Posted by: Bre | December 22, 2011

Have you seen …

pictures of my new nephew Chase Ethan Alex Reitmeyer? Well, merry Christmas! I have shared them with everyone in the office, but not with you.

He was born December 15, he was 7 pounds 13 oz, 21 inches long, and he is just the most adorable baby I’ve ever seen. He has lots of hair. I’m told by my mother that until she saw him, I had the most hair she had ever seen on a newborn baby. She said he has just as much if not more than me. The Reitmeyer genes must be pretty strong because Trevor and I look a lot like my dad and Chase looks just like Trevor. Anyway, he is just gorgeous and he is happy and healthy at home with Trevor and Victoria.

I am so proud of how cute he is, and I am so proud of my brother and the way he has matured over this past year. I’m sad that I wasn’t there to see it, but I have heard that he has become quite the man lately. He has a good job that he works hard at, and he takes care of his family well. Congratulations Trevor and Victoria.

Anyway, I just love those chubby cheeks and all that dark hair. He is so cute, and I am so jealous of all of you that get to snuggle and kiss him. If you are one of the lucky few, please give that sweet face a kiss for me and tell him that he will see his aunt Breyanna and Uncle Tim in a few months.


Posted by: Bre | December 22, 2011

The Things I Need

Until about a month ago, I thought I had learned everything about the things I needed in my life. In Peace Corps, I had learned to live in a smaller space that some people would say was falling apart. The paint was peeling (lead based, we’re guessing … may cause more problems in the future), the front door was bowed, and we had a tentative peace agreement going with the spiders. But, it was mostly clean, very cozy, and it had things like walls and heat. I had also learned to live without a car. This was infinitely easier in a country where most people don’t have cars and the intercity bus systems are pretty efficient. Plus, all that walking helped me lose weight. I had also come to realize that forward progress in terms of technology does not always mean progress in humanity. My phone has an area called “Game.” I thought it was funny when I first saw it, but it’s serious. There’s only one game. But that’s cool because I spend more time looking around instead of at a screen. Essentially, I think certain things make our lives easier but not better.

I was at peace with these ideas, and I had plans to return to the U.S. with these things in mind. I even thought my new low standards would be helpful because I would be returning to either unemployment or graduate school, neither of which meant having nice things like spacious apartments, cars, or iPhones.

Then, the great disintegration of 2012 began.  I know it’s not 2012. I’m saying this with the anticipation of this continuing into the year.  And let me say this had begun well before December. We might get off the plane naked with the way our clothes have been going.

Anyway, the first thing to go was the computer. It’s dead, but we’re okay with it. We have plenty of internet access at work and that has turned out to be really all the computer time we need. Occasionally, we have little disagreements that would be easily to solve with the internet. Is the past participle of overflow overflowed or overflown? As in: the bucket would have overflowed if I hadn’t emptied it. Although funnier things than being right come out of actually talking about these things instead of looking them up, such as the now infamous “Fly — fly, flied, flown.” We go for walks, write letters, play Scrabble, make ridiculously complicated food that we said we didn’t have time for, stuff like that. Everything we need or even really enjoying doing (writing blog posts, responding to emails, checking web comics, looking at Facebook pictures of my gorgeous nephews and niece) can be done in the space of a lunch hour. I have Skype at work and my work is totally cool if I take some time to talk to people. If we were at home, it would be even better because we would just talk on the phone outside of work. It’s too expensive from Moldova. So, we can add that to the list. Don’t need: nice living quarters, car, cell phones that do more than make phone calls, computer at home.

About a week ago, the refrigerator died. This was not a gigantic loss because we recently realized we have a bad habit of making too much food, saving leftovers, and throwing them out when they turn into UFTs (unidentifiably-filled Tupperwares). Plus, we have found that any perishables we buy at the grocery store have perished by the time we get them the 100 yards from the store to our apartment or at most within a day or two. So, we were eating pretty much vegan unless we bought it that day. Now it’s the same except we put our vegan butter on the balcony because it’s colder than a refrigerator anyway. We will see what happens as it gets warmer. Note: There is a lot less stuff that needs to be refrigerated than you think. We were refrigerating almost all of our ketchup, mustard, etc. needlessly. We went through all the sauces we had in our fridge and found out you can leave them in the cabinet.

Yesterday, we were warned not to turn on our gas until we were specifically told to do so. There is a fart joke here somewhere, but I will let you think of your own. Anyway, this would be okay, except that we have a gas radiator to heat The Shambles (our affectionate name for our apartment). Okay, I’m not going to look on the bright side of this. We have a space heater, but it seems dangerous to have it plugged in while we are sleeping. So this morning it was FREEZING. We also have a gas stove. Last night we ate cereal and toast for dinner. I’ll admit that we need gas. Or at least completely electric cooking and heating appliances.

