Ultimate Frisbee in Moldova

Last Sunday, we met up  in the capital for a mean match of ultimate frisbee with the Moldovan ultimate frisbee team, the “Flying Mamaligas.”  (Mamaliga is actually a traditional food here, similar to polenta.)  Apparently some Peace Corps volunteers taught some Moldovans how to play ultimate frisbee about five years ago, and the Moldovans formed a team and have been playing ever since.   (I guess some volunteers also taught them beer pong, and they loved it, something I find quite amusing.)  But these Moldovans practice three times a week, and, no joke, they are quite good.  They basically killed us.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, we put up a good fight.  But let’s face it.  These guys are professionals.

All in all, we had a great time.  And afterwards we hung out with some of the team, most of whom speak English quite well.  It was a good night.

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Like a local celebrity?

When we got to Moldova, they told us that sometimes we might feel a little bit like local celebrities.  And sometimes it’s true.  Especially in smaller villages.  People have “heard” about you, sometimes there’s some staring involved (for me, this is mostly while I run, though), and in my site mate’s case, people stop him to takes pictures with him (again, Moldova is not the most racially diverse, so a black man walking around the village tends to get some attention).

In my town, since it’s a bit larger than your average village, news about Americans doesn’t travel as fast.  But, this week, I got interviewed by the local paper (in Romanian, I tried my darnedest but I’m pretty sure I butchered a bunch).  And this morning, the journalist dropped by with a copy.  I think this is one of those “celebrity,” eyes-on-me times.  My colleagues were all very excited about it and made sure I saw it.

The title is a quote from my interview which reads, “Here, I feel at home.”  It briefly talks about my job here, my family back home, what I did before Peace Corps, staying with host families and tasting Moldovan food.  The quote under my picture says, “Chiar dacă suntem de culturi diferite, putem contacta și ne apropria unii de alții.”  Which, I was trying to say, even though we’re from different cultures, we can still connect with one another.

Sorry for the momentary “brag.”  This is mostly for the sake of my parents, who I think will enjoy perusing this.

Americans in my village

On Sundays, when I can, I usually go to our local Baptist church here.  Well, last weekend, I was running by the church in the evening, and a bunch of people were outside playing games.  I gave them a wave, and they waved me in “Come here!  come here!”  So I took a little detour.

Turns out a group of American missionaries were visiting from Tulsa, Oklahoma (coincidentally the same city where I was born) to help with Vacation Bible School (the church’s week-long camp for kids) and visit some orphanages.

So we played some Moldovan games for a bit.  It was great.

When I left, I told them I’d come by later this week and maybe we could all get together and do something.  I mean, c’mon, how many times do Americans come to town?  So I stopped by Tuesday, got to see a little bit of the camp they were doing, and we talked about doing something that weekend.

On Friday, we loaded into a van and one of the pastors drove us around Ialoveni and down to the Mileștii Mici winery, which boasts the biggest wine collection in the world.  (Imagine, just a hop, skip and jump away from my town!)  Then we continued through beautiful vineyards into Chișinău, where we ate dinner and strolled through one of the national parks, and down by the opera house.  Driving back on the highway to Ialoveni, we all agreed to yell “America!” in unison as we drove under the bridge.  It was pretty great, and I really enjoyed just goofing off with the group.  It reminded me of the trips I used to take to Mexico with a nonprofit in Arizona.  Miss those days.

That said, it’s always great to see how many people and groups are investing in Moldova, through so many different channels and from so many different countries.  And especially the Moldovans that are working so hard to incite change in their own country.  Personally, I’m thankful for this group of Americans who gave their time to come work with and just love the children here.  It’s rejuvenating to watch others give their time and effort.  I’m sure they would appreciate your thoughts and prayers as they wrap up this week.

Walking around Chișinău.

One year here

Last week, we celebrated our one-year anniversary in Moldova.  One year ago, we arrived in Moldova, where everything was strange, new and different.  We also welcomed a new group of volunteers last week.  Now we are the veterans, we are the “experienced” ones.  How did that happen?  Time flies.

And so I’m reflecting.  On this past year, and further back.  On my initial impressions of Moldova.  On my application process.  On the road that brought me here.

And now I sort of feel like I should write something insightful, deep, with so much more wisdom than when I left.  Not so sure about all of that, but I suppose I’ll try to throw some words together into a few good sentences.

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As I’ve told several friends, I sort of feel like I was made for experiences like this one.  Even on the bad days, I’m just so glad to be in Moldova doing the work I’m doing with the people I’m doing it with.  I’m happy here.

