HAPPY NOVEMBER to everyone. A LOT has happened since I've written last!! There has been a lot of thought processes as well, dealing with reasons for being here and the need to constantly validate the fact that I gave up all that I know at home to be here.
I'm sure you are thinking, “Why should there be a need to validate such a thing? Isn't it worthwhile in itself, to be in it?”
Well, the answer is simple...I entered into something that I now find to be completely different than I thought; what I am doing, reactions that I have to put up with, circumstances that I'm not used to and how I deal with them is different than what I'm used to normally. I've found that I, myself need to challenge myself in so many ways, do certain things in which I'm not comfortable in doing, or raise up to occasions in which I would never dream of doing before.
The truth is, all of these things are what I dreamt about doing coming to Moldova, the only reason why there is any doubt in my mind as to whether what I lost is worthwhile over what I've gained, is that I'm not sure yet what I'm gaining, if that makes any sense.
First of all, GRASS ROOTS field work is DAMN HARD! I'm finding this more true than ever before, my level of patience is tampered with on a daily basis, my passion and what I love is put to the limit all the time.
The only thing that has somewhat helped guide me so far in knowing why I'm here is to clarify my role in being here...thus below is an explanation:
Even after outlining these expectations it is still very hard to know if I am doing all I can to fulfill these roles. I'm not sure if it has to do with my own expectations coming into this, which over and over again we were told during training to throw them all away. Yet till this day, I'm asking, “How can one do that???”
Maybe all of this will make better sense after I explain further what has been happening lately...
With all things aside, meaning the wonderful new things I've learned and taken on, a new language, traditions, culture, I was still very unhappy and disappointed in my job placement. Here we go again to the expectations I came with, the idea that I would be placed in a children's focus NGO. I came into the Peace Corps to work with CHILDREN, DARN IT!!!
After several months into site, I still never get to spend any time with children, who are my passion, what I came here to do. Instead, what I get to do is be in an office all day listening to retired people coming in to ask for help from my partner, the Social Assistant. I have a feeling that, Peace Corps had a notion that my partner wanted to work with youth as well, thus was why they placed me here, but it's not true. She is busy with her Social Assistant work as well as being everyone's personal typist at work and having a lot of work at home. This meant that I needed to find other people to help me find work with children, for it is not sustainable to do anything by myself.
I resorted to visiting the Kindergarten several times a week, to sit in on their classes and during outside time. Until I got really annoyed at how the classroom is run, it being really loud and CRAZY!! I just wanted to step in and do something about it, but I had no authority to do so, which turned into more frustrations, therefore I stopped going. I wonder if there is any way I can do anything about it? Maybe....maybe not.
The frustrations and endless search to find what I want to do continues...
Concerning my work for the Mayor, the Infrastructure project to repair the roads and get two buses is still going. The grant writing part is stalled due to translation glitches, but someone else is finally in charge of that. My part is just to wait for them to finish writing and in the mean time to start a Youth Initiative Group to help with fundraisings, for 20% of all grant projects need local funding, and to start other projects as well in the village.
When I found out that a co-volunteer was going to do a Halloween party to fundraise for her Ecology Project in her village to get trash bins and trash pick up running, I thought Gura Galbenei could use a Halloween party as well. I went to my Mayor and everyone involved in the planning for our Infrastructure project and pitched the idea. They weren't sure what to think of it, but I was still very enthusiastic about it.
I went in the 12th grade class and introduced the idea to them, in which I was very happy that they all know what Halloween is, and they told me they wanted to do it. However, the day we were suppose to meet no one showed up. I FREAKIN GOT STOOD UP!! Yes, I was mad and upset and felt hella betrayed! I even tried several attempts after that to schedule another meeting via my tutor, the Assistant Director of the High School, but it still didn't come together. Needless to say Halloween party did not take place in Gura Galbenei.
This is what I mean with FRUSTRATIONS. It took me several weeks to get over it, I whined about it to everyone I knew and it wasn't until about several weeks later did I realize what I did wrong. I approached it all wrong...I needed to create an Initiative Group first and then it'll be easier to narrow down the ones who want to ACTUALLY DO SOMETHING.
Imagine what it must of felt like for them, they hardly know who I am and here I am entering into their lives and declare that I want to do something to improve their village with them. I forgot the step where I need to earn their trust and build relationships. OH YEAH, THAT! I mean I do that everyday with the people at my work, but with the children, besides seeing me on the roads or in their school when I go for tutoring, they don't know who I am. So it was clear that I needed a plan...
