Saturday, February 27, 2010

A trip to Turkey and winter in Moldova (Part 2)

End of Turkey, return to Moldova, Moldovan Christmas, New Years, Present day…

Okay, in my last post I ended by describing this crazy sense of nirvana I found after being brutally massaged at a Turkish bathhouse. I should, at this point, remind you to take my romanticization of all of this with a grain or two of coarse rock-salt. I mean, honestly, some strange person was paid handsomely to elbow, drop kick, and monkey punch my vertebrae for an hour. So, we should remember never (or, almost never) to allow my personal wonderment, amazement, or thirst for something transcendental to fool us all into taking me too seriously. In fact, let's keep in mind - this is a blog entry. I'm no new-age philosopher. I'm just a regular guy in Moldova. This next anecdote, I hope, will bring us back down to earth…

Before we left Turkey, Chris and I bought some souvenirs and gifts for ourselves and our Moldovan host families. Chris decided he wanted a bottle of alcohol called Raki (pronounced Rukka). Raki is an aniseed flavored-spirit that happens to be, as wikipedia says, Turkey's "official national drink." It is a clear liquid served alongside water and ice. When mixing this spirit with water, the color changes to a milky-white. Anyway, in our effort to board the plane back to Romania, the Turkish (but, English-speaking) airport guards informed Chris that he was not permitted to take his Raki in his carry-on luggage. These Turkish guards, obviously understanding the quality of this beverage, dutifully, but unenthusiastically, gave us the bad news. At that moment, Chris and I were inside the Tarom Airlines gate in front of a room filled mostly with Romanians on their way home to Bucharest. Meanwhile, standing next to the X-ray scanner at the entrance, the guard gave clear instructions to Chris: "You must dispose of that before you board the plane." Let me reiterate, the room where this was happening was the gate. It was surrounded with glass walls, looking out at the runway where our plane was taxiing toward us. There were about forty passengers waiting, seated in rows of chairs perpendicular to the outside windows.

Now, upon hearing the guard's heavy words, Chris looked down at the ground dejectedly. A second later though, a thought ran through both of our minds. We exchanged wry glances and immediately understood our next play. Then, Chris turned to the nearest security guard and said in his patented, stutteringly blunt style, "Well, can I dispose of it right here…I mean right now… I mean: can I drink it?" The two guards - one standing to our right, the other at the computer monitor of the X-ray machine - looked at each other. Maybe it was their Turkish pride in that fine beverage, maybe it was our innocent-looking, freshly-exfoliated skin….but for whatever reason, those guards looked back at Chris and just said, in a quick, high pitched, matter-of-fact way: "Okay." So, in front of the gate, and all of the Romanians at the airport, Chris and I passed a bottle of Turkish Raki back and forth a few times - all the while, exchanging "Norocs" and other Romanian language toasts. After some merriment, I must admit however, that I allowed my discomfort get the better of me. I observed a few of the other security personnel beginning to appear nervous about our curious display. Chris, maybe because he did not want to part with his Raki, or maybe because he is a little gutsier than I, may have continued had I not suggested we stop. We threw the unfinished bottle in a nearby receptacle and took a seat. We did not imbibe much more than the equivalent of one or two mixed drinks. Nevertheless, we proved our point - that much, at least, was clear by the smiles and delighted laughter of the nearby Romanians. So, we were headed back to our Peace Corps Assignments after a beautiful cultural exchange - two Americans, drinking a Turkish beverage in Istanbul, traveling to Moldova, bestowing words of good luck, health, wealth, and friendship to a room of Romanians.

What happened next? We went back to Moldova. A few other things might have occurred - I can't really remember., let us skip to Christmas.

On December 25th I celebrated Christmas in the capitol city, Chisinau. Most Moldovans do not celebrate Christmas on the 25th, but on the 7th of January - Orthodox Christmas. Though not all, most Orthodox Christian Religions celebrate Christmas on January 7th. So, given the fact that my holiday schedule is different from my host family's, I decided to spend that time with other Peace Corps friends.

