Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Academic Honesty & Positive Reinforcement Seminar

Last Thursday, my site mates and I facilitated a seminar for the English Teachers in our area. The topic was Academic Honesty and Positive Reinforcement. We weren't sure how many teachers would come because the seminar was announced by the director of education only two days beforehand, however, 23 teachers from the area ended up coming!
Adam and I led the first part about Academic Honesty. I was a bit worried about this one because it is a really touchy topic here in Moldova, and it's a topic that every education volunteer works with and has to deal with. We discussed with the teachers the different reasons students have for cheating/copying, the reasons we as teachers allow it, some ways to combat it, and the consequences for students, teachers, and Moldova as a whole. Most of the teachers agreed that this is a problem, but that there is no way for them to work on it.
After that session, there was a quick break of tea, coffee, and cookies. This is always the favorite part of every teacher at the seminars!
When the break was over, Alex and I led a session about positive reinforcement. This was informative for the teachers because none of them had ever heard of it. Even in America, the issue of positive reinforcement vs. punishment is discussed quite a bit, so it was great to address it here where positive reinforcement is unknown. The teachers liked this portion much more than the Academic Honesty part.
Feedback was good. The teachers liked the seminar overall and want us to do more in the future. Yay!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Easter Part 2 - Paste Blajinilor

Paste Blajinilor is my favorite celebration in Moldova. It translates to "Easter of the Dead." I know at first, that may sound a little weird, and initially I thought so, too. But as I said, it is my favorite celebration.

On May 1st, my host family and I went up north and crossed into Ukraine into a small village called Dranita where my host dad is from. We immediately went to the cemetery and started to prepare. The graves usually have a bench or table nearby for this very tradition. Host mom set up plates of food along with some homemade wine on the table while host aunt prepared gifts for the departed relatives (host dad's parents and grandpa). The gifts usually include towels, dishes, candy, and toys. These gifts are for the loved ones to use in the afterlife. We hung out for a while eating until the priest came. Along with the priest were several men holding crosses and flags of the church. The priest read off a list of names given to him by people in the cemetery of the departed loved ones and then sprinkled holy water over everyone. After this, people give away the gifts to other people in the cemetery. I was given some dishes, a bucket, cookies, and a towel. The day was very nice and I got a nice tan on my face.

May 2nd, we went to host mom's village, Badragii Vechi. There we met up with relatives who only come up for this occasion, so it was great to see everyone. We went to the cemetery, but it was cloudy and cold; I would not be getting a tan face today. The same thing happened at this cemetery, too. The priest came around with the cross holders, blessed everyone with holy water, and read the list of names of the deceased. We stayed at the cemetery for several hours talking and reuniting with everyone until it started to rain.

List of names of the deceased

We then went to the host grandparents' house and ate. I had a few shots of homemade wine and vodka in me, so I decided it would be a good idea to give a toast in Romanian. Host grandma almost started crying and said she didn't even know I could speak Romanian. (I've been here for 2 years and she didn't know I could speak... hmm... I guess I'm just too nervous to speak to people in Romanian!) But it turned out well, I ate a lot, and the day was done. This will be one of the things I miss most about Moldova.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Easter Part 1

Last weekend was Easter. Easter is one of the more exciting celebrations in Moldova because not only is it one day, but it is in fact a 2 weekends. The first weekend is regular Easter. This year we were supposed to go to the village to stay the night on Saturday with the host grandparents, but something happened where the priest decided to do the service in the neighboring village, and Grandma was sick, so we didn't go.

Anyway.... Amanda's host family invited me to their village for the "Roog" which is a tradition here in the northern part of Moldova. It is basically a big bonfire made out of old tires. Amanda's host uncle was in charge of one of the roogs (everyone can make their own roog, but most of the time families get together to make them.) We climbed up the hill next to Amanda's house and prepared for the roog.

Her uncle and other manly men rolled tires up the hill (which was no easy feat as this is a rather steep hill. I was cheering them on, but I don't think they appreciated it...)

The tires were lit, and the fire started! We sat on the hill for a couple hours drinking homemade wine and vodka and eating meatball type things. There were a couple families included in the roog. From where we were positioned on the hill, we could see several other fires throughout the village. It was really pretty!

