Celebrating with balloons, bubbles, and babies

During my 2 years of Peace Corps service in Balti, I lived with a host family during that whole time. I got to know them pretty well to the point that it feels as though I have become part of the family. Which sometimes is hard to wrap my head around because our common language is Romanian since they don’t speak English. I recently visited them for a weekend  to celebrate my host nephew’s 2nd birthday. I’ve had the privilege to see this little guy grow up before my eyes.

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It was a full weekend of celebrating — I helped prepare some traditional foods for the occasion.

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And then on Sunday, there was a big party at a local children’s restaurant complete with a play-area, bright colors, and a kid-friendly atmosphere (and screaming children). My host nephew was beyond himself happy with all the fun surrounding him.

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Mickey and Minnie also showed up for the special occasion complete with games and activities for the kids.

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My favorite part of the celebration was when Mickey pulled out the bubbles and the kids and even the adults were mesmerized by the human sized ones.

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It certainly captured the attention of my host nephew…

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The table was generously spread out full of food and drinks for all the guests.

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Then since the little guy loves cars, the afternoon was wrapped up with a car-themed cake and some random life-sized characters.

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Happy birthday, little guy!

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When you know it is summer in Moldova…

It’s summer in Moldova, which also means SUNFLOWER SEASON! I had the opportunity recently to visit my host family’s home in the village where the sunflowers fields are plentiful.

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All the yellow parts that you see here in this image are fields of sunflowers.

Sunflowers are a major crop in Moldova and are grown for their seeds and the oil they produce. My host family grows sunflowers so they can have sunflower oil to use for cooking.

My host family also has honey bees at their village home and they love the sunflowers. They were working very hard that day that I visited to collect the pollen from the flowers.
My host family also has honey bees at their village home and the bees love the sunflowers. They were working very hard that day that to collect the pollen from the flowers.

This year since there hasn’t been much rain, the sunflowers are not as tall as they were last year. My host dad told me that usually when there is more rain the flowers can grow taller than most people. This year, with the little amount of rain we’ve had in Moldova they are averaging around shoulder height.

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I visited a week later and the sunflowers had changed a lot over that one week time. They're a bit sad since there hasn't been any rain for many weeks.
I visited a week later and the sunflowers had changed a lot over that one week time. They’re now a bit sad since there hasn’t been any rain for many weeks.

Enjoy the photos and the video below to give you an idea of the vast amounts and beauty that surrounds Moldova when the sunflowers are in bloom. If you love sunflowers, this is the best time of year to visit Moldova.

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DSC_0247 DSC_0459 DSC_0480I did a 360 turn in the field for you to get an idea of the magnitude of the sunflowers that surround my host family village home. This also gives you an idea of what it is like as you travel through Moldova in the summer when the sunflowers are in bloom… incredible.

 

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!

Photo Friday: When Sunflowers Go Against the Crowd

This post continues a new series on Fridays as I share an image from my experience as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Moldova.

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I went with my host family to the village house last weekend and the sunflowers are in full bloom. While all the other sunflowers are pointing to where the sun rises, this one was facing where the sun set. Guess this flower is not one for early mornings. There’s always gotta be at least one in every group who goes against the crowd. 🙂 I promise there will be a post coming up in the near future sharing all the amazingness of these beauties — such joy.

Meet My Balti Host Family

Over a year ago I introduced you to my host family I had during training. Now I’d like for you to meet the host family I have been living with for about a year and plan on continuing to live with them until the end of my service. We all live together in a 3 bedroom apartment in Balti, the second largest city of Moldova. My host family also has a house in a nearby village where they usually go on the weekends to take care of their gardens and village house.

Meet my host parents

Me with my host mom and host dad at the American BBQ.
Me with my host mom and host dad at our 4th of July BBQ this year.

My host mom just retired from teaching kindergarten a few months ago and my host dad is retired from flying helicopters but continues to work as a driver for a local business. They both work incredibly hard all the time. I call my host mom the “life professional” as she seems to do everything with expertise and ease from the simplest to most complicated things. She’ll ask me to do something as simple as cutting up vegetables, but for whatever reason I just don’t do it with the perfection and skill she has mastered. I have so much to learn from her. My host dad on the other hand is one of the most hard-working men I have met in Moldova. He is also the funniest. His sense of humor and outlook on life are contagious. I would also consider him a “life professional” as well as he fixes things with little to no resources and time. When he’s not driving for his job in Balti, he can be found at their village house working in the gardens, feeding the animals, helping a neighbor, and taking care of the house there. He runs circles around me.

Meet my host sister

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My host sister and I are close in age, our birthdays are one year and a few days apart from one another. I have enjoyed getting to know her over the past year. She has been helpful for me in fashion advice, best ways to do my hair and makeup, and sharing recipes. We sometimes go for walks to the park and talk about life. All things I had always wanted in having a sister.

Meet my host nephew

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This little guy is the center of attention at home. He’s been growing up so fast and I see him changing daily – I cannot even think about how much he will have changed in about a year from now when I will leave Moldova. He’s crawling around the apartment now and has found his screaming voice. Occasionally I’ll speak to him in English, thus far I have taught him “Patty-Cake” so whenever he sees me he’ll try to clap his hands together.

