13 December 2011

Easly finish

Some things I will never get over when it comes to teaching in Moldova are the open lessons and also the "masas" at the end of the open lessons. You see, here's how it works. A few weeks before the assigned day, a teacher is notified that they will be holding an open lessons. What this means is teachers from all over the raion (basically the area... in my case, Riscani) will be coming to observe a lesson. This lesson is supposed to be done how it is done every day, however that's not the case. When photographing teachers (surprisingly) for a project for Teacher's Day, I noticed that when I walked in, most of them were sitting down giving their lessons (I know the feeling... I get tired, too). But when there are 20 teachers coming from around the district to observe, you can guarantee they aren't going to sit down and they are going to do everything according to the books, from writing the objectives and the title of the lesson on the board to using a projector that is borrowed from another school because we don't have one. The teacher plans way ahead for this lesson to make sure it's perfect, and even goes over it with the students so they know what to expect and they are fully prepared, thus making the observers think as though those kids really do their homework every day and participate. Ha. Anyways, it's quite a show because the teachers (and students) get all worked up over it (I don't blame them). At the end of the lesson, the teachers stay and critique it, offering their advice from what they observed which they may or may not have really seen or paid much attention to it because they may or may not have been answering their cell phones during the class or chatting away with their neighbor. Then, once the critique is finished (often taking up the entire next class period which thus disrupts other classes because the teachers that skipped their lesson for the open lesson stay for the critique, thus leaving the kids free once again... to wreck havoc. Well once this is completed everyone goes to have a "masa" (a form of party) to celebrate the end of the open lesson and to thank the guests for coming. The table is filled with all types of food and alcoholic beverages.

Now, this can be a lot of fun, as it was in the case of today. But, see, here's what happened. On Tuesday's I teach the 2nd, 4th, and 6th periods. Because all of the primary teachers were at a seminar, all classes with the primary students were canceled... which was my 4th lesson. Then, just as the students for the 6th lesson arrived, the gym teacher (who was observed today) came to us and said the kids were free to go home because we were invited to the party, and we had to come... he wouldn't take no for an answer. While the masa was nice and I enjoy socializing with the teachers (or, rather, listening to what they are saying), I would have liked to have been home after the 2nd lesson. After all, my host mom and brother killed the pig today and I could have been of much help.

10 December 2011

The war was terrible

This afternoon I walked into the local alimentara (market) just down the street to get some butter and eggs for the spritz cookies that I want to make this afternoon (and I'm still impatiently waiting for the butter to soften!!). There were two old women sitting on a bench and talking, which is a common site here, with their long skirts, "warm" vests, wool socks and rubbers shoes, and scarves over their heads. They looked to be about 70 years old, but that is something that is hard to tell because people age so much faster her. Anyways, we were chatting about their grandkids and how well they learn in school and whatnot, when all of a sudden one of the women said, "they have so many different types of food here now. You can get whatever you want." While I disagree because I could really use an avocado or some spinach right about now, I was curious as to what she meant by that. Lucky for me, she kept talking. Her eyes did that thing, you know, when you are telling a story to someone and slowly you look past them and it's like you're living it all over again. She said that she only studied through the 5th grade because after that the war started and her teachers all fled to Romania and by the time the war was over, she should have been in the 10th grade but was so far behind in her studies (as were all of the kids) that she didn't go back. Then she said it was something terrible. She remembers the hunger- everyone was hungry. The woman sitting next to her, who was 4 at the start of the war, says she remembers the hunger, too. There were people dying in the streets, she said... with no food. They were given some wheat to ground into flour at home which didn't last very long. (As a side note, my host mom told me once that one woman from the village had no choice but to kill her infant because they couldn't feed it and they also needed to eat...). Being as that it is winter now and overcast and slightly raining (yes, raining), I just felt transported to that time, although it is something I really cannot imagine because I have never been close to that in my life, nor is it something I hope to understand in the future. But it just sounded so horrible, and for a child to remember the pain, the sadness, the hunger, etc... it must have really been that bad. Oooouuufff.

09 December 2011

Family photos

When I was 11, my mom died of stomach cancer. It was a short battle, at least from my understanding. We had just moved to a new house and I remember her complaining of back pains and going to the chiropractor and me joking that she might be pregnant (which she didn't seem to like too much, but at that time I didn't really understand where babies came from. Oh my naivety). Anyways, 6 weeks before she died they diagnosed her with stomach cancer and said she didn't have long. When my dad told my sister and me about this, it was the end of September. He said she'll be lucky to make it to Thanksgiving and even luckier to make it to Christmas. However, before this, I remember my mom (or possibly one of my aunts) had bought us dresses and a photographer was supposed to come take pictures of us because we hadn't had pictures taken since we were really little (funny, now I'm a photographer... anyways...). When the time came for the photos, though, Mom had become really weak and so we didn't go through with the photos, which sucks. But it's life.
Well, this summer when I went home I held a "special" for portrait sessions because I wanted to stay busy and make some extra money. A family I babysat for told their friends about my special, one of which was her best friend, who was dying of cancer. At that point she had already long exceeded the time the doctors originally expected her to fight until (go Heidi!!). Being the child of a mother that died young, I cannot tell you how hard it was for me to do the shoot for Heidi and her family because all I kept thinking about were her kids, and how they had no idea what was going on with their mom or what was going to happen (because, after all, I still don't even know that about my mom, and I was 11. They're 2 and 4). Well, Heidi lost her battle to cancer just over a week ago. My heart aches for her best friend, her friends, and her family... and most of all, her kids. I hope I was able to provide them with some images to remember their mom by for many years to come.

