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.