Picnics, Sunburn, Wallet . . .

Today was a good day. Yesterday too. I am super tired now, but it was worth the memories.

Last night I had a friend over. We stayed up until sunrise talking, watching shows, and just getting to know each other. I even cried to him because he was saying how I can be better than where I come from, telling me about his life, and I thought about how much I miss my family and my stress for years with my sister and I started crying because I miss my mom. It was one of those evenings where you really get to know someone . . . we learned a lot about each other. We shared our struggles, our progress, our successes . . . I’m happy I’ve made a new friend.

While he was over, my colleague texted me to tell me there’s a picnic in the morning. I was a bit mad because this was the night before and it was super last minute. Our volunteers aren’t so good at communication. Anyway, I told him I’d be there, so eventually my friend and I went to sleep. I made us breakfast and coffee in the morning. Then we headed out to face the gorgeous day.

At the picnic, I got pretty sunburned, but I saw a lot of people and learned that one girl will be coming to Tennessee in the fall for a year of study abroad. I’m super excited and look forward to showing her around America when I get a chance.

Today, I was so tired by the time I got back home that I left my wallet on the bus. I had been sitting with a lady who recognized me and offered me to sit with her. She got in touch with one of my team mates, who called me and let me know they’d found it. It was shocking because right after I realized I didn’t have it (I was in the center of my town about halfway home), he called me to tell me someone had it and asked me where I was. I told him and he said to wait there. So that woke me up a bit. The lady’s daughter came and brought it to me, which was awesome. Thank God I’m integrated enough in my community for that to happen. I was lucky.

I’m so thankful for all of my friends. Yesterday, seeing Loreana and my other friend and her parents giving me a bunch of vegetables straight from the garden was great. The late night conversations, and watching movies with her on Friday night before I met up with my friends from Romania. That was another day of luck — my friend’s phone had died, so Ingrid, another PCV, waited with me in the center of Balti until I spotted him. Thankfully, he’d taken a selfie with his friends so I was able to identify them by what they were wearing.

My life seems to be a continuum of luck and serendipity. I’m so blessed for everything that happens to me. There is so much positive energy surrounding my daily routine. Reminiscing on the past with these photos I found on my Google cloud, I’ve realized just how much I’ve grown. I was making poor decisions in some ways, and I have really grown . . . it’s hard to explain, but I’ll try. I take my time more now. I am more aware of my surroundings. I try to slow down and be more involved in what’s going on.

Sitting on the trolleybus this afternoon with my sunglasses and earphones in for some metal to pump me with some adrenaline, I felt this wave of self-love and acceptance. Like, I am amazing the way I am, I don’t need anyone to make me feel better about myself. Friends are there to help each other, to vent, to listen, to love and support. But, at the end of the day, all we have is ourselves and we should be self-driven. Just writing this makes me feel more invigorated about myself. I think Peace Corps has taught me to learn to love myself, and I’m working towards self-discipline, self-control, self-confidence . . . all those things we can only develop on our own time. Others can give us feedback and try to help steer us in the right direction, but ultimately it’s up to us. That’s the beauty of being a human. Of being an individual. Of being strong. I am strong. I have become so much stronger than I was before I left the states. I will go home with this strength in my head, in my heart, and in my soul, and no matter what I do next, no one can take that away from me. Like my education, this service has brought me opportunities I could have never dreamed of.

God, thank you for this amazing life you have granted me to live. Despite its struggles, it has been so much better than I could have ever asked for.

I am better, and I will keep getting better. I am the best of the best, America’s finest, as my friend stated last night. Peace Corps wouldn’t have let me be here, and I wouldn’t have stayed, if that weren’t true.

That’s a powerful feeling.

The Last Lessons

Today marks the first day of my last week teaching English in Moldova. It was practically a perfect day. A mixture of Miss Katrina Says (a variation of Simon Says), Hangman, and throwing a ball to ask questions and give answers left both my third formers and sixth formers in waves of laughter.  I wrote questions with the Hangman like “What did you do yesterday?” and had them review past tense with regular and irregular verbs, which we’d just finished a test on a few weeks ago. I seemed to have finally mastered discipline in my third A form by having the class clowns come up to the front of the class and act out demands (wash your face, get dressed, peel a banana). Everyone was so happy by the end of the period that most of them came up and gave me a huge group hug. I could barely breathe from them squeezing me so hard, but it was the best feeling. My partner later told me that they told her they loved our lesson and were overjoyed to have had it. I’m glad I left their last English class with happy memories and in good spirits.

