Village Life

Antonina

Good Strawberries Don’t Need Sugar

As the days are winding down (we’re down to single digits of time I have left in Varatic), my host mom and I are getting as many chats in as possible. She likes to come into my room when she needs a break from working to cool down and to talk. Today the topic was cell phones and robots. “Robots can never butcher a goose” she claims, and it’s silly that there are blocks on phones that prevent us from going from one carrier to the next, and one country to the next. I couldn’t agree more.

She then decided we needed to to pick some strawberries, because it is strawberry season! Due to the extreme lack of rain we had this spring, our strawberry selection is rather minimal. She has put 3 different types of strawberries in the ground, though, and really there is only one that has produced strawberries up to this point (and she doesn’t have much hope for the others).


I was getting a nice handful of strawberries going, and, like she did with the cherries, she told me to call it good and leave the rest because they’ll be eve better tomorrow. When I looked back up at her, she didn’t have any strawberries in her hands… because she’d already eaten them all. “They’re better that way” she says. Personally, I prefer less-crunchy strawberries.

After I washed them, I took my first bite. Good strawberries DON’T need sugar. Now I understand why I always loaded my strawberries with sugar growing up… they didn’t have a taste (or much of one).

I have no idea how I’m going to eat food back home without breaking the bank by only buying organic food… but oh my gosh, it tastes so much better!

(Then as I took a nap, she surprised me with a cup of sweet blackberries… which are also incredibly sweet!)

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!)

I did it!

The Reward of Goal Setting

I remember my first thoughts as I was coming to visit my village in Moldova for the first time. I was nervous to meet what would be my new host family, to see the village, and anxious to get the whole Peace Corps thing “actually” started. However, when Moldovans in my first village found out I was going to live “in the north”, they gave me a less than favorable preconceived notion of it being poor and dirty. So, needless to say, I was having mixed emotions during the 4 hour journey from the capital. On top of that, the weather was overcast and dark, which means I was not in the best of moods. But then the further north we traveled, the more sunflowers there became (which is my favorite flower, in case you didn’t know). The villages all pretty much looked the same to me… until we turned the corner to enter Varatic.

If I was tired at this point, I don’t remember anymore because every feeling I had was transferred to awe. There is a bridge that goes over a river to enter the village, with tall walls of rocks where the river has made its way through them carving its path. I looked at the Director of our school who was traveling with me and I told her I could not believe this is where I was going to live for the next two years… it is so beautiful.

Little did I know that the beauty in the nature of Varatic would help me get through very difficult times. Now, as I’m wrapping up my time here, it has helped me once again.

You see, I went to a barbeque my first official night with my host family back in August 2010. There were rocks across the river from where we were sitting, and he was searching his brain for the English he remembers to tell me the rocks look like a lizard (we finally settled on alligator… close enough). But when I looked at the back of the alligator, I noticed something that looked like a monument at the very top. He said it was a memorial, and later I found out it is a memorial to go with a legend, and I’ll get to that in a minute. Soon, I had a goal: to get to the monument before I left the village.

When my dad visited in August, we tried to get there. However, before we knew it the sky turned dark and was threatening rain, and I did not want to risk my camera getting soaked, and there was still at least a good 45 minutes till we would arrive there, or a 30 minute walk home. We turned around and went home, which was just in time because then the rain came. So, we were dry and my camera was safe, but we still didn’t see the monument.

Now it’s May, and I have just a few weeks until I am leaving Varatic, and I still haven’t seen the monument. I’ve since learned that is called “the love rock” because the legend says a young couple wanted to get married and their parents didn’t approve, so they jumped off of the rocks to their deaths in the river, so they could be together for eternity. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not, but that’s the story. So, walking home with one of my friends the other day I told her about the goal I had set, and she told me she’s never been there either, and we should go together. However, she said she wasn’t going to walk because it will take too long, and she just got her driver’s license so she wants to drive. That didn’t thrill me too much because I felt like it was the easy way out, and I’ve waited two years for this, so instead we compromised on a raft, which would take us across the river and then it was up to us to walk to the top.

When we got to the base of the rocks, I began to ask myself, why in the hell did I decide to do this again? … and then again about halfway up, why in the hell did I decide to to this again?. We were making our own path, falling down at times, getting scratched by thorns, and the hill was very steep. Plus, we forgot water, so we were unprepared (Irina did bring a change of clothes, though, for a photo session. Oh boy). Anyways, I was losing my breath, thirsty, and kind of wishing I’d stayed home where I was feeling cranky, lonely, and missing life in Kansas.