It’s funny.  Sometimes, as Peace Corps volunteers, I think we come into this expecting we’re going to move mountains.  Or, in the case of Moldova, move hills and green pastures.  We expect to be confronted with extreme extremes and scarce scarcities.  We expect for work to just be waiting for us, ready to be completed.  And, this is just simply not the case.

Slowly, I think we begin to realize that the “mountains” we expected to move are really more like speed bumps, but that doesn’t make them any less important or significant.  And the extremes and scarcities quickly become norms.  (Don’t get me wrong, using an outhouse and making trips to the well is certainly different…at first.  But over time, it just doesn’t seem so extreme anymore.)  And the work we hoped would be just waiting for us?  It’s really more like us initiating projects within existing structures that we have to look very closely at to identify project opportunities.  So we get out our magnifying glass and offer our experience and perspective along the way.

Do I regret this experience?  Are you kidding?  Not in a million years.  Next question.

Do I feel effective?  Sometimes.  This ebbs and flows.  Not necessarily the work (though that does seem to ebb and flow), but more how I feel about the work.  Like I said, very few of us walked into positions where work was just waiting for us.  Not to mention the language barrier.  In many cases, we’re trailblazers, forging our own paths, creating our own job descriptions.  Identifying areas where we can help by offering our experience, which initially takes a lot of study and observation.  The Moldovans we’re working with, who are nothing short of amazing, are usually already quite busy working for a better Moldova.  And often, they teach us just as much as we teach them.  It’s an exchange.  Overall?  Yes, I feel effective.  But, I would have to group the relationships I’ve built, the conversations I’ve had, the cultural awareness we’ve developed (both here and abroad), all under this umbrella of efficacy.

Are there hard things?  Yes, yes, and yes.  But they come and go.  Life is full of hard things, even when you’re not in the Peace Corps.  I think what’s difficult about being here is that the hard things are harder to deal with outside of our comfort zone, away from the support of home.

What do I miss?  People.  Home.  Food from home!  (Cough, cough, Mexican.)  But mostly people; my friends and family.  Being around other Americans.  My church and church community.  Hiking Camelback Mountain.  My bookshelf.

What don’t I miss?  Driving everywhere.  Paying for gas.  Television.  Being surrounded by city all the time (we have great views here!).  The part of our culture focused on excess.  Long commutes.  The Arizona heat.

What have I learned?  Too many things for this post.  But mostly I’ve learned that I never want to stop learning.  I continually want to be taking in new information, new experiences and challenging myself in new and different ways.

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When it’s all said and done, joining the Peace Corps has been one of the biggest decisions of my life, and one of the best.  I look forward to the year ahead and what it has in store.  As the Moldovans say, “Mergem inainte,” which basically means, “We move forward.”  And so we do.

Leaving the U.S. in June 2011

El Tigre! Our feisty, adopted stray kitten. Added this guy just to be cute.

A dog’s life

This post might be a little sad, especially for animal lovers, so…fair warning.

One thing that I’m not sure I’ve talked about all that much is the stray dogs here in Moldova.  There are a lot of them.  Some dogs are tied up at houses, but tied up outside, and it seems to be more of a security measure.  And they definitely make it known when someone is approaching their territory.  The rest run pretty much run free.

This has its good and bad moments.  As my host sister pointed out awhile ago, dogs like to be free.  And this is true.  I can attest.  My dog at home dashes out the door like a wild man the minute he gets the chance.  Loves to chase things.  Some get to know you and kindly welcome you home as you walk down the sidewalk to your house.  But…problems arise when I become the thing the stray dogs want to chase here.  Not a huge fan of that.  Generally, they like to chase cars, bikes and runners.  And other dogs.  Well, I am a runner.  And I’ve definitely been chased.  A few times.  Luckily, I got this fantastic dog buzzer from Peace Corps that makes a high pitched sound that only dogs can hear.  And boy do I use that.  It’s…sort of effective.  Definitely better than nothing.  But those dogs, they are not easily put off.  I also yell mean things in Romanian and English at them.  Not sure if they’re multilingual…

The other issue arises at night.  When they all start “talking.”  Barking endlessly, all at once.  And loudly.  See, during the summer, it’s nice to leave the windows open while sleeping.  Let in the cool air.  But that means that any barking matches the dogs initiate float in through the window as well.  Last night was one such night.

