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, February 29, 2012

Leap Day

Sarah and Pat
The past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster. We got word that yet another 2 people were ET'ing (Early Terminating). This time, it was two of my favorite people and we were greatly saddened. They are a married couple from California that I met in CA before I left. They are truly sweet people and I miss them already. We all got together to give them a good send off. It as a bitter sweet evening as I was surrounded by my favorite people here and we were all together to say goodbye to two friends. It was the first time I've really felt emotional about saying goodbye and realizing that I'm in a unique circumstance here being surrounded by all these people. It's much like college. You just take for granted that these people are always going to be near you or at least a short bus ride away. But it, like everything, will come to an end. I finally realized that in saying goodbye to Pat and Sarah. We had a dinner per Pat and Sarah's request of their closest friends and ate a lot of food, drank a lot of wine and said our goodbyes. Only good thing? I think we looked around and realized the people in that room was a pretty special family and it brought us all closer.
This past weekend we all had to go to the capital AGAIN (I've been there pretty much every weekend in February) for our final language training. It's always nice to see everybody but at this point I was a little tired of not being at home so it was again, bittersweet. I did get to go to the opera again to watch "La Traviata." It wasn't my favorite, but the performance was still great. I'm so glad that I have that option for culture in the capital when I'm there. Afterwards, I stayed at Lindsay and Conrad's again (I should probably start paying them rent) and stayed up all night to watch the Oscars. Here they were on from 3:30am - 6:30am. Needless to say, I'm the only one stupid enough to stay up to watch them. I did enjoy them and kind of enjoyed my own solitude in watching them. 
When I got back here to Cahul, my Russian tutor, Viktor and friend, Alex were screening their first film. I, of course wanted to support them but didn't know what to expect. They were holding it in the culture center here in Cahul in an auditorium that holds 800 people. When I got there I was stunned as it was packed. There were close to 1200 people there. The police were called in to move people off of the balcony as they were afraid it would collapse from the weight. They showed the film which was entirely in! I was so overwhelmed. Here's a bunch of young college students who always joke around about their film club and it's GOOD! The camera work, editing, acting, effects, it was SOLID! I couldn't believe it. I didn't understand the Russian (obviously) but I knew everything that was happening just from the acting. I was so happy. So now, I'm hoping to collaborate with them on doing more projects as well as releasing this film with English subtitles so I can post it here and on FB and get them some more exposure. It really made me excited to work with them.
Besides that, things are still slow here. It's really hard to explain to people the long periods of nothing that we go through as volunteers without sounding like losers. But coming in, we knew it was going to be an issue. So I do a lot of work at home doing translations and working on website and such but going to an actual job? No, not so much. I know it's hard to understand but it's just a different way of living so please don't give me a hard time about it. That's just the way it is right now. 
Please read this blog entry by a fellow volunteer in Africa, he really sums up what I'm trying to say very well.
What I have learned is that it's okay to not be busy. Why does everyone want to be? Why does everyone have to be? I just don't have the desire. I like walking down the street here and watching old men play chess and seeing how pretty the snow looks on the border of Romania and not having to rush into a job. Work is so secondary to everything else here and I really like that. When I tell people back home that it's like I'm committing a crime. Why? Because people are enjoying their lives and their families instead of just trying to make money? I'm not ashamed of what I do and what I don't do. I sat through a 45 minute film Monday night and afterwards sat and talked in broken English and Russian to 3 motivated 22 year olds and I can honestly say I did my job. And loved every second of it. Was it a long day? Was I stressed to my core afterwards? Did I get a huge paycheck? Nope. None of the above. But it was a good day.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Super Bowl - Moldovan Style

