Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Another BIrthday Come and Gone...

This was a fantastic birthday for me. I got to celebrate it for about a week with a lot of different people. I started the party with a masa at my house for my host family, Valeriu and Angela (Alexandra's nephew and his wife), Naima, and Unchi Nikolai and Tante Elena. We had a great combination of American (OK, Sushi and Spring Rolls aren't exactly American-but they might as well be!) and Frigarui (Moldovan BBQ!). Everything was delicious, and of course there was Unchi Nikolai's famous wine!

Alexandra and Nikolai...

First taste of Sushi.... Not the most delighted face, but Valeriu definitely warmed up to it!

Not a bad looking table!

In Cahul, there is an amazing restaurant near the university (The Flamingo!) that mostly caters to weddings. I wanted to do something special for my most beloved group of students (those who have participated in every activity, helped with all of my hare-brained ideas, etc.), so I made a reservation and took them all out to dinner. Since there was no wedding going on, the place was nearly empty, so we were able to yuck it up and have a great time without bothering anyone. I wish I could have taken all of my students, but I am glad I could splurge and take these amazing young people!

All of my beautiful students dressed up and having a good time!

Next, on the weekend, Naima and I headed to Colibasi (my favorite village in Moldova!) to celebrate with the family Ghenciu. They are the sweetest people in the whole world and I love to go and visit them. We spent the day preparing food and the whole evening (and well into the morning!) eating it. Naima wowed ev eryone with her dance skills.

Naima getting down to the hora with Ion and some of his siblings.

The only grandbaby in the family Ghenciu is Ana Margareta (yes that is a baby goose on her head!) and I am absolutely in love with this child! (I think she is crazy about me too! She barely left my side the whole weekend!) If I could get her away from her mother, I would put her in my carry-on and take her home with me. The whole family is amazing and I am so grateful that I have been able to get to know them during my time here in Moldova.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

It has been an eventful couple of days in Moldova. My adventures this week started on Thursday with the food preparations leading up to Paste (pronounced pash-tay), or the Orthodox Easter. Thursday night we prepared the traditional Colzonac, a sweet bread a lot like the Jewish Challah. It takes an hour of kneading, so we worked in shifts on a huge vat of dough.
This is my first attempt at adding video, so see if it worked. If it did, you can see me in the "uniform" for the kitchen making the dough for the cozonac!

This is the finished product. Who said I couldn't bake?

On Friday all of the volunteers in my group (Officially the Molodva EE and Health 20s!) were invited to the home of our director, Jeff Kelley Clark. He is moving on to a job in Seattle and will be leaving us in another two weeks, so the evening marked the first in a long string of good-byes... It was a great evening with great people, great food and fun conversations. The guy in the back with the beard is our leader orchestrating things in the kitchen. Eric is in the middle with Jimmy in the forefront! Great people one and all!

Speaking of great people... Here are Brad and Matt on potato duty. They believed the line that only the greatest cooks can handle peeling 100's of potatoes.... Matt is truly one of the finest people I have met in a long time. He has saved my sanity this past year and provided a lot of comic relief in my Peace Corps life.

Some more of our fabulous volunteers.

Friday, after Jeff's shindig, Matt and I (and Emily, a volunteer who is now working in Chisinau!) took off to the airport at about midnight to go and pick up Andi, a friend of ours that finished his service last summer and is now working in Moscow. He came back for the holidays to see everyone and to spend some time with his host family. He is truly one of the funniest people I have ever met. He also randomly dispenses a huge amount of wisdom in his humorous diatribes. (How was my vocabulary usage on that one Andy?)

Finally, at about 4 am, Andy-the-mighty called it a night, so we finally got some sleep. Four hours of sleep later, I headed out of Chisinau for the 3 hour ride back to Cahul so that I could help out with the preparations for the holiday on Sunday. I made it just in time to help out with the Sarmale rolling (my specialty-stuffed grape leaves!).

So today (Sunday) was Orthodox Easter and, although I am winding down my time in Moldova, my first! (Last year I was in Turkey for the holidays!) This morning we were up at the crack of dawn (2:30 a.m. to be exact!) to head for the church. Every family brings a basket or bag with the traditional cozonac , some wine and water to be blessed, colored eggs, and some candles. Other things are in the basket to munch on after the wine is blessed and then shared with the people around. They spread it out on a little towel in front of them and this is all done in lines around the church. The people basically make concentric rings around the church to make room for everyone. It is unbelievably beautiful, with all of the candles burning and the people ....

Tante Elena (Unchi Nikolai's wife!) and her sister in front of their spread.

Sandu (in the front) Nicholai and our neighbors. The candles that are burning were lit in the church from a special flame and must stay burning until you get home. Carrying them through the streets without blowing out the flame is not as easy as you might think...

