Over and Out

I have one week left in Moldova.  I have even less time left in my village, which makes this week feel shorter than 7 days.  This is definitely a bitter-sweet time for me.  My mind is basically out the door, around the corner, and across the street.  But I find my heart clinging to the familiar right now, as my surroundings – particularly my room – come crashing down around me.  Ok, obviously I’m being a little dramatic, nothing is crashing, but my safe haven, the place that I retreat to when I’m feeling overwhelmed, lonely, lost, or just reflective, will soon not be mine anymore.

This is such a weird feeling.  I will be traveling for the next couple of months throughout Eurasia before heading back home, and while I feel so excited, lucky, and blessed to get to conclude my Peace Corps service with such an amazing adventure, there is something very liberating and terrifying, all at the same time, about traveling with only the belongings on your back.  Maybe like being in an anti gravity chamber; the beauty is that there’s nothing to weigh you down and prevent you from going anywhere but the horror is that there’s nothing to ground you if you want to take control of your own body.

I also don’t really know how to say goodbye to the people most important to me in my village.  Yes I’d like to come back eventually, but I don’t know when, if ever, that will be.  As much as I’ve enjoyed my time here, I feel like I need some distance from it.  I feel like I am ready to start a new chapter of my life and shift my focus to different ventures.  It’s interesting to see that some of the volunteers that started a year before me have already come back to visit their villages.  I know that this won’t be me.  This is partly what makes saying goodbye so difficult.  The other difficult part is that everyone around me is in their normal routine, which makes my life seem that much more chaotic right now since I am no longer a part of the routine.  I definitely want to take the time to say a proper goodbye to certain people, but a little part of me just wants to leave them be and sneak out the back door while no one is looking.

As I mentioned earlier, I will be traveling for the next two months to several countries in Europe, and Western and Central Asia.  A significant amount of this journey will be on my own, which is by far the most extensive traveling I have done alone, so this will be another adventure in and of itself.  I have treasured all of the positive feedback I’ve gotten about this blog from near and far, and via online or through word of mouth.  I would very much like to continue blogging about my travels, and, if possible, I will do so.  I will have limited access to the internet depending on where I am so I plan to hopefully collect my thoughts gradually and put them online when I have the opportunity.

Thank you to all that have taken the time to read and follow my blog.  This medium has been a great way for me to separate my thoughts and often find the good in a seemingly negative situation.  In that respect, you have all helped me through this process over the last two years and for that I will forever be grateful.

811 Days

I arrived in Moldova in June of 2012.  811 days ago.    And here I sit with 51 days left to go.  What a whirlwind, what a journey.  It’s hard to imagine how insurmountable this moment has seemed at times, even before I began the application process the thought of embarking on this journey was often too overwhelming for me to handle.  I specifically remember going to a job fair shortly after graduating from college and walking past the Peace Corps booth.  I picked up a brochure at the booth, smiled politely at the representative behind the table, and scurried away as fast as I could thinking to myself ‘I can’t, I just can’t…’

But that nagging feeling that drew me over to the booth in the first place wouldn’t go away and a few years later I found myself filling out the information online to begin the application process.  It was still a scary prospect, but I think I was starting to realize how quickly the years start to pass after college and it became clear that this was one of those adventures that I needed to seize the moment for myself, or risk looking back in life and wondering ‘what if?’  I think that may be what I am most proud of; having the peace of mind to recognize this longing within myself and having the guts to do something about it.

My feelings were solidified as I gradually began telling friends and family, and, their reactions, among the overwhelmingly positive and supportive comments, were a smattering of cheeky bantering such as ‘finally!’ and ‘you’ve been talking about doing this forever!’  Well forever finally came and went.

And now here I sit.

At that point in time I really didn’t look beyond my life after the Peace Corps when I started.  I’ve had some days that seem like a victory just to have survived through and others have gone by so fast that two years seems like not nearly enough time.  But as I stand here at the edge of my service I know that I am ready to move on.  Part of me feels like I’m floating in a vacuum, not knowing where I will end up next, who I will meet, what will become my new normal.  Another part of me feels more grounded than ever; I feel like I have conquered my biggest fear and gained a new confidence because of it.  It’s such a strange feeling: although I have no idea what lies ahead for me, I have times where I feel more confident than ever, I feel excited, almost giddy, but I have no idea why.  Like those first few seconds when you wake up feeling all warm and fuzzy inside and you know it’s because you’ve had this amazing dream but you can’t remember the details or be certain that the feeling will ever come back.

