Celebrating 2 Years of Peace Corps Service & What’s Next!

Two years ago to this day I arrived to Moldova curious as to what this new adventure would hold. Now that I am on the other side of these two years, I am grateful to be able to celebrate making it to this point! Hooray for 2 years of Peace Corps service!

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At the airport in New York, June 2014 as we waited to check in for our first flight.
As for my next steps, I’m happy to share that I won’t be going too far any time soon as I will be extending my Peace Corps service in Moldova for a third year!

Surprisa!!!

The funny thing is that during my pre-service training in 2014 I was nominated by the peers in my training group as “Most likely to extend.” I didn’t think much of it at the time but apparently they knew better than I did. Thanks COD crew, I’m gonna miss you!

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I held onto the “Most likely to extend” picture my peers had made. As a side note, I also was given “Most likely to become a Country Director” as well. I guess we shall see how that one goes as I have no plans for becoming a CD at this point…

Instead of counting down the days, I have added around 395 days (13 months). By the time I complete my service in August 2017 I will have served with the Peace Corps for 40 months. Whoa.

At this point I am finishing 2-years of service in Balti until July. Then in August I will go home to Pennsylvania for 30 days. I will return to Moldova in September where I will start my 3rd year of service working with the new Tekwill IT Center of Excellence along with working with youth and entrepreneurs in a variety of technology programs, one of them being Technovation Challenge.

In addition to this, I have the opportunity to travel to San Francisco in July for a training as part of a new Master Educator program Technovation has launched this year.

I will be sharing more about this experience as well as how things come together over the next couple of months between taking home leave for 30 days and preparing for a 3rd year of service in Moldova. More to come soon!

Hey, April & May!

I like to do these monthly recaps, mostly for myself so I can reflect back on what happened each month for me. Time seems to move at a fast-paced warped speed for me lately. I find it difficult to wrap my head around that summer is finally here and it’s about time to say goodbye to some PCV friends very soon.

As I look back to the calendar in April, it was full of Technovation Challenge meetings along with the weekly tech club meetings that I had been working on with a site mate.

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Some of the girls working on their project along with their mentor/coach and teacher.

I even took a last minute vacation to Prague and got some time to recharge and explore a new city with a friend and fellow volunteer.

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One weekend I got to hang out with a lovely group of ladies for a retreat getaway. Hooray for the most ideal location near the gelato place!

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We’ll take a selfie, except I won’t include myself.

Our M29 PCV group had our Close of Service (COS) Conference for a few days which was a great chance to have a last hurrah where we were all together one last time. And of course, to learn all about the COS stuff we need to do before becoming officially Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCV).

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Those of us M29s remaining at COS conference.

At the end of April, we had a big event for Technovation Challenge where teams from all over Moldova came to pitch their ideas and apps. It was a lot of work to pull this together and there was no way it could have been done without an incredible team (who even sometimes joined me in my late-night working sessions). 😉

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Presenting the award to the girls who won the local event in Moldova.

 

 

A few days later I then attended the Moldova ICT Summit where I even participated in a panel sharing about the Technovation Challenge program along with some amazing ladies who shared their experience.

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On stage with the team I worked with this year along with 2 girls from the Girls Go IT summer camp.

Whew…. April. Wow. 

May started out right away with the Easter holiday on May 1 where I got to spend some time with my host family taking part in the cultural traditions.

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Then the day after that I picked up my 2 friends from the US who came to visit for a few days. You can read more about this time from some previous posts and even get a taste for what it would be like if/when you visit.

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At one of the popular Moldovan wineries where you go underground to explore the winery and taste the wine. 

In the midst of many meetings and sharing at a Let Girls Learn training, May was also a busy month that continued with Balti hram, a big muddy concert to see a popular local music group (Carla’s Dreams), and a PCV kick-ball tournament (in which I cheered from the sidelines).

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Thousands of people at the outdoor concert for Carla’s Dreams.

May is looking to be a bit slower as things are finalized for my next steps and wrapping things up with Technovation Challenge for this year. It’s been a busy, but good last couple of months. Onward! Haidem mai departe!

 

 

Happy hram day, Balti!

This past weekend on May 22, the city of Balti celebrated hram and 595 years! Hram translates to “day of the city” and according to Moldova Holiday, “Every city, town, and village in Moldova has a hram day, honoring the patron saint of the locality. By tradition, on hram days family, friends, and guests are invited to festive dinners where guests also enjoy traditional Moldovan folk dancing.”

Since Balti is the second largest city, this means a lot of people come to the city and take part in the various festivities throughout the day. Although I missed the morning ceremony with the Orthodox priests, I did make it in time for the parade. Not only did I get to watch the parade, I participated in it along with a group of students from the “Salut, Balti” community volunteer group.

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Some of the students who walked with Salut, Balti in the parade.
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Walking with the students in the parade through the center of Balti.

The day was celebrated in the city center with various groups performing music and dancing…

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Musicians performing in traditional dress.

Interesting characters roaming the streets…

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Tall Moldovan characters with storks walking around the city. 

…there was even a hot air balloon for a short period of time…

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Many people observed as the hot air balloon was assembled and then shortly after that, deflated and taken away. 

