Friday, May 20, 2011

New trails to blaze

Good people, glad to see that you’ve made it to the end. I’ve had an abysmal showing these last several months with my blog posts, but after two years things have become a tad blasé, making it hard to come up with original, intriguing posts. I have a little less than two weeks left in Moldova, and it finally has started to set-in that my time here is dwindling. Constantly I have been asked how I feel about leaving, and although I have lots of conflicting emotions, I have found a surprising undercurrent of calm satisfaction that I didn’t think would exist within me.

Two years ago I was fraught with nerves before leaving for Peace Corps. I couldn’t sleep well, I couldn’t concentrate on my work, expectations and daydreams permeated my thoughts twenty-four hours a day, and I was anxious to embark on my journey. As I close this chapter I am still eager for the next adventure to begin, but there is a noticeable change in my attitude that I believe is due to a confidence I have found within myself. Under no circumstances do I think I have changed the world during my service, if anything I am more pragmatic after this experience. However, after two years of riding roller coasters, battling cultural differences, and enduring the most awkward situations you could believe, I have found a resiliency resonating within myself.

If you ask a Peace Corps Volunteer to reflect on their service, I guarantee you that the overwhelming majority will tell you that they received more than they gave. I am no exception. I have had the privilege to work with extremely capable, dedicated, and sincere Moldovans in my site, and I know that we have accomplished a great deal together. I can only hope that our efforts have, and will continue to make an impact in the community. It almost seems inhumane to invest so much time and energy into personal relationships to one day say goodbye and leave forever. Even if I never return, I will always hold a soft spot in my heart for my community and this country.

It wouldn’t be proper to end my blog without mentioning what I am most looking forward to and what I will miss, as cliché as it is. I will start off by saying that I am looking forward to going back to school and pursuing my master’s degree. Other things that I am looking forward to, and in no particular order are: winters with proper heating, clean clothes, drinkable tap water, bathrooms that don’t flood, hopefully a lack of alcoholic neighbors, not worrying about catching drug-resistant tuberculosis (and herpes), comfortable beds, a functional kitchen, being close to my family, and last but not least, spicy food.

As for what I will miss: I will miss my host family- Olga and Tudor are family, and I could not have made it this long without them. My friends that I have made here have also been my foundation. They have made the good times the best times, and assuaged the tough times. I will miss having my own apartment, even as shitty as it is. I will miss the sounds of the village- the roosters crowing all day, the clucking of hens, the children giggling outside. I will miss natural, organic, garden-fresh cheap produce, brinza cheese, impromptu masas, the congeniality and open-arm hospitality even when the host has next to nothing to give, a national identity, my running trails, house wine, village markets, Moldovaneste, bucolic scenery of vineyards, the randomness of each day, Saints’ Days and traditions, sarmale, and Ladas.

It isn’t important what I will not miss. As time goes on I am sure that my selective memory will fade out the negative, and only the good will remain. Moldova has changed during my two years here, and I only hope that life will become easier for the Moldovans. It is through the struggles of this country that I have learned just how precious freedom and democracy really are, and how difficult it can be to achieve. I have come to realize that when something is broken, it is our responsibility to fix it. It is our duty as Americans and citizens of the world to stand up and fight for our justice, democracy, and freedom to ensure that we will live in a world that is brighter tomorrow than it is today.

Thank you Moldova for helping me gain my sense of self, for concreting my values and morals, for opening my eyes to a new world, and providing me with a lifetime of memories. Thanks to everyone that has supported me, my projects, my family, or has simply read my blog during this time. I am off to Indonesia for the summer to learn the Bahasa Indonesia language, study sustainable tropical agriculture, and trail blaze around the world’s largest archipelago.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

365 Days of Peace and Friendship Blog Post

I recently posted a blog post for Peace Corps Moldova's blog that celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Peace Corps. Each day a volunteer writes a story about their work, their day, etcetera in efforts to highlight our work and our mission- spread peace and friendship worldwide. If you would like to read other stories and posts besides mine you can find them on the website

March 7th, 2011

Unpredictability is the name of the game in Peace Corps Moldova. That isn’t to say that we don’t have generalized routines, but after twenty-one months in Moldova I have come to embrace the fact that I usually do not know, nor do I want to know how my day will unfold. Some days I will wake up to the District Council’s driver at my door telling me that we have a seminar in another village that I am expected to attend, other days I will walk to work to find that I am the only person at my agriculture extension office that day. Monday March 7th, 2011 was no exception, and it started off much like every morning begins for me.