New Year's and Orthodox Christmas, however, I spent with my host family - both because I wanted to get a sense of the way they celebrate, and because they are pretty cool people. The way Moldovans celebrate Christmas and New Year's is relatively similar to Americans. It is normal (if slightly less common) for people here to decorate with lights and erect Christmas trees with ornaments. The capitol city was decorated beautifully, though regrettably, I have no photos of this. For both holidays in Moldova it is normal to have family and friends for dinner, drinks, holiday music, and general festive joy. I am not sure if I am required to say much more here in my role as some sort of cultural ambassador…except maybe I can add that the holidays here are a bit less commercial. And so, despite the fact that I enjoy celebrating the winter holidays in America more than in Moldova, in an ideal world we Americans would be able to celebrate with a little less emphasis on the shopping and gifts, and a little more on the family and friends.

I just said that I enjoy celebrating winter holidays in America more than in Moldova….but that is with one exception. Moldovans also celebrate on another day after Orthodox Christmas. They call it "Old New Years." It is actually the holiday that wraps up the season. Old New Year's is the Religious feast of Saint Vascily, on January 14th. The most interesting part of this day, in my opinion, is the way it is similar to our Halloween. Essentially, children walk to their neighbors' houses in order to either sing a song or recite a poem. The lyrics offered are a sort of blessing for the new year. While performing their blessing, the children throw handfuls of grain at their audiences. This year an eight year-old girl hit me in the eye with a piece of brown long-grain rice. It wasn't comfortable. But the tradition is quite endearing. After the children finish giving their best performances, adults give them candy, money, and/or - for lack of better words - other things. My host mother, for example, gave a boy who came to our door one of those 'other things.' She used the opportunity to advise (i.e. berate and threaten) him to stop smoking cigarettes. So, not only did this little hellion leave our house with a few chocolates and some cash, he also got health lesson courtesy of Doamna Tatiana.

That, finally, should bring you up to speed with what is going on now. But, there is one more thing I can add to sum up these entries: My travels, both in Moldova and Turkey over the past few months, have really driven home a lesson, that previously, I was not sure how to verbalize. Essentially, it is this: One of traveling's greatest values is allowing us to see and experience new things and to question those which we had before taken for granted. We are, right now, the living product of generations of socialization, generations of choices, generations of pursuing one path over another. We live with a sort of blind faith in those who came before us. We presume, sometimes subconsciously, that our predecessors always made the right choices. In my case, and the case of my fellow Americans, our ascendants decided to construct society in the way they saw best. I do not know how they defined this, but I am sure they believed they were trying to move toward the "best." All that leads to the real question: Is the society they decided to create the best for me? For you? For anyone? The answer, I believe, is: maybe…and maybe not. I think a great way to even come close to understanding what type of society might be best for each of us is by exploring other societies. Other groups built their nations and cultures based on a different set of choices. Maybe at some point long, long ago our forefathers and someone else's forefathers disagreed on something. Maybe it was bathhouses, maybe it celebrating Christmas on January 7th. Whatever it was, our societies diverged. The more opportunities we have to explore other groups and other cultures allow us to reflect critically on ourselves and our beliefs. By the time I finish my Peace Corps service and finally find my way back to America, I don't know whether or not I will have actually dramatically changed how I live. But, I do know that I will have an enhanced ability to decide for myself. This notion is thrilling. And, even if I don't change, I will at the very least, know the feeling of these other societies - oh, and also, the feeling of drinking Raki out of the bottle at a Turkish airport gate.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A trip to Turkey and winter in Moldova (Part I)

Hey everyone, I haven't written anything here in a while...and I actually have a relatively long description of what I have been up to over the past few months. So, I think I will post this in two (or more) parts. The following is, as the title would suggest, the first part...

