27 January 2012

Taking pictures

Who do I really take pictures for?

When that thought crossed my mind, it was because I was taking photos of things that are not "print worthy". I mean, why was I taking photographs if I didn't hope to see them hanging on a wall someday? Of course I take photos of things because I want people to hang them on their wall to enjoy. However, I also take them for my students. And my family. And my friends. I take photos of things for other people- usually not myself. I take photos because I want to share what I see with people who may never get the chance to see it. It's kind of like the idea of my photojournalism project... I want to photograph schools so kids can see what schools are like in other countries because they'll probably never get the chance to see them (because, who really goes to see schools when they're traveling? If you can think of someone, please do tell me because I'd like to talk to them!). I take pictures of food and people and details for other people. I have been there. I know what the people, the food, doors, sidewalks, etc look like... so why do I photograph them? For others- that's the answer.

This is something I had been wanting to write about but of course I never got around to it (like the post on France. Hey, the photos are done and most of them are on facebook. Check them out if you want). Today I came across this article and it made me glad I haven't written it yet. And here's why. The photographer whom this article is about talks about his "rebirth" in Venice, California. He is one of those lucky and incredibly talented people who got a start at a young age and has had much success in his life with photography. With an overloaded schedule of commercial shoots, he felt like something was missing. Then he thought of a quote by Helmut Newton:

You should be able to walk out your door and find a picture within two or three miles.

Mr. Alston jokingly added, "Of course, he always picked these great places like Monte Carlo, so he could say that.”

Well, I chose Moldova. It is definitely not Monte Carlo or Venice... and I can definitely gind a good picture within two or three miles. But this is beside the point of what I'm wanting to say. Later down in the article he says:

If you can find joy in walking down the street, and you see a leaf, it makes you happy and you photograph it, that’s a beautiful thing.

Mr. Alston is right. Sure, I take photographs of things I wouldn't normally photograph for my personal use because I have other people in mind. In fact, I would venture to guess that 90% of the images I make are for that reason. Photography, though, makes me happy. Using Alston's example, I can take a picture of a leaf when walking down the street. I may never, ever show anyone else that photo or I may never even look at it again. However, for that split second, hearing the "click" of my shutter close made me happy. And that, my friends, is why I take pictures. It makes me happy.

Turn around

Yesterday was one of the worst days I've had at school. Thankfully I had plans to help celebrate the birthday of (now) 12 year-old Iustina (on the right). I could not have asked for a better way to turn a terrible day wonderful.
Once I left school I went straight to Maria's house. Shortly after I arrived, the Priest (Iustina's father) showed up and invited Maria to their house to celebrate the birthday. Once she finished up her tutoring lessons, we walked through the cemetery in the snow together. The Priest and his wife have 4 children but there is always a plethora of kids visiting and even guest animals.

This is their youngest son, Sergiu. In their backyard they have a pen full of pigeons, doves, and birds that I have no idea what kind they are. Left: Maria, Iustina, and me.

After lunch/dinner we went across the street to visit the church. They still had the decorations from Christmas up and they wanted to show me. Behind the Priest is a wall. When I was in Razeni, we had a tour of the church there and I remember them telling us that females are not allowed behind the wall (but they did let us stand at the doorway and peek in) and I didn't understand why. When I asked my Priest this question, at first he just said, "I don't know. That's just how it is" because he did not want to offend me; a foreigner with possibly different beliefs. But then his conscience got the best of him and he had Maria translate for me (although I understood what he was saying). Apparently this "sin" dates back to the 600's. Before then, women were allowed behind this wall and at baptisms. But after this time, they were forbidden. This is because at this time there were a lot of poor people who could not afford undergarments. Women would wear long skirts and dresses, but there would not be anything underneath them, so when they were having their monthly cycle (or if they had just given birth), they were considered "unclean" and "dirty", so it was preferred if they just stayed home and definitely out of the church as to not make a mess. Then, once they were allowed back into the church, they wanted a place just for the men, which is why now, only men are allowed behind this wall. To this day in Moldova (and possibly other places), women are not allowed in a church or at religious ceremonies if they are on their period, even though there are now products to keep it clean.

Maria has a white cat at home, and this is the son of her cat. If you didn't know, it would be very easy to think this is the same cat by not only the physical appearance but the mannerisms, too, and the way in which it responds to Maria.

26 January 2012


I'm not going to say much about these photos because I do believe they speak for themselves.