Slowly but surely the weather is warming up, and by 7:30am the sun had permeated throughout my room. I prefer to wake up naturally instead of a blaring alarm, and the morning sun is a welcome development after months of cold, dark winter mornings. That’s not to say that the weather is warm outside. The ground is still frozen, the sidewalks (or sidewalk-esc paths alongside the road) are covered with hardened mud and ice, and my apartment still doesn’t have running water due to frozen pipes. However unpredictable my day, I can always count on my morning routine: Wake up, fetch water from the well outside, fire up the stove to make coffee and cașha (oatemeal), and then settle down to the previous day’s Daily Show and breakfast in bed (Who said spreading peace and friendship didn’t have its perks?)

I live on the outskirts of a small commercial center and have a twenty-minute walk to work. Usually I greet my neighbors going to work, babas coming back from the market, and children playing hookie from school. However on this particular day I noticed that I didn’t pass anyone on the street, nor were there any cars or horse carts going into town. I reached the center and happened to pass my neighbor Ion, an old păznic (security guard) getting off his graveyard shift at a construction firm. We exchanged the formal greetings before I curiously asked him why the town was so quiet. Quite matter-of-factly he explained that everyone had the day off because the next day was the Women’s Day holiday.

I decided to keep on keeping on and made it to my office to find that I was the only one in the building. This isn’t my first rodeo, and I am quite accustomed to being generally out of the loop when it comes to Moldovan holidays. Normally I am inadequately informed the day of about meetings, seminars, and holidays (religious, quasi-religious, or fictitious), and it isn’t unusual for my partners to forget to mention that we don’t have work on a particular day. It is assumed that I am in the know about every birthday party planned for someone working on our floor, and every holiday warranting a meat platter and a bottle of house wine, which are in no shortage in Moldova.

Not to let the holiday deter me from having a somewhat productive day, I decided to make the most of the downtime at the office to finish up some on-going work. Several hours went by before I started to hear the bass bumping of an Akon song, laughter, and the whooping sounds of a gaggle of Moldovan women getting down to a pre-Women’s Day celebration. One of the best things about Moldova is that the people are extremely hospitable and open, and Women’s Day is no exception. Out of curiosity (boredom) I made my way down to the office where the noise was originating. I found nine women that work in the building dancing, laughing, and eating. I knew several of them, and was immediately instructed to join in on the festivities.

Usually I’m not big on midday dance parties, and Moldovan house wine imbibing makes it hard to go on an afternoon run in the fields. However, I have come to deeply respect the role of the Moldovan woman, and am in constant awe of their resilience to their expected responsibilities. Not only do they rear the children, but they also cook every meal, keep the house clean, work the gardens and the fields, do the shopping, hold a full time job, and take care of the animals all while assuming a subservient role to their husbands and men in general. At the office party I made sure to express my sincere respect for the women, and they seemed to enjoy the part where I said that the country truly would not be able to function if it wasn’t for their efforts and determination.

I stayed at the party for nearly two hours, and I reveled in my role as the only male in the dance circle. It is days like this that make me appreciate my job, and it is because of days like this that help me realize that to truly excel at being a PCV you need to be open to anything, and ready to celebrate each day and all it’s opportunities. Finally and most importantly, I want to give all of you reading this the chance to participate in Peace Corps’ mission of spreading peace and friendship across the world, no matter if you are man or woman, old or young, RPCV or hopeful PCV. I charge you all to call the women most important in your life and express your gratitude and your love. As true as it is here in Moldova, I believe that the world and all the countries in it would not be able to function without the un-praised efforts of women.

Happy (pre) Women’s Day!

Women's Day also happened to be on Mardi Gras and instead of buying flowers I decided to keep to my roots and make a homemade king cake. I learned several things from this experience- King cakes are ridiculously harder to make than regular cakes. Villages in Moldova do not sell food coloring or miniature plastic babies. Lastly, do not underestimate the power of yeast, or else you will end up with a huge, round king cake with no hole in the center. It did come out quite tasty though.