I want to say: Greetings to all, as I emerge from my winter blogging hibernation (note: there may be a similar hibernation in the spring and the summer). Anyway, I think this is a good time to write a little something about what I have been up to here in Moldova for the winter. First, I'll give you the less interesting things:

My work has been slow for many reasons that are somewhat complicated to explore fully now. Suffice it to say that I am hoping (perhaps illogically) that the change in the calendar will also help spur some changes in the organization with which I work in my village. We will see. Job difficulties notwithstanding, life here is great. My host family in Lozova is awesome, I am healthy, happy, and looking forward to the spring.

Now, let's move on to more substantive material. Maybe I should start with the beginning of December…

On December 4th Chris, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer, and I went on vacation. We left Chisinau, Moldova by bus for Bucharest, Romania at 10 pm. From Bucharest we were to fly to Istanbul, Turkey on December 5th - where we had planned to spend six days. At this point, one may look at our travel itinerary and ask: Why did you decide to take an uncomfortable, eight-hour, bus ride overnight rather than flying out of Moldova? Well, airfare out of Chisinau is considerably more expensive than most other airports in the region. And, if you add that fact to the reality that Chris and I are not what you would consider "advance planners," the potential prices were compounded by the late date at which we attempted to purchase our tickets. So, in our opinion, the opportunity cost of spending a sweaty, intimate bus ride, overnight with each other, seemed worth (just barely) the $200 we were to save. Moreover, we anticipated a nice morning and afternoon in Bucharest - a city neither of us had ever visited before.

What happened? On a scale of one to ten, I would rate the bus ride as hellish. But, we did arrive (sleepless and disoriented) at about 5:30 AM. We killed some time walking around the city, which, indeed is beautiful. I would like to talk more about our experiences in Bucharest but…well…not now. If you would like to know if our Bucharest trip was actually worth it, you will have to ask me and Chris someday in person. After a few beers, or a small bribe, we just may tell you a particular story from our time in Romania that explains why such travel plans might not be for everyone. But, I'm not going delve into that any further at this time.

OKAY….now on to Istanbul:

I have a friend from school who is interning in Istanbul, Turkey right now and generously offered us a place to stay for our visit. My friend, Bilal, was born in Turkey but, when he was around eight-years old, moved to the exotic land known as New Jersey. He speaks fluent Turkish and English (though he still has not perfected the somewhat more complex language known as New Jerseyan). The great thing about Bilal, besides the fact that he's a good friend, is that he was a knowledgeable and adroit tour guide through a city of over ten million people and five thousand years of history. Without Bilal's ability to show us around (and, occasionally, get us out of trouble) Chris and I would have been lost in Istanbul - that is: figuratively lost, definitely, and literally lost, probably.

Bilal, lives with his grandmother in Istanbul; and for that week, Bilal's grandmother was our grandmother as well. We stayed in her apartment, which was within reach of many of the interesting destinations in the city. Unexpectedly, though, one of the best destinations was right where we stayed - with the elderly Turkish woman who spoke no English. Now, this may come as a shock to you, but I do not speak Turkish. Neither does Chris. And there were occasions during our week in Turkey when Bilal needed to go to work. This afforded Chris and me the opportunity to spend some quality time with our Turkish grandmother. Did I mention she speaks no English? (or Romanian, for that matter) Immediately Chris and I were jolted back to our first days in Moldova trying to communicate with our host families. We used gestures, expressions, mixed english words with invented sounds, and, naturally, acted as foolishly as possible. Somehow, I believe through no doing of our own, this worked great….Here's an example:

When we awoke on our first morning in Istanbul we realized that Bilal had left the apartment for work much earlier. Chris and I, still weary from our travels, and our first evening in Istanbul (which included sampling the local beverages) were somewhat confused. We sat in the living room of Bilal's apartment, where his grandmother began conversing with us. I'm not really sure what we talked about, but the discussion concluded with her serving us a wonderful Turkish breakfast (bread, cheese, olives, baklava, Turkish Tea) and helping us get in touch with Bilal so he could explain how we needed to use the public transportation. I describe this rather mundane event because it was the source of a major realization for me: Just then it became clear that there are some qualities, regardless of culture, language, ethnicity, etc., which grandmothers all have in common. As I doubt that I will ever be a grandmother, I really can not understand the source of these innate skills. It's like tightrope walking, sword swallowing, alligator wrestling, or hitting a five-hundred foot homerun: I can't understand how people do these awesome things, but, I know them when I see them and seeing them never ceases to amaze me. So, in that way, I guess you could say that grandmothers are like alligator wrestlers….at least, when it comes to hospitality and making anyone who is nearby feeling comfortable and cared for.

