30 June 2011

Finally: sun

Oh I can't even begin to tell you how thankful I was for the sun to come out this afternoon. I woke up at 10am (still adjusting?) and was then told I had to be ready at 10:30am to leave for the funeral of 20-year old Victor who had died in the accident. Quickly I got ready (still in dire need of a shower), ate a quick breakfast, and headed to Victor's family's house with Luminita. When we arrived there were probably already over 100 people, and by the time they brought his body out of the house, I can only assume there were close to 400 (but I am really bad at guessing numbers of people). People just kept coming and coming... it was amazing. Then as they brought him out of the house everyone started sobbing just as the trumpet/trombone/accordion band started playing music. From what I understood, they do this for boys who are not married... kind of like it is their wedding day. Once the sobbing began, I knew I wasn't going to be able to handle it for the next 15 or 20 minutes as they walked to the church so I took the back road and waited. After the ceremony in the church I again realized I couldn't handle any more of the sadness (the weather was still gloomy) so I made my way home. While coming home the sun came out so I changed into some jeans, grabbed my Kindle to start a new book (I finished the other one last night when I was unable to sleep) and headed to the river to feel the warm sun on my face and read. In fact I even think I took a little nap, falling asleep to the sound of the bees in the flowers.

While I still think cutting my trip short and coming home because of the accident was the right decision, I realize now that I didn't quite think everything through all the way. There have been record deaths in this village since the start of the year and I've seen what happens when someone dies, especially someone young (50's). I didn't quite think about what would happen to the village with the death of 3 people... 2 of which were very young. I can't really describe it other than to say the village shuts down. It is all anyone can talk about and everyone is crying all of the time. It really breaks my heart to watch this but goodness, my heart is already weak. This is when I miss being in a bigger city... you can run and hide if you want to and no one knows you're gone.

29 June 2011

Playing catch up + Bob Marley?

The 14 posts that are after this one (meaning I already posted them) are in backwards order of how a blog usually works, but it's for one simple reason: I didn't suspect you wanted to read 8 pages of my Estonia+1 day in Italy trip all at once... so I broke it up for you, but I also didn't want it out of sequence so I wrote it all out during my 2 hour bus ride and then copy+paste'd it from the bottom up. Have fun! I should hopefully finish editing the wedding photos from KC tomorrow and then I'll move to Estonia and then get those posted. Ideally that will all happen tomorrow, which is quite possible due to the crappy weather we are having... which leads me to my next point.

My mood.

As you read through and get to this post, you will see the start of why I may possibly be in a bad mood. Plus, I was just notified we lost another one from the accident (my 9th grade student). I am also reading a book at the moment that I can't put down (except for now because I have my Kindle and it's now dark outside - I miss Estonia - and I didn't listen to my dad when he suggested the case with the light so I can't read right now) about Russia during WWII and HOLY COW it's intense and depressing, the weather is cold and crappy outside, only depressing songs were playing on my iTunes as I was editing wedding photos (which you'd think would make me happy, but it didn't) and no one is answering their phones right now to chat but I don't blame them... I'm not really in the mood either. So, with that being said, I had a bit of a hiatus from all of the above when I went to eat a rather perfect meal with my host family (fried zucchini with a garlic sauce and some goat cheese which was perfect after a rather late double-lunch due to my rather late 11am wake up so late breakfast). When I came back to my room I was notified of the 3rd death and just felt like doing nothing else after that. However, I'd received a text from one of my students notifying me that my internet should be working now which was a sigh of relief- and distraction. So I opened up my computer and started posting the 9 1/2 pages worth of text, and in doing so, I also opened up iTunes, hoping for something better.

The first song that played was "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" by Bob Marley. Perhaps my Mom was trying to do her part to help me out. After all, all her friends and family seemed to talk about when I was back home was her "Bahama Mama" parties. I guess now that I'm an adult (scary thought) I'm old enough to hear about the wild side of my Mom (awesome thought).

So, as a reminder to those of you who may also be suffering because of this crappy weather in Moldova: Don't worry about a thing. 'Cuz every little thing's... gonna be alright. This is my message to you-ou-ou."

