Life as Usual

Something that my mom has been pointing out to me for the past few months is that, any time I talk with her and she asks me what is new, I have nothing to say. Because, to me, nothing is new. Day in and day out, I live my typical life here in Moldova which has become (for the most part) unremarkable to me. Sure, some weird or funny things happen every now and then, but on the whole, it’s just life.

Hence why I have not been blogging with such fervor as I was this time last year. Life for me here is boring and predictable, just as it was in the States…you get into a routine and that’s that. However, I know that my friends and family back in the States are still curious about what is going so, for the sake of transparency, I’ll try to enumerate some of the more recent happenings in my life.

  1. I recently had to change my morning commute due to geese. Yes, you read that correctly: geese. Two of the paths that lead me to work in the morning have become perilous because of these winged beasts. People that live near me will let their geese out into the road around 7:00-7:30am to exercise(?)…who knows. Regardless, they are often unsupervised and, when I walk past, they feel that it’s necessary to run at me 20 strong every single time. I really don’t know why…I give them as much space as humanly possible, and yet, they persist in trying to attack me. Y’all don’t know fear until you’ve got 20 annoyed geese coming at you full speed. The stuff of nightmares, really.
  2. I have another volunteer in my school with me this year so that has been an interesting adjustment. He is a health education volunteer so he primarily works with the younger students, which is great because the majority of the students in our school are now served by one or both PC volunteers. The adjustment comes in the form of gender roles here in Moldova…without going into all the detail, lets just say that some of the crap I’ve had to deal with over here makes me yearn for the “equality” in the States (yeah, I know, it’s that bad). Luckily, my site mate and I are on the same page with one another and work really well together so I am excited for this year of collaboration!
  3. We (my site mate and I) planned activities for the International Day of Peace this year at our school. Another primary school teacher planned activities for the primary school students, while Scott and I’s activities were focused more toward grades 5-12. We created a peace pledge that students and teachers signed and decorated the school with a banner, quotes about peace, and the word “peace” in 30 different languages. Scott also created a great video that you can see here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJAqbCrDQZM
  4. I am teaching most of the same students that I taught last year with a few exceptions. I am teaching 10th grade this year, which are new students to me. I taught the 10th grade material last year, but with different students, so my new 10th graders are new to me this year. I also picked up a new group of sixth graders, switched 7th grade classes (moved from class “A” to class “B”), and am getting to teach one class of 5th grade! I am pumped about working with the 5th graders because they love English so much and are so well-behaved. Such a perfect way to start my Monday mornings!
  5. The war on mice is getting started again. When the weather turns cold in the fall, the field mice from the hill behind our house make their way into the foundation of our house and, from there, often move into the walls, ceilings, and sometimes, even our rooms. For whatever reason, these little boogers love my room so my host dad and I have strategically placed rat poison pods around my room so we will see how those work. If not, I guess it’ll be back to the good ol’ mousetraps that scare the livin’ daylights outta me when they snap.
  6. I have a daily countdown on my calendar in my room and in my planner counting down the days until I travel to London to see my family for Christmas! 88 days and counting!
  7. Every day I feel more integrated into my community. Whether it is someone new greeting me on the street because they’ve seen me walk past before or one of the taxi drivers from my town giving me a ride home for free because it’s on their way to another village, it’s these little wins that really help me when I feel as if I’m struggling with life over here. I was at a masa (a really big celebration meal) for a baptism the other day sitting at a table full of loud Moldovan men from my extended family and I was able to follow the majority of the conversation and engage with them when they asked me questions. Granted, I only lasted about an hour before I escaped to my room to play UNO with a 7th and 8th grader, but still. Progress is progress.
  8. Fall is here and is a time full of celebrations! Within the next couple of months, there are many birthdays (including my own!), Teacher’s Day, Halloween, Hram (town celebration), and Thanksgiving so life is about to get really busy and really interesting!

T-minus 10 months until I’m back stateside! Woah.

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Auschwitz and Auschwitz II-Birkenau

**Fair warning: this is a long one, but I feel that the topic deserves a lengthy post.**

As promised, this entire post is dedicated to my visit to Auschwitz and Auschwitz II-Birkenau death camps, which are located about an hour and a half outside of Krakow. I have been fascinated with WWII, and especially Holocaust history, since I was 10 or 11…about the same time my mom bought me The Diary of Anne Frank and suggested I read it. My pre-teen brain (hell, even my adult brain) had trouble processing how something so atrocious could be imagined, put into practice, and sustained for so many years. I have watched countless documentaries and movies depicting life in this particular concentration camp, but I don’t think that anything could have prepared me for actually stepping foot on the grounds where one of the most devastating events in history took place.