My parents recently came to visit me in Moldova.  They are the only people to have visited me and it felt a little surreal in certain respects, like two alternate universes colliding.  I took them to my village for a day and arranged to have a ‘masa’ (the Romanian word for ‘celebration’ or ‘dinner party’) so that they could meet the people who I had become closest to over these past two years.  I think the most special thing about the whole experience was seeing it through their eyes, everything from the food and décor of the masa to little things about the village that I have never really noticed before.  Perhaps one of the funniest observations was a little ‘taxi’ sign (albeit rusted and old looking) on the road in front of the mayor’s office.  That in and of itself is ironic because the village is very remote so there are definitely not taxis drivers around, however, the cherry on the cake was the fact that there happened to be a horse and cart (yes, those are still a relatively common mode of transportation here) parked under the sign, implying that this medieval form of transportation was the taxi service.

All of these little moments reminded me of how it’s the little things, in collective form, that make a difference.  I think heading into my Peace Corps service I idealized the notion of grassroots capacity building and thought that every day was going to be one amazing breakthrough after another.  I’ve had to remind myself time and time again that it’s the little things that matter.  As many little defeats as there appear to be, I have to remind myself that the little defeats cannot exist without the little victories.  And when I say ‘victories’ I don’t mean only accomplishments, but small discoveries, little connections with people/animals/places, etc.   They are not separate entities but events that only exist in relation to one another.  I guess this same concept can be said of life in general.


I apologize for the time lapse since my last blog post, but I’ve had an attention span about the size of a gnat these last few months.  I’ve tried to start writing this blog post several times but never seem to be able to settle on a topic to write about.  I think my scattered thoughts are indicative of my mixed emotions:

  • I finally finished my research paper for my Master’s program which means I have officially met all the requirements to graduate (yay!)
  • the school year has come to an end which means that my primary responsibilities as a teacher of health education are over – this is truly bitter sweet.  No more lesson planning each week, trying to come up with creative, interactive, and motivational ideas for activities, however, I will sincerely miss seeing each and every one of my students (mostly) smiling faces on a daily basis.  Of course I still see them around the town but it is not the same.
  • Speaking of familiar faces, the volunteers that I began my service with, that I trudged through the drudgery that is ‘pre-service training’ with, and have shared first hand in success and failures, are all starting to leave.  Some already have, the rest will be shortly.  Thus there is a bit of a void, a bit of that ‘calm before the storm’ feeling that occurrs when you can feel that change is on the horizon, like a storm that you can smell in the air before it strikes, but it has not actually arrived yet.

So, I’m in transition.  I feel lethargic.  Hungry, yet nothing sounds appetizing; like I’m in limbo, a void, or a vacuum.   I need inspiration.  I’m sure many of you are wondering if/when I am ever going to come home to get said inspiration and what the next step for me is going to be.  So am I.  Just kidding (sort of)!  Here is what I know for sure: right now the only official responsibility I have towards my school and community is a project we are completing with the help of a small grant we were awarded through Peace Corps funding.  We will be renovating a room in the school and equipping it with all the necessary kitchen appliances so the school can provide a ‘basic cooking skills’ type curriculum next year which will be especially beneficial to those students that do not have a parent or guardian consistently available to cook for them.  This is a very exciting project and I am proud to see it come to fruition, unfortunately, the extent of my involvement is really just to oversee the spending of the US government funds we were awarded.  So basically I get to hand over the money to the cashier.  As important of a responsibility as this is, it is definitely not challenging or time consuming, so thus far this summer has been a whole lot of ‘hurry-up-and-wait.’

I kind of saw this coming towards the end of the school year and did the best I could to inquire with minimal success about other ways to be useful in the village during the summer.  I have begun teaching English on the side (a much sought after skill, obviously) and I plan on going down to our little community center to see if I can assist with any of the activities there.  Unfortunately, as for starting another project or any other kind of organized activity, my inquiries have been met with minimal enthusiasm at best largely due to the fact that the majority of students leave the village during the summer for a variety of reasons (to go be with parents working abroad, to go hang out/work in Chisinau, or to go visit relatives in other villages or towns), and, those that don’t seem more interested in hanging out with friends than participating in a summer project (can’t say I blame them).

If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout this whole experience is that you can’t force ideas on people.  Even if you think it’s the greatest idea in the world, if the people you are doing it for are not into it, save your breath.  I did make a last ditch effort to look into the possibility of devoting some of my time to a cause in Chisinau, but the reality is that the commute is really not logistically or financially realistic for me.

