30 November 2010

Can't stop eating

There are 2 things I can't stop eating at my house right now:

Raspberry Jam
and this delicious sauce my host dad made for mamaliga (grits).

Until a fly took a kamakazie dive into the sauce. Gata.


I failed because they weathermen failed. They said a high of 45º. Um, try 26? I was nice and warm on the upper half of my body, but chose to look "cute" in tights, shorts, and boots (and wool socks) because I thought today was going to be much warmer than the last few days due to the forecast- and the sun. SOOOOO wrong! In the 15 minute walk from school to the student's house where I was going to be tutoring, my hands were ice, my toes asleep, and my face bright red. At least I had the conversation of one of my students to occupy me thoughts the whole way there... and a warm coffee once I arrived... but none of that helped the walk home!

(but classes are 5 minutes shorter at least through the rest of the week- if not the rest of the semester if we don't get the heat working- which therefore finishes lessons 30 minutes early which therefore gets me home 30 minutes early which therefore gives me more time. Success! -pronounced sook-CHess)


The 4th grader I wrote about in my previous post, the one who didn't speak till he was 7, cries a lot. One day he came into class crying because someone had hit him during break. Another day when I was having trouble with the girls he was crying because I took his toy gun away for one reason or another (and he actually apparently said mean things about my), and today he was crying again during break saying kids were bullying him. I really feel for him, and it hurt me to see him crying and alone again. So I went up to him, in my terrible Romanian, and told him that I need him to tell all of the other students that come to the tutoring lessons to come a half hour earlier today. He was still kinda sad, so I then had him give my a high five to seal the deal. Then a low five- oops! Too slow!. He loved it. Before I knew it he was laughing and becoming really quick at hitting my hand.


a YES!!! moment

Today, just like every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 2-3pm I held my "free-for-all tutoring" lessons. If that wasn't clear enough I'll make a short story long. Basically, I sit in my classroom from 2-3 almost every day and any student that wants to come and ask me questions or get more help in English can come and talk to me. This is to replace the tutoring I was having every day after school until nearly 6pm, which is great for me so I can actually get home at a decent time- usually. Plus it shows me who is really dedicated to learning and who just liked to come to my house.

Almost every day I now have the same 4 students, and occasionally a few more will add to it. They know the rule is if they want help on their homework they must do it beforehand, unless they completely don't understand what they're supposed to be doing. I do this because they were all showing up with their homework and we'd spend the whole hour ONLY doing their homework, which wasn't helping them learn anything because they were anywhere from a year to 3 years behind on their lessons. So now the take the important materials, expand on it, play some games, and... get this... learn something. (Oh, side note, mostly 2nd-5th graders come to these lessons).

These lessons aren't so planned. In fact, they're not planned at all. Some students do individual work, some work in pairs, and sometimes all of the grades are working together. It's great, and exactly how I like it to be!

But the YES!!! moment came today with one of the 3rd graders. The first few times this boy came to these open lessons I was kind of confused. He is the student that most teachers would just leave behind because he is a little slower than other students, and he didn't know one word (other than, Hello) in English. If I am totally honest, I will admit that I thought to myself that there was no way he was going to learn English. Until today.

This boy- who I thought didn't really have a chance- was spelling words correctly, remembering vocabulary, and saying sentences. And a 4th grader (who I was told couldn't talk until he was 7, and is a "bad" student) was doing the same thing. These boys wait outside my door for an hour every day (they finish lessons early) for these sessions.

... and there is a 2nd grader who began coming to my English club with the bigger kids because she has a sister in the 6th grade. She was clueless, but it was because her bigger sister was always helping (aka DOING) her homework for her, remembered vocabulary today after we practiced it.

I feel like super-woman right now. This day, with these students, has helped me realize where my focus needs to be: with the kids that WANT to learn. Another volunteer told me this way back at the beginning of the semester when I had a total breakdown but I didn't quite understand how I could do that in the classroom. Well, honestly, I can't. So now I'm going to turn my focus to these kids that come after school because it's obvious they want to learn, and they're eager to learn, and dag-nabbit, they're going to learn... and I'm going to teach them!

