Thursday, February 26, 2015


Tuesday was Dragobete, which I think is a holiday kind of like Valentine's Day. I had planned to go visit Kelsey after work for the Dragobete celebration there, but on my way back to work after lunch, I met some 9th graders. I said hello, but they stopped walking and very politely invited me to their celebration at our school, so of course I said yes. 

I got there shortly after 5:00, because they'd said it started at 5:00, and I didn't know where in the school to go, so I just followed kids going upstairs and found a classroom to go in. There were kids going in and out and getting ready, and they made sure at least one was in there all the time, to babysit me, I suppose. I said I'd just go to where the thing was if they told me where, but they said, No! It's not ready! So I waited, and some teachers showed up to try to hurry them along.. Which didn't work. 

Eventually one of the boys took me downstairs to a cafeteria-like room and I sat down, but not where he wanted me to, so he moved me and left for a second. He came back with a chocolate bar and the cutest handmade notecard from his class. It thanked me for coming and said that they hope the evening's traditions will fill my heart and soul and was basically the cutest thing ever. My favorite part is: "Vă dorim să fiți iubită și să iubiți la nesfîrșit." AKA, We wish that you will be loved and that you'll love forever. HOW CUTE. I almost cried, obviously. 

It was a rather long celebration but it was very cute. There was singing, love poetry, skits, games.. And the night was a competition between couples from the different classes, scored by some of the teachers. 7th grade won, which I supported, because they were adorable. The MCs went around with a microphone at one point asking people what they thought love was, so OBVIOUSLY they asked me, and told me to do it in English.. Which I don't know if anyone understood, but that turned out to be a good thing because I had no idea what to say and probably sounded like a moron.

It was also relatively dark and I didn't have a very good angle, BUT I did take one or two pictures of what I considered highlights: a girl in a wedding dress talking to a boy on a ladder, and my favorite, a competition where girls raced to tie the boys' ties the fastest.

The kids were adorable and I think they had a lot of fun! It was fun to see, too. I didn't stay for the dance afterwards, as it was past 8:00 by then and I'm an old lady, but I imagine that was pretty exciting too. Happy Dragobete!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Good Things

Let's recap: over the weekend we went through one of many mental breakdowns (why do they happen on the bus so much? That wasn't the first time I'd gone back to site crying on a rutiera). We were hopeful that things would improve, and I'm here to tell you that they did. I don't know how I've suddenly become a "we" - maybe things didn't get better and now I have multiple personalities...? No, that's probably not it. Anyway. We'll just go through the days of this week.

Monday's Good Things: 

  • I started a new to-do list system, which involves filling one bright colored post-it with things I want to accomplish for the day - no more than fits on that one page (which has 15 lines, so I can only hope to do 15 things - 16 if I use the skinnier, bottom line). This week I've been writing them when I get to work in the morning, and they've been super helpful (plus, they make my planner bright and colorful!). 
  • The librarian (I think she's the librarian; our library moved so the librarians switched.. now we have multiple libraries and librarians - I don't know, it's confusing) came in to my office and asked what my name was, and then said, "Catea, I invite you to the opening of the library today at 1:00." I've possibly mentioned working with the library, but I have been waiting for the Novateca computers and equipment to be delivered, as I'm hoping to be able to teach some computer skills classes there. They were delivered! So Monday was the "Grand Opening."
  • I went to the opening and since I got there at 1:00, I was early, so I talked to the mayor's wife (also a librarian, for the school library) for a bit about reading contests and Tom Sawyer and Mark Twain (unfortunately, as I have not read Mark Twain, I couldn't contribute too much) and other interesting stuff.
  • At the opening, we had cute kids in costume, guests from the Raion Council, speeches, poetry, dancing, and even a woman with a display of her handicrafts. At the end the librarian suddenly realized she hadn't let me say anything, so she quickly said, "Oh! And we have our volunteer from Peace Corps! Would you like to say a few words?" I, um.. Politely declined. I thought that might happen, but even thinking it, I still didn't quite know what to say, so I just didn't. 
  • After all this, we went to the OLD library location for wine and food - which was excellent, as I hadn't had time for lunch.. and as I love wine. There was some vodka, too, because that's what a bunch of women who just opened a library need in their lives. 

