Thursday, July 29, 2010

Hungry Animals...

So when I arrived home from our last big group seminar in Ialoveni today, I heard this baby calf crying.  It made me think of my cousin and how she used to call her family’s calves “the idiots”* because she hated feeding them so much.  I never truly enjoyed doing chores on my farm growing up but I did love playing with the kittens and feeding the baby calves.  Pre and post parturition were my favorite kinds of chores to do on the farm.  Tonight, sitting in my room with the windows wide open, all I can hear are the wails of one or two calves just crying for food and water.  I want to walk around the village with a pail of water and some hay or grain and go feed the babies… but I can’t.  So instead I am going to pop in my headphones and try to ignore the fact that there is a calf or calves out there in dire need/want of some nutrition.  I hope the farmer gets to them soon! Poor thing.

*For purposes of being politically correct the actual nickname given to the calves has been changed.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A few more photos from life in Moldova...

I am beginning to abhor potatoes

Who am I kidding?  I never really liked them in the first place.  So today instead of peeling potatoes I had to sort a HUGE pile of potatoes into 3 different sizes for storage: large and medium (mare si medie), small (nici mare, nici mici) and really small (mici mici).  I don’t know what my mama gazda is trying to do to my psyche but I am seriously not looking forward to eating potatoes this summer, this fall, this winter or ever again.  I told her how I was feeling about these darn potatoes and she just laughed, remembering that my dad really likes them.  She then declared I should make my dad placenta with potatoes when I go home in September.  I laughed and told her if my dad harvested, dusted and sorted the potatoes then he might not like them as much.  She giggled and then finally we were done.

As a side note I also had borsch tonight which is like a soup that she makes with a chicken stock base, carrots, onions, parsley, potatoes, beets, tomatoes, dill and usually some sort of meat (typically pork or chicken at my house).  Well today I encountered a chunk of fat that I pretty much thought was for the flavor of the soup.  Instead my host mom started telling me that it was pork and that I needed to eat it for the vitamins, yelling at me that it was NOT FAT.  I told her I couldn’t eat fat because I need to fit into my dress for my brother’s wedding in September.  She took it from my spoon added some salt and took a bite and said “mmmm,” indicating I should do the same.  So, I did.  Then I asked what part of the pig it was from.  People, hold on your seats… because last night I ate cartilage from a pig’s ear.  It was crunchy, salty and with the texture of fat.  And then I said “mmmm” and received applause from my mama gazda.  Oh the things I will do for my mom from Moldova.

Peace Corps for Life

So, in my “down time” of which there is not much, I have been reading current and old issues of “WorldView” the magazine of the National Peace Corps Association.  In the issue from Winter 2009 there was a great article calling for a reframing of the Peace Corps for the 21st century.  The author, Joby Taylor, Ph.D. put the goals of the Peace Corps best in the following statement: “The Peace Corps, at its best, is a transformative personal experience for our own citizens and their host country counterparts; it is a grassroots development agency offering an effective hand up (not a hand out) in thousands of communities around the world; and it is the smartest “smart power” in our international affairs portfolio.  This integration of goals is the elegant genius of the Peace Corps.”  That, in a nutshell is why I decided to pursue a Master’s International through Cornell University and the Peace Corps.  I am able to couple academic studies, research and field experience into a three-year masters program that I am sure will be not only the experience of a lifetime but also an experience that transforms lives in the years to come.

Milestii Mici, your grapes are good… you do things the fun way!?!

So after weeks of running my route to the vineyard, touching the fence and running back home, we finally did it.  With the help of our teachers, we organized a group wine tour of the Milestii Mici vineyards!!!

State Enterprise Quality Wines Complex “Milestii Mici” is located in the neighborhood of Milestii Mici village, not far from the capital of the country, Chisinau City.  Long ago, the inhabitants of MM used to build their houses from stone quarried out by hand from limestone deposits situated in the neighborhood.  Much of these limestone quarries were also used to build the nearby capital.  Today, the underground wine city is one of the most important tourist elements in Moldova and attracts visitors from all over the world.  The storage department comprises 3500 containers accommodating more than 6.5 million decaliters.  There are more than 1200 oak casks containing between 800 and 1200 decaliters.  In 2005 Milestii Mici collection was registered with the Guinness Book of Records as the largest wine collection in the world at 1.5 million bottles.  Today, the collection is home to more than 2 million bottles.

The tour was impressive and an EXCELLENT way to cool off on a hot and humid day.  Our group took a rutiera through the underground tunnels, which maintain constant temperature, and humidity that is perfect for storing wines.  This vineyard and collection employ the majority of the inhabitants in my current village, which is both a blessing and a misfortune.  Russia recently declared that it would no longer import Moldova wines due to a political conflict.  More often than not this big brother nation uses Moldova’s dependence upon exports (especially of wine) as a way to push it around politically, economically and socially.  When wine exports decrease, so does the demand for workers in the wine industry and so the people from villages that depend so much on wine production lose hours at work and oftentimes even lose their jobs.  It would be wise for them to diversify or find work elsewhere but there really are no other large businesses in the local area.  Such is the Moldovan dilemma…

A deeper dive into Moldovan history… (Yes, I am still thinking about the cool lake water because it’s oppressively warm today).

“I was still a little girl when I read for the first time the novel, Severograd by Nicolae Costenco.  I was stunned by his description of Moldovan’s lives in foreign lands and I didn’t understand how they went from our sunny Moldova to lands near the Polar Circle.  These Moldovans that I read about were humiliated, endured horrible deprivations, froze to death, drowned in the rivers, and were crushed by machines and huge piles of newly-cut timber.”  - Ludmila Popovici (co-author of Destine Spulberate Shattered Destinies)

In class the other day we had the opportunity to view a documentary created with the help of a past Peace Corps volunteer.  It interviews several survivors of the time period called “rehabilitation” which occurred after the death of Stalin.  It is estimated that over six million people, including Poles, Balts, Ukrainians, Volga Germans, Chechnians, and of course Moldovans, were designated “enemies of the people” and legally detained as forced laborers in the work camps of Siberia and Kazakhstan.  In Moldova alone, it is estimated that from this tiny country 100,000 people were deported, disrupting the lives of many thousands more.  This massive and systematic transfer of people living under the Soviet regime took place during the 1940’s. 

