Sunday, January 25, 2015

Currently #7

Yeah, THAT'S real. The sky was that blue.

Reading 24/7. Okay, not exactly 24/7, but I just finished 2 books this weekend, one of which I hadn't even started until this weekend. So what I'm reading now is North River, which I've been neglecting, but which I hope to get into and finish soon.

Writing the cutest Valentines for my friends. I'm going to be two weeks early with them but I don't care because I think A. They are adorable and B. I can do what I want.

Listening to lots of Ed Sheeran, which I'm sure is late because I think I recall having sorority sisters who were obsessed with him.. Better late than never, maybe. 

Thinking about all the things I learned at dinner the other night. First of all, if the jug of wine doesn't fill each glass, that means something for your future. Well, mine, because my glass was last to be filled with the last of the wine, and it didn't fill the glass. This means I'm going to have a boy for my first child. I tried to insist that I was okay with this, but mama gazda didn't care so she filled up the jug again. I also learned which woman in the village can do my nails in the future, so that's a pretty great find.

Smelling clean, although regrettably my shower turned cold halfway through because I had to go second. So that was a fun surprise. The water was possibly colder than the weather outside and there is snow on the ground, so that's how I felt. It's good for me though, riiiiiight? 

Wishing for a bubble bath with a glass of wine. Where can I get one of those around here?! (The former, of course. I definitely know where the wine is.)

Hoping our project workshop goes well this week. I'm going to this workshop with a "new" partner and I like her a lot. It's been a little frustrating to work on the project together, but she's very nice, "related" to me through host mom, and she seems really active and willing to work on projects both in the village and the raion. (She knew about our volunteering group and explained it to host mom before I even could!)

Wearing my fuzzy Vera robe, as usual! And nothing else. JUST KIDDING. Checking to see if you're still awake.  

Loving weekends, coffee, and Snapchats from an adorable Bubblegum Buddy. 

Wanting to make everyone else's lives better. Don't you sometimes feel that when you're not at your happiest, you want to help other people be happy? Maybe in the hopes that it will both make you feel better and make it so someone else doesn't feel like you do.

Needing to probably study Romanian a little. After our project workshop, we have some more language training, which I'm excited for but also dreading, because I think I've possibly regressed.. It's like I can't remember any words or how to conjugate verbs or how to.. talk. I don't really want to get to language and embarrass myself any more than usual. 

Feeling lonely, but that's gotta be partly because I've watched three Hallmark movies this weekend. I mean also because I'm lonely.

Friday, January 23, 2015

They Took Me To Church

I know, it's been decades. Okay, it's been 10 days or something. I'm so sure you're just lost without another update from Moldova, so I'll tell you about my adventure at the Orthodox church this week. 

Monday morning I was at work and my partner said, Catea, do you want to go to the church with me? I had just been thinking about how I had yet to visit a church in Moldova (not fully true; I went to a Catholic one once during PST - but I hadn't seen the inside of any Orthodox ones), so of course I said yes. 

It was a holiday of some sort, which Google couldn't help me find the name of, so I'll just have to describe it and you can imagine. 

We started by going to the well in the churchyard. Maria (my partner) had a jar that she filled up with water. Then we went inside the church, after she crossed herself at each door (I've noticed that while it is very common for people here to frequently cross themselves, she does it more often than anyone else I've seen).

There were many people inside, all standing and facing the front of the church, which I couldn't see very well from the back. Jars, buckets, water bottles, and other containers full of water lined the walls. Maria set down her bag with her jar of water in it and went over to a table near the entrance to buy candles. She left me where I was and went to a stand where she could light the candles and set them in a holder. She returned to me and we stood for a while. There was a group of about four people singing near the front, but it was hard to understand what they were singing about. Probably God? Seems likely, anyway. 

People would enter the church every so often and most would go over and buy candles to light. It seemed hard to get to the candle holders after buying them because of how full the church was, but people persevered and made it up there somehow to light the candles. 

