Monday, May 21, 2007

I've Waited Two Years for This!

My final day of school has come and gone. When my director interrupted me during my morning tea and biscuits to come to the school to take pictures I was annoyed. It was the annual “Safety and Security Day” when the students prepared for earthquakes, gas leaks, and other disasters by donning surgeon masks and dressing as nurses. My task was to follow the teacher in charge of the day’s activities to take pictures of the students. After a simulated earthquake (which was accomplished by ringing the school bell for approximately ten minutes without stopping) there was a gathering outside of the school to talk about what the students learned and to evaluate their responses.

I should have known something was going to happen involving me, when the assistant director dismissed all the students except those who had me as their teacher. Uh oh, I smell another spontaneous speech brewing. The assistant director thanked me for my hard work, and the students applauded me. I was almost teary eyed until I found out that I was to receive gifts. I love gift time here in Moldova. You absolutely have NO idea what you are about to receive or how you should respond. This time, like all the others, did not fail.

I received a small angel figurine from an 11th grade class, a larger angel figurine from a 12th grade class. Then my fun students from the other 12th grade class. By fun, I mean the class is composed of about twelve boys and two girls. The boys are extraordinarily cheeky and flirt with me non-stop during and outside of class. They are cute though and mean no harm so I go along with it. They first presented me with a ceramic vase. Nice. Next they gave me a flour sieve for when I make mamaliga in America. They know how much I like Moldovan food, especially mamaliga, and wanted to give me something to remember them by when I make Moldovan specialties. Very nice and thoughtful. Then a boy in the class approached me with a box. What could be in the box? Candy? Flatware? A small Moldovan child? As I began to open the box the boy flipped it open to reveal a small baby bunny with a red polka dotted string around its neck. I gasped and all the students roared in laughter. I have wanted a bunny rabbit to play with for the last two years. My host mom and I talk about it about once a week and we always make plans to go to the market and buy one and later we will eat it once it has grown. This was an adorable white and grey spotted bunny. The students asked if I would be taking it home with me to America, which I promptly answered with “Of course not, I will be eating it tonight.” Good answer I thought.

So now the rabbit is at home with me. I took the bunny in the box home with me and let my host niece open the box. She claims it is hers now. My host mom loves animals and took to it right away setting it up a rather large area and giving it food and water. I will be leaving it here in America but at least I got my wish to have a bunny rabbit, even if it is for only two days.

*update: My rabbit ran away on Friday. It got out of its holding area and ran in the garden and under a corn shed. We were unable to catch it and decided to wait for it to come back out. It did but didn't come back to us. *sniff *sniff

Thursday, May 10, 2007

6 Packets of Mayo and a Murderer

I recently had the opportunity to travel to my good friend, Stephany’s village, Taraclia. This weekend was a special weekend, as she had other volunteers at her house as part of their Travel Club. Travel Club is a wonderful after school activity created by Moldovan Peace Corps Volunteers (Group 16, of course) to give students in Moldova a chance to travel around the country making new friendships and learning about their land. Even though this country is quite small, most of the students here have rarely ventured out of their village. They are very excited to be taken away somewhere for the weekend. They have a chance to meet other students, play games, team build, and learn new hobbies. So that is Travel Club. I do not have a Travel Club, but joined in on the fun and came to help Stephanie.

I arrive on Friday afternoon and we have a great time playing basketball and this unknown game known as “The Belt Game.” It involves chasing people around and whacking them with a belt. Children at school play these games. It isn’t nearly as deadly as it sounds, but instead is extremely funny. We enjoyed fried potatoes with cheese for dinner and called it a night.

The next day there were several activities for the students at the school. Steph taught hip-hop and the boys played basketball, table tennis, and volleyball. Later that afternoon we were to reconvene at the school where we would leave for a camp located outside of the village to spend the night. At the appointed time (rather 45 or so minutes later) we left the village for a camp. The camp has not been in use for about 10-15 years. Our plans…to cook chicken over the fire, play games and sleep in old cabins. We arrive after walking through an overgrown trail in the woods, with 20 students, and are greeted by an old wrinkly man and his two dogs. We immediately acknowledge his creepiness and make a mental note to avoid all interaction.

The afternoon progresses with yet another round of The Belt Game and once it starts getting dark we begin the fire to grill the chicken. The students take over the grilling process so I appoint myself to cutting several loaves of bread. After dinner us volunteers are tired and while the students wander around the campfire we take the moment to escape to our cabin to sleep for the night.

Now is the point of my story where I describe the cabins. Like I said, they have not been in use for 10-15 years. There are no glass in the windows, the walls are now comprised of cracked cement, the ceiling, when present, is worn. But, we were lucky to pick one that had all of its flooring. So that mean we got to sleep on 10-15 years worth of weathered dusty floor. But we were lucky to have the floor. We spread out our various sleeping devices, some with sleeping bags, others with plastic and blankets. One of the volunteers is terrified of someone coming into the cabin at night and killing us. It isn’t highly unlikely as we found out, through a student, about the past life of the man staying at the place. The words from the student go like this…The man was in a bar one night drunk and a fight broke out over a bottle of water. The man got mad and stabbed the other person, which happened to be his sister-in-law. I decided to not let the rest of the volunteers know, but by the end of the night it had already reached their ears. The children did not seem to be frightened so I was a little bit at ease. With a knife secured under Ryan’s pillow and Stephany clutching her flashlight, we attempted to sleep. I got about an hour of sleep that night until we all had to rise at 5.20 to pack up and meet the driver who would take us back to the village.

