Thursday, August 14, 2014

La Revedere.

As I begin to feel the tendrils of nostalgia for Moldova wrap themselves around me, in my mind's eye I fly back in time to Wednesday, August 6th -the date of my farewell dinner. I had convinced the Mamaligas to cancel/postpone that day's practice in order to make the time to attend my dinner. Unfortunately only Andrei and Sasha could attend. Gero, Raluca, Elena, Tomas, Angee, and Rudi all also graciously came to send me off. 


I had come to dinner almost directly from Liceul to see mentor Nadina one last time and finish up her presentation. We met at La Placinte on Bodoni/Dosoftei amidst a downpour of hail that was setting off car alarms! Not exactly the best start to a farewell dinner but despite the terrible weather we all settled down inside for a comfortable evening. Through dinner I truly enjoyed my conversations with all who came but, although it wasn't apparent, silently dreaded my waning moments in the company of these amazing people. 

We meandered over to the York Pub a couple blocks up Bodoni and I think it was fate that the live band performing at the pub that night played one of my favorite songs -"I Will Follow You Into the Dark." The mood was incredibly lifted for me, at least, for the rest of the night! For the time being I no longer lingered on my forthcoming egress. I lived in that moment, from each new bubble of laughter or smile spreading across one's face. 

To complete the night, Nicu, Maxim, and a few other FLEX program participants came to meet me at the pub. On their way there, they had enthusiastically written me a poem. They took me outside (quite sketchily) to read it to me, and of course, to get those kisses (Don't worry big brother, only on the cheek!)!

I returned home happy, and ready for Angee's farewell dinner the night after! We had dinner again at 513 Bar/Restaurant, to which I arrived late because I was at Lyceul again to see Nadina one last time and was able to be a part of an entertaining game of jeopardy of which I was surprisingly talented at! Vlad, Marina, Rodica, and I spontaneously formed a Staff team and correctly guessed a healthy number of questions! 

Because I arrived almost simultaneously with Sasha, we decided to split a bottle of wine and forgo dinner as it was late. At the bar, Vera gave me and Angee parting gifts of crafted wooden jewelry boxes that smell of Moldova. Mulțumesc, Vera! After dinner we (Sasha, Maxim, Angee, Matt, Angee's friend) walked to Valea Morilor for the last time and Angee's friends had bought her a self-light lantern that we lit on the walkway out over the lake and released into the midnight sky of stars. The red-orange sunset hue of the burning lantern was one of the most beautiful sights and we watched it rise above the moon and fade to a pinprick, then disappear. I will remember that forever. 

"Be Spontaneous"

by Nicu, Maxim, Iura, and Felix

We can be your Moldovan heroes,
And share our pillows
Because pillows for us
Are like writing a poem in the trolley bus. 

Emily, before you go,
Guys, could you stay in a row?
Everyone say those 3 magic words: Wiggle, wiggle, wiggle
Because in Moldova that is legal!

A Moldovan experience doesn't end like this,
Everybody needs to get a kiss!
Maxim of course will be the 1st one,
Come on Emily, it's going to be fun!

We will miss you very much,
But it is okay, we will stay in touch!

Voy a Reveni la Moldova

At the moment I lie in my bed at home, finishing my post I began but could not finish due to a number of factors (including a large presence of jet lag). I successfully returned home from Chișinău, Moldova on Friday evening around 7pm. Leaving the capital's miniature airport aboard a Lufthansa aircraft, I was distracted and flustered. Every moment while sitting on the plane waiting for take off, I kept thinking how I would not see Moldova again for a long time. My emotions were roiling inside and as we took off, tears came to my eyes as I watched the vineyards, farms, and sunflower fields grow smaller with each minute. But I soon experienced a peculiar feeling of peace and weariness and fell asleep. I woke up in time to enjoy the landing and promptly switched flights to board my connection to Boston.

On this second Lufthansa airplane I had the pleasure of sitting next to a lovely woman who was on her way to see her son and his family in Boston. We chatted easily about any measure of topics and life stories that came to mind. As the drinks trolley came around she enlightened me with the knowledge that alcoholic drinks were free on this flight, so I decided to take advantage of that and savor my last few hours being of legal drinking age. We ordered a few glasses of wine as well as a couple glasses of Bailey's with ice and had a very pleasurable flight! I also finally watched Divergent, something I had been meaning to do for a while. Still need to read the book, of course!