First stop: Tallinn

Going to Estonia was a breath of fresh air: literally. I’ve come to realize that the company you are traveling with really can make or break and experience. The trip to Estonia was kind of a last minute “what the heck” decision… and totally worth it. You see, my friend Diana from Montreal (who I met when studying abroad in France and who also traveled with me in Florida and San Francisco) said she was going to be in Estonia and told me I should join her. Well, I didn’t really see the logistics of that since the dates she was going to be there overlapped with my trip in Kansas, so I said it just wasn’t going to work out. Well, then I was talking to my friend Chris (who is from Estonia and who I met when staying in Dublin while studying abroad) and I told him before I left Moldova I wanted to make it a point to come to Estonia. Well, as it turned out he was going to be arriving the day after Diana was supposed to leave with 3 of our other friends I’d met when I met him… from France and Italy. So with a little bit of convincing (it really wasn’t difficult) I got Diana and her brother to extend their trip in Estonia a couple of days so we could all hang out together. So, that is how it all worked out. One American, one Estonian, one Italian, two Canadians, and two French with one common language: English. Awesome.

I was the last to arrive in Tallinn, making it trip 3 for Chris to the airport in one day. We went to the pub to meet up with the rest of the group who had apparently just finished a HUGE dinner and were now wrapping up the evening with some drinks (sounds like a great time, if you ask me). However, I was a little behind and had some catching up to do, so I was thankful for the 2-for-1 mixed drink specials for the ladies. After some time there we made our way to a club that charged 1.30 euros for a glass of water- yes, you read that correctly. They CHARGED for WATER. In a GLASS. I couldn’t believe it, but I guess it could be worse, eh? (Oh no, the Canadians totally rubbed off on me). When we finally wore down and decided to head back to the apartment it was 3:30am. We went outside and get this- it was STILL light outside. If it wasn’t for all of us having phones that said 3:30am, I totally would have thought Armageddon had come and changed all of our clocks or something because it felt and looked like 6am… but of course it was much better that it wasn’t so we could still have an early start. Wait, a what?

At around 4:30 we finally hit the sack after indulging in everything that had been purchased for breakfast (a big meal only stays with you for so long). Next thing we knew, we got a wake up call from Chris (who had stayed elsewhere because there wasn’t room in the apartment) at 10am saying we needed to get our International booties moving because we had a tour at 11am of an underground city, and when he called and said he would be late they got mad and said, “that’s what reservations are for!!”… so we arrived just in time to catch the tail end of the rather silly (but probably quite informative) film about the history of the underground city.

Underground city

Because we missed the introductory video and the tour guide had just memorized the lines she was supposed to say (without putting emotions behind them), I didn’t get much more information about the history later on. But what I could figure out was in the 15th or 16th century these walls had been built around Tallinn, and tunnels underneath them, probably to hide and escape during battle. Then they were re-discovered in the 1800’s I believe, and again in the early 1900 s, and again in 1995 (why they kept getting discovered and re-discovered I’m not so sure, especially because they never went anywhere). So even though the tour was rather silly and corny (going back in the past, and then forward in the future to watch a video of what Tallinn might look like in 2219 by adding futuristic designs to the current buildings), it was really interesting to see the different ways that the tunnels were used: as a bomb shelter during the war, and even for homeless in the 1980’s and 90’s… and there were toilets that everyone gasped at and couldn’t believe they were used, but they looked surprisingly similar to the toilets at my school…

After this tour we headed to a pub to grab a bite to eat, which ended up being the type of place we always went to eat when we weren’t grilling meat (that will come later). The portions were once again huge, and Matteo ordered some lamb and got this HUGE leg of lamb… it was awesome. Believe it or not, he finished all of it. Must have been hungry!

Prison break

So to stick with tradition we were late to our neXt organized tour: a tour of a prison. I must say that this was possibly one of the coolest things I have ever seen, and I’m glad that I did because it is currently up for sale and will probably begin the process to be turned into a fancy schmancy hotel in the next 5 years. What made it so great was that it hadn’t been touched at all- in fact, some of the mattresses from the prisoners were still on the beds (ok, they were put there a couple of years ago because it was used to film a movie, but they were the actual mattresses from the storage area so it counts for something!).. There was still furniture there, and nothing had been repainted (except for the death row area in order to cover up the blood stains, although there weren’t many because… well, it’s too gruesome to explain). We saw the hanging room, and were taken to a holding room. When we were taken there, the guide (who was really awesome) had just finished telling us about the only ghost he has seen in the building (which actually came at an interesting time because just before he started talking about that I was going to ask him if the place is supposedly haunted). So when we went into the room, he slammed the huge metal door behind us and I think the other 3 girls and I just about wet our pants as we were screaming (it was REALLY loud). Once he finally opened the door back up (I guess he got a phone call or something just as he closed it), we were ready to move on. But he wasn’t! He showed us this pitchfork looking thing that seemed to be missing the center fork and said that was how they got the prisoners under control if they were acting out in the 1 ½-6 hours they were stuck in there, if not overnight. He asked for a volunteer and targeted Canadian Diana. He had her put her hands against the wall (it was very dirty she said and the paint stuck to her hands) and then he put the broken pitchfork around her to keep her in place. She then asked for another volunteer, and Canadian Nicholas was chosen. He then had to pat her down. After it was all over the guy said, “you missed your chance!” and then we responded (almost in unison), “he’s her brother!”. Haha. Maybe you had to be there.