Stop and say hello

In college I took two photography classes. One was a film class at my local community college while I was still in high school, and the other was an intro to digital course at my university. The latter was a 3 hour course two days a week and we only discussed each others work twice: once mid semester, and once for the final project. I do not feel like I learned a lot except for how to edit RAW images. In fact, I spent most of the time not in the class because we were always "editing" which I did at home. Anyways, three things stand out to me from that class. The first thing is shooting RAW, but I already said that. The second was the only assignment I remember: Portrait of a Stranger. The third was a visit from Steve McCurry, who I believe has one of the most (if not the most) recognized National Geographic photo of all time, Afghan Girl (you know what I'm talking about, right?). I'll get back to his visit in a minute.

The "portrait of a stranger" assignment was not walking around and snapping pictures of strangers on the street, and my teacher made that very clear. The assignment was to photograph a stranger, but get to know them. Being as I love to photograph people, I really took this assignment seriously. I went to downtown Lawrence, Kansas with my camera in hand on a beautiful spring afternoon and walked around for awhile. The great thing about Lawrence is that it is not difficult to find "interesting" looking people around. It's a rather "hippie" town filled with preppy frat/sorority college students and also homeless people that everyone treats with respect because the respect is given in return. There are usually people sitting and playing instruments and singing every couple of blocks and people sitting outside enjoying an international meal or coffee. You'll see businessmen and hipsters, goths and jocks. It's quite a site. Wow, as happy as I was to leave Lawrence, writing this makes me miss it! Well, finally I saw a man that caught my eye. He was crossing the street pushing his bike and we made eye contact. It was at that moment I took the opportunity to stop him. I don't exactly remember how the conversation started but I think it went along the lines of, "Hi my name is Cate, what's your name?" "Hi Cate, I'm Robb". "Hi Robb. So, I have a photography assignment where I have to take a picture of a stranger but we have to get to know them. Can I talk to you?" Lucky for me, he obliged. We went to a coffee shop where he drank his own coffee from a mason jar and then invited me to go to his house because his passion is wood carving and he said he made most of the things there. I didn't say no although I was nervous but that kept me on guard once I got there, just in case anything were to go in a way I didn't want it to go. Thankfully it didn't, and I got this shot:

Later that spring, while traveling in NYC, I got this one. Obviously the man saw me because he's looking right at me in the photograph, but he looks serious, right? Well, after I took the photo he smiled big and made some joke which I don't remember now... but it was a great conversation starter.

I am thankful we had that project because it taught me that I can still be myself when taking images of people and I can still smile, which is something I love to do.

Then today I came across this video from Steve McCurry, basically saying the same thing:

05 December 2011

Back in the swing of things

It was so nice this weekend when the wife of our country director here in Moldova asked for me to take their family pictures. I was so happy to do so, and it was nice being back in the swing of things! We were lucky to have wonderful weather and it ended up being great that we had to postpone the shoot because otherwise we would have been dealing with rain... (yes... rain. It was almost 60 degrees today and I'd say around 50 the day of the shoot!). Their kids are absolutely adorable and like night and day in personalities. The oldest is talkative, social, and so passionate about animal poaching and animals in general. The littlest one (who was born just before our arrival in Moldova!) is cranky and apparently doesn't warm up well to others, but I was told we were taking the photos during her nap time. Regardless, it was great being back in the swing of things and I got some wonderful "tastes of home" including natural peanut butter, brown sugar, and brownie mix in return!

Their wonderful nanny (who is a GRANDMA?!?!?) joined in on a couple of the photos.

04 December 2011


My dad is a wonderful poker player. It has become a passion of his and so he's put a lot of work into learning it and becoming good at it. But me, well, I'm not so good with numbers. So when it comes to bets I just don't make them because I probably won't win.

Well, today my host dad bet me 1000 USD (in a joking manner, of course) that it was not going to be dark at 4pm like my host mom and I claimed. Well, it's 4:15 and it's not dark yet. The sun is setting, but it's not dark. He wins, and this is why I don't bet.

On a side note, my host brother is home from Russia. Last year he came home for the summer, left, and didn't come back until the next summer, but this time he's home again and I'm kind of excited about it. It's nice to have someone else in the house even if we don't see each other much.