Spring is in the air here. Usually it only lasts for a few weeks, but its pretty glorious. The man purses and capris have also made their way out of storage and I am reminded yet again that I live in Eastern Europe, where men’s fashion differs wildly from the American standards. My roommate has been working on an Anti-human trafficking festival that will start on Tuesday, so we’re prepping to have guests for most of the week. She cleaned the apartment top to bottom while I was away last week, so it was nice to come home to that. Laundry only takes a few hours to dry now instead of days, so I look forward to cleaner clothes. Still waiting to hear about my future, but that’s okay. Just taking it one day at time.
I haven’t posted here for a long time. It’s not because of Peace Corps, or because of my students, or any kind of seasonal depression. I was home in the US for a month on Emergency Leave, which as PCV tells you something very serious happened. I lost someone in my family.
I’ve been back in Moldova for a week now, which I think has surprised a lot of people here. I’m not the same, I never will be again. But I know that I’m going to see this through, that I can grieve here and still do my job. I can share my sadness and memories and let my Moldovan friends and PCVs get me through it, because I have made a family here too.
My family in the US believes in following through on commitments, no matter what. I didn’t promise my dad I would finish my service, like he wanted, but after being here I can see that I will.
The heat is out in my apartment again–for some reason it has decided to only function in the kitchen, which is of course the only room we can heat manually by turning on the oven. My roommate and I were both gone for winter vacation, and so we were responsible and turned off the heat and the boiler before we left. The funny thing is that neither of us were phased by the lack of functionality of our appliances. I don’t even mind the extra chill in the apartment—the only real annoyance is that my hands get cold when I type–but I learned from my brief foray back into the US that I’ve become accustomed to living with breakdowns. No hot water? Bucket baths. No heat? Put on an extra layer. No gas? Make sandwiches.
It wasn’t hard for me to leave Moldova, but it also wasn’t hard to come back. I missed my apartment, speaking Romanian, and the friends that I’ve made here. It was great to go home and eat my mother’s wonderful cooking, hang out with friends, and party more than I should have, but it felt like a vacation, unreal and dreamlike. By the end I was so tired that I could barely say goodbye to my friends, let alone work up the emotions to comprehend leaving again. The day before I was leaving New York, I felt that familiar stomachache of panic—the one I had the whole week before I packed up and left. I guess saying goodbye to Brooklyn will always feel like kicking dust over my college years, but I realized that I want to go back and live there, eventually.
Peace Corps is truly a learning experience. I’ve come to realize, especially as I’ve had to explain my position on how I feel about the Peace Corps as an institution to my American friends, that what I do here can help the people around me, but the greatest gift I’ve received here is self-growth and the ability to reflect on what is important in my life, and what steps I want to make in the future. Moldova will largely go on unaffected once I leave, but a few people, maybe three or four, will know what it was like to have an American friend, and what our values are, and what idealism can mean from the ground up.
I’ll be turning 25 soon, which is a pretty common age for volunteers, but I know that this chunk of my 20′s was when I developed some solid opinions on serious topics. There are things that I’ve realized here, which probably would have taken me a bit longer to discover in the States. I have definite positions on marriage (-), children (+), international aid organizations (eh), and foreign language curriculum (!!) which were still so fuzzy in my head before. I don’t know if that’s just growing up or if being here helped me come to these conclusions faster. Peace Corps tells you from the get-go that you have to be flexible to succeed as a volunteer, so I can positively say that even though I’ve developed some opinions on life, the universe, and everything–I know that they will probably change as time goes on, and that’s just fine.
Back in PST (Pre-Service Training) over a year ago, we were warned that volunteers will go through psychological ups and downs, and that generally there is a trend of a ‘mid service slump’ among many volunteers the world over. One of the reasons I haven’t been posting much is because I was in this down period for the month of September, and I am just now coming out of it in the middle of October. Even now, I still don’t feel completely right–like something is a little wrong or that I miss home too much. However, I’ve made an active choice to pull myself out of this dark mood and face the rest of my service with some enthusiasm.
I can’t say much about what has caused this, even though I am quite aware of the reasons. Most of it has to do with the mentality here, the kind of fatalism that accompanies poverty and inefficacy. It’s easy to get swept up in negative emotions, but so much more meaningful when you can push it aside and try to bring some light into a dark room. Part of being a volunteer is knowing that you’ll leave after your two years of service. To some this is a kind of buoy, for others a source of guilt. I am going to make an active choice to do as much as I can before I leave, because that’s why I’m here.
