Is it better there?

I get this question a lot when I meet people and tell them I’m from the States.  “Is it better there?” they ask me.

How does one answer that?

I usually spit out something like, “Oh, I don’t know…it’s hard to say…it depends on the person…there are many different aspects…life is hard everywhere.”  And it’s not because I’m trying to evade answering their question, it’s because I honestly don’t know.  Define “better.”

If, by “better,” you mean percentage of households with electricity and plumbing, well then yes, maybe it is better.  But we also make up 5 % of the world’s population and use almost 25% of the world’s energy, so what’s really “better” about that?

If, by “better,” you mean we eat food grown locally, produce from our own backyards, and grass-fed beef, we then no, it isn’t better.  We are, in some ways, polluting our bodies with high fructose corn syrup and lack of natural food.  (If you’ve never seen Food, Inc., watch it.)  Meanwhile, Moldovans are eating from their own farms and growing their own livestock.

If, by “better,” you mean many of us have cars and we drive everywhere, the verdict is up for debate.  Cars can also mean less walking and more pollution.

If by “better,” you mean our country is less politically polarized than Moldova, a population very much divided between communism and the liberal parties, I would tell you just to wait…the U.S. will probably be there soon considering our current polarization between Republicans and Democrats.

What exactly makes life “better”?  Comfort?  Convenience?

And then there is also a certain reality about Moldova, about meeting basic needs of people, especially in the more rural regions.  Villages without running water, schools without heat, lower salaries (also a lower cost of living, but it still is not enough), few local employment opportunities (though the U.S. and the rest of the world could also say something about this in today’s economic environment).  We cannot deny the fact that Moldova is less developed than the U.S., but we must also recognize that with progress comes growing pain (take, for example, industrialization in the late 1800’s – that resulted in a whole host of problems).  In the U.S. may have road and running water and electricity, but our country still faces some major issues, some of those issues created by the very things that some would say make us “better.”

I don’t know.  I think as a Peace Corps volunteer, I’m realizing how easy it is to give up mere conveniences.  (That said, I still do miss having a washing machine and reliable hot water, so I get it, maybe there are some things that are nice to have around.)  But I guess I’m really starting to question, what truly makes life better?  And I hope, as I continue my journey, that my initial response is not things, not materials or conveniences.  I hope I find “better” in the intangible things in life, in relationships, in investing time to do nice things for others, in reading, in appreciating each and every person for who God made them to be and in just taking in the world around me.

If you’ve never read Walden by Henry David Thoreau, I highly encourage you to do so.  It’s one of my favorite books of all time.  And, in light of this post, I just have to include quotes from Thoreau.  His thoughts in Walden talk a lot about living a simple life.  Please excuse my literary gushing.  But, if you do decide to continue reading, I hope you enjoy Thoreau’s thoughts as much as I do!

“Let us first be as simple and well as Nature ourselves, dispel the clouds which hang over our brows, and take up a little life into our pores.  Do not stay to be an overseer of the poor, but endeavor to become one of the worthies of the world.”

“A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

“I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.”

“The setting sun is reflected from the windows of the alms-house as brightly as from the rich man’s abode; the snow melts before its door as early in the spring.”

Maybe eventually I’ll find a better answer to this question.  But, for now, I’m still searching.

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Small successes

Yesterday morning I ventured into Chișinău, the Moldovan capital, for a work meeting at the Soros Foundation-Moldova.  Soros is a nongovernmental organization that helps develop and implement programs that promote values of a free society in Moldova.  The foundation had organized a conference for local organizations to come and present development project ideas to a few experts from the Czech Republic and Poland.  It was very interesting to hear project ideas from around Moldova, and to see how they were presented.  Even better, the conference actually gave me several capacity-building project ideas that I could implement at the agency (i.e. organize a public speaking workshop).

I even had the pleasure of spotting my Peace Corps language tutor at the meeting, who, coincidentally, was there respresenting an entrepreneurial development project for women focused around creating and producing new clothing designs incorporating traditional Moldovan embroidery.  I was so impressed by the sketches they brought. 

That said, it was a fantastic meeting, and I was so happy to be able understand most of what was being said in Romanian, and even to be able mingle with Moldovans over coffee at the end of the seminar using my limited, but growing, language abilities.  So here’s to the small successes!

My first week of work

My first week of work is now officially behind me! During this process of coming to Moldova, moving in with our training host families, and then to our permanent sites, I can’t help but wonder at how quickly we’re able to develop new routines. I’ve been here a week, but it actually feels like longer. Not sure if that is good or bad, both, or neither, but one thing is definite: we are adaptable.

Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m working with the strategic planning department of the Central Regional Development Agency. Starting out, my hours there are the basic 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. That may change if I get involved with other community projects in the future. Currently, my assigned partner at the organization is on vacation, so I’m working on several long-term projects until she gets back and things pick up.

The first of those projects is working on translating the organization’s website into English with my site mate Luma (the other volunteer assigned to Ialoveni and the Agency). That, in and of itself, is quite the animal. Translating is tough and draining. So I’ll work on that for a few hours and then take a break to do something else. The fantastic part is, once you understand what is being said, it’s a great way to learn about the Agency and how they function.

The second project I’m working on is comparing strategic planning documents/processes from the States to those in Moldova—or, more specifically, at the Agency. Also quite a hefty project, and so I’m trying to tackle it in pieces. I’m also trying to fit in some general organizational analysis. But it should be an interesting analysis overall. I’m looking forward to putting together the final product.

Lastly, my partner asked me if I would be interested in tutoring some students in English, so I’m doing that three times per week just for the month of August. It started with two teenage girls (twin sisters) who are leaving to study in Romania in early September, but last time I had five students total (a friend of the girls, one of my colleagues, and a sibling of one of my colleagues at the Agency). It’s been interesting to plan English lessons, and a lot more time consuming than I expected. But the girls seem to be making good progress. I just hope I can keep it interesting and help motivate them!

Other than that, life seems pretty normal.  There are a few things that have changed: I live with two young girls now, I bathe less, I use an outhouse, and I walk down a dirt road to work, but those are just minor adjustments.

Our next “volunteer goals” are to introduce ourselves to leaders in the community. That means the mayor, the school director (principal), and probably law enforcement.

Here’s to another week!