Today is the start of my final week at CCMU. I will journal what today is like. It no doubt will be like no other (they never are) but will probably have many elements common to my routine here. As I arrive to work at 8 am, I find Ecaterina and Anotole speaking on the steps.
Anatole is the night watchman and is now leaving on his bicycle to go home. Ecaterina is the general cleaning person. She picks passed blossoms off of the petunia boxes hung on the front stair railings.
Sergiu, the director of the center, is right behind me and his first activity is to start up the A/C unit in the main room of the center. He had this unit installed in the wall last Fall. This is the first time he has turned it on even though we have had several weeks of warm temperatures. Maybe its because there is a “code galben” warning that today will be a hot one. Or maybe its because tomorrow is his birthday and he is feeling wild.
Ala, a general program assistant, arrived and has spent some time on her cell phone which requires going outside and standing on the front steps. Reception in the building is complicated by the fact that we are in a lower elevation surrounded by a river bluff. Her call was no doubt to her daughter at home to make sure she knows what is expected of her during the day while mom is at work. Now she is busy writing things in her journals which keep the attendance record day to day of who used the services at the center. Each participant’s name and age are listed as well as what time the arrive and leave. Wouldn’t this make an excellent Excel spreadsheet? I thought so, since many of the children’s names appear many of the days every week. I tried selling this idea when I first arrived two years ago. Some ideas fit the culture, and some don’t.
Our first benefactor arrives at 8:02 am. We officially open at 8. It’s a ten year old boy who goes right to the table and starts building something with Legos. Ecaterina is busy sweeping the floor. She meticulously does this every morning. If you know Moldovan brooms, you know that she has to bend over continuously to do this task. She will follow this up with a wet mop of the floors. Her mop is a wooden T frame with which she pushes a large wet rag around. From time to time as she washes, she rinses the rag in a bucket of water and wrings it out.
Sergiu is now busy about watering all the plants and flowers in the building. He is an avid flower cultivator. And it is normal for Moldovan offices, schools, homes to be filled with plants in every window. Sergiu turns on his office radio nice and loud so that we all can hear it. This morning it is radio “noroc”. This station plays a variety of music but is known for a predominance of “musica populara”. You might think that this means ‘popular music’, well yes it is popular music—here in Moldova. It’s the traditional Moldovan folk music.
Laurisa, our medical assistant, arrives with her toddler Marius. They go to her office and get settled. If you have read some of my other journals, you know that Marius is the “destrugator” , the destroyer. He loves to take things apart and to make messes. Let’s hope he grows out of this stage quickly.
Sergiu asks if I have my camera with me today. Of course, I say. He wants me to take some pictures of …..? and he is gone. He’s on his way to the outhouse. Sometimes I notice he gets a quick notice to do that. We have bathrooms in the new building we work in, but he believes it is best to use the outdoor toilets when possible. I worked here for at least six months before I saw the inside of the indoor bathrooms. I actually was never told we had them until my Peace Corps program manager made a work site visit and she asked to use the bathroom. I was about to give her the bad news that we only had an outhouse, but my director offered to show her where our indoor bathroom was. What a revelation.
The bathroom policy was never explained to me, but here is what I think it is. If you are a man, use the outhouse. If you are a female staff member or a member of the public, you will use the indoor toilet. If you are a child, you will definitely use the outdoor toilet. Most of our benefactors are children, the availability of toilet paper in the indoor toilets is usually zip. I believe the women staff have their own stash that they use and then replace in a secret cabinet somewhere. (Is this a conspiracy theory?) There is a sink in the indoor toilets with running water. The children are often directed to wash their hands when they arrive. Often there is a bar of soap in a plastic cup on the sink but there is no towel or other drying material there (Paper towel? not in Moldova). I believe the children are expected to bring their own towel to the center and keep it in their locker but I doubt that many of them have complied with this expectation. And I certainly haven’t, so you know where I wipe my hands.
Another boy and girl have arrived. The second boy joins the first at the Legos table and they seem to work together well. The girl comes into my office (this is a favorite strategy of hers) and says “what are you doing?”. I explain that I am writing a story. Now if I continue working on this journal, she will stand next to me and watch the computer screen as if she knows what is going on. She will stand there endlessly until I say, “would you like to play a game on the computer?” I am partially to blame for this co-dependence. When I was first trying to integrate into the activity of the center two years ago, I began by interesting the children in the few computer games I had that came loaded on my lap top. Some of games were creative and had a good learning outcome to them. Over time I have moved their interest to playing the game of chess on my computer. There‘s a school of thought here in Moldova that fosters teaching children to play chess because it involves strategy and thinking in advance. I like to think I contributed to that goal.
