Thursday, May 21, 2009


You can now follow me here:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday Wishes

I would just like to wish everybody a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! I will be leaving for Budapest, Hungary tomorrow morning and from there will be headed to the Carpathian Mountains in Romania for the New Year. Here's to hoping your transition into 2009 is joyful and optimistic. Be well and think positive!

Craciun Fericit si La Multi Ani! (Merry Christmas and Happy New Year)

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Packages and the Holidays

Dear friends and family,

I have recently taken my address down off of here. Two people have sent me packages recently and unfortunately, they have not arrived. Especially around the holidays, I imagine package traffic is going to be pretty heavy and the likelihood of your package getting lost seems high.

Many of you have asked me to write an entry with a Christmas list. In lieu of sending me gifts, I encourage you to donate money to one of my favorite charities. I have provided links below.

These organizations need your generosity much more than I do.

Hope all of you are enjoying the holidays stateside! I sure do miss all the decorations and music that tend to appear this time of year.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Quick update

Buna ziua, faithful readers! I was going to apologize for my tardiness with posts again, but then I realized I do that with almost every entry. I'm sure by now, you expect this and understand why.

Things are good. I'm feeling more comfortable in my village. The Romanian is coming along at a better speed now and I am able to communicate with just about everyone (except old men, for some reason - I think because they don't pronunciate and throw a lot of Russian words in their sentences.) My body has completely adjusted to the eating patterns of Moldova and my back has adjusted to my thousand-year-old twin bed. Teaching is progressing - the second graders hug me everyday, the 10th graders are surprisingly receptive, and I have to answer the question "How are you?" at least 50 times a day to kids walking around the halls or in the village.

I cannot believe it is already December. This month marks 6 months in Moldova for me. It is a certainly bittersweet time - I am so happy to be experiencing all these new things, but I love to be with my family for the holidays. I do have a pretty fantastic vacation to look forward to though. On December 26th, I leave for Budapest, Hungary for a few days, then will take a train trip through Romania and the Carpathian Mountains (where they filmed the movie, Cold Mountain), and check out Bucharest and stay in the mountain town of Brasov. Hopefully, some skiing, drinking, eating wonderful food and laughing with friends will occur.

I hope everyone had a fantastic Thanksgiving! Happy Holidays. Good luck decorating trees, preparing for feasts and shopping!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Envy and Apples

Since being in Moldova, I have been able to look at our country from an outside perspective. Generally, Americans are very locked up in a cycle of envy. For instance, parents tell children if they really want that TV for their bedroom, then they should save up their money and buy it themselves – after all this will build character. Shouldn’t we be building the character of our children by instead encouraging them to save money to donate to a favorite charity? We cling to our US Weekly magazines instead of obsessively reading up on relatively ignored atrocities that are occurring right beneath our eyes. We even envy tradition, so we do things like take away the happiness of others so we can at least have something that belongs to us (ahem, Proposition 8). Have you ever asked yourself why most children know more about Santa Claus than Jesus Christ? I believe that the answer is because Santa Claus is ours – he’s an American tradition. As much as many Americans might want to, we can’t claim Jesus as our own.

What if, instead of all of this envying and coveting, we all began to grow generous with what we had? Here in Moldova, if someone comes to visit you, you offer them a meal even if it means you might not eat the next day. One day, when I was walking home from school, I saw one of my students pick an apple off of a tree for himself. Before biting into it, he heard me coming behind him, so he turned around and offered me the apple. I said, “No, that apple is yours. You picked it yourself.” He then told me, “No. I picked it for you.” I was confused, but I took the apple because I didn’t really know how to continue the conversation with my limited Romanian. When I got home, I thought more about the situation. He really did pick the apple for himself, but as soon as he turned around and saw me, he had picked the apple for me. Six months ago, this concept would have made absolutely no logical sense to me, but for some reason, now having lived here for this long, it makes perfect sense. Even if there were no other apples left on that tree, he still would have given it to me.

So, shouldn’t we all be giving away our apples? In America, whether we are privileged or not, we all have access to a mindset of individuality to which the vast majority of us subscribe. As a result, we often forget about the lives of others (and to be honest, more often than not, we get so caught up in other insignificant things that we even forget about our own lives!). We justify our comfort by donating percentages of our bonuses to charity, forwarding desperate emails about kidnapped children, or filling our children’s backpacks with Spaghettios for the canned food drive twice a year. We should not stop doing these things – they are great and they do create a positive impact. But unless we started the charity, found the kidnapped child or coordinated all of those canned food drives, are we really creating change? Will we even get to the day when we won’t need charities, Amber Alerts or food drives? Probably not – however, if we all picked apples for others rather than for ourselves, we’d definitely be on the right track.

Listen to this...

He's a bit too dramatic for my taste, but he's got some great things to say... and backed with proof and examples! Gotta love it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


I've uploaded some new pictures from my site and a Halloween Party I had with my students. Go here to check them out:

Friday, November 7, 2008

I'm Happy

... and I have 2 minutes to use the computer. I am very pleased with the Obama win and I am excited about the upcoming changes our country will see as a result.

Just finished a very long week in Chisinau doing an In-Service Training where I had to attend sessions, facilitate a couple and get a lot of logistical things tied up.

Will update more later.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rough times...

And now for an update about life in Moldova. Oh boy, where do I begin.

Let's just say it's been a rough couple of weeks.

A couple of weekends ago I attended the annual Wine Festival held in Chisinau, which was a lot of fun. I got to spend time with some of the close friends I've made here in Moldova and celebrate a very special, cultural event (while getting a little tipsy in the process). Wine is VERY important to Moldovans, so drinking with thousands of them in the streets of the capital was a special moment.

These past couple weeks, teaching has been a bit of a challenge. I am team-teaching here in Moldova, which is something I did not know would be happening coming into this. Many times, I feel like a substitute teacher or a student teacher, as the Moldovans have their own unique way of teaching and it has been difficult to make myself heard. I will continue to try, but up until this point, my primary assignment as an English teacher has felt like a big demotion, especially considering I already have experience in this field.

The highlights of my experience so far have been my village and the students. My village is fantastic. It is beautiful and the crisp autumn weather has really helped to improve my mood. This past weekend I went on a hike in the forest near my village and caught some great views, while reading some John Steinbeck. I told my school director about this and she then proceeded to tell me that I shouldn't do that alone anymore as I might get eaten by a wild boar.

The students are fantastic and are very eager to learn. It is difficult at times with the language barrier, but any good teacher knows that body language and confidence can overcome that. Teaching the 2nd graders and the 12th graders are my highlight every week. I get to start from the beginning with my 2nd graders, and then with my 12th grade class, we get to have serious discussions about politics and gender roles.

This experience, all in all, has been full of highs and lows. There are some days when all I want to do is go back to America, and other days when I feel like I should be here. I think that is probably typical for a Peace Corps volunteer. The differences in how I live here are drastic to how I live my life in America. Here, in Moldova, I chop firewood, hitchhike without worry and only bathe once or twice a week. And surprisingly, those are the things that are easiest to deal with.

