Transitions

I am currently sitting at a Mexican restaurant in the Denver airport… just amazed that my week and a half in Kansas City is already over and I’m transiting to State #2. I’m long overdue for a post, given that I didn’t update before I officially left Moldova, and totally missed KC. Life back home seems so mundane, yet at the same time, I never stop.

There will be a post coming soon… filled with some photos, I hope.

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!)

Words of Advice for Teachers

Tomorrow marks the very last day that I will be an English Education teacher, because it is the “last bell” (aka the last day of school). It’s been a long (and at the same time short) two years, and more than anything I am going to miss the people I have met here, and watching the 2nd graders grow up and develop their English skills.

But today, as I was making my cherry pies, I temporarily misplaced one of the memory cards for my camera, so I grabbed another one. As usual I forgot to clean it but it wasn’t important because I didn’t have many photos to take. But I didn’t realize this until I opened the folder to load the images onto my computer and I found this video.

Maria was given a medal during the Soviet era for being the best teacher in Moldova because she created a language lab using tapes and headphones for the students to learn (which, ironically, have since disappeared). She compares to my high school English teacher when I think back on the passion for teaching they have, and their love of children. So, I believe the question I asked Maria here was, “If you could give a teacher advice, what would it be?” For all of you future teachers out there, this is for you. Don’t forget it!

Bowl of cherries

Where did all of the cherries go?

What, oh what is a girl to do with all of these cherries?

…make 31 personal cherry pies for her teacher friends, of course!

So, they may not be the most beautiful pies in the entire world, but they are tasty! I hope the teachers at my school like them!

Here’s the recipe I used:

Pie Crust:
3 cups flour
1 cup (225g) cold butter, cubed
1/4 c ice cold water

Filling

1 gallon sized bag full of fresh(ly picked if possible!) cherries, pitted and halved
Juice from 1/2 lemon (about 2 tbs)
4 tbs sugar
4 tbs flour

Glaze
1 egg yolk
2 tbs milk/cream
sugar to sprinkle on top

For the crust: Put all of the flour in a bowl, then add the butter. Using your hands, quickly squeeze the flour into the butter until there are only crumbly pieces in your bowl. Make a well in the center of your crumbs, and add the water. Quickly mix until it is a dough consistency. (The recipe I got this from said to take walnut sized pieces and use your thumb and press the pieces together, then roll it into a disk, but I forgot to do this and my dough is fine… just probably not as flaky as it could be). Then put the dough in 2 disk shapes, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

(do not double this recipe! Make it two times if you need more. For 31 personal sized pies, I made 2 batches).

For the filling: Mix everything together. Voila.

When you are ready to begin working on your mini cupcakes, grease your cupcake tins (or use a non-stick tin, which is what I did and it was wonderful). Take one of your dough disks and roll it out REALLY thin. Use something circular (I used a big coffee mug) and cut out circles of the dough, then put them in the cupcake tins. Fill the cups about 2/3 with your cherry filling (it will rise when baking!). Then, however you wish to do the top (whether in a weave, or a plain circle, or other designs, it’s up to you… just make sure you have enough crust leftover to do this).

Brush them with the glaze, and sprinkle the tops with sugar.

Put them in the oven at 375 degrees for 20-30 minutes (it depends on the thickness of your crust).

 

Then…
EAT! Pofta mare!

 

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.

 

 

Smile with your eyes

Smile

As the days in Moldova are winding down, I’m doing my best to spend time with the people I have learned to love here. Maria is the one who made me love Varatic… and as happy, beautiful, and photogenic as she is, she doesn’t like to smile in photographs because it says smiling makes her look old.

So I told her to smile with her eyes… but it took some time to get there 🙂

… but she finally did it!