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The Last Post

I left Moldova on the 25th of July. The last Moldovan from my village I saw was my host mom when I kissed her goodbye and we exchanged the traditional Moldovan “Be healthy, health and happiness to your family, may you get married soon and have many children, yadda, yadda, yadda.” My partner, Maia, also called me the night before I left and told me that she had learned a lot from working with me and that she hoped I would visit sometime and stay with her in the village.

The last Peace Corps volunteer I saw was my good friend and amazing PCV colleague Zach, who walked me to the front of the Peace Corps office at 4am where I grabbed my bags and called a cab to take me to the tiny Chisinau airport. Zach is extending and so will be in Moldova for another year acting as “Volunteer Leader,” a relatively new position created so that volunteers with two years of experience can assist more with administrative practices as well as continuing work with host country nationals. It was very strange to get into that cab alone and watch Zach shrink away in the dark, and I’m sure it was strange for him as well, being the only person in our group who will still be in Moldova after this summer is over.

The flights were good, but long. When I got off the plane in Detroit I couldn’t stop smiling. It was my first time on American soil in two years and all the signs were in English. The first guy at customs was amused by how excited I was to be home and smiled at me. The second guy didn’t really give a shit and told me to move it along when I asked him how his day was going.

In Seattle, my brother picked me up and drove me out to my parents’ house. My parents are currently on their boat in Alaska for the summer, so their house was empty. I spent the evening digging through the closets and the attic, going through all the clothes and shoes I hadn’t seen in two years. I took a long bath, had a glass of wine, and went to sleep in the giant guest bed upstairs in my parents’ house. It has a memory foam mattress and is enormous – quite a change from my house in Moldova. And there were no mice noises ALL night J

I spent the first day back getting a cell phone and a drivers license again. Then spent the last ten days jetting around in my mom’s car, meeting people I haven’t seen for two years, catching up, eating Indian food, cupcakes, smoothies, Taco Bell, and sandwiches. Lots and lots of sandwiches, Greek yogurt, and chocolate soy milk. I went to karaoke, had Mexican food, took a ferry, and walked around the lake in the park where I used to live.

American sizes are huge and I could usually only eat half the portion sizes that I know I used to. The smallest coffee available at Starbucks, which I used to drink two of a day, now sends me into nervous spasms, so I’ve had to switch to decaf for in indeterminate amount of time.  I suspect that I still have some intestinal parasites left over from Moldova, but the doctors there took samples before I left and will contact me if I have to get follow ups here. If it is Giardia again, it has a short life cycle and I have almost no chance of being re-infected here, so it won’t be a problem for long.

The roads here are gorgeous, as are the parks. Everything is clearly marked and always clean. As I was strolling through the park with a friend the other day, he told me that there is a garbage strike going on in Seattle right now and it’s a real problem. I looked around me and saw not one cigarette butt out of place and marveled to myself.

No one covers their head when they go outside in the sun and no one has to work all day. The beers are dark and flavorful, there are always lots of choices for everything, and all customer service people are super, SUPER friendly.  I love driving again (Peace Corps does not allow volunteers to operate motor vehicles of any kind, so I did not drive for the whole two years). I feel super in control when I can drive myself places and don’t have to hitchhike or wait for the bus by the side of a dirty road.

Once or twice someone has said something to me that I didn’t want to respond to, like a weird guy in a bar, and my Moldovan instincts kicked in and I just ignored them. But then after they repeated themselves several times I remembered that you can’t just ignore people you don’t want to talk to in America unless you want to be seen as a huge bitch. Also, I have almost cut in line like 14 times because Moldovans don’t use lines, they just crowd until they push up to the window. I always hated that, but now that everyone is patiently waiting in line it does seem pretty silly that we just stand there, powerless, when we could just walk up and get our business done sooner.