This is the picture of my host family reenacting the events of the morning when their grandson Vlad and my host dad Tudor gave Olega, host mom, flowers for Women's Day.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Moldovan Masas

Well hello there. Bine ai venit. I would like to say that I’ve been neglecting my blog because of work demands, but that might be overdoing it. I’m not saying that I haven’t been working, quite the contrary actually, however it is just that we’ve been in holiday season for a month and a half and ordinary life is just now resuming. This past Thursday the 20th marked the last of the major celebrations (hopefully) with the passing of Saint John the Baptist Day. There was a striking contrast between the holidays this year and last, and it was nice to know before hand what I was getting myself into this go round. It is quite shocking the first year when you barely speak the language and then are subjected to Christmas on December 25, New Years on January 1, Old Christmas on January 7, Old New Year on January 14, St. John the Baptist Day on the 20, and a host of other random, quasi-religious holidays thrown in between. Not misconstrue and overhype the celebrations I think it is necessary to clarify what goes down at a Moldovan sarbartoare .

Moldovan holidays, birthdays, village celebrations, and any other run-of-the-mill holiday you can think are practically interchangeable. First and foremost you must have your meat patties. These come in two types, the first is called perijoale and are tastly, egg-shaped meaty morsels delicately spiced with salt, pepper, garlic, and onions. The second type that usually shares a plate with the perijoale is your haphazard, mashed and fried mystery meat cut into finger-long strips. These can be quite delicious, but only if you catch them freshly out of the kitchen. Believe you me, there is nothing more bland than that of two-day old soft-battered mystery meat. Then you’ve got your plate(s) of sausage and cheese. Nothing very fancy here, and sometimes this is the safest bet to go with when you are unsure how many hours/days the rest of the food has been sitting out. Now we move onto the fish. Typically for larger masas, you’ll find what I believe to be smoked sardines out of a can, and a type of raw fish swimming in oil. Not once have I seen the fish served without a lemon slice and a jar of pickled black olives. Then you’ve got a plate full of baked chicken, stuffed grape leafs or stuffed peppers, and a hot plate of stewed cabbage, carrots, onions, and meat. These will be the last items served since the progression of a masa is from cold, to warm or once warm, and finally your hot food. It takes time to develop masa-pacing skills, and it’s a rookie move to fill up too early. Guaranteed you will be forced to eat the remaining courses no matter how much you protest or how full you are. Side dishes include potato-mayo-corn-fake crab salads, chicken salad, and copious amounts of bread stacked next to your plate.

Throughout each meal there is always a bottle of carbonated water, house wine, and possibly champagne or cognac. In almost two years I’ve only been to one dry masa, and man was it weird (In the hosts defense they are Mormons, and no matter what a Mormon masa is strange place for non-Mormons due to abstinence of caffeine and booze). If there is champagne then that will come first, then the cognac shots follow, but these can be substituted for house wine. The house wine is more of staple, like water at an American meal, and I can’t begin to recount the times I’ve been told, “Neal, you’re young. You should be the one drinking the cognac and us drinking the (insert water or wine here).” Hospitality methods are not universally exchangeable, and the sooner this is realized the sooner one can start to really appreciate the culture and start to relax. It just so happens that in Moldova the face of hospitality is a large Moldovan woman demanding you eat more food while her husband snidely fills up your shot glass and gives you this look that says “Ah-ha! Gotcha! Now you have to drink it since I’ve poured it.” They make quite the dynamic duo, and bless their hearts, it is sometimes the easiest form of communication between a host and a foreigner barely grasping the language. It only gets easier with time though.

As for exceptions, there is always a slightly differing smorgasbord offered from house to house, naturally. However the dishes I have described are numai decît always, and I do mean always, going to be at a masa. Occasionally you will have rachituri, a bowlful of salty gelatin with a cold piece of baked chicken or pork congealed in the center. It’s a shame that the American palate is only accustomed to sweet foods being in this coagulated state, because Moldovans seemingly love this stuff and lick the bowls clean while their foreign guests sit back in a state of awe and disbelief. Other than that you have dyed red eggs and lamb for Easter, and overflowing platefuls of cake and sweets for desert.