But then I saw the monument peeking over the last bump, and I turned around and saw where we’d come from: the village that has been my home for two years. My breath that was gone from not being in shape was back all of a sudden, but I was speechless. That goal that I set to reach the monument was finally reached.

My two years here feels like it was summed up pretty damn well with that one little 30 minute hike. I’ve learned to compromise and be patient when it comes to decision making and setting goals. The journey has for sure had it’s hard times and I’ve often lost my breath and thought to myself, why in the hell did I decide to do this again, and I’ve wanted to turn around and go back to where I am in my comfort zone, no matter how I feel or what I’d leave behind. I’ve fallen down, I’ve been scratched, bruised, hurt, and unprepared. I’ve learned not to judge people on first impressions, and I’ve learned to love. I’ve made my own path.

But in the end, the feeling… the reward… of reaching a goal I’ve waited so long for, and worked so hard for, reminds me once again why.

You need to do it for yourself to truly feel it.

 

 

Picking cherries

Cherry picking

As I looked over at the cherry tree that takes over the grassy area between my house and my host parents’ house, I told my host mom we needed to get a ladder out to reach the ripe cherries at the top of the tree. She told me a ladder isn’t necessary, which shocked me because the branches do not look very sturdy. When she saw my perplexed look she asked me if I’d ever climbed a tree before, and I told her I had, but I thought the branches looked weak. She said the tree could hold me. I took that as a challenge and went inside, put on my shoes, and found a bag where I could put the ripe cherries from the top of the tree.

Then, up I went. I was surprised at just how sturdy the branches were and my determination to get the best cherries of the bunch… until my host mom told me enough was enough and there will still be cherries there tomorrow and, in fact, they’ll be even better tomorrow because they will be riper (more ripe?).

When I got both of my feet back on sturdy ground I asked her if she wanted any of the cherries (because I thought I’d picked enough for both of us). She looked at me, chuckled, then said she has a tree for cherries if she wants them.


My freshly picked cherries then became all mine, and they were the perfect snack for me as I sat outside and read for a couple of hours with my babies sitting next to me.

 

 

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.

Family shadows

The Carpet Salesman

All the time people used to tell me, “Cate, you’d be great in sales. You will talk to anyone and you could sell anything!” Today it still rings true. Instead of sales, though, I’ve focused my shift to marketing or a position that lets me constantly interact with people which will ideally cause an increase in sales for the product or company. Because I do not have any formal educational experience in this field, I have been taking a class online, reading books and blogs, and following people on Twitter to learn as much as I can before I return to the States. Something that this research has taught me is the importance of knowing your audience. Yesterday, for example, I helped one of my students set up a website/blog to showcase his photography. We decided to put his website in English because it is good practice for him and he does hope to reach an international audience (at least with a following). I showed him websites of American photographers I like, and he showed me websites of Moldovan photographers he likes and we used the combination of that to put his site together. While I think having a website with a plain background is better and more professional, he chose to put an image in the back because he’s catering to teenagers: they like that (and now that I think about it, I did, too, as a teenager). I thought about also creating him a Facebook and Twitter page, but that would not do much good here in the village… that’s not where the audience is, so therefore he cannot reach future consumers or clients. Within the first few hours of putting a link on his Odnoklassniki account (aka Russian/Moldovan Facebook), he had 327 hits. Bravo, Marin, Bravo!

Then early this afternoon there was a persistent knocking on the door of my host parent’s house. Finally my host mom answered it and shortly thereafter there were voices just outside my room. I assumed some of my host dad’s friends had come to visit, but nope, it was a carpet salesman. My host dad then called me into the living room to help them make a decision. You see, he was certain he wanted to buy a carpet the size of my room for 4000 lei, which meant he got 2 free smaller carpets in return.

My host mom insisted it was a bad idea because she has a carpet she bought a couple of years ago that they haven’t done anything with up to this point, and it was cheaper and prettier than these carpets. With one yes and one no, it was up to me to make a decision. Because I’m leaving in 6 weeks, I said I was indifferent. The salesman used this information to his advantage and went and pulled out the “last” carpet he had and said he’d trade it with one of the smaller ones (still 6x9ish) and my host dad could give it to me to take home to remember Moldova (my host dad really liked this idea).

