Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Day of Monday, August 15, 2011

Written two weeks ago, but forgotten in the shuffle of preparing for the school year.

Sometimes one experiences one of those day.  The kind of day that captures wonderfully the rhythm of life here in Moldova, all the while betraying little idiosyncrasies that if understood, can show something much larger about the culture.  Today was one of those days – extraordinary for the normalness of its rhythm, and revealing in comfortable responses to a syncopated tune that is so different from the American melody of daily life.

So remarkably normal, it seemed worth sharing.  I try to point out the cultural aspects that might be amusing or illuminating to an American audience, but I certainly can’t explain them all. So, in simple bullet point form, I present the day of Monday, August 15, 2011.

  • Woke up to an alarm.  Vague awareness that summer is ending.
  • First morning revisiting my school year morning routine: drinking coffee while reading priority email/news, realizing it’s too late for breakfast, leaving late.
  • Arrive at school, where we (the teaching collective) are all waiting for the district level officials to come so that we can choose a new director.
  • Stand outside talking to male teachers about our summers for 45 minutes.
  • Find out that the district officials won’t be coming today.  Modus operandi of the Education Ministry.
  • Go inside, and almost get sucked into the teachers lounge, which promised to have been a 3 hour talkathon.
  • Am saved by my amazing partner teacher, who suggests we go do some planning.
  • We realize we can’t plan b/c classes haven’t been divided amongst teachers yet, which can’t happen without a director, which can’t happen without the district officials.  All teachers, however, are required to be at school, so we decide instead to discuss our general goals and ideas for this year, including new ideas my partner teacher received while being a mentor for the new M26 Health Volunteers, and various ideas I have that reflect health education theory.
  • Brief aside in the Vice-Director’s office for plotting and gossip top-off.
  • Back to planning.
  • Convince my friend Victor (the art teacher) to come to our house to drink a ceai (tea), which is a pretext for a favor I have to ask of him (which he knows), which is itself a pretext for another favor I have to ask of him (of which he doesn’t know).  He accepts the concept of ceai, but refuses my offers of lunch.
  • Victor fixes a painting I bought in Lviv, Ukraine, which had become somewhat loose on the frame.
  • I meanwhile secretly communicate to my host-cousin who is more like a host-sister that indeed she should put out a full lunch.
  • My host mother calls to inform that Vasile Kirilovici has asked for my cell phone number. Kirilovice (his patronymic) is the richest man in the village, running the agricultural firm that farms 2100 hectares (5000 acres) and employs 250 people (my host father included).  In a town where I enjoy incredible access – greeted by the traditional kiss and embrace from the priest, and being able to walk into the mayor’s office without an appointment – Kirilovici is the only key leader I’m not on regular terms with.
  • As Victor finishes the picture, I insist he stay for ceai.  He accepts with the words, “well, as long as it’s just ceai.”
  • I put as much food out for ceai as possible, including fruit, cookies, cheese, honey, lemons, bread, jam, etc.
  • We sit down to eat, and I casually observe that a warm lunch has been set out us as well.  I proceed to insist he eat.  He is trapped b/c he knows I haven’t had lunch yet but can’t eat unless he does, and he knows I know he hasn’t had lunch yet.  I will later be congratulated on this maneuver.
  • Lunch proceeds.  Victor happens to inquire about my soup kitchen project with Ecaterina, laying the perfect setting for the bigger favor I want to ask of him: helping us paint a mural in the dining hall of the soup kitchen.
  • He reacts cautiously to the idea at first. (This is expected.)  He continues, however, to advise how the project should be carried out.  He slowly seems to be coming around, pulled in by the thought of an excellent opportunity for art education. He mentions the scene should be something beautiful, but not banal.  I agree.
  • Host dad arrives home for lunch.  Victor is trapped for another round.  The pressure is off me to draw lunch out further.  Said pressure had been mounting as my host mother is unusually late getting home from work at the bank today and I must keep him at the table until she arrives.
  • Host mom gets home.  Harbuz (watermelon) is proposed.  Roundly rejected by Victor.  I subsequently leave to prepare the harbuz.
  • I sneak into my room to grab a brochure on wall murals in Moldova.
  • We all eat about a kilo of harbuz.
  • Two hours after he came, Victor succeeds to make it to the gate.
  • I show him the brochure.  His interest is again piqued.  He mentions that the mural should appeal to the elderly, perhaps with a quote about family.  I again agree.
  • Victor leaves.
  • I gossip with host mom about the school director situation, which includes gossiping about our mayor.
  • I go inside to try to get some work done.  Call Ecaterina.  Have one of those conversations when it is exceedingly difficult to convey a simple occurrence (that I didn’t tell her when Victor came).
  • Catea (Ecaterina) calls me back.  We shout over the phone for a while.  She’s yelling something about a water heater.  I’m yelling something about the walls at the soup kitchen.  We establish we should meet at the soup kitchen in 10 minutes.
  • I arrive to the soup kitchen.  Catea is late.
  • We have one of those rushed conversations about the proper way to resurface a wall, in which she disagrees with much of what I say.  Having been here for a year, I now appreciate that this is not because I am American, but because I am in Moldova, so I keep insisting.
  • Vasile Kirilovici calls.  I mention I cannot come to his office right now, because I am not sufficiently frumos (beautiful), being in work clothes.  We agree to meet at 6.  I still have no idea why.
  • Resume rushed conversation with Catea.  We reach an agreement that “It will all be good.”
  • I briefly take satisfaction in what is a very fulfilling moment culturally and linguistically.
  • We walk home.  Speculation turns to why Vasile Kirilovici wants to meet me.  Catea speculates he wants to give us money for a project.
  • I get home, sit down to indoor work.  Sergiu comes.  I volunteer to go help move cement.
  • We move 800kg of cement.
  • More speculation on what Vasile Kirilovici might want with me.
  • I come home, shower, and make myself frumos for Vasile Kirilovici.
  • I go to meet with Vasile Kirilovici.  We begin with just 15 minutes of small talk.
  • It turns out he needs help with an application for a USDA program in the States (the application is in English, which he doesn’t speak).
  • We finish the application, and return to slightly larger small talk of my work in the village.  He implies that he is happy to help if there is anything he can do.  We spend some time discussing a particular project my youth are undertaking for which he will likely be solicited for funds at a later date (he doesn’t know this, but probably now expects it).
  • I manage to speak well, translate the forms correctly without much stumbling, make him laugh a couple times, convey my projects without being too pushy on their financial aspects, and generally navigate the situation with proper respect.  We dance around the sensitive issue of the school director, an issue which betrays very deep political fissures within the village.
  • I meander home, running into students, a soup kitchen beneficiary, and stopping to buy spackle for the next day’s reparations in my classroom.
  • Arrive home to colţunaşi – cherry and cheese stuffed dumplings – one of my favorite dishes in Moldova.
  • Write this, and then hopefully go to bed tired but satisfied.
Not a bad day.  Not bad at all.

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