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.

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The Last Months

Well, I have approximately 15 more work days, 60 more days of service, and 80 more days until I’m back in the States. This is hard to believe. I keep getting On This Day reminders where I was counting down the days for my PC interview, for my departure, and of course all the things that happened here a year ago.

Almost two years have passed since I came to Moldova. Since then, I have grown incredibly. My colleagues and I have helped bring recycling to 14 educational institutions in the north of Moldova, and indirectly I will have helped make that number double by this fall. By fall 2017, in other words, that number will be 32 due to our national campaign.

All this is to say, I could have done more. I could have been a better teacher, I could have taught more people English individually, I could have gone to school instead of staying home when I was feeling ill, I could have been more integrated. But, honestly, I have done so much, and it’s pointless to be hard on myself.

Next Saturday will be our final ceremony for the “Let’s Recycle, Riscani!” project. Close to 15,000 kg will have been recycled by the end of next week.

When people ask, “What is your legacy?” I think it is that I was able to help bring recycling. I wasn’t the first volunteer to start this project — that was Jeff, and I’m forever grateful for him getting the ball rolling. But, I helped expand it across the country. I took a great idea and made it accessible to Moldovans who otherwise would probably have never pursued this concept for waste management. Of course, there are still problems. Transportation is a big struggle, since we need bulk amounts for the recycling companies to pick up. Also changing the behavior of teachers and staff who throw their paper in trashcans still instead of recycling them. I have put up signs for them as reminders. It seems to have been working so far . . .

If I were to have done this again, I would have done trainings for the teachers as well as the students. That way it would have been even more sustainable. I have seen all the hard work Svetlana has put into making our school more eco-friendly, and if we had more teachers motivated like her, we would be mountains higher. But she is an exceptional person, and few people are as amazing as her.

Oh, I also got an Advanced Low on my Romanian language proficiency interview. So, I would say I’m more integrated than I think. 🙂 Now I’m waiting to do one in Russian as well.

Living a Green Lifestyle

Today, I slept until 2:00 PM and cleaned the house. Now, I am eating dinner: pasta with tomato sauce and sunny side up eggs with Sriracha and hot red pepper flakes for spicy flavor. The sun is slowly setting in the distance behind the clouds.

Living without a refrigerator has been a pleasant challenge. I’ve had a bit of food mold, but mostly I have been able to save a good amount of money. Living alone these last few months has been a blessing. I have been doing my best to let my home life and living habits reflect my involvement in these ecological projects. I think it’s important to practice what we preach, and one of my favorite mottos is, as I often remind myself, that we come into this life with nothing, and we certainly go out with nothing.

My aim this past year has been to have as close to a zero waste lifestyle as possible. Here are some of the actions I have been taking while living fridge-less to make sure that happens:

  • Reusing glass jars from canned foods for:
    • pencil holders
    • mini trash cans
    • ash trays
    • silverware holders
    • compost
    • etc.
  • Collecting all paper and plastic waste and taking it to my school for our recycling contest, Lets Recycle, Riscani.
  • Putting food waste into a glass jar and taking it outside instead of putting it in the trash can with the rest of my waste.
  • Buying eggs that haven’t been refrigerated (they last up to a week)
  • Buying milk in small sizes (drinking portions) in recyclable materials (0.5 kg plastic bottle or 500 g carton) and using all of it in the morning for cereal and coffee.
  • Buying fruits in small amounts and eating them before they go bad (bananas, apples, pears)
  • Using my solar lantern in the kitchen instead of an actual light bulb (it went out a few weeks ago and I haven’t bothered to replace it yet)

Amount of waste for landfill per month: less than 0.5 kg
Amount of paper recycled this past month: 3 kg
Amount of plastic recycled this past month: 2 kg

 

From a Green Vision to a Green Country

“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.”
― C. JoyBell C.

Yesterday was the Green Vision forum organized by my colleagues and friends in Balti. It was an exhausting success. We had approximately 200 registered participants who attended, as well as walk-ins. I spoke three languages throughout the day. My role as a floater was to engage people on the floor who seemed displaced, bored, or otherwise alone. This gave me an opportunity to meet several new faces and interact with those I wouldn’t normally speak to, and I connected with some important people unintentionally.

