Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Want some fresh Moldovan mail from me?

Give me your address by posting a comment, or send me your address in an email to chrisbcote@gmail.com and I'll see what I can do.

Celebrating Birthdays Before it Gets Too Cold.

So it's actually hit – the cold. Yesterday marked two things relating to cold: morning frost and long underwear. It is not really really cold yet, but the earliness points to the apparent beginning of a Moldovan winter. According to a fellow volunteer's awesome/fancy pants digital watch whom I met up with: sunrise is 7:00 AM and sunset is 4:40 PM – ouch. It's colder when it's dark out.

I think a lot of other volunteers will have more of a problem with this because they are from warmer climates where the sun stays out longer. For us in the northwest it can get cold, maybe not as cold as Eastern Europe, but I get the picture (or right now I would like to think so, I'll get back to this I'm sure later in the winter). But the dark I think I am cool with. I mean it gets dark around 5:30 PM in Seattle in the winter, and we just read books and drink coffee and so on. I'm pretty sure I can get used to that. Maybe on the weekends I will feel like I have to get out of the house, and that is what other volunteers are for. More importantly than other volunteers, though, is friends within the village. I've got a little group of village friends in my simple Nokia cell phone that because it is not really cool and does not play music I'm sure Moldovans don't think it is 'frumos,' (refer to Matt's blogpost).
A couple of weeks ago I had a lot of ideas of what I can do in my village. Really what I'm concerned with is finding something I am directly responsible for on a regular basis to keep me occupied. I believe that this will eventually be what I have mentioned in earlier blog posts being some kind photography group. I had a meeting with a fellow volunteer named Kay where we decided to collaborate some to make a couple of interactive presentations to inflame interest. From this group we believe we can get together a passionate group. The problem is that not all kids have cameras. We know that there are probably grants out there, but right now I am thinking it will be better to get some kind of group together, get some curriculum together, and see what we can do with what we have. At the same time I am worried that I will be excluding kids that don't have cameras. I am hoping that we can get youth to share. One thing I know is that organizing something like this may sound simple, but doing so is taking a lot of time. It is one thing to discuss with another volunteer, then think of how we are going to explain this in Romanian, then actually getting a grip on these kids is going to be hard around the holiday season. I think we have to try though. We will see.

I find my situation here a little different than other Peace Corps Volunteers in other PC serving countries. Many think of PC and think of somebody in the green lush grass with Mount Kilamanjaro in the background and little supplies. Here I do live under some challenging conditions, but the one thing I do have is really fast internet at work. The funny thing to me about this is these two extremes existing in the same environment. Here I can skype somebody, but there is a guy on a horse drawn cart out my window. I think that I find this very amusing and so have noticed, or take interest in identifying such extremes existing in the same home or community.

I have been stressing myself out about how much or what we are doing within work. Recently I am realizing that we, in America, work at a faster pace. I realize that things here within where I work are going forward, which is great, but slowly. I have been making serious efforts to chill out when I'm at home. I have been reading a lot lately which is nice. I feel like I don't like to read really long books though – maybe I'm scared of commitment? Haha. Well it just feels so much more productive to read a bunch of smaller books to me. When I get really bored I just read out loud to the mice I hear under my floor boards. No I don't really read out loud, but I do hear them under there. Looks like they are heading indoors for winter too. I don't have a problem with them, as long as they don't take cover under my sheets.

Last weekend was quite interesting. I had a fellow volunteer over and he stayed for Friday and Saturday night. Sunday was my birthday. On Saturday we went for a walk and ran into some of my host parents relatives. She led us in and we met up with her husband who quickly chauffeured us to the beci (cellar) where we tried both of his homemade wines. The beci is the man's area. It is where they hang out and shoot the breeze. There he was quite the host. All Moldovans are really. We were eating all sorts of foods down there. Fish in tomato sauce, home made cheese which is really salty (brinza), pickles (which I had been missing), some type of pork that is basically the back fat (I didn't want to try it), walnuts that he broke us with a hammer and so on. I asked our host which of his wines he preferred the most and I almost laughed out my goodies when he pointed to a jar of homemade vodka. It is really common for men to make
homemade vodka. Turns out we spent some time in the beci eating and drinking some of his vodka celebrating my birthday early. After awhile we took a walk to the villages soccer field and before I knew it me, my friend, and this 56 year old man were having somewhat of a pull-up contest on a bar. I had a great time and it was great to ask and receive opinions from somebody about Moldova.

