A Day in the Life

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My bed

After a steamy, humid night where I awake every two hours or so to mop my drenched face and neck, I rise in the morning to brush my teeth, arrange my hair, and take the (very steep) stairs down to the kitchen.  There, Nina has already prepared my breakfast, which has included such varied items as a garden salad, a bowl of cherries and bread, or oatmeal. I feel a bit like a princess, as she serves me and insists I start eating while she bustles about the kitchen.   Usually she joins me after a couple of minutes, but sometimes she’s already eaten and she just keeps me company during my repast.  Which felt a bit awkward the first couple of times, but I’m starting to get used to it.  The thing is, Moldovans don’t see the need or understand the desire for “being alone.”  Their word for loneliness and alone are the same; people just hang out together, even if they don’t talk or engage in the same activity.  There is quite a lot of culture training around this issue for us volunteers and how to effectively integrate into our host families without having to sacrifice our “weird” American desire for privacy.

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My desk

I then make the short walk to school by myself, attempting to be careful not to look or smile at people passing.  This is another “weird” American trait; Moldovans do not seek to engage passersby with generic pleasantries; greetings and smiles are strictly reserved for friends.  In fact, a single woman smiling to a man on the street is considered to have made an inappropriate invitation.  This has been extremely difficult for me to remember and I probably already have a reputation in this town.  Oh well.  I won’t be staying here long. I usually get to school a half hour early and hang out with the other PCTs who are there.  This group of people – my language training class – is supposedly the one that all PCV’s become closest to during their service, as we end up spending the most time together.  There are a couple of them that I feel closer to at this point: Patty is 26 (Rhiannon’s age) and I am around her mother’s age, so we have been drawn to each other for obvious reasons. She is very introspective and concerned with her relationship with her host family, which has had its ups and downs.  We talk a lot about fitting in versus being one’s self.  Georgiana is gregarious and the accessorizing queen; she comes from a family of lawyers and is very analytical, yet relaxed and funny.

Our language class consists of endless repetitions and phony dialogues, which can get tedious but does, admittedly, expose us to the sounds and rhythm of the language.  It has only been four days, but I am just beginning to get a feel for the words as separate entities when they are strung together seamlessly in a sentence.  I must say it is a beautiful language – the common description is that hearing Romanian is like listening to an Italian speaking Russian.   Even when the Moldovans speak English, they retain a lilting cadence to their verbiage that is quite captivating.  The hardest thing is trying to make sounds that our American ear can’t even hear.  They will repeat the singular and plural form of a word, for example, that sound exactly the same to all of us Americans.  We have them repeat it over and over again, but to our dismay we cannot distinguish between the two.  Perhaps we have just not formed the necessary neural pathways?  Anyway, it remains a mystery we can’t seem to resolve.  We just say it the same way in both cases and they accept our efforts.

I then walk home for lunch which, again, is all laid out for me on the kitchen table and typically consists of cucumbers, parsley, dill, butter lettuce, tomatoes, a thin piece of chicken, cherries, raspberries, and perhaps some placinta for dessert.  Nina keeps up a running monologue which I cannot respond to, but, again, helps train my ear to the structure and sound of Romanian.  After checking my email and Facebook messages (I am an Internet addict, I now realize), I walk back to school; up a VERY steep hill.  I am getting some exercise. Yesterday and today, in the afternoon, we had a class with all of the Community Organizational Development Volunteers (there are 20 of us total.)  They take the rutierai over from a neighboring village, which we will do next week and I AM NOT looking forward to; it’s already in the 90’s and it climbs into the triple digits, easily, aboard that sweat box.  Anyway.  We went over our Participatory Analysis for Community Analysis (PACA) which is basically a set of tools for how to do development within the Peace Corps environment.

Without getting into excruciating detail, let me just say the Peace Corps is an agency that has actually learned something in its fifty years of operation.  They have very smart strategies for integrating volunteers into a community without us coming off as overbearing experts who have all the answers, first, by selecting the right people from the start .  It is SO refreshing to be working with a group of really smart individuals; I don’t think I truly appreciated the rigorous selection process of the Peace Corps before now.  Everyone I’m working with is very savvy – not just book smart, but “people smart;” they seem to know how to collaborate, listen, work within a team environment, and build on each other’s strengths.  I don’t feel the need to step in and be “the leader” because everyone is a leader, yet no one is so self aggrandizing that they need to grab the spotlight.  It is a joy to study and learn alongside them.  Lessons move quickly and everyone “gets it” right off the bat; there is no having to go back and repeat or explain to a slower contingent.

