I am sitting in the airport, finally, in New York, otherwise known as Kennedy. I can’t believe I’m actually here. 14 months of waiting and now all that’s left is getting on a plane.
The last few days in Pennsylvania were pretty great. Big families are not without their drama, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. There were many emotional goodbyes, but at long last it was time to go. Brother Bob drove me down to Philadelphia at the crack of dawn on Monday morning the 6th. We arrived at about 10:30am. “Staging” was to begin at noon. After saying goodbye, I had to maneuver my 100 pounds of luggage up to my room. I found a girl already there, Holly, and we chatted a bit about where we came from and how we got here. At noon we made our way down to the ‘staging’ area. There we spent about an hour filling out, guess what, more paperwork and registering and finally it was official. We were Peace Corps trainees. The next 6 hours were spent with all of us getting to know each other, sharing anxieties and aspirations and many ‘get to know you’ activities. I can’t even explain how refreshing it is to sit in a room with 54 other people and know they are going through all the exact same things you are. The majority of people in the room were post grads, there were a few my age, or what they refer to as ‘mid-career’ and a few retirees. It was really quite a vast group of people and really exciting to finally be there. After we were done and officially ready to go, we all went out for Philly Cheesesteaks. The hotel was set on the University of Pennsylvania campus so we were in a hub of many options but we felt that was pretty much as American as you can get for a last meal. I advised my new out of state friends to get Yuengling beer as it was the local flavor. They all enjoyed. (I think). After dinner, some wanted to walk around Philadelphia, see the historic sites, find bars, etc., but I really just wanted to rest. I had some last minute details to finish up and I figured it was the perfect opportunity to do since everyone else was out. I repacked my one bag so that it made weight, I ran over to CVS to pick up my last few items, got some coffee, made the final phone calls to the family, cancelled my phone, showered, and watched my two favorite people Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert for the final time. It was a good night’s sleep.
I awoke early this morning and did the final packing. Holly and I went across the street to Dunkin’ Donuts to get some coffee before we had to converge in the lobby. We were all separated by training class by the infamous Peace Corps ribbon. Since the beginning of the Peace Corps, you are given a ribbon of color to attach to your suitcase. When you arrive in country, the organization recognizes your luggage by the color of the ribbon. It is iconic and I have heard about it for years. So when we got our ribbons it was a pretty deep moment. We loaded our tons of luggage onto the buses and left for JFK. Since there were 56 of us, we had two buses but had enough room to spread out. Most people slept. I woke up when the two Midwestern boys in front of me were snapping pictures of the NY skyline. They were too cute. When we arrived at JFK, the luggage debacle began again. Thankfully, this is a well oiled machine and it moved rather quickly. And now here we sit. We’ve been sitting here in the terminal for close to 4 hours now and as I look around it’s like we’ve all known each other for years. So onward to boarding.
I’m finally here. I don’t know what to think as of yet, I think I’m still OD’ing on “tired.”
The plane from New York to Munich was actually quite pleasant. There were 4 seats across the middle row and there were only two of us so we could stretch out. Unfortunately, I was too wound up to sleep which in hindsight was a huge mistake. I watched 3 movies instead; “No Strings Attached,” “Just Go With It” and “The Green Hornet.” All were entertaining in their own way, but I really should’ve slept. When we landed in Munich we had to walk down what I’m pretty sure was the longest hallway in existence. I literally felt like we were walking for miles. Again, in hindsight, it was nothing. After the long hallway we had to again go through security. It was boiling hot and everyone was pretty tired and cranky. However, we survived. We boarded the super tiny plane from Munich to Chisinau (which I have now learned is pronounced “Kish-i-now.”) It was really small and somehow we weren’t informed that on this type of plane we could only have one carry on. And yet on the first plane we were allowed to have two…not sure what were supposed to do with that information but…
We all got boarded. The seats were TINY! My ass has certainly seen more comfortable two hour increments. And since it was a tiny plane, and we were all packed for 2 years, our luggage was all too heavy to make it, so some got left behind. Finally we landed in Moldova. I was one of the fortunate ones and all my bags arrived. Some are still waiting…
We were greeted at the airport by our Country Director, Jeffrey who guided us where to retrieve our bags and board the buses to the training center. There were a few mentors on hand to assist and we were on our way. I was so dead tired I barely spoke to anyone on the bus ride, in fact, barely is overstating it. When we arrived, the current volunteers in the mentor program all greeted us and walked us through the registration and lunch and welcome seminar. At this point, everyone was so dead tired that everyone was nodding off in the seminar. Thankfully, they showed some mercy and it was less than an hour. We received yet another bag to carry, which was AWESOME, filled with information packets, our cell phones, water filters, smoke/CM detectors, fire extinguishers, a huge bottle of water, in essence; it was not light. And they were all identical.