I am so appreciative of my host family here in Balti. They have taken me in as part of their family, are incredibly understanding – both in my limited language skills and knowing when I need time alone or when I should take a break from work. I am fed incredibly well – especially now that it is summer we eat so many fresh fruits and vegetables grown from their village house.

I am beyond blessed to have been placed in their home and to become part of their family for these short 2 years – something my tata gazda reminds me of often… “this time is very short, enjoy it while you can.” So true.

Meet Zina and Maria – My Host-Sisters from Pre-Service Training

When I first moved to Moldova over a year ago I had the privilege of living with an amazing host family and was immediately taken in by 2 younger host sisters. They were incredibly kind and patient with me and for that I am so grateful. We bonded over animated movies like my favorites “Despicable Me” and I got to know about many others that I had never heard before. (For example, if you haven’t watched “Big Hero 6” yet, you should.)  This past year has gone too fast and I haven’t not gotten to visit them enough as I would like. Meet Zina and Maria, two incredibly smart and beautiful young girls from Moldova.

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Zina is 20 and is studying at Medical University in the Faculty of Dentistry in Chisinau. Meanwhile, Maria remains at home while she attends school in her village. Zina spends her free time studying so she can be a good doctor (I can definitely say this is true – she is a good student and studies A LOT). Maria likes to learn, when she’s not watching films (documentaries and animated movies) she is reading or studying. She is interested in science, medicine, and history and has hopes to be a surgeon or doctor some day.

What do you like to do in your free time? Do you have any hobbies?

Maria: I read a lot, I like to embroider, and I have a lot of hobbies that include handmade things.

Zina: Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of free time, but when I am on vacation, I like playing with my sister, helping my mom in the garden, and going to the movies or theatre.

Tell us about the first time you met a Peace Corps volunteer…

Maria: The first time I met a Peace Corp volunteer was the summer of 2014, when we had a Peace Corp volunteer staying with us at home.

Zina: The first time I met a Peace Corps volunteer was a year ago. It was a great pleasure for me to meet an American citizen and to discover that she is a nice, good girl. It was a nice summer, because I improved my English skills, and, in the same time I was happy to discover a new, interesting person.

Has your perspective on Volunteering changed?

Maria: Yes, it changed a lot. Now I know what volunteers do, and now I have an open mind and soul for people  who work without money.

Zina: My perspective on volunteering is good, I think they do a good work in our country and we should help them, even with a place to stay and sleep.

Has your perspective about Americans changed?

Maria: No, I always thought that Americans are good people and I still think this.

Zina: Their perspectives are very good, too, because they have great ideas that can help in development of our country.

How have Peace Corps volunteers impacted your life?

Maria: Peace Corps volunteers changed my life, now I want to be involved in more of American projects, and Peace Corps volunteers helped me in  school and developed my English.

Zina: Peace Corps Volunteers impacted me in a good way my life, because it was a new and interesting experience in my life, which I want to repeat.

If you could say one thing to all Peace Corps volunteers what would it be?

Maria: Good Luck!

Zina: Good Luck, guys!!!

If you could say one thing to all Moldovans about volunteering what would it be?

Maria: Americans help develop Moldova, and they make good things here.

Zina: Don’t be afraid, let’s help them!

What are some of your hopes for Moldova’s future?

Maria: I hope that in Moldova we had the same schools and teachers like in America.

Zina: I want to live in a developed country, where I can develop my personality. I want to work there, and my work to be remembered.

Celebrating America’s Independence Day in Moldova

I decided to stay at site and home for the July 4th holiday, hoping I’d have the opportunity to share the US holiday with my host family and some local friends.

My original plan of making dinner for my host family on July 4th didn’t quite work out as I had planned. Plans unfolded as the day went on and I found myself invited to a friends house to have dinner with her and her children. I was so grateful for the invitation and to share some US traditions with them. I even brought some red, white, and blue balloons for the kids and we had lots of fun discussing the different kinds of foods Americans eat on this holiday and playing with the balloons.

After dinner with our USA celebratory balloons at my friends house with her son.
After dinner with our USA celebratory balloons at my friends house with her son.

Then the next day, one of my site mates organized a 4th of July picnic for our host families to celebrate with us together. He prepared hamburgers, I taught my host sister how to make deviled eggs and we made a version of strawberry shortcake but without the strawberry part and substituted raspberries instead. You’ve gotta work with what you have. 🙂

Me with my host mom and host dad at the American BBQ.
Me with my host mom and host dad at our American BBQ.
One of my site mates host brothers who was really happy about the cheeseburger and everyone being together.
One of my site mates host brothers who was really happy about the cheeseburger and everyone being together.

It was really nice to have our two host families together for the first time and some other Peace Corps volunteers to share in this holiday and celebrate together.

Note: Some of us PCVs from Balti are in the featured image above with a random neighborhood kid in the tree, a host brothers finger in the photo, and my host family thinking we’re hilarious… this pretty much sums the day up.