Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Kids of Peace Corps Moldova

The first Moldovan I met was four years old.

She's arguably my favorite human being in this country. My little Moldovan host niece, who, when I was dropped off at a strange house just hours after getting off a plane, came into my room to unpack for me (AKA, try to try on all my bras and ask what everything was for when I knew literally zero words to tell her). She successfully overwhelmed me and made me forget how freaked out I was, simultaneously. I shortly fell in love with her and she brightens my entire life whenever I get to see her, which is not often enough.

If you look at the Instagram account (or photo album) of almost any Peace Corps Volunteer in almost any country, you'll see pictures of children. I just looked at #peacecorps and there are PCVs teaching children, playing with children, taking selfies with their host siblings.. (There are also pictures of animal traffic jams and huge spiders and stuff, but let's just focus on the cute kids.) 

Why do we connect with the children so much? Why is an 8-year-old the only person in my village who got me to stop crying when I was doing so much of that? Why do I love the English club I have with the 4th graders, even though I don't want to be an English teacher EVER? Why do I keep going to the preschool even though I don't really have anything to do there? 

The kids seem to be capable of so much more love, in such honest and meaningful ways. It's not like they're likely to speak English - I can't always communicate with them. We're not going to talk about life and love or our hopes and dreams, but we can play catch and they can race me down the street while I ride my bike home. They give good hugs and they're always so happy to see me. 

Maybe it's some fascination with the American that makes them want to play with me. Maybe they think the way I talk is funny. Maybe their relatives my age have moved abroad to work. I don't know, but I don't care. PCVs in Moldova will joke about "hanging out with our friends at site" because it almost never means that we're hanging out with people our own age. Our "friends" are the kids, because they want to spend time with us. If they question our outfit choices or ask why we're not married yet, it's curiosity rather than the judgment of the older generations.

There have been a few events lately with the children, so I'm adding some pictures from those. The first few are from "Adio Grădiniță" which is the final program for the group of children who will start at the school in the fall. This is the group I work with, and I LOVE them. They are so sweet and always happy to see me. Even if I'm not visiting them, if I pass by the grădiniță while they are outside playing, I will hear a chorus of "Domnișoară Catea! Domnișoară Catea!" ("Miss Cat! Miss Cat!") and they will all rush to the fence to see me and wave. At Adio Grădiniță, there were poems, songs, skits, and dances. It was a typical preschool program, but I liked it even more this time because even though I haven't been hanging out with them for the whole year, it's like the school year is ending and my little ones are graduating! Sort of. It's going to be so exciting to see them at First Bell in the fall. 

It's just like America, but with an accordion.
Roman (right) trying to pose for this picture but getting scolded because he's supposed to be posing for another one.
My little host cousin, Ana, dancing along. She got in trouble quite a few times because she was very distracted.
The next event was called Ultimul Sunet, which means Last Bell. Our school goes up to 9th grade, and then they must continue at the raion center. So at Last Bell, our 9th graders graduate. Awards and diplomas are handed out, speeches are made, there are dances and songs and poetry. I work with the 4th graders with English, so I was super excited to see them dressed up in the crowd because that meant they were going to perform a dance! They were so precious. And they must have won some sort of contest for their dancing because two days later, they couldn't come to our Children's Day celebration because they were performing their dance at the raion center! I don't even teach them dance and yet I'm so proud. 

Kids getting awards - the graduates wear the sashes (they're sparkly so obviously I want one).
The 4th graders dancing.
Aren't they precious?!
The 9th graders during their "flash mob."
The last event was Ziua Copiilor, which means Children's Day. Apparently this is an international event, celebrated in a few different countries, including Moldova. It's on June 1st, but we celebrated it the day before, as it was a Sunday. The mayor told me to come at 9 or 10, but to ask my host mom because he wasn't sure of the time. She told me 11, so I got there after 11, because I know no one ever starts on time, and I think I was late but it didn't seem to make much difference. I found a kid I knew who wanted to talk about phones and how to put music on our phones..

And then the mayor saw me and told me to come talk to him. He was at the bottom of the steps to the Casa de Cultura, which is at the center of town and where big events are held. Speakers and performers stand at the top of the steps. I see two MCs and some of the women in charge at the school up at the top, and the mayor joins them, so I remain at the bottom of the stairs and the program starts (or continues? I don't know how late I was).

Then the mayor gestured for me to join them "on stage" so I went up, and he said, "So you're going to give a speech, okay?" Hahahahahaha whaaaat? To my credit, I didn't even panic. One or two people went before me with a speech, and then it was my turn to speak unrehearsed Romanian in front of the entire town (okay, it wasn't the whole town, but it was a LOT of children and their mothers/grandmothers). But I just said that we don't have Ziua Copiilor in America, so I thought it was very interesting and fun, I wished them health and peace (always safe bets), and I thanked them all for their friendship. It's not how much you say, it's what you say. Right??

Then there were songs, dances, poetry.. (Surprised?) The day finished with the hora and a distribution of a bunch of packs of sidewalk chalk. The kids all decorated the street while treats were delivered, and each kid went home with a juice box, a chocolate bar, and an ice cream bar. I didn't get any of those things, but some of the grownups did have a masa afterwards at the mayor's office, and I DID get a Snickers bar at that. So all was well.

1st graders dancing and singing
The hora!
Roman and me!
My place of honor with the other official people, surrounded by a girl reading poetry and the MCs.
So while I don't have near enough energy to play with the village kids all the time (and sometimes they try.. and sometimes I hide), I do love them! They can easily improve a bad day and they are just such sweethearts.

Why do PCVs spend so much time with children? Well, have you seen them? They're adorable. Why do I hang out with them? They're nice to me (mostly). My perceived competency is NOT important - I don't have to worry about looking stupid or speaking terrible Romanian, because none of them are going to think, well Catea doesn't know enough to do her job, does she? They give good hugs, and sometimes good advice (you should go home and rest!). They want to hear what I have to say and they want to be my friend. So with all of that, why wouldn't I? 

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