We’ll start with some background and basic info about the camp to help give my experience some context:

  • Auschwitz was initially intended for political prisoners when it was founded in 1940.
  • Despite what it looks like in movies, the original Auschwitz camp is located in the middle of a village in Southern Poland. I was taken aback at how visible it actually is.
  • Auschwitz I housed between 15,000-20,000 political prisoners; Auschwitz II-Birkenau housed 90,000 prisoners
  • Most deaths were carried out at Birkenau and the majority of those that died were the elderly, the infirm, and children that were deemed too young to work.
  • Those that were killed were taken to the gas chambers immediately after getting off the train—a 5 second inspection by the camp doctor determined life or death for them
  • They were killed by Zyklon B, which are little white crystals that create a poisonous gas when activated by body heat. These crystals were dropped through roof hatches and most everyone in the chamber died within 15-20 minutes after exposure–those that didn’t die were shot by SS guards.
  • Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet forces on January 27, 1945 where they found 7600 detainees that had been left behind after the Nazi soldiers forced 60,000 other prisoners into a death march 30km across Poland earlier in the month to escape the Soviets.
  • It is estimated that between 1.1 and 1.5 million people died in Auschwitz; 70,000-80,000 Poles along with 19,000-20,000 Gypsies and other individuals of targeted groups

Auschwitz was the largest death camp constructed—not to be confused with concentration camps. Concentration camps were detention centers focused on hard labor whereas death camps were created for the sole purpose of killing off Jews and “undesirables” as dictated by Adolf Hitler. Just let that sink it: a place built solely to kill off targeted groups within society that ONE MAN decided were dangerous to his master plan. Hmm, strikes a chord with current events if ya ask me…

But neither here nor there.

Auschwitz is somewhere that I have wanted to visit for a very long time, which yes, is kind of weird. I get it. But, I’ve always felt compelled to go there and pay my respects to those that suffered especially after visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. (which is fabulous and, if you haven’t visited, you totally should!). Anyway, after finding myself in Eastern Europe, I knew that I’d never have another opportunity like this, so off I went. I booked a tour through a local tour group out of Krakow and ended up touring with a group of Canadian college students, which was interesting in and of itself, but that’s a different story. After loading 7 people into 6 empty seats in this van, we left Krakow and arrived at Auschwitz I an hour and a half later. We milled around for a bit as tour groups got themselves organized and eventually entered with an official tour guide and a group of about 50. We had those nifty little headsets where we could hear our tour guide without him having to yell, which I was thankful for because that would made for a weird ambiance…being at a death camp while tour guides were yelling facts and figures all around us…woulda been weird.

Anyhoo, we began at the iconic iron front gate where the saying “Arbeit Macht Frei” or “Work Makes You Free” greeted every visitor and prisoner coming into the camp. *Cue the cold chills that literally persisted for the next 3 hours of our tour* During our time in Auschwitz I, we walked through various dormitory buildings that have been converted into museum walkthrough areas, showcasing various events during the Holocaust and depicting what life was like in the death camps. 20729288_10213572952296922_6118469145801600312_nAt one point, after being able to see a display case with actual Zyklon B crystals, our tour guide instructed us that we were not to take pictures in the next room—that’s when you know you’re getting into something heavy. I walked into the next room and my breath immediately left my chest. The walls in this room were glass display cases that held hair—human hair—shaved from actual prisoners in Auschwitz I that wasn’t sold to various textile industries. Even now, just thinking about it makes me want to cry. I remember watching my mom’s reaction to the shoes at the Holocaust Museum and not really understanding why she was emotional (to be fair, I was a teenager and altogether clueless at that point), but it is so clear now.

 

The Jewish people being brought to these camps were not told where they were going when they were packed up and moved out of ghettos across Europe—they thought they were being relocated to another place where they could live as humans. They brought their belongings—pots, pans, brushes, shoes, luggage, nice clothes, prayer cloths, shoe shine, hair scissors, etc—just for it to all be confiscated and picked through by SS guards while they were warehoused like animals and stripped of every piece of humanity they had.20728351_10213572951136893_41752129321842482_n If that doesn’t make you feel all the things, then you might want to check your pulse and make sure you’re still alive. We saw buildings where heinous medical experiments were carried out, particularly on children and twins. We saw a concrete wall where prisoners would be lined up and the firing squad would end their lives. We saw the hanging gallows where prisoners would swing for various infractions. But, most of all, we saw and were able to go into the only remaining gas chamber at either of the Auschwitz camps.