The good news entered my life, when the Moldovan government started a new program to prevent new graduates to leave the country for work in promising them a contract to work in a selected village for three years and a double salary increase at the end of the contract. As it is known, 1/3 of my village are gone working aboard, and that consists of everyone my age, or if there are any my age they are either married or have children, therefore it has been SO DIFFICULT to find friends that I can relate with.
Fortunately, about two months ago, 5 newly young (23-24 yrs.) graduated girls came to my village to teach at the High School. One of them, Olga, the English and Mathematic teacher came to my work one day to ask if she could BE MY FRIEND!!! and asked if I can help her improve her English. Seriously, that was probably the HAPPIEST day of my life in Moldova so far!! They invited me over to their apartment for tea and we became good friends ever since.
With Olga's help, I started two English Clubs with her students, one is for the younger students, the focus is mostly learning via games and activities, the older group is based on conversations. Olga herself came to me and asked how to make her students want to learn more, because she is having some trouble getting them motivated. The current method here, as it is in a lot of places, is to have the teacher lecture and dominate the classroom teaching via text books.
I've tried to tell her that children learn in a lot of different ways and sometimes they need to move around, apply it to their life and make it fun for them. Of course, there are also other factors that needs t o be taken into consideration as well. Due to having so many abandoned children living with older siblings or grandparents because their parents work aboard, it's not a wonder their emotional well being are not balanced enough to have motivation for school.
Side note: This is another one of those issues that are at the heart of the problems with Moldova right now. The number one compliant from people living here is that they don't get paid enough for the work they do, which explains why there was a teacher strike earlier this week. Two of the young teacher girls are thinking of quiting the contract at the end of this year and work abroad, because they can't live on the 1000 lei a month salary. Young and old alike throughout Moldova chose to leave their families to work legal or illegally elsewhere to make more money.
I've heard stories of people getting caught by the police and handcuffed back home, and yet they are still glad they took the chance to go and work for the short period to make money that they otherwise would never get the opportunity to do in Moldova.
At the moment my host family is trying to get joint citizenship with Romania, because they have grandparents that were born in there, to travel freely in Europe. Romania joined the European Union two years ago and have privileges Moldova does not. Moldova is currently implementing a lot of changes to get themselves in the EU as well, but their number one problem preventing this from being a reality is due to corruption issues.
Another side note: There are a group of children that are considered, "left behind" that I would love to get to work with. They are the ones who were excellent children who do not show up at school anymore, do not have a support system in dealing with their frustrations and sadness and end up making risky life choices. The difficulty lies in the fact that I don't know how to reach out to them. As we all know, I need to prove myself worthy by building relationships before working with people, adults and children alike; but how to do I get to a place where building relationships is even possible with these children who are hide aways, that do not go to school, and are more than likely will not want to participate and come to any of my clubs?
Well back to the issue at hand, Olga has helped me run a few of the English club meetings where we combine different learning opportunities via songs and games to learning English. She seemed interested in how the children are receiving it.
Through these few times a week in meeting with the children, I've find myself not as disappointed and pissed off at my situation as before. The best time spent is with the older students during our discussion in semi English-Romanian about issues they wanted to talk about, such as, love, problems in school, family issues, but mostly they ask me questions about America. It turns out that the group consist of all girls, which I was a little disappointed in at first, but it works out ok, since we are able to talk about girly things.
In the future MAYBE, I can even expand it to a Girl's Empowerment Club doing activities dealing with self-esteem, goal preparations, life skills etc...Even run a seminar like-activity field day later in the summer with the Women's Association, which my Mayor's wife just started an NGO (one of those that is only on paper for now) and I am one of the first 10th member, even though the only thing I've done so far for this organization is type up documents.
I'm getting ahead of myself...it's those expectations again. I tell you!!
Okay, back to the present moment...My plan for the present, right that was where I was getting towards...
It seems like my challenge is to find/weed through the children who wants to do something with me. My plan is to conduct a survey at the school asking them what do they want to see in their village, what kind of clubs/activities are they a part of now and what do they want to participate in etc...I've asked some of the teachers to pass them out and that is still in progression. I hope that this will help me know my next step better.
Again, I know what my mistake was with the 12th grader, I was the “Stranger”, better yet I was the “American Stranger” who busted into their classroom one day asserting to them that I know what they need to do to improve their village, the key word being, THEIR VILLAGE. My tactic is to give them ownership. I will be the mentor and the advisor (my roles, right?), but not the owner of anything I do here. I need to remember that.
Speaking of ownership, during one of the English discussions we talked about problems in school for children in America, then I asked them what their problems are in the village. They replied, they don't have activities to do. I acted totally surprised, I mean I already know that is one of the major problems, but I wanted them to be excited that there is someone who is listening. I went to the board and wrote down what they want to do about it. They said they want a youth club, then again I acted totally surprised, this time it was because I WAS REALLY HAPPY, this is what i want to do all along!! We wrote a list of things to do in the club and I told them that we will talk more about it at the next meeting and we'll make announcements for it.