From there, we had to split up into our groups by program so I went with the other COD’s. (Community and Organizational Development.) and we met our language trainers. We were all (the entire 56 of us) were split into 7 villages surrounding the capital, Chisinau. I went with my fellow 8 trainees (Jennifer K, Christina, Andrea, Jamie, Michael, Lyndzey, and Lindsay and Conrad who were a young married couple.) to the village of Staucenia (stew-chen). We went to our school where we would be having our language lessons for the next 8 weeks. It is a brand new school so it was pretty nice. It was still boiling hot outside, but I guess I shouldn’t complain because I have been assured that it can be much hotter and not only that, but we could have arrived on a truly boiling day. We had a really quick talk with our two language trainers, Rodica and Ina, about basic phrases to get through the night.
And then we met our host family. I was introduced to Tatiana, my host mom. She has a husband, Antolie, and a 16 year old son, Eugen, but neither was with her. And from the school, we had to walk to her house with all my luggage. Her house? At the top of a 45 angle hill. No lie. I almost died when I saw it. Here she and I were dragging the equivalent of 100 pounds of luggage behind us. How did people do this before there were wheels on luggage?!?!?!? But again we made it. We arrived at her house, both of us dripping in sweat and breathing heavily only to find that my room was at the top of yet another staircase. This sweet woman took all of my luggage up the stairs. I offered countless times, but she insisted. She did not speak a word of English so I got to be an expert in hand gestures and signaled to her quickly that I would like to wash up. Staucenia, being one of the wealthier villages in Moldova, she had a full shower, an indoor toilet AND a washing machine! I know; I’m spoiled. The hot shower felt so good I almost cried. I couldn’t even believe how good it felt. When I was finished, she brought me in to eat the dinner she had prepared for me. We spoke very little, but the food was good. I ate chicken and potatoes and some sort of pastry stuffed with goat cheese. Not too shabby. I had a small glass of wine, as here in country they do shots of wine, not glasses, and communicated that I was tired. It was 7:30pm. I was asleep by 7:45. I thought about unpacking and organizing for a split second before I fell asleep…but clearly I got over it.
I awoke straight up at 5:00am this morning. Took me a minute to figure out where I was. Once I processed, I went back to sleep. I woke up again at 7 when my travel alarm went off. This time I was actually able to get up and organize a few things. It’s far from finished, but I could at least lay out what I needed for the day. Language dictionary? Check. Registration papers? Check. Passport and Moldovan cash?...Passport and Moldovan Cash?...PASSPORT AND MOLDOVAN CASH?!?!!?? Where the fuck was my envelope? I tore everything apart searching for it, but it was gone. I didn’t know what to do. I was way too tired to panic so I sat down on the bed, did some deep breathing and went downstairs for breakfast. I had some oatmeal and a hardboiled egg and we had to head down to the school. Tatiana walked me there. I was trying to keep calm, and it’s not like I could bitch to Tatiana because she didn’t speak any English. I also decided that I didn’t really want to tell everyone because I really looked like an irresponsible idiot. When I got to the classroom, I was only one of two that was there. Andrea was sitting there and going against my own advice, I told her what had happened. I just needed to get it off my chest. Quickly, the other trainees arrived and it was all lost in the chaos. As we were about to leave, I privately told Rodica and Ina what had happened. They agreed to pay for my bus fair there and once we got to the PC Headquarters, I could discuss with Alex the head of security. When we arrived, I let my mentor, Keith know what happened. The mentors were there to take the trainees on a walking tour of Chisinau. He went with me to see Alex and I had to stay at the headquarters. He noticed that I had the wrong phone number. On his contact sheet, I had Michael’s number and he had mine. He said we needed to switch back as soon as we could since our numbers were given out to all the staff. I told Keith to go on without me. I was at HQ for a while, explaining and re-explaining my story. Alex surmised that my bag got switched with someone else’s and before we panicked or started any procedures, my training team would have to go home that night and go through all their things. He said to check with Michael first since our numbers were switched. In the meantime, I would go into the city and exchange some USD for some money for the time being. Since all the mentors had left on tours, Rodica