Just shortly after they were taken, though, shit hit the fan. Then the fan flung the shit everywhere causing a big mess. I have never before physically felt my blood pressure rise, or physically felt it be that high and I hope I never do again. There are some children in this world that do not know how to behave, have no discipline, and have no respect. Until now I never understood why some kids were sent to military schools in the middle of the night without warning. Now I get it. Whether it's the fault of the parent or just how the kid is... some kids need discipline in a military fashion in order to shape the hell up.

I took the advice of my aunt and started sending the kids outside with work to do, and if they didn't do it, I'd give them a low mark. Well, the work and the low marks are still not enough to encourage them to behave. Now it's a game and they even prefer to go outside. So glad they enjoy my lessons (sarcasm). I have come to the realization that children need discipline not just from school but from home, too. Without one or the other, they won't behave. It's been a year and a half here and I'm out of ideas and almost out of patience.

25 January 2012

Sock Bun

I've heard stories of how my mom used to roll her hair around orange juice cans and sleep in order to have big, loose, curls. I'm not sure about you, but that sure doesn't sound like I'd be getting a good night's sleep if I did that. So instead, I'm trying this: sock bun curls. My hair might have been too wet for this, but we'll see in the morning! I may have to experiment a few different ways. Maybe if I do this every night my hair will remember that at one point it used to curl/wave beautifully and therefore it will start to do it again. (Why did I wish to have straight hair??!!)

24 January 2012

Sending the bad ones out

Just over 3 semesters into teaching in Moldova, I am finally giving in to sending the kids into the hall when they are misbehaving or just plain don't give a shit about school, English, or me. Whatever. I'm over it! I'm tired of trying to get them to want to learn: they won't. I'm tired of getting them to like me: they won't. I'm tired of at least trying to get them to sit quietly: they won't. So, I'm giving in.

Besides giving students bad marks due to their behavior in lessons, there are two other punishments I've noticed other teachers in my school doing. The little kids are told to stand up with their arms up above their head. This can last anywhere from 2 minutes to the entire class period, depending on the behavior of the student and the mood of the teacher. The big kids are usually not asked to do this. However, both the big kids and the little kids are sent out into the hall when they are misbehaving. Now, this is something up until this point I have been 100% absolutely against. I do not feel that it is a correct punishment to send students outside because I feel that they cannot learn if they are not in the classroom, and they obviously would prefer not to be there, so it is a form of reward to them to be sent outside... and I don't want to reward their disruptive behavior. Well, with barely over 4 months to go, I just don't care anymore. I'm tired of dealing with their shit. If they don't want to be there, I don't want them there either. At this point I am not going to convince them learning can be fun and English is important and they are lucky to have me (ha)... because if that was going to happen, it would have already happened. They are disruptive to my lessons and distracting to other students. So, I'm sending them out. It may be against what I believe, but I'd rather have a classroom where the kids that want to learn have an environment to learn.

The funny thing is that I started doing this today as I was covering a class for one of my partner teachers. When I told the kids to leave, they didn't want to leave... and actually kind of shaped up a bit. Hopefully this will help to keep the rest of this week flowing smoothly since I will be teaching every class alone in the place of my partner because she has gone to the capital to help her daughter, who just had a baby. Fingers crossed.

23 January 2012


With only 5 more months to go, I've started realizing things I am really going to miss about Moldova. As I am sitting with my back next to the warm soba (one of the things I'm going to miss), I hear Vasile outside. If our gate is open, he walks in yelling, "Antonina! Tonina! Antonina!" looking for something to do or for some flowers. I'm really going to miss him.

19 January 2012

Positive reinforcement

Today as the passing period began between the first and second lesson, I was wrapping up a very educational game of with the 11th form UNO (practicing rule following, patience, colors, numbers, and following directions). I am left alone for the rest of the week teaching one of my partner teacher’s classes because her daughter had a baby and she is in Chisinau with her (as she should be). Yesterday was the first day I was taking over for her and the first lesson I had was with the 6th form and they were absolutely terrible. Absolutely. Terrible. Actually, most of the class was pretty good except for a couple of students that made the lesson practically unbearable. Anyways, this class walked in as I was wrapping up the educational activity with the 11th form. Of course they wanted to spend their lesson doing the same educational activity but after a day like yesterday, there was no way I would allow it. We were having a lesson, and I told them so. When we were about half-way through the lessons they asked (for the first time since I turned them down) if they could play UNO. Because I couldn’t believe how hard they were working and how behaved they were, I agreed, but told them we had to finish our current activity first. I could not believe those students that were in front of me quietly using the dictionaries, doing their work, and participating in the lesson were the same students that started my day off on the wrong foot yesterday. Yelling does not solve anything. Positive reinforcement does help. These kids live on it.