Everyone looks comfortable all the time. None of the girls are wearing heels – almost never! And yet they are going to work or out to the bar. Everything feels cheap – stuff at Safeway is always just 3 or 4 bucks. Then I think about converting it to Moldovan lei and it becomes overwhelmingly expensive so I had to stop doing that. Driving was all fun and games until I needed to fill up the tank with gas. 70 dollars for my dad’s Audi sedan. That’s 6 months wages for a teacher in the village in Moldova.

I expected the experience to be overwhelming in the sense that Americans have constantly at their disposal over 40 flavors of toothpaste or that everyone has a car and a bunch of money. When I wasn’t floored immediately upon returning, I thought I’d gotten off scot-free but it hit me a few days later, in the middle of the week. It wasn’t so much being overwhelmed to be back in the first world so much as it was the very scary realization and understanding that you can never go back to the life you had before Peace Corps. Everything looks different and in the two years that you’ve been gone, everyone has continued with their lives and you show up in the middle of this with no job, no car, nowhere to live and all you have to talk about it Moldovan stories that no one really thinks are funny, or inside jokes about Romanian that no one understands.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s been a wonderful week and I have loved catching up with people and I am very lucky to have so many friends that I can just pick back up with as if not a day has gone by since we last saw each other. But, as my aunt put it when we had lunch and caught up, it’s expected that you’ll come back and find that things have changed – this you come prepared for. It’s scary and daunting, though, when it hits you that nothing has actually changed – YOU have changed and everything is slightly skewed now because of it.

So now I’m on a plane to Alaska. My brother and I are going up to hop on my parents’ boat and I am going to work my way down with them as they come down the Western coast of Canada and back to the Seattle area around the last week of August. I’m looking forward to time spent with my parents again, time with my family all together for the first time in almost 3 years, and time to be still and reflect on the person I was, the person I have become, and how those two people can functionally coexist.

I want to thank everyone who has followed this blog over the course of two years. It has been an incredible journey – the best so far of my life – and there were days, especially in the beginning, at the hardest parts, when knowing that I had people cheering me on and waiting for updates here gave me the motivation to keep calm and carry on.

This blog will remain online and public for anyone who is interested in joining Peace Corps. If you are interested, please feel free to contact me any time and I would be happy to talk about it with you for as long as you want.

Lastly, I want to thank the Moldovans that I lived with, worked with, commuted with, argued with, complained with, ate and drank with, killed things with, and learned with for two years. Moldova is a truly wonderful country with an amazing cultural tradition of generosity, hard work and hard partying. I know that I created hard days for them sometimes, and they created hard days for me occasionally, but I think that this is what families do for one another and I do consider Moldova to be a second home and a second family.

Va doresc mult, mult, mult sănătatea pentru voi și că rămăniți o țara bogata, frumoasa, și naturala pentru todeaună. Știu că vom întilni dîn nou în viitor. Sper numai că înca pot să vorbesc în limbă romănă atunci! Draga și Sănătatea și toate cele bune!

Five Most Unexpected Things About Peace Corps

1)   People do not necessarily want your help or opinions

This is a hard one. We imagine that we will arrive in country and a herd of poor peasants are going to mob the plane, chanting, “Give us knowledge! Give us compassion!” Turns out, these people have been living their lives without my help for who knows how long and they are doing things the same way they have for hundreds of years. I show up and start telling them how they could make their lives easier and they think I’m an idiot. Half the time I’m actually wrong about it helping them and it ends up just making more work for them. The other half of the time they just don’t want it. I must have asked my students a million times, “Don’t you want to express yourself and be more creative?” Even if it’s good for their development doesn’t mean they are going to thank you for it and you need to be okay with that if you’re going to make it through Peace Corps.

2)   Sometimes you have to be a bitch

I showed up and thought that I would just love everyone so much that they would love me back and we would work in harmony and peace and friendship. HAHA. Nope. Moldovan culture (and, I would hazard to guess many different cultures around the world) does not necessarily value punctuality or doing a good job or not cheating. I tried to pussy-foot around this and ask nicely for the first few months but then finally, the best results I got were when I tore into someone and told them they were being selfish and irresponsible and that I was really disappointed in them. People respond to a little anger and some harsh words and while I do not condone it as a primary form of communication, you need to know when enough is enough and let it loose, otherwise people will walk all over you.

