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

Monday, September 12, 2011

19 reasons why I'm happy today...

Today I received a care package. It's been a freaking long time since I have gotten to open one of these; since college! And this one was a doozie. It comes courtesy of my dear friends at Too Faced who haven't forgotten me even though I've been gone for 3 months. It's pretty clear that we worked together for a long time because they all know me so well.  Here are just a mere 18 reasons why...
1 - Mexican Seasonings - There is nothing here in Moldova that equals the flavoring of Mexican seasoning. Sure we can doctor some things, come up with similar tastes, but just to have these simple packets of heaven certainly will make some up coming dinners incredible.
2 - Game of Thrones - My friend, Kathryn has been annoying me to watch this show for months now. So much so that she sent me the DVD...
3 - Lily - Kathryn's dog who she thinks I love but I really don't like.
4 - Tissues - Seems pretty random, but so needed! Plus, there are cute sayings on the box. I brought them into the bathroom with me last night (TMI?) and the side of the box I'm looking at? I'm here for when you run out of toilet paper. Destiny?
5 - Beef Jerky - Meat is my favorite thing and I'm pretty sure this is the only type they could air mail me without paying thousands of dollars in overnighting something. It is greatly appreciated.
6 - Starbucks Via - Brewed coffee isn't too big here, instant is. I've never really liked instant coffee until Starbucks came out with theirs which is strong and delicious. 3 flavors; Italian Roast, Vanilla and Caramel.
7 - Crushed Red Pepper - You never know how much you miss this until you don't have it. Went out for pizza today, brought it with me. It was heaven.
8 - Del Scorcho - Ah, Del Taco. Voltaire saved up (and stole...) a bunch of Del Taco sauce for me to flavor my meals with here. Plus the packets make it easy to travel with!
9 - Hot Sauce - Oh how I love my hot sauce. Juli was thoughtful enough to find one made in California so I have a little 'taste' of home.
10 - Dirty Chips - The night before I went to Chisinau to pick up this package, I dreamed about these. And in the morning I thought, 'that'd be funny if they sent me some' and lo and behold they did. They are my favorite brand of chips ever. The one bag in the pic is empty...I ate them on the way home...
11 - TF Bag - One of the latest of Too Faced's glamour bags that is the perfect size to carry my lunch to school in every day. I'll be the 'envy' of all the girls there.
12 - Love Lisa - The best lip balm in town.
13 - Logan Book - Jules sent me a tiny picture book of all of her newborn son, Logan's, pictures of his first few months of life. He is adorable and it sits by my bed.
14 - True Blood Comic Book - One of my favorite TV shows and they sent me a comic book of it.
15 - Lollipops - Comfort food that I can pull out of my bag at work when I need that sugar fix.
16 - iTunes Gift Cards - Jeremy, sweet, Jeremy knows how I love my iTunes. Gift cards to this website will be used quickly! (In the interest of full disclosure, I used them last night...)
17 - Where's TF - It's actually a Where's Waldo book but Juli and her husband Jason went through and superimposed photos of me and my TF buddies all throughout. They are so silly but have no idea how much joy it brings me.
18 - Cards - Juli, Jeremy, Andrea and Eileen sent personal notes to send their love.
19 - The people that it is from. I've worked with these people for years and they are truly great people and I miss them so much. They were what made it hardest to leave Too Faced. And here it is a mere 4 months later and they are still making me smile. I am in great debt to you all; Juli (and Jason, of course!), Jeremy, Kathryn, Jules, Andrea, Eileen, Marion and Voltaire.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Travel Plans

On these slow days at work my mind tends to wander. So a fun thing I have found to do is to plan my vacations. I realize what a terrific opportunity I have being where I am to see the world. That was definitely a contributing factor in joining the Peace Corps is the ability to travel. We get 6 weeks of vacation over our two year stint. It sounds like a problem everyone would love to have but my biggest issue with all of this is where to go? I am in a position where I can literally go anywhere in the world. Where do you begin? It's a little overwhelming when you think about it. Granted, money is a factor. Isn't it always? But it's way cheaper over here to get around and I'm 38. Who needs a savings account? It's not like the States is any kind of financial trouble that I should be saving for, right?
Anyway, the best thing I could think of to do was a wish list. Without money factors or time constraints, where do I really want to see? Not because I've been told to go somewhere or because someone wrote a book about places to see before I die (which duh, of course it'd be before I died...that one's for you, Diehl!) but because I have a genuine interest in seeing them. (In the interest of full disclosure, most, if not all of these have to do with pop culture references, but hey, it's my list so just deal with it.) So here's what I came up with:

  1. Austria - Numero Uno. I have wanted to go to Austria forever. (Figuratively). The Sound of Music is one of my favorite movies of all time and Mozart is, without a doubt, my favorite composer. Austria is a country dedicated to these two things. I want to explore Vienna and Salzburg to my heart's desires.
  2. Greece - I am a sucker for theatre, no big shocker there so of course i have a desire to see the original Greek Theatres and worship at Dionysus altar. But yes, Mamma Mia also played a key role in the desire as well.
  3. India/The Maldive Islands - I have always been fascinated by the culture. The heat is a big drawback as I hate heat but the thought of seeing the Taj Mahal in person is still very attractive to me. (Yes, Slumdog Millionaire helped in this desire...) The Maldive Islands are a pipe dream and I'm fully aware of that as even from here it costs thousands of dollars just to travel there but I can keep it as a dream.
  4. Ireland - Yes, I'm a sucker for my heritage. I love everything about it. And the though of seeing all that green is very appealing. Not even a pop culture reference here, just a genetic one.
  5. Bangkok - I have never been anywhere near Eastern Asia but this city is tops on my list. I'd love to visit Vietnam, Cambodia and Japan too but Thailand has always been tops. (Fine...The King and I.)
  6. Egypt/Casablanca - Very touristy destinations, I know but still a desire nonetheless. 
  7. New Zealand - Lord of the Rings...
  8. Sicily - I was in love with Italy even before I went a few years ago. I visited the tourist sites in Rome and Florence and the not so touristy Naples to have the best pizza of my life, but I'd still like to get South to see some more of this fascinating country. 
  9. England - I've done London and Stratford on Avon, but I'd really like to get to Canturbury, Salisbury to see Stonehenge and Liverpool to see where it all started. 
  10. Peru - Machu Piccu. Enough said.
So how many, if any, of these are going to be feasible while I live here in Moldova. I research pretty much daily what is affordable and possible and no, not all of them are. (I guess I should say not probable...anything is possible.) I can safely cross Peru off the list this time around. Can't even imagine the cost for flying to South America from Eastern Europe.
I figure, we can start traveling in November so I can plan a trip every 3 months until I leave. So I guess the best thing to do is to take it one day at a time and remember that I don't have to do everything all at once. I love traveling and seeing the world and know just how fortunate I am to be able to. 
The first project will be the Christmas trip. It will be the first time I have ever been not at home with my family on Christmas in my 38 years. I don't know how that will be. Some people rarely spend Christmas with their families but we always manage to come together.  The last two years at Christmas have been particularly emotional with losing Selena then Dad and Cris so it would've been nice to get back to a regular holiday where we all just tease each other and argue about who hates/loves Penn State and of course the usual political wars. However, it wasn't in the cards. So instead, I am looking to find somewhere fabulous. Lyndsey and I decided we would try to travel together and hopefully get another few girls to go with us. At first we were looking into the island of Cyprus which is nestled in between Greece and Turkey. It is still an option on the table. Also, we're looking into Barcelona. 8 days in a beautiful seaside city with delicious food doesn't sound too shabby. Another option was going Nordic and exploring Finland and Sweden although the thought of going somewhere colder than where we were didn't really overwhelm us. Although the thought of seeing the Northern Lights was pretty appealing. My first choice was to go to India but it really is expensive. I'm still going to push for that as much as I can but I don't think I can convince her. Lyndsey is much more frugal than I am. I know you're thinking, "the majority of these are not even on the top 10 list." I realize that but I want to travel alone just yet.
The other factor is that I have people from back home who say they want to visit or meet up somewhere. So say someone says "oh I want to meet you in Ireland" I have to 'save' that destination for that person. However, if that person (s) decides against it, I'm out a wish destination. But then, is it really a bad thing to go to Ireland twice?
These are such first world problems.
Anyway, that was my day today. Exploring Austria/Prague adventures, looking for the best way to see a bunch of cities in England/Ireland, comparing and contrasting Barcelona and Cyprus (so cliche, I know), finding the cheapest way to see Cairo and Casablanca on one trip. It hasn't been a bad Thursday, must say. There are definitely worse things in the world.
Side note, Cahul has no gas for 3 weeks. Yay! They can just shut the gas off on an entire city. That means no hot water, no stove, should be interesting. Guess I should be grateful it isn't winter and the heat is gone.