We all arrive back in the village unharmed and unslept. Upon returning, we discuss our evening with Steph’s family and find out some interesting news. Apparently, the entire town knows about the killer that lives at the camp. Their word is that he didn’t kill just one person, but three…his wife, his brother, and his sister-in-law. They don’t seem concerned that we slept under the supervision of a killer but gave the excuse that he served his time in prison so he is ok now. But not okay enough to have a job around people, so they placed him out in the woods to look over deserted cabins.

The message to this story…when camping, make sure you know the people around you because it will be unlikely that anyone will hear your screams should you come into danger. And if you decide to grill, you can never have too much bread or packets of mayonnaise.

Monday, April 23, 2007

"Here we have an outhouse problem, but keep that a secret."

Sunday I attended by first Cumetrie (Baptism Feast). The director of the school invited me to her daughter's celebration and I was honored to go. The holiday started at 1pm and I had to call it quits by 10.25 or so pm. The party was still going strong and the people were dancing a long time after I was in bed.
In America, we don't have a big celebration for our children's baptism. Here, it is the party of the year. There was a live band that played traditional Moldovan music. It was a treat for me, I don't think I have heard live music since I have been here. Maybe one time. To begin the celebration everyone gathers around a table and the God-parents begin to place their presents on the table. They aren't wrapped, but proudly shown so that everyone knows what is given and how much. Soon, the table is overflowing with clothes, toys, and blankets. Now it is time to eat!
All the guests arrived to wonderfully full tables at the school, filled with different salads, meats, fruits, vodka, cognac, house wine, champagne, and water (for the wussies). It is always great for me to see EVERYONE dancing together. Back home, only the young people dance at celebrations, or the people dance with hesitation. Here, men, women, old, young, really old...they all dance with such enthusiasm. At one point, Blue Suede Shoes was played and everyone started doing the twist and swing dancing. One guy was extremely into his dancing, swinging his arms around and puckering up his face in concentration.
At a Cumetrie there are several pairs of God-parents. At this particular Cumetrie, there were around 9...I lost count. Everyone says nice words about the child and the parents and wishes the family a bright future. Dancing, eating, drinking, celebrating lasts for about five hours.
Next comes another batch of food placed on the table, this time lamb and meatballs in mushroom cream sauce. It was all delicious! After the hot food and more dancing (of course) a team is gathered to present big rings of bread and presents to the God-parents. The team dances around with the bread high above their heads and arrives at each pair to present them with their gifts. Then begins the "let's give money" phase. Starting with the God-parents, each pair presents money to the family but not before saying a few (or a lot) of well wishes. They also make it known how much money they are giving (God-parents usually $200-$400...yes $) to the guests. This continues until everyone in the room has spoken and presented money. There were about 50-60 people at the celebration, so you can imagine how long that took. Afterwards, everyone toasts to the family and the dancing continues. That is when I called it quits and took my tired feet home.
I met many wonderful people at the Baptism feast. I met a merry man while preparing myself coffee at the desert table. There is a famous book (famous in Moldova and among volunteers here), "Playing the Moldovans at Tennis." I have yet to find the book in our PC library because it is always in demand and bouncing from one person to another. I heard it is excellent and a must read for anyone who has stayed here for a long time, maybe travelled here, but mildly interesting for those who have no idea about this country. So I meet this man, who happens to be a large man in an organization in Chisinau that helped fund our Kinesthetic room for students with disabilities. The man that wrote the book stayed with him in Chisinau during his stay and wrote about him in the book. I was in the presence of a celebrity! I was ashamed to say that I haven't read the book but I was sure to make my desire known. We began discussing Moldova and how I am enjoying it. Then he begins talking about the outhouses. He says they are disgusting and not healthy and that he hates him. Before parting ways for the evening he made me make a pact with him not to tell anyone this would be our little secret.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Let's Go Shopping...