3)   I really missed sandwiches

That’s it really. I thought it would be Chinese food but it wasn’t. Cold deli sandwiches. Who’d have thought?

4)   Americans Worry Too Much

Moldovans do all kinds of things that Americans would never do, like not washing hands ever, drinking wine when they are pregnant or giving a little vodka to the baby to make it go to sleep. I think living your whole life doing stuff like that can lead to big health problems (check out the Moldovan life expectancy) but I have learned that if you occasionally need to cut corners, you’re not going to die. Our bodies are extremely resilient and I think Americans play it so safe sometimes that we have forgotten how much we can actually deal with. You probably don’t need all the hand sanitizer you’re using.

5)   Building a school for poor people does not help anyone ever

Most Americans think that the way you help someone in a developing country is by giving them something. Shoes, clothes, money. Turns out, this is shitty development. If you give people things all the time they don’t learn that they are talented, strong, creative people. They learn that they are weak and stupid and need help from someone else to live a good life. The only way to help anyone develop is to show them what they are capable of. This is the whole point of Peace Corps and it takes many of us the first few months in country to slowly realize that we won’t be just giving people things the whole time we are here. At the end of the day, you have to be doing this for yourself, at least a little bit. Because you are going to help out host country nationals a lot more by telling them that you came here for you rather than that you came here to “help” them because they are so poor.

Ten Things I Learned in Peace Corps Moldova

 

1)   Failing is not necessarily failing

When we first arrive here, we have these very specific, big picture ideas for how we’re going to solve all the world’s problems . This is because Oprah is always building schools and giving people cars all over the TV and Americans begin to think that this is how you help people in developing countries improve their lives. But once you are here, it becomes glaringly obvious very quickly that, in the realm of behavior change, it’s not that simple. Most host country nationals think your ideas are stupid most of the time and the few that they are willing to try often don’t work out because people lose interest or don’t use good practices. If we volunteers cannot deal with failing in this sense, we would have to quit after just a few months. Instead, we begin to think of failing in a different light. If someone can’t organize an after school club with you, but they are willing to put together a pamphlet about tuberculosis, that’s the best they can do right now and that is a success, not a failure. The fact that someone did the most they could do with the limited resources and time they had is the greatest success, and who cares if it’s just a piece of paper instead of a new building – they just pushed themselves to their limits. Baby steps.

2)   You’re yourself no matter where you go

I have always had a big mouth. I’ve also always envied girls who are patient and kind all the time and who seem so much calmer than I feel most of the time. This was not my main motivation to do Peace Corps, but I do admit, I thought that living quietly in a village and speaking another language for two years would help me to become more patient, serene, and quiet. Turns out, you can’t run away from the person you are. At first I couldn’t say anything in Romanian, but as soon as I got a grip on the language I found myself doing the same thing I’d always done, but in Romanian. Talking too much, saying things I wished I hadn’t, and generally being a loud mouth.  I’ve had to accept that this is apparently part of who I am. Peace Corps is not an opportunity to become a different person. It’s just an opportunity to discover how the person you really are translates into another culture and another language.

3)   Figure it out

You can figure anything out. And you can probably do it without Facebook, Google, or electricity if you want to. As long as you’re unwilling to accept that there is not a solution.

4)   Patience, Patience, Patience

While I am not any quieter than I was before, I am more patient. This doesn’t mean that I LOOK patient all the time, (I fidget a lot), but that I recognize that some people need more time to get going and they are going to like working with you more if you can recognize that and give them the extra time they need before you start riding them about it.