That was great and all, but when it came time for the next meeting, no one showed up yet again! BLASTED!! Now it's been two weeks considering they had winter vacation and this week there was a teacher strike and no one has been at school. FRUSTRATIONS UP MY ALLEY?
I know I need to be patient (or persistent?), it will all fall into place. When I relate my frustrations with my old site mate, who ended her service and is now back home, she said it happened to her all the time. It's almost part of the reality of living here. NOT COOL!
More freakin frustrations....
Another leering frustration is about interruptions. Not being a native speaker and currently learning, and not being able to express myself as I would want is a frustration in itself, not to add another factor to it. So here is the story...My tutor the Assistant Director of the High School came to me one day and asked if I want to help out with a Youth Seminar where youth from different districts of Moldova will come to our school. I was, again, happy and flattered she included me.
I spent a week, reading up and collecting all my ideas on different activities dealing with AIDS/HIV and life skills etc. Finally at our meeting, I started my explanation then, I swear during the whole 10 minutes or so about 5 different people walk into the room and just started talking and my tutor would respond back to them in the middle of me stumbling through my Romanian. Then afterwards she would turn back to me and say, “and then what's next?” as though she expected me to just keep on going all along without stopping in the middle of all these rude interruptions. This continued, where I would stop talking as people come in and they would have their conversations, and she got agitated with me for stopping every time.
I know I wrote about this as a cultural factor before, but knowing this still does not help my self-esteem in feeling like people actually want to hear what I have to say. In my mind, there is a lack of respect taking place here. Yet again I need to keep in mind that the thing about interruptions here is that it is known as showing respect to people of power, in a way to show that they are a person of importance, i.e. that they have a lot going on. I will work on this...I am well aware that this is another aspect of myself that I need to work on...which is Being FIERCE!!
There is a realization that being here IS NOT EASY. In a way I knew that coming into this...I DID, maybe I just didn't think that I would have to confront situations that turned out to be different than what I'd expected. No matter what the circumstances are, I am here and that is that. What do I want to do about it? Is the question. I will take what I get and make something out of it (Don't you dare think of lemonade).
Back in September, my Country director wrote this amazing entry about what it means to be a Peace Corps volunteer. He captured it very well...I am going to include an excerpt here (the comments in parentheses are from me):
Long ago, in college, on our crew team, the saying “No Pain, No Gain”
was very popular. It was also very accurate.
Nobody performed at their best, or even adequately,
not even the two oarsmen who went on to row on
national and Olympic teams, without reaching a pain threshold,
and pushing beyond it.
That is the way with endurance sports.
Being a Volunteer is different, though it is also in many ways
a type of endurance race. Peace Corps involves thresholds of
a different sort. The loneliness. Frustrations.
Cultural differences, language ability.
There is something we have no word for:
the state of awareness that one is (24) years old and
possesses a degree from a major United States University
and yet the (the 4 year old kindergarten kid) can walk down the
street of your village and communicate better than you can.
That state creates a barrier, a threshold, one that makes us
want to back away, find an easier route (such as the first flight home),
a path that avoids the embarrassment and effort of fumbling through another
tortured interaction with another new person. When we push
past that barrier, the next day we find another, then another,
and another, and inevitably it takes its emotional toll.
(I know all about how that is)
Peace Corps is not about crummy conditions, or about enduring
the difficult. The fact that you do not have to carry water
five miles every morning does not cheapen the experience.
(which I sure am glad I don't have to do)
The fact that you can flip a switch and usually illuminate the
kitchen does not reduce your achievements.
But Peace Corps IS about pushing beyond those thresholds
of difficulty. If cultural barriers were easy, there would be no
need for Peace Corps. If languages were easy to learn,
Americans would know four or five apiece. If markets and
English, health and (Community and Organization Development)
concepts were easy to teach, we would
not ship Americans 10,000 kilometers to remote villages in
Moldova. Our goals ARE important, and achieving them IS
worth the effort, but doing so will never be easy.
So…am I talking about 90-day cultural immersion policies?
(which about 90% of my group broke, it means we were not allowed to spend nights outside our sites for the first 3 months at site)
Yes. And about finding a tutor and working hard at the language?
Yes. And about trying another way to make the host
family situation work, and the balky partner work? Yep, yep.
But I am also talking about day to day, little things, big annoyances,
confronting what we don’t like to do. (i.e. shouting at people at the post office, read on you'll find out)
I am talking about Volunteers, and Staff. About me.
