A Rewind of October & November

A few people had told me the second year of your Peace Corps service goes faster than the first. They were right.

This is going to be a really super-quick rewind from what October & November looked like for me in this second year as a PCV.

In October my partner organization and I got some things started on the Let Girls Learn grant project we are working on together. We ordered the beds for 2 kindergartens and we also held the first health discussion for the families of one of the communities.

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Mothers and grandmothers gathered at together for a discussion about keeping their children healthy while attending kindergarten. It was very cold in the kindergarten, hence the reason so many are bundled up.

Also, in October I helped coordinate “Europe Code Week” in Balti at the University. We had somewhere around 75 kids come to these sessions throughout the week to the various topics from HTML, CSS, AngularJS, OLE Technolgoy, and Git! It was a success and I was encouraged by the students enthusiasm and desire to learn more.

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Students learning about HTML during Europe Code Week in Balti, Moldova.

Then, in the final weeks of October, my mom and brother came to visit me for a few days where they experienced my life as a PCV and met some of the wonderful people I have gotten to know here so far. After their visit in Moldova we did some traveling and explored new parts of the world together.

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With my host sister, Zina as we waited for my mom and brother at the airport.

As soon as I got back to Moldova after my travels I made an immediate stop to visit some of the inspiring girls from the “Girls Go IT” camp. They were having a follow-up conference to continue to work on their projects and review their process. I was grateful that I was able to jump-in on the last day.

As for November… it was a blur. Some highlights include hanging out with youth to practice their English, the weekly-tech club we started at a local school, and celebrating Thanksgiving with some PCVs and local friends. I’ll just share the month of November in photo-form. Poftim!

More coding fun during #codeweek in Moldova

Europe Code week was this past week starting on October 10 and ending today, October 18. Countries all over Europe hosted events during this period of time to introduce coding by engaging people in learning something new and exploring how code works.

I had learned about Code Week during the Girls Go IT camp this summer and thought it could be something we could do in Balti, the city I live & serve in (which happens to be the 2nd largest city in Moldova). After sharing it with a professor at the University here in Balti, we worked on the details, logistics, and he found the contacts to present 5 different topics for code week. (The surprise was on me when I discovered I was one of them!)

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I shared the first session about basic HTML to a room of 40 students (and we only had 30 computers).

So why code week? Why learn to code? As quoted from the Europe Code Week website:

“Today we live in a world that has been affected by rapid advances in technology. The way we work, communicate, shop and think has changed dramatically. In order to cope with these rapid changes and to make sense of the world around us, we need to not only develop our understanding of how technology works, but also develop skills and capabilities, that will help us to adapt to living in this new era.

Learning to code helps us to make sense of how things work, explore ideas and make things, for both work and play. What’s more it helps us to unleash our creativity and work collaboratively with wonderful people both near us and all over the world.”

Students helping one another during one of the code week sessions.
Students helping one another during one of the code week sessions.

I was impressed. The week went incredibly well, way beyond my expectations. Even though all of the presentations were in Russian (except for mine) I can say I learned a few new things. Those who attended were both high school and University students and they really enjoyed it. Many of them came each day to continue to learn. The topics that were covered at the Balti code week location were HTML, CSS, Angular JS, OLE Technology, and Git. Some of the students shared that they would like to continue to do more sessions like this in the future. So, we shall see what is possible!

What kind of fun happened in August & September?

As I try to keep a monthly recap from my time in Moldova as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I looked back at August & September and realized what a blur it was. A full two months of fun adventures, new experiences, lots of laughter, but not without tears.

In August I shared about my friend’s visit to Moldova but as I look back now and reminisce, I am so grateful for the opportunity to have had a friend visit me here. There’s something about being able to share the tastes, smells, sounds, friendships, and daily life with someone from home — a little glimpse of understanding of the life I’ve come to know and embrace over the past year. It was a sweet gift and I am so thankful for the opportunity to share daily-life adventures and laughter together during her visit.

Then for the last two weeks of August, I traveled to a nearby village to help with a summer IT camp for girls along with 5 other Peace Corps volunteers, and a number of trainers and organizers. It was both an incredibly challenging and rewarding two weeks — where I met some amazing talented young ladies and also bonded with fellow PCVs over trying to understand our role as volunteers at this new camp.

