Sunday, January 24, 2016

Meet the Mayor

Do I talk enough about how much I love the mayor of my village? No? I definitely do in person, so if you're missing out there, here's a little intro to Domnul Primar (Mr. Mayor).

Whenever we are placed in an organization, we all have a designated partner. For me, that partner was the secretary of the mayor's office. However, I soon realized that I would consider her as more of an integration partner than an actual let's-work-together-on-stuff partner. Luckily, the mayor fits that working together role, so I consider him to be my true partner in crime. In, um.. Peace and friendship, I mean. Don't worry, we haven't committed any crimes together. Except for that time he "stole" a man's peaches on our way to the capital once, but I'm 90% sure he asked permission. 

He is without question, hands-down, the nicest man in the village. Possibly in the country, even. 

His name is Valeriu, and he's currently the mayor. Before he was the mayor, he was a history teacher at the school. He also lived in the capital for awhile and was a representative in parliament, but returned to the village to raise a family. He has daughters that live abroad, but he likes to tell people that I am his daughter in the village now while his are away. (So he always asks me if I'm warm enough at home, and how I'm doing with everything.) 

Valeriu lives right next door to his brother. He's always up for a selfie. He tells me it hurts his soul to do the hard parts of his job, but he's always got a smile on his face for the good parts. He manages to keep the whole office in line during Monday morning meetings, and if there's music playing, he's asking the first person he sees to dance. 

The day after my grandpa died during my first month at site, I didn't tell anyone anything, but he still managed to think I needed cheering up and took me around to all the neighboring wineries. He's pretty great at toasts and speeches (you kind of have to be here) but the sweetest one I ever heard was after one of his classmates/coworkers died.

He always includes me in any village event that he can think of, and if I ask about something, he'll find some way to make it happen. I wanted to ride in a horse carriage, so he dressed me up in the national costume and, along with a bunch of others, we rode around in one for the Hram (village day) celebration. I wanted to know how to make wine, so since he wasn't making much this last year, he brought me to his brother's house to learn. I had a friend that wanted to visit the winery in the next village, so he and his wife took us for a tour! If I wanted the moon, I think he'd find a way to get it for me. This Christmas he asked me to be the Alba ca Zapada (Snow White, Santa's granddaughter) to his Mos Craciun (Santa Claus).

The mayor is even famous among the volunteers in my sector. My partner was busy for our very first conference with partners, so he came along and was totally the class clown. We had a number of activities where we shared things with the group, goals and objectives and such.. And he told the whole group (Peace Corps staff, PCVs, Moldovan partners) that he wouldn't let me eat or sleep until I learned Romanian. He is hilarious and always has something funny to say or a great story to tell. 

He makes working at the Primaria fun. I don't see him every day, because he's pretty busy and we work in different halves of the building, but if it's been awhile, he'll always come in to check on me and on whatever project we're working on. He helps me get my work done - if I ever have any questions, he's got an answer, or finds one for me. He's just so motivated! He's great to work with because he really wants to do all the good he can for the village. I think he cares a great deal about everyone here. 

Sometimes he talks too quickly for me, but he always realizes it (because my face shows clear incomprehension, I'm sure), laughs, and says, oh, was I talking too fast again? Catea, you've got to remind me! He's taken to calling me puișor, which technically means chick, but I swear it's cute and not weird. A term of endearment here. 

The mayor is definitely my favorite person in the village, and I'm sure he contributed to my not leaving during the time when I wanted to, just by caring about me and really wanting to work with me. He always makes sure I'm happy and taken care of, and talks about wanting to write my parents to thank them for sending me here. He makes me want to do everything I can for the village while I'm here, because if he's a part of it, I know it's going to be great. 

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

This post is part of the Blogging Abroad Blog Challenge.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

I Never Knew

All it takes to make you think, man, what did I know? is trying to think about things you never knew. 

So what didn't I know before I came to Moldova? 