Our jaunt through Istanbul included eating at local restaurants, visiting famous landmarks (Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, New Mosque), and spending time with Bilal's Turkish friends and colleagues. I was especially struck by the city's age. Over the course of its existence Istanbul has been like some sort of massive glacier of history - slowly traveling along, subtly changing through time, in its travels picking up pieces from every era, but always, always persisting with some sort of incomprehensible, implausible, and intractable influence - an influence so great, that one can hardly imagine a reality without it. As Americans (though, not, Native Americans), our geographic history exists for only about 500 years. We have no buildings or defining, domestic events that are older than this. The oft-recited, comical observation about Istanbul resonates with many Americans. The joke is that Istanbul is a city so old, it has a building called "New Mosque," which was completed nearly 350 years ago. What resonates just as much, if not more, with me, is that the cultures, religions, and traditions that have swept across this land throughout the centuries have been adopted, absorbed, but not discarded. New ideas were ineluctably grabbed by fervent collectors - the Turks, Ottomans, Romans, or any other national peoples who have populated the hills of this ancient metropole.

Moving on…

Have you ever been bathed by a hairy, middle-aged, shirtless Turkish gentleman? Every time someone asked me that question before my trip to Istanbul my answer was always "NO." But, now…well, when people ask…umm…yes… there was this one time when a Turkish fellow bathed me. And… I think … I liked it. You see, bathhouses, however different they may seem to us Americans, are not strange to the Turks. So, Chris and I decided it was worth a try. How does the saying go? Is it: "When in Rome, do as the…"? Wait, no - that's not it. I'm pretty sure the saying is: "When in Istanbul, go to a sauna and pay an ungainly, hairy, oaf to throw buckets of hot water on you and punch your spine with a fist full of acid-soap." Okay, I am kind of exaggerating…kind of. But, I was bathed by a gentleman who gave me a pretty strong, and soapy massage (which exfoliated very well). I could talk for a while on this event, but I really would like to keep moving with this entry...

Traveling through the streets of Istanbul freshly clean from my bath gave me a feeling of newness and purity. Tabula Rasa. For some reason, I began to process what I was seeing and experiencing in Turkey with fewer filters, with a new awe-inspiring, infantile interest. I brought this attitude with me on our way back to Moldova - which is where we will begin part two of my entry.

Monday, November 2, 2009


Hey all! I haven't forgotten about this blog...yet. I hope everything is going well with you. Hopefully you had a fun Halloween and are looking forward to Thanksgiving. I am, along with you all, still believing the Phils can pull out some magic.

Anyway, things here are going very well. Below, I wrote a little something about why this Moldova place is so beautiful. If you're interested, take a look. If you'd prefer the easy route, I also have attached a video of October's wine-making that (hopefully) expresses that beauty visually. Or, if you'd like, you are welcome (and encouraged) to check out both. So, enjoy, be well, and as always: NOROC!