Our tour guide gave us a brief overview of the gas chamber role in these camps and explained how they worked. After this we were allowed to walk into the room where people died. The room where people suffered. Everyone else in my group took the obligatory pictures and moved on to the next room, but I hung back. I stopped, placed my hand on the wall, closed my eyes, and just took a moment. Took a moment to take it all in—the pain, the fear, the despair—that once existed in that space. I sent up a spiritual message hoping that nothing like this would ever happen again and that, one day, people would replace hate with love. Maybe that’s naive or overly optimistic, but I really don’t care. If we don’t dare to believe in a world like that, it is an absolute that it’ll never exist.

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Ovens in the gas chamber at Auschwitz I where they would burn the bodies after gassing them

We moved onto Auschwitz II-Birkenau, which is situated about a 5 minute drive away from the original camp. It is wayyyy bigger and its history is much darker. This death farm had 4-5 gas chambers and the entire purpose of this camp was to kill off the “undesirables”—kill them off immediately in the gas chambers, starve or work them to death, or lead them to a fatal illness through environmental exposure, unsanitary living conditions, or a variety of other heinous activities that took place inside those barbed wire fences. A few different things happened while inside this camp so, instead of talking about everything that I experienced, I’ll just highlight those specific events.

  1. The first thing I saw when I walked into the camp was a group of Jewish youth, sitting on the railroad tracks, spending time in prayer and fellowship. How did I know that they were Jewish? Well, most of them had flags with the Star of David wrapped around their shoulders. To say that this image was powerful is truly doing it an injustice—it will forever remain in my mind when I think about my time at the camp.

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2. Another thing I observed as we were walking in was an older woman being driven in a golf cart while a man with a camera followed along beside them, keeping her on camera the whole time. I didn’t think much of it until we saw them later with hardhats on, walking into a random building that was not open to guests. Still not 100% sure what was actually happening, but I really feel like she was a survivor and she was back at the camp visiting the building in which she lived during her time as a prisoner. Powerful stuff.

3. At the back of the camp, there is a memorial comprised of several different large plaques, each written in a language of some of the prisoners that were housed at Auschwitz, plus one in English so that tourists could understand the message that was being presented. I walked along the plaques and found one written in Romanian to commemorate the numerous Jewish and Roma individuals who lost their lives in this camp.

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“For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe.”

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4. The sleeping quarters…I don’t know that I have the words to articulate what bombarded my brain and heart upon entering these buildings. I don’t emote well so it was overwhelming to say the least. When looking at the picture below, just keep in mind that each level would sleep 3-4 (sometimes 5) women at a time and they weren’t given anything to protect them from the elements besides the thin striped prison uniforms they wore. Just imagine.

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This visit was heavy. There is really no other way to describe it. There is so much that I felt and experienced that could never be put into words and, honestly, I wouldn’t want to try. It was scary because I see the hatred surrounding us and I fear that we are regressing to a situation that could very well mirror the one that led to these camps. It was frustrating because there was so much that could have been done on the part of other countries to liberate these camps earlier, but they just sat back because this “wasn’t their fight” (lookin’ at you, USA). To put it simply, it was heartbreaking. And profoundly personal. And life altering.

Pierogis in Poland: Adventures in Krakow

Here I am, yet again, taking a month to write about my vacation. Sorry to my family and friends back home that have been patiently waiting for an update about my journey to Poland…it has been non-stop these past couple of weeks. When I did have downtime, I didn’t exactly want to write…just sleep and watch movies. Whoops.

Anyway, while I was in Poland I traveled to Krakow and Warsaw, the most “touristy” cities in the country. When I would tell people that I was traveling to Poland, I got mixed reviews. Most of my Peace Corps people were super jazzed and couldn’t wait to hear what it was like so that they could plan their own trips. People that aren’t Peace Corps were kinda like “Why Poland?” Well, I’ll tell ya why. (1) Eastern Europe is waaayyyy cheaper to travel in than Western Europe, (2) Poland is easy to get to from Moldova and is feasible for a short vacation, (3) Have you tried pierogis? I mean, come on, and (4) I’ve always been fascinated by WWII and Holocaust history so Poland has been on the bucket list since I was very young.