Why do I watch the Super Bowl? The overpaid athletes in a contest I couldn't care less about? Nope. Commercials? Eh, they're all right. Halftime show? Usually hit or miss. The food? That'd be the one. so how were we going to make that happen here?
Simple. Lindsay and Conrad had Jessica, Lyndsey and I over and we did what we could. Chili, nachos and hot wings. 
Chili...Lindsay is a vegetarian so we made a pot of very spicy vegetarian chili. Since I refuse to eat 'fake' meat, we made it with beans and vegetables. I have to say? Wasn't too bad.
Nachos. Tortilla chips aren't easy to find here so we usually either roast pitas or find the rare bag. On this day we were lucky and found some. we covered them with beans, hot peppers, scallions, avocados (another rare find) and sour cream. Success!
Chicken wings and homemade blue cheese.
Hot Wings. Luckily found some chicken wings at the market and cut them into pieces. Whipped up a hot wing recipe with some Sriracha sauce, ketchup, salt, pepper, garlic, onions and some Coke. (I know it's weird, but it was a Brother Bob suggestion and how do I question him?) It was delicious. Made some homemade blue cheese with crumbled blue cheese, sour cream, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, sugar and salt. Delish! Success #2! People were pleased with the results and finally it felt like Super Bowl Sunday. Problem was...with the time difference? The game started here at 1am! Luckily, some resourceful volunteers found a sports bar open 24 hours a day and had them satellite in the game. (Is satellite a verb?) By the time 1am rolled around, we were all pretty tired but hey; once in a lifetime, right? So we trudged through the snow over to the bar. The boys paused for a moment to have a snowball fight in the middle of Chisinau. Boys will be boys.
Matt, Conrad and John in a snowball fight.
There were about 40 volunteers there and we watched the game. I am thankful it was an exciting game because at least it kept us awake. 
Volunteers watching the game.
Madonna was the halftime act, and (sorry, Mom) I thought she was fantastic. Halftime shows are very polarizing I have learned. When people sing live, they are torn apart for how horrible they sound. I mean they throw up a stage in ten minutes and they're supposed to conquer the acoustics in that time with no sound check? When people do not sing live and concentrate more on the performance aspect of it, they are criticized. We can't have it both ways people. Madonna, never been the best 'singer' in my opinion, but she sure can put on a show. Was I entertained? Yes. Did I need anything more than that at 2:30am for 15 minutes of my life? Nope. Success. Well done, Madge.
The end of the game was fun. I'm not a Giants fan by any stretch of the imagination, but I do enjoy watching Tom Brady and the Patriots get beat. But by 5:00am we were all ready to get going home. Especially these two...
John and Conrad at the end of a long night.
We all felt it the next day. None of us are 18 anymore and an all night party just isn't in us anymore. However, it was worth it, if for the food alone. 
Sidebar, if you notice typing errors in this blog, please let me know so I can correct them. I do not claim to be infallible but as I write these posts usually in the middle of the night, I cannot capture all of the errors with my tired eyes. I make mistakes and I'll own them. 

Thursday, February 2, 2012


Didn't realize how long it's been since I wrote on here. That's just a sample of how January sucks the life out of you. I know I'm not in a unique situation when I say that it's freaking cold! Today it is -9 F. W...T...F! I haven't felt this kind of cold in a very long time. People just stay at home. Schools are closed, businesses have signs on them 'closed for cold.' They just don't have the type of heating that can sustain in this cold for 8-12 hours a day. It's too expensive. It's a strange world.
This month has been the usual January, post vacation, a little blue trying to get back into the swing of things. My work partner, Vica, has been preparing for a month in Romania where she got a scholarship. Her husband, Oleg, got one too in Bulgaria so he needed a crash course in English. Vica's English is pretty good, but Oleg didn't speak a word. I spent most of the month trying to help him out so that he could at least have a basic understanding to get by. Can you imagine? I have been trying to learn 'basic Russian' for the past month and I still can't hold a conversation. 
So this past week, we had our 'Partner Conference' in which me and Vica, as well as the rest of the COD (Community Organization and Development) and ARBD (Agriculture and Rural Business Development) volunteers had to attend a conference in Chisinau where we learned about creating projects, writing grants, etc. It was dismaying to learn that the two groups were staying in two different hotels as we love to hang out with the ARBD's but I'm sure they separated us for a reason, after all, our work partners were with us. Lyndsey, Jessica and I came up a day early so we could hang out at Lindsay and Conrad's house and catch up for a night before we went 'back to school' for three days.
We arrived at our hotel on Wednesday the 26th and began the conference right away. There are 12 COD volunteers and about 9 of them had their work partners with them. It wasn't a huge group and it was actually information that we needed. At the end of the first day, the group of us went out for dinner. It was so pleasant catching up with each other and enjoying each other's company. We went back to the hotel and hung out in one hotel room and just had some wine and enjoyed each other's company. I kept looking around the room and thinking how just a little while ago that these people were strangers to me and now they were just family. We were all rotating our seats in the room so we could all catch up individually and it just felt very homey and cozy. It made me really happy.
The next day was a long one as we had the seminar from 8am to 5pm. But, it did provide many helpful tools to start diving into projects with our organizations. Also, since Vica is usually so busy, it was nice to have her undivided attention. She even mentioned that it was nice to be just the two of us so we could actually discuss important things. After the seminar, Jessica, Courtney and I made plans to go to the opera in Chisinau. I had heard that they did a good job there and it happened that "Nabucco" by Verdi was playing that night. We decided to bring our partners with us and we headed there.
The Opera House itself was really beautiful complete with marble stairs which when covered with snow provided opportunity for Jessica to slip and me to fall on my ass. The opera was fantastic. It was so nice to have some culture and see people on stage. It was sung in Italian and there were Romanian 'subtitles' on an electronic screen above the stage. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. A strange thing, at the curtain call when the actors come out for their bow, everyone claps in unison. It's not generic applause, it's a synchronized clap. I was really thrown off by it. In talking with some other people, I learned it is a European thing, but it felt very strange. I wondered if it was some leftover Soviet thing where everyone conforms to one clap but I may be over analyzing. We left the opera and Lyndsey text me that the rest of the volunteers were at a nearby bar saying goodbye to Joseph and Ashley, two volunteers who had chosen to ET. (Early Terminate). I decided to head to the bar to catch up with them and the rest of the ARBD's as I figured it'd probably be my only chance to see them. Despite the sadness that Joseph and Ashley were leaving, it was so fun to see all the guys. I'm always at my highest comfort level when I'm surrounded by guys. I blame my brothers for that. John, Jeremy and I were planning our upcoming excursion to the Ukraine (more on that later) and Pat, my musical theatre compadre and I kept breaking into show tunes. Conrad didn't seem too happy about it. He so rarely gets to be in the company of 'guys' and when he does, I get them singing show tunes. We had a good time though.
John, Chris and Conrad