Here in Moldova people often use the adjective “Frumos.” The Romanian word translates most closely to our word, “beautiful.” Yet, it is used to describe a wider array of objects and actions than we commonly associate with beauty – and it is used with much greater frequency. Flowers, automobiles, photographs are often described as frumos, while, improper behavior or improper dress are decidedly not frumos.
As an American in Moldova, the people here often ask me what I like (and what I do not like) about their country. The complexity of this question, and my thought process when answering it is too involved for me to fully discuss at the moment. Right now however, I want to describe a piece of the answer I give, and, why I am fully candid and honest when I give it.
The other day I was preparing to leave my training village, Vasieni - where I had stayed for the past few weeks for a final round of language and technical classes. Before returning to my permanent village, Lozova, I sat at my host family’s kitchen table. I was all packed and ready to go, but was attempting to catch my breath after yet another suffocatingly sufficient Moldovan meal. (In case I haven’t discussed it on this blog – Moldovan hospitality is unceasingly, incessantly, incorrigibly generous). Sitting at the table, my host parents, Maria and Gheorghe, asked me some of the same questions I have been asked dozens of times here: "What do you like about our village?" "What don’t you like?" When giving my answer, one of the first things I say, invariably, is this: “Your country is beautiful.” Despite my dusty Romanian accent and vocabulary bounded by only a few months of study, I usually try to speak with more specifity. But, it is often impossible to avoid using the word Frumos.
When this word staggered out of my mouth, my host parents’ expressions were painfully familiar. Their faces shifted from intense interest to incredulity. The next few moments of conversation carried the weight of their disbelief. Why? It sometimes seems as though when I describe this place as frumos, people do not believe I am honest. They think I am kind for attempting to flatter them, but many presume that I have seen and experienced greater beauty in America.
Riding the bus later that day to Chisinau, I happened to meet four other colleagues doing the same. One volunteer, Vincent, told me about a similar conversation he had the night before with his host father, Radu. After several glasses of wine, Radu, normally a very reserved person, thanked Vincent. He said that it was unbelievably nice of Vincent to call Moldova frumos. Radu thanked Vincent for being so positive about this place. Suddenly though, Radu pivoted: he said, “Vincent, I have read about America, I have seen pictures – America is much more beautiful than Moldova.” To which Vincent (who is one of the most sincere people I know) did his best to express his genuine love for the surroundings Moldova provides.
Was Radu correct? Is there more natural beauty in America? Are we, Peace Corps Volunteers, honest with ourselves and the people around us when we say this place is frumos? I turned these questions over in my mind as Vincent finished his story. Here is what I decided:
First, Moldova is stunningly frumos. The vista out the window of the bus that morning; the autumnal reds, browns, yellows; the smell of corn stalks and tall grass sifting through, playing in, rolling over the cool breeze – all of those things are a testament to the awesome beauty here.
But, what of Radu’s comparison to our country? He was correct: in America we can see similar panoramas. And, to be honest, the horizon in Moldova is, at times, scattered with artifacts of the Soviet era that belie the natural beauty: old factories, abandoned cars, trash. These things are not everywhere, but they are present. Yet, I still feel beauty here. Why?
The answer, to me, is simple. A place - a location - is relative. It is a human construction. Mother Nature never imagined Philadelphia – William Penn did. And so, when we describe a place as beautiful – let us always remember that people make places as much as places make people. Let us find beauty in the connection people have to the places they live, to the ways people live, to a people’s ability to inhabit their home, village, city, country.
This is Moldova’s beauty: The way men in villages seem to resemble, reflect, or project their dirt-stained hands onto their fields; the way extended families, friends, and neighbors work together every October to collect grapes and make wine; the way a frail, elderly woman carrying grain to sell at the market is able to balance herself standing on an overcrowded minibus that fights cracked roads over dozens of kilometers; the way girls in cities dress in chic European attire, but hold onto their unique histories through centuries-old wedding traditions.
Those are the things I think are frumos. This is how, everyday, I answer questions about Moldova’s beauty with conviction. We may have beautiful fields, hills, and forests in America. But, we have a very different relationship with our space. We lack the same earthly connection that the people here have to their country. And, although natural beauty can make a place special, the connection that people have with the place where they live is often more inspiring. This is why Moldova is frumos.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Yes, I know I've been a neglectful blogger...

...but finally, here is a link to my web album with most of my Moldova pictures so far. Though, last week I took some awesome photos of grape-picking and wine-making, which I am yet to upload. Hopefully they will be coming soon...along with a legitimate blog post that has a little narrative. Nevertheless, enjoy these snappy snapshots for now:

P.S. I think that link should work, but if it does not, let me know.

