Ringing in the Year Ahead

September 1st marks the first day of school all across Moldova. Every school starts out the day with some sort of special celebration complete with welcoming the new 1st grade students to their first day of school and acknowledging the seniors as they begin their last year of school.

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The seniors walked in to the first bell ceremony holding the hands of the 1st graders and walked them around the circle. 

The celebrations are typically complete with special music, dancing, singing, and/or reciting poetry. I had the opportunity to go to the first bell with my host sister from pre-service training (PST) and see her start her 10th year in school.  This was all shortly after I had arrived back in Moldova and was grateful I could join in this tradition as it also marked beginning my 3rd year as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Moldova.

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Young girls presented a traditional bread on a traditional hand-stitched cloth to the director of the school.

You could sense the anticipation of the school year from all the various ages, including the parents. I had learned that many of the children are not even from this village as they are transported in from other nearby villages so they can attend school for the year.

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Genuine excitement for the 1st graders since they got their first books for school during the ceremony. 

At the end of the first bell ceremony, the tradition is that a senior boy carries a 1st grade girl on his shoulders as she rings the bell… literally ringing in the start of the school year.

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Here’s to a bright school year ahead for all the students and teachers! Noroc!

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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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Exploring San Francisco through a different perspective

Part 2: This is the second part of a series about our recent journey to San Francisco for the Technovation World Pitch Summit. The previous and first part was shared earlier this week. Now we’ll get into details of exploring San Francisco through the perspective of the Moldovan girls during their free time before and after the Summit.

Since the girls had a little free time they got to meet some returned Peace Corps volunteers who had previously served in Moldova. They graciously took them around the city for a tour and had them try some different foods than they’re used to.

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Dinner with some returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV) from Moldova. Which kind of pizza did the girls like better, NY Style pizza or Chicago Style Pizza?

A ride through San Francisco on the cable car was a must-do and fun highlight thanks to the wonderful RPCV guides…

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Photo from the cable car of another cable car and the Bay. Photo by Ana Efros

The girls visited the beach, which for some of them it was the very first time seeing the ocean (!)…

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Technovation Moldova goes to the beach along the Pacific ocean. Photo by Ana Efros

It was a beautiful day to explore the beautiful parks that San Francisco has to offer…

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The Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. Photo by Ana Efros

There was a lot of walking throughout the city as the fog rolled in at various points of the day and evening…

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The view from one of the hills in the city with the fog rolling in. Photo by Ana Efros

On our departure day we had some time before needing to go to the airport to start our return trip home to Moldova, so we visited the California Academy of Sciences. The girls were amazed as it was their first time seeing such a place. It included a planetarium, aquarium, rain forest, and interactive exhibits which they thoroughly enjoyed. It was a great way to end the journey as they explored the exhibits.

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Being awed by the aquarium at the California Academy of Sciences.

They even had an opportunity to meet a Moldovan woman who lives near San Francisco who heard they were visiting and connected with them right before leaving for the airport.

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Connecting in San Francisco and being able to speak Romanian.

It was an amazingly incredible experience to see so many things through the girls’ perspectives – many firsts, thoughtful insights, and shifts in understanding. They saw new things, tasted new foods, experienced new ways of transport, and met new people.

This would not have been possible without the many partners, organizations, businesses, individuals, and RPCVs who made this happen especially Girls Go IT, Sun Communications, Tekwill and the Technovation organizing core team from Moldova. Also, of course thanks to the Technovation team for coordinating all the details and making the World Pitch Summit an amazing educational and inspirational event for all!

In the next post we will share more about the fascinating things and opportunities the girls had the chance to participate in and experience at the Technovation World Pitch Summit. It’s pretty interesting, so don’t miss it!

 

{Photo Friday}: A View from the Rutiera Window

Instead of a photo for today’s “Photo Friday” I have a short clip of a video of what it’s like right now to drive through Moldova. The fields are beginning to turn a golden color as the sunflowers are blooming. It’s breathtakingly beautiful!

Also, you’ll notice in the video the transition between driving on a not-so-great road to a newly renovated/constructed road.

A Journey through June

June was full of a lot of events and was just the beginning of many goodbyes. A season of change but not without making memorable memories.

This month  was the beginning of fresh fruits and the ever popular delicious cherry season!

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These cherries were from my host family’s village house.

I got to attend my first wedding where my local friend and work partner along with a returned Peace Corps Volunteer celebrated their marriage in Moldova. It was a beautiful celebration, full of traditions and great people! They looked wonderful in their traditional Moldovan clothing and the setting was absolutely beautiful!

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There was even a special RPCV (returned Peace Corps volunteer) guest that came back to visit Moldova especially for the wedding! It was great getting to spend some quality time with her and to catch up on life.

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Not long after that, a few friends and I found ourselves in fields of lavender.

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One afternoon between running errands, we stumbled upon some new, creative art in the capital city. I’ll need to keep my eyes peeled for more. Chisinau is getting creative!

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I also got the final answer on being able to extend for a third year and was finally able to share the news with family and friends!

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My host family added a new addition to our apartment. Meet my new-found crazy cat friend who goes from attacking me to loving me in a matter of 2 seconds. I’ve personally somehow come to the conclusion that his name is Mr. Whiskey.

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The farewells began in June as I along with 2 other site mates began to say “see you later” to Balti and the youth we’ve gotten to know during our 2 years. We celebrated in the park on a hot day with some ice cream and fun photos.

One evening I found myself hanging out with 2 other volunteers playing Settlers of Catan. We had a blast and I realized it has been waaaay too long since I’ve played this game.

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Our M29 Community & Organizational Development (COD) program sector had a nice evening where we all got together and took out our program manager and assistant manager for a nice dinner and time together.

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The farewells continued through the end of the month and into July as colleagues rang the bell to complete their Peace Corps service.

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Miki was the first to ring the bell from our program group!

Next… I’ll share more about the bell ringing tradition that come when volunteers successfully complete their Peace Corps service, or as we call COS (close of service).

{Photo Friday}: Wedding Dance

I recently had the honor to go to my first traditional Moldovan wedding celebration. My friend, and also work partner had married a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) who had served in Moldova before me. They recently just celebrated their marriage in Moldova with a full on traditional Moldovan wedding.

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The hora, a traditional dance in Moldova, is usually danced at all celebrations. At this wedding, guests danced the hora around the couple and traditional dancers in the center. This particular hora was quite fast as you can tell by the blurriness in the photo.

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.