In closing I’ll give you several anecdotes I’ve come to notice about this fair country and myself:

· Besides the roma there is an overwhelming monoculture of racial diversity in Moldova. There are absolutely zero, no joke, zero people of minorities that live in my town, and it seems that Romania and the rest of Europe have attracted the majority of the roma away from Moldova. Whenever I was in Oslo recently I found myself jaw-on-the-floor staring at black people, Indians, and hajib totting Muslims due simply to the fact that I have been surrounded by anglos for the past year and a half. In no way am I prejudice towards people of different ethnic backgrounds or religious beliefs, it is simply an alarming part of culture shock after being in the trenches for so long (figure of speech).

· Moldovans are always fascinated by how much money people make in other countries, how good the quality of life is, and like to follow it up by stating that they have a tough life but “Moldova isn’t Africa”.

· It is a merciless environment at times for learning a language and Moldovans have a habit of carping every aspect of your life. For instance- If you are with another volunteer that has a better Romanian accent than you then you can bet on them commenting that she/he speaks way better than you do. If you didn’t sleep very well/gained a little weight during masa season/have mud on your shoes then you should expect the comments “Wow what happened? You look (fat/terrible/like you need a woman to wash your clothes and shoes).

· A sustained alcohol binge is called “being in delirium”. Word to the wise, if your electrician has been delirious for the past two weeks, it might not be a good idea for him to work with the electricity in your house.

· It can sometimes be rude to say that someone is drunk, and often times women will tell you that their husbands are tired or resting instead of passed out cold.

· As a male I am always asked if I have a woman. No matter what the answer I am told that I need a Moldovan woman. Many times I am told I need an additional woman to the one previously entailed- or as literally translated “You need a whore on the side”.

· For two weeks after St. John the Baptist Day you cannot wash your clothes. If you are unaware of this social norm, then your neighbors will passively ridicule your landlords for not keeping their American in-line.

· Instead of telling the children (or the local Peace Corps volunteer) that the family pet died or “went to a farm”, Moldovans will tell them that the dog or cat was stolen.

· Because of Romanian I now speak more affected English, and am constantly referring to moods or preferences as a “disposition”.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Turkey kills and Grease Fires

December has arrived with the furry. Today is definitely the coldest day since last winter. I naively stepped out of my house this morning headed to work in jeans, boots, and a fleece only to be abruptly halted by arctic winds blowing at a bone chilling 20 degrees F. Immediately I retreated back inside to imbrac mai bine and put on long johns, a scarf, gloves, and a soviet aviator beanie. Last week we had our first snow(s) and on Black Friday the clouds dumped nearly three to four inches of snow only to have it melted away Sunday with a heat wave. Today is snowless, however all the melted snow puddles left in the pot-holed riddled streets are frozen solid. The long autumn is officially over. Hello five months of winter.

Life on this side of the pond has been as caprice as ever, although now that I’m well into the second year of my service there is a more routine resonance to my life. I was right in the middle of finishing up a project to replace corroded pipes and refurbish a water tower/well when my partner on the project landed herself in the hospital. From the differing stories, hearsay rather, I have pieced together that she either had spleen surgery or a kidney transplant. Either way it doesn’t sound ideal. Selfishly irritated that the one person that has constantly been my professional guide and partner for a year and a half now is indefinitely out of the office, I am worried about my productivity and effectiveness as a volunteer for the next seven months. That sounds terrible to actually admit, but this woman, who is like my Moldovan grandmother, has been a godsend to me and is the shaker and mover in our office. We’ll have to wait a see how her recovery and my remaining service pans out.

This year Thanksgiving was much more comfortable and forgiving than the previous year’s. It might have been due to the fact that I’m now settled into my life in this country, the gathering was smaller, the food was indescribably better(sorry PSN), it was at my house, and my closest friends, except one that met up with his parents in Israel, were there with me to celebrate the holiday and give thanks to everything we are blessed with. While I’m writing this I can’t help but compare and contrast Thanksgiving to Ramadan. While we pile our plates to the brim with turkey and gravy to give thanks for our cornucopian lifestyle, our health, and our family, the period of Ramadan similarly gives thanks and recognizes the fact that they are alive, healthy, and grateful for all that they have. Strikingly enough though one culture fasts for a month to appreciate the fact that they have been blessed, and another culture binges. Strange.

