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

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Take One and Pass It..

Here is what I've learned about Thanksgiving: When you don't have to do anything besides show up and eat, it is a wonderful holiday. When you have to spend days preparing and have to get up at the crack of dawn the day of, to make sure everything gets done, it kind of blows. 

On Saturday, we held a big Thanksgiving dinner for our Moldovan counterparts. There were 12 volunteers and 2 Fulbright scholars to represent 'the Americans' and everybody brought 2-3 guests. We worked all week to prepare for a dinner for 50 people. Our goal was to cook a traditional American meal and explain the history of this holiday. (I mean of course we taught them the fun/loving history we learned in 2nd grade, not the reality...but I won't go off on that tangent...) As with everything, this was misconstrued as the volunteers in the South of the country trying to be elitist and have our own private Thanksgiving and not invite everybody. Yes, even in Moldova there are internal political struggles. Regardless, it was a success. After days of baking pies, killing and baking turkeys and chickens, making 5 Kilos of mashed potatoes, the dinner was a success. We had to explain the American buffet style of the dinner as Moldovans are used to having Masa's where all the food is on the table. Getting up, standing in line and fixing your plate and then going to the table was very foreign to them and they were quite shy about it. Not like the Americans who went up time and time again filling their plates. It was nice to have a taste of home for just a few hours. But it was exhausting. We were all wiped out for a few days. But we had achieved our goal. Many of us didn't feel well afterwards because even though the food was good, we just weren't used to stuffing ourselves like that anymore.
For the most part, the Moldovans I have met here have been pretty overwhelmingly kind and open. They also wonder why we would willingly come to their country when we could stay in the US and have everything. They wonder why everyone in the US is always fighting over who gets the most stuff. They like to hear about the weather and my family and how I can be away for so long and why I like to go out to eat instead of cooking and English slang. I've been here for 6 months and I would say about 95% of the natives here have been pretty great. The biggest challenge has been the Americans here in country. You can take them out of America...I won't get into it now. I'll tell you privately if you ask, but I'm not going to put them on blast publicly.
Also have really enjoyed learning a bit of basic Russian. I've learned the Cyrillic alphabet which was a big battle but now I can at least sound words out. I may not know what they mean but it's a start. I am being taught by a University student who has been studying English for four years. He speaks very well but I still have to speak slowly and enunciate. What I have really learned in learning a foreign language is that English is TOUGH! All the little rules and idiosyncrasies are ridiculous. And I pride myself on my speaking skills but I was a pretty lazy speaker. I've had to cut out contractions when I speak because they are confusing for foreigners.  
Other than that, I attended a seminar on Formal vs. Non-Formal Education. It was an informative seminar but also brought some heated debates as the older generation likes to focus on formal education in classrooms, degrees, etc. whereas the younger wanted to validate that non-formal education such as NGO's (non-profit organizations), the internet, seminars and lectures are also valid. There is an ongoing problem here with academic honesty. Kids in school are encouraged to cheat to get the highest grade possible. They are encouraged by the teachers, their parents and fellow students. There are no penalties for cheating, it is encouraged. In trying to explain how unaccepted this is in other parts of the world many were very surprised. It is just the way it is here. My fellow volunteers are up in arms about this, which I guess they should be. But it is also easy to see that in this world it's harder to justify that kids need to actually learn things when they can pull a tiny computer out of their pocket and look something up. (Don't get me started on how iPhones are ruining the world...) But I digress...
In this seminar, the lady leading the seminar handed a stack of papers to a student and asked her to take one and pass it. The young girl of 16 or so, took a paper for herself, took one for her neighbor then passed the stack to her neighbor. Her neighbor, already having a paper, took one for her neighbor, then passed it on. It fascinated me. They weren't taking something for themselves. They were making sure there neighbor had what they needed before passing the stack of paper. Wouldn't it be an amazing world if that was the mentality of people living in it? Let me make sure that my neighbor is provided for before I pass it along. I think that it would sure help people remember what was important and that it wasn't always about material possessions or money or making sure that you had the best stuff and the most of it, but more that the people around them in their community were provided for and that everyone was equally happy. Wouldn't it be nice?
Or maybe it was just a stack of paper.

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