The girl plays a few games at my desk. I keep use of my computer first hand as I know the capacity of children to make mischief with excursions into desktop controls they know nothing about. The girl wants to challenge one of the boys to a game of chess and she calls him from the Lego table. He immediately comes in and takes charge of the computer. The second boy quickly comes to watch and says “I will play the winner.” This pecking order is all too obvious to me. Boys boss girls, and boys and girls can boss handicapped children. Older boys can take advantage of younger boys with a little physical persuasion. Grabbing what you want or giving a good punch to the arm is how you take your turn. I guess there’s a reason we have “socialization” as one of our goals.
I have bought a chess/checkers set for the center and have been keeping it in a cabinet in my office. I know that if I leave it in the general use area, the pieces will be missing within a week . So since this is my final week, I might as well let it loose to the universe.
So here is where my day changes from a routine day. Another Peace Corps volunteer from the Orhei area is visiting. He asked to come out and visit our center and to meet with my partner Sergiu. Sergiu spent about two hours talking with Arun. I was part of the discussion and it took place in his office away from the hub bub of the children and the center. It was a good example of Sergiu’s natural ability to relate to people one on one. He has a healthy curiosity about people and wants to know how they think about things and what they have learned in life. While we were discussing in Sergiu’s office I got a phone call on the center’s phone. Wow, how integrated is that. That’s a Peace Corps term. “Integrated” means you have become part of your host country community. It was one of my advanced English students calling to see if she could have a lesson today.
Every day Sergiu and I walk back home to have lunch. The walk only takes ten minutes. Today we are accompanied by our guest PCV. Our mama gazda has borscht, pork, and eggplant sauce for lunch with plenty of home made bread. The mason who has been working at the house all week building a new “soba” or in the wall fireplace at our house joins us for the meal. Our guest PCV is asked all the usual questions: How do you like Moldova? What’s your favorite Moldovan food? Why did you come here from America?
We are back at the center and now there are many, many more children here. Some are watching cartoons on TV, some are playing ping pong in the new outdoor activity center (my PCPP project), some are just using jump ropes and hula hoops to have fun. My English student arrives and we get down to an hour of tutoring in English. This student is in her early twenties and already out of formal school. She works at the music school in Orhei as a teacher. She already had a pretty good grasp on pronunciation and basic grammar but wanted conversation practice. Over the last six months she has come on average once a week. She says that our practice has given her the confidence that she can express herself in English and feels more at ease in communicating in English.
A group of children are now practicing music and dance in the new outdoor shelter. One of the walls in the shelter has been mirrored so they can see themselves as they practice their moves. Doamna Cristina leads the practice with her booming voice. It is always amazing to me that she can stay focused and get something accomplished in what seems like a chaotic situation. No doubt the songs and dance moves they are practicing will be part of an Independence Day celebration in August. (August 27th is Moldovan Independence Day) I am asked to decide what sounds better, the girls singing alone or with some male voices added. Of course I say that a combination of voices sounds stronger which is the right answer. This gives Cristina a reason to insist that the boys join in, instead of just standing around and teasing the girls.
Another English class. It has evolved to a regular English lesson three days a week at 4 PM. My most consistent students have been two women from Piatra. They seldom miss a class. I always find this class a satisfying way to end the day. Over the past two years I have developed a whole treasure chest of materials on my computer to present at English class. This certainly was not the main goal of my service here, but it was something I could definitely give with some confidence. Through English lessons I have tried to share information about the world that I know, about America, about holidays and customs. I have also tried to include many elements of local culture and realities in my presentations. Overall I’d say they were fairly well received.
Five o’clock is always time to send the children here on their way home. Most days there are on average 30 children here. Some days we have had as many as fifty. I don’t know where the staff got the idea but they set the activity room clock ten minutes fast. When the night watchman arrives at 5 the staff is ready to go on their way home. And so am I.
I actually am now returning to my home in the USA. It has been a wonderful experience to share in another culture's time and space. I hope I have made some positive contribution to their own goals of democracy and a better quality of life. The Peace Corps has been a wonderful way to be a good neighbor. So long everyone, and happy trails to you. Or as they say here, drum bun!