So, rather than fight it, I’ve decided to embrace the time I have for what it is.  Nothing can replace time.  The monotony of it.  The nostalgia it brings.  The healing power it inevitably invokes.  My service will be ending in October 2014 and then I will be doing some traveling until early to mid December.  After that, the sky is the limit (again).  For now, I am here, in the ‘meantime.’

Everything Always Changes

Spring has arrived and with spring comes change.  The biggest change that’s happened since winter is that I’ve had to move again.  Not because of any problems with my second host house, quite the contrary.  Their daughter and her one year old son will be coming to spend the summer with them and they simply do not have the extra room for me (never get in the way of a grandmom and her only grandchild because you will always loose).  But all kidding aside, I left under the best possible circumstances – my former host mom reassuring me over and over that they still consider me part of the family and will have me come over during the summer as frequently as possible.  My parents are also planning a trip to Europe in August, and, if all goes as planned, will be coming to see me in Moldova, and my old host mom is insisting that they stay at their house when they come to visit.   So needless to say I am reassured that my relationship with them will stay active for the remainder of my time here, and am hopeful that my new host situation will work out for the best as well.

I am once again living with a single widowed woman whose children are both grown and live abroad.  When they told me what had been arranged for me, I was at first really nervous that I would be in a similar situation that I found myself in when I first arrived in my host village, and that all my anxiety and other emotions would come rushing back.  However, this woman is much more talkative and has been very accommodating thus far, so I’m feeling positive that things will work out.

The first day that I arrived (2 days ago) I had a moment of realization of how much I myself have changed; as I was lugging all of my stuff into my new room, she was jabbering at me constantly and flittering about, telling me to do something, and then asking me if I liked it or if that was ok, and then saying I could do it however I wanted.  I am sure that had that happened during the first year I was here, it would have put me on edge not knowing what she wanted or was trying to get me to do, but I now have the peace of mind to realize that she was just enthusiastic and probably a little nervous about me moving in.  Obviously being able to understand what she was saying (more or less) was a huge help too.

And these last few days have been filled with even more little changes: once again going through the logistics of getting to know the other person’s routine and habits.  She is semi retired so seems to come and go from the house fairly frequently throughout the day, so I am still confused if I need to lock the front door when I leave for school.  Likewise, I think she is just as confused about my eating habits; Ana, my old host mom, told her what I like to eat and that I tend to snack a lot throughout the day, so she is constantly pushing food on me.  She tells me that I don’t have to eat if I don’t want to, but she’s been very concerned the last two days when I get home from school if I’m hungry and if I need to eat immediately, or if not, when I would like to eat.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather her be doing that then not feeding me enough, it’s just endearing once again going through the whole dialogue of her pushing food on me, and then telling me that I don’t have to eat it if I don’t like it, and then me reassuring her over and over again that I do like it and telling her that I will tell her if I don’t like something, I promise.

And yet another change I noticed in myself, just tonight at dinner she had made vegetables and drenched them in mayonnaise (as many Moldovans do here).  I’ve seen this before and have integrated to the point that I don’t mind some mayonnaise on my vegetables, but this was simply too much.  I told her as politely as possible that I didn’t like that much mayonnaise on my vegetables and she seemed receptive and wasn’t upset, although she did reassure me that the mayonnaise was fat free.

We’ve also been doing what I affectionately refer to as the ‘dishes dance.’  I’ve gone through this with every single host family I’ve lived with in Moldova.  My family during pre service training had a sink with running water near the kitchen, so I got to the point where I felt comfortable taking my dishes and washing them myself.  My host mom insisted that I didn’t have to, but she affectionately started calling me ‘gospodina’ (or housewife) every time I did it, so I knew she appreciated it.  Dochia, my first host mom in Carahasani, did not have a sink in the kitchen so she would always just tell me to leave to dishes and she would wash them herself.  I always felt badly doing this because I knew she had so much house work to do all by herself as it was, but I came to understand that it was more a matter of her wanting to control the space than having me help.

Ana, my next host mom, was similar in that she didn’t have a sink and so would do the dishes using two big bowls of hot water, but she showed me the ropes of the kitchen, and, although I didn’t do the dishes on a regular basis, there were a few times when I cleaned up for her if she was really busy at work.   My new, and current host mom (also named Ana) does have sink in the kitchen, so these last few days I have asked and try to politely insist that I can clean up after myself.  She has been very insistent that I just leave them and let her clean up, although yesterday she conceded that I could put my dirty dishes in the sink if I wanted, but no more than that.  We will see how the dance plays out in the upcoming weeks.