Then Maria told me, Now I'm going up there and they'll put a cross on my forehead. Do you want to come with? So I thought it was some sort of Ash Wednesday thing and I said sure, because, why not. Figured I'd just be a month early for Ash Wednesday. She made me put my bangs under my hat so my hair didn't get messy. Everyone shifted around then, and people made lines going up toward the front, so we got in one of them. 

Men came past us and at first I thought it meant the men got to go first, but they were actually just collecting the flags and going out with them. So we waited in line, and the line took us through some.. artifacts, for lack of a better term? Bibles on stands and icons and such, that most of the women bent down to kiss before crossing themselves and moving on to the next one. I just observed this part while making my way through the line behind Maria. 

I didn't see anyone with a cross on their forehead, despite our being relatively near the end of the line. I saw the women kissing the priest after he painted something on their foreheads and I hoped I wouldn't be expected to do that, which luckily I wasn't. We got up to the priest and Maria was first. The priest painted her forehead and then she stepped aside and stood next to me. I put my one leu on the table (she had given me the bill and told me to put it on the table - I suppose it served as a place for the priest to set his jar of whatever he was putting on foreheads and as a donation pile) and the priest and I looked at each other.. 

He looked at Maria and said, Who is this? Maria proudly told him that I was an American, and that we have a volunteer. He said, Is she Orthodox? No, she said, Catholic. (This is what people understand I am, even though I tell them it's just kind of like Catholic.. So, whatever.) Then he asked if I understood Moldoveneasca or Russian, and she said I knew Moldoveneasca. He looked at me and said, Would you allow me to paint your forehead with this? So I said yes and he dipped his paintbrush into a jar and put a cross on my forehead. Then I realized that of course it was some type of oil, and that's why I couldn't see it on anyone. 

This whole time I'm still wondering what the water is for, but it appears that we're leaving the church so I'll never find out.. Until I realize that it's not over. 

We go outside and now the pathways are lined with people's buckets and jars of water, so Maria sets hers down out there and leads me away from it to the side of the church where there are 13 men standing in a line with rifles. Just when you think it can't get more interesting... 

She tells me not to be afraid when they shoot their guns; paper will fall and people will rush to pick it up. But this doesn't happen for quite some time. First the priest comes out to the well and there is more singing and praying. The men who had come to get the flags are there by the well holding them. Then something is said and the men start loading their rifles. Something else is said and they fire the rifles three times, with time in between for people to gather the paper that falls. It seems to be a mixture of old documents, toilet paper (I can tell because there's pink in there), and scraps of newspaper, maybe. Whatever it is, people are very excited to get it. Maria says that her niece called her from Italy and told her to get some. I asked at least three people what the purpose of the paper was, and all I got is that you're supposed to put it near where you sleep.. But I don't know why. Unsolved mysteries, volume 264. 

Then we move back over near Maria's jar of water and stand there. The priest comes by with incense, walking around to pass by everyone and their water. Then he comes back around, accompanied by a man carrying a bucket of water. He has a bouquet of dried basil that he dips in the bucket and then shakes over the containers of water, making sure drops get in every single one. He also shakes it at the people, which means of course I get a big spray launched at me. #blessed? He also breaks off sprigs of his bouquet of basil and gives them to people. Some people had brought their own basil and set it with their buckets. After he was done with the holy water, the service was over, but Maria told me to wait while she went to the priest to get a sprig of basil for the office. (Note that while I wrote this, I had filler words for "basil" because I did not know what the plant actually was until I asked just now, days later.) 

I asked what they would do with this now-blessed water, and Maria told me that people would drink a little bit in the mornings - not every morning, but occasionally. She mentioned some other uses that I didn't quite understand, and said something about giving it to the animals perhaps.. So I'm really not sure on that either. 

The church was really beautiful inside and I hope to get to go again maybe when there isn't a service to just look around at all the paintings and things. 

Essentially, I went to this church service and I have no idea what happened. No, I know what happened, just not why or what the significance of anything was. Which I guess is par for the course in Peace Corps Moldova. I know that the next day was the day for Saint John the Baptist, but I don't know if these two events were related or not. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Happy New Year from Moldova!