Amanda and I were planning on going to church with her host family at 4 in the morning, but neither of us woke up when they came to get us up... While I enjoyed the extra hours of sleep, I really wish I would've woken up as I missed the church service last year, too. I've seen pictures from other people who've gone, and it's a really beautiful tradition. The priest goes around with holy water and blesses everyone along with food they will eat the next day on Easter.

 So I missed the church service and had to wake up early anyway to book it back to Edinet to meet up with my host family so we could go to the village to eat and celebrate with the host grandparents. We left the house at around 10 and went to Badragii Vechi, the grandparents' village. We hung out for a while talking and relaxing and then around noon we ate. It was normal Moldovan celebration food, pretty tasty. We also did the tradition of knocking the dyed eggs against one another to see whose egg was the strongest. Host brother Costel won.

After eating, everyone took a nap. It was great.

When we all woke up, we decided to go for a walk along the Prut River. The river is the border between Moldova and Romanian. The first time I went to the village with the host family, it was illegal for Moldovans to cross the border, and there was barbed wire everywhere guarding the border. Since then, the border has opened, and my family loves going down by the river and exploring. We found a trail leading down to the river and off we went. We walked along the river bank while the host uncle fished.


We walked around and explored for about two hours when we decided to try to find a path leading back up. We found one, but it ended up being a bit sketchy and we had to grab trees and hike our way up. It was pretty impressive seeing my 70 year old host grandma make her way up the trail!

We finally made it back up to the village. Everyone was exhausted, people were thirsty, and a few nylons were ripped; all in all a good hike! We got back to the house and everyone relaxed while drinking cold water and compot (which is a homemade juice.) We left the village around 7, and Easter Part 1 was over.

Tomorrow is Easter Part 2, Easter for the Dead. My host family and I will be going to Ukraine (which sounds exciting but it's only an hour away from my town) to the host dad's home village. There we will go to the cemetery with his sister and brother-in-law, eat, and be blessed by the priest. Monday we will go to Badragii Vechi to meet up with the host grandparents again and go to the cemetery there. This is by far my favorite celebration/tradition in Moldova because it is such a unique way to honor those who have passed. Hopefully I'll update soon so you can read about it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

I Love Easter Cake!

Easter is coming! And along with Easter come Easter cakes! Some people may not like these cakes, but I find them delicious. They are a traditional food here in Moldova that people eat when it is Easter. People either make them home-made or just buy them from the market.
Yesterday outside of my school I was excited to see the annual Easter Market. There was a row of booths with people selling all sorts of things: clothes (lots of underwear for some reason), ducks and other birds, pottery, and Easter Cakes! I went with my partner Natalia to check it out in between breaks and I bought a little cake for 5 Lei. I wanted to eat it right then and there, but she said that was kind of weird and it is more special to eat it on Easter. Sadly I put it uneaten into my bag.
After classes I went with my friend Amanda to check it out again, and I bought another Easter Cake. This one was from a different booth; gotta show them all a little love!
Finally at English Club, I was able to eat both the cakes with my 5th form girls and Amanda. Super tasty. Can't wait for Sunday when I can go crazy with the cakes.

Booth selling Easter Cakes!

Truck with Ducks!

 As for Easter, tomorrow we're going to the village to be with the grandparents. Saturday night at about 11 or midnight is the Easter Church service, which I didn't go to last year because I was sleeping. I told my host mom to make me go this year, though, so hopefully I won't sleep through it again...

Friday, April 15, 2011

Flat Stanley Comes To Moldova

Flat Stanley is a fictional character that many children are familiar with and have fallen in love with. Stanley is the main character in a children's book. In short, it's about a boy whose bullitan board falls on him while he's sleeping and flattens him. (Sounds creepy, but the author does a good job of making it seem cool.) His parents see this as an opportunity to send him to visit his grandparents and other relatives by putting him in an envelope and sending him through the mail.

Now on to the Flat Stanley Project. This project was started in 1994 by a teacher who had his class make their own "Stanleys", write letters to go along with them, and then send them to other states and countries. Read more about the Flat Stanley Project here at the official site: http://flatterworld.com/

I did this project when I was student teaching back in college with my second grade class. We had them each decorate their own Stanley, write a letter, and send it to a family member somewhere in the United States. The family members in turn took pictures with the Stanley around famous landmarks and such in their towns and sent them back to the students, sometimes with souvenirs.