5)   Don’t take it personally

Sometimes people get pissy. It’s usually because they are stressed out, scared, or sad. It is rarely ever because they actually don’t like you as a person, and if it were, they would probably not be a very interesting person. Most people just need someone to talk to them about how they are feeling. So when someone snaps or gets angry and says something mean, the proper reaction is to switch the subject to how they are feeling. Working with me was just as stressful, if not more so, for my Moldovan partners than it ever was for me to work with them, and in a country where direct communication is not utilized that often, you have to pick up on the other signs that someone needs some comfort from you.

6)   Don’t worry so much about what other people think

I have always cared way too much what people think of me. I spent the first several months in Moldova tip-toeing around Moldovan culture, trying not to do anything too weird or anything that might upset anyone. Then I found out that I’d still been offending everyone anyway. You don’t know what the details of this culture are when you first get here and there is no way you can prepare and know all of it. And it’s always something you’d never expect that pissed someone off. So I learned over time that if you offend people, tough cookies. I didn’t know any better, I apologized when I could, and nothing bad ever came of it. People get over things, and if you didn’t intentionally offend them, then all you need to do is wait until they are over it and move on with your life.

7)   People will love you more for being you, rather than trying to be like them

Along similar lines, I thought that what would make the Moldovans like me would be if I showed them I could assimilate to their culture. Guess what? They have a surplus of Moldovans around here, so that is nothing new. And ultimately I can’t do things as well as they can anyway. I was much more successful when I just did what I wanted to do. Then I was interesting to the Moldovans because I was different, and I was really good at it because I happen to be an expert on being myself.

8)   People are people – personality types are the same throughout the world

At the end of the day, everyone likes drinking and eating, doesn’t like having to work when it’s too hot or cold, loves their children, doesn’t have enough money, and worries about the future. People are people. In addition to that, there are a limited number of personality types, regardless of how much they try to disguise it within their unique culture. There’s the gossip, the uptight, the worrier, the hedon, the sweetheart, and many others. All you have to do is figure out who you’re dealing with and act accordingly.

9)   There is a big difference between intelligence and education

Some people with an unbelievable amount of very expensive higher education are idiots when it comes to certain subjects, like communicating clearly or thinking creatively. And some people who dropped out in 7th grade can solve all the world’s problems if you give them the chance.

10) At the end of the day, everyone just wants to feel needed

This is the root of the human condition. We are part of a community, a culture, a family, all of us, and at the end of the day, we just need to feel like we have a place in the world where we belong and where people want us to be with them. If you can find a way to give people that, they’ll be happy.

 

I had the pleasure to work a little bit here with a volunteer by the name of Josh Bossevain, who was a journalist working as a volunteer teaching English in Chisinau. Josh had this perspective about Peace Corps service and I wanted to share it with you here. I’m going to paraphrase in my own words but the idea was Josh’s and I would encourage you to Google him if you are interested in reading more about Moldova.

Peace Corps is like an entire life, all wrapped up into two years.

Step 1) Infancy

You get off the plane and you can’t speak. You can’t get food for yourself. You can barely go to the bathroom by yourself because everything is totally different. You need special care and instructions to do the most basic tasks and you are surrounded by people – older volunteers, host family members and Peace Corps admin, who think it’s adorable how clueless you are and who are lined up to help you out.

Step 2) Childhood

About two or three weeks in you are awash in curiosity and wonder at your new surroundings. You are picking flowers and asking in your limited vocabulary how you say “daisy” and “pancake” and what everything means. Your host family treats you like an 8-year-old and takes you to family events and shows you off. You’re always being condescendingly told that you’re doing a great job and, because you’re like a child, every time someone says it, you swell with pride and pat yourself on the back.

Step 3) Adolescence

Suddenly everything irritates you. How dare your host family act like you don’t know what you’re doing (you don’t) or think that you can’t find the mayor’s office (you can’t) or that you don’t already know how to take care of yourself (you used to, but in this new environment, it appears that you don’t). You resent the fact that you need help so you retaliate by pushing everyone away and insisting that you don’t need anything from anyone. The result, however, is that you’re constantly screwing things up because the fact is, you don’t know what the hell you’re doing or how to take care of yourself. You’re convinced that you know more than everyone else about everything despite the fact that you’re constantly making an ass of yourself.

