Trying to Get Home

Tomorrow is an election day in Moldova. The possibility of civil unrest mandates that all volunteers be in their villages by Saturday night. I happened to be in cahul this weekend so getting home was much more difficult than usual.  However, it wasn’t the 3.5 hour bus ride that got to me.

It was the taxis.

When I arrived at the south station, it was completely vacant. I didn’t see any taxis, rutieras, buses…NOTHING!  So, I stood in the middle of the parking lot pondering how I was going to get to PC, when I saw a rutiera in the distance. Optimistic, I hauled my bright pink ADIDAS bag, my big black purse, and my big sleeping bag over to the rutiera.

Everything about me screamed LOST AMERICAN, and the rutiera was not in service.

Disgruntled and back to square one, I began telling myself to be calm in spite of my ever increasing trepidation. So when I saw a taxi stop at the corner, I ran like my life depended on it. Kind of dramatic…but that’s how I felt.

The Taxi Driver rolls down his window: Where do you need to go?

Me: The Romanian Embassy.

TD looks me over: I’m not going in that direction, but you can get in.

Grateful for his kindness, I jumped in the car. It was only after we started moving that I realized I was in a car with two drunk men and a platinum blond woman, who was riding in the front seat. The driver mentioned that he had to take them home before dropping me off, and that the men were drunk because they had come from a birthday party. I wanted to be agreeable considering he was doing me a favor, but the lascivious looks one of the men was giving me had me second guessing myself.

The plan was if he touched me even once, I would jump out of the car and take my chances with oncoming traffic before I became a rape victim. Luckily,  he never touched me. Instead the second man in the car, abruptly grabbed my hand and kissed it and then proceeded to tell me that I should vote communist in tomorrow’s election. I explained that I’m American and therefore can’t vote. The man shrugged and walked off with his wife.

“You’re American?” the taxi driver asks curiously when we were alone in the car.

“Yes.” I replied unsure of whether or not it was a good thing.

He then proceeded to ask questions about why I was going to the Embassy considering it was late at night and no one would be there.  I simply told him I was going to the Peace Corps Office, and I would go home to Mereni afterwards.

Mistake. MISTAKE. MISTAKE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“I know where Mereni is. I’ll take you there after you are done! I will wait for you,” he said. His enthusiasm was off putting, but I had said too much and he had become a little “too interested” for my comfort.  To appease him, I took down his number, told him not to wait, and said I would call when I was ready.

Instead, I went directly to the guard and we watched the Taxi Driver wait out front for about 2 minutes before he finally pulled off. I then asked him to get me another taxi to take me to Mereni.

“What about that one?” The guard asked.

“Weird vibes.” I explained. The guard understood and called me a new taxi.

About 15 minutes later, my second taxi arrives. The moment I get into the taxi he asks where I want to go. I say Mereni and told him the people on the phone said 120 lei. He says, it’s not enough money.  Tired and frustrated I told him to stop the car, but then he says 120 lei is sufficient. Whatever.

TD: Do you speak Romanian?

Me: yes.

TD: Say something!

Not wanting to fight with this grungy, overweight taxi driver that looked like a beetle. I told him my name and that I was a health teacher. Apparently, this wasn’t interesting enough for him.

TD: Have you had sex with a Moldovan?

Me: No, and this conversation is impolite.

TD: I’ve always wanted to have sex with an American, especially an American “like you”. Is it the same as with Moldovan’s?

Me: (silence)

TD: You don’t want to have sex with me? I want to have sex with you.

I wanted to ball up my fists and punch him in the face for being so disrespectful! Instead I opted for…

Me: Drive please.

TD: Fine! Don’t Talk to me! Don’t say anything.

I was so amused by his response that I had to bite my tongue not to laugh. We didn’t speak for the rest of the trip. When we arrived at my house he told me that I lived very far away. I gave him 120 lei and slammed the door shut.

I don’t know what normal interactions with Taxi drivers are…but I’m pretty sure it was NOT what I encountered tonight. It get’s exhausting worrying about my safety all of the time. The truth is…I have too because no one else will.

That is all.

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Quitting The Students

Quitting is not the same as Quitting. ” My dad told me that my junior of college, right before I decided to separate myself from this organization at my school. “People quit things all the time Laquia, whether you like it or not you are replaceable.

The more I thought about it the more I agreed with him. People do quit things all the time.People quit teams, they quit jobs, companies quit employees and lay them off, people quit relationships…people literally quit things everyday.