I flew directly into Warsaw from Chisinau and immediately traveled to the center of the city so that I could board a train to Krakow. I tend to take public transit from airports into the city because it’s cheap and easy, but thank goodness for the free wifi on the bus otherwise I probably would not have gotten off where I needed to.

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My train to and from Warsaw. Pretty comfy.

The train station is fairly obvious, but everything on the bus was in Polish so I could really only guess as to what the announcements were saying and where our next stop was. I got off successfully and headed into the train station. At this point, I still had about an hour before my train left so I decided to go straight to Subway (because of course I did) to grab dinner for the 3.5 hour ride to Krakow. After grabbing a sandwich, I checked what I thought was the departures board to see what platform my train would be leaving from. I started low-key freaking out when I didn’t see my train on the list, thinking that I had been sold a ticket for the wrong day until I looked up and saw “Arrivals” written above the monitor. What a dummy.

Fast forward 4 hours and I arrive in Krakow. Getting to my hostel was a bit of an event considering there was quite a bit of construction happening on the road leading to my hostel, which led me to walk around in circles for about 20 minutes until I could mooch wifi and figure out where I needed to go. Once I got there, I got settled into my 10-person room and called it a night. The next morning I woke up, got ready, and enjoyed a leisurely **FREE** breakfast at my hostel before I was to depart for my tour of Auschwitz that I had pre-booked. **Pro tip: if you’re ever staying in a hostel, always try to find one that has at least free breakfast. Mine in Krakow had free breakfast and free dinner every day!**

My Auschwitz tour lasted about 4 hours with an hour or so drive each way. I will write a separate post about that because there is just too much to include in this post! After arriving back in Krakow, I started exploring Old Town Krakow. Krakow is a gorgeous city and I could sit and marvel at the beauty of its Old Town for hours. I wandered around an “American Bookshop”, ate some crazy good pierogis (potato with cheese dipped in sour cream, naturally), lingered outside a McDonald’s like a creeper so I could steal their wifi, and ate a second dinner at a nice Italian restaurant on the square. I indulged on that meal because it had been an emotional day and I legitimize eating Italian food by having drank Polish wine with my meal, so there! I continued to walk around and take in the sites, even wandering into a little knickknack store where I found the most precious packages of taco seasoning and cayenne. I promptly took those to the counter to purchase them when, lo and behold, I see those little servings of Ben and Jerry’s in a freezer by the checkouts. I grabbed a Cookie Dough and enjoyed it in a serene little park near my hostel. I knew my stomach was going to hate me for it later, but in the moment, I really didn’t care.

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Church in Old Town Krakow

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PIEROGIS!

The next day I took a free walking tour around Old Town. There is this NGO that gives free walking tours around a ton of cities in Europe and all they ask for is a donation at the end. The tour guides are all super knowledgeable and the tours cover lots of different, interesting topics. 

20708362_10213572928856336_8064688693108527523_nI had taken a tour with this same group in Bucharest so I knew that I would be in good hands. Our tour guide was very enthusiastic and knew lots of neat and interesting information about Krakow’s history so it was much easier to put into context everything that we were seeing around us. We saw the building where Pope John Paul II lived and studied in secret during WWII, the oldest university in Krakow where Marie Curie wanted to study, but wasn’t allowed because she was a woman, and Wawel Castle. Wawel Castle and Cathedral are set atop a hill in Krakow and have an interesting history, just like the rest of Poland. They changed hands many times, each time being remodeled and redecorated to suit the tastes of the current king/inhabitant. Wawel Castle was inhabited by Hans Frank, a very important Nazi leader, during WWII. He was the Governor-General of all the occupied area in Poland and was responsible for putting Jewish people into the now infamous ghettos in cities all around the country.

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The various types of architecture seen on Wawel Cathedral

After the walking tour, I meandered my way back to the Old Town Square, which was easier said than done considering there was a huge society wedding at a church that had the sidewalks all clogged up with passersby AND Poland’s version of the Tour de France was starting in Krakow’s Town Square that very same day so navigating sidewalks became an interesting experience. I decided to escape all the craziness in a place where I knew the food was good, the drinks had free refills and ice, and the wifi was realiable—Hard Rock. Some people scoff at the fact that I was eating there instead of enjoying Poland’s national dishes, but it’s a family tradition and they put real bacon on their burgers so it’s really a no-brainer as far as I’m concerned. After lunch and since I was already on a spending spree for the day, I decided to purchase a ring that I had been looking at in the Old Town Market. Most Eastern European countries are known for their amber so I thought that buying an amber ring would be a practical souvenir for myself.