Step 4) Young Adulthood

You calm down a little bit and accept that you need help sometimes. You go to site and get to start over with a new host family so you can set up a real life. You regain some autonomy as you learn the ropes and maybe even start cooking for yourself. You start to feel like you know who you are and what you want and you find that other people find you engaging and interesting. Things change a lot, but you go with the flow and find that you have your own niche in life. You get hassled a lot about why you’re not married yet.

Step 5) Midlife Crisis

Around the end of the first year, you start to slow down. You look at the new volunteers who arrive and you think to yourself, “Was I ever that young and fresh?” You become more realistic than idealistic. You no longer get embroiled in hot button issues with host country nationals or other volunteers because, at your age, you understand that it’s not worth getting all riled up about everything all the time. You spend most of your summer trying to calm down the younger volunteers, who just think that you “don’t get it” or are “too old to care anymore.” You settle into a complacency with your work and your life that makes you feel secure. You sometimes envy the younger volunteers their youthful exuberance, but mostly you’re just happy that that tumultuous phase of your life is over.

 

Step 6) Aging

As your second year unfolds, you begin to feel your age. Basic parts of your life that used to give you drive seem tired and old and you begin thinking about the end. You think about what your colleagues will do once you’re gone. You think about what life will be like in the village when you’re not there anymore. You realize that your existence here is temporary and that all that matters is how people will remember you and the things that you taught them. You look around at your friends who arrived with you and realize that within a few short months you will all be gone.

Step 7) Advanced Old Age

You begin to see your friends go. As they do, you hug them, tell them what they have meant to you, and promise to follow them soon. Once they are gone there is a hole in your life and you find yourself feeling thankful that you don’t have to be here too much longer either. You remind yourself a lot that the end is a part of the whole process and that although it’s bittersweet, it’s a natural part of this life. No one really knows what it will be like on the other side, but we believe that it will be restful and beautiful and clean and that we will meet our long lost family and friends on the other side.

Step 8) Death

You can feel your time coming. You get your paperwork in order. You visit partners and students and friends for one last dinner and one last glass of wine. You feel a little disjointed because you have known your whole life that this moment is coming, but it seems unreal. You think of all the friends you have lost recently and you take heart in seeing them again soon. Everyone tells you goodbye and good luck. They are all super nice because they know you are a little scared. They tell you they don’t know what they are going to do here without you. You assure them that you will be watching them and wishing them the best from the  other side. You take one last look. And you go home.

I am now somewhere between Advanced Old Age and Death. Death comes in 2 and a half weeks. It’s not meant to be depressing, but exciting. It’s a little scary but, after all, it is a part of this Peace Corps life and I’m excited to live the rest of my life on the other side. See you all soon!

Stress

When I was in my senior year of high school, I remember that right at the beginning, people started warning me that it would be stressful. “You’re about to end a very big chapter of your life and begin a new one that will be totally different,” they said. “This can make you freak out a little bit.” They kept reminding me that I could talk to someone if I felt stressed out.

I didn’t feel stressed out, though. I was 18, knew everything, and had everything under control. Only psychos freak out. I mean, it’s COLLEGE. It’s normal. I knew it was a big step, but freaking out was for things that weren’t normal. Like finding out that you’re adopted and that your real parents are murderers. Or that you have 6 months to live. But college? Come on.

In retrospect, though, I see that while I “didn’t feel stressed, out” several things happened that year that lead me now, as an older and wiser person who is willing to admit that when I was 18 I was full of shit most of the time, to conclude that somewhere in there, I clearly was feeling some stress.

