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.

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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!