So, I have learned a lot recently about the things that I need. I need contact with my family. Emails, Skype calls, letters. It doesn’t matter. I just love hearing from them whenever it’s possible. I need to be outside at least part of the day. I love sunlight and I love walks even if it is freezing outside. I need to stay warm and I need to cook food. I need to take care of myself. I need to read and write every day. I need music in my life. I need my wonderful husband!

Anyway, I hope you all have a very merry Christmas and you have everything that you need this holiday season. We love you all, and we can’t wait to see you in July.

Posted by: Bre | December 21, 2011

Donate to Our Community Playground

So, I don’t think I talk enough about what we actually do here. As a community development volunteer, my job is capacity building. I don’t really help people; I teach them ways that they can help themselves.  One of the ways I am trying to do this is through a community playground build in Orhei. This is hard to believe, but there are nine schools in a city of 26,000 people and there isn’t a single playground. There are parks and open spaces, but there is no equipment for the kids to play on. Tim and I are working with the mayor’s office to have a playground built from local materials. In our experience with adopt a park projects, if the community builds it and puts their heart into it, they will take care of it.

So, we developed a Peace Corps Partnership Project where people can donate money to the playground. If we collect all the money we asked for, Peace Corps will give us that amount and we will use it to buy local materials. Then we will do safety seminars on building playground equipment, and we will build the playground. The playground will have three swing sets, three see-saws, a fort with two slides, a sandbox, five benches, and two picnic tables.

So, this is where you come in. Donate through the link below! Help us build it! Merry Christmas and much love from Moldova.:)

We are really excited about the prospect of this project, and I am told it was very well written. Usually Peace Corps sends the project back with questions or concerns before they approve it, but they didn’t send ours back. They just approved it. Yay! Please help.

Posted by: Bre | November 18, 2011

Sometimes other people just say it better

This video is one that has been floating around the Facebook pages lately. Watch it before reading on please. The rest of this will make a lot more sense.

For you, the most interesting thing is probably all of these things sound strange, exotic,and even a little romantic. For me, it’s interesting to hear what Peace Corps volunteers are experiencing in any PCV country and what exactly is so unique about my Moldovan experience.
So here are the things that apply to me.
– Yes, I don’t fit it. Moldovans say even if we dressed like them and wore the same expression, we would still be different. We exude Americana. It might be how we walk.
– Yes, lots of new foods. Chicken jello. Enough said, but also some of our new favorites like coltunasi, a kind of ravioli that can be filled with chicken, potatoes, or goat cheese.
– Yes to diarrhea, weird rashes, and random fevers. Tim is looking forward to when we leave because we find out exactly what parasites we’ve acquired along the way.
– Yes, I have pooped in a hole. Not regularly like some of my village comrades, but I would say the number of times has to be in the double digits.
– Yes, we look homeless sometimes. Especially to Moldovans, who are ultra frumosi (beautiful). One of my most integrated moments was when I looked down one day and said “My boots are covered in dust!” I took a wet wipe out and cleaned them off. But mostly, we just look homeless.
– Yes, we’re a long way from home. You might think we would skim over Thanksgiving here because it’s just another Thursday, but it’s still hard. My dad is coming to see me over Christmas break, and we are really really really excited/happy about that!
– Yes, sometimes it’s too hot and too cold. Mostly cold.
– Yes, air conditioning is a real novelty except when we go to Peace Corps headquarters. But I don’t think Tim and I ever run away to Chisinau, because when our projects fall apart or we have a really bad day, we have each other. We’re lucky like that. The closest we get is that we need to be our nerdy selves with other nerdy people, so we go to play dungeons and dragons with our PC friends. But mostly they come here.
– Yes, we Skype a lot. It helps us feel connected to family, and evenings are pretty dull with no restaurants or entertainment except the discotheque. That’s not really our scene. So we end up reading a lot, watching movies, writing projects, painting, drawing.
– Yes/no to friends who say you’re living. I think Americans have some romantic feelings about Peace Corps. When you come here, you lose some of that romance. It’s still amazing, and it’s still difficult, it’s just amazing and difficult in different ways than you expected. Sometimes, I feel like my life is the same as it would be if I were in America. Go to work, come home, eat dinner, clean, talk to family, paint, go to bed. Other times, someone pulls out a glass of wine at work or I stare at a field of sunflowers, and I think I really am out here living.
– Yes, our Thanksgiving will be turkey-less this year. But that’s because we’re having a tofurkey on the Saturday after Thanksgiving with our close PC friends, some people from my work, and our close Moldovan friends. We love sharing American holidays with them. So, it’s not the turkey we miss. It’s the family.
– Yes, I’m losing weight. I’m not really sure why. Fewer trips to Chipotle? I don’t really think it’s a fair trade off. Tim, of course, is the same weight as always.
– YES YES YES children stare at me wherever I go. They are not subtle. My favorite is when they pass you and then turn to walk backward so they can continue staring at you. Haha.
– Yes, some days are like “What the hell? I’m being really nice, because I left my family and my Chipotle, and my dog. And now you’re brushing me off?” but other days are like “I might stay another year so I can see what happens with this project.”
– Yes, a little money here goes a long way. Things are cheaper depending on what you buy, and 12 lei here is worth about $1. A small bottle of water probably costs you 5 lei.
– Yes, I haven’t driven in a year and a half. It’s a worldwide policy. Honestly, I don’t miss it. It’s less stressful, and I can read on my way to work. We won’t buy a car when we get home. The buses are usually crowded. I’ve never ridden in the back of a truck here.
– Yes, like I said, we read a lot. A lot.
– Yes, I say to myself sometimes “I made it through the day.” But, I think we all do that. America, Moldova. Whatever.

