Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Something of Impact

At our Close of Service Conference, we were supposed to prepare something for the "Something of Impact" session, where we all talked about how awesome Peace Corps was something impactful from our service. It could be anything. It WAS anything. 

I did not share. 

I had this prepared forever in advance, had written notes in my journal (which I carried to each session) so I wouldn't forget anything, and we had already placed bets on how many times I'd cry. But everyone said such great things - I laughed, I cried, I was inspired. So I thought, yeah, I can't do this. My natural "emotional basketcase" state plus a mountain of insecurity at the time just led to my sitting there listening to everyone else talk. Luckily I have a bunch of amazing supporters on my team, who said they still want to hear what I had to say. So here it is. 

I can, with relative confidence, walk the mile or so from the bus stop to my house on a moonless night.

You're probably thinking, okay... great job, Cat. How is that Something of Impact? 

My site is a small village that's three hours from Chisinau on a good day. We don't really have paved roads, and we have about 4 streetlights (and 3 of them are right next to each other). When I first arrived, my host mom made a big deal about the fact that there was a streetlight outside our house. I eventually realized that it was literally on just for me. Someone was paying to have that streetlight on because the volunteer, the American, lived there. 

So when I first got to the village, if I returned to site at night (which I tended to do, due to bus schedules), I would have a few streetlights, hopefully a moon to light the way, and my flashlight (or, more accurately, the light on my phone). And I knew I was getting close because I had the streetlight in front of my house to guide me. In other words, I had a lot of help making my way through the village. 

The road isn't terrible, but if you don't know it, it can be a little treacherous. There are holes to avoid. It's uneven. If it's rained, there are perfect places to step so you don't get as muddy. (The American is not good at finding these perfect places.) You never want to step directly where the cows have traveled on their way home.. 

Maybe you see where I'm going with this. In the beginning of my Peace Corps service, I needed a lot of help. I had my village looking out for me (with the streetlight at my house), I had my program staff, cohort, and people back home helping me out (maybe they're the rest of the streetlights), and I was trying to make it on my own (with my phone to light the way). It was really hard at first. I might trip, or make mistakes. Dogs would come out and scare me, or I would get homesick. Even if I tried to do everything right and not step where I shouldn't, some unforeseen obstacle would come out of nowhere and upset me or make me fall. It was really frustrating at times, especially when I would leave for a weekend and come back to new holes in the ground to avoid. 

But it got easier. The road got renovated a little, and I started to get used to the life I was living in my village and in Peace Corps. I felt a little more sure of myself. I cried less. I had successful projects, and English classes, and trainings, and I was helping other PCVs. I became more comfortable in the work I was doing and the way I felt about it. I could speak Romanian. I felt relatively accomplished (most days). I knew which dogs had a bark worse than their bite and which ones were just curious about the American walking by. They turned off the streetlight, and I was okay. 

Now I can walk from the bus stop to my house on a moonless night. That maybe doesn't sound so impressive to you. But without streetlights or natural light to show the way, most of the walk is completely dark. I'm doing this on my own, and I think I'm good at it. People don't keep lights on in their houses; cars don't drive by to shine headlights for a little while. But I'm used to it. I know where to step, I know what to do. 

I don't need to make such an effort to keep myself from falling.

Sure, there is still opportunity for me to slip up. A flash of something in the road that isn't normally there; being told I have to run important meetings using a bunch of vocabulary I'm unsure of. An animal might appear suddenly; I might have an unforeseen complication with a grant. But there are still a few streetlights and at least I know where I'm going.

And on those nights when it's completely dark and I'm making my way slowly through the journey, I've got you guys. I've got all these beautiful stars, these constellations, some of which I know like the back of my hand and that I know I'll be seeing for all of my life, that make the whole trip worth it.

Love to you, M29, my moon and my stars. You turn the darkest night into a breathtaking masterpiece. We've come so far, and I'm forever grateful that you've been there for me this whole time (whether you're still here or whether you've already gone). We did it! Vă iubesc, și mi-e dor de voi deja. 

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Catch up.

Has it been a hundred years? 

I know, it feels like it has. I've got some soul-searching posts coming up (obviously), but since it's been so long, I thought I'd tell you what's been going on in life since the year started. 

  • Rang in the New Year with friends in the capital of Moldova.

  • Had a food-filled, binge-watching stay-cation during the winter holidays with a friend in my village.
  • Went on vacation to beautiful Romania with yet another friend and had potentially the most relaxing week of my recent memory.

  • Enjoyed a few snow days in the village - because we literally couldn't get out of our house; there was too much!
  • Found out my COS date - my last day as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Moldova is going to be July 7, 2016. Right now that's just three months away (cue panic attack).

  • Helped out with the M30 Project Design and Management Conference, mentoring, answering questions, and occasionally translating (but jeez their language is good!). This was a lot of fun; the COD group gets some really stellar volunteers.
  • Ran a 10K in the underground cellars of the Cricova Winery. I know, right?

  • Made 60+ Valentines to deliver to PCVs - if I could have thought of anything else clever to put on them, I would have made them for even the PCVs I don't know.

  • Helped my village apply for a volunteer to take my place (IN THE VILLAGE BUT NOT IN THEIR HEARTS). 
  • Spent a romantic Valentine's Day eating so much food and watching so much television with a friend in her village.
  • Went on vacation to beautiful Poland, where I met my cousin and his girlfriend and had the best time! We did Krakow, Auschwitz, salt mines, and Warsaw. Spent a few days by myself (and with new friends) after they left, which was also spectacular.

  • LEAP DAY IN MOLDOVA! This wasn't actually very special but I did spend the whole day doing only relaxing things that I wanted to do. 
  • Celebrated International Women's Day (a few times) with my village, including a super fancy banquet at the raion center that we packed 12 women into a van to attend. I'm getting hungry just thinking about all the delicious food we had there.

  • Celebrated a friend's birthday with a weekend filled with fun and games. 
  • Hosted half the raion PCVs at my house for another weekend of fun and games, including a hike to the lake, #buddyyoga, and a kick line or two.

  • Filled up my third journal. 
  • Helped teach a computer usage seminar in the raion center library. This involved planning and teaching about browsing the Internet and setting up an email account, and made us pretty pleased at our Romanian skills. It was oddly a lot of fun to teach middle-aged Moldovan women about how to use the computer.
  • Met a friend's boyfriend and sister when they each came to visit, including a wonderful trip to the Mileștii Mici Winery, which holds the Guinness World Record for the largest wine cellar. (See, don't worry, I'm still "wining.")

  • Attended and gave a presentation at the Regional Experience Exchange for libraries in our part of Moldova, where we learned about projects in other communities and talked together about advice and plans for the future in our libraries. 
  • Did 30 days of yoga in a row (and still holding strong in April so far with the intention of doing 30 more!). 

I never think I'm that busy and then I look back and see all these things I've done in just the first three months of the year! Now I've got three months left to pack in as much (or more!). 

There's a lot in my plans for April (working on my final project, meetings with the health center and villagers to inform them about said project, a Bible Study retreat, another 10K, visitors to my village, our COS conference..) so it doesn't look like things are going to slow down anytime soon. I'll try to take a breath once in a while and pay attention to what's going on around me, and be thankful for the time I've got left. 

Good things about the last couple of days: • delicious weekend of shopping, sangria, and foooood • the weather has been LOVELY • my bike quit working on the way to work but before heading home, a guy outside the Primaria fixed it for me, no questions asked • coffee • new whiteboards to use during English club! • meeting fellow crybabies • productive meetings with the mayor • yummy colorful salads • Gilmore Girls • outdoor yoga • YOU, for reading all of this!