All of us might wish at times that we lived in a more tranquil world, but we don't. And if our times are difficult and perplexing, so are they challenging and filled with opportunity.

Robert Kennedy

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

School Supplies; an Update

In a small mention in my last posting, I talked about the limited school supplies here at the college I work at. From that I have received a bunch of requests for an address as well as a list of supplies that my friends can send. I'm pretty overwhelmed that at the mere mention of a deficit that my friends would jump into action. So I may be over here trying to help but it's nice to know that there are still a lot of kind souls back there who still want to lend a hand. It is greatly appreciated. And I'm touched at the offer.
School begins on Thursday and once classes begin I can assess more of the needs. I can sit down with the English professor and discuss actual needs and then I will be more than happy to post a "Wish List" and an address to send things. You really have no idea what this will mean to these people. These gestures from halfway around the world for complete strangers. I am asked daily why I would move here when I lived in Southern California. They just don't understand why Americans would are about their small country. It's instances like these that we can all show them that they do matter and we want them to succeed. Thank you so much for contributing to that process.
Updates will follow!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rugându-se pentru ploaie

That's Romanian for "praying for rain." It is SO hot here. I know you're probably thinking, so what? It's hot in California. It's hot in Pennsylvania. But you know what Moldova doesn't have? Air conditioning. When you ride on the buses, people shut the windows because they are superstitious about the current. So, yeah, it's hot. I'm not complaining, OK well maybe a little, but it's a small complaint.

It has been a long few weeks here in Cahul. I had to say goodbye to a fellow volunteer, Christina, who left for reasons of which I am not at liberty to discuss. But I will miss her as she provided many great moments during training. I am the slightest bit envious of her as she is now back in California free to enjoy as many In-n-Out burgers as she desires. I hope she finds happiness.

Work is still slow. August is the big vacation month in Moldova and sometimes it is hard to get out of that mindset. Until the students return to school, Moldovans just try to enjoy the summer while they can. I'm still very unsure of my area and am a little scared to be out after dark so my social life is pretty minimal. It's just a heavily Russian populated area and I don't want to be stuck in a situation where no one speaks English or Romanian. I hope that in time I will be more comfortable to venture out more.

Holly and Maggie (the other 2 volunteers from English Ed) arrived on Wednesday. It was nice to have 2 more Americans in town. Now there are five of us including them, Jesse and Ryne. The five of us have yet to all get together but we have met up in different groups. The online community between volunteers is pretty active. I talk to more people online that are in Moldova than I talk to family and friends back home.

In October, the US Embassy is giving the FSOT. (Foreign Service Officer Test). My friend, Jeremy, is going to take it so I decided to take it with him. I spoke to my friend, Rich, who works at the Embassy here. He advised to just try it out. It's one day out of your life and who knows? It may be something of interest post-service. Nothing to lose really. Don't know if I want to make a career out of it, but why wouldn't I explore it?
I've had many of those "what am I doing" here moments over the past few weeks. We were warned that we'd feel pretty useless the first few months at site. They were right. My office that I work in is in a college near my apartment. College here equals specialty high school. So the kids who attend are 15-20 and are specializing in some form of the arts. From there they can go to University if they so desire. On Monday, the professors started to come to work to get ready for the school year. Life was breathed into the building. I can only imagine the change in energy when the students arrive next week. The first day of school is September 1st. The day before is a national holiday called "Language Day" to celebrate the first day of school. I think that's pretty cool that nation wide, kindergarten to university, everyone has the same first day of school. And the education is celebrated. Professors know our organization and have been stopping in to say hello to Vica, my boss, and to meet 'the American.' They are very kind and speak slowly to me. I met the music professor and she was thrilled to hear about my interests. Today I met the English professor so it was nice to have an actual conversation instead of repeatedly saying "Da" and "Îmi pare bine." (That's 'yes' and 'nice to meet you' respectively.) It also made me a little sad. She teaches English and barely has any text books, doesn't even have a map of the United States. When she wants to show the kids something they all have to gather around her laptop. So much more could be done. And then the reason why I'm here gets renewed. All the motivation and the drive is here but not necessarily the resources. I hope I can help in that aspect. I don't know what I can do but I hope I can do something. The volunteer mindset is hard to explain. I came across the article in the NYT. Maybe it will shed some light to those who are still thinking "she's crazy!"
This coming weekend is Independence Day. Moldova celebrating 20 years being independent from the Soviet Union. That's the kind of happiness you just can't buy. Yes, Ms. Kardashian, I'm talking to you.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hitting the Metaphoric Wall...

