Yeah, it's been a while. Sorry about that.
Buuuuuuut, in my defense, I had to go back to training for a few weeks. This had been something to both look forward to and to dread. The pros being I got to go back to Stauceni with all my original friends as well as live with my original training family. The cons...having to go through more language classes, traveling on public transportation with awkward luggage and being stuck in between seasons so do we dress for summer or cold? Minor inconveniences, I know.
Anywho, so I went up a day early on September 24th. Our security officer, Alex, had gotten married and was moving to the Philippines and his last appearance with his band was that night. So a bunch of volunteers were going to support him. I had seen him perform previously, he's a harmonica player, and the band was fantastic. So I got in around noon and met up with pals Jamie and Tom and we went to go get some lunch at the Kebab House which is pretty infamous with volunteers as it is DELICIOUS! We had rented an apartment in Chisinau for the night. It is cheaper than getting a hotel room and we usually load in about 10 people minimum so it winds up being pretty cheap. The other draw is that they have full kitchens so we're able to cook instead of going out to eat. We had a group of 11 people joining us and even though there were so many, everyone had a bed to sleep in thanks to the inventive furniture that all pulls out in to beds. Quite clever. So for dinner we all went shopping and decided to make a Mexican feast. It was challenging since only one burner worked so it was a group effort. I made guacamole, Tom browned the meat, others made desserts, chopped up vegetables, sauteed onions and peppers, etc. It was delicious and we all had a wonderful big meal before we headed out. Alex's band was playing at a bar called "the Flying Pig" which is a pretty American style bar. There were already tons of volunteers there as Alex was pretty popular amongst the volunteers. We heartily enjoyed the performance and all danced and Alex thanked the volunteers as well as all the Americans (the Embassy guys came too) for always supporting him and we said goodbye. He played some American songs for us including "Wild Thing," by the Troggs, "Light My Fire" by the Doors and "Surfin, U.S.A." by the Beach Boys. It was very enjoyable. The night in the apartment was interesting as various drunk people wandered in and passed out but we all survived.
The next day we had to head back to our respective training villages. I went to the Peace Corps headquarters with Andrea and hung out for a while. She didn't feel very well and since it would take some serious effort to travel to Stauceni. After a few hours, we made the trek to the bus tugging all of our luggage up the hill. It was unseasonably hot out so that didn't make it any better. It took a while to get to Stauceni but we made it. I walked into my family's house and was showered with kisses. I truly do love these people and for some reason they love me. Mama Gazda told me to go shower while Papa Gazda took my luggage upstairs and she cooked me dinner. Yeah, it was awesome. When I got to dinner, it was a feast. Mama yelled at me for losing so much weight and she needed to fatten me up. She is so wonderful. I ate a LOT before going to bed.
From there we had a week of language classes and tech training. There was one new feature in Stauceni that made it fun though, we had a bar. While we were there this past summer, whenever we wanted to hang out socially with the rest of our trainees, we had to travel to their sites because there was nowhere to go in Stauceni. They were building this new place but it wasn't open yet. But it was open now...and it was across the street from our school. (Not a lot of zoning laws here...) It was a BEAUTIFUL open wall bar, a coffee shop upstairs and a huge supermarket. It was amazing. And that's where we ended up every day after class. It was just so nice to sit and socialize with these people who 4 months ago were strangers but now are friends. We had to go into Chisinau once for a "gallery walk" where each volunteer presented their organization to all the others so we could all get a sense of what everyone was doing. The boys from Ciorescu in the ARBD program were ALL sick. They were dropping like flies so all of my 'bees' that I was looking forward to seeing were all out sick for the first 4 days of training.
Our first weekend was pretty low key. We mostly hung out at the bar in Stauceni and Lyndsey and I spent some time in the coffee shop using their free Wi-Fi. Another great thing about training was Lindsay and Conrad weren't eating lunch at their host family's house so every day they went to Lyndsey's house. So after I would eat my delicious lunch at home, I would wander up there and the four of us would sit around and bullshit for an hour between classes. It was quite enjoyable. It was anything from us watching stupid You Tube videos for an hour to planning vacations. It was really fun. Lyndsey and I decided to go to Vienna and Prague for Christmas and invited our other friend Maria to come along. Then in the spring, Lyndsey and her boyfriend, Art along with Lindsay and Conrad are traveling to Amsterdam for a music festival. Yes, all that got planned on our lunch breaks.