Tuesday's Good Things:
  • Tuesdays are my gradinita days, which means I go to the kindergarten and do things. I assumed I would be teaching computer skills again, but no one had time for that, so they sent me to the "Pregatitoare" class. This is a drastic contrast from my host mom's class - she has the 2-3 year olds, and I love them, but not for any extended length of time. The Pregatitoare class is the 6-7 year olds who will start at the big kid school in the fall, so they can talk to me and they're okay at crafts.. Aaaaand they love me, so it's a good time. 
  • We made whale pictures out of different kinds of seeds/beans, and then the teacher said, okay are you ready to teach them your dance? So the room was cleaned up while I freaked out about whether or not my translation of my song was correct. 
  • For some background, International Women's Day is March 8. It's super important here and there will obviously be a program with songs, dances, poetry, gifts for mothers.. All of that. Someone had the bright idea that I would teach the class an American thing, and it was never really clear what exactly they wanted, so I just decided. It's going to be totally different than the rest of their program, but in my defense, I have to teach it in Romanian and well.. Americans are weird, right? Let's go with that.
  • I learned the penguin dance as an adult, but since then, I just keep teaching it to children. It's adorable and it reminds me of my sorority sisters, it's easy, and kids love it. So I translated it into Romanian and then suddenly on Tuesday, I've got two dozen kids looking at me and I have to teach it to them. It started out a little rough, but when we got to "Penguins, attention!" (Pinguinii, atentie!) the little boys got really into that. We did it a few times and they were adorable, and then when they realized we were done, they all swarmed me with a giant group hug - it was THE GREATEST. It's gonna be a hot mess when we actually perform it for the moms, but it will definitely amuse.
  • As I left after lunch, I told my host mom I wanted to make pancakes, and she said, okay, I'll be home at six, you're making dinner - or something to that effect. She was definitely home before six and definitely made her own dinner, but she let me make my pancakes and didn't tell me how to do it or micromanage me.. And she and her husband even tried the pancakes and liked them! She wants me to write down the recipe for her, but really I think it's the syrup that they liked, which I had found in Chisinau over the weekend. My measuring spoons were at Kelsey's house, but I improvised with soup spoons and tea spoons and everything tasted great! It's always an accomplishment when they let the American into the kitchen, and since it was Fat Tuesday, I needed pancakes, so we had them!

They kept getting bigger.....

Wednesday's Good Things:
  • Well, Wednesday was mostly great because I got so much work done. My to-do list was full - 15 things, some of them kind of big.. And I did every. single. one. It's the most accomplished I've felt in a while. I have a lot of things due at the end of the month - a grant application that is super involved and multilingual and exhausting, and our VRF (Volunteer Reporting Form) for the cool dudes in DC who want to know all about what we're doing. 
  • On my way home after work, I passed by my friend's house, who I haven't been to see in much too long, and his mom was outside and made me come in for lunch! There was SO MUCH FOOD because it was the other son's birthday, so I didn't see him, but I'm glad he was born however many years ago because I had a great lunch. I just love this kid and his mom! He's precious and we have stuff in common and our conversations are just the greatest combination of Romanian and English - we switch back and forth probably without even realizing what we're doing. After eating we sat and watched TV for a while while we talked, and then I went home to get some more work done. It was a good afternoon.
  • Nina invited me to her birthday, so I get to go back to Magdacesti and see my PST host family again!! SO EXCITING!
  • We realized group chats are just better for everything in life, and we've got train tickets booked from Roma to Napoli! (Oh yeah, did I mention we're going to Italia? WELL WE ARE.) 
  • Aaaaand I rewarded myself for all my hard work of the day with The Bachelor! My only mistake was not having a glass of wine while I did it. 

