Kids

Neighbor

Make Me a Picture

There are many reasons why I joined the Peace Corps, but one of them was because I knew a foreign culture (one foreign to tourists) would offer up a multitude of photo opportunities. What I didn’t know, though, is I would become used for my camera.

Moldova has its own version of Facebook, which we Americans have dubbed “Russian Facebook”. Supposedly it came around about the same time as Facebook, but the masses flocked to it because it was in Russian, not English, so it was easy to understand. But because the majority of people in the USA started using the Internet around the time it was available to the public, we just kind of morphed with the growth… and we know many of the ins and outs… at least this is what I’ve observed. Here, though, it came much later, and only in the last few years has the internet really picked up in the homes, so people don’t really understand what all the Internet can do. So, Odnoklassniki (Russian Facebook) picked up on that and pretty much has made it its own Internet… you can download music, find the weather, use it as a search engine, have conversations (on video, too!), and the highlight: post and rate photographs.

So, as soon as it became known I am a photographer, I became the celebrity of Varatic… everyone wanted me to “make [them] a photo” so they could change their Odnoklassniki profile photo… All. The. Time. This was fine until a point, and I am not a fan of posing my subjects… but that is the Odnoklassniki style. The body is contorted in an unnatural fashion and every image is “beautiful” because the background is blurred. Yes, you read that right: a blurred background makes for a beautiful photograph (of course we are our own worst critic, so the subject has to approve of his/her body contortion and facial expression, too). It was all beginning to make sense: the Modern Moldovans did not want talent or style in photography… they just wanted my “nice camera that makes nice pictures”.

Once I realized this, I also realized the cost to replace the shutter on my camera (which is only guaranteed for 100,000 clicks) and I decided I wanted to save those clicks for, say, my month-long trip in Asia I have in July. I told them my camera was broken (it was) and I’d use their camera if they wanted photos… and soon my photography skills were forgotten, and so was my passion for portrait photography.

Until today.

I heard a little voice outside talking to my host mom, and I went outside to see who it was, because usually the little voices are looking for me but this one was sticking around for awhile. When I went out there I saw this stinking cute little 3 1/2 year old girl. I couldn’t resist: I had to go grab my camera. Much to my excitement, she hardly posed for the camera, and when she did, it was natural. No squatting and putting her hands on her knees and sticking her tushie sideways… no pulling on her hair and holding it… no putting her chin down and looking up at me trying to give me sexy eyes (yes, I have had 7 year-old girls do this). She was ALL her, and all little girl…you should have heard her non-stop laugh!

And now I remember why I love portrait photography so much! Which is just in time, since I will be Stateside in 17 days, and taking many portraits (contact me if you’re interested!)

Tudorita

The little things

Yesterday I had coffeetime chat with Tim McDonald, a man I met on Twitter who loves not only connecting with people, but also connecting people (if you missed the chat, you can find it here).

One of the questions he asked me is what are the biggest things I’ve learned since being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Moldova. In all honesty, I could probably write a trilogy on this topic, given I won the superlative “Most Changed’ at our close of service conference last week. Because of course I had to narrow it down, I told him “time heals everything,” “first impressions don’t always matter,” and “kids are kids around the world”. Later on he reminded me something he’s learned: it’s the little things that make the experience.

And you know, he’s right (I forgot about that… because again… trilogy… hard to narrow it down). Today was a little reminder.

I came to school to teach the second lesson, taught it, then went to a room that is supposed to be the Teacher’s Room (but it is rarely occupied so I like to call it Cate’s Quiet Space) so I could read during my lesson off. Once the bell rang to let the students out of the 3rd lesson, I went back upstairs to get ready for the second graders. The door was locked and all of the students were waiting outside, and I was almost tackled by each and every one of those 22 kids (not joking. EVERY one) as they yelled, “MISS CATE! HOW ARE YOU??!!”. Then, because my key was locked on the inside so I was waiting for my partner, I stood with the kids who continued to switch off, wrapping their little arms around my waist and my arms and holding my hands. They are just so cute and oh man, I’m really going to miss them.

Here is a video they helped me put together to apply for a job (that I didn’t get but it’s ok because I have found an amazing internship in digital marketing in Kansas City that I begin as soon as I get home in August!!!!)

When my lessons for the day finished, one of my neighbor girls, Tudorita (who I now call Dora). She asked if she could come over this afternoon after she ate, and I couldn’t say no. She loves playing with my iPad and this time we whipped out Hangman so we could practice spelling words in English (I love mixing technology and education). Hopefully the spelling mistakes she made will help her remember how to spell the words in the future.

Evacuation-Plan

The importance of drills

Looking back to my school days, I have many memories (I mean, who doesn’t?), and there are many things I have long since forgotten. However, something I do remember happening at least twice a semester every year were the much anticipated fire and tornado drills. As a student, I always hoped they would happen during a class I was not looking forward to for whatever reason, whether it was the teacher, the students, the material, or a test. Sometimes we, as students, knew they were happening and sometimes we didn’t… which was to prepare us in case there actually was a fire or a tornado. In every classroom we had an evacuation map near the door that told us where we need to go, whether it was to the basement for a tornado or outside for a fire. As elementary school students, we had assemblies where we learned to “stop, drop, and roll”, to feel the door if it was hot with the back of our hands, and to crawl on the ground if there is smoke because the smoke rises. I’d say be second grade these drills had become second nature, so if there ever was a fire, we were well prepared. We also knew we had to be quiet and listen so we knew when we could go back to our classrooms and continue the day, or if we got to go home because something really was wrong (which only happened once, on Halloween, when I was in 2nd grade and there was something setting the alarm off and it wouldn’t stop). When I went to college, we did not have these drills but there were maps placed by every door and in the hallways (except when I went to study in France and we had a real-life scenario where they made smoke come out of a window and a fire truck come to school… but it was just to get us prepared). Needless to say, we were prepared for a real fire or tornado and I believe the amount of drills we had really would keep the school relatively calm in case something real did happen (plus, we rarely knew if it was real or fake so we had to act like it was real every time).

Well, something I noticed when I first came to my school in Moldova is not only do we not have evacuation maps, but we never once practiced what to do in case there was a fire. I’ve heard stories of the students practicing for bomb raids during the Soviet era, but I have never seen any sort of preparation… until today. The teachers were told there was going to be a bell rung 8 minutes before the end of the 4th lesson. It was up to them if they wanted to prepare their students to tell them what they were doing and why or not… and one of my partners chose to tell her students, and the other one did not. As someone came walking through the halls ringing a real bell (instead of pushing the button downstairs that rang the bell throughout the school), the partner I was teaching with told all of the students to stand up, gather their things, stand 2×2, and we were going to silently walk outside. As we were walking down the stairs, some students were walking up… oblivious to what was going on. Some teachers were still standing in the empty hallways chatting, and some had gone outside with their students, who were now running around and playing. There was no order, and for many, no explanation. They just knew they all had to go outside and the bell rung a few minutes early.

The good thing is there has been a drill, and we have a small school with 2 staircases in the main building and 1 in the other, so it’s easy to get outside regardless of what happens. However, this should have been an opportunity to teach the kids the importance of fire safety and organization during the drill.

This just made me realize, though, just how important drills are… whatever the circumstance. Not everyone can stay calm during a stressful and potentially dangerous situation, and the more the routine is practiced, the more it becomes second nature.