All in the family

My current host parents have two children: a son (32) in Moscow, and a daughter (35-ish) in Cambodia. I have connected with their daughter on Facebook and the Russian facebook, but I actually didn't know we were friends on there until Luminita (my partner teacher) told me about it (they were in the same class in school). I'd written her a message through my host dad's email when I first moved here, and she wrote back once, and then that was it. My host dad communicates with her through email once every couple of weeks but no more. Once I found out we were in fact in contact I wrote her a message to see if we could set up a time so she (and her children and husband) could skype with her parents. We have a 5 hour time difference which actually makes it more difficult to set a time to talk than it does with our 8 and 9 hour difference in America because she is an English teacher, too, so our schedules just collide. We are trying to make a skype date on a weekend, but that's still in the making...


She sent me this message today:
dear Cate, i took the freedom to look through your blog, hope that's ok with you. i want to thank you for writing all that and putting so many pictures there, you may not realize how close to home they bring me! i know it's not paradise( the place and the house, etc,) but i grew up there, that's where the people i love are, and your posts and pictures really give me a warm feeling. i understand life there can sometimes be hard, and you're very brave to have gone there. But remember, there's always going to be something nice and up-building in every experience, i've been through similar times myself. Thank you and keep it up.

It's quite encouraging for me to receive this from her because, while I don't think I say anything bad about my host parents (aka her parents), I know it's not always positive and encouraging. It's good to know that someone from the family is able to completely understand my thoughts and feelings while here. By her reading my blog, I'm able to share stories about my experience here which brings back memories for her (therefore promoting Peace and Friendship- Goal III with the Peace Corps?!) lol. Regardless, I'm glad she's reading this, and this is exactly one of the reasons for which I'm here. (Thank you, Elena!!!)

29 November 2010

Snow in Moldova

Saturday morning brought another round of snow. When I woke up in the morning I took some time to take some pictures because I thought the snow was going to stop soon... but I was mistaken.

NTG and Mick going to start the fire for the soba in my room

Once Ross decided to wake up we went on a walk since this makes the 4th time he has ever seen snow.
He's ready for the snow... it was only just below freezing!

I'm not the only one who knows how to take pictures (his result is below!)

This weekend was exactly what I've been needing. On Friday I told myself I wasn't going to think about school for one minute. Ok, well, that's not quite possible because I'm always thinking about school but I didn't do anything for it. By 5pm on Friday, Ross was heading back to Pelinia to watch the LSU game because my internet isn't working fast enough to watch the game (unfortunately they lost!), and that left me alone for all of Saturday night and Sunday. While I would have preferred to be with him, that still left me time to clean and reorganize- and cleaning and reorganizing is what I did ALL Sunday (while listening to some awesome Christmas music)! It was wonderful. Since my host mom is still in the hospital in Chisinau (she's been there since Wednesday!!), I'm left to fend for myself when it comes to cleaning, and my host dad gets to be the chef. He doesn't give himself enough credit for knowing how to cook- I'm impressed!

More snow in the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday! It's so beautiful... till it melts... and then the pretty white snow turns into thick mud!

27 November 2010


Now it's Saturday, but shhhh let's keep that a secret. Friday kept me on my toes! Here's a recap:

8am: I received a call from Ross while at school planning a lesson I'd failed to plan.
Me: Hello? (my screen is still broken so I can't see who it is)
Ross: It's snowing.
Me: Well that sucks. But congratulations (said very sarcastic because he's anxiously been awaiting this snow)
Ross: Uh-huh.
Ross: Atta girl. I need to go because I need another coat.

8:45am: I run home because, once again, I was camera-less.

12:05pm: Nina, my project manager, arrives at my school to observe my lesson.

1-3pm: Meeting with my partner teachers and Nina.

4pm: Go to Luminita's to warm up the turkey we'd made the night before.

5pm: Meet my "Big Kid English Club" students (and Ross!) to celebrate Thanksgiving.

The best bart? I ate pumpkin pie for the first time ever. Yes, really. The first time ever. And the best part about that? My 10th and 12th grade students made it with an American recipe. Delicious!

I'm thankful for pretty landscapes:

(Side note- it's snowing again!!!!!!!)

Thankful: re-do

That last post was a bit weak. Ok, it was really weak. But I hadn't really put much thought into the fact that it was actually Thanksgiving day because while Peace Corps actually had their office closed, the PCVs still had to work.

Let me try this again.