and Ina agreed to walk me to an exchange place to get some cash. When we were finished with that, Rodica tried to get a hold of Keith to see if we could meet up and I could join the tour but she couldn’t get a hold of him. Instead, she got in touch with two of the ARBD (Agriculture and Rural Business Development) mentors, Sam and Cosi and I joined their group. Cosi asked me what had happened, but without going in to detail, I just told him that there was some minor drama but it was okay. From there we all walked back to PC headquarters where there was a big lunch buffet. Since it was mostly vegetables, I just had some bread and cheese and some drink. I KNOW I’m going to have to get used to eating vegetables; today just wasn’t the day. I found my friend Ashley, whom I had shared the plane ride with from NY to Munich and let her in on the drama. She was pretty worried for me. She’s a nice gal. I haven’t bonded with anyone really, just her and another girl, Kerry. But neither is in my training group. Everyone is really nice, but they are all pretty young. I mean I get along with younger people, obviously, but I haven’t made any real connections. I know it’s only been 2 days, so I’m not going to stress out about it. Michael, in my group, is my age. He just turned 40 so it’s nice to have at least one peer. He’s really nice and fun to talk to and he’s got a great attitude, but it’s selfish of me to expect him to spend all his time with just me just because we were both born in the 70’s. He’s very nice though and really is good at cracking stupid jokes when we are all really tired. He is definitely the one I can relate to the most. I’ve also enjoyed talking with Lyndzey R. She’s from Pittsburgh and seems to have the same dry sense of humor I do. Everyone is really nice; we’ve just only known each other for 2 days.
But I digress, I sat and talked with Ashley a bit at the lunch buffet and then we headed back to the school we were at the day before for some more training. On the way to the training, I caught up with Michael and told him the whole situation. He was very sympathetic and offered me money to hold me over. He said he had unpacked the night before and hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary. He said we could switch phones at the first break.
First, the CD (country Director) discussed the history of the Peace Corps in Moldova as well as Moldova itself. And he began with a traditional Moldovan bread and wine ceremony. Two of the PCV’s (Peace Corps Volunteers) came out in traditional Moldovan dress with a huge loaf of pretzel bread and glasses of wine for everyone. (However, since we are government sponsored, they couldn’t provide actual alcohol so it was just our choice of apple or cranberry juice). Then, the finance department came in to teach us about money; how we would be paid, how much, when, what the currency looked like, the exchange rate, etc. As we opened up our folders we had gotten the day before, Michael turned around and caught my eye. And he slowly held up my envelope with money and passport in it. I almost cried. Somehow in the chaos of the day before, our folders had gotten switched. I was so relieved! We were in mid-training so we couldn’t talk, but I was so happy. A huge weight lifted off of my shoulders.
At the first break, he gave me everything and apologized profusely and I assured him I held no ill will. The day before was chaotic. He did feel badly for me having such a stressful day when he had it all the whole time but the relief of having it back outweighed it all. I was so grateful! I immediately let our LTI (language technical instructors) know and the staff that it had all been recovered. Everyone was thrilled.
From there we went into language classes. We had a short two hour language lesson and even though it is difficult, I think my theatre memorizing skills will come in handy. I know when I am less jet lagged and a little bit more used to all this damn walking (sidebar…people here walk EVERYWHERE! I’m from LA. We walk NOWHERE. I used to drive to the bank across the street. I am SO not used to it. My feet and ankles are swollen every night and my hands swell up too. I hope in time, I will get used to it but for now, it is quite painful. I am doing my best to hang in there, but it is really hard!) I will be able to retain more of the language knowledge. At the end of the day we had to get our Hepatitis Immunizations and then we were off back to our village. To get to the bus, we had to walk 10 minutes, uphill , in the rain. I know, it sounds like a grandpa tale, but it was true. I wasn’t sad about the rain, it felt really good! But the uphill almost killed me. I was so exhausted by the time we got to the bus stop. Then we had to all pack on to a very crowded bus (bus=large van) and head back to Stauceni. And then from bus stop to my house? 3 blocks…UPHILL!