So it turns out things are not too bad at the moment. I mean, just look at that blue sky. What more could you ask for? (Well, okay, maybe Dunkin' Donuts or some hot light Krispy Kreme.. with some Sheetz iced coffee..) If you're wondering about the latest count, it's now been 260 days in Moldova, and this is where we are. 

Monday, February 16, 2015

Unpredictable PCV Cycle

One of the (I'm struggling with a truly appropriate adjective here) interesting terrifying complicated things about the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer is that it's unpredictable. I don't just mean that we don't know when we're going to walk into a surprise masa, what personal questions a stranger will ask us, what we'll be sitting next to on a rutiera (or if your rutiera will get pulled over by the police, which is what's currently happening as I write this), or when our stroll through the fields will have to be rerouted because suddenly, oh hi, there are all the village cows! (No, seriously. All of them.) Though it's definitely impossible to predict those things (except that we can pretty much guarantee the stranger's personal questions will be about our love lives), it's even more surprising to not know what is going to be happening in your head and your heart on a daily basis. 

It makes sense to go through periods of different emotional states, and it makes sense when they sort of go together. For instance, it's logical to me that when the sun is coming out and sticking around for days, I'm more likely to be in a good mood. When I haven't left site in more than a month, it's safe to assume that I'll be a bit lonely. When I'm around many PCVs for an extended period of time, like at a training or something, I can guess that I'll have some time where I'm overwhelmed at all the social interaction. 

We've got this Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment that has predictors like this for your whole service. For example, during the first 2 months, you'll likely be fatigued, overwhelmed, feeling helpless. During months 11-14, you'll be establishing a routine, feeling more competent, etc. That's great and all, but what about when you go through the whole cycle in 27 minutes instead of 27 months? Sure, that's a slight exaggeration (I'm nothing if not hyperbolic, right?), but it's almost absurd how close our good days and bad days can be. 

I'm even aware that I'm not alone in this, because I know that multiple volunteers have talked about having one of their best days and then suddenly one of their worst. 

A few weeks ago, I had a week that started off so strong. I considered that Monday one of the best days of my service at that point, and I was feeling really proud of myself and confident in my abilities for all sorts of things. And then that Friday evening and Saturday were some of my worst moments of service so far. How can things change so quickly and without warning? I know, things can change that quickly anywhere, but it feels like such a ridiculous range here sometimes. 

Two days ago I couldn't get out of bed—I couldn't even think straight, I felt so terrible. That was physical rather than emotional, and I'm fine now, but it was such a bad day. Then the next day was fantastic. I spent hours in a coffee shop with two of my favorite people, collaborating on grant applications and drinking coffee and planning our vacation. (All of which are exciting things, although, Moldova could get on its coffee game a little more if they would sell iced drinks year round.. I'm just saying. I can't be the only one who would love an iced coffee in February.) So I thought, cool, things are great. Had a nice dinner and evening with games, a movie, and even a surprise FaceTime from my grandma, aunt and uncle. Logically, that good place will continue, right? Do you even remember what I've said already? Haven't you been paying attention? No, of course it won't continue. Because you'll have a good day and then that night you won't be able to sleep, and you'll wake up and not want to talk to anyone, and you'll spend the day trying to be sociable and pleasant but you'll get exhausted and just cry in the dark on the rutiera for half your ride home that night (which is a feat in itself when you're traveling two and a half hours back to site). And obviously you don't know why you feel like this, and it's likely nobody's fault, which also sucks, because wouldn't it be nice to have someone to blame? 

Which days are going to be the ones where your biggest accomplishment is boiling water? What about the ones where just saying good morning to someone seems like the hardest thing? Or the ones where you want to pretend you're not hungry so you don't have to sit at the dinner table and talk to your host mom? And then which are the days when all it takes is sunlight to put you in the best mood? What about the days when a village kid will walk you home and smile up at you the whole time, thinking you're the greatest thing? Or the ones when you think, oh yeah, I can save the world today! 