As volunteers, we had to arrive at the restaurant where the event was being held, VisPas, by 8 AM. Because of this, I was up by 5:45 AM to shower and prepare. I got to the bus station to meet the rest of the Riscani group by 6:55 AM. We arrived in Balti around 7:50 AM. Several volunteers asked me why we had to be there so early. I explained, after being debriefed by Bartosz, that we had to prepare badges and other things beforehand, since people would start showing up by 9 AM. And he was right.

Nina and Lucia, my project manager and assistant for English Education, respectively, from Peace Corps, both attended the event. They stayed for only about an hour, but they were impressed from what I could tell. We took several photos together, and I introduced them to Sandru, Loreana, Peter, Olga, and others. Tim, an M31 SED, was also there, and I met both him and his partner. They live in Glodeni which isn’t far from Riscani and invited us to come to their national park for a tour, which is 300 lei regardless of the size of the group. I think this would be a great idea for volunteers in the next month or so.

I also introduced DJ to Sandru and Nastia because he is going to train them on entrepreneurship skills so they can start a business in the future (SRL, I think it’s called), which they can do in addition to their ONG, AO Tara Verde. Sandru and Nastia both mentioned possible businesses like a recycling company processing plant or transportation service. Sandru also talked about wanting to fundraise for opening an office in Riscani, which is about $1000 over the course of six months. I mentioned organizing a battle of the bands, but when I spoke to the girlfriend of one of the volunteers who has these kinds of connections, she said he might not be interested in something like that. We’ll have to talk more about it in the next couple weeks.

Among the information we received at the forum, which was funded by the Let Girls Lead (LGL) grant (thanks, Michelle Obama), were brochures about Tara Verde and the forum itself. I found myself this afternoon reading over the Tara Verde brochure. We printed 150 of Russian and 150 of Romanian, and the one I grabbed was the former. Looking through the text, I realized I understood a good portion of what Nastia had written. In regards to my development of Russian, I am beyond words appreciative of how much I have learned from Nastia. I remember first asking Sandru if he would teach me Russian, and he immediately suggested Nastia teach me instead because she’s a native speaker. So, there we were; I picked it up more quickly than with my past two teachers out of necessity to understand each other because she is also learning Romanian and English.

After the forum, I felt my extroverted charge expire. I haven’t spoken with any team members since exiting the rutiera, saying goodbye to the volunteers one by one as we walked home, and retreating to my apartment for some alone time.

There were some aspects of the forum that could have been better. I think a little more structure was needed. I didn’t see evidence of participants needing to do anything after the forum besides fill out a feedback survey, although from my understanding the participants were expected to organize projects with the different organizations afterwards. But, I do know that several practical activities will happen in the next coming months, including a clean up and planting flowers. I hope other activities will also happen. The closing ceremony of the Green Vision project will be May 15, five days before the closing of Let’s Recycle, Riscani which will be on May 20th.

I’ve been thinking about some of the feedback I’ve gotten about other colleagues these past few weeks. A bit of it has been negative. I’ve been considering how I should approach this issue. I think my colleagues should know what has been said about them, but in a productive, proactive way. I think once I get access to the feedback survey for the forum (I asked my colleague for a copy), I’ll be able to express some of this. Or, perhaps we will have another joint meeting where we can discuss the forum: what we could have done better, what was done well, etc.

The main concerns I have are within the group. Our leaders have not been fully reliable; one has been consistently late the past few meetings leading up to the forum, despite demanding the rest of the volunteers be on time. Also, this colleagues’s bossy tone makes several volunteers uncomfortable confronting her; instead, they confront me. Another colleague has been aggressive and pushy of their ideas instead of listening to different opinions of the group, and these dynamics have caused some animosity amongst everyone. I hope we will find some time over the next few months to repair these issues.

“Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day . . . And then one day you find ten years have got behind you . . . Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way . . .” – Time by Pink Floyd.

 

Spring into Action

It is my second spring in Moldova, and my service is getting closer and closer to its completion. We have been busy with “Hai sa Reciclam, Riscani!” these past few months. After we installed paper bins, collection soared. L.T. “Damian” recycled over 3,000 kg of paper and cardboard the first week and a half; my school Gimn. “Gheorge Riscanu” recycled close to 660 kg. We are beginning week four now, and we are close to 5,000 kg between each school. We have about 1,300 kg at my school right now, and L.T. “Damian” has 2,000 approximately; the Agro-industrial College has about 150 kg; L.T. “Cantamir” has maybe 30 kg. I’m not sure how many the village Nihoreni has. Loreana and I are going to talk to the mayor tomorrow to see if he can help us transport the materials to Balti at FinPlast because it would make this contest more sustainable.