17 January 2012


I just submitted to my first ever grant. This feels great!
I realize this image may not mean a lot to you, but trust me when I say it means a lot to me. I never knew 750 words could be so difficult to write but when writing a grant proposal there is a lot of information to be included in those 750 words so it is important to be as precise as possible and use the best language. Seven drafts later, I am presenting you with the final one. With this I hope you now understand what I will be doing after I finish my Peace Corps service in Moldova. In the next couple of months I will be putting together a video which I hope to post on kickstarter and emphas.is to raise funding, in addition to this grant. But before I post the final draft, I would like to say what I learned while writing this.
  • Grant writing takes time. LOTS AND LOTS of it.
  • It is OK to completely start over from scratch more than once.
  • The way sentences are worded can make a world of a difference both in creating a mood and in word count
  • Ask for more than one opinion
  • The more information included, the better
  • BE CONFIDENT. Don't let the readers think you are unsure of yourself and your project, but let's be honest: if you were, you wouldn't be writing the proposal in the first place, right?
  • It is difficult to write captions for photographs
  • When submitting photographs, make sure to read all of the requirements (pixels and dpi)
  • Make sure to read all of the requirements for the resumé. References might be requested
  • Maybe an online Masters degree in photojournalism and documentary photography isn't such a bad idea after all.
And now for the proposal (while I cannot change the proposal that this current time, if you have any suggestions for a future grant proposal I will accept any positive criticism):

Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we are to reach peace in this world… we shall have to begin with the children.” One shared connection among children around the world is school education. Due to its prominence in so many young lives in the classroom, my project holds great potential to promote the kind of peace Gandhi envisioned. The goal of the project is a cultural exchange between the participating schools around the world through photography and social studies. With the dawning of the Internet Age, the world is becoming smaller every day; therefore, it is increasingly important for children to become familiar and culturally aware of the connected world around them by seeing and learning about the similarities and differences of children just like them in the participating schools. When awarded this grant, I will begin with the children in Bangalore, India then travel to Guatemala and Cameroon, staying with families a minimum of two months to show the complete story of education in the life of children. Each photo essay will be the story of one student from each school. I will then return to the schools to showcase the images and stories to the students in an educational interactive presentation.

The culture of teenagers in schools in places like India, Guatemala, and Cameroon seem vastly different on the outside, but really have many similarities. Because I have had limited opportunity to begin the project while in the Peace Corps, I cannot give a proper comparison of the three locations. However, I will compare my high school in middle-class America with a school in rural Moldova. At sixteen, I received a car for my birthday. I woke up early to skip the morning traffic of teenagers and businessmen in the half-mile between my home and school. We used up-to-date science equipment, Smartboards before anyone knew what they were, and teachers remained after hours to answer questions regarding homework. I practiced sports after school, went to work to make money for the latest fashion or weekends at the cinema, ate McDonalds for dinner and raced home to do my homework and chat online. I could not wait for the freedom that came with college.

When a youth turns sixteen in Moldova, they receive a new coat or a smartphone for their birthday. They use the asphalt patch at school to play football; not park cars. Most parents of sixteen-year-olds do not own a car because they do not need one; everything they need is either found in the village or a short mini-bus ride away. They wake up early to walk forty-five minutes to school, and use science equipment from the Soviet times. When the bell rings at 2 p.m., the school empties in minutes as teachers and students rush home to prepare meals for their families. Children help with chores and then use their smartphones or computers to chat with friends online. Their chief entertainment is the Friday night disco, where socializing and dancing takes precedent. They cannot wait to finish the 12th form to work or study abroad, making money for their families.

This is merely a surface-level exploration of school culture in Moldova, and with the assistance of this grant and crowdfunding websites emphas.is and kickstarter, I will begin to properly document different cultures around the world. The constants of my project are the age of the students and public schools in urbanized environments. I will begin in Bangalore, India, living with a family of a high-school student for a minimum two months because children must grow comfortable with the camera in order for a photographer to properly document the environment of a school. The goal of this project is creating peace through cultural awareness within the classroom. Therefore I will be keeping a photo-heavy blog of my journey that non-English speaking students will be able to follow because the images posted will be enough to tell the story. Upon the project’s completion, I will return to the selected locations, putting the images together in an interactive educational slideshow, telling stories, and holding a discussion with the students comparing school cultures around the world. As this project continues, anyone will be able to follow the blog, thus not only creating cultural awareness in the schools where I intend to photograph, but also around the world.

This is a project about cultures, bringing peace to the world through children of the world, and giving back to the people who help me. It begins with the day of the children.