I do have one great thing to look forward to. For Winter Break, I am going to Hungary (Budapest and Romania (Bucharest, Brasov and Sibiu) for a vacation. Should be great.

Here's to hoping the next few weeks will look a little brighter. Miss everyone back home.

No on Prop. 8

Dear California residents,

I've just received some pretty dismal news. A friend of mine just emailed me and said it looks like Proposition 8 (the propisition to ban gay marriage) is going to pass in the upcoming election. Frankly, I'm disappointed. Call me naive, but I haven't even been checking up on the progress of this proposition because I just assumed that most residents of such a great state would never allow such ridiculousness to happen. Imagine my surprise when I received this email. It is sad news for me personally and obviously very sad news for those people who have already rightly taken advantage of their recent right to get married in California.

I can only plead with you to vote in order to turn this into some good news. As I sit here living in a country where freedom is not a guaranteed right for individuals, I question if my own country is much better for not granting me the freedom to marry if I so choose. Oppression is the worst form of injustice because it fosters hate and even indifference . Please don't justify voting "Yes" on this proposition by resting on religious laurels. You insult the many religious people who recognize the modern injustice of this proposition and will vote accordingly.

I hope to one day have a family that is just as valid and fair as the one my sister has recently started. It seems unfair that this dream is not in my hands; it rests in your hands. And you can do something about it.

Do you think he'd fit in my suitcase?

So, I know it's not right to want to steal children that don't belong to you, but if I could bring one home with me from Moldova, it would be this kid. He is in my second grade English class and every time I see him he screams, "HELLO!!!!" at the top of his lungs, then proceeds to ask me, "How are you?", "How old are you?", and "Where are you from?" All phrases that I taught him to say. He is pretty ADD and has a very short attention span so I constantly have to get him to refocus. When I say his name and tell him to focus he turns around quickly and acts like he has no idea where he is, which is obviously adorable... and probably a bit true. Today, he got chalk all over his face and I had to spend 5 minutes helping him get it off. He, or course, spent the whole time giggling. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure he already has parents.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

New Wish List!

So many of you have asked that I post a new wish list of things that I might need here in Moldova. Thanks to all of you who have been so generous to send me packages. In case you are thinking of doing so in the future, here are some things I wouldn't mind having:

1) Computer games (corny, cheap ones are fine. I've already mastered Marble Gold, man I'm a dork)
2) Pants! Size 30x32. I've dropped close to 25 pounds here and as a result, none of my pants fit me anymore.
3) T-shirts. I am so bored of my shirts already. I only brought 4. Even used ones you want to see me wearing in pictures from Moldova are fine.
4) American candy (remember, no peanuts!)
5) Good books. I'm reading A LOT! The Peace Corps library is already looking pretty dull.
6) Magazines: National Geographic, Nat'l Geographic Adventure, Outside Go, Budget Travel...
7) NEW MUSIC! I have not heard ANY songs from the summer. I keep hearing about this "I Kissed a Girl" song, but I've still never heard it. I am SO out of the loop. Burn me some CDs, y'all!
8) DVDs. Don't go crazy, but I'll watch anything, really.
9) Underwear. Boxer briefs. :)
10) Snack food: Potato Chips, Granola Bars, Cheez-Its... withdrawal from these is why I lost all that weight.
11) Pictures: of you! All the Moldovans want to see my friends, and so do I!
12) Holiday music! The Moldovans celebrate their Christmas in January, so I will need some music to help remind me.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


And Happy Anniversary to Mom and Steve! And Happy Belated 1st Birthday to my nephew, Tyler. I was really bummed to miss that one. :(

Market "Pail"out?

This whole market bailout stuff looks pretty scary. Biggest fall in history? I must admit, I do not understand the stock market at all, and even as I read the article on, my mind pretty much refuses to acknowledge phrases like "bailout proposal" and "rescue package" and it makes me feel like an idiot. Although - speaking of "rescue packages", shout-outs to Chrissy and Mrs. Davis for some pretty awesome packages! Chrissy, I am eating that honey like it's nobody's business (straight down the hatch, baby!) and I've already soaked up all my celebrity gossip from those US Weekly and People magazines; and Mrs. Davis, my students are going to be so grateful for all of those school supplies.

In any case, I hope everyone is well and that your "assets" are "secure", or something. I propose that everyone in the world get a dollar for nice compliments and 5 dollars for nice deeds. Not only would the world be a better place, the rich people would be the right people. Is anyone else with me here, or do I just sound like a stupid idiot with absolutely no knowledge of how money works outside of my own paltry savings account?

Oh, and I also like that they were calling the proposal a "market bailout" - for some reason it reminds me of that song "There's a hole in the bucket, Dear Liza, Dear Liza". I have NO idea why (synonym for bucket is pail, and that rhymes with bail?), but I still think it's relevant. I mean, Liza is America, right? And she's waiting for Dear Henry to help her fix it, but Dear Henry gave up on this country a long time ago, moved to Japan and works as a business consultant. And now Liza isn't worried about with what shall she fix it, because there's nobody there to even help! And now we're trying to replace Dear Henry, so we freak out and pick people like Sarah Palin (I mean, really, where did she come from? She is NO Henry!) I'm not supposed to get political on this blog, so I'll stop there, but I think you see where I'm going with this. There's a huge, freaking hole in America's bucket and only one man has the ears and teeth big enough to fix it. (Hint, hint) Let's get with it and fix that hole! (How did this metaphor get so out of control?? I have to go before it gets any crazier. My apologies.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"This is (not) my world"

It’s been almost four months since I’ve been in Moldova, and as of today exactly one month since I’ve been in my permanent site. Things, for the most part, have been going pretty well. In fact, things have been going so well with my students that the 12th graders at the school, invited me to a little get together they have every Friday night. I was so content that my students had responded so well to me that they invited me out with them and I was also ecstatic that I actually had weekend plans. I mean, I had somewhere to be on a Friday night!

Up to this point, I think I’ve had a positive student response from all of the classes I teach, except for the two 10th grade classes where there are some pretty interesting personalities. In one 10th grade class, I have a group of girls who just giggle the whole time and never even try to speak in complete sentences. Well, the joke was on them this past week, when I gave them grades for their performance. At least now they know that giggles get you Ds.

In my other 10th grade class, I’ve got some real smarties, but then there are a couple of guys who sit in the back and stare out the window all period. That’s also my biggest class, so management is a struggle enough already, and on top of that I can’t speak Romanian well enough to say something substantial enough that they could understand that might potentially turn their attitudes around. One of these boys, we’ll call him Dumitru, is about 6’4”, with huge muscles and one of those chic mullet haircuts that are all the rage in Moldova right now. He reminds me a lot of my brother (sans mullet haircut and raging temper), which is one reason why I have tried so hard to engage him in class.