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Central Market Hall in Krakow

My time in Krakow had come to an end so I went back to the hostel, grabbed my bags, and headed to the train station. After wandering around the mall that leads to the train station, I finally made it to my platform and started making my way back to Warsaw.

**posts on Warsaw and Auschwitz coming soon!**

Practical Information–Krakow:

  • The hostel I stayed at was Mosquito Hostel and was a 5 minute walk from both the train station and Old Town. Free breakfast (and dinner if you wanted), super nice staff, comfy beds (rooms slept 4, 6, 10, and 12). My cost was around $15USD a night for a bed in the 10-person room. Would highly recommend!! http://www.mosquitohostel.com/#
  • Here is the link for the free walking tours I take in every country that offers them! Super knowledgeable staff and tours are offered in a ton of different languages. Also possible to arrange private tours (though those cost money!). https://freewalkingtour.com/
  • Krakow was probably one of the best places I’ve visited so, if you’re on the fence about visiting, don’t be! You won’t regret it, I’m sure!

Feelin’ Good at Wave Week Moldova

This past week I have spent time with 95 Moldovan youth campers, 20 Moldovan youth camp staff, and 4 other Americans implementing one of the most impressive and impactful summer camps that exists in Moldova. Wave Week Moldova (WWM) is a școala de vara (summer school) that teaches motivated and engaged Moldovan youth the basics of project planning, equipping them with the information that they need in order to implement a service project of their own design within their communities. This camp is based on a curriculum created by a US program, Spark the Wave, that has been facilitating Wave Week camps at Villanova and Georgetown for 25 years. This is the 9th summer for WWM and a few lucky PCVs are able to act as auxiliary staff members every summer. I applied to work with this camp back in November, was chosen in December, and have been participating in trainings and meetings since then. The staff at WWM is comprised of Moldovan youth that have participated in the program in past summers so us PCVs help train them on various professional skills in the months leading up to camp. We facilitated sessions on public speaking, multiple aptitudes, and facilitation methods in order to prepare them to lead the WWM 2017 delegates through the CORE curriculum that Wave Week is based around.

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Group photo with the Vice Minister of Youth and Sport in Moldova

The CORE consists of sessions about leadership, communication, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, and various project planning strategies. This curriculum is great and I have really loved watching my CORE staff take ownership of their sessions and facilitate them effectively to the delegates. I was lucky enough to help facilitate the Myers-Briggs sessions which, as you may or may not know, I have a little bit of experience doing. I have been helping my mom deliver True Colors trainings since high school and it is heavily based off MBTI so the transition was seamless. My CORE team remarked that they had never seen anyone facilitate MBTI as well as I had and that was definitely a nice thing to hear during such a long and action packed week. I was also asked to share my “expertise” on SWOT analyses, which I have become a pro at since we have to submit a new one every time we report our data to Peace Corps HQ. Give me a situation and I can SWOT with the best of ‘em!

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My CORE group participating in one of many activities during the week

During the week, the delegates and staff also participate in a service project so that they can start their journey with volunteerism. This year, there were three projects: repainting and cleaning a local playground, spending time with tiny humans at the gradiniță (preschool), and promoting a social campaign (created by the organizers of WWM) that is geared toward encouraging active citizenship within Moldova. My group was responsible for the playground restoration. It was a nice opportunity for the youth to get out into a community and experience what volunteering looks and feels like. Our work was validated by a very nice lady who yelled down from her apartment thanking us…there were some other words of praise, I think, but she was speaking Russian so I really have no idea.

Outside of all the learning, Wave Week staff and delegates also make sure to leave time for fun! During the week, staff organized and hosted activities such as water games, pick-up sports games, a scavenger hunt, and multiple quiz nights. We also had a talent show that turned into a discoteca (no surprise there as Moldovans LOVE to dance) and my fellow volunteer, Chris, participated in the show by reciting a poem in Romanian. In Moldova, it is common practice to have children in schools memorize and recite poems and this recitation of poems is often used as a “punishment” for being late to class, meetings, etc. Having lived in Moldova for 2 years, Chris was completely prepared for this event and had a memorized poem in the back of his mind in case he ever found himself late. His recitation was a huge hit with our staff and delegates!