For example, I developed a rather violent eye twitch. It wasn’t really noticeable to anyone but me. I didn’t look like I had Turrets syndrome or something. But constantly, throughout the day, my lower eyelid would start to contract and cause a weird pulsing sensation on the white of my eye. It was distracting but not painful. At the time, I remember thinking it was “crazy town” and made a bunch of jokes about it and then proceeded to ignore it.

Then, starting when I turned 18 and was granted the right to sign myself out of school because I was a legal adult, I stopped attending all my classes each day. We had a block schedule so there were only 4 classes to attend, but for some reason, I couldn’t find the strength to go to all 4 in a day beginning in about February. I honestly don’t think that I made all 4 classes once from somewhere in March to the very end of school. It was a different one every day – I alternated based on my mood and what we were doing that day. Also on how much I wanted to sleep in versus leave early versus take a long lunch break.

The thing was, though, I wasn’t blowing off classes to live a wild, party lifestyle or something. I wasn’t even doing it to hang out with friends. I left alone and would go home and sleep. So for the last 3 months of high school, I suddenly could not get through one day without taking at least a 2 hour nap. And I was not a night owl, catching up on sleep. It was just that suddenly I was so tired all the time. I just needed the extra shut eye.

Again, at the time, this was just how I “felt like” doing things. Now, when I look back, I realize that I was clearly stressed out but refused to acknowledge it because I interpreted “stress behavior” as screaming and going on benders and ripping my hair out. It never occurred to me that stress could manifest in strange ways.

Why am I telling you this? As part of sharing all the details about the Peace Corps experience, I feel it is my duty to inform you that it is starting over again. I have begun to see random stress behavior crop up, although this time I’m more willing to acknowledge it.  I suddenly have started needing about 10 hours of sleep a night if I’m going to make it through the day teaching. I’ve had random headaches and bouts of nausea, which I’ve determined through trial and error are not due to any medical ailments or the village water or food. Today, I caught myself staring at a wall for over 10 minutes without moving. I wasn’t thinking about anything. Just starting to turn my brain off.  This is how it starts…

I have tried since arriving in Moldova to imagine what it will be like to leave. And I honestly don’t think I can do it, still, being this close to the end. I’ve wanted the reality to hit me for several months now. I would love to have it smack me in the face so I can just deal with my terror of starting over with no job or house or car, or sadness at the amazing experience being over, or confusion as to how I’m supposed to feel about coming “home” to a culture that will no doubt seem alien to me after getting so used to living with no indoor plumbing or running water, let alone a supermarket or a Baby Gap.

But I can’t get a conscious grasp on these feeling. My brain won’t let me deal with it this early. And if high school is any indication (I’d like to think I’ve evolved but who knows), I may not ever feel like they really hit me. As for now, I seem to be having strange physical manifestations but the rest of the time I feel like I’m going through motions.

This week we have our Close of Service conference were we get all the logistical information about leaving Moldova. After that it’s just a few more review lessons, meeting the new wave of volunteers that will replace us this summer, training them a little bit and then it ends. And then I’m a civilian again. With just a backpack, some obscure language skills, a bunch of memories, and, possibly, an eye twitch.

Noapte Buna!

Lucky

Now is about the time of a volunteer’s service when they start to reflect. The blog posts that are likely to follow in the next few weeks are probably going to be attempts at summing up this whole thing which, of course, is impossible to do all in one post so I’ll be exploring different aspects of it, one at a time.

The first thing that I can’t help but address is the obvious question of how this experience has made me feel about America as a socio-political entity. Sometime right before I left for Peace Corps, my father, who lived through the cold war and was stationed in West Germany with the army in the 70’s and met all these people who had escaped the iron curtain and lived to tell the horror stories, made some comment along the lines of, “I think that living in a post-soviet country is going to make you appreciate what a great country America really is.”

