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!
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.
Not too shabby if I do say so myself
I guess I like these people
The trainees with our Romanian Professors and host families
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.
27 hours of Romanian class. 12 hours of technical class. 7 bowls of terci (porridge). Approximately 60 pounds of bread. 98 times saying “Nu înțeleg” (I don’t understand), and counting. Two showers. Two days without electricity or running water. Countless hours of eating cherries and strawberries freshly picked from their place in the garden. One marriage proposal. Two loving host parents. One latrine.
These are just a few ways I have measured my first week in my training site in Moldova. I was going for a RENT, “Seasons of Love” themed intro. Did it work? No? Oh, okay, moving on. Like I said in my previous post, I do not become a fully-fledged PCV until I am sworn in. Until then, I am living in a small town in the Ialoveni district very close to Chisinau taking classes and integrating a bit more into the Moldovan culture. My hosts are an elderly couple, Maria and Gheorghe. Neither of them speak a word of English, which makes for extremely entertaining meals filled with waving arms and over annunciated consonants. Their house is situated at the edge of the village, overlooking the rolling hills and fields of Moldova. I am directly across from the school, which means my commute comes out to exactly 3 minutes and 22 seconds.
Before I continue, I will answer some of the questions most of you are probably asking yourself. No, we do not have indoor plumbing. Yes, that does mean I have to use a latrine/outhouse. No, I have not gotten used to the smell. Yes, we do have an indoor shower, however we only turn on the water Tuesdays and Saturdays. Yes, that means only two showers a week. Don’t worry mom, I’m using deodorant I promise.
Instead of forcing all of you to sit through every detail of every day of my week, I’ll give you a glimpse into the typical day of a PCT (Peace Corps Trainee) in Moldova. I wake up around 7 o’clock and have breakfast at exactly 7:30 every morning. I have Romanian class at 8 until around noon, when I return home from lunch. At 1:15, technical classes start for my Health Education training and last until about 5:00. Several of the volunteers in my town have made it a tradition to go to the closest shop and get ice cream. Fun fact, there is a brand of ice cream here called Amir! The evening is spent however we see fit. For me, it’s mostly studying. All in all, the day is extremely tiresome because my brain is constantly trying to take in every detail I possibly can. Every Romanian word, every new view, every new statistic.
The language has been the most frustrating barrier to hurdle. When I signed up to be a PCV, I knew that I would be living in a country in which I did not speak the language. That being said, I underestimated how unnerving it could be to be in a room surrounded by people speaking a foreign language without understanding a single word. Here is a quote that I took directly out of my journal** on day three of being in my village: “Today has been a lot. My brain hurts. Don’t know how to work shower. Too afraid to ask. Going to bed instead.” Bad day aside, I’m learning more and more every day. I can have full conversations with my host parents at lunch without pulling out my phone to translate, albeit extremely basic conversations. It’s been one week and I already can see so much improvement and it just gives me the drive to keep learning and keep drilling the vocab and keep talking with people.
**P.S. Thank you Anne-Marie McMenamin for the amazing journal with Moldova on the cover. I’ve been using it every day!
Before I end this post, I have two stories that I want to share with you all. The first involves the very first night I arrived at my new home and my failed attempt to give gifts to my new hosts. When I brought my host parents the Charlotte shot glasses I had brought for them, I was met with blank stares. Up to this point, I had learned how to introduce myself and name a few items in my house, but in this moment dulap de haine was going to be of very little use. Maria held up a finger as if to say “Wait one minute” and ran to the phone. She spoke very quickly, hung up the phone, grabbed my arm and hurried me outside to the fence that separated her garden from the neighbors. A girl who appeared to be about 19 or 20 named Dorina met us at the fence. Maria began speaking to her and Dorina explained to me that she spoke English. I have Google translate, Maria has Dorina. After we cleared up the misunderstanding, Dorina helped clarify a few things that I had previously misunderstood. From the balcony, Gheorghe began yelling things to Dorina about me. She began to blush and laugh and turn away. Little did I know, Gheorghe was trying to set me up with my very first Moldvan girlfriend. He kept asking her to translate things and her cheeks began to match the red rose she was standing next to, each time laughing as he repeated his inquiry. The rest of the week has been filled with Gheorghe asking me how much I like her smile and telling me that she was the smartest in her class. We were warned during orientation that the older generation would try and set us up, but I was not expecting it this fast!
The last story is more of a description. Moldova is beautiful. The soil is a rich dark brown saturated with minerals that is prime for growth. Every family has their own garden that supplies the freshest of fruits and vegetables for the summer table. One afternoon, a few of my fellow trainees and I wandered from house to house, visiting everyone’s gardens and eating the fruits directly from the trees. Our village is placed at the bottom of a hill and one of my friends lives a bit farther up the incline. Her host father has an impressive garden that stretches maybe half an acre. Its center is lined with rows of grape vines, reminiscent of the vineyards on the Italian country side. In the center of the field is a cherry tree with a wooden ladder for reaching the ripest cherries. I climbed one rung at a time and looked out over the garden and to the hills that surround our village. I took a breath of the freshest air and opened my eyes to the green expanse. I can truly see how I’m going to fall in love with this country.