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Team America was only slightly obnoxious at Eu Aleg Moldova Quiz Night

One of the events that I was tasked with for the week was the organization of the “Let’s Talk” sessions, which were started to give delegates the opportunity to practice their spoken English skills with native English speakers since few of them have the opportunity to do so in school. The topics that are covered in these sessions often include important social topics that aren’t really discussed in schools, but are so important to talk about with this future generation. The topics this year included: Cultural Differences, What Makes Moldova Great, Gender Roles and Inequalities, and LGBTQ Rights and Discrimination. I led the Gender Roles and Inequalities session and the conversations that I had with my group of young ladies was so impactful and important. I feel so lucky to have gotten to interact with these youth and the words that they said will forever remain in my mind. I showed them one of my favorite commercials/campaigns from the States (#LikeAGirl from Always) during this session and, at its completion, the girls applauded loudly with tear-filled eyes.

At the end of the week, all of the project groups present their ideas in front of all of the delegates and the staff. This year, project ideas ranged from hosting an outdoor concert to raise money for a vulnerable family to creating awareness workshops geared toward students who have been victims of school corruption to starting recycling campaigns in towns across the country. Wave Week Moldova has a history of having the highest implementation rate out of all of the Wave Week programs and, after meeting the 2017 delegates, I have no doubt that we will keep that momentum.

Wave Week is very often the first time these Moldovan teenagers have ever participated in volunteering so, while they are excited and motivated, that is often coupled with hesitance and nerves because it is unlike anything they have ever taken on before. With my background in volunteerism (21 years of it), participating in this camp was a no-brainer and I have absolutely loved seeing the passion and devotion for serving others come to life in the eyes of my delegates. Participating in this camp has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my service so far and I cannot wait for Wave Week 2018!

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Navy Blue Color Group Fa Lyfe

Bucharest: The Paris of the East

This blog is a little late in coming…almost 2 months late, whoops. I’ve honestly just not had the motivation (or concentration) to sit down and write it what with completing and presenting a grant project with my school administration, finishing up classes, and continuing to battle lasting side effects of pneumonia. So, sorry. We’re here now and that’s all that matters, right?

Over our week long Easter break from school, most volunteers take the opportunity to travel outside of Moldova on vacation. People went to London, Paris, Georgia (the country), Ukraine, Poland, etc. Since I decided to travel back to the States for Christmas, I was one of the few volunteers that hadn’t traveled to Romania so I decided to take an Eat, Pray, Love excursion (i.e. a solo trip) to Bucharest, Romania’s capital. My mom wasn’t super keen on the idea of me traveling alone, but I gently reminded her that I am indeed 26 years old, living in a foreign country, and completely capable of taking care of myself. Plus, Bucharest is safer than many of the major cities where I have traveled with no problems.

So, after spending the Easter holiday with my host family, I jetted off to Bucharest on Tuesday, April 18th. Once I arrived, I found the bus into the center of the city and meandered my way to the nearest Starbucks (Oh! I guess I should mention that my entire goal of this trip was to be as American as possible by eating at as many American chain restaurants as I could get my hands on). I am a huge fan of finding Starbucks’ in foreign countries because the coffee tastes basically the same as it does back in the States AND there is free wifi, which is a commodity whose importance cannot be overstated. Anyway, after hanging out there for a while, I made my way to the park across the street where a free walking tour of Bucharest departs every morning. This walking tour was the best way to introduce myself to the city because we were shown the Old City area where many of the typical tourist attractions are located. Not only was it a tour of the center of the city, it was also heavily focused on the history of Bucharest. The history that was discussed included the origins of the geography of Romania, Vlad the Impaler, and Romania’s Communist past. I like learning the history of other countries since this is information that we rarely receive in the American education system unless that country had a specific impact on America…like, ya know, war.