… and then an evening concert complete with fireworks later in the night!

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La multi ani, Balti! Happy 595 years!

Encourage Girls from Technovation!

Technovation Challenge is the largest and longest-running tech competition for girls. It entails a 12-week curriculum that girls ages 10-18 go through with a mentor or coach. They learn how to identify a problem in their community and figure out a solution by creating a business plan and mobile app. Plus, all of this is done in English! An incredible challenge since for many of them this is an introduction to new things like writing a business plan, critical thinking through developing a mobile app in AppInventor, and utilizing English (often times their 2nd or 3rd language)!

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Girls from one of the participating teams that I had the opportunity to work with this year.

I had shared a few weeks ago about the Regional Event we hosted in Moldova where a local Moldovan team had advanced to the semi-final round. Thanks to local community support and through a crowdfunding campaign we’re making it possible to send the girls to participate as a visiting team during the World Pitch Event in July in San Francisco.

The girls will have the opportunity to attend the World Pitch Event and participate in learning from workshops, tours of tech companies, and network with other girls from around the world who are problem-solvers from their communities and future women in tech! We still need help in this crowdfunding campaign with about one week left! Give, share, and be part of encouraging girls in developing IT solutions!

Thanks to these awesome local partnering sponsors: Tekwill, Sun Communications, and Girls Go IT all funds will be doubled! So if you give $25… it turns into $50! Viola! >> https://igg.me/at/tech-moldova

TC Campaign

This year has been an incredible year, from the all-star organizing core team, to the mentors/coaches who rose up to the challenge, and all the girls who worked long hours on turning their ideas into reality. By the semi-final round Moldova ended up having 3 teams in the semi-finals! Three! A great accomplishment that all 3 teams should be proud of!

Although the 2016 season for Technovation Challenge Moldova has come to an end for all the teams in this year’s competition, it appears that some teams are still planning on continuing to develop their ideas and mobile apps. We look forward to seeing these girls continue to learn and make their ideas happen!

Part 3: Let’s go to the Capital City in “Adventuring with friends in Moldova”

This is the third part of a short series from a recent trip to Moldova my friends made from PA. Since many friends and family from home would love the opportunity to do the same, I’m sharing our adventures with you so you can experience it as well. So pack your bags, your coming to Moldova (without leaving home)! Drum bun (have a good road)!


Next stop after a few days in Balti, we go to the capital city of Moldova, Chisinau. Remember when you first arrived to Moldova and your friend made you get on a rutiera for 2 hours to go somewhere else? Well, now you’re back in this city and can actually explore it instead of driving through it.

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Your friend takes you to an American BBQ restaurant where you meet one of the owners, a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) who shares the story of how he and another RPCV and a local friend opened up the restaurant about a year ago. You taste their BBQ and some local micro-brewed beer (or maybe you have a coke) and hear a bit about life as a local business owner in Moldova. You make note to check out Smokehouse’s site: smokehouse.md and to read more about the process they have gone through in opening a business in Moldova without paying bribes: opensource-entrepreneurship.org

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One day you meet two more friends of your friend and you all go on a underground tour of Milestii Mici, a Moldovan winery that holds the Guinness World Records as the biggest wine collection in the world.  You take lots of photos, explore the underground limestone tunnels lined with ginormous barrels of wine, and savor various flavors of their wine.

Some of the other days you explore the city and discover some fun parks…

Try some new foods, Czech beer, and fun coffee!

Another day you adventure outside of the city to a monastery, Orheiul Vechi. Your friend warns you that we may or may not make it there or back in the way we originally hoped or planned. Plus uncertain that it would be open since it was a holiday. You question your friends ability to be so calm at these moments and wonder how it actually will work out.

Thankfully, it’s open and the public transport to and from this incredibly beautiful place works out on this day. As you explore the beautiful scenery, you notice how serene and peaceful it is even with the drastic drop off reminding you not to get too close to the edge.

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There is so much to take in when exploring a new place. So many new sights, smells, tastes, and sounds. You try to take it all in so you can share it all with curious friends and family from home.

After a few days of adventures and explorations in various parts of Moldova it is time to go home. You make your way to the airport and say farewells and see-you-laters in front of the the passport control line.

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As you wave goodbye to Moldova from the airplane, you think about all the memorable memories that were made in a brand new place. Now you have a better understanding of where your Peace Corps Volunteer friend calls “home” for now. Poftim!

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Photos by: Hannah Ingram
(which are so fun to see since they’re through a new set of eyes and a new perspective! Thanks Hannah!)

Part 1 of 3: Adventuring with friends in Moldova

This is the first part of a short series from a recent trip to Moldova my friends from PA made. Since many friends and family from home would love the opportunity to do the same, I’m sharing our adventures with you so you can experience it as well. So pack your bags, your coming to Moldova (without leaving home)! Drum bun (have a good road)!


 

Welcome to Moldova! You just landed in Moldova after a long 10+ hour flight and time-warped ahead one day. You’re not sure if it’s time for lunch or dinner nor are you really hungry. You ate some airplane food and are curious to what is in store for you in this mysterious place your friend calls “home” now.