P.P.S. "snappy snapshots" is a really stupid way to describe pictures...but, for some indescribable reason, that needed to be written.

Monday, September 7, 2009

I don't know what the song of the summer was in the states, but in the 'dova...(NOTE: there is a VIDEO BELOW - check it out!)

Hey everyone,

Seeing as yesterday was Labor Day and we are all celebrating/mourning the end of summer, I thought it would be fitting to give you a little slide show of what I have been up to. And, as an added bonus, you will hear the stylings of Romania's supergroup, Florinel. I did not go more than a day this summer without hearing their single, "Ma insor la anu-n mai." Anyway, I know nothing about Romanian music, but the folks here seem to love this tune....and, I will admit that it's kind of catchy.

So, if you can put up with this song, and my extremely amateur photography skills, enjoy!

Oh yeah, and happy Labor Day!

P.S..... right now I am waiting for this video to I will give you a few BONUS remarks about Moldova and music. First, playing music really loud all day everyday in Moldovan villages is somewhat common. There is slightly more room between houses than we normally have in the states, so noise is not a major problem; though, from time to time neighbors do get annoyed. Nonetheless it seems that music here is very popular. The song below is more modern, but classic Moldovan folk also has a strong following. In fact, there is a TV station here that plays traditional Moldovan music with variety-show type performances 24-7. There is more I will say about this - but I'm saving that for later.

Occasionally we will also hear songs from the US. A few weeks ago, as I was riding the bus back to my village from Chisinau, I heard a song on the radio that sounded extremely familiar. It was sung, however, in Romanian. But it bothered me, because I knew I had heard this tune somewhere before. When I got home I scoured my mp3 collection until I realized what I heard was a Romanian cover of "If not for you," by Bob Dylan (also popularly covered by George Harrison). But anyway, I thought that was interesting, and wanted to share.

Hey, my video has finally I can stop typing!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

I am constipated with blog posts...

Hey guys - after some complaints about my posting of old news I have decided to give you all some highlights from the summer below. I promise this is the last of the old stuff. The next post will bring you all up to speed on where I am and what I am doing now. Until then, old news is good news...i think:

Host Family

After two sessions of Romanian language classes the new trainees were loaded onto buses with their luggage and driven out of the capital city to surrounding villages to meet their host families. (ONE NOTE: the first 10-12 weeks of Peace Corps is intensive training. Approximately ten trainees each live one village with different host families and meet daily for language classes. Twice per week the new trainees from all of the villages meet in Iaolveni (a hub site) for technical workshops.

My village is called Vasieni, and my host family is an older married couple who have lived there for, I think, roughly thirty years.. Yesterday evening, the van dropped me off at around 6 pm. My language instructor accompanied me to their door, where she facilitated the introduction. Meanwhile I stumbled over the little Romanian I knew in order to express my gratitude and say hello. Prior to parting ways with the other volunteers that evening, I joked that if communication got difficult with my host family, I would pretend I am on a wacky American sitcom. Little did I know then, how close this is to a sitcom. I will discuss in more detail next time…right now, I’m going to bed.

Monday – (written june 15th)

This whole trip got much funnier about forty-eight hours ago when an elderly Moldovan couple that speaks no English began hosting an idealistic twenty-something Peace Corps volunteer who speaks no Romanian. Cue the laugh track and the 80s sitcom theme song, because these hijinks are going to be fun for the whole family. Matt McCaffrey stars in: From Moldova with Love (and Giardia).

My first night with a host family was a virtual collage of America’s greatest TV moments. For example, miscommunication led me to stumble through the house after dark with a mouthful of toothpaste and saliva searching frantically for a place to spit without waking up anyone. I had a “will they or won’t they” moment with the outhouse (and just like on TV, sparks did fly). I woke up at one point in the night believing that the past few days had all been a dream. So, in some ways the last couple days have been hilariously stereotypical.