The history of the prison goes pretty far back and even closer to the present. The last prisoner was taken out in 1995. It was primarily used as a transition spot, often having up to 1500 prisoners, which is well over the 700 person capacity. Some of the prisoners just committed petty crimes, others were political crimes, and others on death row. If they were on death row they got their own special room which honestly still smelled bad. Then when it was their time to go, they could either be hanged (we went to that room just to “hang out”, injected with poison, or shot. Eek.

It was all pretty intense being there, and it was amazing that prisoners still had to go through that. What was fascinating to me, though, was that my friends kept saying, “I can’t believe people were put through this in such bad conditions” but to me, it wasn’t really anything new because a lot of places in Moldova are still like this- the corruption and lack of money has kept it form moving forward.

In fact, I think that was the most fascinating part for me about Estonia… the fact that that is where Moldova could have been if they had been able to move forward instead of staying where they were a(or falling back) after they became independent. I could still see so much of Moldova within Estonia because it is also an ex-Soviet country that also became independent in 1991. There was similar architecture in the cities, and similar stories from the Estonians about what life used to be like. But the difference is where it is today. I cannot even being to explain how clean the country was. There were trash bins everywhere and you never even saw a cigarette butt in the street (but it was also pretty rare to see people smoking in general). The buildings had been restructured and taken care of, and people had moved forward. Ah, Estonia was so beautiful. Which takes me to the countryside…

Estonian country house

After a full day in the city, it was time to head to Chris’s country house for the solstice celebrations. The drive was about an hour and a half from Tallinn, but it wasn’t really that bad (ok, truth bomb: I slept most of it). Once we got to the actual country side (which included TONS of trees!!!), there were no longer signs pointing us in the right direction: you just had to know the streets (or the landmarks) in order to get where you wanted to go. Supposedly most Estonians have country houses and most have been passed on through the generations. In fact, their house comes from Chris’s grandmother. The area near them used to be blockaded during Soviet times as a training center for soldiers but also where the wealthy politicians and military leaders could go and escape because it was near the seaside. There used to be a blockade of guards that they had to go through in order to get to their summer house, which he said was always a hassle but obviously worth it in the end…. And as soon as we arrived at the house (where he’d spent ALL of his summers as a kid), I knew why. There were 3 houses on the property that, once his grandma died, had been passed on to his father and his father’s two siblings. They house they were in used to be a barn and his father (who is an incredibly craftsman) had reconstructed it to be a house… and a beautiful one at that. There was no running water (the water was collected from the stream), and the outhouse was like doing your business in luxury in comparison to what I use in Moldova--- which really isn’t bad at all. But, listen. This place had a Styrofoam seat, a rug, and a light. To me it was awesome and I didn’t notice the smell, but I guess I was out of my rocker because others disagreed. Guess they won’t be coming to visit me here! Lol. But they also had a sauna that we went to the traditional way (only males then only females… in our birthday suits). It was after the sauna that we also took advantage of a bucket bath which, even though other PCV’s have had to use one, I’ve been lucky enough to have a host family that has a shower- and I am very thankful for that… because the bucket bath wasn’t so fun. I mean, it was part of the experience so that was great and all, but if I did that every day I would totally have short hair because it is very difficult to get all of the soap out of it! Anyways… moving on. So I forgot to mention the mosquitos… which is totally crazy because they are a very crucial part to the vacation because they were pretty much part of the vacation. The second we got out of the van once we’d arrived, the mosquitos were EVERYWHERE. I’d never seen so many together in my entire life! There was no wind and it was cool so they just stuck around. We instantly covered ourselves in bug spray which helped but there were some little suckers (haha no pun intended) that decided to push their way past the smell and bite us. The weird thing, though, was that the bites itched like crazy as soon as they were noticed, but after that they didn’t itch, and unless you were Seb, the bumps didn’t stick around either. After the grand tour and the loading up of bug spray, was time for dinner. Chris’s mom had made her famous potato salad, there was a cheese spread, and tons and tons of meat (supposedly 600 tons of meat had been purchased and theoretically consumed over that holiday weekend). The meat became our nightly dinner, which totally made it worth the almost 7 pounds I gained on this trip.