Today, after class, we went to a neighborhood bar.  It’s sort of an open, covered patio where they play “house music” and stout mugs of beer are just about a buck ten.  (Good you didn’t come, huh?  You know who you are…) Tipping is not an ordinary practice but we do leave 2-5% just because we’re such a loud and rowdy bunch.   And we want to encourage a positive impression of the “Corpul Pescii Voluntare” in the village.  It’s amazing that one can have an evening out at the bar for less than $5 American and then come home to a warm meal of fresh vegetable soup, complete with raw garlic right out of the ground.  And not have to do any dishes. Life doesn’t get much better.

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My window

Moldova – at Last!!!

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This is Moldova

Since Monday, I have spent over nineteen hours folded into the cramped seat of an airplane, shuttle or bus and more than sixteen hours hanging out (mostly on the floor) in various airports.  I’ve had less than five hours sleep in the past thirty-six and only two of those were consecutive. Yet at this moment – 4:30am on Friday morning, June 8 – I am the most energized and clear headed I’ve been in many months.  I made it: I’m finally in Moldova!

Last night we debarked the two shuttles that brought us from the airport at 11:30pm to a cheering mob of current Peace Corps Volunteers: our program mentors, training and safety coordinators, the country director, and various other Moldovan Peace Corps staff.  It was just like the Lakers returning to Los Angeles after a stupendous playoff sweep; we were every bit the victorious team lifted up by adulatory fans.  After the grueling travel itinerary of the past couple of days, I could easily have burst into sobs of exhausted elation (I didn’t, thank god – not wanting to be labeled the emotive freakazoid the very first hour of my arrival, but a couple of other trainees said they felt exactly the same way.)

After a celebratory greeting, a very brief safety summary and assurances that we would cover – ad nauseum – all of our raging questions today, we were sent to bed with the admonishment to snatch what sleep we might before beginning our 8-10 weeks (depending on one’s assigned program area) of training this morning.  There will be no rest for the weary, it seems.  Assimilation begins in four hours.

Apparently, I have ended up in one of – if not the –safest countries the Peace Corps operates in.  There is very little danger – apparently roving packs of (maybe rabid) dogs, easily dissuaded with sticks and stones – pose the largest threat.   Not counting our incoming group of 67 trainees, there are currently 102 Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Moldova.   It being a relatively small country, no one is posted more than five hours from Chisinau and Peace Corps headquarters, or more than an hour or so from a fellow volunteer.   Everyone sees each other a lot; no worries about being isolated or lonely.  According to everything we’ve heard so far, it is a verdant, beautiful environment populated with welcoming, friendly people.  And, much to my surprise and delight, just about a third of our trainee group is older than me.  I am the youngest of the “seniors,” so I do get to feel (comparatively) young again!

Today’s agenda includes another safety briefing, a health briefing, administrative paperwork and immunizations, distribution of cell phones and other equipment and our first language class.  At 6:00 this evening we travel by ‘maxi-van’ with our training groups (6-8 people) to our respective training sites in the surrounding suburbs of Chisinau, where each of us will meet our individual host families with whom we will reside for the next 8-10 weeks.  Tomorrow, more training.  Sunday, thank the lord, a day of rest.

I can’t convey how astounding it feels to finally be here, to have this long-awaited goal finally materialize into a place and people and activities to fill up my brain and my day.  I feel absolutely at home in this experience and couldn’t be more confident in my ability to navigate the road ahead.  Wow.  Gee whiz.  I’ve actually seen one of my longest-held dreams come true.  Amazing!!!

Stay tuned – wonderful things to come…

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Eating a quick breakfast along the Delaware with new friends Patty and Brittney

Today I fly away, not sure when I’ll be back again.  Spent all of yesterday getting to know my new “tribe.”  Peace Corps folks are 100% amazing; I feel absolutely at home and as if I’ve known them all my life.  It is so good to be with a group of people who dreams the same dream, yet is comprised of individuals with very different reasons for attaining that dream.  It just confirmed for me that I have made the right choice and I am headed down the path my soul was made to journey.  Know that I amso sohappy and comfortable within my skin today as I head off into the horizon.