The second and third classes I had, I didn’t go to – I’m pretty sure my other partner took them over. It seems we have come to this silent understanding that sometimes I will teach alone and sometimes she will teach alone, although we’ve never said it. But, also a lot of classes were preparing for end-of-the-year concerts, so English class was put on the back burner, such as one of our fourth form classes, which was fine with me because it gave me time to drink tea and work on job applications and cover (I applied as a Community Engagement intern in Ypsilanti, Michigan, and continued my application to Boxerwood as a Sustainability Manager) – and eat tasty, juicy, homegrown cherries picked from another professor’s garden. Mmmmm, so delicious. I will miss the richness of Moldovan fruits and vegetables.

I also helped one of my partners work on entering grades in an Excel document – I taught her how to use some hot keys to make it easier to delete and enter new information. It’s unfortunate they still have to write in catalogs – I told her about how in the states, everything is entered from the beginning on the computer, so it’s much easier at the end of the year to calculate final grades. I hope in the future Moldova moves towards this method.

My last class of the day was sixth form – which I did alone again, which was fine. They’re a well-behaved class, for the most part. The door was locked, so I got the key from my partner. At first, there were only three students, but one of them called the rest of the class to come back (they were about to skip and go home, the little boogers!). So, we ended up having about ten present. We played games as well – the same as above.

Doamna Svetlana, the biology teacher and probably one of my best friends at our school, came in and joined us. She has been learning English here and there with me, and she also took an intro class at the university in Balti, so she was excited to practice with the class. We had a neat mix of biology and English. First the kids asked her questions, like what is your name, how old are you, what are your favorite animals, etc, which she answered fairly well! Then she asked the kids what the parts of the body are, what trees they know in English, then the same about a flower. I drew the latter on the board in English with a diagram  (a simple picture of a flower with the words labeled: petal, leaves, stem, root, stamen, etc.), which she was fascinated by — and a few students even took photos of it. It was an interesting challenge for me to remember all these parts. I told her, it has been about ten years since I studied biology!

By the end of the class, we were all laughing, and we took some selfies with the kids (of course, it’s a necessary evil). She was excited to mention to the kids too that we have a common interest – ecology. Which comes to show that a love of the earth knows no borders. It reaches across cultures, languages, ages, genders, backgrounds, educations . . . And forming a friendship with both her and our students out of this has been a beautiful thing.

I have two more days, and it’s hard to believe it’s almost over, but I have made such good memories both here and my former school in Corlateni. I am forever grateful of the relationships I’ve been able to make with my students and colleagues.

Sweet days, bitter nights

I woke up early and spent all day working on a cover letter, two essays, and polishing my resume. I had several good conversations with people, cleaned my apartment, and made a decent lunch. I listened to the rain, and when it took a break from spring showers, I took a walk to the center of town, bought some groceries, and came back for the evening to relax.

Finding out that again we are having problems with the project, the details I will not disclose, was not what I wanted to think about today, but after telling my colleague and some friends, instead of making it better, it just made things worse. One glass of wine, and I was in tears. I was told to grow up, I was ignored . . . in the immensity of this, it was easier earlier today being alone than talking to friends in the evening.

Maybe the lesson from this is we can only make ourselves happy. Despite all the people we have in our lives, regardless of how much they mean to us, in the end, we are our only friend. Friends forever? Look in the mirror. That is your friend forever. Everyone else is just temporary.

I don’t mean to make this a gloomy post or make anyone think my day was terrible because in fact I had a great day. I had a great day because I shut myself away from the world and did what I needed to do. I was productive and I was happy. I took breaks and scrolled through memes. I shared my silly dream with people and laughed at goofy videos. I studied up on the news and learned about different opinions of colonizing Mars. I did a lot today.

But this comes to show that one small dent in the day can make all that good stuff come crashing down. One person mentioned, it’s so easy to focus on the negatives. He’s right. Another said to me recently that I was self-doubting myself in thinking I should just give up instead of keep chasing my dreams of grad school. These people both act so tough and positive . . . but I wonder if they are really feeling that way on the inside. Maybe they’re just as scared as me, even more so, but not willing to be open about it? Or maybe I’m too open? Maybe my mistake is opening up to so many people when really what I should be doing is looking inwards and reflection. Sometimes we don’t need feedback or advice. We simply need someone to listen, to tell us, yes they’ll be our friend forever, yes they love us.