Our pilot's landing in Boston was so smooth I felt somehow cheated out of the adrenaline rush I always look forward to when flying. Out of customs I had minor difficulties with Customs and the baggage claim officials with the wine I had listed in my suitcase, but all ended well and I walked out of Terminal E with a peculiar sense of quiet accomplishment, finality, numbness, unspoken sadness, and fatigue.

I have now kept myself so busy that I have found it too difficult to wrap up my blog! The next couple days I woke up bright and early to drive to Devens and play in the Summer Club Championships for Bacon, my Sudbury Ultimate team. I couldn't ask for a better way to return home and spend my first days on American soil, albeit being a tiny bit out of shape. I savored the feeling of a full field, running down full-field hucks, and throwing long-distance hucks. Thanks Bacon for a short but sweet season!

Each night after a full tournament day I returned home absolutely exhausted as a combination of lack of exercise and jet lag. As such I fell asleep trying to upkeep the blog and obviously, failed. Better late than never! My mother and I also left to drive ourselves and the trailer to Nickerson State Park the next morning, which involved copious amounts of packing and planning in quite a short time, the usual for our family. Subsequently, I had no access to wifi until, well, now. I know, excuses galore, but I also believe it was my subconscious who was unwilling to finish my abroad experience; therefore these last couple posts have been extremely difficult and arduous for me to write. However it is completely necessary so stay posted!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Purple Penguins

Below is a story that my host sister and I wrote together by each writing a sentence at a time of our own creativity. The results!

Once upon a time there was a purple penguin named Andrei. The penguin was a bad bird. He waddled onto the beach and stole a cocktail from a man’s house. His name was Macbook Pro. When Mr. Pro discovered that the penguin had taken his drink, he got very angry. The penguin said, “You are an ugly man and you are smaller than a cocktail. That’s why you don’t deserve this cocktail.” And Mr. Pro said, “I will meet you in court!” The penguin agreed and walked away coolly with his strawberry cocktail.

He had three friends and the friends were also bad penguins. Their names were Vlad, Sasha, and Nicu. One time Andrei’s purple penguin friends went to the mountains  and they stole ice cream from a cave woman named Natasha. Natasha was much angrier about the burglary than Mr. Pro was so she called the police. Vlad, Sasha, and Nicu and Andrei all had to go to court that day. Mr. Pro and Natasha sent the penguins to jail. The penguins hated jail because there was no fish; only broccoli.

In jail they met another penguin named Roma. Roma went to jail for shooting a man with a BB gun. Roma, Andrei, Nicu, Vlad, and Sasha all create an escape plan together. They plan to use magic stones from the beach to transform themselves into famous people. Roma will become Barack Obama, Andrei will be the Queen of England, Nicu will become Jennifer Lopez, Vlad will become Ryan Gosling, and Sasha will become Miley Cyrus. When the jailers come they will be so surprised to see all the famous people in the jail cell and let them go immediately. The plan works and they escape and say goodbye.

The end!

I bid farewell to my host sister this afternoon, well aware of the fact that I probably won't see her for a few years at least. It was difficult. La revedere, Amelia! Te iubesc mult! 

I'm leavin' on a jet plane...

I have been astoundingly neglectful of my wayfaring grapes this past week. As I prepare to return home I grow increasingly fretful, anxious, and frustrated. I cannot sleep until two or three in the morning, which results in exhaustion the next day, which I treat with coffee.  With my impending departure date looming over my head like a threatening storm I am frantically trying to buy last-minute gifts and souvenirs for everyone as well as say goodbye to everyone that I have known and met. The combination of a disliked activity (shopping) with trying to catch rutieres and trolleys to get to all my events provides me with a great headache!

Time to collect my thoughts.

I end my internship at Hospice Angelus today. Although I will come in to teach my final English lesson tomorrow morning at 8am, today is the day I will truly say farewell to everyone at the Hospice. I baked banana bread for everyone to accompany the occasion. Hopefully they like it, as some have never tried it before!

I go to Lyceum this afternoon at 4pm for a FLEX alumni panel in which the current program students may ask questions about their travel and stay in the US. After the panel I will mentor Nadina on her final presentation until I will need to leave around 6:30 for my farewell dinner!

Tonight we will go to La Placinte in the center to (celebrate is not the right word) send me off back to the US. As aforementioned, I am a nervous wreck and adding this to my list of things to do isn’t helping. But it will allow me to say goodbye to a lot of people at once so should be a fun dinner. I will attempt to relax and enjoy my last few hours with a company of amazing people.