I don't know which is which and I just don't understand why today it's one over the other, and I don't think I'm very good at some of those days. Just have to hope that if I'm on a really bad one, a great one is soon to follow. That's how it works, right? This emotional rollercoaster toughest job I'll ever love? 

I wrote this post while I was on the rutiera back to site, and my last paragraph was not this one that you're reading. It was about how I wanted to end on a positive note, but I couldn't quite do that. Four hours ago when I wrote this, I was trying, but all I could come up with was that I hope that there's a positive note coming for me. And you're not reading that paragraph because there was. I got back to my room and had 6 texts from my best friend, who wanted to Skype with me (which we hadn't done in about.. forever). Talking to her for almost two hoursthere's my positive note. We didn't even talk about all of this and I feel better. So even when you have your bad days, just wait. The day might not be quite over yet and something else can always happen. I'm struggling through some bad days, but there's often at least something to redeem them. Such is the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer. 

Friday, February 6, 2015

In-Service Training

This last week our cohort all had training in Chisinau with our partners, a Project Design and Management (PDM) workshop where we brought a project idea and worked through different elements of writing a good project.

We had three days of this PDM workshop and then two more days of language training.. I'm getting tired again just thinking about it. Workshops with Moldovan partners are made significantly longer because of the constant translation that must happen, as the partners don't all speak English. When you understand both languages, it's like you're hearing everything twice so it's kind of exhausting. Plus side, I can no longer tune out the Romanian translation because I understand it, so that's way better than before. 

For PDM, my partner and I brought our village park renovation project (maybe I've mentioned it before, as we applied for a grant for it a few months ago which we did not get) that she calls "Colț de Rai," which means "Corner of Heaven." Super cute, because that's how we all are in Caplani, obviously. 

There were sessions on writing a needs statement, making goals and SMART objectives, writing budgets, monitoring & evaluation, fundraising, sustainability, and more. I think a lot of the sessions were really valuable for my partner, and having other people there to help explain things in her language was so helpful. Hopefully it will make our project a lot better! 

And sessions about going to Dracula's castle. Just kidding, it was a metaphor.

It was also (obviously) good to see everyone again. For most of the workshop, I sat at a table full of cool PCVs who are great at Romanian, which was excellent when we all needed to communicate and do group work with our partners, two of whom do not speak English. 

After PDM was over, we moved from the hotel to apartments in the city for two full days of language IST. It was a lot better than some of us expected it to be! I think I might even be able to start using the "new" grammar stuff that we learned in September but that I had been neglecting until now. So that will be good. I got to ask my 100 questions/hour and have them all answered! I sometimes feel I should apologize to my classmates for the absurd number of questions I ask, but.. Hopefully the answers help them, too! So I'll keep asking. 

On a non-IST side.. I got to see my friends and spend time with great people! We played Джанга (aka Jenga in Russian) at a restaurant where the waiters wore lederhosen aprons, we met Moldovans who wanted to go bar hopping with us, we stayed up too late (why go to bed when you're having fun?!), and there was just a lot of enjoying each other's company in general. Not every day is a great day, but some nights are extra great, so maybe that makes up for it. I'd say that if I were ranking my evenings in Moldova, after this weekend, I could add another one to the top 5. 

Now I'm back to site, hard at work.. My to-do list is suddenly miles long (it's normally rather short) so that's going to be interesting. Hopefully it will be the good kind of busy over the stressful kind, though I suspect it will end up some of both. 

Today Iana and her friend Madelina walked me to work. Iana was precious as ever, telling me I'm beautiful, asking how the Primaria is, asking me what my favorite flower is, and being so proud to tell me about the 9s she got in school (10 is highest). 
Today I learned that I need my passport to pick up a package (books in English for the kids!) at the Poșta.
Today they told me that they want me to teach the nursery school kids something "American" for the International Women's Day program. That will be an adventure. 
Today the sun lasted SO LONG and I got to almost finish my book without turning on the light. 

If you're keeping track, I've now hit 8 months in country. CR-A-ZY! Can hardly believe it.