I was contacted earlier in the school year by a friend's mom back in North Dakota who is a teacher of a sixth grade class. She was doing the Flat Stanley Project, and she wanted to send them to Moldova. I said of course! Last week I received the envelope full of letters and Stanleys from her class. I was talking to my ex-Romanian tutor/English teacher at another school here in Edinet about the project, and she asked if her class could participate. And again, I said of course!

When Luminita told her class about it, they were so excited! They couldn't believe that they were going to be getting letters from "real American students!!" They also each created their own Stanley's out of posterboard. Some used yarn, fabric, and other supplies while most colored them with markers. Each wrote a letter to accompany their Stanley. (While they were all excited about the letters, they thought the American names were odd! (Jacob, Camryn, Ryan, etc.) Common names here are Sergio, Ana Maria, Marina, Oleg, Costel. ) Along with the letters, Luminita asked a student to draw a map of Moldova which turned out beautifully! We will be sending the package back to North Dakota on Monday, and hopefully it will get there before the school year ends.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Celebrations Galore! (Plus the VP!)

Much has happened so far in March.

The first day of March, Martisor, celebrated the arrival of spring (although it definitely did not feel like spring with all the snow on the ground.) The 3rd grade students at my school gave a Martisor concert.

March 8th is a VERY IMPORTANT holiday in Moldova. It is Women's Day. Every year, women are given flowers, boxes of chocolates, and other gifts. It is more than Mother's Day because every woman is celebrated. The 5th grade students at my school gave a 8 Martie concert.

Not only is March 8th a huge party because of Women's Day, but it is also my host mom's birthday! For two days before the big day, we were busy preparing food and cleaning the house. We had about 15 guests, and we were eating all day long. 

 March 11th was a monumental day for Moldovans as Vice President of America Joe Biden visted Moldova! The main street in Chisinau was shut down for the day with people lining the streets holding Moldovan and American flags. Most of us Peace Corps volunteers got to stand behind Biden on the risers while he gave his speech. After the speech, volunteers and Embassy staff got to go to a special "Meet and Greet" where Biden and his wife talked. Afterward, he took a picture with all of us and talked to us about our mission here and several other things. It was rather interesting.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dragobetele - Saruta Fetele

Friday night at school was the Dragobete concert. 
(Dragobete is basically like Valentine's Day for Romania and Moldova. As I previously posted, Moldovans do celebrate Valentine's Day, but they do consider it an American holiday. 
Dragobete is all theirs!) 

The concert started around 5:30ish and went to 7:30. There were 4 couples, all ninth graders,
and 2 mc's. There were different competitions the pairs had to do such as declaration of love, talent, dancing, create an outfit representing love, and impromptu question/answer. I was very impressed with how the kids did. There was some singing, guitar playing, drawing, and even some fancy soccer/football moves. Between some of the competitions while the judges calculated scores, there were some dances and songs by other students. In the end, they all won for their own specific reasons. (If you remember the post about the big sports competition at my school, "friendship" won.) So, everyone won at this competition as well.

Viorel and Irina, MC's from the 11th form in traditional Moldovan dress

Cupid asking why the boy loves his girl

2nd form girls throwing rose petals on one of the couples

Dancing in Russian costumes wore during WWII

Soccer skills

8th and 9th form boys doing a dance. They're so cute!
After the competition, all of us teachers got together to celebrate. A few other teachers and I prepared food and wine. We ate bread with different cheeses, meats, fish, and cucumbers. 