I kissed someone on the cheek last night in my dream, the same person who yelled at me on the phone yesterday for trying to get things done too soon, the same person who has called me a whore, but who has also cried with me, laughed with me, been angry with me. I felt like throwing a cup at the wall tonight. I was crying, and I was sad. Why, I’m not quite sure, only I think it’s because, despite the negatives with this person, I don’t focus on the negatives when I think about him. I think about all the good things he’s brought to my life. I think about how, despite everything we’ve been through, he’s always stayed my friend. And I think I am in tears because soon I am leaving Moldova, and I am not ready to let him go from my life . . . I have learned to love him and grow with him in a way I can’t explain. He’s my best friend, but more than that . . . words can’t describe it. I just know I will always love him in a way I can’t explain to anyone, really. I hope he doesn’t forget me, and even if he never admits these kinds of feelings about me to anyone, maybe, just maybe, I’m not alone in realizing how much of an impact we’ve made in each others’ lives these past two years . . . in my dream, he was the only one who mattered. Everyone else was a blur. That was how it has felt in reality here abroad too. Even in my tattered, hand-me-down dress, I felt beautiful dancing with him. He has helped me feel like a real person. I guess I give him too much credit, but . . . there it is.

Back to the wine.

You Can Do Anything

Reflecting on my past two years as a PCV, I realized I have accomplished A LOT — despite being told time and time again that I couldn’t. Although I’m an EE (English Educator), I have dedicated a huge part of my free time to projects emphasizing recycling and ecology.

I remember asking my PM (Program Manager) during MST (Mid Service Training) for a reduction of class hours for my second year so I could dedicate more time to my secondary projects. She said if I didn’t have time for my classes, then to quit the projects. I was so upset, I almost quit PC right there. She said I came here to teach English, but in reality I came here to do ecology.

When I applied to Peace Corps in 2014, the application was under an old system, where they place you in the country and program they think fits you best. As a result, I was placed in Moldova as an English teacher since I have a teaching license in English and a BA in English (as well as Sociology). So, I didn’t get to choose my program — if I could have, I would have chosen to be a COD (Community and Organization Development). Thankfully, Peace Corps has changed the application since then, and incoming volunteers are able to apply for which program they want to be in.

Despite this, I made it work. I integrated ecology into my lessons. I helped bring our pilot recycling project, “We Win When We Recycle”/”Castigam Cand Reciclam (CCR)”, to my village’s school. I converted my English club into an English Ecology Club. Students who I otherwise would not have gotten to know because they study French instead of English, I worked with on the recycling project.

When Peace Corps moved me to a new site in September 2016, I embraced it by helping youth from Riscani who’d been involved in CCR expand ecological initiatives to my new town. Elected the PCV leader of recycling and ecology by my three other site mates, I took the lead in helping to grow the new youth-led group, Tara Verde. I helped write a small grant for ecology clean ups, trainings, seminars, and a flash mob. I found a sponsor in Chisinau to support Tara Verde in becoming a national NGO and preparing for a national recycling campaign, “Hai sa Reciclam, Moldova!”/”Lets Recycle Moldova!”. I helped initiate the second round of a recycling competition, “Let’s Recycle, Riscani!”/”Hai sa Reciclam, Riscani!”. And, I made countless lasting friendships.

All this to say, I did none of this because Peace Corps asked me to. In the beginning, I had almost no support. Even my colleagues and fellow volunteers offered limited support and sometimes pushed me away when I wanted to help. But, I kept pushing. I kept trying, because this is my passion. I made my service into what I wanted it to be, despite all the obstacles in the way.

Eventually, my PM saw that I was determined to keep doing ecological projects. She never cut my hours back, so in reality I have been working 50 hour weeks when one combines teaching English, English clubs, and the various ecological projects I’m involved in, making me probably one of the most overworked volunteers in Moldova. But, I take the stress and lack of sleep with pride. And, she and her assistant have since come to visit us during some of these projects (they came to the Green Vision forum in March).

So, for anyone out there struggling with your job or school or whatever you’re doing, my message to you is that you are your best advocate, and you are the one who will make things happen. The only person ultimately stopping you is YOU. If you are passionate about something, keep pushing. Despite all odds, keep finding a way. Get creative. Think outside the box. Don’t take “no” for an answer. Let it motivate you to try harder, to find an alternative, to try it a different way, to come at it from another perspective. Don’t let anyone convince you that you can’t do something, because you can. You can do anything.

I have watched so many of my students and the youth I work with grow because of these projects. They have, like me, persevered and pushed forward despite obstacles. It’s contagious, this feeling of self-confidence and strength. We have not had it easy. There have been countless struggles along the way – partners who didn’t support us, organizations that practically fell apart, supplies and materials gone at the last minute, lack of space for trainings, lack of support from directors, team members going abroad to work, lack of funds, transportation trouble — but did we quit? No. We kept going, And we got stronger. We learned from our mistakes. And we are still growing.

