Sunday, December 27, 2015

Maratonul de Craciun

Merry Christmas from Moldova!

My Christmas was far from Christmassy, but that doesn't mean I didn't do a bunch of Christmassy things leading up to it! More Hallmark Christmas movies than I can count, a sparkling tree, hot wine with Christmas music, and dressing up like Santa Claus to lead my team of reindeer down the streets of Chisinau. 

It's a good thing I've watched Rudolph 147 times, because it helped me keep my reindeer in line (just kidding, that was impossible - it did help us designate names for everyone though). There was a Christmas fun run in the capital that a bunch of PCVs decided to participate in (I say participate rather than run because our sleigh team didn't do a TON of actual running.. Why run when you can prance?!), and 10 of us dressed up as Santa and his reindeer. 

Don't think we've gone crazy or anything, because it was truly a costume run. While we may not have crossed the finish line even close to first, we definitely won first prize for team spirit, holiday spirit, most creative costumes, loudest caroling, most adorable, most fun, best team ever.. I'm sure I'm forgetting something! 

We got fun little gifts along the way, a covrigi medal, diploma to prove our achievements.. There was a lot of dancing, including the hora with all the other costumed participants, a lot of picture taking, and a lot of prancing! And of course, rewards afterwards in the form of brunch and beer. 

The reindeer were adorable with antlers, red lips, and holiday spirit! Santa rocked an '80s onesie, and Rudolph had her red nose to light the way for us all. Blitzen and Comet kept playing reindeer games, Dasher carried us through the 12 Days of Christmas singalong, and Vixen was the snuggliest of all! Oh, yeah, and we were tied together with twine, like a real sleigh team who loves each other so much they never want to be separated! And apart from a few wardrobe malfunctions, we never were. This added challenge really tested our endurance and friendship, and I'm happy to say that both held up. Because we're amazing. No one can say that we didn't win the day. 

Enjoy a million pictures! And here's a link to a news video with an appearance by our very own Rudolph the Red-Nosed PCV. 

Now dash away, dash away, dash away all! 

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Today I'm Thankful For... #4

Oops, it's December, and I haven't posted my last week! In my defense, life happened. Anyway, it's crazy that it's December.. There are less than 30 days left in 2015, Christmas decorations are happening (okay, just kidding, it's not even close to America's crazy, but I do have a tiny tree in my room), I'm wearing my winter coat now (December 1 IS winter here), and I'm drinking all the Christmas tea and watching all the Christmas movies I possibly can. Here's what I was thankful for during the last week of November, and to see the first three, head here, here, and/or here.

November 23: Puppies! We have two at our house that are adorable and come greet me anytime I open the door to go outside now. More adorably, we found EIGHT puppies while walking in the raion center. At least eight. Possibly more. They were just the cutest things. 

November 24: I am thankful for power. I didn't actually have it today, so there was a lot of whining (not me, I swear - my host mom!) and going to bed early. Sunset is before 4:30 p.m. so it was pretty dark pretty early.. Not much to do in the dark besides go to bed. If only I hadn't slept in until noon, that would have been easier.. I keep saying I'll buy some candles and I keep forgetting, but.. It's definitely on my to-do list now! 

November 25: I'm thankful for power today because it came back this afternoon! The mayor asked me how things were going, and I said, oh they're fine! He said, things are good at the house? It's warm, all's well? Yes, sure is! Oh except we haven't had power in a while. Then he made fun of me: yes, everything's fine, except I'm freezing and have no food! Very funny. I don't know if it had anything to do with our conversation, but an hour later, the power was back. I'm also thankful for a relatively quiet English class today. We made hand turkeys and did a word search - if you ever want 5-10 minutes of quiet, sit them down with a word search in English and you'll sure get it. Until they notice that you're doing really well at it and the "cheating" starts. Which, adorably, they were really concerned about. Like, guys, it's just a word search. No big deal.

November 26: Thankful for hours spent on Skype with Mina today. "Is it too early to drink wine?" "No." "Okay I'm gonna run out and get a bottle - I'll call you back and we can share a glass!" Perfect. 

November 27: Even though it was depressing, I'm glad that Amanda sent me terrible pictures of everyone from the family Thanksgiving so I could fully see what I was missing. Also glad that my host mom told me not to go to work today because I got to sleep in WAY too late, which was apparently very necessary. 

November 28: Unexpected FaceTimes from my BFF, a newly organized cupboard, and Hallmark Christmas movies. 