During this walking tour, I met a couple of guys (one American and one British) and we decided to get lunch together afterwards. They wanted to experience traditional Romanian food and, though I eat this type of food regularly, I agreed to go with them to tell them about the different meals. Once I finally made my way to the restaurant after checking into my AirBnB, I was able to order in Romanian and impress my newfound friends, which is not something I experience often when speaking Romanian. I’ve just decided that I need to hang out with people who don’t know a lick of Romanian and then I’ll sound like I’m a real pro. After eating, we just decided to walk around a little bit…including walking the perimeter of the Palace of Parliament, which is the second largest administrative building in the world behind the Pentagon…so, yeah, it took a while. Once we parted ways, I started making my way back to my AirBnB, but not before stopping at a Subway (!!!) to grab a sandwich for dinner. I practiced an insane amount of self-control as I waited my 15 minute walk to my apartment before I devoured said sandwich in a most unladylike way 🙂

Next day was full of aimless wandering and mental health time. Since I was traveling by myself, I had the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted. This day included strolling through central Bucharest taking photos, holing up in an amazing bookstore and reading for a couple of hours, enjoying fresh squeezed orange juice in a cafe while I mooched their wifi, and just taking it easy. Wrapped up this day with dinner at Pizza Hut where I ordered a Hawaiian pizza that killed the Hawaiian pizza in the States. They don’t play with the size of the pineapple chunks they put on their slices and I ain’t mad about it.

On Thursday, I indulged in true Morgan fashion: I found a mall. The mall I went to is Romania’s equivalent to Mall of America complete with a multitude of stores, a huge food court, an ice skating rink, a rock climbing complex, bumper boats, a huge movie theater, and a supermarket (that’s a standard thing in Eastern Europe I’ve seen…grocery stores in malls). First place I went to was the supermarket because I love walking around different grocery stores just to see what I can find. It’s always a surprise! And I certainly wasn’t disappointed as I stumbled upon Cookie Crisp and Doritos. Couldn’t justify the purchase of Cookie Crisp, but definitely justified the Doritos and they were perfect! After that phenomenal find, I had lunch and just walked around to see what the mall had to offer. I also (finally!) got to see Beauty and the Beast as it was showing in English with Romanian subtitles and it was everything I had hoped it would be!! Later that night, after resting a bit, I ventured out onto Calea Victorei which is one of the main thoroughfares in Bucharest. A light festival was being kicked off on this night and I was able to walk down the middle of this historic street and see a variety of buildings awash in spectacular light installations designed by artists from all over the world. There was a building that had a laser show projected on it to look like PacMan, a light installation spelling out “Iubesc” (I love), and many other amazing sights. I was so glad that I was able to experience this as it might be one of the coolest things I have done to date over here! This night, which was supposed to be my last, was capped off with yet another visit to Subway because of course it was.

I was supposed to fly home to Moldova on Friday so, after checking out of my AirBnB, I traveled to the largest city park in Romania (and Europe) to visit a museum and just waste time until my flight. The museum I visited was the Village Museum which had examples of village houses from all over Romania, both past and present-ish. It was fascinating to see the role that the architecture of the house played in specific areas of the country. I also got to spend some quality time with the cats that roam this outdoor museum and, if y’all know me (besides the food), this was the highlight of my trip. We chilled on a bench for about 20 minutes enjoying each others company and my soul was put at ease 🙂 Lunch was enjoyed at Hard Rock Cafe (#27) and I utilized their wifi to find out that I may not be able to get home like I thought.

Because global warming is a real thing, south and central Moldova were hit with an insane snowstorm at the end of April, rendering the capital helpless due to the amount of snow and the fact that most utilities and public services weren’t working. I didn’t have a concrete answer about my flight so I traveled to the airport anyway just to find out that I’d have to be back at 6am the next morning as my flight had been rescheduled for 8am. Cool beans. I really didn’t want to spend the night in the airport so I called my mom and she came through in the clutch with her Hilton Honors points! Turns out a room at the Hilton in the center of Bucharest was on the low end of the point scale so she reserved me a room for the night. Once I was there and checked in, I was not leaving. I had a comfy king size bed, a bathtub, wifi, cable, room service, etc. Great way to top off a not so great day.

I successfully made it out of Romania the next day, just to be welcomed back to Moldova with apocalyptic-type scenes due to the snowstorm damage and a wonderful gift of pneumonia. Maybe I should’ve just stayed in Romania? But, seriously, it was a great trip and I feel so lucky to be able to experience so many different places at such a (relatively) young age. Can’t wait to adventure somewhere else this summer!

365 Days and I’m Still Me

So, I’ve officially been in Moldova for a year and I feel this overwhelming pressure to write about how much I’ve changed since leaving the States.

But, that’s a hard thing to do because I feel that I’m basically the same person, just in a different location.