Most people in relationships, at one time or another go shopping together for clothes, a car, furniture, mother’s birthday present, etc. Never do they share in the conversation that I had at 8pm last night. “Hey, do you want to go to Radeni with me? I am buying a goat.” Having never actually witnessed the buying/selling process of farm animals and having the opportunity to ride in a car, I accepted the invitation. Radeni is a beautiful town situated on high hills covered with dense forests. However, it being 9.30 at night when we arrived, I saw lots of dark. The ride to Radeni, a mere 17 kilometers, jostled every bone out of place and back again. We made the farm animaltastic journey in a large boxy van. His friend came and picked me up and we all rode in the front bouncing around the poor roads. How poor? Think South Georgia back roads (of course, dirt). Now pour on golf ball size rocks. Add concrete in some places, not all, just sparingly. Now that is the road we were traveling on. The driver of the vehicle seems unmoved by the poor road conditions and we bounce along at high speeds. There were several moments where the road gave way to enormous pot holes and other times when we seemed to be traveling on our side. All the while, the driver continued on at his furious speeds. These are the times that an American driver would look at the road, decide it was impossible to pass, turn around, and go home. Nothing like this would be attempted in the states. Ok, we make it safely to some obscure house in the middle of no where at 10pm at night. We’re on a goat mission. My friend gets out to fetch his animal and his friend and I stay in the car to listen to such classic hits as “I’m Blue” and the Romanian version of “Who Let the Dogs Out.” I am always surprised and pleasantly discomforted at the music selection in this part of the world. We have the goat, it’s name is Greta, the customary food for us (because, our journey would make us utterly famished), and my friend stays in the back to tend his goat. Half the road’s conversation was filled with him talking to his goat until “Smack That” came on, in which the volume was increased and everyone proceeded to have a good time mumbling words that are lazy attempts at the lyrics. Greta is safe and comfortable in her new home with other various farm animals, turkeys, chickens, dogs, sheep, and three new little lambs born yesterday. Easter is coming, I’ll let you know how they taste.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Hail to the Chief and Me

It was a regular Friday afternoon, around 4.30. I had just finished my Tae Bo workout (Billy Blanks is my personal hero) and was resting. My neighbor comes running in to announce that there is drinking going on in my host family’s house. Not one to miss an opportunity of tasting house wine, I joined in. This time, the guests at the party were a policeman, and later, the mayor. Glass after glass the conversations increased in vulgarity. The policeman informs me that I teach his two daughters so we briefly discuss their behavior at school, pausing to munch on salami, cheese, and pickled cabbage. My four glass limit was up and I decided to visit a friend in the village. I can not walk anywhere here without tripping or falling down (especially when snow or mud is involved). I think this can also be said about my walking days in the states. I meet him and we begin our nightly journey up a hill and round corners to arrive at his house. Halfway to my destination I fall and twist an ankle. A few minutes pass and I fall and twist the other ankle. My friend must either think I am severely walking challenged or that I completely obliterated myself at the wine table. The end result, one ankle is bandaged and elevated and the other is calling out for a little attention too. So much for Billy Blanks this week.

Monday, March 12, 2007

What Time is it?

America’s daylight savings time began earlier than last year. I know this, because I saw the information online. Usually, everywhere has daylight savings time on the same day. This is not the case this year. After discovering that we (at least the USA) would be turning the clocks an hour ahead on Sunday night I asked my host family if they knew about this. They did not. After consulting the nightly news, in both Romania and Russia, nothing was said about the time change. I did not want to arrive at school an hour behind or ahead so I had to absolutely know for sure. I asked a neighbor, my host mom asked a neighbor, I asked a friend, he asked a friend or asked a friend. No one knew a thing. So this morning I woke up an hour ahead, as if the time had changed. I got ready and waited around to see if the children passed my house around 8.15 for 8.30 school. They did not. But why would they, it was actually 7.15. So, the conclusion to this rather longwinded story is that Moldova’s (and probably Romania’s and Russia’s) time did not bounce one hour ahead like in the USA. I don’t know how this works exactly. Maybe Mr. Bush thought that it would be fun to turn the clocks ahead of everyone else. I know it was something to do with saving electricity and the economy but that is as far as I desired to venture into the matter. Whatever it is, you folks in the USA are only 6 hours behind me. If you keep it up, maybe you will be on my time in a few months.

After signing online I noticed that my country director had written an e-mail explaining the whole "time change" ordeal. I guess I should have paid more attention to my inbox. I could have avoided all my confusion. But then where would my weblog post be? Hmmmm.

Crazy Spring Break

Spring is here. Or at least the supposed “First Day of Spring” has come and gone on March 1st. This past week we had our Spring vacation but it was anything but for me. I was in Chisinau participating in a seminar for the group of TEFL volunteers that came a year after I did. The topic was Environmental Education and we discussed ways to incorporate environmental issues and activities into the curriculum. It wasn’t as exciting as it sounds, but it gave me the chance to get to know other volunteers and to be out of my village for a little time. In fact, I was out of my village for more time than I cared to be. After the seminar (more correctly, the last day) I became ill with a stomach virus and spent the next three-four days hovering around the bathroom area. The end of the week I helped in the administering of the oral exam and the grading of the written exam for the Moldovan English Olympiad. This means I was stuck inside from morning till night grading papers and doing things while it was sunny and beautiful outside. I came home on Saturday night and got one day of vacation on Sunday before starting back with lessons today. Next vacation (Easter break) looks to be more of a vacation. Or at least I hope so.

Friday, February 09, 2007

A Great Quote

“Life is no straight and easy corridor along

which we travel free and unhampered,

but a maze of passages,

through which we must seek our way,

lost and confused, now and again

checked in a blind alley.

But always, if we have faith,

a door will open for us,

not perhaps one that we ourselves

would ever have thought of,

but one that will ultimately

prove good for us.”

- A.J. Cronin