November 29: I can't stop wanting to put Hallmark Christmas movies on the list, as that's currently the best thing in my life.. Also for cake and Christmas tea! 

November 30: Fresh air, the '50s-'60s jazz playlists on 8tracks, and unexpected slumber parties with some great guys. 

And that's the end of this month - on to the next!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Today I'm Thankful For... #3

Serios, I'm confused. I was pretty sure November just started, and then I looked at the calendar and it was half over, and then I blinked and now it's been November for three weeks. What?

This week's been okay, nothing spectacular to write home about, but not much to whine about either, so I can't really complain! Here's what I've been thankful for this week.   

November 16: My favorite rutiera driver stopped and picked me up on the road today, even though I was just going to work and not leaving the village. He dropped me off right in front of the Primaria! So nice of him. It's always a better ride whenever he's driving. 

November 17: Some older, wiser volunteers told us that our second year would be crazy compared to our first. It's not that I didn't believe them, but I guess I needed to get there to think, oh yeah, I guess they were right. Today's been busy and I can tell the rest of the week will be too, but I think I'm thankful that it is. I'm getting things done and the future is looking bright - even though I've got no clue what it holds. 

November 18: Can I say "the mayor" again? Having a rough morning and he comes into the office, so I tell him we need to take some pictures for our next project. He takes me right out and drives me around the village to take these pictures. He tells me to write my parents to thank them for sending me here. We walk past the park and have this conversation: 
"This park - you did a good thing."
"WE did."
"Yes, well. If all volunteers do something like this - how many are you? 100? - Moldova will be a much better country." 
Then I sat with my host mom at dinner forever and showed her a million pictures of my family because A. I miss them and B. I think she truly enjoys seeing them. So that was nice.

November 19: A productive morning to myself, and sunset over the lake. 

November 20: Becky Sharkey, 5 year anniversaries, and crossing everything off my to-do list. 

November 21: Thanksgiving celebrations with the raion family that included: delicious food, desserts for days, running around with a football, pajamas, card games, and the Mirror of Thankfulness. 

November 22: Dutch Blitz, movie night, and honest conversations. And pajamas again, because obviously. 

So, this week was posted on Monday, 100% because I wasn't at home on Sunday, BUT it works out because November ends next Monday, so that's when I'll post the next one, too. Come back for that and the end of the month!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Today I'm Thankful For... #2

It's been kind of a rough week for me, but of course I'm still keeping my list of things to be thankful for, because that's what I want to do in November! (Or all the time? But I'm going to focus on November first, because Thanksgiving!) If you missed the first one, it's here.

November 9: The mayor of my village. I put off telling him news about our latest project, because in my mind, the news wasn't great - the potential funders said the project was too big for them. They could only do up to a certain amount. But I told him in our Monday morning meeting in front of everyone and he just said, okay, no problem, we'll find the rest! Something's better than nothing! Yes, Primar, you are right. There's a good wake-up for being thankful this week - he was excited to hear what I thought was bad news. Also I love him because sometimes he comes in my office to give me a hug and ask how I'm doing, because he misses his daughters who don't live in the village. If he asked to adopt me, I'd probably have to say yes. 

November 10: My mother's day off coincided with my middle-of-the-night freakout, so I'm thankful for that because I got to talk to her and she obviously helped - as much as mothers can from 5,000+ miles away. And also for the Peace Corps doctors, who (after giving me other helpful, actual medical assistance) literally said to #treatyoself, which it turns out I really needed. (If you want to treat yourself to some overpriced, no red cup drama, specialty coffee, I now highly recommend the Creme Brulee at Tucano.) 

November 11: Donuts and iced coffee and conversations with the guy selling them to me. Coming home to clean sheets and the promise of a lit soba.

November 12: UM, my parents have iPhones now so I can text them 24/7, which if you know me, I really have just spent 17 months wishing this could happen. So THAT'S awesome. It was also a BEAUTIFUL day today!

November 13: Catching up with "old friends" over lasagna and a jug of wine. 

November 14: A beautiful day to plant trees, and being a part of a great, big group of PCVs that went outside and planted a bunch of them. (My host mom said she saw us on the news (possibly here!) and then said: "You'll leave, but the trees will grow." How's that for a summary of our Peace Corps service.) Getting to hang out with great friends that you haven't seen in so long that the conversation never stops. Anytime there's zero desire to look at your phone. 

