Friday, July 31, 2015

10 Questions About My Peace Corps Life

“I love you. I'm proud of you. Now go write me another blog; I want to read a new one.”

Okay, Mother. So bossy. This is what she said to me as I headed to security to get on the first plane on my trip back to Moldova. (Which, if you're wondering, was probably just as hard or harder than it was to leave the first time. I had too good a time at home with everyone! Although the first time I thought I wouldn't see anyone for over two years, and this time we all knew it'd be just one more, so at least there's that.)

Since my demanding mother requested another blog but I don't have too much to write about at the moment, it's a good thing my sweet friend Sara (probably the nicest person in Peace Corps Moldova) gave me a bunch of great questions to answer. She nominated me for the Liebster Award, which is a blogging thing that helps you get to know your fellow bloggers. There are rules about nominating other people and creating your own set of questions for them, but I've always been a rulebreaker (just kidding – we all know I follow the rules) so I'm just going to answer her questions, with the excuse that hers are so great I couldn't possibly come up with anything better. But thank you, Sara, for thinking of me! (Also, excellent answers to the questions YOU got, and now I want to know your answers to these!)

1. How many different countries have you traveled to and where?
While in Peace Corps, I've traveled to the Czech Republic (Prague) and to Italy (Rome and Naples). I've also spent some time in Romania, but that was more of a struggle than a vacation. (And to the United States, I guess!) Prior to Peace Corps I lived in Germany so I got to go to all sorts of places – France, England, Spain, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Gibraltar.. Maybe even some I'm forgetting.

2. What food item do you miss the most?
When I was just at home, I found myself drinking a lot of Dr. Pepper, which I hadn't realized I missed but man, it's good! And tacos, made by my mother. I miss any kind of food that isn't potatoes, really. Mint chocolate chip ice cream, ohhh.. That's what I want right now. 

3. Favorite book (or article) you have read so far since being a PCV?
I've done so much reading here that this is a tough question. Definitely the most meaningful to me at the time I read it would be Divergent by Veronica Roth. You know when you read the perfect book at the perfect time? That was one of those. I also loved Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho and Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. The former with great advice about life and love and the latter basically describing my life.

4. Favorite item you are glad you brought with you?
It's almost painful to say this now when I feel like I'm actually melting in the heat (I know, I know, I'm not serving in Africa) but my favorite thing I brought is my fuzzy Vera Bradley house robe that I wear 24/7 when it's cool/cold outside. I've forgotten what that feels like but I imagine it will happen again someday.

5. What is your favorite thing about the country you serve in?
I think my favorite thing about Moldova is just how kind strangers can be. While I don't think this is specific to Moldova (it shouldn't be!) I find that it's easier to notice here because maybe I need it more here, what with language struggles and unfamiliar surroundings. Most notably with transportation issues. It's occasionally difficult to get from one place to the next, but you'll always find someone to help you – not just tell you where to go, but sometimes they'll even take you there. Recently I was with two friends and we were on the side of the road attempting to catch a bus going north. So was this other man. He could have taken any bus that we could have, but he stopped one for us, put us on it, told the driver where we needed to go, and then didn't even get on! He waited for the next one after making sure that we were on our way. I've been picked up by strangers that somehow knew my bus wasn't going to come and directed by others when I just look like I don't know where I'm going. I used to worry about making it to places on my own, but I'm never completely alone in the world and I know I'll always eventually get there, perhaps with some extra help from a kind Moldovan. 

6. If you could choose between hot summers and cold winters, which would you choose?
You're asking me this question when I'm hot at my house and at work and outside and everywhere..... Which makes my answer cold winters. I know I would regret saying that if I were answering this during winter, but at least in winter there's variety sometimes – when it's super cold outside you can bundle up inside next to the soba for warmth. Plus, cute sweaters.

7. Favorite food from your country of service?
Don't tell her I said this, but my host mom's 
plăcintă ghițmane. It may be her only great skill in the kitchen, but it's miles above any other kind of plăcintă I've had. If I don't come home knowing how to make it, I'll consider my Peace Corps service a failure. (Kidding, sort of.)

