Moldova By The Numbers

The Basics

760 days as a volunteer in Moldova

5 new countries

3 breakdowns about wanting to quit and go home

58 government-issued family members

250 members of my Wave Week family

115 hours of Romanian language training

820 (at least) phone calls home

10 television series started and completed

173 hours of English Education technical training

 

Work

275 students

3 partner teachers

2 grants written and implemented, totaling $3800 USD

7 grade levels taught

2 Halloweens celebrated

10 times a day my students made me laugh at something they said or did

1 site mate (another Peace Corps volunteer in my site)

 

Everyday Life

2 host families

10 mice that sacrificed their lives trying to invade my room

10 masas

3 different routes to walk to and from school (important to know because…geese…)

8 volunteers traveled to visit my site and my host family

110 km (2 hours) each way travel time to Chisinau, the capital city

106 lei, or $6.60, for round-trip bus fare from my site to Chisinau

80 lei ($5) for a ton of fresh produce in the summertime

 

Health Issues

2 cases of giardia

2 rolled ankles

1.5 cases of pneumonia

3 sinus infections

2 bouts of bronchitis

1 newly developed case of asthma

5 cases of food poisoning

 

World Events

Too many to count mass shootings in the United States

2 controversial and potentially life-altering presidential elections (USA and Moldova)

1 less EU country

3 major terrorist attacks

2 Olympic games

1 solar eclipse

2 major Royal family events (1 new royal baby and 1 new American duchess)

 

1 new home

5983459 new experiences

1 wholly improved Morgan

 

 

 

 

 

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Fun Facts about Athens

As you may or may not know, the last vacation of my service was to Athens, Greece for a few days. This is somewhere that has been on my radar for a long time and I was excited to finally get to spend some time in a place that I had been dreaming about visiting since I was in elementary school. As a card-carrying nerd, I have always been fascinated by Greek mythology–something that I have passed down to my brother as well–so having the opportunity to see the ancient monuments and grounds that these mythical beings roamed was a geek-out moment for sure.

One of my rules of thumb when I travel to a new place is to take a walking tour on the first day–it orients you to the city and gives you an idea of what to visit during your time there. There are so many free walking tours offered in cities all over Europe that give so much background and information about the place you are visiting that you otherwise might not have known.

Here are some fun facts that I learned during my 3-hour walking tour in Athens:

–Lord Byron, a famous English poet, has statues all over Greece due to his devotion to the country and its people. He became a war-time symbol (much like Uncle Sam in America) for the Greeks and, upon his death, left all of his money to Greece to help them continue funding their war (that they eventually won).

–The stray animals in Athens are taken care of by the government. They tag the animals and take them for bi-annual vet check-ups. They are also fed by the locals, leading to the healthiest looking strays I have ever seen in my life.

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–The military guards in front of the Parliament building in Athens have a…unique…march. Long ago, one of the Kings of Greece was originally from Bavaria (Germany) and loved his horses. However, horses are not native to Greece and he could not afford to import them into the country. So, like any reasonable human would, he instructed his military men to march in such a way that they sounded like horses. This led to a march that looks like it is straight from Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. There are even horseshoes on the bottom of the shoes that these guards wear to imitate the sound, but making each shoe weigh 1.5 kg (about 3 pounds). There is a video of the changing of guard in the Athens photo album on my Facebook.

–It is obligatory for every Greek man to serve 9 months in the military at some point in their lives. The men that participate in the above ceremony are the cream of the crop, being put through 3 months of intensive training in order to complete their duties accordingly.

–Athens got its name from Athena, the goddess of war and wisdom. She was competing with her uncle, Poseidon, for the city and, in order to appeal to the locals, each of them gave the people of the city a gift. Poseidon struck the ground and created a geyser, spewing beautiful, clean water from it. People were overjoyed until Athena asked them to drink it when they found that it was salt water and would be of no use to them. She gifted the people olive trees because olives can be used for many different reasons and would continue to gift the people for centuries to come. Therefore, Athena became the namesake of the city we know as Athens. #Feminism

–Athena was also the only god born with her weapons. She was born out of the top of Zeus’s head as a full grown woman holding her spear and shield.

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–The major religion in Greece is Greek Orthodox. There are little churches all over the city and each of these churches has its own purpose. For example, the church shown below on the left is dedicated to lost items. If a person has lost something, they can enter into the church, light a candle, say a prayer, and the smoke will carry their request to the gods. The church on the left is another church in the center of Athens devoted to sick family members/friends.