November 15: Brunch with the girls. And the fact that I just wrote, "Brunch with the girls." #poshcorps

Come back next Sunday to read more about what I'm thankful for this month. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

"Corner of Heaven" Park Grand Opening

I know you've been sitting at your computers, refreshing and refreshing Wining & Whining, just hoping I would finally tell the story of the completion of the park project I've been working on for a year. Well, today is your lucky day, because here it is! I've been slowly collecting photos of the day (it turns out when you have a park opening, it's easy to be so busy and overwhelmed that you just let everyone else take the pictures - but any in this post without credit are ones I did take), and I think I've found them all now, so here we go... 

The day before our Hram (or "village day" - each village has sort of a patron saint that we celebrate once a year with food, dancing, singing, and other events), the mayor sat down in my office and laid out the schedule for me. I thought for some reason I should trust this schedule, though of course I was out of my mind thinking that, because it did not go as planned. 

What he told me was that something would be happening at the cross near my house at 11 a.m., the park opening would be at 3 p.m., and then there would be trântă (which they couldn't explain), and around 6 p.m. the concert and dancing would start. He invited me to all of those things, and said he would pick me up around 11:00 for the thing at the cross. 

The morning of Hram, I woke up, had a leisurely breakfast, and got ready for the mayor to pick me up. I sort of question the necessity of this, as I've seen this cross and it's maybe two blocks from my house - I can definitely walk that far on my own. But he never comes and it's kind of chilly out so I decide I'll stay in rather than wander over to some event I'm confused about anyway.. Some time after 1:00 he calls and says he'll come now. I get dressed again (as if I'm going to spend hours looking nice when my sweatpants are RIGHT there) and he calls back saying, mmmm actually it might be another half hour or so, we don't want to freeze out there. It doesn't look that cold to me, but I wait another half hour and he shows up to drive me two blocks down the street. 

It turns out that this cross (which was erected some number of months ago; I remember noticing it while out on a walk and thinking it was very nice-looking) was built with the donations of a family from the village - a family of 11 children. ELEVEN. This event was the blessing of said cross, with the Orthodox priest, the mayor, probably all of the eleven, and any villagers that happened to pass by. Most of Moldova is Orthodox, and they put crosses, sometimes very elaborate ones, at intersections in the road to protect travelers from accidents and the like. The priest blessed the cross, the choir sang, and then there were some speeches and presentations of gifts. 

(By this time it's approaching 3:00, so of course my Program Manager and the Country Director are waiting for us at the park, and we are on the edge of the village getting holy water thrown in our faces.) 

One of the 11 pulls out a jug of wine, and since the mayor announced the American's park opening during his speech, the man brings it over to us first and lets the Americans drink (my friend has also arrived from the raion center!) - he tells us, "In America you all get your own glass, but in Moldova we all share one - it's okay because we're all healthy." Okay, cool.. Thanks for letting us go first. Appreciate ya. Then the mayor drives us to the park, where Peace Corps is waiting, talking to the kids.

The kids are apparently in the middle of telling my Program Manager that they know me (I think there was a short reenactment of the penguin dance!) and I am shocked at the sheer number of children that are hanging out outside the park. I don't think I knew we had that many children in the village, even. Sometimes a grand opening is symbolic and whatever is being opened has already been in use for some time, but not our park. It's been under lock and key - so a million children are just looking through the bars of the fence as if they're stuck behind them, which they kind of are. 

The mayor rounds up everyone (which is: a million kids, me and my friend Adrin, my PM, the CD, a woman from the raion center, and a seemingly random collection of a few adults) and we begin our opening. There's a sign with pictures of the process (and my name on it!), a Moldovan flag, and an American flag. We stand at one of the gates, facing all the kids, which is suddenly kind of intimidating. The mayor speaks, the CD speaks with translation from my PM, the woman from the raion speaks and presents us with some sort of certificate, and then I have to speak. 

Photo courtesy of Meredith Dalton

Photo courtesy of Primaria Caplani

Photo courtesy of Primaria Caplani

Photo courtesy of Primaria Caplani

Photo courtesy of Primaria Caplani 
Photo courtesy of Primaria Caplani
So in my 17 months here, I've given "speeches" that I've known about in advance, I've avoided impromptu ones, I've given impromptu ones, and I've suddenly found myself wanting to give them (this category is generally a toast at a masa.. after a glass of wine or two). I've progressed from being told about them and meticulously preparing index cards (okay, I only did that once) to declining to give them, to figuring I'd probably have to give them so I'd better at least prepare mentally, to today.. When I knew I'd have to say something and didn't prepare at all. I didn't know what to say! Of course it's not true that I didn't prepare at all, I thought about it for a while and I had some things in mind, but since I went last, everyone else had already said everything! So I stumbled through some of what I'd thought I would say, and then felt I was doing terribly and speaking awful Romanian, so I just ended with, OKAY GREAT LET'S GO PLAY or something equally horrid. It's even on tape..... So that's cool. 