Well first of all, I'll need to admit that I had never heard of Moldova. Neither had a lot of people I know, so my go-to answer was "It's right by Ukraine." (In retrospect, I should have said, "It's right by Romania," because telling people it was right by Ukraine, even though that's literally where I ended up being placed, made them worry unnecessarily and even say, mmmm yeah you probably shouldn't go there. But I was obviously trying to be cool and dangerous, duhhhh.) 

After reading this prompt, I've spent the last couple of days thinking about all the things I never knew before I came here. Misconceptions, interesting facts, superstitions.. And it's interesting, because even some of the traditions and superstitions I've learned in my village are things my fellow volunteers have never heard of. So not all of these will even end up being true for all of Moldova, but I'm going to try to list some things I didn't know a year and a half ago. Some will really be things about Moldova, but others might end up being about myself.. We'll just have to see. 

I never knew...
  • That a village can run out of something for days. Right now, snowed in, we're out of bread. And when I say we, I mean the whole village. Recently I wanted to bake something with milk, so I went to one of the stores. "No," the woman said when I asked if she had any. "The milk car won't come for another two days." So I went to the next store and she told me the same thing (of course, they would have the same supplier! Why hadn't I thought of that?). I asked about other stores and she looked at me like I had lost my mind. "No, I told you, it doesn't come until Wednesday." Then I had the audacity to ask for another dairy product.. Nope. She said to me, "Just have your host mom call someone who has a cow." Oh, of course. 
  • That I would be able to have discussions at work in Romanian about topics I never could have talked about in English before.. Today the mayor and I discussed renting a tractor and the process of digging underground and installing pipelines to carry water through to the center of the village. Yeah, that's my latest project. What? I didn't really expect that I'd be able to communicate as well as I have in another language. I didn't think I'd be bad at it, but sometimes my level of understanding astounds me. I definitely have days where I feel like I've forgotten everything I learned, but I have really good language days, too. 
  • That I'd take so many selfies.

  • That I would simultaneously learn to love solitude and want so badly to be around people. 
  • That I would have a favorite type of plăcintă. I was offered some by my mentor on our second day here and, having never heard of it, I panicked and thought she said "placenta" - I have to eat that?! Luckily it's plăcintă, it's a pastry filled with something either sweet or savory, it's delicious, and my host mom makes the greatest kind ever. 

  • That finding a bay leaf in my soup meant I was going to get a letter. (This superstition has never quite been proven..) 
  • That sitting on the floor/ground or walking around barefoot/with improper footwear would cause my ovaries to freeze and prevent me from having children. (Also not proven.)
  • How to make wine - even now, I'm sure I couldn't do it all on my own, but I've definitely worked through the whole process.
  • That my "friends" in the village would be 11-year-olds or middle-aged women, and virtually no one in between. And also the mayor. Definitely never knew I'd consider the mayor of a tiny village in Moldova to be my BFF. 

  • I'd be able to navigate life in another country by myself for this long, starting at zero language and really zero knowledge of anything about this place. 
  • That chickpeas signal the end of a masa in the southeast region of Moldova. 
  • That I'd wish, on a regular basis, that I could experience life in this village when it was part of the Soviet Union, just for a day. Everything they tell me about life then.. I don't know, I just know the village would look completely different. 
  • What true loneliness is. 
  • The art of making a care package last practically forever - my self-control is off the charts now. 
  • What I'd become so passionate about.
  • About any of the people or places that I now can't imagine life without. I never knew I could fall in love with so many of the people I've met and experiences I've had and places I've been in such a short time.
That list only makes a dent in my time here - the things I've learned, the things I've done.. I didn't think I'd be asked to be a translator for conferences, or that I'd be interested in the lives of random old ladies that I've only met a few times, or that I'd practically want to be adopted by my training host family. I didn't know I'd have any fun teaching kids English or be able to assert myself in an office full of outspoken Moldovan women. I didn't know I'd be included in so many cultural events and experiences that are sometimes unique to village life, and I didn't know that the community would end up feeling more like home and more like a family than I thought it would. The mayor will probably tell the story for years about the American girl who saw the village she had to live in and cried for two days straight, but then he'll probably have a similar story when I leave this summer. So, it turns out there's a lot I didn't know. 

Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015

This is part of the Blogging Abroad Blog Challenge!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Behind the Gates

Pretty much every house in my village is enclosed by a gate. That doesn't seem to make anyone any less likely to invite you in, or to shout out a "Good morning!" as they see you pass by. But they've all got a gate. My house has a brick fence separating the yard from the street. Which is a good thing, because we don't want our chickens roaming all over the village! (Though if they did, I'm fully sure they'd come right back at night.. They're pretty good at that.) 

So what do we have behind ours?

Behind the gates and behind the house, we've got a fence in our backyard too. This separates the garden from the house. It's much brighter than this picture, as my host mom and I repainted before the winter came. Behind the house, we've got a small garden, an outdoor shower (on left in this picture), and fields. We've also got a "casa veche" right by the house, which means "old house." Sometimes these are called "casa mica," which is "little house." They might include bedrooms, kitchens, or storage rooms. They could be literally a little house and include almost everything. When I first moved in, we would eat in the casa veche, but now that we have a kitchen in the big house, I personally don't use it for much. One part of it is where we keep potatoes and 300 huge sacks of flour for baking (slight exaggeration). 

In the main house, we have a kitchen (this is new-ish, we didn't have one when I arrived. My host mom would cook on hot plates, usually outside. Now we have a stove and cabinets and a warm, colorful place to eat and entertain.), a bathroom, two bedrooms, and a few rooms that aren't used for much. Occasionally we will entertain in one of them, but mostly they are empty. Moldovan houses sometimes have a room where they keep their nice things, and that room might be used for big get-togethers. 

One of my favorite things about some Moldovan houses is the metalwork on them. This is right in front of our front door, and the detail is just so cool! I first started noticing these works of art while in my training village, and I was really happy to see that my house at my permanent site had a great big one - it felt like a sign. 

A real bed tends to be rare for PCVs in Moldova. A lot of us have pull-out couches to sleep on. Luckily, mine is very comfortable. I usually leave it as a bed, but sometimes make it a couch for yoga or dancing or other fun things! (Okay, it's one of the two. The only other thing I can think of is maybe a large craft project, but those are rare.) 

"I can see Ukraine from my house!" But seriously.

One of my favorite weekend activities is to bring a glass of wine or mug of coffee out to our back balcony and sit there to read, looking out at the valley. Some nights there are a million stars, some afternoons there are people working in the fields, and some mornings everything is covered with a fresh blanket of snow. 

Though I called it one, it's not technically a valley that I'm looking out at. In the village (and in Moldova in general), we call anything that's above us in elevation "the hill." Anything below us is "the valley." This river separates our fields from the valley. My host dad built this bridge once the family realized I like going for walks or jogs in the valley. I'll usually pass a few cows, and occasionally a horse or two. 

My host family doesn't have too many animals. I've been told that they used to have cows, but now all we have are chickens and a few dogs. In the summer and fall we'll have geese, but they'll all be killed and canned before winter comes. When the weather is nice, the birds sometimes get to roam free, but they never escape the gates. 

We have two wells, which are usually where I get my drinking water from, but we have running water in the house, too, so I often use that as well - after boiling and filtering it. As far as conveniences go, we are fortunately equipped with a shower, indoor toilet, and even wifi - my host mom likes to Skype with her son in America almost every day, and I also might enjoy the use of the Internet. We're currently heating our house with wood and charcoal in a soba, or stove that heats the whole house. 

My house is very comfortable, so I'm fortunate in that respect, as many other Moldova PCVs don't have all those luxuries. I enjoy my little space in the house. You can either find me in my room, the kitchen, or outside on the balcony when the weather is nice (or if my host mom isn't home to scold, when it isn't nice! Sitting outside under the cover of the balcony is lovely during a rainstorm, or even when it's cold, as long as I bundle up!). We've got a lot behind our red gates! 

This is part of the #BloggingAbroad Blog Challenge!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

#BloggingAbroad: Why?