–The unemployment rate of Greeks under the age of 30 is almost 60%–this is one of the reasons that the majority of Athens is covered in graffiti.

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–A lawyer representing Greece brought a lawsuit against the British Museum asking for the Elgin Marbles to be returned to Greece where they belong. She won the suit in the late 80s, but the marbles have still not been returned. Fast-forward to Brexit and, in order for the UK to withdraw from the EU, all EU member states must sign in accordance. In one of the pettiest and most perfect moves ever, Greece is refusing to sign until their artifacts from the British Museum are returned to them.

–The mountains in Greece are full of marble, which was interesting to me because I am used to mountains being full of coal. Due to this, literally everything in Athens is made of marble–flooring, sidewalks, buildings, etc–which makes getting around difficult sometimes because marble is slippery! In order for someone to show their wealth within their household, they will install wood flooring as lumber has to be imported in and costs significantly more.

–When they were excavating and digging for the Athens metro, they kept running into ancient artifacts and really didn’t know what to do with them. So, instead of closing them up in a private display, they made some of the metro stations de facto museums where people can see them every day during their commute.

–Until Greece joined the EU, there were no zoning laws and, when you stand on a hill overlooking the city, you can see the magnitude of that. People just built whatever they wanted, wherever they wanted. Athens is one of the most dense cities I have ever been to and I am so glad I had access to reliable GPS during my time there. All of the white color in the photo below are buildings. See any green space? Yeah, no. Me either.

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–The oranges that grow on the trees throughout the city are not meant to be eaten. They aren’t actually oranges–they are a member of the orange family that are significantly more bitter. Their purpose is to help with the pollution by absorbing more of the bad air while emitting more good air. Another benefit of these fruits are that the neighborhood streets smell like oranges and it is heavenly.

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–All of the Greek people that I interacted with during my time in Athens were super nice. While this may have been just a stroke of good luck, I will remember the people fondly from my time visiting their country.

All in all, being able to explore Athens as my last Peace Corps vacation was the best decision I could have made. I was able to indulge my inner-nerd with all of the history that the city is steeped in while indulging my “foodie” with top-notch Greek cuisine. This was the perfect way to celebrate my 2 years of living in Europe coming to a close and I look forward to returning to the Greek islands in the future.

Day 88: Onto my next adventure

When I announced that I would be devoting 27 months of my life to the service of others in a country 5000 miles away from my own, a lot of people looked at me like I was crazy. A few other people told me there was no way I would make it that long without the comforts of home. Well, here we are…88 days away from me achieving my goal of completing my Peace Corps service in the country of Moldova.

So, what is my next step?

Over the past 27 months, I have jumped all over the place in terms of deciding what I wanted to come next. Law school, working for the federal government, finding a position at an international NGO, doing educational development work in Eastern Kentucky…yep, all of those were considered for varying amounts of time. However, I kept coming back to one specific path: academia.

I retook the GRE in October here in Moldova in preparation for applying to doctorate programs and had all of my applications submitted by early November. I received letters of recommendation quickly and professionally from former professors and my current employer, vouching for my ability to succeed in a doctoral program. After everything was submitted, it was just a waiting game.

Acceptances and rejections began rolling around in late January- early February, but I sat on making my final decision until a couple of weeks ago. I have always suffered from imposter syndrome pretty severely and it came flying back with a vengeance during this acceptance season: I lack the research focus to do well in a PhD program. I will look like a moron in front of my cohort mates. I am only doing this because I don’t know how to do anything else. I am just a girl with degrees from state universities–there is no way I will survive in academia.

But, as I looked back at my journey to this point in my life, I decided that I owed it to myself to at least try. Maybe I will fail. Maybe I will find that it is not for me. Or maybe I will fall back in love with academia. No one knows.

So, after much thought and consideration, it looks like I am coming home!

I have accepted a 5 year fully funded assistantship position in University of Kentucky’s Sociology PhD program where I plan to focus on sociological problems plaguing rural America, specifically Central Appalachia. I received similar offers from both Washington State University and Iowa State University, but my heart and soul pulled me back to the Bluegrass.

For the majority of my life, I was embarrassed and ashamed to admit that I was raised and educated in Kentucky. Kentucky is often the butt of jokes, ignored by many (including the federal government), and considered to be an insufficient place to live/raise a family. I just knew that my successful future was in a big city somewhere and that I would run full-steam ahead toward that goal, leaving Kentucky in the dust.