On a more frumos side I just got myself some shoe polish. It comes with it's own little sponge which is wonderful. Keeping clean and polished shoes is one of the many ways to a Moldovan's heart. Or that's what I hear anyway.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Moldova, It's situation: what I've observed.

Being from USA a lot of times people are inevitably comparing, or asking me to compare, my country with Moldova. I often get questions, or assumptions like something is “mai rău decît voi, da?” Something being worse than you all right? I often have to let them people know that America is not perfect. The easiest things I can explain is that, “we have problems, just different problems than you have here.”

In case I have not mentioned it in other blogs posts, Moldovans right now have a situation which forces, if not tempts them to live abroad because salaries are small and jobs are not available here. With an unstable political situation many Moldovans do not jump at the idea of investing in anything other than the construction of their own homes. To generalize, but not so far off, Moldovans work abroad to survive a lot of the time. This I have observed from living in my village and visiting others.

My host father has been working abroad for the last 10 years. He is home now, and has been for just over a month, probably one of the biggest stays he has had in his own home for these 10 years. Due to the point that Moldovans are constantly searching for work abroad, they often are comparing prices and talking of exchange rates. In Chişinău you can find somewhere to exchange currencies on every block.

Since this situation with Moldovans exists, where it's citizens are so hungry to immigrate to other countries for a better salary there are a lot of restrictions on immigration. I believe it is quite difficult to get the paperwork straight to leave to other countries if you are Moldovan. Moldovans in some ways are trapped here. Though they can go to Ukraine and Russia freely (if I have understood correctly), but other than that I believe they need visas. Visas are in high demand, therefore the situation is difficult.

All of this leads me to a frustration am forced to explain. Moldovans, since they are so concerned on getting to other countries to make money for their home here, where 11 lei equals 1 dollar US, they often ask me how much things cost. In training we have discussed that you can just deny these sorts of things, and often I do, but sometimes I just feel like that is not solving anything. Last night for instance at dinner my host father was asking me while pointing to a loaf of bread “Chris, how much does this cost in America?” This is not an unusual situation. I sighed, and said, “three dollars.” For Moldovans they think “wow, you're so rich, here that is only 3 lei.” Or maybe they just think I'm crazy because I'm spending 33 lei on bread?

Because many Moldovans are centered upon moving to make money back home they are only concerned on how much another country's currency can do for them here in Moldova. In this situation I just mentioned with the bread I had to go on to explain, “listen, this is not crazy, the price of living in America is more expensive, and salaries are bigger there, but that doesn't mean I'm rich.” Well that is what I tried to explain, or attempted to with my language. I final response when the conversation got more complicated was direct: “Americans aren't living in Moldova.” I was not saying it in a degrading way, I just think I had to figure out a way to shift their minds away from how much a salary abroad would do for them here.

At times living here it is difficult to exchange responses with a Moldovan. Each of us volunteers have these situations everyday, and each of us has some kind of calculated and constructed responses for such situations. It is a sticky situation to be asked “hey, your country is better than ours right?” or “This is better in America right?” and when you have a complex response to explain in another language it is tough. I often finding myself explaining that I like it here more, because in some ways I honestly do. People live simply here and they know it, it is what they love. These people value family and food, and spending time with both around a table. These people have culture and traditions to follow. In many ways I wish I had such back home.

Moldova has found itself in a complicated situation right now. It is fighting its way through a lot of things both politically and economically. I believe people will continue to work abroad for some time, and stay concerned upon this until their situation begins to resolve itself. The resolution is complex, and will take some trust within their country to invest. Moldovans are a hard working people. Yes many may work abroad, and many more quite likely will, but I believe with Moldova's traditions people have something to hold onto in their country. They are a proud people. Some do stay abroad, but many also do return to live their lives here because of their traditions and family. Moldova is developing, and as it develops more returning Moldovans will have incentive to invest in businesses, organizations, and other institutions here. This all happens with trust and time.

Monday, November 9, 2009

What I'm thinking today.

I went to Drochia this last weekend. It is a city pretty far north. I really like visiting other volunteers and their sites to check out their situation. I plan on visiting as many volunteers as possible while I'm here so I can leave knowing I saw the majority of Moldova.

Sadly though, the ride back almost killed me. Being slightly hung over, cramped and sweaty (nobody opens windows in Moldova, they think it will get you sick, long story), having a bit of a cold, and being in a hurry to catch the bus I didn't brush my teeth. This being after I ate eggs for breakfast left a taste in my mouth that was more than disgusting. My stomach hated me. I fought of the urge to puke. Somehow I made it out alive. When I got out of that bus I was so happy I was talking to myself for about a minute while I walked to the Peace Corps office in Chisinau mostly saying "oh my god" while breathing a bunch.