Are you surprised to hear from me again so soon?! Get ready for even more, because I've decided to participate in the Blogging Abroad Blog Challenge! They're sending me two prompts per week, so I'll get to share more about Moldova and you'll get to learn more! Since 2016 is the year I move back to the US, it'll be fun to do a few weeks of posts about my life here before things get really crazy and I start potentially slacking (what?! like I would do that!). 
Blogging Abroad's Boot Camp Blog Challenge: Starting January 2015
Our first prompt is: Why? Essentially, why am I here? This tends to come up a lot, and I tend to not usually have a very good answer. It feels like it's as big a question as: Why are we here? On this earth, even. I'll give something vague and just rely on the fact that Romanian is not my first language - oh, I don't know how to explain. 

Wearing traditional Moldovan clothing

A lot of things went into my decision to join the Peace Corps. I recently graduated from college in 2013, and had decided that academic year that I wanted to join (so that at our commencement, I got a shoutout from the president - when she was talking about our future plans, she mentioned that one of us was waiting for a Peace Corps assignment - oh hey, that's me!). 

One of my closest friends at home is very passionate about seemingly everything. He's always going to do something amazing, and he always tells me about it and I'm always excited for him. Some of these things, he really does, and some of them he just talks about. One of the latter was Peace Corps, but the summer before our senior year of college, he was really into the idea. I was not, but I listened to him talk to an RPCV that we had just met, and I decided I should figure out if I could be into it, too. Turns out I was, so I applied, and the October after I graduated, I got my invitation to Moldova. And that friend has supported me this whole time - I think of him as the reason I'm here.

That's us when I went home for a visit!

Though I guess it's more complicated than that, exactly. He didn't tell me to do it or even really suggest it to me. I just love watching him get excited about things and this was something that I could get a little excited about, too. I'm not saying I wanted to save the world, and I don't think I'm going to be in line for sainthood anytime soon or anything, but after I graduated (and before), I didn't know what to do. Or what I wanted to do. And if you don't know what you want to do, unless you won the lottery or have a lot of rich ancestors or something, you can't just do nothing. So I thought it'd be a better use of my time to see if I could help someone else. If it could be in another country and I could learn a new language, experience a new culture, and meet a bunch of cool, new people.. Even better. That seemed a lot more legitimate than adopting a cat and living in my mother's basement. (But let's at least consider the cat thing, right?) 

I've been in Moldova for 19 months, and most days I love it here. So I'm excited to join this blogging challenge to share a little bit of my life here with everyone! 

Making wine with my mayor and his brother!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Happy New Year!

I like it when January 1st hits and we have a new year. I'm completely ready to start using my new planner, which I buy months in advance anticipating all the new artwork and blank pages to fill with plans and goals and hopes and dreams (no, seriously - my new planner is adorable and feeling neglected - thankfully it's time to use it). Is it a little silly that we wait until the 1st to start resolutions and vow to complete our bucket list and chop all our hair off and move halfway across the world..? Yes, obviously it is. We all know it is. If you want to make a change in October, you should just make it. But that doesn't stop the new year from feeling like it's got so much promise. 

Although, this new year doesn't feel so much promising as it does terrifying. 2016 is not 2014 or 2015. (I know what you're thinking - yes, obviously! Only on her second paragraph and she's clearly lost it!) In 2014, I knew (essentially) what was going to happen - I was going to leave for Moldova in June. I'd spend half the year at home preparing in a million ways and the other half in another country, training and learning a language and settling into my new home. In 2015, I knew (essentially) what was going to happen - I was going to spend the entire year in Moldova, working on different things and making new friends and being only the greatest PCV my village has ever seen (sorry Heath and Julia, don't worry, they still talk about you guys too). 

But 2016? Half the year is still a mystery. Yes, I'll be in Moldova until at least July, which admittedly covers a lot of it. I'll finish up my last big project (Lord willing), hang out with some kids and teach them a word or two in English, travel a little bit, prepare myself to leave, cry a lot, have some heart-to-hearts over too much coffee (if there is such a thing), touch some lives, save the world - the usual. But then what? What happens after that? When I ring the bell - and when am I ringing that bell?? - that signifies our Close of Service.. THEN WHAT. It's blank. Those last 5 months of 2016 - what is going to happen? I honestly feel surprised that my new planner HAS those months included - don't they know that I don't know what goes in them? That I can't fill in those pages? That I can't predict that future? (Besides the crying. We know I'll do that anywhere.) I do know that I'll be going home, which I'm really excited about, because mi-e dor de casa. 