So, giggling girls and Dumitru aside, I’ve got a good control over all the classes that I teach. As of right now, the 12th grade classes are my favorite, which is another reason why I was so pumped when some of them invited me to their get-together. So apparently, one of my 12th graders’ parents owns an eating venue that you can rent out and every weekend, he and his friends go and drink beer and eat Lay’s potato chips and these little Russian crouton like snacks called “Flint” that you can get in flavors from sour cream to caviar and salmon. So there I was, sitting at a table with about ten 18 year olds, trying so hard to understand what they were saying, drinking beer and struggling to avoid caviar-seasoned salad toppers, which, if ingested, would likely trigger an allergic reaction.

Now, I know what some of you are thinking – why the hell were you drinking beers with your 18-year-old students? Well, let’s first remember that things are different here than in America. For one, the drinking age here is, like, 2 years old. Secondly, my 12th graders are pretty mature and don’t binge drink or act like the high school drunks that are so common in America (probably because they’ve been drinking since they were two). And lastly, these kids are the closest people to my age in my village. Everyone in their 20s and early 30s works abroad in Russia, Italy or Ireland (among other countries) because they cannot make enough money in Moldova to support themselves, let alone their families, which is obviously a whole other blog post waiting to happen. For now though, let us focus and get back to the situation at hand.

So, here I am socializing with my students. It’s going well. In fact, they’ve just asked me to be a coach for them for the “Odyssey of the Mind” tournament that happens every year in Moldova. I say “of course” and they continue to describe the competition and their hopes for this year. Then, some male students who are part of a little singing troupe here in my village start singing Moldovan folk songs together around the table – what a special moment! First of all, they’re super talented and all the students are watching them so sincerely, so maturely. Some of these students will be married by the end of next year and the wifely roles that some of the girls have already learned becomes apparent when they band together to clean the tables in no time flat once we finish with our party – and then the boys stack the chairs back on the table. It makes me embarrassed to know that to this day when my family all gets together, my sister, brother and I still argue over who gets to clear the table, wash the dishes or put the dishes in the dishwasher after dinner.

So, it’s time to go. I ask where the “veceu” (toilet) is, and one of my students walks me through another room, to a door, which opens to the outside. He tells me that he’ll wait right inside so I don’t get locked out. “Um, OK,” I say, trying to navigate the pitch-black darkness hoping not to pee on a stray dog or, you know, my shoe. After my “al-fresco” potty break, I come back inside and the students ask if I want to go dancing at the disco. “No thanks,” I say in Romanian, knowing that no good can come from that. In addition to the 12th graders, all of the high school students populate the disco on the weekend, and if I were to go, I would be the oldest person there by a minimum of 5 years. They ask again nicely, and in my head I somehow rationalize that it will be okay if I just go and don’t dance (which, if you know me, will be hard since I’ve been known to bust a move every now and then.)

Off we go. We walk the 100 feet it takes to get to the “Casa de Cultura”, which houses the “disco” where everyone stands “in line” to pay a “cover”. Apparently, I am a “VIP” (read: that American) and don’t have to pay, so I enter “the club” and stand to the side as the rest of my 12th graders enter. (I’m hoping that the excessive use of quotation marks gives you a better idea what this “disco” was actually like.)

First thoughts: “So, here I am.” (Scanning room.) “Yup! Am definitely oldest person here. And, yes probably 85% of the people here are in one of my classes.”

Now I stand in a small circle where some of my 12th graders dance and some don’t. I don’t. In fact, I am more concerned with the fact that the place is decorated with black lights and as a result, everyone can see all the lint that covers my fleece jacket. But on the flip side: my shoelaces are like, totally glowing in the dark!

After the half-hour ode to 50 Cent and Russian pop icons a couple of Moldovan folk songs play, like an intermission to globalization. I actually really like Moldovan folk dancing because a) people of all ages know how to do it; b) it’s the happiest I have ever seen Moldovans in large groups (although, they don’t smile while doing this either); and c) it’s incredibly easy – you just hold hands, do a simple step touch rotating combination and keep your upper body absolutely stiff. In fact, it seems that this has turned into another moment for me. The circle is bigger and a lot of my students are in it and smiling at me saying that I am doing a great job at their dance. I see so many of my great students, and as my bubble grows bigger and bigger with contentment, out of the corner of my eye, standing outside the circle with his arms crossed, I see Dumitru, and boy does he looks ready to pop it.

The song ends, and Dumitru approaches and – I can’t believe it. He’s holding out his arm? Oh! He wants to shake my hand! Fantastic! I of course oblige, and then he whispers something in my ear in Romanian –something I don’t understand, which is par for the course around here. As I try to form something significant out of the 3 words he said that I actually understood, I start to think, “Man, this kid’s got a pretty strong grip.” Then like a slap in the face I suddenly get it: not only is Dumitru not letting go of my hand, he’s trying to break it.

I squirm a bit and ask him to please let go of my hand – in English. This is a kid who pays no attention in my class and has likely never paid attention in any English class, so my polite plea probably has the same effect as it would had I given it in Farsi. At some point, the handshake becomes a headlock, but one of those bully headlocks where it might look to others like we’re just old macho friends. And, finally, something I understand is slurred into my ear: “Aici e lumea mea!” – “This is my world!”

All of a sudden, two of my 12th grade students come rushing towards us, obviously seeing that I’m half the size of Dumitru, that he’s obviously had more than a couple of beers, and that we are, in fact, not having a conversation. They pull him off of me and begin to argue quickly in Romanian. In my imagination they’re saying, “Don’t touch Mike, he’s such a cool teacher and you need to respect him!” But they could very well be saying, “He weighs half of you and it wouldn’t be a fair fight,” which is probably more accurate.

Taking the hint about the whole "This is my world" comment, I realize that the best decision is probably to book it out of there. In a sense, Dumitru was right. That disco is in fact his world - along with all of the other kids between the ages of 15 and 18 in my village. I was clearly out of my element, knowing before I even entered that a scenario like this could very likely happen. However, this is clearly not what he meant by this comment. I am in his village, talking to his friends and teaching in his school. I understand where he's coming from. In fact, most of the time, I do feel like I am an outsider in a different world - which is likely how I will feel for the next two years. But, it will take a lot more than a headlock and veiled threats to get me out of here.

Hopefully in a year's time, Dumitru and I will be a success story - I will have successfully taught him to speak conversational English, something teachers never thought possible; and he will have warmed to me and taught me such much about Moldovan culture. This will likely not happen, but being driven by this hope serves two purposes: it keeps me positive for the future and it gives the whole night at the disco a purpose for happening.

So I will forge forward in the meantime, continuing to adjust and, perhaps more importantly, learning how to understand Romanian not only in regular tones, but in angry, whispered veiled threats as well.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

It's been a long time!

And I don't have too much to write for today. Unfortunately, my access to internet is limited to about a half hour every week in this little library that has 3 computers with internet access in my village. And updating your blog becomes less and less appealing when there are 14 year old girls who are pretending to use their cell phones, but instead are (not so) stealthily taking pictures of you and giggling in Romanian because they think you don't understand. Too bad for them, I understand most everything they say. Girls are silly.