Giving back

This morning I woke up and pretty much completely re-wrote the proposal for a grant I am working on to fund my post-Peace Corps (PPC) adventures. While I realize you may still be confused as to just what that is if you have not spoken to me recently (sorry about that), I wanted to share a paragraph I wrote that I decided to cut because it did not fit with the flow of the rest of the proposal. However, I did make sure to include the main points of the paragraph (keeping cultures involved and giving back) in the actual proposal.

In 2010 I came to Moldova to teach English as a Volunteer. One secondary activity I participated in was spending a weekend in an orphanage where an American missionary group had been just months earlier to build new beds for the children. They brought with them many new toys and lacked structure when interacting with the children. When fifteen Peace Corps Volunteers showed up for a weekend of activities, our goals were structure and showing them we care. Upon arrival, the children immediately thought taking supplies, cameras, and phones from our hands, hitting our behinds, and climbing on us was acceptable. This is the message that was left by the missionaries who came through months earlier. Those missionaries thought they finished the job, so they will never return but we will. My project does not have an end because there will always be cultures to share and I will return and continue the contact after I leave. I do not want to leave the students behind and make them feel like they are just a project for me. I want them to continuously be involved in the project. I will be keeping a blog that will be very image heavy for those people that do not speak English, because this is a project more about the images and the thoughts they provoke and less about the words. As I document their culture they will see it, and as I document another culture, they will also see it. When I return to the schools to show the images, that is when they will get the structured message that comes with the photographs.

(on a side note: grant writing is very hard.)

16 January 2012

I'm ok

I had a few friends and family contact me in regards to my last couple of posts (besides the "cleaning up" one. First of all, I want to say THANKS! I appreciate your concern, your support, and your encouragement. I know no matter where I am I have people that care for me and love me and support me.

However, I do want to say that if I came off as depressed or in a bad place, that was not my intention. I'm happy! Very happy! In fact, I'm more confident in myself than I've ever been! At the time of writing the post (more specifically this one), I was struggling with major decisions. It is all good, though, and I know the decisions I'm making are the right ones! Change has always been a struggle for me but it's always turned out well once I get used to it. Change is good! ...usually ;)

Getting clean

Contrary to popular belief by many Moldovans (with the exception of my host mom), I do not think I will make a good "gospodina' (or housewife) in the future. They seem to think this because I can bake, but what they don't know is I only give them the cookies or brownies when they turn out well. I can't cook even when I try to follow the recipe, the recipe of which I am looking back at every few seconds to make sure I have the right measurements and the right ingredient and the right temperature and I'm doing everything in the right step. It just never turns out right. While I know where everything is (and generally only lose things when someone else has tried to rearrange for me... except for when I misplace things, that's another story), I am not organized. What I like to think is one day when I eventually have my own place I will have enough storage space to put things but I keep ending up in places where I have no storage. The problem really may be that I have too many things, which is possible, but I really am limited on storage space usually (for example, my host mom cleaned out a cabinet of dishes for me to have somewhere to put my clothes). I'm one of those people that does not properly sort my laundry nor do I pay attention to the washing instructions, which has caused me to ruin the same shirt twice (the first time was pure ignorance and once I exchanged the shirt and then tried to wash it again I really did think about it and did not put it in the dryer, but I did use hot water... thus ruining it again. They wouldn't exchange it this time.), shrink my best pair of wool socks, cause a merino wool shirt to fit funny, and turn white clothes gray. And pink. And blue. When spending a summer traveling after studying abroad I thought it would be a brilliant idea to have many white clothes with me. Well, I sweat. A lot. And sweating turns white clothes yellow. My friend's mother in Paris offered to wash my clothes for me and when she gave them back they looked brand new. At that point I discovered bleach. Let me tell you- it's amazing. When I came to Moldova I brought mostly white anklet socks and a couple pairs of white underwear and that's it for the white things but I'd done a really good job of mixing them in with all of my other clothes so they'd become a funny color. It was time to bleach them so I did. However, I did not really know how to use bleach and the instructions were written in Russian so I was screwed. I put some bleach in some water and let them soak overnight. When I then washed them with soap and let them to dry, some had lost their elasticity and others had turned a shade of yellow. Moral of the story: I will not make a good housewife even if I can sometimes bake yummy things.

This bad-housewife fact was reiterated last week when I went to visit Maria. We'd had a little bit of a drizzle over the night and so it was kind of muddy, but I just had to see my new doorbell friend Dasa. She has decided she likes to crawl on my lap now which is fine when I wear jeans because, well, the dirt hides well. It does not, however, hide well on light gray dress pants. Needless to say I had little paw prints all over my thighs. When I arrived at Maria's house I told her as soon as I entered I needed a damp cloth to clean my pants because there is no way I could go to school with (obviously) dirty pants. She insisted I use a dry cloth which I obliged to even though I didn't think it would work. It worked like MAGIC- magic I tell you! Today I decided to try it again because the dusting of snow from last night made little Dasa's paws muddy again, and again, using a dry towel on dirt cleans up clothes just nicely.