Monday, September 5, 2011

It's My Life...

On Saturday, Ryne, a fellow Cahuligan, decided to throw a good old, American Chili party. He invited everyone who was basically South of Chisinau. There's a friendly rivalry between the "Southies" and the people in the North as we are known for getting together and throwing parties. I got my first taste of this...and it was glorious. There are 5 of us here in Cahul, myself, Jesse, Holly, Maggie and Ryne. Also joining us were Jamie and Tom from Leova, Rachel who is South, Brendan, Dylan and Jeremy who are South of Cahul, Jeremy's girlfirned, Jessica who infiltrated from the North, Craig and Brad, Monika who is way South, and Maria and Natalie who are East. (I think that's everyone...) Also joining us was Erin, a local Fulbright scholar and a German volunteer who I'm not even going to attempt to spell her name. I'm sure I'm forgetting some but there were close to 20 of us overall. I met up with a small gang for lunch at our favorite pizza joint in town. Since the majority were from villages and hadn't been to Cahul before, they were very happy at the thought of not only eating at a restaurant but getting pizza as well. (Like I have said many times, I have it really good here...). From there we headed over to the wine bar and hung out for a few hours as people trickled in. It was so nice to be surrounded by people who spoke English. Surrounding tables noticed and started sending us pitchers of wine and plates of food to welcome us to their town. People are incredibly nice here. 
We all headed over to Ryne's apartment. Ryne has a nice sized apartment, however, when you get 20 people in it, it seems incredibly claustrophobic. But he had made 2 big pots of chili, one vegetarian, one with the good stuff, along with sour cream, tons of wine, salad, veggies and dip as well as assorted desserts. It was like heaven. Chili never tasted so good. Tom had brought some hot sauce along so I could even spice it up. Oh it was so nice to have flavor again. We all sat around and chatted and got to know each other and it was just plain delightful. Jesse and I began a long game of Movie Mashup that went on all night. (Movie mashup - for example if I say 'two teenagers stranded on a desert island search for pirates' the answer? The Blue Lagoonies. Stole it from a TV show and it provides hours of entertainment...)
From Ryne's we were all walking to an outdoor concert. The outdoor concert turned out to be a HUGE outdoor Disco Tech (European for dance club). There was a DJ on stage with a bunch of people 'leading the crowd' and it was just a huge dance party with lots of lights and tons of people. It was nuts. Unlike anything I had seen here. So House music is pretty prominent here in Europe, which I'm not big into. It's just that constant 'THUD THUD THUD' over and over again without any real melody. It was fun to stand in the middle of a group of Americans who were all jumping and pumping their fists though and watch them enjoying it. (I think the wine had a lot to do with it...)

Out of nowhere, I hear a very familiar melody and what song starts?
I almost died. This song FOLLOWS me around. I know it sounds silly but it always seems to come on the radio or pop on my iPod when I need reassurance. And who better to reassure me then the All American, Jon Bon Jovi. Ridiculous? Maybe, but it sure is a source of comfort. The message of the songs is basically that it is my life and I can choose to live it or standby and watch. In an evening full of boring house music for this song to just pop up and sing to me, well take it as you will, but for me it was an awesome moment. And I joined in and jumped up and down and pumped my fist and there I was. Dancing to Bon Jovi in the middle of Eastern Europe. And those are the moments that you just can't ask for!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