You have to understand that I have a liberal arts degree (one I enjoyed earning very much but which is not entirely useful to “real life” unless my “real life” turns out to be an unending parade of identifying, empathizing and then belligerently fighting for the rights of underprivileged groups in American mainstream society). I tend to lean to the left, politically and I’m also young and flippant and sometimes insolent, so I remember when he made this comment, in my brain I went, “No I WON’T.” This reaction, I’ll admit, came from the fact that I love it when the generally accepted opinion tend to turn out wrong.

I’m not going to pretend that this is a well-informed or even optimistic place to make most of my assumptions and leaps of logic from, but this is a candid space, and most of you probably mostly know this about me anyway. I feel it’s my right as a young, stupid, world-saver to have these kinds of thoughts and I won’t consider trying to stop it until I’m at least 30.

So I went into Peace Corps hoping that something more interesting besides just that “I was lucky” to be an American would be true. I perceived my father’s comment as implying that I would come home and kiss the American soil and suddenly stop criticizing the government or saying that maybe we shouldn’t bomb people. I perceived it as him assuming that me spending time in Eastern Europe would “wise me up” to think like him.

Well, here’s what happened: You all read this blog, probably up to this point, you know the gist of what goes on here, so I don’t think I need to repeat a lot of it. What I want to emphasize (and this one is for you, Dad) is how I feel about the comment my father made that maybe I would appreciate America more, or feel lucky to have been born where I was. Here’s the thing: He was right.

But not in the way I thought. That’s the thing. I thought that it was all political. It always seems political because when you’re sitting in your American life, any conception of Eastern Europe is of course political because how else would it affect you? So, before I left, I assumed that if I were going to be grateful to be an American it would mean that I would stop criticizing politicians for being full of shit, or that I would enjoy being patronized by all the mainstream news networks all the time.

But then I got here. And I have spent about 2 years living with Moldovans, watching how they have to live in the villages and this is what it comes down to: We are lucky to be Americans, not because our system is better or our politics are better or our history is better. We aren’t lucky in the sense that we can be proud of ourselves for where we are, as if anyone alive can be said to have single-handedly come up with this system, as if it didn’t evolve slowly over generations. We’re not lucky the way you’re lucky if you’re born smart and good-looking. We’re lucky in the sense that we narrowly dodged a bullet but only because the person firing, completely outside of our control, slipped and missed us.

One of the biggest mysteries in the universe is why some people are born well off and others aren’t. You can’t help where you’re born, it just happens to you. And of all the lives in the world, it is a rare, rare thing to be born into a life where you won’t have to toil all day in the heat just to live through the winter. I’m not saying that Moldovans don’t have anything good going on here. Their culture is wonderful and they are some of the most welcoming, generous people I have ever met. But they are the first ones to tell you that their lives are fucking hard. And the more I thought about what my dad said to me before I left, the more I realized that I do feel more grateful to be an American. Not because America has it all figured out or because we don’t have our share of idiots and stupid ideas and wastes of money. But we, along with Western Europe and a smattering of other countries spread out around the globe, are in a minority of places in the world where we don’t have to worry all the time about what we’re going to eat at night or what we’re going to burn to live through the winter.

This is something that, of course, I was aware of before going into Peace Corps, but it is one of the things that I don’t think you can appreciate until you’ve seen the cycle of never-ending labor that citizens of most developing countries have to go through. I’m grateful to have what I feel to be a better grasp on this idea now, and while Peace Corps has not done anything to change my opinion on most geopolitical issues (if anything it’s made them a little more politically left – sorry, Dad!) I will agree with one thing – I do feel lucky to be an American.

To make up for the fact that the second half of this year I’ve been posting less often, I have a treat for you. At least, for those of you who like hearing me speak Romanian. I’m including below two videos of me teaching a seminar in Romanian this winter. The seminar was about community fundraising and how to write grants and the audience is made up of the health volunteers that arrived last summer (the group after me) and their community partners. We are discussing how to write goals and objectives. Enjoy! (And native Romanian speakers, please don’t tell any of the Americans how shaky my grammar really is!)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tPujcZ_wn2I

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q8kjV0XEWnI&feature=relmfu

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