I know what you're thinking: You're a little late on this one, aren't you? Joke's on you, because we have two Christmases and two New Years here! I am right on time. Good thing we have two, because I hadn't thought of any resolutions for the January 1 New Year's. 

I wasn't going to post this until tomorrow, but I've just been told I have to stay up until midnight to drink champagne to ring in 2015. Never mind the fact that I did that two weeks ago and would rather just go to bed. We must celebrate! So I've got some time to kill and I might as well do something with it. 

Recap of 2014 first? Okay! We'll start with this video.

This isn't the most accurate "Year in Photos" exactly, but I'm pretty lazy and would never have made my own, so when Google emailed me and said, hey we did this for you! I just thought I'd go with it. 

In 2014, 

  • I went to: 147 medical appointments (slight exaggeration?). I did all sorts of things in preparation for leaving for Moldova. But these were, of course, the most fun. 
  • I spent: 5 months and as much time as possible with family and friends in America. We celebrated holidays, had fun on trips, went to concerts, played games, spent time at church, stayed at home and drank wine while we watched The Bachelor.. 
  • I wrote: 48 blog posts here at Wining & Whining. Most popular was the first one, followed by the one about my Moldovan "boyfriend." Both unsurprising, as people want to know that I'm safe in country and people want to know about my love life. Still safe and still going strong on not having a love life, don't worry.
  • I read: 30 books/9,359 pages. My favorite of the year was Divergent, with The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (first in the Veronica Mars series) coming in at second.
  • I traveled: 8,045 miles by plane (roughly). Including airports, I've been in 6 countries in 2014. Plus the whole, moving across the ocean thing.
  • I filled: 1 journal (thanks for the gift, Tracy! I'm on #2 now) full of stories and drawings and thoughts and nonsense that my future grandchildren are going to get such a kick out of one day. 
  • I turned: 24. 
  • I created: paintings, a tea table, counted cross-stitch, birdhouses, palm crosses, t-shirts.
  • I sent: as many cards and letters to as many people as I could. How hard is my life right now not working at Hallmark/having a Hallmark nearby so I can get the perfect card for every occasion? Very. 
  • I made: countless new friends, and I know some of them will be the lifetime kind.
  • I had: some of the craziest experiences ever on this Peace Corps journey that's really just begun. 
I don't have "resolutions" exactly, but I have been doing a lot of reflection lately. I found this list of 50 questions - 40 to look back over 2014 and 10 to look forward to 2015. So I have been working on those and finished them last weekend. It was a lot to think about, but I seem to be alone with my thoughts pretty often so I think it was a good exercise to focus those thoughts for a little bit instead of having them wander. Which leads me to the things I'm hoping for in 2015. 

In 2015, 

  • My theme for the year is going to be optimism. I liked to think I was optimistic already, but then I joined the Peace Corps and started whining a lot. In my defense, we all tend to get whiny sometimes. But I think I would be a lot more pleasant and improve my life/others' lives by trying to be more positive and optimistic. Now, that could get obnoxious too, but I'd rather be obnoxious and optimistic than constantly negative. 
  • I'm going to read the entire Bible, with the help of the She Reads Truth app. It tells me what to read every day to get through the whole thing in one year.
  • I might try to learn Romanian.. Or study.. Or something. 
  • I've got some other personal goals I won't mention, but the last thing I'll say here is that I hope to be a source of light and love for the people that need me to be. And I hope to have a good excellent 2015. 
La mulți ani!

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Now that you know how we made it to Prague, maybe you want to know about our super fun vacation! 

First off, I have to mention that since we didn't have luggage, we pretty much had no toiletries (I know it's Peace Corps, but still). But when we arrived at the apartment where we stayed, our host had shelves full of hotel products and stuff people had left behind, so we didn't have to go out and find anything! It was the greatest. 