The second week, the ARBD boys had recovered a little bit and all was well. On our trip to Hub Site we had some sessions of training. On one day me and some of the boys decided to trek to the Kebab House for lunch. It was risky since we only had an hour and it was a 15 minute walk one way and they're usually not the "quickest" at customer service but we were starving. We arrived back late and were chastised but the tastiest of kebabs were worth it. That night in Chisinau, we participated in a trivia contest. I was on a dream team with 3 of the smartest guys i know; Michael, Pat and Jesse. I wanted to do well as I love trivia, but my main goal was to beat my friend, Rich, from the Embassy as he is from my hometown and was the valedictorian of my brother John's class. When I told John I was competing against him, John had said "good luck, that's the smartest dude I've ever met in my life." There were 8 categories. I know my strength was in pop culture so I was happy to see a music category. And we did kick ass in that category. But there was also a 'pictures' category which you don't know what the pictures will be of but they turned out to be stills of movies so we got 9 out of 10 of those. The only one we missed was a Russian movie so I think we did pretty amazing. However, the rest of the categories were pretty difficult. So we wound up placing 5th. Not the greatest, but still the highest of the Peace Corps volunteers that were there. And yes...we beat Rich's team. A small victory, but I'll take it nonetheless. Rich is a great guy. He's been in Moldova for a few years with his wife and their 3 small children. I don't know him very well but it's still nice to have someone from home to be around.
Our last day of school we were given an LPI (Language Proficiency Inquiry) where we had to speak in Romanian for about 20 minutes. We find out the results in a few weeks. I don't think I did too badly. I think with a tutor, I could do quite well. So that was our last night in our training village. The next morning I had to once again say goodbye to my wonderful host family and promise that I would visit over the next few years. They truly are great people. From there we had to go into Chisinau to check into a hotel. Yes, they were lodging 60 of us in a hotel in downtown Chisinau for 2 days for a conference. It was obvious right away that it was basically dorm living. We were all on the same floors so everyone was just sitting in their rooms, listening to music, drinking, doors open, people walking from room to room visiting...and yes, one bathroom shared by all; dorm life. But it was pretty fun to hang out with everybody. The seminars were on Thursday and Friday from 9am to 5:30pm. We got to learn what everybody was doing, secrets of surviving the winter, project opportunities to try out, clubs to join, travel tips, safety and security, etc. Our last night in the hotel, a small group of us decided to stay in and just chat and have some wine. This lasted until about 4:30am. It was a small group; me, Lyndsey, Courtney, Jessica, Jesse and Maryam so it was enjoyable and we all got to know each other a little bit better.
So training was officially over and we could leave on Saturday. However, the annual Moldova Wine Fest was that day so we all decided to get an apartment for that night. Wine Fest was amazing. It was like a county fair. Tons of food, tons of crafts and homemade trinkets (I bought a homemade scarf) and of course wine! Lyndsey, Courtney, Jessica and I headed there in the afternoon after a lunch at the (what else?) Kebab house. It was beautiful. Not to mention that this is the first time I have experience "fall" in about 13 years. So walking through this atmosphere, with colorful leaves blowing through the air, walking with my great new friends, at that moment I was truly in love with Moldova.One of our favorite moments was when Natasha's host dad invited us into the VIP tent so we could taste some 40 year old Cognac. The Moldovan man who was the President of the Cognac company poured us all a glass and toasted to the US and Moldova. It was amazing. The worst part was that earlier in the day it was sunny and hot but as the evening approached it was getting quite cold. Me, only wearing a T-shirt and my new scarf (well and pants and stuff...) was starting to get quite cold. People kept giving me pieces of their clothing so I could stay warm and I wound up looking like a second hand super hero. Regardless, it was fun. After the wine fest we met up with some other volunteers at another bar in Chisinau. While we were in there, the rain started which made for an AWESOME walk back across town to the apartment. Sunday morning the rain was in full effect so we walked in it to Peace Corps where all our luggage was. Since pretty much everyone was in town for Wine Fest, Peace Corps was filled with volunteers. It was a little overwhelming. I located Rachel (who lives down South by me) and found Tom and the three of us shared a cab to the bus station. The bus ride was a little chilly and of course long but it is good to be home. I got here and Rachel and I met up with Jesse and Ryne for some dinner.
So we survived. It was interesting this time around because through our first training session this past summer we were all strangers and this time around we were all friends and knew each other pretty well. There were some clear segregation as the groups of friends became established. However, conversely, I was able to get to know people I never really got a chance to before. Courtney, Jessica and Maria suddenly became very endearing to me and I barely knew them prior. I was hoping to spend time with some of the boys and but their illness and time constraints prevented that from happening too much. Overall, I am glad it is over even though I miss my friends even more now.