We cut the ribbon and the kids SWARMED the place. It's not like there was even enough equipment for them all to use, but that didn't seem to make a difference. The opening happened around 3:30 and the kids were still playing when I left the center of the village around 11:00 p.m. - how cute is that! 

Photo courtesy of Adrin Vargas 

Photo courtesy of Meredith Dalton
Photo courtesy of Adrin Vargas

We were then taken around to the back of the building that the park is adjacent to to see the trântă, which means wrestling! This was kind of traumatizing, because though we didn't stay for long, I had to watch my sweet little boys from English class fight each other.. I'm pretty sure I heard that my tiniest one lost a tooth while we were watching. (Although another one of mine won his "division" so I'm proud of him! I'm conflicted about it, obviously.) There were three "divisions" called "Rabbit," "Rooster," and ..I'm unsure of exact translation on the last one, but possibly "Ram." (Just noticed it's alliterative in English, so I'm into that.) I guess these are either weight or age, or possibly both. They were awarded prizes later on that night, and if you guessed that the Rabbit winner's prize was a live rabbit, you'd be right. The Rooster won a live rooster, and guess what, there was also a giant live ram, just handed over to probably a 15-year-old boy. I saw the end of this prize awarding last year and was so confused - took me a year, but now I finally know what I walked in on. (Picture me, walking onstage to find a struggling ram upside-down on the floor and wondering just what I'd gotten myself into in this country.) Regrettably, I did not capture that moment on film, so I'll just have to come back in 20 years for that.

After watching a round or two of trântă, the mayor wanted to take us back to the cross to show my PM and CD, so we went there and the family was still there. They invited us to their house to join their masa, so we did. It was really cool, and one of the bigger masas I'd been to. Our CD gave a toast that was translated, and the family gave a few in both Russian and Romanian that they had translated for the Americans. There was singing and they gave us colac, which is this twisted/braided bread that they present with candles in it for special occasions. 

Then we went to the Primaria so they could see the mayor's office, which was also set up with a masa for later, but we got to eat some right then, because the mayor had to share some of his wife's wine. He boasted that next year if they come again, they'll be able to try wine that I made. He told them that he considers me like another daughter, which was only one of the times I almost cried that day. The mayor even told the story (twice) of how when I first visited before moving here permanently, I cried for two days straight at the thought of having to live here, and then said, "And she doesn't cry anymore." (Well, mostly.) 

Photo courtesy of Meredith Dalton
Our Country Director gave a toast here, too, and it was really special to me. She talked about how just seeing this community for a few hours, she could tell that they love me and are taking good care of me. She said that she could tell that it wasn't just a community, it was a family. I'm thankful to be a part of that family (which I said later that night in my toast at the big Primaria masa, and definitely DID cry for) in my little village. The park has always been called "Corner of Heaven," or, "Colț de Rai." I don't know why my partner named it that, but we stuck with it the whole time. I thought it was kind of cute, kind of silly.. But this week I was riding the bus home from an unexpected, not-so-great trip to Chisinau, and as we neared the village, I looked out the window to see a little bit of sunlight breaking through clouds, the rays shining and looking as much like a corner of heaven as anything could have that day, or any day. I might have cried for two whole days when I first visited my village, but I think it's my Colț de Rai now. I'm part of the village family, and it's this beautiful little place (a "hidden gem," according to Adrin!) that I get to keep living in for the next 8-9 months or so. 

Photo courtesy of Primaria Caplani

Photo courtesy of Meredith Dalton

Photo courtesy of Meredith Dalton

Photo courtesy of Meredith Dalton

As for the park - as soon as school gets out, the kids head straight there to play. I've seen them playing at the park every day that I've been by. Since the opening, we've planted trees and bushes and everyone in the village seems really proud of it. We do a lot without tangible results, so it's nice to walk by and see the kids playing, and to get to join them (I only fit on the swings.. The merry-go-round and teeter-totter are, um.. A little small) and hang out with my little friends. So I'm really proud of this too! It took a lot of work and collaboration and adapting to craziness and some struggles along the way, but (even though I just talked about tangible results and smiles aren't quite tangible) the smiles on those tiny little faces make all the crazy worth it. Now we've got a little Corner of Heaven in our corner of heaven, in our corner of Moldova, in our corner of the world.