Summer Solstice celebrations

After dinner it was time to grab our drinks and head to the fisherman’s village about a 30 minute walk form the house to celebrate the longest day of the year. It wasn’t as cool as the lighting of the fires in Austria that I went to a few years ago, but it was still a lot of fun. We all stood around the fire, music was playing, and there was an oversized swing we got to play on (once we kindly asked the kids to let us on). I tried to record Chris’s niece saying the time every so often to see the timeline of the “setting” sun, but around midnight she decided she’d had enough and it was time to go home… so that stopped. I believe it was 1:30 when it hit the darkest it was going to get, so we stuck around a little bit longer and then started our walk back to the house. Instead of cutting through the forest like we’d done on our way there, we went along the beach. It took probably about an hour but the view was beautiful and there weren’t too many mosquitos. We could see the sun coming back up and the moon at the same time (which I guess you can always see, but at 2am, it’s not expected). Once we were all back, it was time to crash- and crash we did- until 11am (which was the schedule for the rest of the vacation).

Canadian goodbyes and Country Manors

Once we got all ready to go it was time to take the Canadians to the airport so they could finish the last leg of their trip – Paris- before heading back to Canada (after almost 6 weeks of traveling). We loaded all of their stuff up and then headed to the airport to say our goodbyes. Of course it was difficult but knowing my past with Diana, I know we’ll be meeting up somewhere crazy and unexpected soon.

Once we they headed through the rather quick and easy security we headed to the car to begin an afternoon visiting different manors in the countryside. They used to be privately owned but are now open to visitors. Most of them are free of cost to walk around the grounds (you must pay to go into the house or the museum) but of course the first one we went to was one of the few that recently decided to charge to enter the grounds (which apparently has caused quite a stir from other Estonians).

No worries though, there were plenty more to see (we chose two).

When we got to the 3rd manor we met up with Chris’s brother, sister in law, and niece and nephew. From there we headed to the beach to take it all in one last time before the rain came and we had to leave.

Castles, waterfalls, Russian villages in Estonia, and... Russia?

The next day it was a late started but we got started eventually anyways. We went and toured a castle, a waterfall that wasn’t very big at the moment (and also had a broken bridge), a Russian village, and the border of Russia. I think my favorite part of that day was the Russian city because it really reminded me of Moldova. The thing with this city tis that it was a military city during Soviet times, and it was actually blockaded too (like the country house). Except no one really knew about it… and didn’t seem to care sicne they couldn’t get in. Because it wasn’t far from Russia, they only spoke Russian there. So when Estonia became independent, the blockade was taken down but the city didn’t change. In fact, most of the people there don’t know how to speak or understand Estonian and they don’t seem to really care to learn it… because they don’t have to. We didn’t spend much time there, but we did stop at a restaurant (the directions were drawn on a cardboard piece) and had some traditional Pelemiid (my favorite Moldovan dish), and meat kebabs. Because there was only 1 cook, we all ordered the same thing to make things easier.

After lunch we headed to the Russian border. Chris spent some time in the military in the 90’s when things were still corrupt, and said he spent some time living in this city. He also told stories of when he’d go out with his other police friends when they had their time off and they dressed in their uniforms and would pull people over and bribe them for money. Eventually, though, the police force figured out everyone was doing this and they cracked down on it and got it stopped. So we got to see Russia. It was just on the other side of the river, and felt so weird because there we were: in Europe… which is completely different than Russia. We could see it. We could even through a rock into it (if we had a good arm) but we couldn’t go to it. A man asked me to take his picture and he was speaking in Russian, but I got the jist of what he was saying when he said something and pointed to himself and his camera and the castle on the Russian side (there was one in Estonia and one in Russia- right across the river). Then he said something else and I didn’t get it, so I responded in the first foreign language that came to my mind, which was Romanian. Well that started up a broken conversation because he actually knew a little Romanian from working in Moscow with all of the Moldovans. His had family from Turkey and Bulgaria, but grew up in Moscow and now works in Estonia. Pretty crazy story, but it was actually nice to be speaking Romanian again.