When I first arrived in Philadelphia for staging, I had about nine million things running through my mind. Are any of these people in the airport PC people? How am I going to carry all of my bags when I needed my dad to help me get them to the ticket counter? If I tell the cab driver to take me to the best Philly cheesesteak, will he? I fought the urge to ask that last question and instead found the hotel. I spent my free time before check in wandering the Drexel Medical Campus, taking in some of Philly’s sites, and yes, eating a pretty amazing Philly cheesesteak. Soon, the hotel lobby became a holding zone for all of the PC Moldova future volunteers. With volunteers comes their luggage. It looked like an REI catalogue had vomited all over the carpet. We were assigned our rooms and met for a quick “Welcome to Staging” presentation and then were let loose for the night.
The next day we started the official staging process, dressed in our finest business casual. Staging seemed a bit redundant, echoing what we read in the Pre-Service Training Handbook. It focused on Peace Corps general rules and topics related to their mission. That being said, it was the first time we were all together as Peace Corps Moldova trainees. (Quick side note: We are currently called “trainees.” We do not receive the title of “volunteer” until after we are sworn in on August 17th.) The whole day felt like a blur. Before I knew it, we were on a bus to JFK the next morning with all 100 lbs. of our baggage in tow.
Part 2: The Journey
Before you read any further, do me a favor. Go to Spotify, or Youtube, or whatever music browser you prefer. Search for “Sweet Disposition” by The Temper Trap. Now put on your best headphones and hit play. For reasons I cannot understand, this song has been my travel soundtrack since it first graced my ears. I had it on repeat as I flew from JFK to Vienna to Moldova.* I had it playing when we flew over the Atlantic. I had it playing when we flew over the Swiss Alps. I had it playing when I first stepped foot on Moldovan soil. As we drove to our secret hotel outside Chisinau, I fought my sleep deprivation and watched the rolling hills and small villages pass by. I saw blue roofed churches and well worked gardens overflowing with cherry trees and strawberry vines. I was taken aback by frumusetea Moldovei (Moldova’s beauty).
*I’m leaving out the fun details of the flights. Just know little sleep occurred and much coffee was consumed.
Part 3: Week Zero
The hotel we were staying at was the height of luxury. If you watched my previous vlog, you saw my room. I had a private bathroom, a private bedroom, AIR CONDITIONING (!!!!). Needless to say, PC Moldova was putting its best foot forward. The five days that followed came to be known as Week Zero, the week before our real training began. Don’t let the name fool you, much training occurred during those five days. For example, we started our Romanian lessons on day one! But I don’t want to spend the rest of this post telling you every detail of what we did and what we learned. Know that we spent time learning some rudimentary Romanian, going over the basics of PC Moldova, and listening to PC staff inform us about our new home. Instead I want to highlight moments from the training that encapsulated the experience.
The first moment was the warm welcome we felt from the Moldovans. Our first morning, we were welcomed with traditional bread and wine (not really, it was juice. No vin during training!). The next night, we were treated to a cultural dinner and a show! A dance troupe filled with men and women of all ages demonstrated traditional songs and dances all while wearing traditional garb. Until this point, I was unsure if Moldova was right for me. But the joy that was emulating from these performers and the warmth they projected onto us was contagious. I began to see what I was going to experience for the next two years and it truly warmed my heart.
This one is actually a collection of a few moments. When we didn’t have anything scheduled, we were free to hang out and get to know our fellow volunteers. Every second I spent with these amazing people was unreal. I felt a connection to each and every one of them. I could tell I had found some really amazing friends. That being said, it also made me miss the people I left at home. My parents, my friends. I got to facetime with a few people and seeing their faces filled me with joy, but then I would end the call and realize I was sitting in the conference room of my Moldovan hotel. I’m lucky, though. I know that in two years I will come back to the US and these connections will not have dissipated. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, isn’t that what they always say?
Quickly, I want to speak about a special moment during one of our lessons. We had an amazing talk from a current volunteer in which we discussed the TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called “The Danger of the Single Story”. If you have not watched this talk I highly recommend it. The conversation that followed was short, but it opened my eyes to what we as volunteers were doing in Moldova. We are fighting the “Single Story” of what it means to be an American and at the same time creating one.
And the last moment was our departure to our host families. For this part, I want you to go back to whatever music device you were using and find some good ol’ Celine Dion singing “My Heart Will Go On.” Not because I love her, which I do, but rather because this is what was blasting from our rutiera (bus) as we hurried our way to our new town. Our driver seemed to know exactly how fast he needed to speed as he swerved past cars, barely missing oncoming traffic. Our luggage was piled into the back of the van, swaying with the momentum. I was feeling every emotion under the sun. I was excited for the true adventure to begin. I was terrified of meeting my new host family. None of these were new, just multiplied and all at once. We pulled into our village and saw dozens of eyes peering through the windows, trying to see americani din Corpul Pacii (the Americans from the Peace Corps).
We unloaded the bus and they called out our names one by one. When it was my turn, a short, older woman raised her hand. Mama Maria. She smiled and I could see the kindness in her eyes. She helped me grab my luggage and she walked me to the house, which was conveniently located directly across the street from our drop off location. We carried our bags into the house and shut the door behind us. Welcome home.