Monday, January 9, 2012

I looked back and realized that it has been several months since I wrote anything here. I always meant to and then pushed it to the side in favor of something else. I would like to say that something else was always work... but no, sometimes I just needed a movie break :)
Many of the volunteers told us that the second year goes by very fast. They said that in general looking back the whole 27 months tends to have gone by faster then you would think it would, but the second year in particular is quick. And for me, so far, that has been very true. The fall semester was full and it seemed like every time I turned around it was a new month, a new holiday, a new project, something that kept me busy. Of course it gets tiring after 4 straight months like that but it is also a blessing. Being occupied gives meaning to the whole experience and helps pass the time. I have felt purposeful, I have felt fulfilled.
This year I have been thankfully free of debilitating sicknesses (don't worry I have still been plenty sick, just the nice manageable sicknesses though) and I have been able to get a lot down. That's not to say that food poisoning and giardia aren't fun, oh wait, they aren't, but having the sniffles doesn't put one out for a couple weeks at a time. My time as a volunteer has been filled with more strange bodily reactions then any other time in my life. And I sincerely, soulfully, wholly hope that it is the last time I have such a range of reactions. Beware those looking to become a volunteer, be prepared for the oddest things to happen to you. That doesn't mean it will be all awful or hurtful, but it will be weird. If there is any way to mentally prepare for that I suggest you start working on it NOW.
Back to the work front, I find myself getting more and more involved in the English Education program as a whole. I am, in fact, in the process of applying to extend in the position of Peace Corps Volunteer Leader (PCVL, gotta love those acronyms). It means a third year but it has more flexibility in some ways then continuing to focus mostly on teaching. It means helping the program develop more, working more directly with more volunteers on work, life at site, and training. I have to say that I am really looking forward to it.
It is of course a very "square" thing to do. To be so satisfied and to enjoy one's work so much. To feel like you have found just the right path in life. I think, as I have long thought about Peace Corps in general, that that this was the right thing to do, at the right time, for the right reasons. I would also give this advice to people looking to become Peace Corps Volunteers: look hard at the reasons you want to be a volunteer. Of course you should want to work with people and create a better understanding between you and others, but you also need some personal reasons. Something that can help you through the times when you are lonely, frustrating or just plain feeling fed up. You should also consider becoming a very stubborn person, someone who says "I refuse to give up". Life gets you down sometimes, as life is want to do, it does not mean that it won't turn out all right in the end.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Summer flies by

