Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why I’m going (or coming) home

I have been living abroad for the past fifteen years. I have obviously not loved every minute of it, but there are only a few I might trade. There were some bad experiences with taxi drivers, some out-houses I’d rather forget and many moments which have left the building already. Overall though, I learned a lot, taught a lot, laughed and cried a lot, made friends and generally had a ball. I’d do it over again in a hometown minute. So, why am I here on the cusp of leaving Europe and the East to go back to California? Simple. I need time to think and I spend too much time “living” abroad to spare what I need to process the last fifteen years. Living in a foreign country uses up a lot more “free time” than living in the land of the free and the home of the brave. Here’s good example. About a month ago, I forgot to pay my gas bill. I had the money; I just kept not paying it, because it meant going to the post office or a local bank, standing in line with the other pensioners and actually giving money to a person who stamps your bill and returns it to you. This can take upwards of an hour, depending on the time of day and month. Near the end of the month when due dates are looming usually means half an afternoon. When I got the shut-off notice, my woeful language skills allowed me to get the message: pay in five days or we cut you off. So I went to the ATM for cash and freed an afternoon to go pay the bills. I had gotten a tip that the main post office was always less crowded, so I hopped on the rute and went downtown, about a 20 minute journey plus or minus 10 minutes waiting for the bus. The main PO was indeed, not crowded. I got in line and prepared my stack of “notele” and cash and waited. When my turn came, after about 10 minutes, I greeted the clerk and handed her my bills and money. She took them, paid one and gave the over-due gas bill back. I should say she threw it back, with none of the minimal politeness Americans have come to expect from a civil servant. I asked why I couldn’t pay it and she snarled, “Veche!” This literally means “old”. Because I’ve lived here for three years and could hear the nuances, I understood her to mean that because the bill was a shut-off notice, I had to pay it at the gas company, and just how stupid could I be , even for a foreigner, not to know this little bit of information about my (foster) country. Using another one of my paltry supply of useful Romanian adverbs, I asked where the gas company was located. She didn’t answer, of course, because she’d gotten a call from her bf or bff and was ignoring all the patrons. At least I didn’t feel singled out. I did, however, spend several hours doing a task which takes about three minutes to do in the US. And if I’m ever going to figure out why I haven’t stayed in one place, why the question, “Where are you from?” always makes me hesitate while I run through the possible answers to find the most appropriate, or at least the one which causes the least discomfort to the questioner; while most people I know can say a simple place designator and I have to give a suitably brief version of my life story; I know I have to do it in my native tongue. See ya

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Chișinău, Orașul Meu

Living in the capital during my three years in Moldova has sometimes made me feel that I was missing something of the "Peace Corps Experience." I'm not in a remote village, carrying my water, riding in horse-drawn carts and pitching in with the grape harvest and wine-making. Integrating into the community for me has meant learning to navigate the public transportation system and smiling at my neighbors in the elevator. I don't get invited to weddings or baptisms and I've never celebrated Easter by going to the cemetery and having a picnic with departed relatives. However, as I begin my last three months in-country, I realize that I've been able to share something important with my Moldovan community: their love for their city and their pleasure in living in the greenest city in Europe.

Chișinău is not a large city, 750,000 or so, but every one of the five districts has a huge park, with lakes and forests. All are easily accessible on foot or public transportation. There isn't an "old town" because the city was heavily bombed during WWII, but there are old trees and a botanical garden where couples come to take wedding photographs.

Like most post-soviet countries, there are huge blocks of apartments built for utility rather than beauty, but there are always trees. Children play on monkey bars, but they also climb trees and jump in pile of leaves in the fall. The city is hot in the summer, but in Chișinău, people leave their apartments and sit outside under ancient shade trees.

In my area of the city, in addition to the regular sidewalks, there are broad parallel walkways lined with trees and meadow grass which drown out the noise of the busy street 20 meters away.

In each huge block of adjoining flats, there are convenience stores and small service businesses, a kindergarten and several cafes and restaurants. All the things people want from a neighborhood.

I have a small apartment without many of the accessories we take for granted in more developed countries (like hot water in the kitchen), but the view from my window is of tree tops and the hills.

So, I may have missed a few things not living in a village, but I've gained honorary citizenship in Chișinău and can say honestly, Chișinău e Orașul Meu: Chișinău is my city.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Me and the Veep

OK, so here's what actually happened. I did get my 15 minutes, although very late in the day and totally not because of anything I did or was. Except in the right place at the right time.

I got to the monument a few minutes after nine, as requested. Most of Group A was there, and we did the usual things that people do when waiting for instructions: talk, make jokes, ask questions no one can answer, complain, smoke, and mill around aimlessly, passing on rumors and hoping that something would happen soon.