I will be honest in sharing that once September rolled around, I found myself exhausted, burned out, and in the middle of what Peace Corps calls the “mid-service crisis”. Peace Corps tells you about this during training. The mid-service crisis is known to come around right in the middle of one’s service where you may find yourself at a low-point and questioning your decisions asking things like…

“Can I do this again for one more year?… How is this the halfway point already?! … What am I doing?… What work have I done?… What will I do this second year?… There’s not enough time left!… What am I going to do after Peace Corps?…”

I am grateful that I was not alone in this and felt supported, understood, and encouraged by some amazing friends during that dreadful “mid-service crisis”. One thing is for sure, it was a great reminder to me that you can’t have the happy “this-is-amazing” moments without the low “what-am-I-doing” points in life.  After a busy summer full of helping with trainings, implementing new ideas and projects, saying goodbyes to the departing PCV group and hello’s to the incoming trainee group, I am grateful that season has passed. But that means we’re a little more closer to our end of service next summer. (Ack!!)

In other news, in September there was a big celebration for my host nephew in honor of his baptism. As part of tradition in the Orthodox church, a baby is baptized on a date decided between the family and the priest, not during a church service. This ceremony is called a botez and it involves deep traditions and rich cultural ceremonial practices within the Orthodox religion. After the botez (baptism), there is a big celebration involving copious amounts of food and drink, too many photos taken, lots of gifts given, and endless dancing the hora (dancing in circles). This momentous event for the baptism of the child is called a cumatrie, which would best be translated to “big celebratory party”.  The cutest and best dressed little one we celebrated that day enjoyed all the attention and dancing into the wee hours of the evening. I’m pretty sure he outlasted me!

Also, in September I helped my host family at their village house with the fall harvest. From beating the seeds out of the sunflowers to collecting corn in the fields I learned a lot about how much work it takes to keep things going in the village. For example, we collected the corn from the field by hand for the pigs to have food for the winter… but sadly, with the little amount of rain we had this year the corn was about waist-high and there wasn’t much corn to collect. My host dad told me that last year they collected 3 wagon loads of corn and this year we didn’t even fill the bottom of the wagon.

Also, the month of September was spent trying to catch up and meet up with some amazing youth I have had the privilege of getting to know either recently or over the past year. These girls inspire me and I am so encouraged by their passion for learning and willingness to try new experiences.

Then lastly, I spent two days in the capital, Chisinau for a conference that brought two of our programs together for some collaboration and sharing — perfect for the Small Enterprise Development (SED) and Community & Organization Development (COD) volunteers. Even though this conference was held on the first two days of October, I’m throwing it in as part of the fun from September. I got to spend some much-needed quality time with some lovely friends during this conference… so much-needed that we didn’t get a single photo together — hooray for living in the moment. 🙂

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These are just some of the COD & SED volunteers that were left by the end of the conference to take a group photo. And of course you can’t forget our new mascot, Mihai the hedgehog in the front. #MihaiInMoldova Photo by: Mark Gilchrist

As October has already shown that it’s rapidly speeding its way toward the end of the year, I am looking forward to all that is ahead within the next couple of weeks. Coming up soon: a visit from my mom and brother, beginning a communications club at a local school, introducing more code workshops during Europe Code Week, and kicking off Technovation Challenge Moldova for 2016. Here’s to a great toamna (fall) ahead!

{Photo Friday}: Dancing in Circles

My host family recently had a celebration in honor of the baptism of my host nephew. After the baptism (botez) at the church the family gets together for the cumatria, which is the celebration party in honor of this momentous occasion. There was a lot of food, toasting, and dancing. I will be sharing more later, until then…

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There was a lot of dancing during the cumatria celebration. I’m not sure if this would be considered the hora or a different traditional dance. I learned a little bit that evening… but mostly I learned that I am not a very good hora dancer.