The ghostly figure in the middle is me! (Left is Nikolai and right is Angela.)

Basket with all of the goodies brought to the church.

It was a fun, beautiful and eventful three days for me. I hope that your holiday celebrations were a time for being together with friends and loved ones. See you in three months!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

An education for the teacher...

This has been an interesting week for me. I know most of you have heard about the protests and the riots that went on in our capitol city last Tuesday. First let me say that I am far away the capitol and that we have had no problems down here in Cahul. Our staff at Peace Corps has done a great job of keeping us informed of what was happening and making sure that we were all in safety. They canceled all meetings for us in Chisinau and told us to stay put in our towns and villages while the situation was so unstable. Things right now are quiet and everyone seems to be cooling off.
I can't share much with you that you haven't seen on the news, but I will share with you something that makes me more sad and concerned than anything they played on UTube or the BBC. I am saddened by some of the misdirection of anger that I am seeing with my students. The events in Chisinau are sparking a lot of problems here between the Russian and Romanian speakers in our town. People here seem to be polarizing around language groups and (among my students anyway!) I am hearing some pretty predjudiced language. I decided Thursday and Friday to take some time out of my classes to give my students a chance to talk about the issues. I teach groups that are Romanian and groups that are Russian, and I wanted to give them the chance to talk about what was happening here. I know from my own life, that wild accusations about people are harder to make when you are sitting down at a table together. I wanted them to get past making generalizations about one another and remember that everyone has ideas and opinions that are based on their life experience, their families, and their own personal history. I think it was good for me to be a kind of "moderator" because this is not my country and not my fight. After a lot of rhetoric at the beginning, all of the students really wanted to talk about their own fears, their lack of faith in a future, and their lack of hope that they were ever going to be able to follow their dreams in Moldova. It didn't matter what language they spoke, their belief that they were never going to be able to make a good life in Moldova was universal. None of them want to stay here and try to make Moldova a better place because they have completely lost faith that that is possible.
Why does this make me sad? First, I am sad because they are so young and they have already lost faith in politics and government and, ultimitely, in their country. Second, because they are turning their anger over bad living conditions, lack of possibilities and an impossible economic situation turn into a kind of racism-Russian -vs-Romanian-instead of turning their anger into a passion to make Moldova a better place to live for everyone.
This past week has definitely been a lesson for the teacher. For my students, I think what they needed from me was someone who would just let them talk about their concerns out loud and who would make sure that everyone, regardless of their opinion or language, could be heard. Talking about their fears and concerns in English took the us-against-them factor out of the equation. For 80 minutes we were all speaking and listening in the SAME language. I hope it helped....

Friday, March 27, 2009

Wow, today marks the day when I just have four months to go as a Peace Corps volunteer... It doesn't seem like it is possible that I have been gone for over two years!!!!! What an amazing experience I have had (and will have for the next four months!). I have actually managed to get some internet wireless access for my laptop (it's a flash that gives me access to the internet through the cellular network!), so I am going to try and update pretty frequently for the last few months that I am here. (My official day to leave is the 27th, but I won't be home until the 29th. I am going to stay over for a couple of nights in Istanbul again. It was gorgeous and I barely scraped the surface of seeing what I wanted to see while there over Christmas!)

Most of the news I have right now is teaching related. I am winding things up with my fourth year students this week and next, so things are pretty hectic right now... But when are things NOT hectic with me? I have the feeling that things will only get even more hectic over the next few months as I try to wind things up at the university and with Peace Corps. In early June I will be helping to train the new group that is coming in and I will be wrapping things up down here in Cahul at the end of June. This means I will most likely move in closer to the capitol (a town called Ialovani) to help with the trainings of the new volunteers before I leave Moldova. I am already having nightmares about saying goodbye to my host family. It is going to be awful!!!!

The rumor is that Spring is on the way to Moldova, but there hasn't been a lot of evidence of that yet. Wednesday it snowed, but at least the last two days have been sunny even if it has been pretty cool. I am ready for some extended sunshine and some warm weather!!!!! Judy, Millie... any chance you guys might be up for a poker party on the boat when I get back? I never realized living in Arkansas how much gray days and icky weather can wear on you. Let me assure you... It does! When I got back from the US in January I didn't see the sun for 32 days. Yuck!!!!

What have I been doing that is fun? Well, I staged a kidnapping with a group of students that are reading a mystery novel.... We talked about the principles of investigation, the difference between hard evidence and circumstantial evidence, learned about fingerprinting and ransom, and have been following the evidence trail for about 4 weeks now. Tuesday a group of my students were able to get back the kidnappee (a stuffed cow named Botswana Bill!) without incident and are putting the finishing touches on their case for presentation next week. Poor Botswana Bill went through a lot while he was with the kidnappers, as you can see from the pictures. The whole town was involved in the case, so it was a great lesson all the way around.
I am really going to miss these amazing young people and the wonderful people of Cahul.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Moldova, Istanbul, America, Istanbul, Moldova...

