Moldova thus far…where do I begin?
We keep hearing the mantra “Peace Corps: the toughest job you’ll ever love” and I can already see the ways in which that is proving to be true. Only a week in, I feel like the experience has already been an emotional roller coaster. I’ve already had the “what did I get myself into!?” reaction, the “Jennifer, you and your crazy ideas…” reaction, but also the “I’m so glad I’m here” reaction, the “I already love this place” reaction, and the “this is going to be one of the best experiences of my life” reaction. In a nutshell, I’ve had a lot of thoughts and emotions.
Right now, we’re near the Moldovan capital undergoing pre-service training. After eight weeks, we’ll all be moving to our work sites at villages all over Moldova, where all of us will start off living with host families. After several weeks there, we’ll all return to our current host families for an additional two weeks of training. I’ve already grown quite fond of my host family, so I was glad to hear we’ll be coming back to see them again not too long after our departure.
I spent my first night with my host family last Wednesday, just hours after our arrival. They have four children: two girls, ages 19 and 18, and two boys, ages 16 and 5. The family is great; they’ve been so welcoming and have embraced me as part of their family unit, which I truly appreciate. The three oldest children all speak some English, so communicating has not been a major problem. I try and help them with English, and they patiently listen as I slowly repeat Romanian words three and four times in a row. It’s great to have two college-age girls around. It alleviates missing my sisters so much. It’s as though I have a little part of home here with me. We’ve already covered the “girl basics” – career plans, boyfriends, etc. I really enjoy spending time with them. And the boys are very polite. I only wish I could speak a little more Romanian to communicate with the 5-year-old, he is quite the character!
On Sunday, the family actually took me to lunch at a crepe restaurant, which was a big treat considering restaurants are very expensive in Moldova. They had me try every dessert crepe – no arguments here! Though I did have to limit portions…there were about six dessert crepes. “I am full” is actually one of the initial phrases I learned here. After lunch, they took me to the zoo, and to the national park in the city’s capital. It was such a great day.
That’s right, as you may have guessed from the above paragraphs, I am learning Romanian! The whole language thing is really a double-edged sword. A few volunteers were assigned Russian, which is technically the more useful language speaking from a long-term, global perspective. But Romanian is much easier to pick up. That said, Romanian is very similar to Spanish, and I am so thankful to have a background in Spanish language right now. I think it will really prove to be an asset in picking up the language and communicating. Though, right now, I tend to mix in a lot of Spanish words with Romanian. Working on that one…=)
During our eight weeks of pre-service training, we receive direction not only in the linguistic and cultural aspects of volunteer service, but also in the technical aspects. Officially, I am a “Community and Organizational Development Advisor”, part of the COD program. This week, we started “COD training” where all of the incoming COD volunteers gather together to learn more about what we will be doing and how we should go about doing that. Leaving COD training yesterday, I was so excited. I can’t wait to find out who I’ll be working with and what I’ll be doing specifically. Don’t get me wrong, there will be countless challenges in this. But this is why I came here. I wanted to help make a difference. And I’m anticipating the day when I can better navigate the language, and I am working with established projects at my work site.
During today’s technical training, we actually shared our “lifelines”, or life timelines. This was such a great exercise. I was so surprised by the diversity of volunteer backgrounds, the varying skill sets and to hear the incredible journeys that some of the volunteers have been through to get to this point. It was such a fantastic bonding experience, and I felt privileged that this group shared so much of themselves. We have a great group of COD advisors.
I’m learning so much about the Moldovan culture and about its history – but I want to take in more! It seems that I just cannot absorb information fast enough. Moldova is, overall, a very rural and agricultural nation. Most families are likely to have a garden and some farm animals. My family grows beets, has a cherry tree, and keeps rabbits and chickens (yes, I did have rabbit, but at a neighbor’s birthday party. I have to say, it was especially delicious. Not the best place to be for those who are sensitive about eating animals, though.). The country is also known for its vineyards, though I have not had a chance to taste their wine yet. Drinking liquor also seems to be a cultural norm, especially among men, but getting drunk is generally frowned upon. I’ve been offered both Bailey’s and vodka, but I politely declined the vodka. Bailey’s, however, I accepted. Just a little though. =)
What I love so far:
-Last night, I went walking with my host sisters around the village, and so many people were just out walking. This is one thing I love about Europe. People just meander. Toward the end of our walk, we stopped to pick and eat cherries from their cherry tree. I loved it. When is the last time any of us did something like that in the states?
-The weather. I think we’ve had temperatures in the 60s and 70s since I got here. And it’s rained almost every day. It even hailed on Sunday. (So when they said bring a rain coat and rain boots, they weren’t joking.)
-Fresh food. One of the benefits of living in an agricultural epicenter is that everything you eat is fresh from the ground. Fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh eggs – it must be doing wonders for my insides not to be eating anything with pesticides, hormones or the like. For lunch, I get bread, ham, an apple, two boiled eggs, and fresh cucumber. It’s delicious. Aside from that, I’ve also had duck, rabbit, chicken and a couple of hot dogs.
-The other night, an animal (likely a dog) broke into the pen where they keep their animals and ate 22 of the 25 of the baby chicks my family was keeping. It was sad to learn that they had lost so many animals that they had hoped to raise and use as food sources, but I do like that they keep animals, and I like the word for baby chicks and wanted to share…it’s pui (pronounced pwee).
All in all, I’m having a great experience so far. And yes, I absolutely miss home. It’s funny, I’ve only been away for about a week, but just knowing the amount of time I’ll be away makes me miss home more. As volunteers, we’ve discussed this phenomenon a bit. Most of us are fairly independent people, and so it seems strange to have such a strong longing for home when we haven’t been away that long. But I think it’s primarily a result of the massive changes going on around and within us, and the waves of emotion that accompany that. Every day gets easier and more familiar though. I know the time will fly by, and in two years, I’ll be wondering how it passed so quickly.
To wrap things up, I think I will end with a funny story:
A few nights ago, my host sisters invited me to their friend’s 18th birthday party. After an array of delicious dinner food and cake for dessert, the teenagers of the group decided to play some games.
For all of the Element crew: they started with a game of Mafia. I wish I knew enough Romanian to join in. But I thought that was great – halfway around the world, they are playing the exact same game!
Following Mafia, they decided to play charades. Keep in mind, at this point, I am very tired; it’s my second day in Moldova, I’ve got jetlag, and we’ve been doing full days of training. To include me in the fun, they give me the first word: sheep. So, on my second day, I get down on all fours in the dining room of a Moldovan family that I have just met, and I make a “baaaaa” sound. Unfortunately, I was too groggy to remember that charades does not allow sound effects. But they let that slide. =) Needless to say, I thought the whole thing was pretty hilarious.