Animal calls

That next night consisted of more meat, more alcohol, and more awesome conversations. We went to the neighbor’s house and spoke with him and his family under the roof of the summer kitchen they had built which kept us out of the rain and surprisingly away from many mosquitos. The best topic of conversation we had was animal sounds, and national anthems. We went around the table saying the different sounds that animals make in our languages (we even had a guy from Finland there)… and you wouldn’t believe the different sounds for animals! I mean, sure, people have different languages so that makes sense… but how can a rooster in America say “cockadoodledoo” and in France say “cocorico”? And a dog is “woof woof” “hram hram” “ack ack” and more… so picture grown adults making animals sounds of children… so funny!

Unfortunately the trip was winding to an end and we had an early morning so we could tour the old city before taking everyone to the airport (Matteo and I stuck around because we had our flight to Milan the next day) so we went to bed early (um, 2am). The next morning we spent a couple of hours walking around the city where we saw a bazillion gazillion tourists (because all of the locals were still in the country for the holiday), the oldest working pharmacy in Europe, and beautiful views. Then headed to the airport to say our difficult goodbyes (why is goodbye always difficult??).

Ruins of a convent

Matteo and I then took the van and went to the harbor, where we had lunch before touring the ruins of a convent, sat at the beach for a moment, and then headed back to the apartment to relax after a long (and full!) few days.

Bad news in the village


There was no Internet or cell service in the country so I needed to hop online to check my couch status from couchsurfing to see if I had a place for Milan yet. Of course I logged into facebook too (although I will definitely be slowing that down as I realized life is super awesome without it) and I’d received a message from my partner teacher informing me there had been a very terrible accident in my village. The father or one of my students (and friends) was killed, and one of my 9th grade boys was in critical condition and not expected to make it. There was another guy (20 years old) who is the brother of another student who also wasn’t expected to make it, and 1 more injured but not life-threatening. So I immediately felt I needed to cut my trip short and be back with my friend and my village. Unfortunately a flight out the next morning would cost 900 euros, so I had to calm down and think rationally about the next best option. Since I already had my ticket to Milan and I was going to miss the funeral regardless, I booked a ticket back to Chisinau for Tuesday morning, which gave me a full day in the city to see it. I have since found out that the 20 year old died this morning, but the student is hanging on, although still in a coma (and still not looking good). Oh the power of a seatbelt… I seriously feel naked now not wearing one but the unfortunate thing is I don’t have a choice of wearing one because it doesn’t exist.

The President's House and and open air market


My flight was booked, and that still gave me a full day in Tallinn before heading to Milan, and then Chisinau. Matteo was sick so I toured the city with Kristiina (Chris’s sister in law), her husband, and their two kiddos. We went to the President’s house which surprised me he actually lived there because you could literally walk up to the base of the front porch before the guards shooed you away. But Kristiina made a good point: the country is small. There are only 1 million people, and it’s not a huge tourist destination, so I guess it’s safer. Plus, they’re not a threat to anyone, so that helps. Then we went to an organic café (the only one in the city) where we saw an Estonian singer, an Estonian model, and 2 TV hosts. I guess it was a popular hangout spot.. but also with the country being so small, she said you see famous Estonians all the time.

Then we went to the open air market which was so clean and organized I felt like I was at a tourist destination- but it was where the locals all go. We had a marzipan cake and then headed to the apartment for fresh strawberries and cherries (and for me to print my boarding pass in order to avoid a 40 euro charge to print it at the airport). Once we returned to Chris’s parent’s apartment and got some chicken soup (just like my host mom makes it!) it was time to head to the airport for our 9:40pm flight.

The President's House and and open air market


My flight was booked, and that still gave me a full day in Tallinn before heading to Milan, and then Chisinau. Matteo was sick so I toured the city with Kristiina (Chris’s sister in law), her husband, and their two kiddos. We went to the President’s house which surprised me he actually lived there because you could literally walk up to the base of the front porch before the guards shooed you away. But Kristiina made a good point: the country is small. There are only 1 million people, and it’s not a huge tourist destination, so I guess it’s safer. Plus, they’re not a threat to anyone, so that helps. Then we went to an organic café (the only one in the city) where we saw an Estonian singer, an Estonian model, and 2 TV hosts. I guess it was a popular hangout spot.. but also with the country being so small, she said you see famous Estonians all the time.