The changes that I’ve witnessed are fairly small in scope, but I’ll attempt to enumerate some for you here anyway.

Here goes nothin’…

  1. I’m about 15 pounds heavier and a hell of a lot happier: Those of you that know me best know that I lost a significant amount of weight in the year before coming here and the circumstances surrounding that weight loss weren’t exactly the most cheerful. Regardless, I’ve kind of stopped giving a shit about what other people think of me because I am who and what I am. And ain’t nobody got time for people in their lives that make them think otherwise.
  2. I have a newfound love for fresh produce: In the States, most of our produce is bought at huge chain supermarkets and, due to our wonderful genetic modification process for fruits and vegetables, they usually aren’t the best tasting. However, here in Moldova, the fruits and vegetables are outstanding and it has inspired me to begin shopping locally at farmer’s markets once I return home because I’d rather pay more for good vegetables than settle for cheap, chemically ones. Fight the man and all that.
  3. English is hard, guys: The appreciation that I have for being a native English speaker really cannot be explained because, after having to teach it for a year, you begin to realize just how hard this language is to learn and just how much it must suck to have to learn it. With this also comes a more intense disgust toward Americans who are all 1q6gs7Guess what, morons? Most of my English learners here can speak better English than you so, until you know what it’s like to have to learn another language in order to survive in a country that isn’t your own, you don’t get to have an opinion.
  4. I walk 25 minutes each way to go to work, the market, or basically do anything else in my town: this is just a fact of life. I am literally one of the last houses before my city ends and it takes me a solid 20-25 minutes to get into the center of town where I go grocery shopping or where my school is located (and I’m one of the lucky ones). Lugging a reusable grocery bag full of food on my shoulder for this haul is just a typical Saturday afternoon and, when it’s hot or cold, I really come to hate the fact that I took having the convenience a car for granted.
  5. Cherish the little things: Life in Moldova is just simpler and slower than it is in the States. People live extremely modest lives here and big expressions of affection aren’t given through expensive gifts or things. Instead, students pick flowers from their gardens or apples from their trees to show their appreciation for you as their teacher, your host parents invite you to stand out front with them under the cherry tree to enjoy the first ripe cherries of the season…simple things that end up being some of the biggest things.

There are probably more that I could add (like the fact that a bird pooped on me today while I was picking cherries from the tree and it literally didn’t phase me at all, whereas in the States, I would’ve lost my damn mind), but I think you all get the idea.

I’m still me…just a little more simple.

And that’s perfectly alright.

Life Moves Pretty Fast…

This is it.

This is what Peace Corps warns you about.

When you begin transitioning into your Peace Corps life in your country of service, you are told throughout training by staff and current volunteers that one of the hardest things that you will have to deal with is life moving on and changing back at home without you being there to experience it. I had no doubt that my family and friends’ lives would move on while I was gone and I thought I had prepared myself for that. Guess emotions run deeper than I knew…

One of my best friends from college got engaged yesterday and, while I am extremely excited for her, I have been struggling internally all day. Her wedding was something that we had talked about since we became friends just assuming that I’d be around when she got engaged. We knew we were going to plan it together and that, when the day came, I would be standing alongside her as she married the man of her dreams. But, life happened and here I sit 5,421 miles away. Even though a date has not been set, I know the likelihood of me being able to attend is very slim as I do not complete my service in Moldova until late July/early August 2018 and she will almost certainly get married before then. It’s a hard pill to swallow and I find myself falling into tears whenever I start thinking about it.

She and I have had a friendship that has withstood distance and adulthood. We became friends in college through our sorority…my Big Sister had adopted her into our family and the rest is history. We were twiddles, roommates, partners in crime…basically everything you would want out of a college friendship. After graduation, we parted ways, but did not let the distance diminish our friendship. We can go months without talking (an 8 hour time difference is a booger), but whenever we do, we just fall right back into it. Our friendship wasn’t an expected one as we were so different, but those differences are what made us click with one another. We learned from one another, leaned on each other when things got rocky, and laughed through the majority of our last two years in college.

Now, she’s living her dream. She’s a teacher and is getting married, which has been the ultimate since I met her 7.5 years ago.

But, I’m living my dream too and this is something I have to remind myself of.

I know that dreams are built on sacrifice and, eventually, this will be easier for me to handle. But, for now, I’m sad and wish desperately I could be back in the States, helping her prepare for her next big adventure.