We did spend the first part of our first morning getting another shirt or two and some underwear and socks. Now that we had the essentials, we could start fun stuff! 

So we met up with four other PCVs that were in the city and did some sightseeing with them, which was great. We saw the castle and cathedral (from the outside; most of us didn't go in) and then 5/6 of us went on a wild goose chase for the perfect restaurant, which I think we eventually found. We parted ways to get ready for the rest of the night, as we had dinner and club reservations for New Year's Eve. 

Turns out we had dinner reservations at a place with about a hundred locations in Prague, but luckily, even though the one we all made it to was the wrong one, they had room for us. There was great food, great company, and fun playing games while we were there! Then we went out to one of the town squares to watch the midnight fireworks, and after that to the club for a little bit of dancing, a lot of trying to push through the crowd. I had fun, though! 

The next morning we had a leisurely brunch and then three of us took a leisurely walk to the National Gallery to see some pretty cool art exhibits, which I really enjoyed. We might have gotten lost on the way back, but all that meant was we got to tease the person who got us lost (good-naturedly, of course, as we always are) and have yummy Thai food instead of pushing through more crowds to see more fireworks. 

Our friends left the next day, so Stephanie and I had the day to ourselves, which we enjoyed with Mexican food, margaritas, Starbucks, and Mockingjay in English on the big screen.. Followed by some bars for one of us to meet cute boys (well I guess we both met them, to be fair). 

We got back late that night and found that we couldn't get into our apartment. There had been another group of girls staying there, and they (I want to say stupidly, but I also want to be kind, so I'm conflicted) left their key in the lock on the inside. So ours didn't work. We called our host and she said she'd call a locksmith in the morning but in the meantime she'd take us to her friend's apartment where she was staying (the friend was out of town..? or something). We just can't get away from these "adventures." I don't know what it was about this trip, but Murphy's Law might have been working harder than I would have preferred. 

The next morning, she hadn't come back from wherever she went after leaving us there, so we were slightly trapped until she returned. (I say slightly, but really, it was completely, as we couldn't leave without a key to open the door.) But we made the best of it, and when we got to leave, we took the first tram we found and got off when I saw the Dancing House. Being stuck in that apartment took us near a sight we wanted to see, which was near a restaurant where we could check off "try some Czech goulash" from our list. Two birds, one stone. 

We did some more wandering, shopping, sightseeing, etc. and then went back to our unlocked place to shower and change into our other shirt. Then we went dancing again!

The next day, we finished the rest of our "Things to do in Prague" list and met three more PCVs for a drink after dinner. These were the three we were stuck on the side of the road with in Romania, and it was great to see them and hear about their adventures! We went to a few bars with them and had a bunch of fun. Stephanie went back before me, which was intelligent, as we had to leave early the next morning for our flight, but I just wasn't ready to stop having fun, so.. When I finally went back, I may have fallen asleep on the tram and gotten kicked off at the end of the line. Guess how close the end was to where we were staying? If you guessed "not close at all" you would be absolutely right! There's that Murphy again. Or maybe just me, being stupid. You'd better believe that I stood up the whole ride back after that (thank goodness for all night public transportation) so I didn't miss my stop again. 

All hiccups aside, I had a really great time! It was fun getting to know Stephanie better, and getting to hang out with other cool people I rarely see. We had such good food and met some cool people from a ton of different countries. We may have gotten lost 60% of the time, but I think we ended up seeing some neat stuff that way. We did the whole trip without any luggage, but still managed to look fabulous and have fun! There's the Peace Corps spirit for ya. 

Now, where will I go next....?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

How I Got To Prague

This post is subtitled: Why I Love My Peace Corps Family

How many things can go wrong with one trip before it even starts? Let me count them out for you, because so many. 