Then we went to the open air market which was so clean and organized I felt like I was at a tourist destination- but it was where the locals all go. We had a marzipan cake and then headed to the apartment for fresh strawberries and cherries (and for me to print my boarding pass in order to avoid a 40 euro charge to print it at the airport). Once we returned to Chris’s parent’s apartment and got some chicken soup (just like my host mom makes it!) it was time to head to the airport for our 9:40pm flight.

Seasoned traveler? Apparently not.

But, you see, there were a few complications with this trip. First of all, there are baggage restrictions for carry-on bags. Now, I know there are always baggage restrictions but they aren’t strictly enforced.. at least not for carry-ons. My bag couldn’t be larger than 10 kilos, and I only got one (and a laptop bag counts as an additional carry-on, as does a purse, and as does a camera). So at that rate I had 4 bags- unacceptable. So everything had to fit in my carry-on AND be under 10 kilos, which just wasn’t going to happen. Luckily Matteo was a light packer so I was able to fit lots of stuff in his bag and we were ready to go. So I thought.

When we arrived at the airport, because I am not an EU citizen and even though I’d already printed my boarding pass, I still had to go to the counter and check in. when I gave her my printed boarding pass she looked at me like I was crazy. I guess I didn’t that s print it correctly, but what confused me was that the barcode was still there as was the information, but apparently that wasn’t good enough. Luckily she was only kind of cranky and complained and snapped but still printed me a new boarding pass. So I was good to go now, right? Wrong.

We went through security and of course they stopped me for my bag. She pulled out my glasses cleaner and hand sanitizer and empty water bottle (er, bag) and told me I needed to go back out through security and pay 1 euro for a plastic bag. I understand the security precautions and all, but that seemed to be rather unnecessary. I mean, she already pulled them out and saw what they were. But oh well, I wasn’t going to complain too much and just went to do what I was told. But the patter downer lady wouldn’t let me through. Instead she pointed to the computer person and they just gave me a bag. All that drama for nothing .So whew- last stop: board the plane. Not so much.

Matteo suggested getting water because it’s RyanAir and you have to pay for that (and the bathroom). We went into the duty free store and found what we were looking for. It was easier just for one person to pay so I took his and he paid me back. Before she let me pay she said she needed to see my passport and boarding pass. Then the guy behind me said, “I’m Italian. Do you need mine?” She then responded no. I’m not sure the reason behind this… but it just seemed unnecessary (could be that I was already on edge as it was). Ok, so surely that would be the last thing. Nope.

We got to our gate just as it was supposed to open so we could board. Well, it took an additional 45 minutes to get us boarded. What we had to do (once they opened the gate) was give them our ticket (after they’d already come through to everyone and torn them?) and then go down a flight of stairs to take a bus to our plane (oh, low-cost airlines). As I went past the guy and he scanned my ticket, we walked down the stairs. As we were halfway there Matteo caught my attention and told me to turn around (I guess it’d blocked out all sounds, including someone hollering at me in Estonian to come back). I guess they’d originally taken the incorrect part of the ticket and had to give me back the right one. Thankfully that was the last issue in the travels from Estonia to Italy- and I am thankful I didn’t check a bag after all or who knows if I would have had it in time to leave Italy.

Italy for a day

Because our flight got in so late, Matteo offered for me to stay with his family and stay with his sister in her room. I was very thankful for that, especially because I hadn’t heard back from any couchsurfers for the first couple of days of my original dates for the trip. By 3am we were finally asleep (they lived an hour outside of Milan, which was an additional 20 minutes from the airport). When I woke up I thought it was 6am but, nope, 11, Estonia got me all messed up! But it was OK because Lara had just woken up too.