This morning, while I sat in an empty English classroom waiting for my partner to arrive, I had to recount everything that I did this summer in a work report for my program manager. Every volunteer is responsible for reporting, and twice a year we have these hefty report forms for PC Washington that take our work, mash it up into a database and spit it out in numbers that Congress can use to decide our funding. This report was a lighter version of that, since Education volunteers are expected to have lighter loads when school is on vacation. With a word document, I found that I could actually express what I liked about what I did this summer, rather than account for every person that I had contact with. It actually made me think about all the kids I met this summer and what my presence could have meant to them.
So, here are some highlights from my report.
Ograda Noastra is an amazing NGO that works with disadvantaged minorities in Moldova (with the most experience in the Roma community). They gave funding to two local NGOs to run a summer camp for the Roma kids in each community, and I got to help with logistics and finding volunteers to assist. I went to two of these camps and did team work/critical thinking activities, skits about community problems and solutions, as well as discussions about how the can be active in their community.
Both my experiences were pretty incredible, and I’m glad to be involved with the Roma (Gypsy) community. We were hosted by a family in Minjir for about three days, and they opened their home to three strangers from America with no questions. Every night we had dinner with a glass of wine and talked about life in the village. We called Valeriu’s (our host) mother “mama” because that was the only thing she would let us call her. Moldovans are proud of their hospitality, and I was lucky enough to be on the receiving end a lot this summer.
I’m fresh returned from a weekend at the Black Sea in the Ukraine, so now its time to put my head down and get back to work on teaching. Tomorrow is a meeting with all of the English teachers where we’ll discuss classes and basically where I’ll be for my final year in Moldova.
Deep breath. Here we go again!
Freshly returned from a wonderful vacation in Spain, I’m now looking at two straight weeks of summer camps with Roma NGOs. Jumping right back in! New volunteers are starting to come to sites next week too, so I think I will be very busy in August. Then school starts and I’ll be talking about my COS plans…living life in the Peace Corps bubble makes things seem very surreal. Might start working on a grant project with the Salvation Army in Cahul, so I may not have time to breathe this year. Which is pretty much how I like it until I get sick (prob Nov). Missing my friends from vacation already, and it was strange not to be able to tell then when I’d see them again. Right now my life is in the air after next year.
Things have started to heat up here, finally. Today I stood in a magazine waiting to make my order and felt the sweat dripping everywhere, so I know its summer. Jenn and I changed apartments last week when it was still cool, so I’m grateful that we’re not hauling our stuff now that the heat has come. We’re living with our friend Erin and her roommate right now because of our finicky landlord, but I’m happy to be out of that situation. Erin leaves on the 20th of June, which we are dreading because she has been such an amazing person to be with here in Moldova. I know she’s going to do great things and I’m happy that I got to know her. She’s moving to Nepal after this, and Jenn and I have agreed that we will visit her on our COS trip, but losing her emotional/work support here in Cahul is going to be hard. Jenn and I have been talking a lot about friendships that are built during a volunteer’s service–often we find ourselves in groups of people that we would never have been a part of in the States–but the things we go through together make us overlook whatever character differences there may be. Erin and Jenn and I have become somewhat inseparable so I know that Jenn and I will be cranky with each other for awhile. Este viata.
Anyway, its been an emotional couple of days–my sitemate Ryne COSes today (Close of Service) and he will also be sorely missed. He was sort of a brother to me in Cahul–always told me when I was overreacting to something, or would tell me to shut up and drink a beer when things were out of my control. I will be bothering him in Romanian via skype.
I am going to miss them, but that’s a volunteer’s life. People come and go, and eventually we have a network spanning the globe of people’s couches we can crash on. I’m lucky that I got to share my experiences with people like this, and I hope that the new volunteers heading down south feel the same way about us.
Speaking of the new volunteers, they arrived on Thursday. I’m a part of a special PC Moldova initiative called “Mentors” who help ease new volunteers into PC life, especially in PST. Moldova is such a small country that its easy for us to come to Chisinau where they have their trainings and help them buy things at the piata or offer an understanding ear. We went to the airport to welcome them and haul luggage, and set up their new phones, and offer advice for the first few days of PST. I stayed with my PST host mom a few nights before they got here and gently reminded her that the new volunteer that would stay with her wouldn’t speak Romanian yet. She seemed pretty excited, so I think it will be nice for them both.
Saturday I went to a leadership training at my friend Rachel’s site which is about an hour south of Cahul. It’s another PC Moldova initiative called “Haiducii” which means the Rebels. We travel to villages and do leadership and group activities. It was my first real one, so it was interesting to realize which words I didn’t know but needed to, like for ‘rope’ and ‘follow me’ but I had a lot of fun. I will be doing this training again in Chisinau next week for the new volunteers, and it will be in English. Of course that’s also Jenn’s birthday, so it will be a six hour commute kind of day so I can make it back to celebrate.