Everything is great. It's freezing here already - wearing scarves and big coats, but it's still beautiful. Have started teaching and it's going well. Definitely living the village life. I pass by hens, sheep, and cows each day when I walk to work. And, there's a cow that's pretty much tied to a chain staked in the middle of the soccer stadium. It's funny, because every Sunday there are soccer (Europeans read "football") games there and usually it's the goalies who will lead the cow to one side of the field while their teammates practice.

I currently live in a room that is about 8 ft. x 8 ft. It's super small. My host family is very kind, but they are still pretty shy around me (and I them). Our water goes off about twice a week, so showers happen maybe twice a week, if lucky. But that's normal here. I'm eating a lot of potatoes, soup and goulash, and I have a feeling that these will be my main courses through winter time as well. I've already lost 20 pounds since being here, but to be here, I gained about 10 before coming here from all the pigging out I did in Seattle and California, so it's not too much of a loss. I look pretty normal.

Thanks to all of you who check periodically and leave comments, even though I am not nearly as consistent as I was with updating. I will try my hardest. Life without TV, internet, or running water (2 days out of the week) has been challening at times, but I surprisingly don't miss any of them too much. You just get used to your situation.

Well, that's all for now. Keep sending me emails to let me know you're still out there. Miss everyone!

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Russia's big warning to Moldova

In wake of the recent conflict between Russia and the Republic of Georgia, Russian President Medvedev had this to say to the Republic of Moldova, which possesses it's own conflicted, internationally unrecognized territory:

Monday, August 25, 2008

It's official!

I am officially a Peace Corps Volunteer. Last Wednesday, I swore-in as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Moldova and the same day I moved to my permanent village, XXXXX, in the north of Moldova. Well, let me tell you... this is a VIL-LAGE! They say there are about 5,000 people living here, but I don't see them. Maybe once school starts, that will change, but right now, it's like Ghost Town, USA... except not USA, obviously. I keep walking around the village trying to get situated and people keep talking to me in Romanian, and I really do try to talk back, but half the time I just end up saying "Imi pare rau, nu inteleg" which means, "I'm sorry, I don't understand." It's funny because while I don't know anyone in this village, they all seem to know me. At first I was confused and thought, well, I must stick out being the only American that lives here, but apparently I was on TV too and everyone keeps saying they saw me on TV. You see, at our swearing-in ceremony there were many TV crews, and apparently I made the 10:00 broadcast! :) Plus, the whole interview was in Romanian. What, what!

Ok, so otherwise, not much is going on. The relatively fast pace of PST is over and I am... bored! For the past two days, I've walked around, read books, ate with my host family, talked to some people from home in my backyard and... well, that's it. Not much to do. This is going to take a lot of getting used to. Although, I'm sure once school starts on September 1, things will start to pick up.

All in all, I'm still very excited about everything, although the prospect of doing this for 2 years is all of a sudden starting to seem kind of scary. I'm sure I'll do it, but I could see how the bore and loneliness might get to me. I'll just have to keep myself busy.

In other news, nothing. Yeah, I don't really have other news unfortunately. A lot has happened, but nothing too special. I don't have access to internet that much anymore (hence the long wait to post), but there is a little library where I can use the internet for a small fee, so I will likely do that every now and then.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Throwing up...

sucks. Especially throwing up "vin de casa" (house wine). I think the wine I had last night must have been bad. Ugh.

Shout out to Emily Kronemeyer though, who sent me a package that was also stuffed with Target bags. If it weren't for those bags, I probably would have puked all over the dog fur rug in my room (you heard me right). Thanks!

Now my nose and the back of my throat just burn, which is disgusting too because you have to realize if your nose is burning, then obviously you threw up out of there too. Gross.

In other news, only 1 more week until I move to my permanent site!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Some pictures from my training village...

Well, my last day in XXXXX (my training village) is rapidly approaching. Here are just a handful of some of the pictures I've taken since I've been here.
1) The first picture, please note the painting that hangs above my bed. My first day here, my host father pretty much said that any event that looked like this was welcome in my bed so long as it was with a village girl (Hmmm...)
2) My current reading list. Right now, I'm racing through The Poisonwood Bible - it's incredible! I finished Things Fall Apart last week. Very good book as well. Also, potentially planning some trips in the future.
3) The graveyard near my house.
4) A view from the hill. I live on top of this hill and have to climb down it every day for school, then back up to go home.
5) Some fields.
6) A gate that is pretty much torn down and useless, but I got a pretty shot out of it.
7) My 10th grade students and I.
8) The road to my house through the cornfields.
9) Me with some corn!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The End of Practice School

Asa ("ok, said with a sigh" in Romanian)... where to begin. Tomorrow is our last day of practice school and I will have finished a week and a half of teaching 7th grade and a week and a half of teaching 10th grade. It has been a lot of fun and I have enjoyed teaching so much. I am so happy to be back in the classroom; I seem to have forgotten how much I enjoyed it. The kids here are very well behaved, which is nice in terms of classroom management. However, teaching English is a whole other story - phew! Teaching a foreign language is massively different from teaching general subjects, but it is different a challenging and a good way. I am very excited about getting started with things once I get to my permanent placement.

Speaking of which, I will be headed to XXXXX (My permanent placement super disguised) on August 20th. We have reached the end of Pre-Service Training and I am shocked at how quickly it has all gone by. We will have a "Swearing-In" ceremony very soon and then I will no longer be a trainee, but a volunteer - huge upgrade, I know. :)

In other news, not much has happened other than practice school. Unfortunately my language progression has taken a hit now that I don't have all the time in the world to practice it, but that is okay because I know it will come with time.

It has been wonderful catching up with everyone in the States and I thank those of you have taken the time to send me letters (Emily A.) and those who have sent me packages (Mom and Emily K!) If there are more packages and letters coming to me, I will let you know when they arrive. I am truly grateful for everyone's generosity and it is great to see that so many of my friends are doing incredible things in the US as well. I miss you all very much! It seems that Moldova has made a bit more sentimental, but don't worry, I still don't really like hugs.

Sunday, August 3, 2008


Finally, pictures are here! Many of you have asked for them and alas, I have finally had the opportunity to upload them in the Peace Corps office. There are more, but I have run out of room on my flash drive, so more are to come.

They are not very organized either, and I plan to make captions at a later date. For now, guess what they are of! :)

Here is the link:


Monday, July 28, 2008

What's new and what's funny...

Ok, so that last post was heavy. Therefore, it's time to discuss something a little more lighthearted.