I'm thankful for skype because it gives me the opportunity to talk with my friends and family (for whom I am also thankful) for free- and being on a limited budget, free is always nice.
I'm thankful for my Dad who always knows what to say.
I'm thankful for the experiences Peace Corps has given me (yes, the good and the bad).
I'm thankful for the friends I've made along the way.
I'm thankful for different languages in this World because they keep things interesting.
I'm thankful for the invention of a camera because it helps me document my experiences to share with friends and family back home.
I'm thankful for country music because it takes me back home.
I'm thankful for my students because without them, this experience would be so much harder.
I'm thankful for my family and basically family (Bette!) who have been so wonderful in sending me so many care packages to make sure I have everything I need and I stay warm this winter.

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you had a great time with your families!

25 November 2010


I'm thankful for skype. Gata.

24 November 2010

Who needs sunshine?

Who needs sunshine?? I do.

After a cranky couple of days, I woke up this morning to this:

Then I remembered it was Wednesday and time to go see my two favorite people in Varatic:

and Pavel.

Now the sky looks like this:

except with clouds so I can't see the stars

...and it's time for bed.

23 November 2010

Smile game

When walking around Moldova I like to play this game called the "smile game", whether I'm in my village and most people know who I am or I'm in a city and no one knows who I am. It's a bigger challenge in the city because no one talks to one another in the streets unless they know each other (which is actually more frequent than you might assume).

So today I woke up on the wrong side of the bed again (reoccurring theme in my life right now). Due to our lack of planning in one class (again), I had a little disagreement with one of my partner teachers but decided to let it go by asking her to teach the lesson as she wanted (since we couldn't agree), and I'd get some work done. Problem solved (gotta pick your battles!), even though I still don't think it was done correctly. Then in another class we gave a test and, as usual, the students weren't prepared even though I'd basically given them some of the answers the class before. My other partner didn't want them to receive bad grades (because if they get bad grades then it is the fault of the teacher, not the student), so she allowed them to use their books about halfway through class. Again, I didn't agree but I let it go. Due to this (and waking up on the wrong side of the bed and the weather)I needed a pick-me-up.

I was walking to my student's house for tutoring lessons and saw an old woman I didn't know. I smiled, said buna ziua, and kept walking while still looking her in the eye. After a few seconds, just before I was going to look away, she smiled and said buna ziua back to me. There were two women standing at the gate near us and they told the woman that I'm the English teacher. Then they looked at me and said mulțumesc (thank you). My smile game not only made someone else smile, but in turn it made my day.

Today for yesterday

Yesterday was cold... VERY cold. I wasn't expecting it to be that cold, but once the sun set a wind picked up that left me totally unprepared. I didn't get home until nearly 6pm, and by that time it had been dark for over an hour. Today I tried to make sure I was prepared by wearing the base layers I didn't wear yesterday, a wool sweater on top of a cashmere sweater, along with a scarf, hat, and gloves. When I walked out the door I was ready. Only this time I was too ready. By the time I got to school I was sweating my but off (thank goodness for deodorant and smell resistant clothes!!). I'd dressed today for the weather yesterday- without looking at the weather in advance. Hopefully tomorrow will be like today- without the rain.

22 November 2010

The sophomore year

I think I've reached my "sophomore year" of Peace Corps... What does that mean, exactly? Well, let me explain it to you a little more clearly.

Sophomore year of high school: Let's just say "fit hit the shan". I was done with it all- done with trying in my classes, done with homework, done with diving, done with being told what to do, done with taking care of myself... just done. I wanted to give up on school, family, and in all honesty sometimes life. Looking back on it now it all seems so silly. What was I thinking? Thankfully I had my dad (and my friends, and my teachers, and my friends' parents) picking me up and putting me back on track (I also had was given the incentive that if I got all A's the next semester I could get my belly button pierced... and at the time that seemed like a great deal to me!). Before I knew it, it was time for my first day at college. Oh boy.

Sophomore year of college: It was time for another "fit hit the shan" moment... er, semester. Or two. My photography business was kicking butt and my classes weren't really interesting to me. I'd broken up with my boyfriend of 2 1/2 years and was focusing more on "creating my own identity apart from 'us'" (aka partying) than on my classes. I'd been accepted into the School of Journalism, but wasn't doing the work to keep up (party because I was making up excuses and partly because it wasn't what I thought it was going to be). I went home one weekend and I had prepared a speech to tell my dad I quit and I wanted to focus on growing my business and using my "college fund" to go to photography seminars and workshops. My dad said that was not a goo idea and encouraged me to stick with it- because he knew I'd be regretting dropping out by the time May 2010 rolled around. And... he was right.

