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, November 28, 2011

Giving thanks in a strange land...

So obviously, Eastern Europe doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving. (Yes, a few friends actually asked me if they did...they shall remain nameless...and will also soon be deleted out of my life.) And since it isn't a holiday here, it was just another Thursday. It wasn't too hard since I haven't been home for Thanksgiving in about 15 years but I did miss my annual 'watch all the Friends Thanksgiving episodes in a day' marathon with my best friend, Chris. I was going to do it here but it didn't feel right without him. 
This typical Thursday was a little different though because I got to Skype with my family. I can't even tell you how much my sister's children make me laugh. They are so much fun to talk to, I forget they're teenagers in high school and college. They were at my Mom's house enjoying the traditional cinnamon roll and Borscht (which I now know is just a family recipe because actual Borscht is not NEARLY as delicious as Mom's.) breakfast that Mom puts out every holiday. After that crew left I got to chat with Mom and Leroy for a while and they caught me up on everything else. And then in the evening (here) and the afternoon (there), i FINALLY got to talk to my brother, Bob. I have barely talked to him since he dropped me off in Philadelphia 6 months ago. He doesn't have Skype, he's been switching jobs and we've had trouble connecting. So to see his face pop up on my computer screen made it an awesome day. We chatted for about a half hour. I showed off my new Russian words, which are actually swear words and I forgot that his girlfriend, Bozena, speaks fluent Russian. Whoops. She enjoyed it heartily though. It was so good to talk to him.
For the weekend, the majority of volunteers went up to the Peace Corps headquarters where they had a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. However, the office building is pretty small and there are almost 150 volunteers so a few of us decided to stay here in Cahul and have a Mexican feast instead. We invited a few volunteers and some Moldovans and had a sort of anti-Thanksgiving meal. It was quiet and nice and we avoided the chaos of the Capital. 
This coming weekend we are holding a "traditional" Thanksgiving. We are holding it for our Moldovan work partners to introduce them to American customs. It's going to be a lot of work, including killing turkeys for the dinner. I may leave that one up to some others...
But it will be good for us to share some of our traditions before the Christmas season arrives. It is really nice here because there is not one mention of Christmas yet. They do not buy into the commercialism whatsoever. It is strictly religious. The majority of Moldovans celebrate on January the 7th, the Orthodox Christmas so December isn't even all that crazy. 
But I leave for Vienna in 22 days and I'm really excited to see that and Prague. We have to travel from here to Bucharest, Romania to catch our flight. I'll be using 4 currencies during the trip; Moldovan Lei, Romanian Lei, Euros and Czech Koruna. If I can survive the fraud calls from my bank who will be going nuts, I think it'll be a good trip. (Not that I don't applaud banks for being so careful with theft and fraud these days but if I call them and tell them where I'm going, do they really still have to shut my card down for 24 hours until they verify I'm the one using it, EVERY SINGLE TIME?!?!?! #firstworldproblems)
The weather is steadily getting cooler but it's still not bone-chilling cold. And that's okay. Today was in the high 50's and it was beautiful. Also just received an amazing Christmas care package from Mom including a bunch of warm clothes that are about to be desperately needed. I don't remember the last time I owned this many pairs of socks. Haven't exactly needed to lately. Am truly grateful for the box though. I'm amazed at how comforting little touches of home can make any day. That being said, I am on my way home now to have a big cup of Starbucks coffee. Thanks, Mom. 

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Holidays Approach...