Of course, that description does not do justice to how interesting/exciting my living situation is. First of all, I don’t have Giardia. I do, however, need to distill my water, or boil and filter it – unless I want to subsist on the bottled variety. Apparently my weak American stomach is not up to snuff ‘round these parts.

As I may have already mentioned, I am currently in the village of Vasieni; approximately a 35-minute bus ride from the capital, Chisinau. It only has a few paved roads; though the deep rifts and numerous potholes on the main thoroughfares force one to adopt a different definition of the term road. Indoor plumbing is affordable to only the wealthiest residents. Although automobile traffic on Vasieni’s streets is not necessarily busy, cars and motorcycles commonly rip down the windy, main stretch at 40+ miles per hour.

The intermittent mix of hi-speed steel jalopies notwithstanding, the streets are commonly host to horse carts, pedestrians, children playing, large and small ducks, chickens, goats, and cows. There is a sense of shared vitality. On the road, everyone is in it together. They are part of something. They did not consciously choose to be here, but there is an implicit acknowledgment of others, and a tacit sense of empathy. It is not always kind or friendly in the American sense. It is devoid of pretense and, therefore, possesses all of reality’s jagged edges. It is not cold or sterile – not packaged or manufactured. The hardships Vasieni’s residents endure in order to exist on this planet have sharpened them. People are genuine. Lovingly genuine. Frighteningly genuine. Exhaustingly genuine. Excitingly genuine. Genuine.

In spite of some of the poverty I describe in Vasieni, one should not come away with the perception that the people have nothing. There are poorer places in the world. Villages and regions exist on every continent that equal and surpass this type of poverty. The people of Vasieni have their own houses. These houses are not tents or shacks – they have walls made of brick, stone, and concrete. These houses have electricity. They have windows. They have access to water through pipes, personal wells, or communal wells. Does this all make their struggles any less important? No – absolutely not. It does, however, underscore the vast differences in the way many in America live, and they way people labor to get by in places commonly perceived as developed – such as portions of Europe.

ONE OTHER NOTE: The above paragraph is not meant to guilt anyone into donating money to nonprofit organizations that seek to alleviate poverty (though if you’d like to do that, it would be cool), nor is it in any way meant to suggest that you, the reader, are not adequately addressing world suffering. Indeed I perpetually struggle to find my role as a relatively privileged person in a world of extreme inequality; I grapple with the topic frequently and have, to this point, been unable to come up with a cogent solution.

Why then, am I discussing poverty in somewhat stark prose? My main purpose is to create a context for my next two years of service here. So, to end a long post with a few short words I will say this: Moldova is a beautiful, impoverished, interesting, fun, frustrating, and amazing country with great people, great food, and great potential. I hope my time here will, in some tiny way, lurch an enclave of this land toward greater prosperity and happiness. So now, there is only one question left: How? And the answer to that is…ummm….hmmm… well, I’m not sure if I have that question completely worked out yet…but, check back later…maybe I’ll have an answer then.

Two weeks….do you guys like goats? (written june 29th)

Well right now I am sitting on a balcony outside my bedroom at my new/temporary home in Vasieni. I have just finished week 2 of PST (pre service training) and everything is going well. I have adjusted life here in Moldova relatively easily. Despite the moments of “tongue in cheekiness” in my last post, everything here is cool. Let me give you folks a quick rundown of what has been going on lately:

1. I am in Vasieni with twelve other volunteers. They are in the COD program (Community and Organizational Development). The remaining Peace Corps Trainees are grouped together based on their future jobs as well. The other jobs are English Education, Agriculture and Business Development, and Health Education. Basically we are all attending language classes together at our specific sites, and we meet twice a week in a hub city (called Ioloveni) for group classes and Peace Corps Info Sessions.
2. There are a lot of goats here. The goats are funny. That is all.