After a light breakfast and then a little lounging, and a homemade pasta lunch, we were off for a late afternoon and evening of exploring the city.. err … countryside (never actually made it to the city, but that is totally OK because I prefer the cultural experience instead of the tourist traps anyways). We started by heading to her friend’s aunt’s house to meet up with two of her friends before heading our for more exploration. On the way we stopped at a ceramic shop where an old man was so friendly and eager to tell his story of being born in the South of Italy and going to school for ceramics, and now he doesn’t do the painting but the forming of it. And he has family in America that immigrated over there in the 80’s, and he was very proud of that. We also stopped at the grocery store so I could pick up some pasta for my host mom and some wine for dinner. You know, it’s really fun to go into grocery stores in different countries to see the differences. You’d think they’d all be the same or at least pretty similar, but they’re not. In Estonia there was a HUGE meat and potato section, and in Italy it was the pasta. I wonder what it is in America? Once I’d bought everything we needed and met up with Lara’s friends (who were shy about their English but were actually pretty good and really funny), we headed to Kerry’s village of 150 people. She told me the legend of knight who was beheaded and his head fell into the river in her village which thus turned it red (although she studied geology very thoroughly and says it’s actually just the “rubification” of the rocks and the red algae… but the story is more fun, especially for a town that small. Then we went up to a pink rock that had an incredible view of both the village and the valley in which the village sits. That is something that is so cool about being in Italy- there are a bunch of small villages that put together looks like one big village, but that’s just not the case. And as you go from one “big” village to another, the structure and the architecture actually changes a lot of the time. So on this rock we sat and talked about “dead” musicians (Like Jimmy Hendrix and Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley) and how they aren’t really dead, but instead on the seashore. Apparently they became so famous and tired of being famous that they decided to go there and change their identity… and apparently it worked because everyone thinks they’re dead. And with that comment, Kerry “cracked herself up” (which it Italian translate “I die” but the sense is “cracking oneself up”).

So after some touring around the small villages, it was time to hit the capital of their Provence- Varese. What I liked so much about this city was that it had the vibe of a big city life- but it wasn’t swamped with tourism… which is exactly what I love to find when traveling. Even though I didn’t make it to Milan, I realized that I didn’t have to. We still saw an old church, small side streets, expensive stores, and had tasty gelato. And the best part? No tourists.

As we wrapped the night up and headed home for some homemade pumpkin gnocchi, I thanked Lara for showing me around. Her response was great, and so true: Sometimes you forget the beautify of where you live until you show someone around who has never been there before.

She’s so right.

Secret Stories

Now here I am back in Varatic. The weather is overcast, the air is wet and cool (too cool for this time of year), and the village is mourning the loss of two people from the village. Two boys who were supposed to enter the 10th grade next year are still fighting for their lives but barely hanging on at this point. The accident happened around 9pm Friday in a nearby village. Neither drivers were drinking, and both were just going about their own business. Irina’s family has a store they run out of their house, so he was coming back from Balti with some things for the store, and Victor had picked up the two younger boys en route to Zaicani since they were all going there for the graduation ceremony. No one exactly knows what happened but it probably had to do with the fact that it was night, the roads are really bad, Victor’s speed was too fast (but that is not uncommon in Moldova, as people just FLY through the villages), there was a hill, and no one was wearing seatbelts. All four people had their necks broken instantly, and if the two remaining boys do survive, they won’t be in a good shape. It is so sad to see the village mourning the losses. Everyone is quiet (I think it also has to do with the weather), and that is all anyone is talking about. I just wish the sun would come out to brighten up some spirits but I think many people are looking at it as the weather is mourning with the villagers (which, you know, is quite interesting because when my mom died it was raining).

With all of this talk of the accident, so many “hidden” stories are coming out about the parents of the kids that have died or are still in comas. Of course no one knows if anything is true or not but it just kind of breaks my heart to hear the negative things that are being said. Some people begin by saying, “Who knows if this is true but….”, and then continue by saying, “well, this person got it from this person who got it from this person who is a relative of this person so it must be true.” Oh boy. However, an interesting story did come out about Irina’s dad that I feel is OK to share because she discussed it in class when they were learning about fortune telling. Apparently quite a few years back her mom went to see a fortune teller and this woman told her mom that her dad was going to die in an accident when he was 49. So his 49th year came and gone and nothing happened. Well, he was 51 at the time of his death… the fortune teller wasn’t that far off.

21 June 2011

Weather check

When traveling, it is best to check the forecast for where you are going, even if it isn't very far. I am leaving for Estonia and I packed my bag with skirts, summer dresses, and tank tops. I decided to leave the windproof zip up jacket and jeans at home because I assumed the weather was like it is here in Moldova... not too hot, humid, and pretty comfortable. After I was already out of my village and unable to go back and get those things I might need, I decided to check the weather. This is what I saw:
Needless to say, I just might have to go shopping in Tallinn and grab a couple more layers. Good thing there is room in my bag and that it will be hot in Italy.

