An End of Year Wrap Up [November & December 2016]

Farewell 2016, it’s been real. Let’s finish it off with a recap from November & December. It’s been a whirlwind couple of months full of memorable moments and adventures.

I did some exploring around the city and saw an incredible sunset,  we celebrated my host nephew’s 2nd birthday and gathered together with friends to celebrate and share traditions of Thanksgiving.

The main organization I’m working with hosted both Startup Week and Startup Weekend  all in one long week and I got the opportunity to participate in a few sessions and meet some new people.

Then December rolled around and once again, I participated in Dressember. This being the 4th year I’ve participated, I tried something new this year and did it by alternating between two different dresses for the whole month.

Early in December, I was able to travel with some friends to visit Iasi, Romania for an overnight trip. It was a great little adventure away to change up the routine and scenery. Then, shortly after that trip I celebrated my 34th birthday.

 

December also brought a fun and festive spirit as the city center was decorated with an abundance of holiday lights.

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I also had a great opportunity to do a workshop about Mobile Apps in a nearby village. Later that day a friend and I did some fun exploring in that community.

 

A quick visit to Balti was in order before the holidays to visit my host family and some friends as we celebrated the holiday season a little early with an incredible meal along with good hospitable company.

To wrap it all up, as I had shared in my previous post, I made a surprise visit home to celebrate Christmas and New Years with family and friends.

Cheers to the 2017 new year ahead!

Home for the Holidays

I made a sneaky trip home to Pennsylvania to surprise my family and some friends during this holidays season. I decided back when I had been home in August that I would try to make it home for the holidays this year. Many thanks to my amazing brother, we were able to make it possible.

It’s been great to be able to catch up face-to-face with family and spend some quality time together. I’m thankful for the time to be able to come home and fully enjoy this season since it’s been a few years .

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I was also able to make a few surprise appearances for some friends too since very few people knew.

I even made a familiar megabus quick trip to Harrisburg to surprise my college roommate. I’m a fan of the megabus and think nothing now of a 2 hour trip with comfortable seating, a bathroom on board, and free wifi. I’ll take this public transport over the public transport in Moldova any day.

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Thanks to the ninja-planning skills of my friend’s sister, we were able to spend some short, but great quality time together pampering ourselves and catching up on life. Texting every couple of days on what’s going on is great, but being able to catch up in person is much, much better. I was also able to meet up with two friends I hadn’t seen since I had left in 2013. I feel so full of happiness since I’ve been able to visit with all of these friends although for a short time, but incredibly sweet.

It’s been a good, low-key time of being home and fully enjoying being able to spend it with loved ones. I’m thankful for last minute Starbucks dates, baking with mom, playing board games, and puppy snuggles.

Next up, bringing in the 2017 new year this weekend with friends before making my way back to Moldova.

What do 30 days of special leave look like? 

Earlier this summer I had shared about 30 things I wanted to do while at home during my special home leave with Peace Corps in August. I spent a good amount of my time going through that list while trying to connect with family and friends. I pretty much was able to get through most if not all of the things my list! I hadn’t been home at all during my 2 years of service with Peace Corps so this was a sweet time that I had anxiously been waiting for.

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I had enjoyed it so much that I hadn’t taken as many photos as I possibly could have, and I’m ok with that. It means I was in the moment enjoying the food, surroundings, and people around me.

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I loved seeing so many friends and family I hadn’t seen in over 2 years! Being back home in the State College  area was comforting, refreshing, and rejuvenating.  I answered a variety of questions from “what is your favorite food in Moldova?” to “how is your heart?”
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… I enjoyed foods I’ve missed…
…I got to hold little ones who were not around when I left 2 years ago…
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…I soaked in the beautiful nature as I walked through parks and around the Penn State campus…
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…I enjoyed learning how to play Pokemon Go thanks to some enthusiastic friends…
30 days of special leave looks like random adventures… reconnecting with people…
sharing stories… laughing… reminiscing… and embracing all the hugs as humanly possible! Now onward to year 3 with Peace Corps in Moldova! I’m looking forward to the year ahead!

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Hanging out in Fields of Lavender

The hot summer days of Moldova have defiantly arrived. This past weekend was no exception as I adventured to a lavender festival in a small village surrounded by fields of lavender. I was grateful for the opportunity to get some quality time with some friends as this was one of our last few adventures together before they all leave Moldova over the next couple of weeks and finish their Peace Corps service.

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However, the journey was not without adventure. Since our local friend offered to drive us from my site directly to the festival I was happy to join them on the journey. Unfortunately, the GPS map led us to a field road where we discovered too late that it was not ideal for cars.

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We ended up finding another car ahead of us who was on a similar adventure. By the time we reached them, my friend’s car was smoking and fluid was pouring out from the front. Thankfully the couple in the other car stopped and were kind enough to help us out. After involving various people along with some others from the village, we were eventually able to make it to the festival thanks to the nice couple who took us the rest of the way. Unfortunately, my friend’s car did not make it to the festival.