I hope my teammates realize how amazing they are and how much they have accomplished. I had no idea we would have ever gotten this far. I never dreamed to accomplish as much as we have these past two years. But it was because, despite all odds, we continued to believe in ourselves.

So for those thinking about joining the Peace Corps, or for anyone about to do something new, don’t expect it to be easy. Expect it to be hard as shit. Expect to cry, to want to punch a wall, to want to yell at people. Expect those days where you feel like giving up. Journal, call a friend, phone home, go for a run or a walk, play music, whatever you need to do. But, get back up on your feet and keep going. No matter your program or your primary job as a volunteer or otherwise, follow your passion. Follow your heart. It will never, EVER fail you. Do the work that you love, and everything will eventually fall into place.

Those are my thoughts for today. Cheers to everyone.

Memories with My 9th Form Class

May is ending, and I’m shocked that I have only four more days of lessons. Today was my last day with my ninth form students. We sat and discussed our futures. I asked them what they plan to do this summer, after school is finished. Many don’t know, but one student told me he plans to study ecology here at the agroindustrial college. I had no idea he was interested in ecology, so that was an exciting surprise. Another student told me she wanted to go to college as well.

It’s interesting here in that students don’t need to make the decision about college until August, whereas in the states, if we want to get into a good school, we need to start applying as early as October or November for early admissions (thinking back to my high school days). Also, students go to college after ninth form, and then from there to university. So, the system is different, and I’m amazed at the relaxed atmosphere. They’re honest when they say they don’t know what they want to do next, but it’s good they have time to think about it.

Also, when I asked them where they see themselves in five years, most of them said university, or that they didn’t know. Then, they asked me questions about what I would do with my summer. I told them I would be in Moldova until July, travel around Europe a bit, then go home at the beginning of August. I told them I plan to come back and I hope they would still be in Moldova so I can visit them.

On Tuesday, the same class performed a skit about their experiences here at school. It brought me to tears and bursts of laughter because of the sentimental atmosphere. Doamna Rodica, their homeroom teacher and one of my English partners, told me today after I mentioned my surprise to their talents in acting, that it was because I had encouraged them during English class to do improvisational skits. After she saw their potential for theatre through those opportunities in class (we acted out a variety of funny skits, such as getting a haircut, helping an old person cross the street, robbing a bank, etc), she was inspired to organize an end-of-the-year skit for the school, which is the one I just mentioned.

One of my favorite parts was when the boys sang a song that, when translated, goes something along the lines of: “I love school, this is true. I love school, but I don’t know why.” Another great part was when they asked former professors to dance with them, and at the end when they passed along lessons learned to their younger siblings then danced with them. They recited poems for all the teachers for whom they didn’t make skits. One student, Dan, recited his in English, thanking me and my partners for teaching him English and believing in him. Another great part of the event was when the students acted out a typical day in English class — oh, how they dramatized test day like it was a day from hell! I have a video of it, but unfortunately I can’t attach it.

Anyway, here are some photos:

 

I am so proud of these students for all they have accomplished, especially the student leaders who participated in our recycling project “Let’s Recycle, Riscani!” this year – Jana, Ruxanda, and Nastia. They were there alongside me and Doamna Svetlana, a biology teacher, throughout the development and implementation of this project. Without them, our school would not have been put on the map both in Moldova nationally and beyond internationally for ecological activities. I hope that whatever they decide to do next, they will remember this experience and know that they are capable of whatever they set their minds to – because of them, Moldova has a brighter future.