BUT, Tatiana had dinner waiting. And this time we were joined by her husband, who is a fun, jovial guy and Sergei who was helping them do some yard work. Son, Eugen is in his room cramming for finals so I’ve barely seen him. He tends to run the other direction when he sees me. We had a nice dinner, now that I knew a little bit more Romanian. There was still a lot of gesturing but it was better. Hopefully it will get better every day. Antolie was pointing at objects on the table and teaching me the Romanian word for them, so that was helpful. Tatiana made me this delicious soup filled with herbs, chicken, noodles and potatoes. I’ve noticed I barely have an appetite since I got here. Maybe all this damn walking, and small meals will help me shed some poundage. I believe that would come in handy for all these damn hills.
Overall, it’s a huge adjustment. It’s really hard. I can’t form an opinion yet because I’m way too tired and sore to be objective. All I can say for sure is, it’s definitely not for everyone. Jury is still out on whether or not it is for me.
Peace and love!
I can’t believe we’ve only been here two days. Today was a little bit better. I felt a little more secure actually having possession of my passport and money again. However, when I woke up, my legs were so sore and weak, I almost tumbled down my staircase. One thing about Moldova I have learned is that none of the steps are even. And the third step on my staircase is a way bigger drop than the second. I misjudged and twisted my ankle. It was okay, but a little painful. Tatiana had to go to work early so she left me with Eugen. We hadn’t talked much, he’s very shy, and was also very focused on his English exam that morning. I learned later that English exams in Moldova are critical and if he didn’t pass, he wouldn’t go on to high school. So he was pretty stressed out. But he was very sweet. He made me coffee and sat with me while I ate my oatmeal and then he walked me to school. He helped with my Romanian as much as he could. When we arrived at school, my LTI’s wished him luck on his exams. It was already a better day. Soon the whole class arrived and we began more language lessons for about 2 hours and then we had to yet again go into the capital, Chisinau for more staff sessions. The bus ride is about 20 minutes and the buses are oversized vans which are privately owned and the owners will squeeze as many people in as possible. Often it is uncomfortable, but it is still a ride and it is very cheap. Only 3 Lei (translation about $0.50 USD). On this bus ride, I sat next to Lyndzey and we inadvertently vented our frustrations with the process so far and we both felt a lot better after laughing about them and made the conscious decision that our motto would be “I chose this.” So any time we were feeling really bad or felt like complaining, we could remember that we chose this and to suck it up. As we arrived in Chisinau, I braced myself for another long walk. It wasn’t as hot out as it had rained a bit on the drive there so that wasn’t a problem. My ankle was still a little sore, but not too bad. But as we were walking on the streets, I stepped on it wrong again, stumbled and twisted it again. Now, it really hurt! I braved it out and got to the headquarters easily enough. The next few hours we sat outside in the courtyard at headquarters and just relaxed. Everyone just sat around, checked email, conversed, studied their language, just relaxed. It was much needed. We all ate our pre-packed lunch together. My host mother, Tatiana, gives me a lot of food and it is all good, but for some reason, I haven’t had too huge of an appetite. I don’t know if that will change or not, but I really don’t eat too much.
After lunch, we headed over to the school for a safety seminar. They really do school you on how to take care of yourself, what to do in case of an emergency, evac plans, etc. The training staff is very nice and VERY skilled in their jobs. After the safety seminar, we headed downstairs for more language classes. Romanian isn’t the easiest language to learn, but I will admit, it could be much worse. I never realized having taken Latin in high school how handy that would come in someday. And it has a lot of similarities with Italian so I think I’m doing okay. I mean it’s only been 2 days and I have had way more conversations in Romanian today.
After language lessons, we had to head back to Stauceni in the pouring rain. Since it was raining, the autobus was packed and standing on a bus for 25 minutes in the rain on a sore ankle…not fun. Since they were so crowded, our group had to split in to two. So on the second bus it was just me, Christina and Rodica. It was ok, not the greatest, but we arrived home. Since it was only the 3 of us, we got off at a stop closer to our houses as opposed to the school so it was a short walk.