Here is a list of some things that I find funny in Moldova:

*Every time an airplane passes by in the sky (about once a week), my host family looks up like the end of the world is about to happen.
* For some weird reason, Bryan Adams' "Everything I Do (I Do it For You)" is huge in Moldova now. (A little late, right?)
* A couple weeks ago, I helped my host brother wash the family car while listening to that "Applebottom Jeans" song, and literally every time the lyric came up, my brother got "low, low, low, low, low, low, low" while still diligently scrubbing the exterior.
* I continue to screw up my language. I have now said the following phrases at least a few times in regular conversation: 1) I gave birth to myself in 1983; 2) Every morning for breakfast, I eat myself; and 3) May I please armchair the computer? (The verb "folosi" means "to use" and the noun "fotoliu" means "armchair". Confusing, right?)
* Two days ago, my host brother literally took an hour to buzz my head and would not stop saying "des, des, des" the whole time. ("Thick, thick, thick")
* Most Moldovans believe that if there is a strong current inside (i.e. - if you have the window and the door open at the same time) you will get sick. During practice school last week in my 7th grade class, I opened the door to describe the verb "to pull" and this action was returned with "INCHIS USA, MR. MIKE!!!!!" which means "CLOSE THE DOOR!" (And yes, I go by Mr. Mike ... it's easier for the kids and I think it's kind of funny.)
* My efforts to eat more are going unnoticed. My host mother continues to talk behind my back to other host mothers of other volunteers about how I don't eat enough. The other day, I forced down 5 sausages, a bowl of pasta, sheep's stomach, 3 glasses of juice and 2 servings of tomato and cucmber salad and when I said "Gata!" (finished) I got 2 more sausages and more pasta. (Side note: I do love my host mom though. She's great!)
* Since I've been here, I have a secret strategy for getting rid of food I absolutely cannot stomach. When somebody leaves the kitchen, I immediately wrap the piece of food up in a paper towel and put it in my pocket. After dinner, I go to use the outhouse and drop the food down into the abyss. (Although, don't get the wrong idea here either. The food is actually quite good. Sheep stomach just starts to get to a guy though.)

That's all the funny news I have to report now. :)

Making decisions... or not

There is a topic that has been on my mind lately: decision. Ever since I can remember, I was always making my own decisions. I believe my own family will tell you that I’ve always been a very independent person who at an early age took control of his own life. I’ve always wanted to control what happens to me. I think that many of us can relate to this. I really believe that this is a product of being an American. A couple weeks ago when we volunteers met our Moldovan school directors we had a conference where we discussed several topics. One topic was ranking our values as Americans and as Moldovans. Not surprisingly, the American group ranked “Individualism” as the number one value in America and “Tradition” as last. The Moldovans did the complete opposite: they ranked “Tradition” first and “Individualism” last. I cannot say that it was too surprising to see. After all, Moldova is a country torn between two worlds and is still recovering from Soviet rule where individualism was basically punished. And we Americans? We’re a country of immigrants without any sort of conventional tradition and we are conditioned in school to be the best we can be as individuals and to aspire to outshine others.

So where am I going with this? In the past couple of years, I have made a dramatic change in my life (albeit totally by accident) where I have just let things happen without interfering with my own wants or desires. I remember when I first got into Teach For America right out of college and being a little disappointed that I got Phoenix, my 2nd choice for placement. I mean, I actually considered not doing that great program because of something so trivial as location. And to be completely honest with myself, I think the ultimate factor in my actually doing Teach For America was the prestige attached to it. I knew that it impressed others. Granted, I grew to truly understand the value in teaching my students, but even during my time teaching, I still exercised an enormous amount of control regarding everything from my classroom to my social life. In short, I was incredibly uptight and as much as I prided myself on being open-minded, my mind consistently slammed shut on my own life.

Then came the recruitment director position with Teach For America. Many of you have heard me complain about this job a lot, and I’m sure I could still find things to critique about it until the sun comes up, but looking back I am extremely grateful that I had that opportunity to fail so miserably at something. Going into that job, I cared about nobody but myself. And what is so strange is that I, along with many of my colleagues, fooled myself into believing that I was doing something incredibly selfless. Being alone in Seattle, working all by myself on something that required so much independence, really allowed me the opportunity to peel back the layers of who I was and what I determined in my life. There were so many days that I would be sitting at a table at the University of Washington asking myself, “Why the hell am I here and what is preventing me from actually getting up and leaving?” That job ran it’s course and as many of you know, I did in fact eventually get up and leave. But, in retrospect, it was the evolution of myself – not the slow demolition of my career – that really surprised me the most.

Since being in Moldova, I have surprised myself many times with my true open-mind and willingness to relinquish of control. Even before coming here, I marked on my application (while in the final few months of my previous job, mind you) that I would be willing to go anywhere. It’s a big world, and now the admissions team over at Peace Corps headquarters could pretty much close their eyes, point to a map and send me to that country. Moldova? No, Moldova! And now I’m going to a random village that I had no control over choosing. But what is so wonderful about life is that no matter where I would have ended up going to, I know it would have been wonderful! You can’t let yourself get in the way of having truly incredible things happen to you. Sometimes you just have to let go of the reins and give someone else a try. It’s amazing once you let life take control the incredible things that can happen to you.

Ok, so I realize this is now beginning to start to sound a little too “Jesus, Take the Wheel”. However, for some people, it is religion that let’s them live their lives freely (while for others, religion might keep them locked up as slaves). Some may define the thinking as spiritual. I just define it as life. Life is going to happen regardless of how much you try to control it – so live it. And like The Beatles say, let it be.

No, I’m not missing the irony in all of this: that after coming to an incredibly restrictive and impoverished country, I finally feel truly liberated. I am grateful for this and I feel incredibly privileged to be doing the work that I am doing in this country. There may come a time where I feel that it’s no longer working out and decide to come back early, or it may be the case that my work is not done after two years and I stay two more. Regardless of what happens next, it will be the right decision. And same to you, whatever happens tomorrow, good or bad, it’s the right way because it’s what happened.

Life is all about attitude.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Teacher Wish List

Wow, you look EXCELLENT today... okay, I admit it - I want something from you (although I'm sure you are looking amazing!)

Today we had a session with some current volunteers who are teachers about limited resources in the classroom. Now, I have worked with limited resources before, but it's looking pretty bad over here in terms of securing things that can't be bought in country.

So, I was hoping that my friends and family could help out! I've prepared a small wish list of things that I would love to have as a teacher starting in September. Many of these things are very cheap and light weight, so wouldn't be too expensive to send. Also, many of my friends who are still teachers or who have recently finished will find that many of these things don't even need to be bought - if you're no longer using those teacher supplies, send them my way!

So here it is:

*Maps of America/any US state (these are free at AAA!)
*Postcards from any state (You can just send these with a message on the back for me for under a dollar- talk about super cheap!)
*Take out menus (these are great tools for English learners - Chinese takeout, Mexican takeout - kids over here apparently get VERY excited about these)
*Markers (preferably Mr. Sketch since they last long and smell fantastic!)
*Dry erase markers
*Masking tape
*Ziploc bags
*Any old magazines (I can catch up on celebrity gossip or world politics, then use them to cut out pictures and articles and students can read them to practice using their language.)
*Playing Cards/UNO
*Chalk/Colored Chalk
*Pocket charts (incredible for teaching grammar! You teachers know what I'm talking about - send me old ones!)
*Used books in English (not like Sound and the Fury- remember, these kids are learning English. Think Harry Potter, Lord of the Flies and To Kill a Mockingbird.)
*Posters with grammar rules (again, teachers know what I'm talking about)
*The comics section from the Sunday paper
*Holiday decorations
*Pictures of American landscapes
*PICTURES OF YOU! I want to be able to show my students pictures of my friends and family and show them where they live on a map. Plus, I miss you! :)
*Weird request - laminated white pieces of printer or construction paper, plus small white board markers. (These will help my students form sentences over and over again and be able to correct mistakes without starting over.)