This year I had five of my friends come up for a Thanksgiving meal in my village. Because of the workweek we decided to have Ziua de Mulțumire, Thanksgiving, on Saturday. Friday morning my friend Dan and I set off for the market to pick up our 8-kilogram live turkey. Talk about an experience. We paid the man, threw the turkey in a sack, and headed home giggling like schoolgirls because we were totting a live bird Santa-style. We waited for everyone else to arrive before the turkey kill, because truly that is one experience that you have to witness at least once in your life to fully appreciate where your fat, perfectly plucked turkey with a pre-inserted thermometer comes from each November. We were gathered around the chopping block with cameras out when I got cold feet and had to delegate the first blow to my old, weathered Moldovan neighbor. I was charged with the task of cutting the head off before the bird had succumbed to its sacrificial Thanksgiving grave so blood could drain out. After the turkey-kill, we brought the headless bird into my kitchen where we were instructed how to pluck the feathers, eviscerate the innards, and lightly torch the small hairs and feathers that were impossible to remove with our hands.

For two days we slaved in my ill equipped kitchen. We prepared mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, cornbread, stuffing, deviled eggs, gumbo (although that was first dinner Friday night), mac and cheese, chocolate chip cookies, chicken salad, and of course, turkey. I will never, ever, take for granted the ladies (and men) charged with preparing Thanksgiving feasts, or any celebration, from here on out after experiencing this arduous process first hand. The bird was alone a chore and a half. I would like to note that my oven is not what you would exactly consider up-to-code. Quite frankly, it’s a piece of shit. The dials on the stove are falling off, the stove has to be lit with a match at the open flame located at the bottom of the oven cavity, and it is virtually impossible to guess the setting or temperature of the stove besides gauging how high you set the flame. Occasionally the flame will go out without warning, and everything has to be removed to light it again. A meat thermometer proved to be too large a request for Moldova, so we charged forth with slight reservation but no hesitation. Three hours into the cooking time we were putting the bird back in the oven after a basting when the pan fell off the stripped guides in the oven. Dan and myself were both scrambling to retrieve the bird off the ajar oven door when an enormous grease-induced fireball exploded out of the oven singing the hairs off our arms and eyebrows. One of the girls screamed and ran looking for a bucket to throw water on the fire, but was halted by our screaming protests not to put water on a grease fire. After the fire died and the grease was left smoking, we cautiously decided to commence the cooking and we nervously eyed the oven while airing out the smoke from the house.

After five hours cooking the birded we pulled it out only to find it TV-worthy golden brown and succulent. The meal was a huge success and at four in the afternoon we all sat down to a feast fit with all the trimmings, and 20 liters of house wine that I was forced to carry around in old gas cans. We all toasted and individually shared our blessings of thanks, and proceeded to savor the fruits of our labor. Afterwards, in a tryptophan and wine induced delirium, we all took a two-hour nap before I had my Moldovan friends come over to share another Thanksgiving meal. I have never seen a group of people rally so fast from a comatose state to setup for meal number two. The second meal was as wildly successful as the first, and it was just as jovial and merry in Romanian as it was in English.

The holidays are always peculiar when spent away from family in another country, but I’m thankful to have such close friends, American and Moldovan, to share a meal and make this year a very special Thanksgiving for me. No telling what the future Thanksgiving holds in store for me. I only hope that wherever I am, whomever I’m with, it will come close to the joie de vivre that this Thanksgiving will always mean to me. Happy holidays everyone, and thank you for reading.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Eyes of October

Timpul trece- time passes, and it passes rather quickly. The month of October has come and is soon to go. Beginning the month the leaves were just starting to show signs of autumn, and now as I sit looking outside I see nothing but yellow, orange, red, brown and green foliage. There is crispness in the air, and tenderness under foot. The weather is pock marked with cold rainy days intermittent with piercing, bluebird skies. The corn has been cut, shucked, and stored. The land is being tilled in preparation for the hard winter freeze. Fruits and vegetables have been stashed away in jars of salt water in dark corners in basements. Outside I can hear the slow, and rhythmic chock, thump, chock, thump of the neighbor chopping wood for his fireplace. Occasionally a passerby calls out the customary phrase “Doamne ajuta!” wishing the woodcutter assistance from God. Babas bundled in seven layers of wool all adorning vibrant headscarves huddle around the sunny patches in the village market totting jars of salty goat cheese and homemade sour cream for sale. Pressed grape skins sit rotting in the back-corners of peoples’ yards omitting a sour smell of fermented wine.