Somehow, teachers are supposed to be different. Teacher’s aren’t supposed to quit students. Above all, they are supposed to be the ones that remain strong and steadfast. They are supposed to be the people that believe in the students the most, that show them a better way, the people that reach them. But…I am not a teacher…

Tuesday was a long day, but it became even longer once it was time to teach my last class of the day, 8th B. In general, 8th grade is a difficult age. When I was in 8th grade, I was bored in every class except English and Health. English I loved and Health was the one class that seemed somewhat useful. However, this class isn’t interested in anything my partner and I have to say. NOT EVER. On this particular day, we were discussing life goals. We wanted the students to begin thinking about their futures and the things they wanted out of life, something that is not discussed within Moldovan schools.

I watched my partner begin the lecture in spite of the chaotic classroom. How was it chaotic you might ask:

  1. Students refused to respond to questions, even when she called upon them they said “I don’t know.”
  2. Students would get up and hit each other and sit back down, only to do the same thing 3 minutes later.
  3. Paper airplanes were being thrown across the classroom. To make matters worse, they thought it was HILARIOUS when we confiscated them.
  4. ENDLESS CHATTER. The students didn’t even attempt to be respectful. They talked after we asked them not too, they talked after being yelled at. Ignoring them was to no avail because it made it impossible to think!

Thus, the classroom was chaotic.

My partner is really good about pretending like everything is normal and that we aren’t being made fools of, but me…not so much. When it was my turn to teach, the students seemed to get noisier. Instead of pushing through like my partner, I became enraged. I walked over to the group of boys who refused to stop talking and asked them if one of them wanted to teach? Of course, they said ‘no’. Before I realized what I was doing, I shouted at them “WHO WANT’S TO BE THE TEACHER? COME IN FRONT OF THE CLASS!” I absorbed their stunned faces and shouted “THEN SHUT UP!”

For five seconds, the class went silent. But then snickers filled the room from behind me and that’s when I realized that I didn’t have to be there, after all, I’m volunteering. At that moment, I said quietly (in english) “Fuck This” and then I left the building.

Here I am spending two years of my life trying to educate them on topics they would otherwise know NOTHING about, and they don’t care. It doesn’t matter what activities we do, what the topic is, they simply don’t care. And then I realize, it’s not their fault. The system is a mess. Education is not a strong value. People aren’t taught to empower themselves, change what they don’t like, or pull themselves up by the boot straps. They aren’t taught to critically think, or apply what they learn to their own life.  Health is an OPTIONAL course, and I am lead to believe that if it weren’t for PCV’s there wouldn’t be very many health programs within Moldovan schools.

After sitting and thinking, my partner calls me up and says we should ask the students if they WANT to continue with Health Education. I’m thinking…this is a joke right? Of course they don’t WANT Health Education. None of them do.

So we had a meeting. It was just us and 8th B. We gave them a choice…they didn’t make one. We told their diriginte (homeroom teacher) to talk to them about it, 3 days later they still hadn’t made a choice.

So today…we made a choice. I’m no longer teaching 8th B Health Education. Instead, I’m teaching 8th D. They are supposed to be more well-behaved class from “better families.”  To be honest, it doesn’t matter.

I learned something this week. I am a volunteer. I’m only here for 2 years. I can make this experience what I want it to be, and I don’t have to stand up in front of a class and be disrespected.

So I quit 8th B, because they don’t care and neither do I.

The good thing is that now other students will get this opportunity, which I’m looking forward to.

 

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Blank Faces

“How do you like Moldova?”

If I had a Moldovan lei every time I was asked that question… I’d still be broke, but that’s a matter of economics, which is none of my concern.

I promised myself a month ago that if people were going to continue to ask me this question, I am going to start to answer honestly. No matter what. I’m fully aware that my version of honesty is typically delivered in a brash and tactless manner, but we are all a work in progress… I’ll leave it at that.

Today, as I was waiting for the bus to go into the city, two teachers at the school came up to talk with me; the very first question was “Cum este Moldova?”. I stood there for a moment debating about whether or not this was the right time for honesty or a moment to be politically correct. However, a promise is a promise, and it’s important to keep them, especially the ones we make to ourselves. So honesty it was.

“It’s okay.” I responded (in Romanian of course). “People are kind to me. I like my students. But life is very different here, and it’s difficult for me.”

“You are right. Life is difficult here.” One of the teachers nodded in agreement. “But how is it different?”

HOW IS IT DIFFERENT???? There it was. The follow up question. The follow up question that is nearly impossible to answer without being offensive, at least for me it is. There are a million ways to answer this. The food is different, the economy is different, the culture is different, the education is different, our values our different. SO MUCH is different. Instead of selecting one of these perfectly appropriate responses, I chose the response that was weighing me down the most. The very thing I struggle with several times a week.