May 2010 rolled around and it felt so good to say, "I am officially a college graduate!" While my grades weren't what they could have been, I still made it... and it has opened up so many doors for me... so many, in fact, that August 2012 (close of service with Peace Corps) kind of freaks me out.

So I think that's what's going on now. I've almost made it though the first semester of teaching, which is in reality like the sophomore year of this experience. I'm constantly fighting the battle with myself of trying to decide if this is where I should be... or if I should be back in America doing something else... or if I should be in another country doing another thing. I can put on a happy smile and pretend like everything is great here but the reality is I'm fighting a hard internal battle: with myself. I know what I should say (which is I'm here doing it for them), but what I'm really saying is there is so much else I could be doing back at home. Yesterday when I was feeling really homesick (another breakdown on the rutiera... those 4 hours alone sure know how to get the best of me), I was able to call my dad. Our connection was terrible but he reminded me of the time I was struggling in the past, and he reminded me how quickly the 4 years went by... and how quickly these 21 more months are going to fly by.

Again, my dad was right. It doesn't make it any easier right at this moment, but I know when I COS (close of service), I will be so happy that I did it... and it'll be another thing to cross off my bucket list.

In the meantime... I'm holding on as tight as I can.

19 November 2010


I remember the All City Swim&Dive Championships rather clearly. All of the moms would cover the windows of their minivans with white shoe polish with slogans such as "Eat our bubbles!" and "We're #1!", folllowed with the names of every hopeful child riding in their car. Streamers would be tied to the rearview mirrors, and sometimes country club flags were flying out the windows. Then we would drive to wherever the meet was being held, honking the whole way and making as much noise as possible. I can't speak for my teammates, but I know that I felt like the center of the world.... And if you know me then you probably know that I like that feeling.

All of this honking and nonsense happens here in Moldova too, although instead of a parade of cars honking to announce the fact that they're en route to a meet the kiddos have been anxiously awaiting all summer, Moldovans are honking to announce a wedding, which is what the young women have been waiting for all of their lives.

While I felt like the focus of everyone we drove past, I now realize I probably wasn't, and here people are even more immune to it since there are multiple weddings every weekend. Regardless, it's still fun... Even if it may be obnoxious to everyone else.

... It's the little things in life (like my step mom teaching us to can applesauce, and my aunt teaching us to make homemade noodles... Even though I'm pretty sure I lost interest quickly and went to go play with the latest new toy I had at the time).

18 November 2010


Somehow this day just seemed to go on forever- thus making the week seem even longer. That doesn't really make sense, though, considering today was only my second day in the classroom, and it is also my Friday since I will be off to Balti again tomorrow (Monday I took two of my students to write an English composition, Wednesday one had a group and individual interview, and tomorrow the other one has her interviews). What I find most ironic about my trips with my students to Balti for the FLEX exams/interviews is how many students go unsupervised. Where I went to school (in Suburban Kansas), I feel as though any sort of educational activity- if sponsored by a teacher- was always supervised. In Moldova it seems that the children are so accustomed to traveling alone to run errands for their hard-working parents, so it is almost foreign to them that I, the encouraging teacher, wants to accompany the children because I would feel a personal responsibility if something were to happen to them while they were not attending their classes.
On Monday the girls and I had to take the 5:30am rutiera because they couldn't be late for a 10pm meeting time- and the 8am rutiera would get us to Balti right at 10, which therefore would have made us late. I left the house when it was still a cold, dark, starry night, and I arrived back (around 6pm) in the same situation. While I was ridiculously tired, I will admit that it was beautiful to watch the sun come up on the foggy morning (even though we were in the rutiera so unfortunately I couldn't take a picture). When I arrived back in Varatic, my host mom was at the stop waiting for me and wondered why I hadn't arrived earlier... because many rutieras had gone by and I wasn't on them and she was worried I was stuck in Balti.
Thankfully on Wednesday I got to sleep in a bit- because I needed to catch the 8:30am rutiera. However, I mistakenly told my host family I needed the 8am rutiera, not the 8:30. So at 7:30 I was still in my PJ's and had just sat down for my breakfast and coffee when my host mom came into the house and said the rutiera had just passed by, was going to go to the neighboring village, and turn around and be back here soon. This confused me because it was so early... but I assumed it was going to take some time in the neighboring village before coming back. I finished my breakfast and coffee and then went back to my house to get dressed and gather my things. Next thing I knew, my host mom was in my house, breathing heavy, telling me to leave my coffee behind because she had stopped the rutiera for me. It was 7:50. I was so confused. I ran to the rutiera, got on it, then tried to find my phone to call my student. By the time I found it we were already out of Varatic. She got on the 8:30, as scheduled, and then we met in Balti.