In preparation for the changing of the seasons my apartment windows and doors are now sealed off to the elements outside. The double paned windows have been outfitted with plastic strips at the sills and will remain locked until the hinting summer breeze comes blowing in May. Extra sets of doors have been installed as an additional barrier for the doors leading outdoors. My basement is now stocked with wood that I have chopped, carried, and stacked by hand. Plastic siding has been plastered to the exterior walls as a first layer of defense. My fireplace has now been given a makeover and is now dually equipped to burn wood and gas. Lately, I have been joking with my over-protective landlord that if it gets too cold in his gas-heated apartment that he is welcome to come live with me in my what-appears-to-be bomb shelter.

We have been doing a lot of work lately with finishing up the soba-fireplace project at the orphanage in town. We had some difficultly getting approval from the neighbors allowing the gas line to go through his yard, and then only to be slowed down further when the contractor refused to work anymore. But the good news is that that project is now finished and the kids have a warm house to come home to and keep them warm at night. We have also been rocking and rolling on my other two projects and we have started to install the gas line to the kitchen at the Children’s Center here in town. Soon we will be able to start on the project in Ratuș at the rural health center. I doubt if we will be able to start the work this late in the year, but at least that gives us sufficient time to plan for the spring. The other work that I am looking forward to is a joint project with my sitemate’s organization that focuses on child development. We are in the planning stages of starting a greenhouse to use as a demonstration plot for the kids. I’ve wanted to get involved with a project of this sort since I arrived in my village over a year ago, and I hope that I can end my Peace Corps service on a good note of this caliber.

It hasn’t been all work and no play though. I’ve been able to travel around and experience the culture quite a bit these past couple months. I took a trip down south to the Bulgarian/Russian speaking district center of Taraclia to visit my friend Aaron. It was great getting to check out his site, interact with the baba he lives with, and see traditional dances at a concert in the center of town. I also visited one of Moldova’s larger wineries and tasted their selection of wines with relish. Lastly, I was able to attend the Farm Expo in Chisinau this past weekend. Wandering around tractors and combines ranging in prices from hundred of thousands to millions of dollars is always an experience, especially in Moldova when you are used to the 50 horsepower, older-than-dirt Soviet tractors that are widely popular.

As you can see life is good. I hope you all are having a pleasant fall and are preparing for the holidays. I’ll be seeing you in November!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Winter Worth a Thousand Words

What historical references would one have to have to claim that a winter will be the coldest in 1,000 years? The rumor as of late in Moldova is exactly that- this will be the worst winter in a millennium. This has been hard for me to wrap my brain around; maybe because I am already suspicious of daily weather reports, much less weather-claims dating back before the Crusades even began. If this holds true I will have lost all faith in my Eastern European Lonely Planet guidebook. Quoting purely from memory, “Moldova has temperate summers and mild winters.” Bullshit. I might have to make the switch to Frommers if this winter does shape up to be worst than last. Maybe it’s my southern heritage, but there is just something about a cold, gray winter day that lets you savor a bad mood.

I’m noticing a trend that I like to start off each blog post talking about the weather. I attribute that to fact that this is my go-to conversation with strangers in this country. It should be interesting to see how it all plays out. I distinctly remember my host mom telling me last spring that it was going to be a cool summer because we had such a cold winter. Tell that to all my shirts with permanent deodorant/sweat pit stains showing through under each arm. Either way it’s a win-win situation for me this winter. It’s either going to be bone numbing cold and I’ll have an extra little swagger in my step knowing that I can make it through two of the worst Moldova winters predating the Magna Carta, or it won’t be so bad and I won’t be constantly speculating how much longer by toes have got before they get frostbite.