Things here in Cahul have suddenly started moving at a very quick pace. 2 weeks ago, a gang of us went to the local orphanage and played games with the kids for a few hours. When I think of an orphanage, all I can think of is Annie Warbucks and that awful place she grew up in NYC while she and a bunch of young girls in tattered clothes cleaned all day and sang jaunty musical numbers. Turns out, that's not reality. I was pleasantly surprised at this orphanage. It was actually a pleasant place to be. I'm not saying that I didn't feel for the kids, but they certainly had formed their own families. The women who ran the place cared for them each deeply, the kids were very much 'siblings' in the traditional sense. The older boys clearly had control and if they said something the younger ones listened but they were also their protectors. One of the little girls was shy about participating and the older boy went over and talked her into it and stayed with her until she felt comfortable. (Pause for political snide remark...isn't it amazing that families in the non-traditional sense sometimes still work?) 
We were there for a few hours and it was nice. Dylan, another volunteer, ran the project and is trying to make it a monthly thing. There were 7 of us volunteers there that day but he would like to get more as well as some Moldovan youth volunteers to make it sustainable .
Since then, Holly and I have been trying to make our apartment seem more 'homey' furnishing it with rugs and personal items and we have proudly held some actual dinner parties for the Cahul people. We have adopted the Fulbright scholar from the University, Erin, as one of our group. She's only here for a year but her boyfriend is from Moldova so I have a feeling she'll be staying longer. I've also made friends with a few Russian students from the University and they have agreed to teach me conversational Russian in exchange for help with their English. This pleases me greatly as I have learned Russian is a necessity for survival. 
I am insanely lucky to have such a great group of volunteers with me here in the South of the country. 
As for the impending holidays, I think it will be strange but okay. It will be my first non-traditional Thanksgiving in my lifetime. The majority of volunteers are throwing a traditional party in the Capital this weekend but we 'southies' have elected not to go. Instead, we are throwing the 'anti-Thanksgiving' which means Mexican food. (I don't know why). On December 3rd, we are throwing a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for our work partners to educate them on what the holiday means to us in the U.S. This of course has been misconstrued amongst juvenile volunteers as an exclusive party that only certain people are invited to and not a professional event in which we are doing our job and promoting peace and friendship among Moldovans. Sometimes I am in Peace Corps High School. 
November has flown by and it is less than a month before Christmas. I have never spent a Christmas away from Honesdale, PA in 38 years so it will be strange. Thankfully Vienna, Austria and Prague, Czech Republic will help with that. Last Christmas was a pretty hard day in dealing with the aftermath of the death of my nephew but it also showed what a strong family I have. The end of Christmas day last year didn't feel like a holiday was ending, it felt like we had all survived together. I'm sad that I can't be there this year where there will be some laughter and happiness again but on the same level, knowing that everyone is so much better now gives us all the strength to be happy wherever we are. I never thought last year at this time that i'd be celebrating Christmas listening to Mozart in Vienna but I'll be doing it. 
One thing I am TOTALLY psyched for is the lack of Christmas commercialism here. There is no Black Friday, there is no 'shopping season.' There is not marketing shoved down your throat on TV commercials and store windows and billboards, it's wonderful. Plus, the Orthodox religion celebrates Christmas on January 7th which means I will be in country to witness their traditions and have no work for a few weeks. I think I may enjoy the Christmas season this year. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

It Only Takes a Moment...

So we got summoned back up to Chisnau for a few days for some more language trainings. We were back in the school we were in all summer but it's a little bit different in the's freezing. They don't use a lot of heat here and since all the students were off for the week on Winter Break, they certainly weren't heating the school. We all sat in the classrooms in our winter coats and gloves and tried our best to stay warm during classes all the while desperate to look forward to the coffee breaks. Because of our love of coffee, well yeah, but also to hold the warm cup. We were all in the hotel for 3 days. The English Education and Health Education volunteers were there for a week. But the weekend was the first time we had all been together since the summer. It was evident that people had become more comfortable now and the groups of friends had been established. In summertime, it was all politeness and pleasant greetings but as with any situations, now there were groups. I hesitate to use the word cliques because it wasn't a vicious thing, there wasn't a competition or anything mean spirited, you just migrate towards the people who make you comfortable. 
Lyndsey and I met up right away when we got into town and headed out to lunch at a greek restaurant with Brittany. The food was a little pricey but it sure was delicious. We met up with Maria and Maryam and we all headed to the hotel. Maria, Lyndsey and I decided to share a room and since we checked in so late, we were on another floor from all the volunteers which proved to be quite nice. Another volunteer Craig was COS'ing (Close of Service) the next day so everyone was meeting up with him at a local restaurant. I usually don't like to go places where EVERYBODY is going because I don't like being a part of a loud group of Americans. However, I did want to say goodbye to Craig so worst case scenario we would just go and then leave shortly after. As suspected, it was a LOUD group of Americans and Lyndsey and I couldn't wait to get out of there. Fortunately, as we were trying to leave, a table opened up at the opposite end of the restaurant so we grabbed it. We were joined by Pat, Sarah and Dahnika and then Brendan and Natalie. I had spent a lot of time with Pat during the previous training and he's fantastic. His wife, Sarah and he are both from CA and I had met them at the farewell dinner. Dahnika is in Sarah's program and Brendan and Natalie are English Education. Brendan is down in the South near me so I had already known him but I didn't know Natalie too well. Regardless, it was a nice, low-key group and we had an enjoyable dinner. We headed back to the hotel soon after as we were pretty tired from the day. Lyndsey and I met up with Maria there and wound up just hanging out in our room and doing nothing. We had to wake up early the next day for language class. It was a long day and hard to focus in a cold classroom but it was good to see everybody. For lunch we headed to the delicious, Italian place we had discovered the last training. That night I wound up going out with another huge group for dinner against my better judgment and again wound up going back to the hotel early. There was a bunch of people in my room watching Dirty Dancing and I could tell they were quite impressed that I knew every single word and dance move to the entire movie and its soundtrack. (FYI; impressed = annoyed). 50% of them weren't even born when it came out so I didn't really care...
The next day we had more language and then most people decided to take off. Lyndsey and I headed over to Lindsay and Conrad's new apartment. We had been planning for weeks for a 'cool down' dinner after training and it was awesome. When we got off the bus, Lindsay M. ran to the piazza to pick up some vegetables and Lyndsey R. ran down the street to get some water. So I was just standing there at the bus stop with my luggage. 
This man in very broken English came up to me and asked if we were Americans as he had heard us speaking English. I told him we were. He asked what we were doing in Moldova. I explained to him that we were all volunteers and we moved here for 2 years to work on community development. His eyes widened and said "Why?" I didn't know how to respond so I smiled and said "Why not?" The man smiled at me with tears in his eyes, took my hand and said "Thank you. Thank you for helping me and my country." I smiled. And he walked away and got on the bus. I just stood there and got teary eyed. Lyndsey returned and asked what was wrong and I said "absolutely nothing" and I told her the story. She cried too. By the time Lindsay returned she was convinced something horrible had happened but we assured her it was quite the opposite. Because after 2 days sitting in a cold school and learning a foreign language, it took one moment to be reminded what we're doing. 
From there we headed back to their apartment and Lindsay made Buffalo chicken dip and Conrad made us blue cheese burgers. It was so awesome and just the night we all needed. 
But now it's back to reality. Headed back here yesterday on the cold rutiere. Although can't lie, I much prefer that to the hot summer ride. I can bundle up enough now to be comfortable. Summer was insufferable. When I got home Jesse was visiting along with Rachel (who lives in a neighboring village) who had missed her bus and Holly was making Tortilla soup. Home at last.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Month #5