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Golden fields of rapeseed are in full bloom. We learned that this plant is used for machinery oil or bio-diesel.

Your friend welcomes you at the airport with a big smile, hugs and a handmade “welcome” sign. It all becomes a blur, you don’t understand the words people are speaking, but the friend you haven’t seen in about 2 years seems to understand everything going on. She speaks with the cab driver who takes your suitcase and strategically places it into a small car. There is so much to take in and catch-up on all at the same time.

 

You learn a bit about the public transportation by experience and proceed to take a 2-hour rutiera ride to the city where your friend lives. You look for a seat belt in the rutiera, but realize they don’t exist for passengers beyond the driver and front seats. Mid-way through this very long and bumpy ride to Balti, you realize how tired you are and can barely keep your eyes open.

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One of the nicest rutiera rides with an automatic door, TV and a window that was allowed to stay open!

Eventually you arrive to the city, having to drag your luggage along dusty, broken sidewalks to your friends host family apartment. After a little needed break from so much travel, you take a shower (and  nap) and eat some leftover Easter food (which was celebrated the day before). Your friend’s host dad arrives to take you all to the village 30-45 min from the city. Surprise!

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A 5 minute nap/rest was in order before going to the village.

Your realize now why your friend loves going to the village so much. It’s beautiful. It’s calm and relaxing. Exactly what is needed after a long flight, a 2-hour rutiera ride and no sleep.

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The villa where your friend’s host family has their village home, gardens and fruit trees.

You see that village life is hard, but at the same time it’s simple and calming.

Long naps happen. More eating and drinking than you are used to happens — you learn new phrases and words (and songs)… and you can’t stop from smiling.

A walk through the village is a must. People stare and wonder who the strangers are. It is only a small village of around 50 people (maybe).

It’s spring time in the village. The fruit trees are beginning to bloom. It’s a busy time of year to prepare the fields. You learn a bit about the gracious hosts who have taken your friend in as part of their family and you experience one of the greatest parts Moldova — their kind hospitality.

Next stop: Balti! Stay tuned for more adventures in Moldova as you explore the city your friend is most familiar with and works in… part 2 coming soon!

Photos by: Hannah Ingram
(which are so fun to see since they’re through a new set of eyes and new perspective!)

Celebrating Paști in Moldova

“Paste Ferecit” (Happy Easter!) from Moldova! We celebrated Orthodox Easter today in Moldova. This is my 2nd Easter here and continues to be my most favorite holiday celebrated in Moldova.

Leading up to Easter Sunday, people spend the week preparing food and cleaning their homes. I was able to help my host mom a little bit with some of the food preparations and learned a few new things as well.

On Saturday I went out on an adventure to the city center piata to find and purchase “pasca”,  a special Easter bread sold at this time of year. I quickly learned there are various types, sizes, and flavors of pasca, making my seemingly easy task a little more challenging. Plus, the vendors I tried to talk with only spoke Russian and we played a great game of charades between Romanian and Russian so I could successfully come home with some pasca bread.

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Special pasca Easter bread sold outside by a vendor in the city center.

Then, Easter morning my host dad and I woke up at 5:00 AM to make our way to the Orthodox church in the city center.

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St. Nicholai church in the city center, about a 15 minute walk from our home.

We got in line with everyone else and my host dad arranged the basket of food on the ground so that the priest would come by and bless it. While he did that, I made my way into the church to place a candle in the church and to return with a lit candle. The fire from the candles originated from Jerusalem, which we later carried home with us to keep it going in the apartment.

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After the basket of food was displayed with the lit candles, we waited for the priest to come and bless it.

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We waited along with everyone else in the quietness of the morning as the sun was bursting through the sky to start the day.

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Then, shortly after that, the priest came by and doused us and the display of food with holy water. Before doing so, money is placed in the bag that the first guy is holding while the second guy holds the bucket of holy water for the priest as he blesses each person in line with a generous amount of holy water.

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He caught me by surprise and even “blessed” my cell phone in the process. My host dad and I had a good laugh about it all.

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My host dad after being blessed by the priest.

After that, we packed up our basket of food and returned home to have the first meal of the day. But we couldn’t eat until we took part in the annual Easter cultural traditions. First stepping on the knife in the doorway before entering the rest of the way into the home. Next, we each washed our hands in the basin then rubbed a red egg on our cheeks followed by some coins which we rubbed on our foreheads. Then we each put the coins into our pockets for good luck and lots of money for the year ahead.

Then we sat down around 6:00 AM to have our fist meal of the day starting off with traditional red hard boiled eggs. We each took turns initially cracking each other’s egg to see which one would not crack in the end. The person’s egg whose doesn’t crack is the “winner” – my host mom won this year.

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We sat down to first eat the foods that had been blessed at the church along with some of the food that had been prepared the day before. We also started drinking cognac and wine in celebration of the Easter holiday.  So. much. food.

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Just some of the food from our Easter breakfast.

After eating, we all went back to bed to wake up to repeat the eating, drinking, and sleeping at least 2 more times.

The celebrations will continue into tomorrow as most people have the day off work and into the weekend following celebrating memorial Easter.