That didn't happen. However, eventually we were all assigned tasks and moved across the street to the square. Our task was to help with "crowd control" at the metal detectors. You know, tell people to take everything out of their pockets, repeat what they could and couldn't take in with them (liquids, food, sharp objects. And umbrellas. Don't bring an umbrella on this beautiful spring day after a horrendous winter.

This would have worked out quite well, except for one small problem: They started letting people through the metal detectors before they got us crowd controllers in

Piss poor planning, I would say. And the Universe would respond, "What makes you think it was planned?"

So I stood in a corner next to a young Moldovan holding a sign which reiterated in three languages everything they could and couldn't bring. It wasn't that bad, although it could hardly be considered helping much. Mostly, I joked with the secret service guys and enjoyed being with American men who got my jokes.

Finally, I had enough "helping" and left to wander around and observe. There was hot water for coffee and tea in the press section, and chairs. There was a kind of warm up show going on, mostly Moldovan pop and folk music. Very festive and Moldovan. I hung out and smoked until the Veep arrived and the speeches began.

Good speech, good guy, over soon. The Veep left to have more conversations with Moldovan politicians and we waited for the next thing to happen, which was a "meet and greet" for Embassy staff, the Peace Corps and mothers and children. We didn't find out until later who the mothers and children were supposed to be, but they were a diverse and photogenic group. Of course. So are we, for that matter. There were several pictures with the kids and the Veep, sitting on the stage and enjoying one of those warm, cuddly political moments.

After he ran the rope of the Embassy staff, we were told that we would have a picture taken, all of the Peace Corps Moldova, with his Veepness. We dutifully climbed on the risers and arranged ourselves, taller in back, shorter in front, which of course leaves me front and center, wishing I were taller, remembering to stand up straight.

The Veep arrived, posed, and then instead of leaving, talked to us about what he thought was the most important thing we could be doing in this world to effect change and work through the geopolitical changes that are happening around us.

He also stroked us, thanked us for our sacrifices, the usual thing we've come to expect as our due. He said something about his generation, and I piped up from behind him and added, "My generation, too."

He turned around and hugged me and agreed, and then stood for the rest of the time with his arm around me. When he finished, he hugged me and kissed me on the cheek.

Wow! Me, Ms.Feminist-we-are-all-the same-egalitarian-socialist-pinko-bleeding-heart liberal-world-traveler-this doesn't impress-me, with the Veep's arm around me, loving every minute of it!

So that's my fifteen minutes, undoubtedly one of the coolest things that ever happened to me.

See ya.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Saving Myself for the Veep.

US Vice-president Biden is coming to Moldova and I'm going to meet him. He is delivering a speech to the public and having a "meet and greet" with Peace Corps.Last Sunday, our PTO called me and asked if I would help with the event. Although she had zero information about what "help" meant, I agreed.

Perhaps if I hadn't had a fever, I would have thought better of it. I had caught a cold over the weekend and was wiped out on viruses, medication and decongestants. But, trusting in medical science with a dose of folk medicine, I assumed I'd be fine by Friday.

Today is Thursday and the universe is smiling on me. I feel a lot better, have no fever and a little more energy. I'm sure I'm going to be able to help tomorrow and am anticipating the meeting this afternoon when I will find out what shape that help will take.

I've been thinking about two aspects of this visit: one is the possibility that yours truly will be seen on TV(local? national? international?)and will get another 15 minutes; and two is the security precautions I'll encounter or perhaps be a part of.

I normally operate on the premise that I'm not a terrorist and that no one I know is a terrorist so this (whatever security measures I'm undergoing) is just another irritation in my life, the pea under my mattress, which must be borne with princess-y grace.

Then the evil brain, the part that over-thinks everything and prepares for the worst, pipes up and says things like "Gabby Gifford" and "remember the bomb at Hram and the guy that strapped explosives to himself in front of the justice building", and I realize that meeting and greeting the veep might involve more than my shiny face on TV again saying something inane about worldpeaceandfriendship like some boomer Miss America.

The laws of probability say no, and I'm going with the rule of law.

See ya

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The obligatory birthday blog

66 today. Doesn't have the same pop-song melancholy/hope as the old Dan Hill song, "17 today" , but it will have to do.

The last entry I made was in June, so clearly, it hasn't been a priority. Maybe being without a computer has made me appreciate it more? Doesn't that sound like some kind of hippy new agey thing? Something someone could pick out a tune for on the hammered dulcimer maybe?

Anyway, I'm on my way to remedy that situation with the help of a student. One of the most fun perks of teaching EFL: help from bright college kids.

Love Marion