And so November begins. Have I really been here 5 months? It doesn't seem possible. In some ways it feels way longer and in others it feels like I just got off the boat (metaphorically). I moved into my new apartment this past weekend with the help of my friend, Jesse. My new roommate, Holly, had been there for a week. Of course I would move halfway around the world and end up with a roommate from Huntington Beach. Our apartment is pretty big and we're really getting it at a steal but the lady really wanted to rent it out so she didn't haggle to much with us to get us to pay more. It is on the 8th floor and thankfully, for now, the elevator is working. We don't have a refrigerator just yet but it's ok because the porch is cold enough to keep things cold. The landlady is supposed to deliver a fridge any day now so it won't be a problem either way. I think the only downfall to this new found independence is having to do hand washing. I have been spoiled the past 5 months living with host moms who not only had washing machines but liked to do my wash for me. Boy am I paying for that now. I did it for the first time last night and it is a giant pain in the ass. Not only do my hands ache from scrubbing and ringing clothes out, the detergent tends to burn your skin if you touch it before it dissolves in the water. I'm sure I'll become an expert at it and for the first round I don't think I did too badly, still sucks though. And since the weather is getting colder now, they are going to take forever to dry. After hanging them out the window (on the 8th floor) last night, I touched them this morning and they are still sopping wet. Should be interesting. I'm still nervous to have them fly away as I don't have a lot of clothes and finding pants that fit here would definitely be a challenge. I have lost a lot of weight so the pants I brought are way too big now and I have to use belts to keep them up. But I'm not nearly skinny enough to fit in to the European skinny jeans that I swear are tailored only for 12 year olds. 
The Cahul crowd have definitely found our regular hang outs that we go to as now when we walk in we are greeted by the staff members. When I walked into one yesterday, the owner not only greeted me with kisses but didn't even take my order because she knew what I would get. It's nice to have that familiarity. I've also been trying to pick up some Russian. Cahul is mainly a Russian city so I'm not sure why I was taught Romanian. I mean most people speak Romanian but EVERYONE speaks Russian. And just for basic things like ordering food, buying something in the market or greeting people, basic Russian is good to have. Plus it's a really fun language; tough, but fun. 
Thursday I have to go back up to the capital for 3 days of in service training. I'm dreading the trip but at least I get to hang out with Lyndsey, Lindsay and Conrad. I only see them when I go to the capital so it'll be fun in that respect.
Lyndsey and I have finalized our trip to Vienna/Prague for Christmas. It's really creeping up on us quickly. I really can't believe it's November already. We are planning our Thanksgiving dinner already and plan on inviting some Moldovans to teach them how we disguise the reality of the holiday with a feast. (Soapbox alert...) 
And I also booked my trip in May to Paris/London where I'll be meeting up with some friends from CA. It'll be so nice to see faces from home and I'm so excited to explore London again and see Paris for the first time. 
On the work front, it's still pretty slow at my organization. I hope that things will pick up soon. In the meantime, I went with Dylan, Brad and Holly to visit one of the local orphanages here in town. It was actually really nice and the conditions were impressive. The kids were all pretty excited to see us and we are trying to set up some sort of monthly program where we can go in and do a day of activities for them. 
And I also did 3 TV reviews and 1 film review for the upcoming issue of Hai Davai, the PC Moldova magazine. It translates to "Let's Go, Let's Go" Hai, being Romanian and Davai being Russian. That issue will come out in December before the holidays. 
And that's about it from Cahul this week. I'm trying to keep up on this more regularly and stop being distracted by the creativity sucking internet.
And one last thing (Soapbox alert...), I hope that the defenders of the sanctity of marriage are real proud that one of their own, I refuse to type her name, dropped $20 million on a sham wedding to get 3 months of publicity. If that isn't sanctity, I don't know what is.