Cleaning tips of the day: read instructions. sort clothes. less is more. use a dry cloth to get mudd off of clothes.

14 January 2012

I don't speak Moldovan

Today is apparently the New Year on the Old Calendar and I guess children go door-to-door asking for something, I'm not sure what. The reason I do not know what they want is this. On four separate occasions today children have rang the doorbell at my friend's apartment where I am hanging out. I answer the door because my Romanian is better than my friend's. They say something in Russian, which I do not understand but reply (in Russian) "I do not speak Russian'. At that point I get blank stares and then say, in Romanian, "Romanian or English?" to which they all responded "I don't understand" and "I don't speak Moldovan" in Russian.

Last I checked we were living in Moldova??!!

Where I've been, Where I am, Where I'm going

Last night I went through a whirlwind of emotions which quite honestly I haven't done for quite awhile. What fueled the fire was a conversation about the present in relation to the future and a thought of "it never will be" hit me. Life is all about making choices, whether it's what time to get up in the morning, what to have for breakfast, or what are one's goals. With approximately 6 months to go until I conclude the chapter of my life set in Moldova teaching English I am now being forced to make more decisions. My plan for the future is something I have kept rather quiet only because I am still unsure of how it will go and after last night I felt even more at a loss. But after some tears and a realization that choices have to be made, I know it's now or never and the photography project is something I'm going to do and if other things are meant to work out the will.
Since making that realization, things seem to be falling into place rather quickly. In a nutshell, I want to photograph schools around the world (beginning with 3 schools the first year) and then return to the schools to share the cultures of the other schools. This is a project that will not only take time and money but it will also mean a long time outside of the States for long periods of time and also other personal sacrifices, two of which became apparent to me last night. However, with the personal sacrifices set aside, like I said, things seem to be falling into place. I was originally thinking of beginning the project in Mumbai or New Delhi, India, since I will be in that area, however, I could not choose which one. Then I used facebook to contact an acquaintance who had once asked me to take her senior photos, who is from India. She suggested another city which is the 3rd largest and once I looked it up, things just came one after another for schools and possible contacts and life there, thus making me feel much more comfortable with the decision.
What I've learned from this is, once again, is everything happens for a reason. Certain relationships in my life have helped shape me to grow in ways that I never thought were possible and when having to make a choice it's important to really think about that choice. Traveling in France (post coming this weekend) over winter break showed me what it means to be an adult and how much more enjoyable traveling is when making responsible decisions (not to say that I don't ever make responsible decisions, I do, just sometimes I make not-so-responsible decisions... let's be honest). It is important to be confident in oneself to make wise decisions, and to be confident in oneself in general. I have had a very low self-esteem for a very long time and it is only recently that I have realized just how awesome I really am (ha) and that I can do great things, even if these things take time (goal-setting!).

Whew. Ok. Now my choice is to stop reflecting and get working on finishing up those photos from France. Know, though, that there is a new side of me coming out and you're going to like it.

08 January 2012


I stopped to get some breakfast and a coffee since I slept through it on the first plane and the guy never gave me the check, so I went up to the bar and handed the lady 5 euros and went on my way (I got a pie/coffee deal). I thought the sign said 4.60, which is why I went for it vs going to Starbucks. Well, the guy came shuffling after me saying I needed to pay and when I did, he told me it was 8.30. WTF?! Apparently I misread the "special".

Note: always go for Starbucks when in an airport. Or don't sleep through the free stuff on the plane.

03 January 2012


Today we tried to make it to Versailles because the website said it would be open. Well, it wasn't which is unfortunate because it is actually sunny, we already bought tickets, and it's a 3 hour round trip. So we will be back. But on the plus side, we represented America and got Starbucks.

01 January 2012

Going to the capital

I remember my host mom in France say once that she has only been to Paris a few times in her life and I didn't get it. Then my host mom in Moldova said the same thing. Now that I'm in Paris again I get it. Why come to the capital when it is full of tourists (myself included) and you can get everything you want at home or close to home? I do, however, believe there is something magical about Paris but maybe that's because I'm a foreigner.

Chivalry in Paris

This old woman walked into the subway and when she sat down she sighed. Then I noticed she was breathing heavy.

This young man opened the door for her.

She smiled.

... Then he proceeded to scare her when he held onto her arm to help her step down, but she responded with "thank you very much, but by now I'm use to this. Happy New Year!