My mind has a plan for a flurry of blog posts as I near my departure, but who knows, I may end up so upset and restless that there may be none at all! Hoping for the former!

Also my apologies for the drastic decrease in pictures because my camera of five or six years has finally decided to lie down and pass into another life. RIP my light metallic pink Sony camera. You did so well I will miss you! 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A True Love Affair

“It started out as a feeling…which then grew into a hope…which then turned into a quite thought, which then turned into a quiet word.” –the Call, Regina Spektor

Exactly the process I went through on my journey to Iași! I knew I wanted to travel outside of Moldova at some point during my stay here, but I didn’t know when or where. I was toying with the idea of flying to Istanbul but it seemed expensive and complex to plan, so eventually, after hearing from many people how Iași is a convenient and beautiful place to visit, I decided to arrange a trip.

 I chose this weekend a couple weeks in advance because I wanted to leave plenty of time to plan the trip. First –where to stay? I had met someone at the presentation at Summer School for Youth Leaders that Raluca, Tomas, and I visited to present on fundraising and brandraising. Ion Mesca is a university student living in Iași and after the presentation, I began talking with him and the subject of visiting his city came up. He enthusiastically invited me to contact him about housing accommodation if my trip. We exchanged numbers and later I found him on Facebook. When I definitively began planning, I contacted him and he generously promised to find a place for us to stay. Later he messaged me saying his friend could host us. I researched buses or trains from Chișinău to Iași and found multiple buses leaving from Gara de Sud (South Station). On Thursday afternoon after work I caught trolley 10 to the station and bought two tickets for Angee and I.

Thursday night I gathered all my documents and packed for a night in Iași!! Cannot forget the passport! As well as clothes, toiletries, and my kindle and Romanian language book, I brought my work notebook and drew up maps of where we would be staying as well as the immediate area surrounding the station in Iași (Gara Codreanu). The hardships of not owning a smartphone…but I secretly love it!!

Throughout this entire process I was nervous, but I didn’t let it show. I was most nervous about travelling to another country where I barely knew the language and would be staying with someone and his friend whom I had only met for five minutes!

Well Angee and I caught a taxi to Gara de Sud and arrived on time (another fear of mine –missing the last bus to Iași!). When we boarded the bus (actually a small maxi taxi) it was stifling inside as the outside temperature was about 30 degrees (85 degrees Fahrenheit) and none of the buses have A.C nor do the windows open in the back. The only air circulation occurs from the driver and passenger windows. Therefore the ride to Iași was more than a little uncomfortable, but while I was suffering through the heat, I had an epiphany. I had no right to complain about my discomfort in the bus. Many, if not all, of the other people on that bus suffered those conditions daily to get and from work, around the city, and to visit their families outside of Chișinău. Can I not endure the lack of A.C. until I return to the U.S. in a couple weeks? I came to Moldova to experience the culture and observe the lifestyle of its residents, not to wistfully yearn for a more comfortable bus. Therefore I began typed up a new journal entry about this epiphany and then proceeded to enjoy the beautiful rolling scenery rushing by.

After passing through customs and getting our passports stamped at the Sculeni border crossing, we finally arrived in Iași! At first I could not reach Ion because neither Angee nor I had cell service so I messaged Ion online then we left the station to explore the city for a while. We exchanged money first. The money was so beautiful! It is made of a type of plastic material that cannot rip, and each bill is a different pastel-color.

After about 20 minutes we were able to get in touch with Ion and we met at the station. I felt more and more comfortable as we began talking on the way to his friend’s house. He told us about himself and his experiences. He has been to 34 states in the US –more than I have!!

When we arrived at the apartment, the first thing I thought was, “wow this is definitely a Birkel house!” I had the impression that the apartment would be messy and unkempt, but Octavian, the tenant, kept his place spotless! I was so impressed. Another big difference between American and European lifestyles…

Well Angee and I settled in and showered, then Octavian Skyped his girlfriend currently in Orhei, Moldova, for her permission to go out with us (haha). Thankfully she allowed it and we all went to a restaurant with a large terrace, lit with beer glasses containing lightbulbs which I thought was pretty cool. Ion and Octavian’s friends met us there and we had a great night just sitting around a table and socializing. I got to know Ion a lot more as well as his friends Vlad, Sergiu, Raluca, and Andrei. We stayed out quite late, but it was great to get to see Iași lit up against the dark sky. The monasteries were especially striking against the midnight.