8. From your experience, where is the best place to travel to?
You're all going to be SO shocked when I say: Italy. Wait, you're not shocked? Weird. I've been there 4 times and my mother assumes it will be part of my as-yet-unplanned COS trip (“Knowing you, you'll stop in Italy on the way home.”). It's just my favorite place. It's not even one specific city – I would probably rank my favorites (Florence, Rome, Cinque Terre) but I love them all. If I didn't hate being away from home I'd have to try to live there next. As it stands, I'll just have to marry rich and we can travel there together later. You can start lining up now – I'm good at baking cookies (and look super cute in an apron) and I know how to feed farm animals - is that helpful? 

9. If you could choose between the public transportation in your country of service or walking, which do you prefer?
Walking, definitely. I enjoy walking, most of the time. The last time I ride a rutiera won't come soon enough, and I'll often choose walking over the slightly better public transportation in the capital. In the summer they're unbearably hot and rarely will you be lucky enough to have a crowd that allows the windows to be left open, and in the winter I'm terrified that they will crash if there is snow or ice (which there is). In any season there are too many people on the bus and I don't think I've ever gotten to sit next to someone that wasn't obnoxious. But I'm whining so I will say that if you have a long trip, it's great for books on tape or podcasts or bonding or a nap, perhaps. It's possibly unwise to nap on a bus when you're by yourself, so officially I never do this, but I'm just saying, 3 hours is a long time.

10. If you could describe your Peace Corps service in one word, what would it be?

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Tour of Moldova

Life has been SO good lately. People keep asking me how I am and I keep answering with "Can't complain" because I really can't complain. (Is this right? Someone check the Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment. Should I be having a mid-service crisis right about now?) 

Oh, did you want to know why? Good, I'll tell you! 

First of all, M30 is here! My group is M29, and now that we've been here a year, Peace Corps decided we needed new friends so they sent 70 more people. They didn't even ask me, but so far they seem mostly wonderful, so I guess I'll allow it. I didn't think I'd have much opportunity to meet M30, but as it turns out, I've gotten to spend the last week seeing a lot of them. Mostly just the ones in my sector, but we're the best, so that seems appropriate. 

Second of all, I found out that I get to be a facilitator for the GirlsGoIT summer camp, so that's really exciting! Some of my good friends are doing it too so we're going to have a ton of fun teaching girls about tech.

AND this week I've been travelling all around Moldova and having a ton of fun doing it. 

I went to Ialoveni to help lead a session for the M30 COD group. Another M29 and I developed this session, which we didn't have last year, because we thought it would be fun and helpful! It was about healthy relaxation methods and we didn't bore anyone to tears, which is, I think, the mark of a good presentation. Correct me if I'm wrong. 

Then I went back to Chișinău for a bit and helped out with preparing for site placement - on Thursday the M30s found out where their permanent sites are going to be! This would have been slightly more exciting if I had gotten some more neighbors, but I'm sure the two that were placed in my raion will be great. 

That red triangle all the way on the right is near me!

The weekend took me to Telenești to visit my adopted bunica, the fabulous Ellen. She works at the library there and they organized a Healthy Life Festival on Sunday. It happened at the same time as a raion festival, so people from every village were there with booths and performances. For the Healthy Life part, we had games, coloring, yoga, karate, blood tests, and literature about modul sănătos de viața. I led a short yoga demonstration for the kids and helped out with whatever else people needed! The night before, we all hung out, saw the town, and had a delicious dinner together. No surprise that Ellen is an excellent host. 

The week before, another friend had invited me up to visit him in the north, in Rîșcani. So after Ellen's Healthy Life Festival, a few of us made it to the main road and flagged down a bus going north that took us to Bălți. I met him and some other friends at the bus station and we went up to Rîșcani together. Two M30s were placed there, one who would have the same host family as Andrew (as he is an M28 and will COS soon!), so we got to meet him and have some Moldovan barbecue and boxed wine. The next day we got to visit the COD M30 at his future assignment, which is an NGO that's currently under construction but will soon be a cool place to work. 