If you have other ideas - they're probably great! Send that too!

Anything and everything will be appreciated. I am very excited to start teaching again - and this time in a totally different way. I know many people feel that teaching English to students in a foreign country may be like a modern form of Imperialism. I get that - but I have also been in this country now for more than a month and see how English offers more opportunities for its citizens. I think as Americans, it is easy to take for granted that our native language is the most widely used professional language in the world. For Moldovans, English opens doors to new opportunities and sometimes survival for a family.

I miss everyone very much and hope your summers are going amazingly well! Eat lots of watermelon for me! :)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Site Visit

Before I start this post, I would first like to say happy birthday to my mom! Also, happy belated birthday to my dad (July 10) and happy belated birthday to my step-mom (July 2) and step-brother (July 5). Also, in case I forget, happy future birthday to my step-dad (July 19) and my cousin Jake (July 19). Yes, almost my whole family is born in July.

So this weekend, I went on my first visit to my future site in Moldova. Friday afternoon, we met our school directors and after some awkard introductions and greetings, we sat through a few sessions regarding our future placements in villages and towns across Moldova. (FYI - my town is officially a "village".) My school director is very nice, but I had some trouble understanding him for two reasons: a) I don't know Romanian very well and b) he mumbled a bit, so it was extra hard to really understand.

Saturday morning, I met my school director in Chisinau and he took me on a two-hour tour of the capital and pointed out several monuments (Stefan cel Mare, Mihai Eminescu) and important places (Government buildings, war memorials, etc.). We then walked across town to the Gara de Nord (North train station) and boarded a rutiera for our village. Well, we sat in our rutiera for an hour before it left and it was incredibly hot and sweaty. I have never been in such a tight place before where people just tolerate the heat and don't freak out. In a situation like this in America, I would have gotten off the bus and demanded a refund - but, alas, things in Moldova are different and I found that I was able to tolerate it all even if a little bit frustrated.

After an hour of waiting, we finally left Chisinau and headed for our village. Along the way our driver stopped no less than 4 times to check on smoke that was mysteriously coming from our van and each time kicked the tire, shrugged his shoulders, got back in and drove off without fixing it. Along the way, we saw several fields of beautiful sunflowers basking in the summer heat. Entire sides of hills were colored with the bright yellow of these magnificent flowers and I learned that sunflowers actually shift with the sun every day.

My school director pointed out to me when we were descending upon our village and when I looked up, I was pleased to see more sunflowers and two enormous hills covered in a forest of different shades of green. It was breathtaking and I had to let it sink in that I was actually going to be living here. When we got off the rutiera, I met one of the English teachers at the school with whom I will be working. She was very kind, is younger than me and was my tour guide for the entire weekend. She pointed out the mayor's office, the post office, the grocery store, the piata where fresh fruits and vegetables and clothing are sold every Sunday. We went to the Casa de Cultura where there is a small disco and many different organizations that create music and dance with local children. We visited the Casa de Creatie, which is a wonderful place where children can participate in different programs such as the National Scouts of Moldova where they volunteer to go out into the forest and pick up trash, in addition to summer camps and many other opportunities. I definitely foresee myself working here a bit.

I was able to really get a good taste for the village and I met four different women in the village who were offering a room for me in their houses to live. I have to choose this week with whom I will live and once that is all figured out, I will post it here. I also was able to meet with 3 12th graders at the school and they were very smart and eager to use their English with me. If the students at the school are anything like these 3, teaching them will be a snap! (Somehow, I doubt that this is the case, of course.)

All in all, it was a good weekend and I am very excited to be working with the people there. Picture this: Michael Moran in a village, taking bucket baths and eating fruit off of a tree. Who would have thought? Certainly not me, but I'm finding that anything is possible and I am actually looking forward to a simpler kind of life for a couple of years. I truly feel that I have a lot to learn from these wonderful people who have spent their lives in one spot in a country that many Americans have never even heard of. I feel very privileged to be here.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I found out my site!

Yesterday, we had our site announcements and all the volunteers were there to share in the experience. It was really nice how our future sites were announced. Basically, the staff drew a huge chalk map of Moldova out on the blacktop of the school and had chairs set up where the volunteers would be dispersed throughout the country. Then, the country director drew names out of a hat and randomly announced our sites to us. (Just to clarify, our sites were predetermined by staff based on a variety of factors - only the announcement of our sites was random.)
Anyhow, the site where I will be for the next 2 years starting in just 5 weeks, is... a secret! Really, I'm not allowed to announce exactly where I am (at least, I think I'm not allowed to since we've been advised against it so many times), but I can tell you that if you look at this map, I am located in the Singerei raion (region), which is in the North Central part of Moldova. It shares a border with the Falesti raion and is directly connected to the 2nd largest city in Moldova, called Balti. I'm pretty much directly south of Balti near the Falesti border about 3/4 of the way down the border. Does that help you out? :)
Anyway, this is very exciting news for us volunteers since our current placements are not our permanent sites. We now know where we will be teaching and working to improve the life of Moldovans over the course of the next two years. My village is exactly that: a village! It has only roughly 5,000 people. I am very happy about this though, because I really want to immerse myself in Moldovan culture and be of use where I am most needed. I feel like this will really allow me that opportunity and truly give me a unique experience at living a life determined by the seasons, agriculture and survival.
This weekend, I am going to my permanant site for a brief visit for 3 days. I will check out potential host families and meet with the school director of the school where I'll be teaching. Expect more updates after the weekend!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Quick update

At last, I have some time to actually type an entry in real time. Today, classes ended early. We had language classes from 8:30am to 1:00pm and now we are finished for the day. We are supposed to do what is called "SDA", which means Self Directed Activity - but there's a loose definition to what that really means. After all, I am "self-directing" myself to do this "activity" of writing this entry right now. Works for me!

The language is coming by slowly. Today, we rehearsed a dialogue to use with our school directors when we meet them. "M-am nascut in anul 1983. In 2004, eu am absolvit universitatea privata in America. Dupa universitate, eu am lucrat doi ani profesor la scoala." That translates to "I was born in 1983. In 2004, I graduated from college in America. After college, I worked for two years as a teacher." Like I said, slowly coming along.

Tomorrow after our full day of classes, we find out our permanent site. For those of you who do not know, I am in my current village only for 10 weeks (I'm at week #4 right now) for training. Then, after the 10 weeks, I move to my permanent site for 2 years, which I will find out tomorrow. This weekend, I go to my permanent site to check it out and basically stay with 2-3 different families before deciding which family I want to live with for the next 2 years. It's exciting, but nerve-wracking as well, given my limited grasp of Romanian. Exactly how do you ask somebody details about their outhouse without really knowing the language. From a previous post, you can tell that that topic is important to me.