The next morning I did not wake up early as planned. Instead, we woke around 11am and went for brunch at a popular venue near Ion’s university. We all had Ciorba Radăuteană, a piquant dish made with smîntînă and chicken and vegetables. I’ve already searched recipes for it! Later we walked down towards his university buildings through the many gardens. Ion was a great tour guide, knowing many facts about the many famous poets, kings, and saviors of Romania. We walked through the sociology building and, as the university is the only one existent in Iași, it was cavernous. We echoed through the stone, passing through endless corridors. Murals covered the walls, but to me, they were all wretched and despairing. It would not make for a very positive learning atmosphere! 

 Finally, we visited the Golia Monastery, which is a beautiful white, stone church defended by walls on all sides. One enters through the bottom of a large tower, and this tower we climbed to the top. The view from the tower was amazing. I could see past all the tall apartment buildings as Iași gives way to the countryside. Small patches of yellow announced fields of sunflowers.

We ended the day shopping at one of the malls, as Angee and I had not planned on staying another day. We bought a couple articles of clothing to hold us over and then ate at an excellent pizza place. I have to give it to Europe; their pizza is definitely better than ours. We returned to Octavian’s to shower and got dressed for the night. We decided to see what the nightlife in Iași was like, and I have to admit that this part is much better than in Chișinău! The club we went to had just the right number of people to have breathing space, and the DJ was superb. Another great day in Iași!

Waking up later than I prefer as usual, I had made last-minute plans with a professor living in Iași who had just returned from an excursion to Neamț, about 2 hours away. He went to graduate school at Lehigh with Bill Hunter, the director of Global Union! I connected with him through Bill as I am his work-study and he gave me all his contacts in Romania and Moldova. Dr. Tudor Stanciu and I met at the Iulius Mall for brunch. Tudor is an amazing person and was so welcoming and enthusiastic about my visit. After the brunch Tudor took Angee and me to a couple monasteries where he revealed his passion for photography, taking many of the monasteries and us.

We ended the afternoon before our bus arrived by driving to his house in the countryside, which he built himself! Tudor lives with his grandmother, who is so sweet. She loves cooking, Tudor said, and they always have an excess of food.

Tudor led us through his garden where we walked barefoot, our feet squishing through the soft mud and dewy grass. We picked tomatoes, cucumbers, plums, apples, onions, zucchini. We didn’t get explore his whole garden, which contains apricots, berries, even nuts!! He also owns three wells. We drank from one of them, and the taste was cold and pure and virgin. I felt so alive there, connected to nature. Not bothering to care about my clothing while struggling through the plants and trees, when we got back to the house, my skirt had tomato dye and dirt smudges all over it. It was so worth it!!

We made a fresh vegetable salad with our cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions, adding some oil, basil, salt. We had bought some fresh bread from a nearby bakery earlier that we broke with our meal. Tudor’s grandmother also served us homemade baked eggplant and red pepper spreads as well as an apricot preserve. It was a warm-hearted meal and I felt so content. I belonged there.

Alas (“Alas, earwax!”), all good things always come to an end. We boarded the 5:30 bus back to Chișinău. But the ride was not morose. In fact, quite the contrary! Angee and I scored seats in the front, right next to the driver, and the open windows! During the drive, we bonded
with the bus driver, climbing right over that language barrier! We enthusiastically tried to talk about football and he gave us a job; to fill out the passport forms after we left customs in Sculeni. Angee would write the numbers and name I read to her, then enclose the slip in the passport and pass it back through the bus to its owner, shouting the surname. This got a few smiles and chuckles from the driver. We all also munched on some chocolate wafers I had bought before we left.

My stay in Iași, Romania was one with absolutely no regrets and wildly surpassed my expectations. Thanks Ion, Octavian, and Tudor for making it extraordinary. Hopefully I can return at some time in my life.

"For if every true love affair can feel like a journey to a foreign country, where you can't quite speak the language, and you don't know where you're going, and you're pulled ever deeper into the inviting darkness, every trip to a foreign country can be a love affair, where you're left puzzling over who you are and whom you've fallen in love with. All the great travel books are love stories, by some reckoning -- from the Odyssey and the Aeneid to the Divine Comedy and the New Testament -- and all good trips are, like love, about being carried out of yourself and deposited in the midst of terror and wonder."