That time I hung out with kindergartners every week

I’m going to do a little rewinding from a few months ago when school was still in session and I was spending once a week with 3 kindergarten classes sharing simple English words, phrases, and songs. I spent about 30 minutes in each class between two different kindergarten schools averaging about 70 kids overall each day. Those days were exhausting but lots of fun.

During one of the kindergarten classes in the fall where there were learning some fruits and vegetables in English.
During one of the kindergarten classes in the fall when they were learning some fruits and vegetables in English.

Over the course of the school year they learned their numbers 1-10, colors, fruits, vegetables, animals, basic phrases like good morning and goodnight, and a couple of fun songs – all in English! I was impressed how quickly they picked up the words and phrases. Also, as the course of the school year progressed, I got over being nervous of singing in front of people, mostly with small children though.

I loved when I would arrive to each class and I would hear a whispering chorus of “Doamnasoara Sara! Hello!” (Miss Sara!) through the classroom until the teacher would bring order to the room. Toward the end of the school year I introduced the “Hokey Pokey” song. I loved their laughter as they sang and danced to the song with me.

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We’re all singing and dancing to the “Hokey Pokey” song – a crowd favorite.

My host mom was one of the teachers in one of the classes I would visit weekly. This was her final year teaching as she retired this past spring from teaching for many years.

The kids from my host mom's class, the first group I worked with each Wednesday morning.
The kids from my host mom’s class, the first group I worked with each Wednesday morning.

Since it was my host mom’s last year of teaching and the kids in her class were moving onto first grade into another school, she created a whole program for the kids to put on for their families.

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My host mom organized a hilarious “surprise” skit for the kids during the performance. Another teacher dressed up and played the part of a #2 grade (F) to encourage the kids to work hard for higher grades, #10’s (A).

I was impressed with how much work my host mom put into this performance for the kids. From putting the program together with music she found online and skits she wrote, to creating the bow-ties for the boys and the headbands for the girls. The performance had music, singing, poems, dancing, and skits. I compiled a quick 2 minute video from a few of their dances during the performance. They’re pretty adorable if you ask me. They “rang” the bell to signify the end of the school year and shared some traditional Moldovan dances like the hora and then threw a wildcard in there by Psy (the artist who sang “Gangnam Style”). Enjoy!

In March, I taught the kids a new song for mother’s day and they continued to request it through the rest of the school year. My host mom even incorporated it into the performance that day. They loved this song… they requested every week.

…and then that song would be stuck in my head for days.

Welcome to Summer in Moldova – A Recap from June & July

It’s summertime here and it is HOT. When it gets in the high 90’s and you need to take public transportation to get to your destination 2-3 hours away, it can be the biggest challenge to your day this time of year. You see, most Moldovan’s have a strong aversion to the current, which means that most if not all of the windows in public transportation stay closed, and if they are open they won’t stay open for long. If you’re lucky, maybe one will remain partially open and you’ll be situated in the perfect spot to receive the little breeze that comes your way. A few weeks ago it had to be way over 100 degrees in the rutiera (think big over-sized van) full of people and I’m surprised that I or anyone else didn’t pass out from the 2-3 hour ride. It was like riding in a smelly steamy sauna. Last week I got to experience a mini-bus ride in the village with 50+ people on it in 90+ degree heat. I think that my definition of personal space by the end of my service will look very different.

It was so hot that they had 2 upper windows open here and the doors open as we started to drive away. But... it didn't last very long, the doors closed not long after we moved further down the road and the other overhead window was also forced closed. Too much current.
On this mini-bus it was so hot that they had 2 windows and the doors open. But it didn’t last long… the doors were asked to be closed and one of the windows wouldn’t stay open. Too much current. I liked how one of the windows was being kept open with a full water bottle though. Creative!

This summer has kept me pretty busy over the past two months. In June I traveled to Switzerland and France to visit a friend. I shared photos and some stories from my travels in previous posts.

The view from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France.
The view from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France.

In June, 68 new Peace Corps Moldova volunteers arrived and they have been going through pre-service training, which has brought back all kinds of memories for me from a year ago. (How is it a year ago already?!) I helped with some training sessions for 4 weeks which had me traveling back and forth from site a lot and left me exhausted by the 4th week. Lots of hot 2-hour rutiera rides in those weeks.