...and that is just the last month of my life! I am so lucky to be living this life that I am living!!!!! I went home for Christmas by way of Istanbul (which many of you know because I saw you while I was there!) and had an amazing time (with the exception of being kidnapped several times by strange men on the street who just wanted to take me to their uncle's rug shop!--Why is it so hard for me to learn from some mistakes?) I want all of you that I saw while I was at home to know how much it meant to me to see you all while I was there. I have the most supportive and nuturing group of friends in the universe! I loved seeing everyone, wish that I had had more time with everyone, and can' t wait to be with you all on a more permanent basis.

(Above) Part of the USA gang at Jim's for New Year's. All of the guys headed out to the fire to smoke cigars and scratch themselves (or whatever it is that men do when they are together!)

(Above) Two of my favorite ladies in the universe... Ruthie and Judy! I was so happy to hang out with you guys. Thanks so much for taking the time to arrange lunch with the PV folks and to come over. Love you!!!!! worries me that this man is influencing the young minds of Arkansas! Seriously though, Jim, you are delightful and I had an amazing time over at your place on New Year's. Thanks for hosting the shindig and for coming over and hanging out while I was home. Don't forget to be good to your wife! You'll never find another woman who will put up with your shenanigans!

Back in Istanbul... Splurged on a nice dinner in a rooftop restaurant that overlooked the Blue Mosque. Istanbul is gorgeous and I definitely want to go back to see it again. Picked up a few tricks on how to stay out of the rug shops and away from everyone's uncles... Life truly is a lifelong learning experience!

Random beautiful door.

Back in Moldova... I had an amazing weekend visit to a beautiful village outside of Cahul called Colibasi. I had a taste of what so many volunteers experience each day and it was fun, but also an amazing amount of work. The family Ghencia was so amazingly warm and offered a level of hospitality that is just undescribable. I got to bake homemade bread in a woodburning oven (do you know that it is possible to make yeast from scratch? I didn't!), play with the baby lambs, get water from the neighborhood well, and in general just talk to some amazing people and hear their perspectives on life in Moldova from the village perspective.

(Above) Domnul Ion shows me how the indoor soba works to heat the house.

Anna Margareta shows me ALL of her toys!

This city girl was loving it! I got to play with a baby lamb!

Ion, Cat, Elena and Anna Margareta all posing together with the lambs.
Enough for today. I miss you all, am wrapping things up (bittersweet!) in Moldova, and can't wait to see you all again. Thanks for following my journey...

My second foray into Istanbul was more successful, but I was pretty sad to be away from all of you. It was probably good that I could hide in my room at the hotel and be sad for a day or two before coming back to Moldova and seeing everyone. Life is so full of yin and yang experiences! I love what I have done in Moldova, but I really have missed everyone and will be so happy to get back to the US and figure out what the next adventure will be.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Well, Halloween #2 has come and gone. Those pumpkin kits that Margie sent are being well used! This was the cutting crew that got together the night before the party to get all of the decorations up and the pumpkins carved. We had a blast and it just reminded me again of what wonderful students I have. They are the greatest!!!!!
We have just finished the second of two Thanksgiving celebrations. First was down in Cahul at Naima's (Dean, you will be proud. We had CORNBREAD dressing! It was damn declicious.) Last night I headed up North to Orhei and had a great dinner at Brian and Annie's place. The food was delicious, the company fabulous, and we even played Apples to Apples after dinner. It was a little slice of home and a whole lot of fun.

So, December is almost here, the weather is cold, and I am coming home in 4 weeks!!!! Just wanted to let everyone know that I am going to be back in the Rock from the 28th of December thru the 10th of January. I am going to hunker down with Dean and Jeremy for the first few days, but after New Year's I want to get out and about and see everyone. Also, I am going to do a big open house on the 4th of January and everyone is invited!!!! We will kick things off at around 2 pm and I am sure things will last well into the night. I am going to cook my little heart out (I have really been missing my kitchen and all of those fabulous ingredients that I can't get anywhere here! Come hungry!) I can't wait to see everyone and catch up on life and everything that has been going on this last year and a half. I am going to steal Dean's cell phone while I am at home, so call me on his line. Stay warm and see you soon!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Back in the swing of things...

La Dolce Vita!
As most of you know, I spent the last two weeks of my summer in Italy with Jeremy, Dean and Suni. Jeremy came to Moldova for almost three weeks and then he and I packed up and headed for Bucharest in Romania to catch a flight to Rome. EVERYONE at my house in Moldova was sad to see our big Bebalusi (baby!) go, but I didn't think Alexandra was going to let him leave at all. Below is a picture of their final farewell. Just one more pinch of those big American cheeks!