Admittedly, the first snag on the trip was absolutely, 100% my fault. And it's so stupid that no one here is ever going to let me forget it (especially not my host mom, who's already brought it up multiple times since I've been back). I packed for Prague and Kelsey's house at the same time, as I was staying with her before heading to Chisinau to leave for Prague. I wasn't planning on going back to my village before this, so I had to be ready for the next 2 weeks, essentially. I thought I was, but as I'm standing on the bus Sunday morning going towards Chisinau, it hits me that I undoubtedly do not have my passport. I don't even have to check, because I know I haven't packed it. I texted Stephanie, because she's my Prague travel buddy, and Kelsey, because she always knows what to do, and then I called my host mom. She found my passport for me and after some well-deserved scolding, agreed to get it to me that evening. 

Now that the passport hurdle had been crossed, Steph and I were ready for our trip to start going super smoothly. Our overnight bus to Bucuresti left at 9:30pm, so we had dinner, got our stuff together, and headed to the bus station. It was just starting to snow and we thought, oh, how lovely, our winter vacation is starting off great with a pretty snowfall! Later I think we both regretted voicing those thoughts, but at the time, we were fans of the snow. 

We put our suitcases underneath the bus and get on, too excited. We drive through Moldova and enter Romania (where our passports are checked and stamped, obviously, so thankfully we both had ours then!), and it hasn't stopped snowing. It's the middle of the night and the drive is taking longer than it should, but I am absolutely fine with that if it means the driver is making sure to be safe on the roads. We take turns sitting on the window side, because it's stupid hot on that side with the heater right next to us. We try to get a little bit of sleep but I don't think either of us were very successful. 

At about 5am, I'm sitting in the aisle seat and I can't sleep. I lean out into the aisle to look out the front window, and I am baffled at how the driver is managing. It is really snowy and dark and I remember thinking, I can't even see the road, how can he?! I just figure he knows what he's doing, so I lean back into my seat. 

Moments later, we crash.

I'm sure I don't have an accurate recollection of this, based on pictures in the news and the fact that I can use my logical brain after the fact, but it feels like we flip over. The bus skidded and flipped on its right side (it was absolutely not flipped over) to land in the ditch. I held on to my seat and it was over as quickly as it had started. I think my thoughts, in some order, were: Okay, I'm safe; is Stephanie okay?; what do we do?; and I need to call Sasha. (Sasha is our Safety and Security Manager.)

Everyone was talking in Romanian and it seemed like people's phones weren't working. It was hard to not fully understand what was going on, but I could gather that everyone was okay, the driver was safe, and that we would just have to wait there. One woman was very vocal and called police, ambulances, the 12am bus to Bucuresti to see if they had seats, etc. Another woman near us realized eventually that we spoke English and she tried to translate things for us. 

We hung out there on the side of the road for about an hour and a half - with Stephanie literally hanging, as the bus was sideways and we had been sitting on the left side. I was able to sort of sit on the side of one of the seats on the right, and we were able to find our belongings when the time came to get them all (with the help of fellow passengers). 

After that hour and a half, we saw flashing lights. We figured out that they were going to get us out of the bus, so we put on coats (oh, and we had just stopped at duty free, so someone's wine decorated mine a little bit) and got our stuff. We were very close to the emergency hatch on the top of the bus so someone threw that outside and people directed us to the opening. I couldn't actually climb out on my own so someone lifted me out and then ambulance workers took over and set me down on the ground. They guided me to an ambulance where we packed in with half or a third of the passengers. 

Thankfully right before we left, another PCV had taught us how to put our phones on roaming. If we hadn't done that, we wouldn't have been able to get in contact with anyone. We couldn't figure out how to make calls at first, but we were able to send texts. I texted Kelsey to see if she could get PC to call us, but we eventually did figure out how to call and in the ambulance we were able to speak with both medical and the on-duty Safety and Security person. 

The ambulance took us to a cafe/hotel bar of some sort. Peace Corps kept in contact with us all day, even though we rarely had anything new to tell them. Eventually the 12am bus to Bucuresti arrived, and some people got on it. Stephanie wanted to but I was confused and possibly slightly panicked about not knowing where we were going or where our luggage was, so at the last minute we got off that bus. I hadn't noticed the other PCVs on it at the time. 