First Bell

Today was the first day of school, but unlike anything I've ever seen. Moldova sure knows how to celebrate education. Vica told me to come in at 8 instead of the usual 10. Boy, a few weeks of sleeping in until 9 really does spoil you. I felt like it was 5am. But I made it. As soon as I arrived here at the college, I knew that things were different already. 
First, to clarify, it isn't a 'college' in the traditional American sense. Kids here are required to go to school until 8th grade. From there, if they choose, they can either attend a public high school, or a specialty 'college' for four more years and then go on to University if they choose. The college that I work at, from what I'm gathering and I may be incorrect, specializes in the Arts. There is a large population of the students who are studying English and Psychology to make the better candidates for University or to study abroad which is a major goal of all of the students. The office that I work at, AO Perspectiva, is located inside the college as we recruit the students to be volunteers for the organization as well as be there for them to suit their needs. The past few weeks being in the office has been pretty slow as there were no students and it was usually just me and Vica and the occasional professor that walked in. It is an old building...and I mean old. I know in California, old means anything before 1950, on the East Coast you can find buildings from the 1800's. Here an old building was built in the 16th century. I don't know technically know how old this building is, but it is incredibly old. (Guess I'll have to research that one.) But the halls and stairwells echo which makes for fantastic acoustics when a lone saxophone student is practicing in an empty classroom or an opera singer is practicing her arias. But up until this point I've only experienced these random, lonely sounds echoing throughout the halls. That was all about to change.
Another cool thing about Moldova is that the entire country from kindergarten to University begins school on September 1st at 8:00am. There is a ceremony and all the students gather with all the administration to celebrate education for another year. And ceremoniously the 'first bell' is rung to signify the new year. I didn't know what to expect as I kept seeing previous volunteers wishing everyone a happy first bell. It is a real celebration and holiday.
I arrived and there were already over 600 students standing outside waiting. They were all dressed in their best dresses and boys who were so young that their bodies haven't grown into their dress shirts yet were surrounded by their parents, many carrying flowers as it is customary to give their instructor a flower for the first day. Imagine that, unconditional respect for teachers. The director of the college stood on top of the stairwell and welcomed everyone. 2 students followed his speech and were the emcees of the ceremony. They introduced speakers, singers, they sang the National Anthem, it was quite a hoopla. Then they introduced the incoming class and group by group, led by their new instructor, they 'freshmen' were led into the courtyard and joined their new class making the group over 800 large. The director introduced his staff and wished the students success. Now sometimes when people are speaking Romanian, Russian or any foreign language really, I tend to tune out. I'm a little lazy and ADD that way. So as he was talking my eyes wandered around the courtyard at all of these kids gathered here to learn. The one main difference I saw was that they were at absolute attention. Nobody was whispering to each other while the adults spoke, they weren't making fun of the speakers or laughing at the singers, they stood at attention and applauded when they were finished. Absolute respect. It was inspiring. So as I was taking all this in, my subconscious here's the words "America...California...Jennifer." So my head snapped back to attention and I realized the director was talking about me. He said something else and then began applauding as did the entire group of people and I realized I was being summoned up to the microphone. Remember that nausea in high school when you had to get up to give a speech or introduce yourself or 'say something about yourself' in front of a large group of people? Yeah so that was back...and multiply it ten fold as it had to be in Romanian. Suddenly I had absolutely no knowledge of Romanian. Actually, to be honest, English had escaped me completely as well as all I could think as I was walking up the stairs was "please don't trip, please don't trip, please don't trip..." I've never been afraid of public speaking. Hell, I'm a theatre major, I love when all eyes and attention are on me. But now I was standing at a microphone in front of over 1000 people and I had to introduce myself to them, make a first their language. Also, I had been listening to the ceremony for over an hour and somehow I must have been drinking a bottle of sand because there was no tone in my throat at all. 
I smiled at the director and turned to the thousand pairs of eyes who were now standing at complete attention to hear an American speak. I swallowed heavily, took a deep breath and said "Bună dimineaţa. Numele meu este Jennifer. Eu sunt din America de la Los Angeles, California. Îmi pare bine. Va multumesc ca ati mine." I smiled and heard applause and I walked down the stairs to Vica. I leaned over to her and said "was that okay? What did I say?" She explained that I said '"Good Morning. My name is Jennifer and I am from America from Los Angeles, California. Nice to meet you and thank you for having me."
I don't exactly know which part of my ass I pulled that from but somewhere deep in my subconscious I must have pulled it from one of our first weeks of language classes way back in June on how to introduce ourselves. I barely remember saying it but I did it. Soon after, two young freshmen came up to the microphone and received the bell (yes an actual bell) and together they walked around the courtyard ringing it signifying that the year had officially begun. Vica and I came back upstairs and she again complimented my grace and calm exterior (EXTERIOR!) and said I had made a good impression as no one was expecting me to speak Romanian. So now they know who I am. I can't be invisible any longer which I haven't decided yet if that's a good thing or not. Time will tell.
The energy of the building has already gone under surgery. It went from lonely echoing halls to chatter and shoes clinking and laughter and excitement. It will be interesting to see where things go from here. But is time for some wine...