We left Chisinau the next day on an overnight train. It wasn't a bad way to travel. We had a compartment to ourselves and a bed to stretch out on. If only the window would have opened. We had to get up several times during the night to ring the sweat out of our clothes and grab some real air. The trip took about 12 hours, 4 of which we spent at the border of Romania where they lifted the entire car (each and every one!) and changed out the undercarriage on each car. It seems that the gage of the track changes between Moldova and the rest of the world, so every car must have the wheels changed to be able to go from west to east. This happens at about 3 in the morning, so it is all a bit surreal... Below is Jeremy chillin' out and doing a little writing before I whip his ass at several hands of rummy!

Below is a picture of the greeting in the book that was in our room at our hotel in Bucharest. I particularly liked that we were being invited to dine in a "worm" environment and were assured that we "can't"be served breakfast, lunch or dinner!

This is a statue of a broken man that is a memorial to the men and women who were killed during Ciaucescu's leadership of Romania. Right behind it is the famous balcony where he gave his famous speech and was then helicoptered off the roof to safety from the waiting mobs.

This next picture finds us in Rome. We had a great apartment right off the Tiber near the Palace of Justice. It was our mission to drink enough prosecco (and other wines!) to satisfy my love of Italian wines. This was the first afternoon. Jeremy, Suni and I arrived first and then Dean arrived three days later. We decided to collect the corks for the time we were in the apartment. I am embarrassed to even tell you how many we collected during our seven days...
Suni, don't be mad, but I am including several pictures of you on the blog. Don't worry! No thighs! Speaking of Suni... She had a great idea one night that we should go out and eat African food. It was amazing and a nice change from delicious Italian food.

Dean's first "taste" of Rome was a trip to the vatican for a special tour with an art student. We got an amazing tour, and he was adorable to boot! Very cool and Roman. He even managed to show me some things I had not seen on previous tours..., a statue that looks just like Bill Clinton that is in a niche in one of the papal apartments! The resemblance is uncanny!

The three amigos in front of the forum of Rome.

One of my favorite restaurants in Rome "La Carbonara" is right on the edge of the daily market in Rome called Campo Fiori. It was just as wonderful as I remembered, but man! the dollar sucks right now! The waiter helped us out and took one of the few group pictures of our trip.

Dean wanted to see the coloseum, so the coloseum it was!

This was a dream of mine... I wanted a romantic picture with the love of my life in front of the Trevi fountain. Here you go!

This is our amazing bed and breakfast in Orvieto. Over the rooftop you can see the old city perched on top of the hill.Dean relaxing in the corner on Suni's fabulous balcony!

Jeremy chillin' under the grape vines in front of the house.

This is the most beautiful cathedral (in my humble opinion!) in all of Italy. It is the duomo in Orvieto. I believe that I have another convert to the love of Orvieto. Suni mentioned on the phone that she adored it as well.

Leave it to the two Arkies in the group to find a razorback to pose with!

This trip was great on many different levels. One day Suni and Dean were too tired to go out, so I took off on my own and explored a town near Orvieto called Pitigliano. It is another one of those towns perched on the tufa hills. I had a great time exploring the town and just having some alone time.
The three amigos in Montelpuciano.

The next series of pictures is from Pompeii. Below is a plaster cast of a pregnant woman that was perfectly preserved by the "pyroclastic cloud" (Dean gave me a little schooling on the nature of volcanic eruptions and corrected my assumption that it was the lava that killed people. He told me it is the cloud of ash that gets people!)

...a man caught in the cloud...

... this person seems to have know it was his last few moments on earth...
One of the most interesting things I saw was a preserved... uh... whorehouse! There were little chambers where the women entertained their clients and above every door was a frescoe with the specialty of the woman that worked within!

It is not so easy to tell, but this is the kitchen of a public restaurant. Did you know that for the Pompeiians there was a close connection between food and sex? In their public kitchens they often had a statue of a penis for luck and health. Guess where Suni is sitting? Oh the scandal of it all!

Suni may have petit feet, but there was the dust of a thousand Pompeiians on it at the end of this day!

Finally, Deno and I were the last of the four left in Italy and we headed down to the Amalfi coast. The sky was blue, I was with my love, and I was in Italy. It just doesn't get any better than that!

Now it is time to get back to my life in Moldova and finish up my service here. It was great to see everyone, I had an amazing time in Italy, but I am happy to be back in Moldova with the amazing people I have met here. I will be back in the states for Christmas for sure, so I will post my dates so you can be sure to come by and see me while I am home! Love to all!