While I casually panic about next year, let's talk about the one that just ended. Because I did this last year and it was fun. 

In 2015, 

  • I spent: 12 months in Moldova. My whole year as a PCV. Yes, I did leave the country a few times, but I lived here this whole time. Holidays on holidays, training new volunteers, meeting new people, summer camp, firsts, lasts, speeches, toasts, grand openings, tears, coffee, wine on wine on wine... And on that note, while not 2015-specific, I've been here a total of 576 days now. 
  • I wrote: 32 blog posts here at Wining & Whining. I wrote a lot more than that during just the last half of 2014, so I'm assuming that means I was doing more actual work.. Or that I got lazy? Nahhh, doubt it. Most popular was the Penguin Dance! But I'm pretty sure that's because my dad watched the video about.... roughly a million times. He's probably 80% of the views on that video on YouTube, so.. Second place goes to A Year Of Days, which is possibly my favorite of the year, written at my one year anniversary with Moldova. (I mean, I love Moldova, but I don't think she's the one. It's one of those relationships that had a time limit from the beginning, like when you start dating at the end of senior year, or right before doing something ridiculous like joining the Peace Corps. But it's been nice while it's lasted. I think we've got a few more good months in us.) 
  • I read: 50 books/14,399 pages, the most I've ever read in a year. My favorite of the year was If You Find This Letter. Honorable mentions go to Modern Romance, As You Wish, Sisterhood Everlasting. Truly there are too many honorable mentions, so these are really just the most recent favorites. 
  • I traveled: 12,832 miles by plane (roughly). Including airports, I've been in 6 countries in 2015. I took trips to Italy and to the U.S., the latter of which included a road trip from Virginia to Wisconsin and back! Rutiera travel isn't even going to be part of this equation.. I would just start thinking about how many hours I've spent on minibuses and might just lose my mind.
  • I filled: 1 journal full of daily happenings and drawings and thoughts and love stories and heartbreak and gratitude. I'm on journal #3 for Peace Corps and hope to finish that one soon, too. 
  • I turned: 25. Now I'm a quarter century of amazing. 
  • I built: a park, a life, some friendships.
I had life-changing experiences and trips and sunrises. I fell in love roughly 365 times or so. I've accomplished more than I thought I could, but still spend some days feeling like I haven't done anything. I've stayed out all night and made questionable decisions and continued to live with all this passion and emotion right at the surface of my interactions with people. I've wanted to quit and I've wanted to stay extra. I've met people that have changed my life, some through pushing me to greatness and others through making me feel like I'm less than great. I've done a lot of solo dancing and solo dinners and solo hours-long walks through the city - and I've gone weeks without any alone time at all. Sometimes I don't do anything for days and other times I fit so much living into such a small amount of time that I don't even know what's happened. 

In 2016,

  • My theme for the year is going to be honesty. 2015's theme was optimism, which I think worked out pretty well for me. Now I want it to be honesty. I met someone this year who I thought was going to play a different part in my life than they ended up playing. Spending time with them taught me how valuable honesty can be. And honestly, that person isn't part of my life anymore. But I've taken some lessons from our friendship that I am keeping around, and expressing myself in exactly the ways I want to and believe in is one of them. But don't ask me if that dress makes you look fat. 

This year, I've worked really hard. And occasionally it's been really hard. But it's also often been really great. I think I can always look back at 2015 and be proud of myself for the things I did this year. The unknown of 2016 is scary, but it's also kind of exciting. And it's here whether or not I want it to be, so I might as well jump right in. 

I spent the last night of 2015 with great friends, fireworks, lights, and a whole lot of sparkles, so if that's any indication of how 2016 will be, I feel like I'm ready. 

La mulți ani înainte!