No pain, no gain. Not the most enjoyable of credos by which
one can live. But pick out the Moldova 19 (the group that recently ended their service, my group is M22) whom you think was the most successful, and the happiest with their service.
Ask them about the difficult times, and how they got through
them. Their words will be different. But somewhere in there
you will hear about thresholds confronted, and crossed. The
most difficult path is usually the wrong way. But the simplest
path rarely leads where you really want to go.
Again...What is my plan??? Thus said, the plan is: I'm going to push beyond my thresholds and be FIERCE!!
That is actually what I'm going to do. I'm going to be persistent, I'm going to demand work, I am going to do what I came here to do. I came here with a mission, and I know that expectations are sometimes too great, but I don't think that mine is way out there. All I want to do is work with children and have people want to work with me. That isn't too big or way whacked.
Awhile back, before a M 19 left, they wrote about how important persistence is to being a Peace Corps volunteer, especially here in Moldova...following is an excerpt so that you can get a better idea of how it works here (again in parentheses are my comments):
Don’t believe me? Go down to your local post office tomorrow morning and try to mail a
letter. You, the odd one out, patiently waiting in line, will be cut, pushed out of the way,
and surpassed by many a Moldovan – some yelling, all somehow working their way through the crowd.
(Can't even begin to tell you have annoying and frustrating it is when this happens-this was why it took about 2 hours for me to send a package to Ethan for his birthday until I figured it out, way after the matter) The postal worker, having watched you wait with no results for at least 30 minutes (try 2 hours) by now, will yet again help the person who ends up in the front of the line (fairly or unfairly).
Because the line cutter wants it more, or at least that’s how it appears on the surface. If you really wanted to be helped, you would have pushed to the front. ( i.e be Freakin FIERCE) You would be raising your voice, not texting your friends about how frustrating everything is in Moldova. You look content waiting. So they will let you wait.
Once you understand this simple concept – sometimes you have to be persistent (can be read as annoying) to get results – you will not only be able to mail letters quickly, you will, hopefully, be able to better secure yourself work in your community.
Yes, you “GAVE UP” two years of your life, moved how many thousand miles away from home; you were expecting work to be waiting for you – productive, hands-on, making a difference, hardcore “Peace Corps” work. You were under the impression (darn expectations again), perhaps that this work was just waiting to be done, that it NEEDED to be done… Why else would you have come? (yeah, RIGHT!!!)
Sometimes, as we all have learned, what we thought was, isn’t always the reality of Peace Corps (for better and worse). Maybe one person in your group was handed their perfect job, with individually tailored work on a platter (such as, my co-volunteer who actually did her Halloween fundraising with success, you wanna know why? Her partner has the title and is getting paid only for her work as a "Project Designer", how wonderful is that to find someone already dedicated) – but believe it or not those are the rare situations. (Oh, she also has a site mate!!! how unfair!)
Perhaps your counterpart is an “absentee landlord,” never there, has no time, and is not-motivated to work with you. Or even worse, you may think your counterpart is “part of the problem” in various ways. Maybe your organization only exists on paper.
Maybe it’s a grant chaser. Maybe it seems they just want you to translate said grants (been there, done that). Maybe not. But let’s assume for some reason that your primary assignment doesn’t work out, at all. You’ve waited on kids at internet cafes (or at the school) for months, you’ve waited on meetings that never happened, you’ve tried over and over to address the “communication problem” with your counterpart, with no results. You’re fed up, frustrated with yourself, with them, and with Peace Corps. What do you do?
However it translates; Annoying, Fierce, Persistence, Making Lemonade...it all means one thing and that is, I'm not going to sit around and wait for what I want to come to me. I freaking gave up so much to be here and I'm going to turn it into something worthwhile, even if at times I just want to throw in the towel and call it quits. You know why, it's because I'm F-ING COMMITTED!!!
I wanted this for so long, it doesn't matter if it turns out to be different from what I'd expected it to be. It doesn't matter that it's WAY F-ING HARDER than I thought. My emotional toll has come and it will keep coming, and that is okay, as long as I keep on learning. No matter how many nights I spend crying my eyes out, it's all ok as long as I find some BEAUTY underneath it all, as my old site mate advised me.
She also said something else that has helped open up my eyes, "To fulfill why I went (Moldova) meant I had to become comfortable with me." That I am still trying to work out. I am in the process of getting in touch with all sides of me, not hiding the bullshit, the side of me who can cut lines and shout at people to get her mail sent. I too can be the person who ask for what she wants and will fight for it.
In hopes that this has enlightened you a bit on how things have been lately for me in Moldova, I will sign off until next time. With this I promise, I will continue to be FIERCE with a bit of a Moldovan touch...Why not, it won't hurt.