This summer has been a giant boost in my "get-up-and-go". I will admit that at the end of the school year I was tired of teaching, tired of being a volunteer and just plain tired. I was excited for the arrival of the new trainees but I knew that I needed something to get me ready for the next year and the next part of my service. I didn't know what exactly would help me get there or what it would feel like when it happened I just knew that I really, really needed it.
Luckily this whole summer has been that something. I have been able to try new things. I was able to work with some great volunteers to help make PST something new and hopefully improved. That is one of the great things about Moldova and the Peace Corps here, it is based on a lot of volunteer involvement in the program. Sure things don't always just happen because a volunteer said I want to change something but we have a voice and that counts for a lot.
PST was and was not a lot of work. It was definitely not as stressful as when I was a trainee (imagine that) and not as much work. In some ways PST was like a mini-vacation. It was a different setting and a different work schedule. It lead to some great discussions about teaching and teaching in Moldova specifically. I am almost always up for a good, in-depth discussion about teaching and the ins and outs of teaching. So in many ways PST was a good way for me to get my nerd on. Oh the treasured days of yesteryear in graduate classes where the best part of the class was the fact that we spent the whole thing in discussion! It is great to be able to have these discussions with the trainees, especially since a lot of them have education backgrounds and enjoy these discussion as much as I do.
I also got to show a friend of mine how great Moldova and Moldovans can be. My friend, as part of her summer Europe travels, decided she would come visit me (with much excited prompting by yours truly). I was able to introduce her to my host family, show her a little of Chisinau, and take a whirlwind trip to Odessa. Other than an unfortunate food poisoning episode I think that I showed her the best there is to see, the people. My host family was so happy to have an American guest and get to know another American. On both sides I heard nothing but great comments "Your friend is so nice!" "Your host family is great!" and more. It is funny to see how other people, seeing Moldova and meeting Moldovans for the first time view the whole thing. I wish more people would visit me (wink wink hint hint).
Having people visit, I feel, is one of the ways that can really help with home sickness. I felt the same way in Chile, unfortunately just as I was beginning to feel great again I had to leave, this time I get to use that feeling to help me keep going.
I also got to visit home. Doesn't that sound weird? Visit home? But that is what it was, I knew that it was home, I was comfortable there and my family was there but it was just a visit. And while I was so comfortable there it was surreal how people just put me back in a slot. This is the Carolyn slot, we've been saving it for you, here you go. But the Carolyn that went back was not the Carolyn that left. I don't know if others noticed it, but I certainly did. It was big things and little, extremely odd things. Big things, like feeling so different about energy use and where my foods comes from. Little things, like what on earth do I do with the toilet paper now? Oh that's right I flush it, weird. Of course everyone else thought that the last statement was a little too much information, but I knew that if I had been with a group of volunteers they would have said "yeah, I had to think about that too!" It reminded me of a commercial I saw (on youtube, cause I don't have American TV) that was a recruitment commercial for the Peace Corps. It was a guy who was always talking about his time in the Peace Corps. You can tell that the people around him are just sort of listening, like yeah, yeah, that is fascinating but as I was watching I was thinking, yeah, that has happened to me. We become more defined by this experience and we want to share it, but not everyone wants to see the whole picture, they want the 15 second sound bite.
Other than that my time home was fantastic! I ate all sorts of wonderful food such as gorditas, thai curry, spring rolls, steak, and on and on and on. I do really like the food in Moldova, it is fresh and usually very good but I miss the variety. Oh the variety. I also got to drive for the first time in over a year. That was equally awesome. I had the windows down, the music up and I revealed in that current. I spent some time sitting on cold things and drank only cold drinks. It is the simple things in life.
The best part of the whole visit was the time I got to spend with friends and family. I found out that one of my friends is expecting a baby. I couldn't believe it! How could that happen! I'm just... well in my mid-twenties! It was like a shock, I am, in some ways, an adult! My friends will be getting married and having kids and the whole nine yards. A shock yes, but not a bad shock. I got to spend time having crazy discussions with a good friend of mine and just talk about silly things with other friends. I also got a lot of free lunches, yah for being the visitor!
I finally met my niece, Sofia. Of course I had seen pictures and joked that she had a funny square head in all of them but the reality was so different. Here is a tiny, new person. Looking at the world for the first time and only just beginning to understand bits and pieces of it. Someones voice, the new smells and sights, being able to start flipping herself over. She loves to sleep on people too, to just snuggle right in. What an incredible feeling. I spent several hours just sitting in a chair holding her right next to my heart and feeling her breathe. This new, tiny person is now a big part of my heart.
Now I am back. I have new ideas, new thoughts, more energy (except for this stupid cold) and I am ready to go. I have been spending the last couple of days and plan to spend the rest of the time before school starts, getting ready for the new school year. Watch out kids! You will be learning and evolving and becoming better people whether you are ready or not! Hopefully this summer high (as I have taken to calling it) will keep going to the end.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Softball in Moldova! Otherwise known as slow pitch baseball.

Of all the sports that I have tried or watch over the years (not all that many years I know, but to me my life has gone on for awhile) I have to say that my favorite two are softball and volleyball. To be honest I haven't played softball in awhile but I brought my softball mitt just in case. Up to this point my poor un-used mitt just sat in my room but as summer got closer another volunteer was working behind the scene to get some softball equipment to Moldova. Kim (the volunteer I was talking about) used to play and coach softball in the states and her dream was to bring softball to the children of Moldova.
To start with many children in Moldova do know what baseball is, or at least have an idea of what it looks like, a ball, a bat and a ball. They may not know the details but if you say baseball they say "Oh yeah, I know what that is. I have never played it, but I know what it is". Some years ago a previous volunteer actually started a baseball little league that continued on for some time but is now largely defunct. However, none of them seem to know what softball is. Which is why Kim came up with the term "Slow pitch Baseball". Of course that is just to lure them in and then we hit them with the wonderfulness of Softball, slow pitch because none of us who are helping or have helped have been pitchers up to this point.
But in each of the 3 times that I have helped it has been amazing to see how fast these kids have picked up softball and started to enjoy playing it. With in hours of instruction and playing around the kids have been playing against each other in loose teams. They shout out advice and pick up the rhythm of game and enjoy the glory of a home run. At the end of each day those of us helping could not help but be amazed with the progress of these kids how had never even seen softball played or picked up a mitt and a ball before.
Some of the best moments for me also were seeing the quieter boys and the girls get right into it and shining. In one village we had a girl who picked up softball so fast it made my head spin. If she had been in the states she would have been able to easily move up to a competitive team with a little coaching and practice. It felt great to be able to provide the role model of a women who plays and enjoys sports as part of a healthy life style. I hope that it is something that will stay with the girls that we played with.
In addition to the experience of working with Moldovan youth was the language exchange as well. The two villages I was able to help in were both predominately Romanian speaking and I am predominately a Russian speaker in Moldova. But since I had not taken the time to translate the words for bat, ball, mitt, and some others into Russian I had to relay on the Romanian words that Kim had taken the time to translate. I feel that in addition to the great time the kids had learning to play softball they also had a great time listening to me freely mix my Russian and Romanian together in new and inventive ways to help them figure out some of the basics. Even now, after having asked what the Russian words are, I can only easily recall the Romanian words. Sometimes I feel like I am developing my own language of Rom-Rus-English with a few Gagauz words thrown in for effect.
All in all it was a wonderful couple of days helping Kim with her Softball clinics. I hope that I can continue to help her out and have a week of softball in my own town sometime in the future. It gets said again and again but it always rings true that change lies with the future generations and those of use who can help them along the way are working towards a better future.