Our photographer sneezed while taking the photo :)

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Really Awesome Moldovan

Клавдия (Claudia)
Claudia is one of the people I'm really going to miss when I leave Moldova. She works at the cafeteria in my school, but she is not a lunch lady. She sells coffee, tea, cappuccino, and different types of pastries at her little table in the corner of the room. 
Claudia is Russian/Moldovan thus meaning she mainly speaks Russian. She does speak Romanian, though, so that is mainly how we communicate. She has been attempting to teach me Russian, so in the mornings everyday when I come for a cup of coffee, we speak Russian to each other. 
Last year I went to Claudia's house one day and we knitted together for a while and had lunch. She loves knitting and beading, so she wanted to teach me how to knit a new pattern. I ended up making a scarf with the new pattern. 
This year I haven't been able to go to her house because we've both been busy, but hopefully I will be able to again at least once more before I leave in July.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

5 Months...

I was sitting with my American friend/fellow volunteer Amanda earlier today having lunch, and we were discussing how our lives after Peace Corps are going to be. We got a bit stressed out thinking about grad school (since each of us only applied to one school and the "What if we don't get accepted??" started driving us nuts), so we decided to think about all the exciting things awaiting us in America!
  • Having our own cars! While it's nice not to have to worry about gas prices and car insurance, it's even nicer not having to squeeze into a mini-bus with 20 other people in 90 degree weather for 3 hours.
  • Air conditioning and central heating. Enough said there.
  • Customer service! I worked in retail in America for 4 years, so I'm really big on the customer service whether it be in a restaurant or in a store. Here in Moldova, they are not. If you want something, you track down that waiter/sales associate and ask!
  • Our own culture! Don't get me wrong here, I love Moldovan culture. It's great! But I'm excited to be able to do "American" things and not be considered weird. For example, last week I wore a long sleeve shirt with a short sleeve shirt over that. It was cute, and it was warm. My partner saw me and said, "Oh wow, you are so American! We would never wear anything like that!"
  • Being treated like an adult! Perhaps it's because most of us volunteers speak like we are four year olds or maybe because we act weird and do weird things, but everyone treats us like we're kids.
This is a mini list of exciting things that we're looking forward to. While we were thinking about this list, I started thinking about the things I'll miss about Moldova. This brought a bit of a downer on my mood, because I was all excited about being home, and then I became sad about leaving. So, a list of some of the things I'll miss.
  • Tea at Luminita's house! Luminita is my old tutor/basically my mom here in Moldova. We used to do tutoring together, but we stopped doing that and now have tea dates instead. Her husband, Vlodia, joins us. We have cookies and talk about everything. Her husband speaks mostly Russian, so I learn Russian from him and he learns Romanian and English from Luminita and I.
  • Natalia! She's my partner teacher and best friend here. I know I wouldn't have lasted this whole time without her. The best times with Natalia are when we buy a big bottle of beer and sunflowers seeds and sit at her kitchen table and talk. 
  • Candy with Coffee! Whenever you order coffee at any cafe/restaurant/bar in Moldova, you get a piece of candy on the side. The more expensive and fancy the place, the better the candy. 
  • The Hora! Some volunteers may not like the Hora, which is the national dance of Moldova, but I absolutely LOVE it. It doesn't matter where you are, if an upbeat traditional Moldovan song comes on, someone is bound to start a Hora. I was at a bar once, and these scary mobster looking guys came in all wearing leather jackets and completely in black. Some music came on, and they all jumped up, got in a circle with hands held, and started to Hora. The Hora brings people together!
So this is also just a mini list, but I will continue to update it as I think of things.
It was so hard to say goodbye to everyone back home. I remember crying and all that jazz. But it will be even harder to leave here I think, because I'll most likely never see these people again. When I left home, I knew I'd be returning after 2 years. Unless I plan to vacation back to Moldova someday, I will be saying goodbye to these people for the last time. Man, that sure puts a damper on things.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Valentine's Day!

Today at school,I talked about Valentine's Day with some of my classes. They do celebrate Valentine's Day here in Moldova, but I thought it would be interesting to tell them how we celebrate it in America. They all thought it was "super" that in schools we have parties and decorate boxes to put Valentine's cards in. 
After discussing Valentine's Day and reading a short handout, we did a word search that had words like "kisses, cuddle, heart, roses, friends, smooch (yes, smooch...) hugs, candy"

After the word searches, the kids got to make Valentines. I taught them how to say a few things: "I love you" "Happy Valentine's Day", and of course "Roses are red, Violets are blue...."