“Well, the culture is different and the people are different. In America, we have many different people from many different countries, but here you don’t have that. So here in Moldova, I am very different because I’m African American and people don’t look like me. That is one example of how it is different.” I replied.

And then I waited…I waited for them to say something. I waited for them to look a certain way. I waited for them to in any type of form acknowledge what I had just said.

But there was nothing.

There was an absolute lack of response. Both women gave each other blank stares and began talking about the schedule at the school, and how Domnul Fronze can’t seem to get it together.

You can imagine my bewilderment. I stood there stuck back in the past 30 seconds, rewinding, trying to see if I had missed something, but I hadn’t.

They didn’t respond. They did nothing. It was as if I hadn’t said a word, as if I wasn’t standing there, as if they hadn’t heard me.

I was prepared for a lot of things, but I wasn’t prepared for that.

And so now, I’m sitting here writing this blog, wondering who I tell this story too? Who will understand? Because while I adore my fellow volunteers they, with the exception of 6, do not share this problem with me.

I do not care to harp on the race factor, but it is a very real dilemma for me. I’m not certain of much, but I am certain that when people ask “Cum este Moldova?” they don’t really want to know the answer.

And that is what I learned.

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The Boy That Can’t Read and the Girl That Sits Alone, In the Back of the Class.

This is my first post since arriving in Moldova 4 months ago. I don’t care to backtrack but I will talk about today.

Currently, ONE aspect of my assignment as a Health Education in Schools and Communities Volunteer is to work as a Health Teacher with a Moldovan partner. I teach 5th, 6th and 8th grade and I have an after school club.

In some of my classes, there are kids that cannot read or write very well. However, in my 5th B class, there is a student that reads very poorly and yet BEGS to be called on.  Typically, the students that can’t read NEVER volunteer, but this boy is the exception. When I called on him, I actually forgot about his limited abilities, but the outburst in laughter from the other children every time he stumbled over a word or mispronounced something served as a sharp reminder. Needless to say…I was outraged.

Who did these little kids think they were, LAUGHING at a student for daring to TRY?! Not wanting any of them to break his confidence or will to be brave, I raised my voice for the first time this year!

“Clasa 5B! Nu este politicos să vorbească sau ride cînd o alta elevi citească. Fiți atenți și liniștiți ACUM!” My Romanian is understandable, but I still make many mistakes. I wanted them to pay attention and stop laughing because it was impolite to do so when another student is reading. Their silent voices and nervous faces told me loud and clear…they got the message.

No more than 7 minutes later, the children are working in groups, but I notice that Tatianna, the girl who sits alone…in the back of the class…was sitting in her chair with tears in her eyes. While my partner seems to be oblivious to this, I quickly walk over to her and ask what is wrong. Tatianna’s glassy, brown eyes looked up at me with reservation. So I asked again. “What’s the problem Tatianna?” In a very small, voice she says to me, “Doina told me to sit down.”

Some of you may not get this…but Tatianna is the kind of child that is rejected by all of the others. No one talks to her. No one sits by her. No one likes her. And from what I can tell from the layer of dirt that stains her skin…no one at her home really tends to her. So when she says, “Doina told me to sit down” during a group activity I know something went wrong. Never in my life have I ever felt such a sense of responsibility for someone, other than my own brother and sister. It hit me, that if I don’t stand up for Tatianna in this classroom…no one else is going to. I can’t control what happens when she leaves, but here…in MY class, she will NOT be ignored.

To make a long story short, I spoke with Doina privately. Doina simply told me, “she didn’t understand. So I told her to sit down. She’s not as smart as the rest of us.” And then…I was overcome with emotion again. Doina is not the problem. Doina…like ALL of us in this world… is a product of her environment. She actually thinks, she did Tatianna a favor. So I explained that ‘she doesn’t get to decide who is smart and who isn’t, and from now on, if Tatianna doesn’t understand, HELP her understand or ask me to explain it better, but NEVER tell her to “sit down” again’. Doina was ashamed and nodded her head in agreement. I smiled at her and told her I wasn’t angry. And I’m not.

I didn’t get it before today. There was no emotional connection before today. Anyone who knows me, knows that while I am a thinker, my best work comes from my emotional attachments.

To be honest…I’m not really a teacher. I HATE teaching. I’d rather NOT be lesson planning and standing in front of a classroom everyday.

But…thanks to the little girl that sits alone, in the back of the class…I’m prepared to be as brave as the boy that stood up to read today, knowing that he couldn’t. I’m prepared to do all that I can, in anyway that I can to help her, to help them, and to help myself, for as long as I’m here.

 

After all, Life Called…and I answered “Present”.

