodox Christians to “take care of the soul”, as is similar for Muslims during Ramadan, Jews during Yom Kippur, and many other religions across the world during their fasting period.
Three days before the big day, the cooking began. My host mom spent most of it in the kitchen, preparing the various meats, salads, soups, and pasca (sweet bread). We also dyed eggs, however unlike in America with its pastel colored eggs, the only color we made was red. We took the skins of red onions and boiled them in water, creating a concentrated dye. We then boiled the eggs with the dye, producing these rich, dark, red eggs. My host mom told me that some new age Moldovans do use other colors, but our village is very traditional and only uses red.
The night of Easter, my host mom trekked to the church at 11pm for the midnight mass, while my host dad and I took a short nap. We joined her at the church at 3am, bringing with us a basket filled with a portion of the food that was to be blessed with holy water by the priest. The church and roads were illuminated by moonlight and hundreds of candles with their flames flickering in the wind. As the priest passed I noticed how happy everyone was. People were laughing and joking as the freezing cold water was tossed around. My host dad even yelled at the priest “I don’t think the American got enough” to which the priest responded by dowsing me with water and laughing. Once our food was blessed, we made our way back home for a little masa (meal). We ate, we drank, we were merry, and by 8 am we were all back in bed.
The rest of the day and the next few days involved a lot of masas and a lot of meat. I joked that I ate more meat in three days than I had the entire time I lived in Moldova. I especially enjoyed the rabbit (sorry Raiya), which I helped to kill, skin, and prepare. We also went to the cimitir (cemetery) and spent several hours cleaning the graves of my host family’s family. The cimitir is located near the edge of the village on the top of a hill and you can see the entirety of the village bellow. There, generations and generations of families are buried, each with their own cross. Next to each plot is a table, the use of which I will get to soon. The sun was beating down on us and none of the trees had quite flowered yet, so believe it or not I got a little sunburnt! It was a wonderful time and a true family affair.
That brings me to today, Paștele Blajinilor. My host mom explained today by saying “Last weekend was Easter for those of us who are lucky to still be living. Today, we celebrate Easter for the dead.” Almost every family in my village made their way to the cimitir and brought with them adornments for the graves and food for their stomachs. The priest gave a small service and then we spent the morning eating at the aforementioned tables, sharing stories, food, and wine with anyone who passed by. As I walked through the cemetery, students waved to me and families invited me to their tables for cinzeci de grame and a little bit of food. There are moments of our service that we will remember forever, and this is certainly one of them.
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.
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.
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.
Something 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.
Friday, 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.
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.
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.
I 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.
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.
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.