I just finished working on my VRF (Volunteer Report Form). It’s a lot easier reporting a few big projects rather than a bunch of small ones. Last night I stayed with Bartosz, and this morning we had a team meeting, although he didn’t go because he’s been sick. I hope he gets better. I’m getting better with the language switching at these meetings — people go back and forth between Russian and Romanian, and studying with Nastia has helped a lot. I understand about 40-50% of the Russian and 70-80% of the Romanian.

Recently I moved into my own apartment. It’s a bit farther from school, but I enjoy the walk. I love having my own place, although it’s cold because the heat wasn’t on since no one was living here and now it’s turned off in the whole apartment complex. It’s okay though because I have been wearing sweaters. Soon it will get warmer. On Tuesday since we didn’t have school, I threw a housewarming party and invited a few people. It was a lot of fun. Nastia, Dima, Logan, and Bartosz came. We made hashbrowns and danced around until the neighbors knocked on the door. It feels so good to be alone. I have my own schedule and I don’t have people interrupting me. I can make my own decisions. I can’t get enough. Tonight I make the Moldovan version of Ramen noodles and some chamomile tea.

I look forward to the coming week. On Tuesday, I have to go to Chisinau after classes to get my new residency card, drop off essays to Beni for the the All Write competition (English creative writing), pick up certificates for that, grab the stuff from Matt, and whatever else.

Cheers till then!

 

Everything in Motion

When everything is going so fast, sometimes it’s hard to understand the extent of what is said — especially when you’re a native English speaker and the conversation is equally in Russian and Romanian. One person will ask in Russian, the other will ask in Romanian, and you have to understand as best you can, as quickly as you can, in order to stay on top of everything and monitor an ever-growing ecological initiative. The good news is, the recycling concept is growing at an accelerating rate in the north of Moldova. We have already taught over 4,000 students between 13 different schools from Balti to Riscani about recycling. After the success of “We Win When We Recycle/Castigam Cand Reciclam” in Balti, we’re moving forward with local youth inspired by this pilot project to do another similar contest in Riscani called “Hai sa Reciclam/Let’s Recycle, Riscani” which will be  between five schools in the city and just recently adding a school on the outskirts in the village Nihoreni, making a total of six schools.

Anyway, it’s so difficult keeping up with everything. I’m doing my best, but between three languages, it can be very exhausting and stressful. More than that, overwhelming. My colleague, Bartosz, understands both Romanian and Russian fairly well, especially Russian, better than I do, so that’s a bit frustrating to know that he’s able to understand more than me. But I took it as a personal challenge over a year ago to learn Russian so I can keep up, and despite the difficulties, I am glad i have decided to do that — I may not understand everything, but I understand bits and pieces, and that is better than nothing.

As you can tell it’s been a long time since I have written. This is because we have been super busy. SO busy that I update on Facebook (because it’s easier) but not on here. SO forever actually reads this, I apologize. But, you should know many things have been happening, and I have been very proud of my group for being so self-leading and powerful as they have been inspired to continue ecological initiatives in Moldova outside of its capital. Anyone who steps foot in Moldova and only sees Chisinau may think, oh this country will be fine, but in reality, it’s like a trickle-down theory — all the great ideas get started in Chisinau and get lost in the folds as they trickle out to the villages. So, you can imagine how much actually happens outside of the capital. Anyways, it’s amazing that we have been able to accomplish so much with such little means as a result of pure hard work and perseverance. And this will be something I will always remember. Because even though some days I feel small and shitty, like I don’t matter and the team could do with out me, in reality I have been able to help a LOT for these projects, and because of my passion and background, despite not being so good in math and science, it’s my love for the planet and my desire to do these projects that’s helped us keep going. Because you can be the smartest person in the world, but if you do nothing with that knowledge. then so what? Better to know little and work hard than to know a lot and work little. As my colleague told me, it’s action, not hope, that makes things happen. And despite making many, many mistakes (both in language and otherwise, commonsense mistakes), God only knows how much i have learned here in Moldova. I will go home a better, changed person. And I am proud of myself for that. I hope you are proud of me too.