The other change on the horizon is that school is winding down.  With a little less than two months to go, it’s hard to believe that my time as a teacher here is almost over.  It is really bitter sweet.  Each week the lesson planning seems to become more tedious, but I know that the day after school is over, I will miss my students.  The springtime fieldwork has officially begun once again, and I find myself trying to enjoy the changes of the season because I know this will be my last spring in Moldova as a volunteer.

Black Out

Winter has hit.  Hard.  Last Monday we had an ice storm that knocked out the power in the village for a week.  This is not the first time the power has been knocked out but usually it only lasts for a day or so and usually electricity gets restored to the school pretty quickly, so even if I have nothing to do at home I can at least go to school to work on my computer.  However, for about four days there was no electricity in the entire village which left me with a LOT of time on my hands.

This was partially due to the fact that school was shortened to two hour days because there was no heat (not that you can really feel the heat in the school when it is working) and therefore each day I was home from school by 11am.  My host mom couldn’t go to work either so I helped her around the house as much as I could.  However, around 4:30-5pm the sun would set and we would be engulfed in darkness.  This was fun for maybe the first day but quickly got old.  I read my book by flashlight, listened to music (until my ipod died), and stared at the ceiling.  Oh yeah, and there was no running water either because the motor that they have installed to pump water from the well to the faucet runs on electricity.  I really felt like I was in the Peace Corps.

As bored as I was, I was fine.  I was not in any real danger; I was warm (most Moldovan homes are heated by something called a ‘soba’ which is basically a big fireplace that is able to heat multiple rooms, and is usually strategically positioned in between the kitchen and one or two of the main rooms where people sleep) and well fed.  However, I definitely pondered what life was like in Moldova (or any country that has subzero temperatures during winter) without electricity.  Your day is really dictated by the sun, or lack there of, because after 5pm, you really can’t see the food on your plate without a candle right next to you.

It also made me think about how differently the weather affects peoples’ disposition.   Several of my friends and fellow volunteers have fallen into the winter slump; feeling lethargic and unmotivated in their respective villages.  Granit, many people have outdoor toilets and don’t have access to hot showers, so these winter months do make it considerably harder to take care of basic sanitary needs.  And the diet is mostly limited to potatoes, meat, potatoes, and more potatoes.  If you get any kind of fruit or vegetable right now it’s pretty much guaranteed to be pickled.  So all of these factors combined with the fact that you are trapped in the house after 5pm can definitely make the days seem long.

The other thing I can’t wrap my head around is how Moldovans continue to work outside in the winter – in subzero degree weather no less!  I guess I should clarify specifically what I mean: Molovans usually have two kitchens – one primarily used in summer and the other used in winter.  They do this for a number of reasons: firstly, many houses do not have running water, or maybe have one sink/faucet that is nowhere near the kitchen (maybe it’s primarily used for the bathroom) so something like doing the dishes requires a lot of running back and forth to switch out clean and dirty water – you will also not be washing a dish immediately after you dirty it because if you are going to have to prepare water specifically for this task, you might as well wait until you have dirtied a sufficient number to go through all this trouble, therefore you will most probably need a place to stack a few days worth of dirty dishes in between washing; secondly, if a given house doesn’t have any running water, then they have to go to the well or nearby outdoor spigot to get it and in doing so, it’s inevitable that mud and dirt will get tracked into the house during the spring and summer months (even with the strict ‘no shoes in the house’ policy that all Moldovans religiously enforce); thirdly, unless you live in Chisinau (the capital) you will not be buying your meat at the local store, you will be raising the livestock, killing it, and preparing it yourself.  This gets messy.  Therefore, the summer kitchen serves as a place to do all of the above while the winter kitchen is kept as a clean area to actually eat the food you dirtied the first kitchen to prepare.

