Misty morning

Friday morning I woke up, stepped out my front door, and there was this blanket of fog resting over the town.  It was too beautiful not to stop and take notice, and so peaceful.  I stood for a moment, took a deep breath, and then ran back inside to get my camera.  Why did I run?  It was cold!

Below are some pictures I took from our steps.

You can see the leaves are falling and the grapes have been picked from the vines.  Just a few weeks ago, everything was green.

This is from the stairs looking toward our road.  You can see the gate there on the right.

Looking through  the grape vines over the garden area in the front of the house, into the neighbor’s yard.

It’s nice when it’s so quiet and serene.  I look forward to winter moments like this.  As my host family keeps reminding me, the winter weather is not here yet, this is only fall.

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What’s happening at work

Well, I’m back at site now and I’m trying to hit the ground running at work again…but it’s really been more of a slow jog.  Meanwhile, I realized that I don’t usually write in-depth about what’s going on at work.  I won’t bore you with ALL the details, but here are some general updates.

Center Regional Development Agency:

First, I’m working on creating a mission and some organizational goals and objectives for the agency.  To start this process, I put together some surveys on Google docs (one of my favorite web resources, and one that I hope to help my colleagues learn how to use) and sent them out to my colleagues.  One of the surveys asks each staff member to list their responsibilities at the agency so that I can get a better feel for who does what, and the other has a list of questions relating to the creation of a mission for the agency and some questions that will help us conduct a SWOT analysis of the organization.  The agency itself is young (founded in 2009), but it’s fairly developed with 15+ paid staff members and detailed legal regulations in place stipulating how the agency should operate.  The Agency operates under the supervision of the Ministry of Regional Development & Construction (the national government body that oversees all three regional development agencies) and there is a SWOT analysis for each development region, but not for the Agency itself.  Nor do they have an official, written mission.  I have some ideas about activities the agency could organize, but first I need to understand their mission, goals and current responsibilities, which is why I put together the surveys.

Second, I’m hoping to start working on some communication tools for international investors/aid organizations.  What I noticed when USAID representatives came to visit the agency is that the agency doesn’t really have any written material explaining the project application/approval process.  (Our agency is responsible for helping facilitate regional development projects in the central region of Moldova.  Local and regional government offices submit applications annually to our office, we review the applications and pass along all eligible projects to the Regional Development Council, who then sends the applications to a national committee.)  That said, we are a government organization, but the agency was founded in a way that allows it to receive donations from international investors, in additional to the funds it receives from the national government.  What I’d like to do is put together some go-to communication tools in English (because that’s the language people often do business in) that the agency could refer to when working with international investors/aid organizations.

Aside from that, I observe a lot, translate documents into English, attend meetings, drink tea with my colleagues, and ask a lot of questions.

Outside the Agency:

  • One of my colleagues at the Agency helps run a nonprofit organization/website for young journalists in our district (IaloveniOnline.md).  I spoke with him last week about maybe helping with a workshop, creating some kind of cross-cultural exchange via video with journalism students in the U.S., or organizing a project together.  I’ve got some ideas in mind, but I’m going to put down some thoughts on paper before we begin more discussion.  We’ll see how it all pans out.
  • I’ve also gotten involved with a magazine written by Peace Corps volunteers in Moldova, for Peace Corps volunteers in Moldova.  Might as well put my journalism skills to use!
  • This weekend I’ll attend an information session about Moldova TiP, a group formed by Peace Corps to help combat/address human trafficking issues in Moldova.  Looking forward to learning more about that.
All of this said, my primary goal in carrying out projects is really to figure out where the needs are in my community, and that can take time.  I’m living in a relatively developed area in Moldova, which doesn’t mean there isn’t work to do, it just means that the opportunities for projects might not be as obvious at first.  Additionally, sometimes the projects we think they need, or the processes we use in the States, aren’t relevant or useful in Moldova (cliche 1: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it).  Maybe I think the office needs a calendar, but if none of the Moldovans use it once it’s there, what’s the point?  Is it something they really needed in the first place?
Furthermore, Peace Corps has a strong commitment to sustainable development, something I feel strongly about as well.  The goal is to train people how to do things, not just do it for them (cliche 2: give a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime).  It can be easy to just take the reigns and do things the way we do them in the states, but the goal is to work side-by-side with Moldovans to make things happen.  It’s a two-way learning experience; it’s an exchange of knowledge.
That said, I want to be selective in terms of the projects I get involved with and ask a) does this truly meet the needs of the community, and b) does this project have a component of sustainability?

Cost of living

When I visited my sister’s high school English class last week, one of the students asked how much money I spend every month.  I gave the answer I often give when discussing American norms, “It depends…”

But it got me thinking that it might be interesting to list the price of some Moldovan items in dollars for anyone reading back home.  Of course, these are all approximate.  The exchange rate right now is almost 12 Moldovan lei to the dollar.

  • snickers bar – $0.64
  • small bag of oatmeal – $0.80
  • 1 banana – $0.30-0.60(depending on where you buy and the time of year)
  • pack of gum – $0.55
  • 16 oz. soda – $0.90
  • yogurt – $0.45
  • 1.5 liter bottle of water – $0.70
  • 1 liter carton of orange juice – $1.40
  • box of chocolates – $2.00-4.00
  • 1-bedroom apartment in a larger town – $150-250/month
The cost of living in Moldova is less than the States, but income levels here remain quite low, which is why so many people go abroad to work.  I do find the Moldovan economy–and economics in general–quite fascinating, and think I want to continue to study developing economies in the future.  We shall see!