When I arrived ‘home’ Tatiana nor Antorie was home, so Eugen prepared dinner for me with the help of the neighbors, Serg and his wife….? It was a little awkward at first because they were all speaking in Russian and just kind of staring at me eating, none of them were. But then Antorie got home with another friend and we all sat around and it was a lot of fun. Eugen, very relieved that his English exam went well, was much more social and he translated much of the Russian and I helped him with his English. When the friends left, Antorie, Eugen and I chatted for quite a while. They wanted to know why I wasn’t married or had babies which was hard to explain. (Even in America…) They asked about my family and I said I missed them so they insisted that I call my “mama!” I skyped my mom but she didn’t really have it all hooked up yet as I said she wouldn’t be hearing from me for a few weeks. I think she was surprised to hear from me and it was good to see her and Leroy, even if only to wave to them. For those who were trying to catch me online, I’m sorry if I ignored you, I was in a hurry.
Finally, I said my good nights as it was approaching ten and I had to be up again early for what else? Language classes in the morning.
Today was a much better day than yesterday, ankle injury aside. Hopefully as I catch up on sleep and get more used to the walking, they will continue to improve.
Peace and Love.
So today was the first day I didn’t have to travel to Chisinau and it was nice. It was way more relaxed, not as frazzled, nice and cool. I woke up and had breakfast with Eugen. I feel badly for the kid. It’s quite obvious he has been told to wake up early and make breakfast for me. He’s 16. If I were 16 on a Saturday morning, I’d want to be in bed. BUT, this is a different culture, I keep reminding myself that. He walked me to school but was told this was the last time he had to do it as now I guess I am able to walk the 1/8 mile down the street to the school by myself. Yay! I was way early for class, bad habit, always too early to things. But I could relax and wake up a little bit more. We had language lessons from 9-1:00pm. The language is not easy and I think I’m getting it but it’s just hard to retain information. Same problem I’ve always had in school. I understand it, I participate in class, I comprehend it, I can read it, but retaining it? Eh. When language was done at 1, our mentors arrived from their sites all around the country. The other half of the COD program arrived as well as they are staying in a neighboring village. There are 20 of us all together. With the volunteers that are already here, there are close to 50. We all ate lunch together in a big room since the rain was coming on and off outside. Afterwards we played some ‘get to know you’ games which I always feel awkward in for some reason. So my nerves palpitated for a bit when it was my turn to do the ‘my name is’ turn but I survived. We played games for about an hour and it was fine. I guess for me, it’s always weird to be in a group of people who know each other so well. As hard as they try, you still feel like an outsider. I know it’s unavoidable and unintentional but that doesn’t make it any easier. Sometimes I look around and feel pretty isolated. I’m pretty used to being one of the ones in charge and the center of attention so just being one of 50 people is a rare change for me. It’s hard to get used to being one of a group again instead of the leader of a group. I keep reminding myself that everyone is feeling that. Well maybe not the post-grads, but maybe the people my age. A small group of us in our language class are starting to really get along well. We find we all have the same senses of humor and have begun to confide in each other. We do all agree that Lindsey and Conrad, the married couple in our group, may just be the perfect couple. They are both beautiful, both smart as hell, both athletic, and the worst part? They’re both nice! It’s ridiculous. I want to hate them so badly but I can’t, they are just such great people. And they just adore each other which is equally nauseating and endearing. Lyndzey and I usually sit at the back of the class and do our best to keep each other amused. She has a boyfriend at home so I’m pretty sure she appreciates the distraction as much as I do. Since she is from Pittsburgh we can share a mutual missing Pennsylvania vibe.
After the mentor session we were free for the afternoon. Only 4:00pm and we were actually free. We all stood there not really moving. I felt like the characters in Time Quake when they regained the power of Free Will. We were all just staring at each other. Thankfully a few of the mentors suggested we all go get a beer. I kind of wanted to go home and take a nap because hey, I have to ease out of my laziness, but for community sake decided to go with. However, since this was our home village and we have only seen the bus stop, our host homes and school and the mentors had never been there before, we had no idea where to go. So basically we just walked around for a half hour. It was nice. I returned home here and my host family is here in the house but all behind closed doors so I just came up here to my room. It is nice and cool and relaxing so I have no complaints. I don’t know what the rest of the weekend will entail. I sure hope I get internet soon so I can catch up with the rest of the world. Although I guess this is probably good for the first week so I can focus. I know if I had internet I’d spend all my time on it. So now, with no other choice, I will study my language I learned this week and probably try and sneak in a nap before I get called for dinner.