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I’m doing a presentation for the trainees and their partners about creating a SWOT analysis for their organizations. (photo by: Cat Richardson)

In Balti, we said goodbye to 3 of our site mates who we spent the last year with. It feels different with them not being here and they are missed.

Now Returned Peace Corps Moldova Volunteers, Paden, Barbara, & Leah from the M28 group!
Now Returned Peace Corps Moldova Volunteers, Paden, Barbara, & Leah from the M28 group!

The kids in our apartment complex area put on a concert for us, especially for Leah and Paden who at that time were leaving and going back to the US in a few days. It was incredibly touching and so sweet. The evening consisted of dance performances, singing songs, reciting poems and skits in a mix of Russian, Romanian, and English.

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All of us together after the concert the kids put on for us.

Since then, I have had the opportunity to play games outside with them in the evenings. We’ve played dominoes and UNO in a mashup between Russian, Romanian, and English. It’s been a lot of fun to get to know these kids and also challenging as we try to communicate between 3 different languages.

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Thanks for leaving the dominoes behind, Leah! They’ve come in handy!

At the end of June, I traveled to a friend’s village to celebrate her birthday with her host family along with a few other volunteer friends. Moldovan’s celebrate well, check out this incredible spread of food!

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So much food was prepared for Eliz’s birthday! I’m so glad I was able to celebrate with her and meet her host family! (photo by: Katie Bennett)

In July, we celebrated America’s Independence Day in Balti with a BBQ at another PCVs apartment complex outdoor area and invited our host families. You can read more about that experience HERE. Of course, I brought bubbles for the kids that would be there and it was a big hit for some of the neighborhood kids, especially this little guy pictured below.

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This adorable neighborhood kid loved the bubbles.

A few days later in July, my primary organization I work with celebrated their 10 year anniversary. We had a big celebration with some of their partners and beneficiaries with a lunch at a really fancy banquet hall complete with speeches, certificates, gifts, and an abundance of delicious food.

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My coworkers about to cut the cake in celebration of ProCoRe’s 10 year anniversary.

We have a children’s park in our city with old soviet style amusement park rides. One Saturday in July a friend and I decided to go for a ride on the ferris wheel as we were passing through on the way home… because, why not?

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Fun fact: the ferris wheel doesn’t stop and you have to literally hop on and off to ride it (it does go really slow though). It was a beautiful day to see the view of the city from the top!

I met up with some the girls from my Technovation Challenge team to see one of them sing in a choral concert. I enjoyed the concert and spending time with them afterward hearing about what they have been up to this summer.

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Lots of laughs with the girls after the concert trying to take photos.

Later in July, we had a fun get-together/meeting at another volunteers site. He just moved into a new apartment and we made pizza cake and ate amazing food all day because he’s quite the talented cook. I thought they were joking when they said we were going to make a pizza cake for dinner… no joke, it happened. Best meeting ever!

Pizza cake?! I have to admit, this is something I thought only lived on pinterest and couldn't be replicated... I have been proven wrong.
Pizza cake?! I have to admit, this is something I thought only lived on Pinterest and couldn’t be replicated well, especially in Moldova… I have been proven wrong.

A few times between June & July, I went to my host family’s village house and enjoyed learning more about their honey bees, helped collect the fruit from the trees and potatoes from the ground, assisted my host mom on some home decorating, and saw a bit of the process that goes to making homemade rachiu with fruit (more on all that another time).

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We collected potatoes from the field one Saturday morning. My host dad was sad because there hasn’t been much rain and didn’t allow them to grow bigger than expected or produce a large amount. When we work in the garden, I’m not allowed to help without wearing a hat or proper work slippers. My mother would approve.

August is going to be a busy month with a friend’s visit from the US, beginning the work for a grant project for two communities in the North of Moldova, and helping out with a summer camp focusing on IT skills for young girls. I’m really looking forward to the next month ahead! PLUS… I recently received fun news that my blog has been selected as one of the finalists in the Peace Corps Third Goal “Blog It Home” contest! Voting on Facebook will happen August 3-10. I will share more details soon as I receive them. Stay tuned!