"Why We Travel” –Pico Iyer

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Ce face? (What are you doing?)

I want to update about the things I am doing for the Hospice and also elaborate on some other projects I’ve taken up in the past couple weeks.

Since the Quiz Night at Gallo Pub, there has not been much activity back at the Hospice; it is mostly preparing for the next quiz night, and I am continuing to publicize information about the Hospice as well as the care we provide and newly developed research being performed concerning end-stage diseases and illnesses.

I have also been planning a Charity Run in Hospice Angelus’ name either in October or a weekend in April 2015. I have looked into the necessary permits with the Town of Bethlehem and developed an idea of how I want the run to be organized, as well as contacted the Running Club at Lehigh, who gave me their enthusiastic support and will also be getting in touch with Lehigh Valley Roadrunners, Running World, and Lehigh’s Cycling Club! My run has been included in the Hospice’ annual budget!
Apart from Hospice, I have also begun working with Abayomi (Aba) Ogundipe, a fellow volunteer currently in Moldova for a short time. He has since included myself and Angee with launching a website platform, which will give potential volunteers and NGOs looking for volunteers the opportunity and means to connect with each other easily in Moldova. The volunteers and NGOs complete questionnaires that define their values, schedule preferences, location, skills, and volunteer interests. We will be holding an informational and training session on August 5th, just before Angee and I depart for the U.S. The session will take place at the event building Artico on Blvd. Stefan cel Mare and select NGOs and volunteers as well as possible trainers in volunteer management will be attending the meeting.

Since going bowling with the FLEX program, I have been able to visit the Lyceum a few more times to connect with the staff and kids in the program. Yesterday I went to their “American picnic” which featured PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICHES!!!!!!! I had my first PB&J in a month and a half!

But coming back to the topic on hand, Marina Buciuc, the program coordinator, asked me a couple of days ago if I would like to become a mentor for one of the new students. Of course I accepted!!!! I was so honored that she asked me!!! I was worried that I my schedule would be unacceptable, as I would be leaving about a week before my mentee does for the U.S. But Marina said this would not be a problem so I met Nadina from Bosnia last night. She is blind but this does not hinder her personality and I am so happy to be her mentor! I’ll be meeting her again tonight from 7-9pm, and every Tuesday and Thursday from now on until I leave.

I will miss all the people I have met here very much but I thank them for the experiences and memories they’ve given me so far and will continue to give me until I am gone!

Mergem a Cricova!

Benit ati venit la Cricova! A few EVS volunteers and myself caught the bus out to Cricova Winery yesterday morning. Meeting at 9:45, we planned to have a nice, easy ride out to Cricova and arrive in time for the 11am tour. The minutes ticked by at the bus stop while we waited for the #2 bus to come pick us up. Only around 10:30 did we finally board the bus, and get to Cricova around 11:15. Very fortunately we were able to secure another full English tour for our money because we were so many.

We boarded an extended golf cart and drove through a set of impressive doors and cold, humid air blasted us as we entered the cellars. As we descended to our final depth of 80 meters, we stopped a few times, all shivering as we were too ignorant to bring coats. We saw rows of countless numbers of wine barrels, all stacked neatly along the walls of the cellar. The halls were stunning, stretching on into the darkness. The winery designates separate locations for its wines, with red wines, white wines, and sparkling wines all in different parts of the cellar. Surrounding the entire cellar are under-developed tunnels that may be used later if the winery is expanded. One could easily become lost for a long time in those tunnels!

After seeing the room holding the machinery creating sparkling wine and a hall where about 200 wine bottles per day are tilted 15 degrees every couple days, and the personal collections of many notable political figures (including that of Sec. of State John Kerry), we finally made it to the wine tasting.

The tasting was held in an impressive underground room with stained glass depicting each of the seasons in Moldovan winemaking. I couldn’t help but notice when we began the tasting, the room was all but silent; everyone talking in hushed tones and whispers. I was seated on the end of the right side of the table and separated from the people I had come to visit with by a man from Denmark and his travelling companion from Ukraine. Therefore I was not having much conversation. At least not until we had all had a few tastes of the wine! Then all the whole room was chatting with each other as if we had always been best of friends! I now understand why drinks are provided at some professional events! It loosens the tongue just enough to remove the awkward silences and sticky situations!

*Note: the wine bottle enclosed in glass is the oldest bottle in the winery and also the ONLY bottle of "Jerusalem of Easter" left in the world!!!