80 Things I Love About Moldova

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  1. Limba sacră
  2. The hospitality of people I barely know
  3. Homemade honey
  4. Cheap  booze
  5. Homemade wine
  6. Fresh baked cookies
  7. The style
  8. Homegrown tea
  9. Homegrown veggies
  10. Russian
  11. Romanian
  12. Squat toilets (talk about efficiency)
  13. Moldovanește slang
  14. Springtime birds chirping in the AM outside my window
  15. Corlateni (best village ever)
  16. The friendships I’ve made
  17. The enthusiasm of my students to learn
  18. The amazing growth we have made with RECYCLING ❤
  19. Rutieras (also efficient)
  20. Trolleybuses
  21. Mîncare de Paști – Easter food (vegetarian)
  22. Anything with vînăta (eggplant)
  23. Taking walks outside with friends
  24. Long conversations about life with my besties
  25. Walking to and from work
  26. Car rides with friends
  27. Picnics along the Prut and in nature
  28. Safety (no one knows where Moldova is, usually, so globally it is safer than the USA)
  29. All the Saint days
  30. Birthday masas
  31. Christmas (Moș Craciun/Santa Claus)
  32. Annul noua
  33. Old Christmas (7 ianuarie)
  34. Old New Year (13 ianuarie)
  35. Language Day (Limba Noastre)
  36. National costumes
  37. National songs
  38. Pumpkin placenta
  39. The countless interesting conversations with locals in public transportation
  40. Learning from each other
  41. My English Club students
  42. My Ecology Club students
  43. The willingness of fellow volunteers or locals to help when we are struggling
  44.  The best friends I have made with other PCVs
  45. All the best friends I have made with locals
  46. The parties =)
  47. Cheap rent
  48. Cheap flowers
  49. Walking past goats and cows in the middle of my town on my way somewhere
  50. The slowed-down natural pace (no need to rush)
  51. Drying laundry in the sun
  52. Living without a fridge
  53. The wild hedgehogs
  54. My partners and all our experiences together, and their kindness
  55. Hanging out with my host families – especially playing with the kids (going on adventures, swimming in the pool, playing while I am cleaning my room, making art, helping them with their homework . . . )
  56. Rachiu shots with partners, host family . . .
  57. Secret wine tastings at night with my host dad (shhh)
  58. Baking with my host mom
  59. Dancing the hora!
  60. Learning to dance with other volunteers
  61. The closeness of our communities
  62. Being able to call the mayor and him call you back, or go straight to his office and have a chat
  63. The sincerity of Dr Iuliana being concerned about us as volunteers
  64. Moldovan live music (the flute especially)
  65. Meeting randomly with people whom you did not expect to see
  66. Spontaniety / plans changing (and going with the flow)
  67. Random celebrations (like drinking champagne at 10 AM at school to celebrate someone having a birthday)
  68. Being accessible to travel to many countries in Europe which are nearby
  69. Carbonated water
  70. Moldovan chocolate (Bucaria)
  71. The hardworking ethic of Moldovans
  72. Diplomas for everything
  73. Clean shoes
  74. Apples
  75. Marțișor
  76. Flowers for different celebrations
  77. Teachers Day
  78. International Womens Day – 8 March
  79. All the silly jokes
  80. Soroca

One year ago today . . .

I wrote this last year while I was hospitalized in Chisinau. These words still hold true, and I wanted to share them with everyone.

Three years ago getting out of college, I told myself it doesn’t matter so much what happens to me in life but how I deal with it. Laying in a foreign hospital bed for the fourth day now, I’m truly being tested on that idea. In the end, all we can control is our reaction to the curve balls. We can choose to swing, or we can choose to stay still. Either way, that ball is coming so fast we have to make a decision. So, I choose to swing. I don’t know what’s next or if I’ll even hit the ball, but if I do I’m running as fast as I can to home run. Life is full of ups and downs but we have to keep going forward. When life gives us lemons, we need to do our best to make that dank lemonade people always talk about making. We need to stay true to ourselves.

I still don’t know exactly why I’m so sick, and perhaps I’ll never know, but I’m getting much better, and when I get out of here I’ll be healed not only physically but spiritually, because sometimes life has to knock you to rock bottom so that you can find the strength within yourself to be resilient and start from zero again. I’m stubborn and I’m not giving up on this adventure in the Peace Corps, hospitalized or not. I have too much work to finish to stop now. I’m going to get better and make the best of this, and when I come home next year from my full service, I hope I look back and say, damn girl. You did it. You made it, through all those difficulties, through everything thrown at you. You made it through it all. Because that’s what’s life’s about, learning to dance in the rain.

So, for anyone else out there struggling, you are not alone. And, I am not any better than you. My experiences do not make me better than you. I’ve simply been knocked down again and again. I refuse to stay down though, and so should you. So, let’s get up and keep going. Let no one tell you that you can’t, especially yourself. You may say, oh I can’t be like her, I’m not strong like she is. That is crap. Reach inside yourself and you’ll find that you are stronger than you ever imagined. Sometimes it takes heartbreak, illness, death. For me it took all three. But I’m not going to give up on my future because it’s all I have, and I’d rather push through and get stronger than give up and spend the rest of my life in the same place I’ve always been wondering what it could have been like if I had kept going. I believe in you because I believe in myself. We have to love ourselves first because we know the dirty parts of ourselves better than anyone and it’s hard to accept ourselves. When we make poor decisions or go the wrong way we can lie to others but we can’t to ourselves, and that’s the hardest part of getting stronger, is looking that face of ours in the mirror and saying, I forgive you. I love you. No one else can satisfy that inner need of self love and self forgiveness than ourselves.

I hope this rant leaves at least one person with a sense of hope and some leverage for a better day and a fuller life. God be with you all.