Fast forward 27 months living in an Eastern European country that is scarily similar to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky…and here is what I have learned.

  • There is a beauty in the simplicity of rural life
  • The people of rural communities are, bar none, the most hospitable and caring people I have ever met in my life
  • Being proud of your roots is paramount to loving yourself as a person
  • Every thing that I love the most about myself exists because of where/how I was raised. I am who I am because of Appalachian values and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.

I owe it to myself and to the communities that have raised me to return home and commit myself to the development efforts happening in my backyard. The skills and knowledge that I have obtained during my 27 months of service have been practiced and polished in Moldova–now it is time to return to the States and pick up the torch there.

You can take the girl outta Kentucky…but she’ll ultimately find her way back.

Days 92-89: Ice cream, Commutes, Colored Eggs, and Easter…oh my

Day 92 is all about înghețată (ice cream). The weather is finally beginning to warm up, which means the frequent indulgence of ice cream is upon us. During my first summer, us EEs lived off of ice cream thanks to the store located next to our training site. I love ice cream in Moldova because I can actually enjoy it…unlike ice cream in the States, which makes me almost immediately ill after eating it. I look forward to many more ‘sitting on random benches, eating ice cream, chatting, and enjoying the outdoors’ experiences before I leave in July.

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Day 91 gives you a look at one of my views during my walk home. I literally have to walk up hill both ways to get to and from school so this photo is taken at the crest of the hill in my neighborhood. The photo really doesn’t do it justice, but my words would do it even less. My favorite is during the summer time when all of those hills are completely yellow because of the sunflowers growing there. Absolutely stunning.

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Day 90 gives a look at some of the food preparation that goes into celebrating Easter here in Moldova. Like in America, eggs are dyed (but not hunted) and eaten at the Easter meal. There are also many sweet cakes and breads that are prepared, but the main portion of the meal centers around meat since the Easter meal is the official break of the fasting period. Many families enjoy lamb and pork prepared in many different ways. Since my family raises pigs, whole pigs are slaughtered a few days before celebrations and the following days are spent making various sausages and other dishes from every part of the pig.

Day 89 is celebrating Easter, one of the biggest holidays of the year. Early on Easter morning, families put together a basket with specific items in it (each thing has a special meaning) and take it to their local church to have it blessed. After the priest comes around and blesses it with holy water, families will take it home and enjoy the bread as part of their meal later that day. I participated in the Easter festivities last year, but as I am leaving for a short vacation today, I wasn’t able to be in my town for the celebrations so these are some photos from last year. Hristos a înviat!

Day 93: Hai să jucăm Uno

Uno may very well be a staple in most Peace Corps volunteer’s belongings when they first arrive in country….and, if it is not, it should be (especially for volunteers that work with youth). The rules of Uno translate well into most cultures and the premise is easy enough for volunteers to explain, even with limited language capacity. It is a fun game to play with local youth, students, and host families and gives you an easy icebreaker into community integration.

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Here we are playing Uno with a family from one of the volunteer’s communities.

Uno is also a staple at a lot of M31 gatherings…it travels easy and you really learn a lot about your fellow volunteers when you find yourselves in the middle of a cutthroat round (*cough* my site mate that likes to hold his cards under the table so no one can see his progress *cough*).

When my partner teachers are out sick or are attending a short training, Uno is an easy thing for me to use with my younger students to keep them from roaming the halls like feral cats during class time. I make them utilize their English numbers and colors while they are playing because, well, I’m an English teacher and that’s my job and this keeps them occupied for the majority of the lesson. Moldovan students are crazy competitive so I always get a good laugh out of watching them play games…especially my 6th graders who are already super extra. 

So, on Day 93, I would like to dedicate this as a love letter to Uno. Thanks for saving me, my sanity, and my hair during these past months of my service. You da real MVP.

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My 6th graders living for Uno Day

Day 94: Masa Culture

Day 94 shines some light on a common celebration here in Moldova: the masa. Masa is a Romanian word meaning “meal” and it is one of the first words that PC Volunteers become familiar with during their time here. Moldovans love to celebrate pretty much anything–these celebrations usually last for hours and include family, friends, and neighbors swinging by periodically throughout the day. Masas are often presented on birthdays, holidays, funerals, anniversaries of the death of family members, etc.