Home-base for the day.
It turned out that it didn't matter that we hadn't gotten on that bus because it didn't get very far. The roads were closed so it came right back to where we were, and we were able to get on it to see our friends. Just being with them helped our stress levels a little, and their bus was closer to a gas station/cafe that had Internet so we were able to contact people with that. We hung out with them for the day while waiting for the roads to open, but during that time we missed our flight. 

When the roads finally opened around 2 or 3pm, everyone from both buses got onto the second one and we headed towards Bucuresti (without our luggage, as they wouldn't take it off our bus until the crash had been investigated.. or something). We were about 70km away the whole day. It was slightly scary to be on what felt like the exact bus we'd just been on, driving through snow again, but I managed to fall asleep for a bit. 

I woke up to a man nudging me to wake me up and ask if we wanted to share a cab with him to the airport. We had spoken to him earlier in the day so he knew we were trying to get to the airport, as was he. He had learned that the bus would normally stop at the airport, but with all the delays it wasn't going to this time, so the driver had agreed to let him off somewhere close where he could find a cab. We agreed to get off with him. He was a nice guy from Moldova with perfect English. 

We got to the airport and saw two more PCVs who had taken the train there instead (which will always be our winter travel option from now on), and it was as if they were sent from heaven. They went to the Czech Airlines counter with us, where the lady told us that since we had been late, our whole roundtrip was cancelled. We didn't really know what to do, so Amanda called Czech Airlines for us - thankfully, because they were terrible to her and I know I couldn't have lasted that long on the phone with them (I was crying just listening to her side of the call!). While Amanda was being so great on the phone, Elizabeth was cheering us up by being her usual sunny self. After getting no help from the airlines, the four of us went to get a drink before the two of them left to board their plane. Thank goodness those two were there; they were like lifesavers just with their very presence. 

They left and Stephanie said we had to eat something, so we had pasta in an airport restaurant while we tried to decide what to do. There's an RPCV in Bucuresti so we thought we could maybe stay with her, get our luggage back, and then head back to Moldova. Neither of us could afford another plane ticket. Stephanie had been talking to her mom at the time and while we were eating, her mom called back and said that she had talked with Stephanie's dad and they had decided that they would each buy one of us a new ticket to Prague. There was more crying, this time from both of us, because we didn't even think we were going to get to go on our trip and they so graciously made it happen. They even made the return ticket straight to Chisinau so we don't have to go back to Bucuresti anytime soon. We couldn't even believe it. 

So we spent the night on the very luxurious floor of the airport and kept in contact with PC, a fellow bus traveller, and our RPCV friend about the luggage situation.. But eventually we realized that we'd be going to Prague with only the things we had in our carry-ons. 

The next day, while still waiting on the floor, we met a Romanian family of four with precious little boys and talked with them. We told them of our "adventures" and they wouldn't take no for an answer when they left and left us with a bunch of food. They were so sweet! One of the little boys asked if I was married and I said no and asked him if he had a girlfriend. He said, yes, of course, but we only kiss on the cheek, not on the mouth. The dad had clearly given us some of the boys' Christmas candy, and they were young but didn't mind one bit. The whole family was adorable, and I could talk to them in Romanian, so that was a confidence booster I needed to keep making it through this travel. 

We finally left and made it to Prague just a day late. The whole trip took 48 hours and we went through 4 countries by the time we got there.. We were exhausted, but had great directions to our apartment, where tea (and a bed that was not a floor or bus seat) waited for us. 

We had so much support, both in person and through messages, from PCVs, RPCVs, PC staff, family, and also a ton of strangers (people translating for us, people just being kind to us, another passenger from the bus who gave us her number and texted us with information about where the luggage would be, etc). I can't really speak for both of us, but I feel safe in saying that we are so grateful for everyone who helped us along the way. Couldn't have done it without you. 

More to come on the actual vacation part of the trip! 

Spoiler alert: We didn't have our luggage for any of the trip, BUT Peace Corps got it back for us and it was waiting in Chisinau when we returned!