Pat and John

My two besties, Jeremy and John.
The next day was a shorter day at the conference but Jeffrey (the country director) was the first speaker so we all had to be on time and attentive. Thankfully, he is a skillful public speaker and it was easy to keep focused. I had to say goodbye to Vica
From the back, Michael, Conrad, Jesse, Me, Andrea, Lindsay, Maria, Jessica, Courtney, Jen, Lyndsey and Tom in front.
From there, a few of us were going back to Lindsay and Conrad's house to hang out. The boys, Jeremy and John, were going to say goodbye to Joseph and they were going to meet me there later as we were going to the UKRAINE! When in my life did I ever think I'd say that? 
Courtney, Jessica, Lyndsey and I hung out while we made dinner at Conrad and Lindsay's. We made some fajitas and had a good time. Jeremy and John showed up about 10 and hung out with us. Our bus was at midnight so we left the house about 11:00pm. So why were we going to the Ukraine? Well, Jeremy and John had yet to take any vacation time and they were both at the point where they just needed to get away for a few days. They suggested the city of Odessa, Ukraine which is probably most famous for the scene in "Battleship Potemkin." It is a port city on the Black Sea and about a 5 hour bus ride from us. It's in the middle of the winter and it is a beach town so we got a lot of flak for going and to be honest, when they suggested it, I never thought they would go so I agreed. Yet there I was, boarding a bus with them. There were few people on the bus as the Ukraine isn't exactly a popular tourist destination in late January. We rode through the night, crossed the border without a problem and arrived in Odessa at 5:00am. The bus dropped us off, it was FREEZING, and the cabdriver we found only spoke Russian. It was tense for a few minutes but somehow we managed to convey to him where we wanted to go. Thankfully, John had converted some money before he left Moldova so we could pay him in the Ukraine currency. We had to do a little bit of searching to find our hostel as the front door was a little hidden from construction but we found it. They let us in and check in wasn't until 11 but they let us crash on the couches in the lobby. 

We all passed out. We awoke to the sound of "I know these guys!!!" We were all still really sleepy but when we came to, we saw Chris (another ARBD) volunteer standing there. We were stunned. We had vaguely mentioned this trip to him and told him where we were staying but never thought he would actually show. But he did. The owner of the hostel was an American and he loved having Peace Corps volunteers so he gave us a discount. And showed us around the place and the full kitchen. It was a really cool place. Jeremy was tired so he went back to bed while we checked in. Chris was hungry, as we all were, so Chris, John and I went out to breakfast/lunch at a Mexican place. The food wasn't totally Mexican but it was still really good. From there we decided to walk around the city. It was a pretty cool city. I tried to teach them as much of the Russian alphabet as possible so we spent the day trying to sound out words on buildings. A lot of them were conjugates so we could usually figure out what things were. The city is really cool and clean and since it was cold, pretty empty.
John and Chris
Cold weather doesn't stop Ukrainian Park Chess

John at the bottom of the Potemkin Stairs.