I have been here in Cahul for a week now and I've been outside maybe 3 days. Yes, the post training funk has arrived. I've been itching for some alone time all summer and now that I have it, I can't get out of it. Granted, it's been nice to have some time off for the first time in a few months and I've taken advantage of that and caught up on some TV online and emails. But I guess it's time to get out of my room and go explore this city.
The EE's (English Education) volunteers arrive this coming week so there will be more opportunities to see people. I think I'm still a little tentative to be out there on my own. I mean I know basic Romanian, but there are a LOT of Russian speakers and I just don't want to be caught in a situation where someone is yelling at me in Russian and I have no way of understanding. I feel a little better when I walk around with Jesse since he speaks language, and he's a dude. So I know that's a fear i have to get over so I'll take baby steps. Yesterday was my first day at the 'office.' Currently, Perspectiva is working on a program to educate the surrounding villages against human trafficking and discrimination. I'm not exactly sure what my role will be in this program. The office is in the local college and the organization doesn't really get 'active' until school is on session on September 1st. So throughout the month of August there will be a lot of me sitting around and watching. 
I miss my fellow trainees a lot. But I'm grateful to have Jesse with me. And on Tuesday, I get Holly and Maggie as well, plus Rachel, Brendan, Maria and Maryam are within a half hour ride away. I know most others are far more remote. So, I guess my relaxing time is officially over. As of tomorrow, I am going to get out and start learning this city. Since it's slow time at work I should take advantage of this time so that when winter comes, I'm not still stumbling around learning the geography.
In the meantime, I'm going to do laundry...and this is what I'm faced with...
And the challenges continue...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

And just like was over...

I'm sitting here in Cahul in my new bedroom in my new place of residence. It feel like I should be somewhere but I actually don't...and it's weird.
Yesterday was a whirlwind and it went really fast. I woke up early and got all my tons of luggage down the stairs. Everyone in the house was still sleeping. Mama Gazda finally woke up and apologized profusely as she thought I was leaving at 10. She made me a quick breakfast which I barely had time to finish before the bus pulled up at the house. I was sad that we only had a few minutes together on our last morning but I know she felt worse. We said a quick goodbye and I was off. We traveled around Stauceni and picked up everybody. The van was overloaded with luggage as it seems we have all doubled our belongings in the past 2 months. We barely fit in. We arrived early in Chisinau and just sat around and chatted with all the volunteers. Only COD's and ARBD's were being sworn in. The EE's and the HESC's still had 2 more weeks of training so we were a group of 26. 
So we're taken into the hub site room, the room where we have spent the past 8 weeks once a week listening to seminars, where Jeremy, Jesse and I would sit towards the back and crack jokes that weren't appreciated by anyone but us. It was fitting this was the last place we'd all be together. Jeffrey, the country director, swore us in privately as we took the oath that every federal employee takes, yes even the President. We do this privately and then have a public ceremony that our new host families, partners and PC Staff can attend. So we all got to sit on the stage just like graduation. Jeremy, Jesse and I sat in the back row which made me happy that we could just one last time sit together and laugh. We understood the value and seriousness of the ceremony, but there were still things to laugh at. And I was really happy that I got to get sworn in with the 2 guys that made me laugh all summer. The ceremony lasted about an hour with speeches given by one ARBD, Joseph, and two COD's one in Romanian and one in Russian, Lindsay and Maria respectively. Afterwards we had a small reception. I finally got to meet my new Mama Gazda since she was on vacation when I went on the site visit. She was very sweet. I still didn't know how we were getting to Cahul so I asked Liliana to let me know. After 'lunch' we had to have a host family conference where the doctors, the security team and the program managers had to advise the new host families of all the rules and regulations. That was a tough part of the afternoon. We were all extremely tired and the entire seminar was in Romanian and Russian. Even the best of speakers had trouble following so we were basically just sitting there for a few hours waiting until we could leave. Thankfully, since we had a long trip ahead of us, the Cahul bus wanted to leave right away. Jesse's partner and host mom along with my post mom had hired a driver to take us to Cahul. I was grateful. The thought of getting on public transportation with all that luggage was giving me anxiety.
And then came the hard part. I was looking around the room at all these people and all of a sudden I realized, I wasn't going to see them. We weren't going to have language class in the morning, we weren't all going to go hike into the woods in the next few days, we weren't gonna have hub site next week, we weren't going out for a beer in Chisinau. It was done. An overwhelming feeling of sadness came over me, but I had to hold it together. The worst part was, with this unsettling onslaught of emotion, I now had to go around and say goodbye. It was a different emotion for every goodbye hug. "I'll miss this girl because of..., I'll miss this guy because of..." but every one was sad. I won't say which was the hardest and which wasn't too bad because I'm not going to rank my friends, but there were definitely some that almost broke me.
Jesse and I along with our new Cahul counterparts piled into the van and took off on our journey. We were about 2 hours in when this happened:
There wasn't a lot that we could do so we had to get out of the van, unpack all the luggage and wait for about an hour while the driver changed the tire. It was odd, but at least there was a pretty view. 
So we got to Cahul around 7:30. I was pretty exhausted. The apartment was on the 4th floor and I dreaded dragging all my shit up there. And like magic, the van pulled up, mama gazda motioned and 3 young Moldovan lads appeared and ran (literally) my luggage upstairs. She gave them each a little cash and I wanted to hug them. On the drive to Cahul I kept thinking about lugging all that up the stairs and it was done. So now I'm here. I don't start work for another week so I'm not sure what I'm going to do with my timpul liber (free time). I'm reminded of the Kurt Vonnegut book "TimeQuake." In the book, there is a "timequake" in which there is no free will for a period of 10 years. Once it is restored, people don't remember how to do anything. The moment it happens buses crash into trees, people fall down because they don't remember how to walk...
This is a little bit how post-training feels. For 8 weeks, we were told when to wake up, when to be where, when to eat, when to sleep and now it's all free will. It's a strange feeling. And without all the usual comforts of the people you've just gone through the 8 weeks with is very strange. 
At the end of September we have to go back to Chisinau for 2 more weeks of training. The 26 of us. I'm interested to see how it will be to go back to that rigorous schedule, seeing these people who I've bonded with. Were we really friends? Who will I miss the most? Who will I be so glad to see? Who will I think 'why did I even like that person before?' Or "why did I never notice this person before?" It's something to look forward to. In the meantime, I have to get to know this city. My city; Cahul. 
2 years of service