On the home front, I’m wondering what’s going on in the NBA playoffs. I’m wondering how good a Double Double would be right now. I wonder how my High school reunion went last night that I’ve been helping plan for the past 2 years. I hope that people enjoyed themselves. I wonder how my Godson is enjoying his last days of high school. I wonder if Jeremy has crop-dusted Andrea’s office lately. I wonder about where I was a year ago, sitting planning Dad’s funeral and now here I am a year later in the middle of Eastern Europe. It doesn’t feel like I’m halfway around the world, it’s just another place on Earth. We don’t speak the same language but we’re all just people.
Nuopta Buna (Good Night)
My first day off. My ankle is still a little swollen so on the advice of my host mom/nurse, I have to spend the day with it elevated and resting. Poor me. Thankfully it isn’t too hot so I unpacked (finally) and have been listening to my podcasts. Since no one in the house speaks English, I don’t have to worry about the bad language in them. It’s actually the most relaxed I have felt all week. I read all of my going away cards again. I have a feeling any time I get down about anything I will just pull those out along with my “Tommy” book and they will make me feel really good. What an amazing group of friends I have made in California. I miss them all so much.
I tried to communicate at lunch with ‘mom and dad’ without using my English crutch, Eugen. Not gonna lie, I think I’m doing pretty damn well for only having 3 days of Romanian lessons. Antolie took me outside and showed me the garden and the chicken coop. He is very proud of his home. He is the nicest guy. Tatiana stayed inside and prepped for dinner. Everything looked delicious. I managed to communicate that I eat very little in the morning (dimeneata) and eat more in the evening (soera). She finally understood and only had coffee for me. Yay! Room is unpacked. Even though it is not perfect, it’ll do for now.
Well, I can’t say I haven’t caught up on sleep. I sleep minimum 10 hours per night. One thing that is awesome about my host family is that they let me do my own thing. Yesterday was the beginning of week 2 so needless to say I came home and crashed right after dinner. We have language lessons from 8:30am – 12:30pm, “home” for lunch, then Tech sessions from 2-5:30. Tech sessions are with us and the group from the village from Cricova who all come together with our program managers, Lilliana and Violeta as well as Craig, the PCVL (Peace Corps Volunteer Leader. He re-upped for a third year to help out in the training program.) and learn about the COD program and our own backgrounds as well. I really like everyone in our group. They are from all walks of life and it is interesting to hear everyone’s stories. Yesterday we learned about the existing program and today we had to go around and literally tell our life stories. People are fascinating. One guy, Jesse, is pretty much a Doogie Howser-esque prodigy, Courtney, like me, is a refugee from the fashion/beauty world as a former HR manager in Louis Vuitton, as well as a few others who have survived insurmountable childhood circumstances just to go to college. The stories could go on for days. But it was pretty interesting. The language isn’t easy, but for one week I think we are all doing pretty well. Tomorrow is yet another day in Chisinau with all the current trainees. I don’t like these days because I’m not a fan of the crowded buses into the cities with no air. (They don’t open windows). Plus the bus station is a good 15 minute walk to the Peace Corps headquarters. However, there will be internet access (hopefully. If you’re reading this, there was) and we can have some cold water which, I have found, is a rarity. Never been a fan of room temperature liquids, don’t really have much of a choice here. It will be a long day, and even though it is my birthday and I will be busy all day, it will be okay. I wish my birthday fell a few more weeks into training so we had a little freedom to go out and hang but we are still technically on ‘lockdown’ (for the first 3 weeks we have to be escorted everywhere) so it will be down to people wishing me happy day and reading messages from home. Oh well, I know it could be much worse. Every day is hard but I’m surrounded by really cool people who are struggling just as much and we remind ourselves daily that WE CHOSE THIS! So I’m okay.
Missing all friends/family!