Time has been flying by. I came to the realization that I have a hair over nine months left in Moldova. I’ve still got a long list of things on my Moldova To-Do list, and much of it has to do with harvesting and wine making. I guess I had better get to it. Even after nearly 16 months in country I still get the reply “Neal, you don’t want to go work out in the fields. It’s dirty and it’s hard. Go enjoy your time with your friends” whenever I ask my partners and friends if I can help. I’m not going to candy coat it- this hurts and is somewhat insulting. I know that they see this as a chore, but living and working as Moldovans live is one of the main reasons I joined the Peace Corps. It seems like the only chance I have at getting my hands dirty are by walking into the fields and asking a random stranger if I can help. Ninety-nine percent of the time these people are thrilled that they get free labor and I’m sure one day I’ll get strapped to a plow and that will be the last I see of the farmer. It would be nice one day to be able to help out without having to go through my windup speech of how this crazy America ended up out in the middle of nowhere, speaking pigeon Romanian, and asking to help cut corn.

I have decided that if I’m not going to be in the fields picking grapes this weekend, I might as well be enjoying the fruits of the labor. A friend and I are going to visit Chateau Vartley, one of the major wineries in Moldova that is conveniently located about an hour from me. This will be the first time going there for me so I’m pretty excited. I will be sure to include lots of pictures to make you all jealous the next time I blog. Fiți sanitoș!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

What happened to fall?

Hello all. Much has gone on in Moldova since my last update. I feel like this slow Sunday evening is a good of time as any to send out an update. The changing of the weather has been a force to be reckoned with as of late. The weather has been overcast, cold, and rainy for the past two weeks, which has induced a melancholy affect on my mood. The looming presence of winter scares the shit out of me, because in no way am I prepared to battle six months of well-below freezing temperatures, snow drifts, ice patches, and canned veggies quite yet. All I can do now is sit tight, shut up, and hold on.

Several weeks ago I hosted a get together for what turned out to be nine fellow PCVs for my village’s hram. I had a great time, and I’m glad that I was able to show off my village to my peers. I might have overextended myself because my house was a rockin’ 24/7 for nearly four consecutive days with almost a dozen Americans. It seems like everyone enjoyed themselves though, and my friend Vascia that lives in a small village nearby really helped escalate the festivities by inviting us all to his family’s house for a Moldovan masa and lake swimming afterwards. The next day there were concerts in the center of town and I had the opportunity to give everyone a taste of Louisiana’s world famous Cajun cookin’. I must say though, after four days of hosting guests in a house that has hidden quarks, lack of sleep, and lots of cooking and cleaning, I was utterly exhausted afterwards. In many ways I’m glad that there is only one big event in my town a year, because I think my days of hosting that many people at my house are over.

I’m still traversing mountains at work. We are finally wrapping up the orphanage-heating project that started at the beginning of the summer, which has been a slight nuisance because I have been trying to open up another grant of the same type, but can’t have two out in my name at the same time. So, that is good news. Also, my search for finding a donor(s) for a rural health clinic has provided several potential financiers. All I have to do now is put the finishing touches on the project proposal and we are rocking and rolling. With the impending winter it seems like everyone is scrambling to get their crops harvested, finish on-going projects, and buckle down all the hatches.

As of late, I’ve had a renewed interest in cooking. I’ve stolen my mother’s gumbo and jambalaya recipes and have been using my friends as test subjects to perfect the Moldova-Cajun infusion. If anyone is reading this in country and feel like giving your taste buds a wake-up call, then hit me up. One thing that shows that I probably have too much free time on my hands is because I’ve found that making a vegetable broth, and then using that to cook rice in, elevates the flavor two-fold.

Since it has taken several days to actually write this blog post, I am sitting at work right now listening to a meeting with all our agriculture consultants in the other room. These monthly meetings are always interesting to observe from an outsider’s perspective because they will be yelling at each other for two hours, and then once the meeting ends and the masa is setup, they turn back into the best of friends. Sometimes I like to run out before the meal gets going, because I usually like to avoid midday wine, cognac, sausage, and cake. I’ve been feeling slightly removed from reality lately so I think I might stick around for this one. Happy trails everyone. Noroc.