The Black Sea

The Odessa Opera House

Somehow, still don't know how, Jeremy found us and we had a drink at a bar called "Fat Moses." It was a cool little place and I ordered 4 Irish Shots (Baileys/Jameson/Absinthe) for us and we did a toast to my Dad for his 75th Birthday. It was great. From there we headed to a big sushi dinner. Sushi was probably the main reason we chose to get out of Moldova for the weekend. I haven't had sushi, or even fish, for the better part of a year so we were all salivating when the waitress set down the huge platter in front of us. We scarfed it down with no regrets. Being right on the Black Sea, the fish was incredibly fresh and it was delicious. I was so happy. 
We were pretty tired and John and I were actually thinking about calling it a night since we really hadn't slept. But Chris insisted that we keep the night going. And how does he convince a tired Jenn to stay out? Two words; karaoke bar! It was a cool little place down in a basement and we were pretty much the only ones there as it was still early. We perused the karaoke book and the selection was huge. They had every single song I could think of. I'd been wanting to go to karaoke for a long time and had been talking a lot of smack with Chris about it since he claimed that he was a great karaoker. So I knew I was going to be called out on it and I had to deliver. We had some drinks and Chris got right up and performed. The place had gotten more crowded and was filling up with really good singers so I had to give him credit. He did a good job but now the gauntlet was thrown. It was time to access the room. I don't consider myself a 'great' singer but I can carry a tune. The room seemed to be the kind of a crowd that wanted to dance. So I chose "Bad Romance" by Lady Gaga. There are moments in your life when you have to put up or shut up and I had to stand up and do my best and show these boys that this was something that I can actually do. Mission accomplished. Everyone got up and danced, hooted and hollered and the boys all danced around me. At the end? Thunderous applause. (Not even in sync). It was a great moment in my life. How often do I talk smack about something and then deliver?
There was some drinking. 

And some dancing...

Chris performs "Doctor, My Eyes" by Jackson Browne.

John and Jeremy...the white man overbite.

I sing "Bad Romance." Apparently so good it hurt!

Friends in Low Places...indeed.
After the initial performance, it was way easier. Chris sang another song and I sang two more. Jeremy and John finished the night by dueting to "Friends in Low Places" and needless to say, we left shortly after that. It was about 3am and we had to walk in the cold back to our hostel. We got a little lost and ended up at McDonalds. Since the restaurant was closed we had to walk through the drive through and wound up having conversations with random Ukrainians while standing in the drive through eating Cheeseburgers. It was strange but really fun. We got back to the hostel to sleep about 5am. (I am so not 20 anymore...)
The next morning, however, I was up and fine and the three boys were suffering. I made them coffee and got them all aspirin and water. Lame! Chris had to take off as he was only coming for the night so we all went out to breakfast at this really cool Ukrainian restaurant. The food was delicious and we said goodbye to Chris. John, Jeremy and I walked around the city some more. We ended up back at the water because we wanted to get closer but it was so frigid on the pier, we wound up hanging out in the transportation lobby just to try and thaw out. However, the hour we spent in there laughing and just being silly was probably one of the best times we had. We were at the bottom of the steps so we had to get back up them and head back to the hostel. It was a really nice afternoon. Back at the hostel, we got a recommendation for a Thai place for dinner so we headed there and had some great Thai. We spotted a Blues Bar on the way home and went in there to listen to some live music. It was so pleasant. When we got back to the hostel, we were pretty tired so we watched some stuff on the computer and all went to bed.
Chris and I at breakfast.

A demonstration we walked by.

Finding Dr. Pepper in a store was one of my favorite moments.

The two navigators.

The three of us in the window reflection.

These guys...

They do love each's creepy.

John and I at the Blues Bar.
The next morning we had to find a bus back to Moldova. Since it had begun snowing, we quickly discovered this would be more of a challenge than we had anticipated. With our limited Russian and negotiating skills it took us about 3 hours to figure out a way back. We finally found a bus to a village in Moldova called Stefan-Voda. The driver told us from there he could get us to Chisinau. We jumped at the chance. 
John and I at the bus station.

Moldovan Leu and Ukrainian...something...

Jeremy sleeping on the ride back.

Back to Moldova
We watched the Hangover 2, in Russian, on the bus ride back but we mostly chatted, well Jeremy slept, John and I chatted. We got back to Chisinau and wound up staying with Lindsay and Conrad because we were too late to catch any buses back to our villages.
What I did learn is that these guys are such decent people. Jeremy and John are two of my best friends. I always felt 100% safe with them and yet I can laugh with them for hours at the absolute stupidest things. And they didn't figure out I had a crush on one of them. Chris, I'm just getting to know but he is the real deal. Genuine, sweet, caring, smart and hilarious. It was just a small little weekend away but I'm so glad that I did it. I never in a million years thought I would visit the Ukraine and I did and it is so beautiful. I met John and Jeremy back in July at the Team Building exercise and knew then that they were my Bees (ring a bell?) but I couldn't be happier that 6 months later they are lifelong friends. I'm a lucky, lucky girl. I hope that shows in the smile on my face.