I’m not sure if these dogs have gangs, or what was happening, but boy were they out in full force last night right around 4 a.m.  And, lucky for me, there’s a whole pack of stray dogs that congregates right outside our apartment building.  Getting woken up by dogs in the middle of the night is never a fun thing.  In fact, it sort of makes you want to gather up all the strays and put them in a sound-proof compartment for the night.  Especially when you can’t get back to sleep.  But what hushed the noise last night was two sharp gunshots after quite a bit of loud, simultaneous barking across the town.  I’m not sure if the shots were aimed at any of the animals, but that has been known to happen.  And, as an American in Moldova, it’s initially a little shocking to hear, and then a little sad to think about.  Every time it happens, I’m initially a little shocked.  But, after being woken up repeatedly in the middle of the night, and chased down the street regularly by canines with teeth beared…I’m beginning to understand better.

That said, my site mate and I continue to try and do our part in taking care of the strays outside our building, tossing them chicken bones and other leftover food.  The puppies have all moved on, so my new kick is feeding the cats in the stairwell…including the cutest little kitten, who I’ve named “El Tigre.”  Feisty little fellow.  Just the other day, we came home, opened our door, and El Tigre ran in, running around to each of the rooms in our apartment.  Kitten adventures!

My host sister’s engagement

Last week, my host sister from my training village got engaged!

Not going to lie, I had a feeling this was coming.  In fact, I even said to a few of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers that I might be going to her wedding before I leave Moldova.  They started dating at the end of summer, and as we talked about him over the months, it was clear to me that he was a good guy.  Over Easter, she spent the holiday visiting his village and meeting his family.  So when I saw that her boyfriend had proposed, I was very excited for her!  Even better, this past weekend, she invited me to come for their engagement party.  I was thrilled!

It had been awhile since I’d seen them, and boy did I miss that family!  I got the story about how he proposed, and “ooh’d” and “awww’d” all the way through.  She showed me the ring he gave her – a beautiful gold band with a deep burgundy stone, which she wore on her middle finger.  I explained that the custom in the U.S. is to wear the engagement ring on the ring finger, and she said that, in Moldova, the engagement ring can be worn on the finger that is most comfortable, but the wedding band, which she will receive at the ceremony, goes on the ring finger.

We waited for her fiance to arrive, and he did, with family (and, I believe, a few friends).  Then we sat down to eat.  To start, we toasted to the future bride and groom, and then his family said a few words and formally requested of my host sister’s parents to bring my host sister back to their village that evening.  My host parents rose, and my host sister and her fiance rose.  My host sister and her fiance kneeled down in front of my host dad and mom, the parents gave their blessing with a few words, and my host parents hugged and kissed each of them on either cheek.  It was a happy moment.

And now I will excitedly await her big day.  And as hard as it is to miss all the weddings of close friends back home (how I wish I could celebrate with you!), I feel so fortunate that I get to be a part of this celebration here.  Congratulations to my host sister!!

 

Last Bell

Last week I was invited to one of the local lyceums for a tradition Moldovans refer to as “last bell.”  Basically, on the last day of the school year, the schools hold a big ceremony with all the students and teachers.  So one of the English teachers I worked with to hold a writing competition invited my site mate and me to attend.  And I’m so glad she did.

The ceremony began at about 8:30 a.m.  Students from grades 6 to 11 lined up, dressed in their best, in a half circle outside the front of the school.  Next, there was a procession of all of the graduating 12th grade students, who came out of the front entrance of the school carrying balloons, walked around the half circle of students, and lined up on the stairs facing their younger peers.

Administrators spoke, the Vice President of the District spoke, student leaders spoke, and they handed out certificates and diplomas to students and teachers of all grades and subjects.  They even handed out the certificates we had printed for the students who won the national creative writing contest we held through Peace Corps (there were five from this school).

Photographers were there taking pictures throughout the ceremony.

At the end, two of the older students picked up two young children and carried them around on their shoulders as the two young ones rang the official “last bell.”  And then the senior class let their balloons go with a loud cheer.

For me, it was a great experience for a couple of different reasons.  Not only did I get to enjoy observing the Moldovan last bell tradition, but it was a success in that I felt like a part of the community.  Many of our volunteers here work in schools teaching English or health lessons, but my site mate and I do not, so our interaction with the schools here is more limited.  So I just felt honored that they thought to invite us to come, and that, even though we don’t work in the schools as teachers, we can still work together and share successes as a community.

I’ve included some pictures and videos below, I hope you enjoy as well!

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