17 June 2011


The hardest part about being back in America from Moldova is getting back into the groove of the whole language thing. Before I left I felt like I spoke English most of the day, which is probably true, but not as true as I thought. I remember the first few weeks here I had excrusiating headaches because of all of the Romanian I was soaking in and trying to translate in my head, but eventually it basically became second nature (even though I didn't really realize this). Now that I'm back and had a 2 week freeze of not speaking or hearing it at all, the headaches have returned... and full force. Headaches + jetlag = lot of sleep (which I needed).

My host dad and I attempted to visit a 70 year old Romanian teacher (and ex Principal) who had a stroke back in the Spring. Unfortunately when we arrived he wasn't there because he was in Balti getting tests done, but his wife still followed the Moldovan tradition and invited us in for hospitality (aka wine and food). We'd just finished a huge breakfast (err, brunch... oops) prepared by my host mom so we didn't eat the food but did appreciate the wine. She'd been working in Italy the last 7ish years and had a great story to tell about people helping people. She said that at 5am someone (remember... brain = overworked so some of the details are spotty) woke her up to go get a tractor (she lives in a village in the mountains). When she went to someone else's house to go get it she rang the bell and instead of coming to to the door, the wife opened the windows on the 2nd floor and asked her what she needed. When she said she needed the tractor, she said her husband needed to put clothes on and then he'd be right down. Well, I'm not sure exactly what happened next... whether he came down or not... but people were walking by and asking her what she was waiting for, and then a couple of weeks later a woman she didn't know walked by her and asked if the Moldovan woman was the woman that borrowed the tractor (or possibly someone was borrowing it from them). She said yes, and the woman felt so awful because apparently they never paid. And so she said that's just how it is in her village in Italy, everyone helps each other and never forgets... and she wishes it was like that here.

However, I disagree with her. I think it is exactly like that here. It may not be how it used to be "back in the old days" but compared to where I grew up, people here are so helpful. One of the rutiera drivers came to the airport yesterday to help me with my bags and didn't charge me for my journey back to Varatic, and then I had people waiting for me at my bus stop to help me with my bags. Maybe it's just because I'm the American that stands out in the small village in Moldova (like the Moldovan standing out in the Italian village), or maybe it's just because it's not what I'm used to... but I love it. And you know what? I love Moldova. Except in the winter.

14 June 2011

Sleeping in

For the first time since I arrived back in Kansas just about 2 weeks ago I will be going to bed before midnight and waking up whenever I happen to wake up. If that doesn't summarize the craziness of my trip back home, I'm not sure what else can. Expect in the next (hopefully) couple of days to have a complete summary + pictures of what I've been up to lately. Let's just say it's been crazy... and awesome. While going back to Moldova is going to be very bittersweet (um, where did the time go?!?!?!), I know I have many things to look forward to in the next 13 months... and I can't wait.

I have realized since being here that people do read my blog on a rather regular basis and so I GREATLY apologize for being rather MIA lately. Sometimes, though, you have to take life by the horns and just go for it... and that's pretty much what I've been doing lately.

With that being said, it is now time for bed so I can have a full, pro-active day tomorrow.

09 June 2011

Take that back

I take back what I said in that last post. I was emotional, exhausted, and apparently not thinking straight. While I absolutely LOVE Kansas City and can't wait to get back, the truth is that I can wait to get back. All of these amazing opportunities that have presented themselves while I've been here will still be here when I get back... and that is very assuring. At least I now know I don't have to worry about the transition coming home!

06 June 2011


In the last few days that I've been home I've had 4 photo shoots and 2 weddings.... and 13 more photo shoots to go. I am super excited about all of these and let's just say it is really, really, REALLY going to be hard to go back to Moldova. I guess the whole going back part won't be too difficult... but the staying there might be. It's hard coming back home and having all of these amazing opportunities present themselves... and even though every one of these will still be here next year, it's tempting.

Photos and stories will come soon. I promise.... I'm just still a bit overwhelmed at the moment and functioning on very little sleep. But I will leave you with a very funny quote from one of my best friends who got married yesterday. She said, "Why do the best days of your life always have to be centered around the vagina?!" (The best days of your life meaning your wedding night and when you have children)