The lavender fields were breathtakingly beautiful. The dress code for the festival was to wear white, which made it fun to be able to take photos with friends in the fields.

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Even with the unfortunate car-adventure in getting there and amidst the scorching heat, we had a lovely time. I will certainly miss these ladies SO very much!

As I researched about lavender grown in Moldova, I learned that Moldova used to be one of the biggest producers of raw medicinal plants and essential oils in the Soviet Union. It’s rich fertile soil was the reason it used to be such a large producer of essential oils. Since the collapse of the USSR, Moldova is no longer such a large producer of this product. Fields of lavender are still grown today in various parts of the country, but apparently not in comparison to the amount it used to produce.

The vast lavender fields of Moldova are beautiful and calming. I can see why they host an annual festival to celebrate such beauty.

 

What does JOY look like in Moldova?

Thanks to the 2016 Peace Corps video challenge, I put together this 2 minute video sharing the theme for this year’s challenge “Highlighting Happiness: What does joy looks like in my Peace Corps country”.  Since the theme had to do with joy, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share. Enjoy!

From Moldova with Love, Merry Christmas

In Moldova ’tis the season for cold weather, bundled layers, hot mulled wine, tables of food, children’s concerts at school, and bright lights in the city centers.

 

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Although it is my second year celebrating Christmas away from family and friends from home, it feels different for me this year. It’s not the abnormal warm weather we’re having, nor is it the over abundance of holiday lights in the city center in Balti. This Christmas I deeply miss my family and friends from home more than ever.

Last night we went for a little walk through the city center to enjoy the lights and festivities.

This Christmas, I send my love to those near and far. I wish I could be there with those of you who are far away. I would love to savor the simple moments of laughter, enjoying cups of tea or hot chocolate around a fireplace, creating new memories and sharing in new adventures. However, I have enjoyed being without the stressors that the holiday season tends to bring and am thankful to have had more time to take in the real reason, the heart of Christmas. My hope for you (family, friends, PCVs/RPCVs, neighbors, acquaintances, blog-followers) is that this holiday season you will hold your loved ones tighter, tell them you love them, spend time with them (without a cell phone screen); throw out the stress/anxieties/stuff that takes up valuable time/energy that could be best used for those who matter most. It’s worth it.

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From Moldova, with Love. xoxo ~sara

When family meets Moldova

The colors of fall were beginning to pop with bright yellows and deep reds as my mom and brother came to visit me in Moldova for a short visit. This was something we had talked about even before I knew where I was going as a Peace Corps volunteer. Thankfully, it became a reality a few weeks ago.

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All three of us together again — me with my mom and brother.

They met both of my host families, ate a lot of traditional food, took public transportation, tried house wine, learned some Romanian words and phrases, and followed me around as I translated my current life before their eyes.

It was a wonderful time, although it rained most of the days they were here and we weren’t able to make it to my host family’s village house. But we made the best of our short time together in Moldova.

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Another rainy day as we walked through one of the parks in Balti.

Did I mention that this was their first time traveling outside of the US?! I am so proud of them for their willingness and bravery in stepping beyond their comfort zones. I know it was not an easy feat for them and hope that the memories and laughs we shared together were worth it for them.

I was so grateful to both host families and their warm hospitality. My host family from pre-service training (PST) met me at the airport to greet my mom and brother when they arrived.  After we loaded up their car with the luggage, they took us to their home where a warm bowl of zeama (chicken soup) was waiting for all of us.

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My family with my PST host family (except Zina who is not pictured since she is taking the photo)

My mom and brother were overflowing with stories from their travels and their excitement of finally being in Moldova was apparent to all. After we warmed up with zeama, my PST host family whisked us all off to a popular touristic site, Orhei Vechi. All within the first couple of hours of their arrival and going on little to no sleep, they had a traditional Moldovan meal (especially prepared for when traveling) and visited one of the most popular touristic sites in Moldova.

After an evening with my PST host family, we made our way the next day to my permanent site in Balti where we stayed with my host family there. Between traditional Moldovan meals that my host mom prepared each day and the autumn rain that periodically fell each day, my mom and brother followed me around as I gave them a tour of the city and got some work done. They met some of my fellow Peace Corps volunteers, my office-mates at my primary organization, a group of local youth, and some dear local friends. I was so grateful that they got the opportunity to meet so many people here who are part of my life in Moldova.

Although it was a whirlwind and quick stay for them during their visit in Moldova, they now have a better understanding of where I am living and what I have been doing for the past year and a half now.

There was so much more I wish I could have shared with them and more people they could have met, but we had to keep moving as more traveling adventures awaited us… I will share more next time from our travels as we explored mostly Italy and Spain for the remainder of our time together.