The food that can be found at masas depends on the time of year. During the summer and fall, there is a lot of fresh produce (tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, etc.) whereas, in the winter and spring, the vegetables are more root-based and/or pickled (beets, pickles, potatoes, onions, carrots, etc.). Some common Moldovan foods that can be found at these meals includes sarmale (rice-filled cabbage rolls), prepared meat (pork, chicken, duck, rabbit), stuffed peppers, pîrjoale (little meatloaf-like patties), and various mayonnaise based salads. Wine and other homemade spirits are also ever-present at these celebrations as a family’s wine/alcohol is a major point of pride that they are eager to share with others.

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This photo was taken during a barbeque with my pre-service training host family. My favorite thing at this particular masa is the cabbage and pea salad in the white bowl. My host mom cut up a head of cabbage, added a large jar of drained peas, and then seasoned it with salt and tablespoons of vinegar. This is definitely something I am going to attempt to make when I get back to the States.

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This was one of the first masas that I had with my permanent host family in Șoldănești. It was held in the little gazebo in the front of my house with family friends and neighbors and it was dedicated to remembering the death of my host dad’s father who had passed years earlier. As you can see, this meal included rabbit, boiled potatoes and carrots, watermelon, stuffed peppers, grilled peppers, and a never-ending supply of bread.

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The masa above was one created by the cooks at the school where I work. My school hosted a raion-wide teacher’s meeting for technology teachers last year and it is tradition to prepare a masa for the teachers that attend. After they left, we were invited to enjoy the extra food that had been prepared. The neat thing about this meal was that it was hosted during post (lent) so most of the foods on the table are vegetarian since Moldovans try to abstain from eating meat during this time. Masas are also meticulously laid, dividing the food between multiple dishes that can easily be reached from anywhere on the table.

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And, lastly, this is the masa that my host mother prepared for Easter last year. There is a lot of meat prepared and eaten at this particular masa as it is the completion of the Easter season and Moldovans can finally end their post diets. Due to personal tastes, there are often more things I can’t/won’t eat at masas than there is foods that I enjoy so I often end up eating any meat that has been boiled, packaged salami, and fresh vegetables. Raw fish is a staple at my host family’s masas as is racituri, both of which are things that I absolutely cannot stomach…it is always a fun game for my host parents to offer me a variety of foods that they know I don’t like just to watch me laugh and refuse for the 2000th time.

Learning to navigate a masa is something that PC Moldova volunteers learn very early on and is something that they will continue to experience throughout their service. It is an opportunity to spend time with host country nationals from all walks of life as well as an excellent chance to practice our ever-evolving language skills. So many humorous and impactful memories have occurred for me over masas and I will remember them fondly after my time in Moldova comes to an end.

Day 95: Cafe Duet

Day 95 is a look back on my first summer in Moldova (June-August 2016). During these 2 and a half months, we participated in pre-service training, which consisted of long days of language and technical training. Free time was fairly hard to come by these first couple of months as our trainings were Monday-Friday 8:30am-4:30pm and on Saturdays from 8:30am-12:30pm. However, for the good of our mental health, we always tried to find a way to spend time with other volunteers outside of training.

My group of English Educators were all situated in the same village and we were only a 10 minute rutiera ride away from the raion center, which offered bigger grocery stores and some restaurants for us to decompress at. If someone was celebrating a birthday, extra special effort was made to get together at one of the local restaurants because we all understood how hard that first birthday away from your friends and family can be.

This photo shows a group of English Education and Health Education volunteers celebrating after a long week of training at our favorite restaurant in Ialoveni: Cafe Duet. There is a sizeable porch outside where we could all sit and chat together because (1) we would always roll in at least 10 volunteers deep and (2) Americans are LOUD so putting that many of us together inside an enclosed space is not a great idea. There were many things learned at Cafe Duet that have come to be relevant for the rest of my service. Chiefly among those is: I never imagined I would eat as much pizza during my 27 months of service as I do. Definitely not a Peace Corps truth I was expecting.

This restaurant holds many memories from that first summer that will not soon be forgotten. Cafe Duet is where the M31 cohort began forming friendships–stories were traded over appetizers and drinks, successes and failures were celebrated and lamented, departures of members of our cohort were mourned–this is where we began our journey in becoming the M31 volunteer group of PC Moldova.

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