The book and documentary retell the stories of the women who were confronted with loud banging on their doors in the middle of the night only to be met at the opened door with armed soldiers and snarling dogs.  Their mothers were crying, their fathers tried to escape and the survivors (children at the time) did not know why their lives had suddenly become a nightmare.  Imagine yourself in their shoes: the soldiers scream at you telling you to take only what you can carry, you are hungry, frightened and forced to ride in stifling train cars meant to carry only animals for weeks.  You don’t know where you are going, why you are going or when your are going to arrive.  You look around in the dark and feel as if your future will bring only darkness as well.  Will you ever be able to return home?

Learning and understanding history from a social perspective adds depth and breadth to something typically understood as dates, times and events.  These events were real and affected many people and I think it is really important for teachers in the United States of America and everywhere to open up the painful stories that are rarely written (because history is usually written from the winner’s point of view), so that we can begin to learn from the hatred and cruelty of our past and work towards a more understanding and peaceful future.  If you don’t believe me… read something written by Howard Zinn.

Home is where the work is…

My host mom has been working a lot in the garden lately, harvesting and preserving many of our delights from the garden. I hope my mama gazda (host mom) in my new permanent site is doing the same… or else we may not have anything to eat this winter! Here are some photos to demonstrate our afternoon activities:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A day at the lake…

In Moldova, my definition of lake has been altered significantly.  I now refer to a lake what would be a small backyard pond, but on a scorching hot day, water is water my friend.  Spending the morning napping and nursing a menacing hangover from overindulgence in some delicious vin de casa the night before… a friend stopped by my house and dragged me down to the school to partake in a friendly game of Frisbee.  After playing for about 15 minutes another volunteer jumps out of a BMW full of boys, booze, smoke spilling out the windows and the music cranked.  He asks, “Hey girls, want to go to the lake?”  A little hesitant, I decide to go.  I mean… when in Rome… right?   So my all three of us pile into the car making it 8 total in the 4-door sedan.  We drive on dirt roads, over fields, through washouts and finally arrive at the “lake.”  There are young kids everywhere.  Men in their undergarments, women in their bathing suits or in their clothes just simply enjoying some cool water on a hot day.  I hesitated joining in for a while because I know and have been told about the hazards of swimming in ponds that are full of stagnant water.  But after sitting in the scorching sun for an hour the other female volunteer and I had to jump in, so we did and it was wonderful.  Granted, my t-shirt and shorts were wet for the next three hours but it was so much fun. 

We left the lake and drove into the forest to have a picnic and play some cards.  We even played some charades in Romanian (which was great for expanding my slang).  My host mom had already warned me the day before that the lake was dangerous and that I should never go there without her… so I snuck in the side door when I got home and took a quick shower to wash the black mud off my feet.  All in all it was a day well spent.  Not quite what I’m used to for “a day at the lake” in upstate New York… but I may have found the “Lake George” of my village…

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Permanent site visit = Success (sook-chess)!

After visiting my site in the village of Peresecina in the raion (county) of Orhei, I have returned to Milestii Mici with a renewed vigor for the Romanian language.  I need to start learning SO much more vocabulary and fixing my grammar.  There are so many things that I want to communicate to my partner but I can’t because of my limited knowledge of the language.  I probably should start trying to write these posts in Romanian… or at least orally translating them… maybe that would actually help.
My partner is a really nice woman and very in tune with the needs of the farming groups in her area.  From what I understand, most of my time will be spent in the office assisting the public with making copies (we have a copy machine open to the public for a small fee), working on the website, and assisting with any and all projects that present themselves.   I know that she works frequently with a group of women who are a part of a farming cooperative. With the help of USAID they also started a farm store (similar to Walker’s Farm, Home and Tack) but on a smaller scale.  As new customer needs are identified the group tries to increase their product availability.  They also have a demonstration plot next to the store where any new varieties of plants can be grown and shown to wary buyers.  All produce from this plot is sold for a profit to benefit the cooperative as a whole.  I cannot wait for all of the eggplant to be ready… I will be making eggplant rollatini, eggplant Parmesan and oh so much more.  Yum!
I am really excited to begin working on some new and innovative marketing efforts as well as putting together some seminars (especially for the women of the community).  I know that previously a volunteer in my village started an Odyssey of the Mind team at the school and something along those lines would also be very interesting to me. 
I think for my thesis I am leaning more towards a topic in e-agriculture and m-extension, meaning looking at the electronic resources and technological aspects of agriculture and use mobile phones for extension.

My new host mom is a sweet, kind and PATIENT person.  She has also had previous volunteers and understands the different eating patterns of Americans.  We spent a lot of time giggling about what a picky eater her last volunteer was.  She kept asking, “Why is it that Americans like sauce (meaning ketchup), but not the real tomato?”  I really couldn’t answer her question other than Americans really like sugar and vinegar and those are both ingredients in Ketchup.  I am excited to start a new chapter of Peace Corps service in my new village.  It is going to be very exciting and also difficult.  I know I will have to begin the process of community integration all over again… but it’s usually not too hard to meet people in a small town when you stick out like I do (blonde hair, blue eyes, different clothes, etc.).

More to come soon…


P.S. I bought my ticket for my big brother’s big day in September and now I am SO excited to come home!!!