Thursday, August 4, 2011

It is time for us all to decide who we are...

I am sitting in my room in Stauceni looking around and wondering how in the world I am going to fit it all into my suitcases. I have only been here for 2 months and somehow I have accumulated much more than when I arrived. Training ended today and I'm still not sure how to feel about that. As you can tell from the title, Les Miserables has been in my head all week, I can't explain why. It is definitely time to move on, but there is still a sense of sadness. Not exactly sure why. I'll probably be saying that sentence a lot because all of these feelings and emotions are new. 
I haven't posted in the past week because I've been trying to really soak up these people while I can. It sounds (and feels) so final like we're never going to see each other again. Yes, we are being spread around the country but the country is not that big. And it's not 25 years ago, I mean we talk to each other online every day now so it isn't that big of a deal. I guess it's just once again the breakup of a routine. I know I'm going to see certain people every day, I'm going to see certain people at least once a week, we can hike up to a field and have a party and play frisbee without being under the scrutiny of the public...all that is over. And it's unsettling. Much like family, it's time for that needed break when you love the people you are around but it's just time to get away from them for a while. But I still feel a little sad. We were all forced to become friends so quickly and be each other life lines and now we are separated. It brings back that pang of college when we said goodbye on graduation day like it was any other day but in reality it was goodbye for good. Granted we had no idea that the internet would become what it is and things are much easier now. And I can hop on a bus at any time and visit anybody, but it's not this same community feel. I'm not complaining, I'm just sad to see it end.
In February of 2010, I began thinking about this process. The idea came up and I researched it. I worked on my application for about 2 months which led into a very long medical screening process for about 9 months. I was formally invited in April, said goodbye to all my  family and friends and comfort and moved halfway around the world to surround myself with strangers. Tomorrow, 18 months later, I will officially be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Nowhere in any job interview in the past 10 years when they ask you that stupid question "where do you see yourself in 5 years" did I ever say "I'll be living in an ex-Soviet country promoting peace and friendship." And yet here I am. 
Last year, 3 people were yanked from my life and it was really time to go out into the world and do something. Not only for me, but for them. So here I am.
I was sitting in Southern California doing the daily grind surrounded by people I loved, living the dream and yet didn't feel like I was contributing anything to the world. Thoughts always came and went that I should get up off the couch, throw away the fast food containers and go out and do something but it's so much easier to do nothing. And yet, here I am. 
When someone asks 'where do you see yourself in 5 years' I can only hope that everybody is as clueless as I am. Because the fact that I am where I am is as much of a surprise to me as it is to anybody. But the fact that I didn't know I'd be here, is more satisfying than I could explain.
So here I am. I move to Cahul tomorrow to begin work at a non-profit organization that mentors teenagers and educates them on human trafficking. With that connection, I do hope to bring arts more into the community. I'm aware of the unique opportunity I have right now so what will I do with it? Probably going to fail numerous times but I have to do it. I'm pretty scared and pretty anxious. But I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it for all of those people who thought I was crazy, who thought I was giving up my nice, stable life for the unknown, for the people who thought I wouldn't last a week, for all the people who were nothing but encouraging from the word go, for all the people who wish they could do this but can't, for Selena, Dad and Cris who are gone but yet are still here every day and mostly for my family and friends who even though they miss me, never have anything but positive things to say to me to keep me going. Every day is hard without you. Thanks for getting me here. Here goes nothing!