On the bright side I had a notepad with me 0n the trip and I brainstormed a lot of ideas that I could do in my village. Things are moving along within my organization as yesterday and today we have been talking about some general ideas. Things are slowly moving forward for a youth council as well. I am about to start a small photography group with kids in the high school, and so on.

The problem has been swine flu. No, not for me, but for this E. European area. There is a huge scare and I believe that two people in Moldova have been killed from it. Last week all students had the week off for Autumn holiday, and because of swine flu they all have this week off. Because of this things have been moving slower, because a lot of the things I have been working on include kids, and they're all at home!

Within my two years here I would really like to do two things generally:
1. Ignite some community involvement. This would be huge because in general people tend to worry about what is going on in their house, and as long as that is good then they are content. This stems from when communism was around - the government took care of everything, so it's understandable in some ways for them to have this mentality. On the other hand it's been 20+ years. If I can help to show the power of this to the people in my community I would be very pleased.
2. Promote community identity/pride. I think this one will be a bit easier because activities in within the community do this. I think this can be done through projects we take on and complete. I think it would be cool in the summer to put on some kinds of contests - Moldovans love certificates!

My birthday is coming up next weekend and I think I'm going to have two PC guys over. This will be nice and relaxing. We can speak in English some and I can give them the grand tour of the village if it is nice enough out.

And that is what I am thinking today.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

I think I'm going to buy a turkey.

Happy late Halloween and hello all, sorry that I have not written anything for awhile. I had been kind of busy around work, and then I had to go back to PST (my original host village where I had training) for more training. I was there for two weeks and did not have internet. It was really cool to go back and be able to speak much more fluently with my original host family, but I was also around my original COD group everyday so we ended up talking a lot in English and I'm worried that my language dropped some. Well actually we did have more language classes while we were there, which was nice and helpful. The good thing about the whole two weeks was that we got to hang out, talk about our lives in our villages, what we are all up to and working on. The problem with this is that we all hung out for two weeks everyday and now I'm back to my village by my lonesome and it is not the most social atmosphere, it is like starting over on accommodating to living alone. I was almost too social and now realize that that is not the regular life I will be living back at site. Over all it was a blast though!

I have been trying more seriously to just make friends. Yesterday I ran into a guy I had talked to named Slavic, and we talked and I think I'm going to buy a two liter beer and hang out with him this week. Moldovans really don't drink that much in bars in the village, or if you hang out there it is frowned upon (or this is how I have understood the situation). So, what people do is hang out at their houses. This is harder for me because I do not know very many people, and it is getting colder now, and it is weird for me to be wondering around on walks just trying to find people to talk to. Anyway the point is that I'm really trying to get as social as I can right now so that I can stay sane through this cold winter. It is getting really cold, and I hear that in the village most of the time during the winter people just hang out indoors and not much else. SO, I gotta find friends to hang out with. Foarte important.

Another thing that I might want to do is start lifting some weights so I can be tough. There is an old weight room below the liceu (high school) and I talked to a dude named Vasile who opens it up at night for people to work out. I don't know if it is very popular in the village, but if I start going and see that people like it it may be possible to find funding for more equipment as the equipment there is outdated. Also this man Vasile seems very motivated and has shown interest in teaching kids fitness. There are so many small things I think I could do, but I feel like I need to just focus on one, and push towards that goal!

ON THE BRIGHTEST OF SIDES I think that today I convinced my host parents to let me buy a turkey. Yeah, that would be sweet. My plan is to buy it around this Thanksgiving, raise it, and then eat it next Thanksgiving. I am planning on buying a male because they are bigger and look prettier with all of their feathers. I laugh every time I tell somebody, but hey, I'm pretty excited. The only thing I'm worried about is becoming friends with my turkey, and then not wanted to kill it when the time comes. Anyway, my host mom is putting the word out there for me so that I can get a good price because I think they are scump (expensive).

Also when we were done with our training we got to have a nice dinner at an Italian restuarant and we got to have some champagne and so on. We got to meet the U.S. Ambassator for Moldova. He was pretty cool until I found out that he was born in Pullman, and went to WSU (for those of you who don't know this is my rival University). He said a nice speech, and then I took this picture next to our flag. That's all for now team. Hai!