Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Debrief: Site Team Conference and Visit to Future Site

I returned from my first visit to my future home (“site”) about a week ago.  As I mentioned last time, my village is way off in the southeast, closer to the beaches of Ukraine than Moldova’s capital Chisinau.  It’s a little warmer there, which was a relief, because otherwise sitting in the sun during a bumpy 3 hour bus ride on a 95 degree day would have been just too pleasant a material experience for Peace Corps life.  (And no, they don’t open windows in Moldova, as any resulting “current” is well known to be the leading factor causing illnesses ranging from the common cold to death).

With the exception of a failed attempt at phone communication with the director of the school, I pretty much linguistically handled myself with my 5 weeks of Romanian during the visit (no sarcasm there).  The phone call went something like this:

While enjoying light conversation with host family on first evening, cell phone rings.
I answer: “Hello?”
Romanian Romanian Romanian
Me (in Romanian): “I’m sorry, what?”
Romanian Romanian Romanian
Me (still not understanding a word): “Ah, something about me you say?”
Romanian Romanian Romanian
Me: “Yes, I DO think you have the wrong number.” (Unclear whether this had been suggested.)
Romanian Romanian Romanian
Me: “Yes. My number is…hold on a minute, yes, it’s etc. etc.”
Romanian Romanian Romanian
Me: “You don’t have the wrong number? Well that just can’t be…”
Awkward silence
Me: “Okay then, well, have a good evening!”

After I hung up, the house phone rang.  My host mom told me it was the director of the school, and relayed instructions for the following day to me.  I thought, “Ah, good.  I was wondering about that, and was afraid what a phone call might be a bit tricky.”  I did not draw the connection till the next day, when my director explained that “Romanian Romanian Romanian” was actually being spoken by her, in an attempt to communicate important scheduling info to me.

Phones are hard.  I’m going to give it another month before I attempt anything beyond in-person communication.

Otherwise, it didn’t take long to fall in love with just about everything in my town.

I have a great host family - obsequiously welcoming, incessantly curious, and very open to me joining any activity I’m interested in.  They have two daughters, but both are in their twenties and no longer live at home.  The family was motivated to host me because both daughters lived in the States for a while and were welcomed openly by Americans.  As they explained it, they wanted to repay the favor.  If things go extremely well and I end up staying there for two years, that’s going to turn out to be a lot of repayment, especially at their level of hospitality.

My host mom is also a great cook, and even bakes their own bread!  They’ve raised two nieces (whose parents are working in Italy), and I think the dad is looking forward to having another guy in the house.  He’s already agreed that I can help make wine this fall.

After a leisurely evening getting to know my host family, the next morning began abruptly and continued at a breakneck pace as I was whisked from one meeting to the next.  Joining the director of my school in her office, I was subsequently taken to meet the mayor, then back to the school to meet the assistant directors and school nurse, then back to the mayor’s office for a community meeting, then a local soup kitchen that operates out of the health center, then on to the health center itself, then home for lunch, then back to the school for a long meeting with my two future partner teachers.

Besides being a bit exhausting, the meetings were very encouraging.  The mayor, in particular, was very enthused by my presence, and seems to have enjoyed working with the last volunteer (who was doing community development work).  He was so enthused, in fact, that he invited me to a meeting later that morning on social issues with just about every community leader other than the priest.  Most of said meeting was way above my head, but I was quick enough to stand and emphasize my excitement to be coming to the community when I was being introduced.

In addition to a local development NGO, the community also has an Austrian funded soup kitchen operating out of the health center.  The kitchen’s director seemed like an excellent additional potential partner; the presence of even this single additional community organizer makes a potentially huge difference in this country.

In fact, overall, I was quite impressed with the level of community activity, interest in international involvement, and provision of technological resources in the community.  In particular, the mayor has posted the town’s budget, with all revenues and expenditures, in the town hall.  (Again, it seems like a small thing, but in a country where corruption is endemic, this is a huge step forward in transparency).  The mayor, school director, and soup kitchen’s director each had computers in their office, which further mean technological resources are at a pretty good level.  It also means there’s somebody with a computer in each location I’ll be working.

The village gave such a good impression that I was actually left wondering if: a) there’s much assistance I can provide, OR b) whether it was all a well-choreographed show (definitely a possibility; knowing how to impress international donors is a valuable skill here).

Even if it’s the former, I’m sure I’ll find projects.  After all, when has under-involvement ever really been a problem for me?

1 comment:

KimberlyKs said...

Sounds great so far. How is the language coming a long? I can't even begin to imagine how hard it is.