The salesman kept saying it is a great deal and today is the last day for people over 50 to receive this 50% discount plus free carpet per retiree in each household, and these are the last carpets and they won’t find cheaper or prettier ones in the city. He tried to say they could save these for their kids or send them to where they live abroad (tailoring to their emotional reaction) but in the end, my host mom kept her ground and refused… and my host dad listened.

Carpet salesmen would not be successful in the States because we do not put carpets on our walls to make our homes beautiful. That’s one of the reasons my host dad wanted the carpet… he said other houses have new, beautiful carpets on their walls and he wanted some too for when guests come to the house. But in Moldova, it is common to find carpets on the walls especially in the homes of the older generation, and even more especially in the villages. The older villagers do not frequent the city, so coming to them is the best way to make a sale… and offering them a one-time discount for their age is also an incentive. While it is not ethical, the salesman can say whatever he wants the prices to be in the city because he knows they will not go to compare (I tried to look on the Internet and I found the website but the catalog is not working at this time so I could not see the price difference). Plus, if one does go to the city, they have to bring this HUGE carpet back with them on the small, crowded, public transportation… which is a pain in the neck (literally). This salesman ¬†was doing a great job in targeting the right location, age, and emotional triggers to get my host family to buy carpets they don’t need, but want. If it wasn’t for my host mom’s stubbornness and my host dad’s respect for her decision, the salesman would have sold 3 (because nothing is free) rugs to my family.

In the end, the salesman asked me to take him with me in America when I go home. Twice. ¬†Unfortunately for him, he did not have a good sales pitch prepared for me to buy into that one. Looks like I’ll be going back to America alone!

At peace

What season is it?

High: 85 degrees F
Weather: Sunny
Season: Spring?

It sure feels like summer today and I am not complaining one bit! The transition from the cold, dark, days of winter to the bright, warm, and sunny days of spring makes spring my favorite season. However, I love the heat of summer… so this is perfect! The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and we are on yet anothermini-vacation.

To take advantage of this gorgeous weather on my day off, I bought a hammock. When I was in high school, I fell in love with hammocks. As a graduation present to myself, I bought one and spent hours and nights sitting in it with one of my best friends. On warm summer nights a hammock was the perfect solution to relaxation, and relax is what we did! Then today, I did it again… enjoying the sounds of the birds and the bees (and the moon up above?) and the prehistoric looking insects.

I also enjoyed reading about the New Rules of Marketing and PR on my awesome Kindle.

And I couldn’t help it… the light was too pretty not to take some self snapshots.

MMmmmmhmmm: happiness.

 

Antonina

Candids

There really are not words to go with this photo, at least for me. My host mom colored her hair last week, and here she is relaxing against a tree as the Priest is doing the traditional Day of the Dead blessings. We waited about 4 hours for him to get to us- but he’d been going for 2 additional hours and had about one more to go.

My host mom is awesome. That’s all.

Maria

It’s amazing what a year does

One year ago Pavel, the love of Maria’s life, died.
One year ago, his funeral was difficult to attend because his death was unexpected and it was so apparent in Maria’s face just how much pain she was going through.

One year later, Maria is smiling:
One year ago, the Priest was greeted with tears as guests waited outside in the unexpected cold weather (and snow flurries):
One year later, the Priest entered the home and was greeted with smiles and laughter and warm weather, with guests waiting outside because it was warmer to be outside than inside, where we would be commemorating his death/life/soul:

One year ago, this room was empty except for a casket where Pavel was resting inside, a small table for food and wine, and a grieving friend.
One year later, it was filled with food, friends, and a loving ceremony blessing in which everyone present said prayers and blessed his soul.
…Once the ceremony was finished, it was time to eat (and drink, because what is a Moldovan masa without wine!?)


One year ago, the road was cold, dark, and it seemed so lonely:
One year later, sometimes it may seem like there is no one on the road with you, but even if you are the only one on the road, you’re still on the road… so keep on moving. At least the sun is shining!
Even though I no longer am greeted by HELLO AMERICA! as I enter Maria’s house, I am now greeted with a smile and a, OH, HELLO CATE! from Maria. I still love this couple, even if the couple is technically a single now.
So much can change in just ONE YEAR. Let it change. Let it happen. Because it will, no matter what.