On Sarcasm…

Sarcasm it seems is an acquired taste. I say that on the heels of several sarcastic jokes that would have killed in the Good Ole’ USA but have flopped here in Moldova. This is both a bad and a good sign. It is bad because, as many of my fellow compatriots know, we Americans like to tread with a poignant, dry wit – one that is best enjoyed with a glass of scotch. Unfortunately, such comedic stylings just will not hack it here in Eastern Europe. On the flip side, this is positive for two reasons. First, it will force me to adopt a more genuine sense of humor that does not seek to elevate myself above my fellow man (speaking of which - as for alternatives to sarcasm, what does everyone think about ventriloquism?). Second, this is also a good sign because it means that my Romanian skills have at least advanced to the point where I am even been able to make a sarcastic wisecrack. Anyway, this entry pretty much sums up my meandering thoughts as I fall asleep on another lovely night here in vasieni.

By the way, I had food poisoning the other day. But that story really does not deserve an entry…unless you like hearing about that sort of thing. I should just say this: I felt like puke. I almost did puke. But nothing exited my body in an objectionable way (at least, not in my opinion). And I am much better now. PS – don’t be worried – the Peace Corps Medical Office has extremely attentive physicians. So trust me, I am in good hands.

PARTAYYY-TAYYYY!! (Written June 30th)

You’re a grand old flag, you’re a high flyin’ flag ….on Saturday I am going to be rubbing elbows and clinking glasses at the swankiest US outpost this side of the Nistru River. I am attending the American Embassy’s 4th of July Party. I am pretty pumped. Let me just tell you: I have tons embassy jokes that I have been sitting on for a long time. I will finally be able to use them (wow, that sounds ridiculously nerdy)! I will fill you all in on how it goes. But that’s about all for now.

One more quick thing – I know the philles have kind of sucked lately but, is Raul Ibanez still having a sick season??? Just wondering….

Okay, Things Happened…. (Written July 7th)

We had our Fourth of July Party last weekend, and let me just say “God Bless America.” I ate the first hamburger that I have had in weeks and it was glorious. When that processed cow flesh touched my tongue I tasted life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I can’t be sure but I think overindulging in food and beverage at some party in Moldova is exactly what Thomas Jefferson had in mind when he wrote the Declaration of Independence.

Prior to the party I sang the standard (i.e. my favorite) Fourth of July carols – “Your’re a Grand Old Flag,” “This Land is your Land,” “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” The party had music, Americans, Moldovans, other Europeans, and lots of booze.

By the end of the night I was so intoxicated by patriotic feelings (and beverages) that I misplaced my wallet. Don’t worry, I found it the next day. But suffice it to say, the party was great.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Someone mocked my lazy attempt to avoid writing anything new...

Ryan (my friend ryan jones) posited a complaint (via email) earlier today about my scheme to post old entries onto my blog. Apparently some of you think that I am lazy. I would argue that I am too busy. (But, one man's lazy is another man's busy). Regardless of the truth, here is what I will do:

I am going to post a new entry alongside the old one. This could be confusing, or disorienting....but, it's a risk I am willing to take.

So here is something that happened to me recently that was interesting:

As I was studying Romanian the other day, I was paging through a book put together by former Peace Corps volunteers and language trainers. The title is 1001 Romanian Verbs. Normally in our lives, we take titles of books for granted. We do not think they lie. We do not think they are incorrect. When we pick up a book with ATLAS written on the cover, we do not think that the pages inside will be the dessert menu at Denny's. Yet, for some reason I had a hunch that there were not actually 1001 Romanian verbs in that book. The weight of its pages and the amount of ink used just did not add up. Moreover, given the fact that my current job is slow and the person who is responsible for training me is on vacation, I decided it was as good a time as any to count verbs.

GUESS WHAT: there are 1076 Romanian verbs in that book. Yeah, that's right - I proved that stupid book wrong. I believe the appropriate term here is "BOO YA."

...LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, This game's score is...

That's right Peace Corps - you've got to get up pretty early in the morning to pull one over on old Uncle Matt.

Anyway, that is my post...I hope you're happy Ryan, because that's all the new stuff I've got right now.