Visiting my host sister’s English class

This week I visited my host sister’s 12th grade English class to speak with the students, and wanted to relay some questions from my visit:

Student: How old are you?
Me: I’m 25.  (Look of shock).  Why, how old do I look?
Student: You look 20 maybe.

Student: Why did you become a volunteer?
Me: (My usual answer).  Simply, I wanted to help.  I had done volunteer work in Argentina and Mexico and after seeing people living in poverty, I wanted to help change that, to help people in developing countries have a better life.

Student:  What should we do if we want to live and work in America?
Me: Good question.  Well, generally, I would say you should study a lot, get a good education and work hard.  One good thing about living here in Moldova is that you all speak so many languages.  In the United States, very few people speak more than one language.  But here in Moldova, you know Romanian and Russian, and you study English and French.  That’s a lot of languages, and I think it’s good that you all have those skills.

Student:  What jobs are there in America?
Me:  Well, right now we are having a problem with jobs.  It’s a big problem.  Many people are unemployed, which means they can’t find jobs.  Many students who are graduating from universities in the United States are also having trouble finding jobs.  But, as a Moldovan, I would look for jobs involving international work where they might need you to speak other languages.  But I would also encourage you to consider staying in Moldova and working here.  You can help make things better in Moldova.  But I wanted to work in another country, so I can also understand the desire or wish to work abroad.

Student: Who are your favorite celebrities?
Me: Actually, I really like politics, so I don’t follow celebrities as much.  I like elected officials more than celebrities.
Student: But who are your favorite celebrities?

Student: Who are your favorite musicians?
Me: That’s a hard one.  I like a lot of musicians that aren’t very well-known, or aren’t very popular.  Do you know…(and I name some obscure bands/musicians)…?
Student:  (Student shakes head).

Student: I hear a lot of Americans are fat because they eat fast food.
Me:  Well, we do have a problem with obesity, but not all Americans are fat.  The obesity problem is much more among populations who have less education, or people who earn very little money.  In the U.S., we don’t all have gardens like you do in Moldova, and so we buy everything from supermarkets.  And many times, fast food is cheaper than fresh fruit and vegetables.  It’s a problem, but we’re trying to educate people about how they can eat healthy.

Student: Do you have any tattoos?
Me: Nope, no tattoos.
Student:  Because I see you have some earrings high on your ear.
Me:  (Smiling) Yes, yes I do.
Student: If you could get a tattoo, what would it be?
Me:  Actually I don’t think I want to get a tattoo because you can’t remove them, and I’m not sure if I want something on myself permanently.  And if I decide I want to remove it, they actually have to repeatedly burn your skin to do that, and it looks very painful.  But if I did get a tattoo, it would be something very meaningful that I would want forever.
Student:  Like what?
Me: Uhm…maybe something religious, or a quote from an American author named Henry David Thoreau who went to live in the woods alone for a long time and wrote many interesting thoughts and perspectives…

Greetings from Stăuceni!

So I’m back with my first host family for an additional two weeks of language and technical training.  And man have I missed them!

My 5-year-old brother, Damian, is a riot.  He marches around the house talking a million miles a minute.  One minute he’s jumping off the couch pretending to be a ninja, then the other he’s pretending to be a waiter and asking me what I want for the next meal.  And he says some hilarious things.  The other night at dinner he looked in the cookie cabinet and found it was empty.  He puffs out his chest, marches straight up to his dad and says “What’s wrong with you?!  We don’t have anything!”  He also says some great things in English.  Aside from his “COME TO EEEEEEEAT!” that he used to tell me dinner is ready, he now also says “Come to eat, baby,” and “How are you, baby?”  I get a kick out of it.

In the two months we’ve been gone from Stăuceni, they’ve opened a supermarket and a café with Wifi down the street from where I live, which is fantastic because it gives us volunteers a place to hang out and use the internet.  They have a great outdoor terrace, and the staff already know us well there.

Some things I’m loving:

I definitely understand so much more of what happens around my house.  It’s great to be able to tell that your language/understanding has improved, and I’m pretty stoked about it.  Seeing progress can be a great motivator to continue to work at the language.

I learned to make placinta (cheese pie) with my host mom.  Then we ate it fresh for lunch, and it was DELICIOUS.

Loving being with my first host family again.  I visited them for a few short days in the end of August to celebrate my host sister’s 20th birthday, so this is my second time back, and they’ve really become my home away from home.  I love chatting with my host sisters, helping out with English lessons, learning how to make new meals, and playing Uno with everyone.

Being back at training is nice because I feel like it’s given me a chance to focus more on visionary thinking.  What research can I be initiating with my organization and at site?  Are there opportunities for projects that I’ve been missing?  At site, my focus is usually on day-to-day operations, observing at work, doing any tasks we can complete without full understanding of Romanian, and I think it becomes harder to set aside time to creatively brainstorm.  So I’m looking forward to returning energized and with new ideas.

I also started making winter vacation plans with my friend Andrea.  Right now we’re thinking Berlin/Amsterdam/Belgium over Christmas, and I’m starting to get pretty excited about it.  It makes missing home easier. =)