New Future Volunteers

A couple of weeks ago the next group of future volunteers for Moldova arrived. As a mentor in our Peer Support Network I was there to meet and greet the new trainees. They had a very long first day. They got off the plane in Chisinau and went straight to the school were they have their group training days. They started off with hauling all of their luggage into the school and separating it into piles that corresponded with the villages they will be living in for the whole of their training period. As a short break they then got to eat and spend a little time being meeting as many of us as they could. Most had a sort of shell-shocked expression, partly from finally making it to Moldova and partly from the whirl wind trip they had had up to that point. The day did not end for them there. They then went on to a brief orientation and then they were loaded down with things like a medical kit, fire extinguisher, smoke alarm, tons of information, water, a water filter and many more things.
It was crazy to see them going through the whole process and at the same time remembering what it was like for myself going through the same thing. I was glad I did it and continue to be grateful that I am in Moldova and living this wonderful experience but I am also very glad I don't have to do that first week over again! But the best thing is that we have new trainees and people who continue to want to spread peace and friendship around the world and in Moldova.
Since then as a mentor and a facilitator for Pre-Service Training I have gotten to meet and start to really get to know the trainees. I have to say that I am very excited that they are here and will be sharing all that they know with us and Moldovans.

Party in the Forest-A bonding moment with my fellow teachers

During the school year teachers have a hectic schedule. Some teachers have so many classes and other duties that they do not have time to do much socializing, while others have more than one job and often have to leave right after their classes to get to that job. In addition the cold of the school and lack of a lunch break are not great incentives to sit around after classes are over and chat. Those who do stay are involved in projects or the school administration, which makes them, again, very busy. However after the last bell and the last homeroom meeting most of the teachers of my school and I celebrated the end of the school year in a picnic in the forest. We had all been told to wear nice clothes for the last day but to bring a change of clothes for the forest. After all the students were gone we gathered up huge quantities of food (chicken for grilling, cucumbers, tomatoes, brinza, bread, stuffed peppers, cabbage rolls, potatoes with dill) and got into a rented mini-bus to go to the forest. I admit I thought that we would be fairly close to the school but would need the transport for all of our food. We actually went a fair distance to a nice wooded area that had been set up for cook-outs past the village of Sadic.
We carried our bounty to a likely looking place covered in wild strawberry plants and set down a large piece of plastic and several blankets. The plastic for the food and the blankets for us. Right away some of the teachers got set to putting out plates and forks, others started cutting the veggies, and the rest of us gathered fire wood and get the fire pit ready for the buckets of chicken to be grilled.
Soon we were toasting to the end of the year and the beginning of summer and eating all the goodies we had brought. The chicken wasn't ready but in between we played all sorts of games and volleyball and sat and talked and just plain enjoyed ourselves.
For me it was one of the first times that I had a chance to really talk with some of the various teachers and really see a different side of them. The relaxed atmosphere, the good food, and the lifting of the weight of the school year made it easy to connect. I especially loved seeing how competitive we all got over silly little things.
It was a beautiful day that started with our last bell ceremony and ended with a bonding experience and a chance to really get to know my fellow teachers. Some days it is hard not to absolutely love being a volunteer in Moldova.