Monday is Valentine's Day, and I'm super pumped because it's my favorite holiday. Hopefully I'll get a few more Valentines from my students like the ones they made me today!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Winter Vacation in Brasov, Romania

On December 28th, I took an overnight bus from Chisinau to Brasov. The bus left at 7:00 pm, and got to Brasov at 5 in the morning. I tried sleeping on the bus, but it was difficult since we had to stop at the Moldova/Ukraine border for an hour and a half. At each border, we had to get off the bus, and one by one we had our bags inspected and passports stamped. Luckily there were only 17 of us on the bus, so this process went rather quickly. However as if noticing our good luck, our bus broke down at 2 in the morning. We all had to pile onto a rutiera (mini-bus type thing) where the driver turned the lights on and blasted his discotech music. This made sleeping rather difficult. 

Arriving in Brasov at 5 in the morning was not really all that awesome. I hadn't yet exchanged my money, and we were dropped off at a bus station on the outside of town where everything was still closed. I ended up befriending a nice guy from Moldova who was now living in a city outside of Brasov. He let me share a taxi with him to another bus station, then he bought me a coffee, and helped me find an ATM. 

I hung out at the second bus station for several hours reading and drinking coffee. I decided to leave at 8:45 when a creeper came over to me and insisted on buying me coffee and beer. I ran away while he was buying beer for us and discovered that literally across the road was a huge shopping mall. Unfortunately, the mall didn't open until 10:00, so I hung out at the entrance like a weirdo with my big backpack and read. I ended up making friends with an old security guard who wanted to know what I was doing. When the mall finally opened, he directed me towards the best coffee shop. I shopped for a while, bought some awesome silver tennis shoes, and ate lunch. 

After that, I made my way to the old city center. It was absolutely beautiful and there were people selling boiled wine everywhere. (I have discovered I am in love with boiled wine, and I will most definitely make it when I get back home!)

Old Town Square
At about 3 in the afternoon, my fellow traveling buddy Zack called me up. He was on a train from Budapest and would be arriving later that night around 10. We were originally going to stay at someone's house via Couchsurfing , but that didn't work out so I called a hostel which was located right next to the center. I was really exhausted from the traveling and walking around, so I went to the hostel and took a nap for a while. After that I went to a delicious pizza place which served free pretzels and waited for Zack to come.

Hostel Mara Brasov
The next day we went to the top of this big mountain/hill  which has the name Brasov written across it in Hollywood style. We took a cable car to the top and then explored for a while seeing different views of the city. After a while we walked down the hill/mountain.

Me at the top of the mountain/hill with a view of Brasov in the background
On the night of the 31st, our friends and fellow volunteers Amanda and Sinh joined us in Brasov. They had been in Nice, France, and decided to spend the New Year in Brasov. We hung out at our hostel and played cards for a while because it was way too cold to stand outside for hours. At 11:00 we went to the City Center where a concert was taking place. We hung out there and made our way into the crowd while drinking boiled wine. At midnight there were fireworks and a laser show. 

Celebrating the New Year in the Old City Center
Amanda and Sinh left on the 2nd, and two more volunteers came. On the 3rd, we went to Sinaia, which is a gorgeous mountain town an hour away from Brasov. We took a train there, which was super exciting because I'd never been on a train before!

First time on a train ever! Woo exciting!
On the 4th, everyone went skiing, but since I suck at skiing, I decided to site see around Sinaia instead. There is a famous castle there, called Peles Castle. Unfortunately it was closed on the day I went there, so I couldn't go inside or even get close to take pictures. I did make friends with another security guard who gave me a number "of a guy" to call the next day to get in at a reduced rate. (I didn't go back the next day...)

Peles Castle, Sinaia
I also discovered the Sinaia Monastery. 
Sinaia Monastery
On the 5th, we took a train back to Brasov in order to catch our overnight bus back to Moldova. However, one cannot go to Brasov AKA Transylvania without visiting Dracula's Castle!! The castle, Bran Castle, is about a half hour's drive out of Brasov. It isn't really Dracula's Castle, but they say it is anyway (to attract tourists?). 

View from a balcony inside Bran Castle
We left Brasov at 7 that night and returned in Chisinau the next morning at 5. It was a really fun trip and it was great to get out of Moldova for a few days. I ate some delicious food, saw some interesting things, and had a great time!