Anyway, all in all, everything is good here. I am having fun and learning a lot. I am excited to finally be teaching again and I'm sure everything will fall into place once I start actually working with students again. So excited for that.

Well, that's really all I can think of to post right now. Figures that when I get the time, I can't think of what to say. Hope everyone is well.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Moldova the unhappiest country in the world...???

Check out this link from CNN I read today:

So far, I find this to be incredibly untrue. Most of the Moldovans I've met are pretty happy! True, economically and politically, things aren't great, but nevertheless, the people here are wonderful.

Take it with a grain of salt. :)

A Few Pictures from Moldova

Pictures from my first few weeks in Moldova!!! :)
(The gate to my house, where I do my business at home, some grapes in our yard, some ducks and a "cocos" which is a rooster)

Posts from my first few weeks (Part 3)

Third post I've been saving... careful, this one gets nasty.

June 17, 2008


Let me first preface this post by stating that everybody poops. First we eat and then the way that our body naturally gets rid of waste is by releasing bowel movements. There’s even a children’s book about it. I think that Americans tend to be hung up or disgusted by the fact that we poop and often we hide it, disguise it, or even deny it. In Moldova, this is not the case.

My first encounter with a veceu (outhouse) was in the city I am living in on my first day in town with my host family. I just peed and it was really easy. I will admit it, I had to go number two, but was still a bit frightened at the thought and perplexed by the intricacies of squatting, that I really felt I could hold it in during the night. Well, turns out I was able to hold it in for a bit longer than that and by morning when I was ready to go, I couldn’t. My body was already rebelling against me for rebelling against its natural flow.

In the morning I went to ballroom dance practice with my younger host brother and my stomach was not bothering me or anything, so I went along fine expecting to just be backed up for a few days for being so American about pooping the night before. Well, again my body had different plans. Midway through T.'s impressive jive with his dance class, I felt pains in my stomach and an urge to use the bathroom. I held it in through the rest of the jive… and the samba, and the waltz. Finally, as casually as possible, during a break I asked T. where the outhouse was. He took me outside behind the building and walked me through the bush until we finally reached the outhouse. He showed it to me and I went in, but he was still standing there, so I motioned to him to go back inside and that I would be okay (I think I successfully played it off as “I don’t want you to miss your practice” as opposed to “I may be in here a while and I don’t want you to hear me pooping and then tell everyone that the American is pooping” – although he may have a different opinion on this.) Amidst the flies, rotten stench and dirt and mud (maybe not mud?) all over the floor and walls, I had my first Moldovan outhouse poop. It was not a pretty one, but it felt good. The only problem was I didn’t have toilet paper. But being the resourceful guy that I am, I managed to clean everything up with some leaves, a receipt and one of my old Teach For America recruitment director business cards that was magically in my pants pocket out of nowhere. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed that last wipe.

When it came down to it, the squatting thing wasn’t really an issue. At first, my body was fighting an urge to sit down on a toilet seat, but when I really had to go, my body’s natural instincts kicked in and led the way. Turns out you don’t have to try to hold onto the sides or lean against the back wall (in fact those are both terrible ideas).

Since my first Moldovan outhouse poop, I’ve had a couple of others. They’re not bad, but my body is still getting used to the whole thing. By the end of my 27 months here, I’m sure I’ll be a professional. Until then, all of you Americans, say a little prayer for your toilet and be grateful you have one. The next time it overflows or clogs or does something that just pisses you off (so to speak), just think of me squatting over a 15 foot hole in the ground trying not fall in… or don’t.

Posts from my first few weeks (Part 2)

Second post I've been saving...

June 16, 2008

Well a lot has certainly happened since my last update. I could go back and explain many details related to our last 3 days in Chisinau, but what’s more exciting is what’s happened since moving in with my host family in the raion of Ialoveni (unfortunately, I am forbidden to tell you exactly where I am located.)

On Saturday afternoon, our host families came to pick us up to take us to their homes. Before this happened, our Language and Cultural Facilitators (LCFs) took us around Chisinau to buy flowers and gifts for our host families. I bought some chocolate bars for the boys in the family and some yellow flowers for my host mother. The bouquet was beautiful – until I was informed by some fellow volunteers on the cramped mini-van called a rutiera that yellow flowers were for funerals. My LCFs didn’t tell me this. First faux-pas – check!

Our host families came to meet us and I met my host mother and father. My father is 41, very outgoing. My mother is 39, very protective. When I met them, I shook their hands. Well, I had forgotten that shaking a woman’s hand, especially when first meeting her, is sort of taboo in Moldova. Faux pas number 2 – check!

My host father quickly threw all of my stuff into the back of his minivan and ushered me into the front seat of his Mercedes minivan (Mercedes is ubiquitous around here – it’s not as elite as in the States.) I complied and was pleased to see that there were seatbelts! I buckled mine, but nobody else did. From this point on, everything was in the hands of my host family. So we went to the market in Chisinau before heading to my site. On the way into the city where I am living, I was able to work around the feeble English of my host father to find out that he is a construction worker who goes to Dublin and London for 3 months out of the year and otherwise owns a local store. I am pretty sure my host mother works at the store during the week, but I have yet to actually determine if that is actually true. My limited Romanian is a huge hindrance, so I am truly putting all of my energy into learning this language so I can actually understand what people are saying to me.

Driving into the city where I am living, I noted that the countryside was “mare” which means “big”. My host father was impressed and let out a big laugh and uncovered a genuine grin that put me more at ease. This was the moment where I suddenly just knew I was going to be okay. I didn’t know these people, but I knew they would take care of me. As I was soaking in these emotions with glee, the chocolate bars I had bought for my host brothers, were soaking in the sun in my lap. Completely melted chocolate bars to hand to my host brothers as a gift – faux pas number 3.

After stopping at 2 separate markets in the city where I am living, we finally arrived to the house I will be staying at for 10 weeks. I met my host brothers first. C. is 18 and is a “professional videographer” who does weddings and parties. T. is 16 and is rambunctious and is a competitive ballroom dancer. T. also is great with sign language and really helps me out in sticky situations even though he knows NO English. So far I’ve gone with him to ballroom dancing practice (he is pretty incredible) and to his friends’ houses and to the market – okay, now that I think about it, maybe I’m following him everywhere.

My room where I am staying is pretty big. It has a queen sized bed, a dresser, a desk and 2 end tables. It’s nicely decorated (Moldovan style) and there’s even a lock on the door. A far cry from what I was expecting (isn’t the typical Peace Corps experience living in a grass hut in Africa?), but it’s nice nonetheless. For training, they have housed us with wealthier families in cities directly outside of Chisinau. We’ve pretty much already been told not to expect this kind of luxury when we actually move in with our permanent host family.