Today was spent teaching kiddos English (what? really? no way?! lol) and decorating Luminita's classroom with the decorations I spent all weekend making. I'm pretty excited and I can't wait till it's all up- and then I will show you the finished room. It's already looking brighter and educational!

Now it's time for bed... tomorrow I have another 4:50am wakeup call.

15 November 2010

I love...

Things I love about Moldova from the last 2 weeks...

Painting with friends
Sleeping Mickey Mouse (aka Mick)
The simplicity of an outdoor kitchen
Riding in a horse drawn buggy to the piata with my host mom and neighbors on Sunday
Makeshift shelves at the piata

Kids playing in huge tractor tires

Roses that got frozen and have stayed beautiful, even in the cold

Old men that stop me in the street to take their picture as they're enjoying the weather
Introducing technology into the Moldovan classrooms

Skits by Peace Corps friends to remind us how to dress (or not to dress) for the upcoming winter weather

Cooking chicken and noodles like my mom used to do it

Bright colors even with bare trees

A silent representation of Moldovan pride

Umbrellas in ice cream

Being able to celebrate friends' birthday's

The "Moldovan squat" being represented by an American (sharing of cultures!)

Friendly (and silly) artists
Chess in the streets

A woman who claims she never smiles... but thinks I'm funny

40th day funeral

Yesterday I went with NMG to the funeral for her neighbor. If you remember what I wrote the other day, her neighbor didn't die a few days ago: he died 40 days ago... and they are still mourning/celebrating his life (we should take up this tradition!!).

When we were walking over to the house NMG instructed me on what I was supposed to say to the family. I still have no idea what I said, nor if I said it correctly (because everyone smiled when I said it), but I do know it had something to do with God and a word that sounded like ieftin (which means cheap... as in not expensive) but it really wasn't that.

We waited around for a few minutes as family members were bringing food into another room. They let me sneak in to snap a few pictures:

Then everyone else came in following the Priest. He is a wonderful man, and said, "Hello, Cate" (in English) when he saw me. (Side note: he has 4 children, all of which study English with Maria, and they are absolutely adorable. End side note). Everyone then filtered in the small room around the table. He lit two candles that were in the traditional bread, and then asked how my understanding is of Romanian. My host mom said pretty good- and then he started to speak in Russian, asking if that is easier for me. Um, not so much. He quickly switched back over and then she said if he speaks slow and clear I'll understand. I was expecting a speech/sermon of sorts. Instead, he sang a beautiful song in harmony with a woman (possibly a family member? Possibly his wife? I'm not positive).

As he was singing he was moving this ball of incense on a chain back and forth every once in while. Sometimes it would go out, then he'd stick his fingers in the ashes and it would begin to smoke and spread the scent again (it was like magic). He then read the names of the family members that were written in a notebook (Moldovans have such beautiful penmanship!):

After about 10 minutes of this he stuck a dried bunch of some sort of a plant in a bowl of water and would say something, then spray all corners of the room with it, as if he was splatter painting. When he finished this he left the room along with some of the guests- then came back with a bag of cookies, candies, and an orange for me.

Then we all sat down to eat and enjoy the feast. All of the food that was on the table when I took the first picture was just the beginning- the family then brought out that same amount in other things like sarmale, meatballs with sauce, and cake.

What I found the most interesting about this was the family didn't sit down to eat with the guests- except for the wife of the man who had died. They were constantly working... the women were in the kitchen and brining out food, and the men were filling up the shot glasses with vodka- while never sitting down.

All of a sudden it was over. Everyone was getting up and leaving, taking the traditional bread, a candle, and some candy with them. As we walked outside, another round of guests had arrived and were going to eat the food. I don't think the Priest was going to perform another ritual, but everyone was going to eat.