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Goodbyes Are Hard…

I’ve said more goodbyes in the last two weeks than I care to admit. None of them were terminal, but still, it’s tough to part ways knowing it will be at least two years before you ever see the people you love again.  Graduation was really exciting, because my friends are ROCK STARS and we all have AMAZING futures to look forward too!!! Knowing that we won’t have each other there to share every moment with as we had for the last four years turned me into a CRYBABY!!!! While I am glad that undergrad is over, I will definitely miss my “favorite friends”.

Although saying “goodbye” to friends is hard, saying goodbye to family can be even harder. I spent all of last week visiting my extended family in Canton, Ohio. I really enjoyed spending time with everyone, but I can’t deny my biggest fear is that someone will fall ill or something bad will happen and I won’t be there. Is it odd that I’m not as concerned about missing “happy” moments?

I do  feel guilty for not being able to check in on my little cousins the way I have in the past, or not being accessible to my little sister as she goes through her tumultuous high school years. I always make an effort to see my grandparents twice a year, but now I won’t see them for at least two years. All of it makes me a little emotional, but it helps to know that EVERYONE is supportive and HAPPY for me!

I have always had a strong support system comprised of people that know me, care about me, and really love me. Part of my comfort with taking risks comes from having a group of people that I know will pick up the pieces if ever anything should fall apart. Now, an ocean will separate us.

Being a Peace Corp volunteer is not supposed to be easy. I’ve known all along that sacrifices will be made, but I also believe that this experience will be worth every sacrifice I will make. So, I will continue to smile through my tears, as I say goodbye to the people I love.

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After Receiving the Invite… It Doesn’t STOP!

I used to think that waiting for my invitation would be the worst part…Turns out the preparation stage is no cakewalk either! From the moment my invite was in the mailbox,  I have been inundated with information! Under normal circumstance this would be a  great thing, but for a Type A that needs to review EVERYSINGLEWORD. It all becomes slightly catastrophic.

Aside from the Welcome Kit, there is a secret Facebook Group (maybe not so secret now?) that is invite only. The invitees can ask any question we want about Moldova and current volunteers will answer them!  However, within this FB Group there are AT LEAST 5 different discussions going on at once. Not to mention  the periodic emails from the Moldova Mentor Group, the online documents we are expected to review, and finally, the fun facts about Moldova that are emailed weekly.

It really is a sick amount of information. Let me just say that I am ever so grateful that PC cares enough to keep us informed, but managing all of this while finishing up the last few weeks of my undergraduate career AND working two jobs, nearly TOOK ME OUT!

Now that everything is settling down and graduation is in a week, I have decided to commit at least one hour a day to learning the basics of Romanian. Although volunteers aren’t expected to know anything upon arrival, I would like to be able to ask my host family where the restroom is without playing charades. According to the secret FB Group, the restroom is really an OUTHOUSE.

A Moldovan OutHouse...Pray for me!

So if they don’t understand me, maybe I’ll just go outside and roam around until I smell something fowl. And I’m not kidding…I really do hate charades.

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Nothing Else Will Do…

In my last post, I was apprehensive about some new health developments that affected my status as a Peace Corps invitee. After a week of agonizing and barely sleeping, I am OVERJOYED to tell everyone that I am going to be fine. I got my lab results back yesterday, and it seems that I have shown significant improvements.  I am still trying to collect all of the paperwork for my doctor to satisfy the OMC inquiries. However, given the results of the lab I KNOW everything is going to work out, which I am so relieved about.

While I was making the medical arrangements and waiting for the lab results, I began to think about what would happen if I couldn’t go to Moldova. No really…what would happen if I couldn’t go? What would I do? What would my next move be?

Because… in spite of my Type A personality, where everything has to be mapped out and accounted for…this was the one time that I allowed myself to forget about a Plan B. My close friend said to me the other day, “I can’t believe you don’t have a back up plan. It’s just not like you.” In a way, there was a sense of shame and guilt that I felt for being ill-prepared and irresponsible, but as I pondered and pondered I accepted the truth:

I don’t WANT to do anything else.

Yeah, I have POST Peace Corps plans. I know what I want to do with my life and where I see myself in 5-10 years, but right now… in this moment in time, nothing feels right to me aside from being a Peace Corps volunteer. I’ve been obsessed with the idea. I’m passionate about the mission. And I believe in the power of this journey so much that I couldn’t find another basket suitable to put my eggs in.

I have my invitation to Moldova leaving June 8th. The obstacles are out of the way. Fortunately for me, I don’t have to worry about a plan B.

But I am curious to know…Am I the only one who is foolish enough not to consider doing anything else? Just wondering.

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