The food here is wonderful. Chicken is a staple with my host family (they raise and kill them on their own) and wonderful fruits and vegetables accompany every meal (also grown in their garden) along with bread. I’ve run into a few problems – hot dogs for breakfast, very heavy corn oatmeal, jellied meat – but overall the food is fantastic! I never liked tomatoes, now I love them. I never liked mashed potatoes, but these ones are wonderful. Cucumbers, raspberries – new additions to my diet that I’m indulging in. Raspberries are a snack that we pick off of the raspberry bushes ourselves. We also climb the cherry trees and sit up there and snack on the sour fruits and politely spit out the pits.

Since last writing I’ve also had my first day of language classes in the village. 4 hours today of straight Romanian – very intense, but very helpful. I went right home and practiced with my host brother T. and one of his cousins. Our teachers (LCFs) are great and are both Moldovans who are English teachers, so they are great to learn from.

I’ve made friends, but we’ve all been pretty much separated. We are in a group of 8 in our village and I think our group is really great.

Well, I better be off to bed before and early day of language classes again.

Pe curind! (See you soon)

Posts from my first few weeks

So, internet hasn't been that reliable so what I have been doing is writing posts on my computer, then saving them to my flash drive to upload to this blog later on.

Well, do I have a lot for you.

Here is my first post after arriving in Chisinau, Moldova.

June 12, 2008

It is 5:30 am here in Chisinau, Moldova on Thursday, June 12th and a lot has happened in the last couple of days. As I listen to the roosters and barking dogs in the background of a city where the sun has already fully risen, listen and I will relay to you the first part of my adventure.

On Tuesday afternoon, all 38 of us (the Moldova 23s – that means the 23rd group of Peace Corps Volunteers to go to Moldova) left in a charter bus from Philadelphia to New York to fly out of JFK airport at around 1:15pm. There were two buses so each of us had enough room to stretch out in our own row. The bus ride was a little over 2 hours, all in thanks to NYC traffic and we arrived around 3:30 or so. We all piled off the buses and headed to check in for our Lufthansa flight leaving at 9:40pm. Yes, you heard me correctly. We arrived at the airport at around 3:30 and our flight did not leave until 9:40. The Peace Corps wanted to make extra sure that we were on time for our flight. No problems there.

During check in, it seemed that none of us were charged excess luggage fees even if we were over. We were all allotted 100 pounds of luggage total, but each bag could only have a maximum of 50 pounds. My big bag was about 53.5 pounds and it went right through. All in all, I only had about 75 pounds in luggage, which was way under the limit. Many people had well over 100 pounds and were prepared to pay the $50 fee, but the fee was waived on pretty much everyone’s bag. I have a feeling Peace Corps had something to do with that.

After getting through security, we all waited around for 6 hours before our flight took off, playing cards, eating and drinking and just chatting with each other. When the time finally came to leave, we got our passports ready and got on the plane. All buckled in, 9:40 came… and promptly passed. “Weather delay, 30 minutes,” came the pilot’s announcement, mind you all in German first. After a lot of flying in the past couple of years for work, I know that 30 minutes always means at least an hour and usually more like two. 10:30 rolled around, no update. Another update came around 11:00 and the captain said another half hour. We were teased a few minutes earlier when we pulled out of the gate, but we were then at a standstill for a while longer. Bored out of our minds, Suzanne, a fellow volunteer, and I started playing 20 questions. All of a sudden, we were finally moving. Close to midnight, we finally took off. Those two and half hours were the worst of the whole flight. I slept on and off for about five hours and we landed in Frankfurt, Germany after an 8 hour flight. We were expecting a 3 hour layover before heading out to Chisinau, but this was obviously taken from us given our problems with the weather in NYC that delayed our first flight.

Once in Frankfurt, all of us M23s organized ourselves and headed out to our next gate. After a bit of confusion, everything was figured out and two separate security lines later, we were rushed onto a bus that eventually took us to our unmarked plane that would be our transport into the country we will be spending the next 27 months in.

When we landed in Chisinau, we were taken off the plane and shoved onto a bus right away to take us to the baggage claim area. We probably waited on the bus for about 10 minutes and it was packed to the brim. The doors finally closed and the bus took off. About 45 seconds later it stopped to let us off. The bus only drove us probably a couple hundred feet, which we could have easily walked and probably gotten there earlier. Great introduction to Moldova!

We got our passport stamps, met the Country Director and got our luggage. 10 people had missing bags (so happy I was not one of them), but we were told to only bring with us a 3-day carry on bag anyhow to last us the rest of the time we’re in Chisinau. We would all see the rest of our luggage on Sunday. I packed two dress shirts, two undershirts, three pairs of underwear, two pairs of socks and one pair of dress pants to last me the next three days. Not very much stuff, I tell you, and I already smell, but this is the Peace Corps, right?

After leaving the airport we boarded a bus, met some of our mentors who are already serving in Moldova and were rushed to a school to have a quick meeting where we would end up meeting a lot of the country staff and find out about our schedule for the next few days. We were fed pizza at the school, but this pizza was probably not what you’d expect. The slice that I had was chicken, cheese, mushrooms, onions and… mayonnaise. The mayonnaise was actually pretty good on the pizza, but the mushrooms had to go, and as I sat there picking mushrooms off of my pizza, I already felt like a spoiled American.

After eating, we were then all shoved into 2 rutieras (pretty much just minivans that are like buses, but have only about 12 seats, but probably hold over 25 people), and driven to our hotel. After arriving at the Zarea Hotel, we scoped things out – we’re all on the 11th floor, there are 2 showers on the floor, a few toilets in the hall and a few sinks here and there as well. Our beds are twin beds, but I’m not sure they’re really beds and the setup in the hotel is very minimal, but the view is great!

Many volunteers decided to go out drinking after we got settled into the hotel, but I was way too tired and just decided to crash. First, I went to brush my teeth and wash my face though. We can’t drink the water here, so I just brushed my teeth dry, then I went to wash my face, but half way through, I got a whiff of how bad my armpits smelled, so I wiped off my face and headed for the shower instead.

All cleaned up and really tired, I finally rested my head. With the windows open and the dogs howling all throughout the city, I was lulled to sleep by noises that would keep most awake.

I will be the first to admit this – last night when we got into Chisinau and were rushed through the city and to the school to meet the staff, I had my first feelings of apprehension. What was this strange city and why was I here? What was I getting myself into? While I’m sure those questions will be answered in full during my stay, this morning many of the apprehensions were already put to rest. When I woke up on the 11th floor of a hotel building in the middle of a big city listening to dogs barking and roosters crowing, I know now that while this experience will certainly take some adjusting, this is going to be an unbelievable adventure.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

I'm here!!!

I feel terrible for this short post, but I don't have internet for long and I just want to let everyone know that I am here in Moldova and have been for a couple of weeks now. I am living south of the capital with a host family and I love them so far!

I will update ASAP I promise. I'm going to start blogging on my computer without internet, then transferring them over to here when I have internet access so I'm not always pressed for time.

I miss everyone! Thanks to all who have been sending loving emails and messages here and on Facebook.


PS - Letters/Packages would be awesome! I'd love to hear from you all. See my address to the left!