The school year is over

It may seem a little late but the school year is finally over. Technically the last day of school was the 31st of May. And we definitely ended with a ceremony and final farewell from all the students to the graduating class. But for the 12th form the end of the school year actually took the rest of the month of June while they took the Bacclaurate exams.
In Moldova there is a first bell ceremony and a last bell ceremony. Ring in the new and ring out the old. The last bell ceremony was beautiful and touching. All of the teachers (myself included) dressed in our nicest teacher outfits and wore ridiculous shoes. I had a beautiful pair of heels on that I never would have even picked out in the USA but I was glad I had them. All of the students were also dressed very nicely especially the 12th form. The last bell is really their day.
The ceremony starts by everyone going outside. Our school is small so we often have our assemblies outside when it is warm. The classes arrange themselves in a semi-circle around the front steps of the school from the youngest class on the left to the oldest class on the right. For this day the 12th form stood altogether on the steps in the front. We also had a speaker and microphone set up for the speeches and music. All of the students had at least one bouquet with them while many had whole armfuls of flowers.
In addition to all of the teachers of the school we also had several ministry officials and representatives of the mayor's office. Our director gave an introduction then handed the microphone off to our two MCs, a boy and a girl from our school. All of the classes had some small presentation, such as reciting poetry or singing a song. Then awards were handed out. Students received certificates for best student in their form, perfect attendance, participation in different sporting events and more.
After the awards the various representatives gave speeches of congratulations to the 12th form. I had been told ahead of time that I also would be expected to give a speech. This time however I was allowed to give it in Russian, which made planning it a lot easier then the first bell speech which I gave in Romanian. I tried to think back on all the advice that I had been given when I graduated from high school and I tried to pass on some of those same ideas.
While your time in grade school has ended you have just started your journey. You have the whole world in front of you and it is up to you to decide what you want to do with it. Keep dreaming and believing because those two skills will take you far. Remember your friends and loved ones because they are what help you through life. Never stop believing in yourself.
It probably did not sound as smooth in Russian because of numerous grammar mistakes but I hope that they received the message as it was intended.
After many speeches and presentations some of the 12th form class performed a waltz in front of the school. And in the end all of the students from the other forms lined up in a U-shape and formed a passage of raised flowers that the 12th form and their homeroom teachers passed through to end their time in school.
The very last thing the students did was then pass out their numerous flowers to their teachers. Each teacher came away with their arms overflowing with flowers and a smile on their faces.
The last bell ceremony does not end the day however. It is followed by the last homeroom hour in which parents and students are invited to discuss the end of the year and what to expect next year. I was asked by the director to hand out the participation certificates for the International Writing Olympics. It was a wonderful way to end the school year. All the good that had passed and the achievements that students had attained. It made me excited for the next year and all that could be accomplished.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


As ever I feel that it is very important to talk about the weather. The weather affects just about everything I do and feel and sometimes my motivation to the extreme. For example when it was really cold I didn't feel like going out at all because I would have to walk there. Of course I have to say "really cold" with a little bit of an explanation because at no time was it REALLY cold, not even close. It is just that I didn't want to walk anywhere when I knew that it would take me 20 minutes to get there when it was slightly cold. One because I would have to wear a billion layers to do so and then I couldn't do anything fun, like go dancing cause I would die in all the clothes that I would have had to put on to go dancing in the first place. Needless to say I have not done a lot of socializing for the past couple of months. I am a hermit. Second example would be work. My school was heated, nominally, in the winter but as soon as March hit they turned off the heat. So even though it is not really above the 40s yet our school is unheated. And some members of my host family are fond of turning the house heat off in the middle of the day so the house is cold when I get home. Sigh. I turn it on and all is fine so it is better then school it is just that I would never turn the heat off. Thats all. And at school there is no magical turn the heat back on button. So there are days when I cannot wait to leave school because even though I wore layers and kept my coat on the whole time my nose and my fingers are freezing and I can't get any work done at school at that point. So as you can see (hopefully) the weather is very important in my life. And it keeps changing. Who does that? Really? If I have 2 days of 60 degree weather I think it is going to stay. But so far it hasn't it just flits in a couple of days a week to get our hopes up then the 40 degree weather comes back to dash them to bits. I almost miss the 90 degree weather at this point. Almost. Don't hold me to that statement.

As for school, it is school. There are moments of brillance and then there are less sterling moments where I just want to scream and leave the room or send a particular student from the room. Either would be acceptable in my mind, not so acceptable in reality. But I can fantasize, we have detention and I can send any student I want there and .... then I wake up, no detention. I will just have to use all of my creative 5 year old level Russian skills to talk sense into the situation. It works about, well lets not say and it will seem like it works pretty well. Life at site goes along much in the same vein, some days are just beyond anything I could have imagined in a good way and others, well in every sunny day there must come that one particular cloud that stops right over the sun and stays there for awhile. Eventually it goes away it just takes some really positive thinking.

I am excited to say that I have gotten involved in several different projects in the past month or so including planning for PST training, I get to tell new volunteers what to do! Well not really I will be helping to guide them and impart important and very useful information. I am looking forward to being on the other side of the table and sharing what I think was most helpful for me and hopefully putting a lot of worries to rest about what is to come. I am also going to be a mentor which goes along the same lines of giving information and advice and being a new friend and contact in Moldova for future volunteers. Hopefully they will get as much out of the experience I did. There are also just so many projects going on at any one time, so many ways to get involved and to connect with Moldovans and other volunteers. If anyone is interested in checking out an incredible array of what volunteers here in Moldova are do I highly recommend visiting the website

It is a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps and to all the work that volunteers and their partners due on a daily basis. It is full of pictures and posts about the people, places and work that volunteers encounter during their service. There is a ton to see. I hope everyone who reads my blog will go to this website. I cannot say how wonderful it is.

Happy April!