Then I went back down to Chișinău with the COD and his partner for their Site Team Conference. This happens right after site visits - CODs come to Chișinău with their partners and have a two-day conference about the work they hope to do, among other fun things. Our program manager had asked me to be a translator for the conference, which was so much fun. Some of the partners don't speak English and the M30s have only had a month of language training so far, so that can be a struggle. With the help of our program staff and two other M29s, I think we did a pretty good job of translating. Occasionally I would need to call for backup, but one of the partners thought I was from Romania, so that's always a compliment. I think about how a year ago, my mayor came with me to this, and he was the class clown of the group (there was one this year, too!). He told everyone that he wouldn't let me sleep or eat until I had learned Romanian, and here I am a year later doing the translating. Look at me now, Primar! 

The translators!

So it's been a really good week with old friends and new ones. Things I learned on my trip around Moldova: I can easily say "Sure, I'll do that!" to things that once would have freaked me out (like leading a yoga class at a festival), Moldovans are well-versed in Botticelli (but also that I probably won't be able to marry anyone since I can't remove the picture from my leg..), don't listen to people saying ridiculous things about you, young Moldovan guys will dance with American women to Frank Sinatra, boxed wine tastes better if the box is shaped like a book, long rutiera rides can actually be kind of excellent, some days I do pretty well with Romanian, and this next year is going to be some kind of adventure - not that this last one was any different. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Lavender Festival*

*Subtitle to this post: How to be alone**
**Sub-subtitle: AKA, Peace Corps

If you're living in your home country and there's an event that sounds cool but that you can't find anyone to go with, it's pretty easy to just go. You'll probably meet someone cool to talk to, or, if your life resembles a Hallmark movie, you'll maybe even meet your soulmate (I've been led to believe that the probability of meeting the love of my life at a Christmas tree lot is SO HIGH that I'm not sure I'll meet him anywhere other than there.. Is it even possible to meet someone during the summer?).

If you're living in another country (where you kind of speak the language) and there's an event that sounds cool but that you can't find anyone to go with, it's a little harder. But I decided that I wanted to go, with or without someone. Once I figured out that it would be without, I decided that I needed to make it an awesome day to myself (instead of an awkward day alone, or something). 

At the TED talks, there was a woman who talked about rebranding Moldova, and I thought she was super interesting. During her talk, she mentioned some upcoming festivals, including Festivalul Levănțicii, or Lavender Festival. That sounded great, and I mentioned it to a few people, but no one ended up being able to go.

So I went alone! It was in a little village in Anenii Noi, so I had to go to Chisinau first to get there. The event sponsored rutieras back and forth throughout the day, so all I had to do was get to the place they'd be starting from. Which I'd never been to.. But when I got off the bus and saw a dozen people standing on the side of the road wearing all white, I knew I'd found the right spot. There was a dress code: all white (ne îmbrăcăm neapărat în alb) - originally I'd thought this was just a suggestion, but almost everyone took it really seriously, so if I go next year I might have to go shopping ahead of time. I did go in a white t-shirt so don't worry, I fit in. 

It was way bigger than I'd thought! There were a bunch of food booths (but "no meat, no beer" - only healthy things like tons of sangria), an art competition, a huge stage with different performances throughout the day, booths where people were selling crafts, soaps, handmade pretty things, and LAVENDER. The fields of lavender were EVERYTHING. When you walked into what I'll just call the fairgrounds, to your left was lavender literally as far as you could see, and to the right was all the booths and places to sit in the fields and relax. 

I started my day with stuffed peppers and lavender lemonade, and then walked all around to look at everything. Bought myself some cute jewelry and some fun things for a friend who had sent me with money and directions to plan a romantic evening. There were professional photographers there to take your picture in the lavender fields, so I did that - hello, Moldova's Next Top Model, look no further. Then I set out a blanket and tried both kinds of sangria while listening to the performances and reading my book and enjoying the beautiful sunny day! I stayed as long as I wanted and when I decided it was time to go, I changed my mind to get a lavender massage, because obviously. After that I went back to Chisinau, relaxed and happy and smelling much better than normal. 

Would it have been fun with friends? For sure. But I had a great time without them - in case you've forgotten, I'm kind of a good time on my own. It meant I got to do what I wanted, when I wanted. It meant I had to be a little brave occasionally and talk to someone in Romanian to ask them to take my picture or to help me find the perfect bath salts or direct me somewhere. And it reminded me that if I don't go Christmas tree shopping anytime soon, I'll be just fine.