The thing that I never realized is that my host mom continues to work (prepare food, clean dishes, etc) in the summer kitchen even throughout the winter.  This might not seem like a big deal except for the fact that the summer kitchen is not heated (the winter kitchen is the one with the soba in it), so she literally has to bundle up to go to the kitchen and work.  I have tried to help here out there but I can really only stay there for 30-45 minutes before my hands get numb and I have to go back to the heated part of the house.  And this is not to say that my host dad doesn’t do any work outside.  He chops wood for the soba, feeds the animals every morning, etc.  His job is in the agricultural industry (all I know is that he does something with tractors – I assume tilling the land during planting and picking season is part of this) so I actually don’t know how much time he spends outside during the winter months.  Regardless, I’ve definitely come to appreciate the fact that Moldovans do a lot of hard physical labor in extremely cold weather conditions, which I try to remind myself as I am running out to use the outhouse in the snowy weather ;)

Trip to Morocco

Merry Orthodox Christmas everyone!  I have just returned from a trip to Morocco where I met up with my family whom I had not seen in person since leaving for the Peace Corps in June of 2012.  It was great to reconnect with them and explore Morocco together.  We started in Marrakesh, took a day trip to Essaouira, and then rented a car to drive to the desert, up to Fez, to Chefchaouen, and finally down to Rabat.

The food, clothes, animals, and other cultural differences were all fun to discover.  Highlights included eating out of tajines (a dish the locals use to cook with), seeing people wear dejellabas (hooked cloaks used as protection from the sun and to stay warm in the colder months), and seeing monkeys (both wild and on a leash), snakes (complete with a flute serenade), and riding camels.

What I did not expect was to experience the strong cultural distinction between the tourists (us) and the locals (them).  Before leaving for Morocco I did some research and was told by people who had already vacationed there that it was not uncommon for tourists to experience some aggression.  Most of the negative impressions I came across, however, were more the result of clothing (Westerners showing too much skin) as Morocco is a Muslim country and by nature is more conservative, especially the women.  My whole family was aware of this and packed accordingly, my mom even buying 3 infinity scarves for each of us girls to cover our heads as many Moroccan women use headscarves called ‘hijabs’.

However, the aggression we experienced didn’t seem to be the result of our clothing, but rather due to the fact that we were tourists, not locals.  Before I explain myself, let me add the disclaimer that this is my own experience, and others who have traveled to Morocco may have had a completely different experience, so by no means do I assert my experiences to be a universal truth.  Having said that, my family and I found the vendors in Marrakesh and Fez to be very aggressive.  During our first trip to the open aired market (called the ‘souk’) a local woman selling henna tattoos grabbed my sister’s hand and started drawing the design on her before she had officially agreed to this.  Although she was never in any real danger, I think the incident made her feel a bit violated and out of control.  As we continued wandering the streets, we quickly realized that we either needed to pretend that we do not speak English, or just blatantly ignore people (I had one person yell ‘hey skinny girl’ at me several times until she finally realized that I wasn’t going to give her the time of day – like that makes me more inclined to come check out her shop).

In Fez, the problem only got worse.  Fez is a walled in city that is composed of a labyrinth of tiny alleyways so cars cannot drive within the city limit and a donkey and cart pretty much take up the entire road.  The city is rich with history, so I was really looking forward to exploring it.  After stepping out into the street we quickly realized, however, that we were not going to be able to casually walk around.  It was virtually impossible to walk down a street without being accosted by someone to come into a shop (some of them would walk after you and even try to grab your arm) or adopted by a local who wanted to give you a “tour”.  I think the most disconcerting part about the whole situation was that you never knew if you could trust the person’s intentions.  My dad and I discussed this a bit, and identified the feeling that everyone seems to want something from you, mainly money.  There were times when we felt more like objects then people because the locals were so eager to sell us something or take us somewhere in exchange for some money.  Even the hike in the foothills of Chefchaouen we were followed and accosted by a local trying to sell us hashish (since the plant grows wild in the foothills), and then (once he figured out that we were not interested) overtly trying to get money from us to buy hashish.

This is not to say that every single Moroccan was manipulative; also in Chefchaouen we met a shop owner whom my parents and sister bought some rugs from.  He was very charming, spoke English very well, and took the time to talk to us and get to know us (rather than immediately try to get us to buy something) before he got around to showing off his products.  However, this made me wonder why the tourist industry in Morocco has not yet figured out basic marketing approaches to sell a product.  The Country’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism but it seems that the locals would have to realize that they drive many people away by being so insistent and aggressive.  Regardless, I think the trip gave us a newfound appreciation for understanding a different culture which has an economy heavily dependent on foreigners.

2013 in review

Happy New Year!  The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.  Hope you all had a wonderful holiday season :)  I thought this stat report for my blog was interesting and decided to share.  More to come in 2014.  In the meantime, enjoy!

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,000 times in 2013. If it were a cable car, it would take about 17 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.