Here are the things that do not.apply to us.

– No, we haven’t learned just a few phrases. I would say Tim is fluent in Romanian, and I’m getting there. In fact, when he heard the video he looked up from his (Romanian) novel and said “Just a few phrases?”
– No, we don’t dream about ice cream and soda. We can get those at the grocery store a hundred yards from our apartment. We dream about nachos.
– No, I’ve never had a swollen head. The closest I come to that is spider bites. Eh.
– No, I don’t feel dirty. But that’s because you get used to it after awhile. I’m so embarrassed when I think that I used to shower every day. Now it’s every two or three days, max.
– No, I don’t need ten signatures to get paid. I have a bank card and an ATM with direct deposit.
– No, they don’t want to marry me. But that might be because I’m already married. I don’t know any Moldovans who are looking for Americans to marry.
– No, people don’t really comment on the frequency of my care packages here. It’s probably because they come through Peace Corps. If anything, PCVs talk about who’s getting what packages more than anyone else does.
– No, I don’t mark the calendar.
– No, I don’t find comfort in the fact that I get to go back to the USA. There are a lot of problems here, and it’s just random that I get to live in a country as resource-wasting as the U.S. I don’t take pleasure in that. I actually find it really sad when I talk about problems with Moldovans and they say “Well, at least you get to leave in two years.”
– No, I don’t purge on Skype when I go into Chisinau. We actually have ridiculously fast internet, and sometimes I think that spending so much time in front of a computer was not one of the reasons I wanted to join Peace Corps. But we’re really lucky to keep in such good touch with family.

Well, that was a good song. Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Tim and I watched Planes, Trains, and Automobiles tonight. Definitely missing family after that one, but it was fun to have a good laugh and kind of weird to think that it came out the year I was born.

Posted by: Tim | September 1, 2011

First Day of School

Well today was the first day of school again for me. I took some pictures so expect a post soon with details about the “first bell” ceremony. I won’t get into that now, just thought I’d share a conversation I had with one of my new classes. As usual, the class was more interested in interviewing the new teacher than to do the lesson for the day so at the end of class they were allowed to ask me questions. I got the usuals: “What city/state are you from?”, “Do you like Moldova?”, “Have you experienced any of our customs/foods/wine/etc?”. The one other question stream I get is as follows (and it tells you a thing or two about families and the culture in Moldova.)

Moldovan (girl) student: Are you married?
Me: Yes, I am married.
Student: Do you have any children?
Me: No, I have no children.
Student: How long have you been married?
Me: Soon it will be three years.
Student: … umm… do you really not have any children?

Posted by: Tim | August 9, 2011

A tale of two camps

So, some of you might know this, but we recently had a summer art camp. Actually, that’s not entirely true, we actually had two summer art camps. Our initial plan was to have an art camp in our city and then one in a nearby village that is host to a friend of ours. Unfortunately, the camp in our city fell through so we called around. We were a group of people with a fully funded and planned camp, though we were completely without participants. We were able to find another volunteer that spoke with an orphanage in his city about it and found that they were a group of participants with no camp. A perfect match.

As I said, the first camp was at an orphanage. Actually, it is more than just an orphanage. It does house eight or so kids on site, but it also offers activities and a warm meal every day to dozens of children from the community whose families aren’t able to offer them such things. For one week this summer, they were treated to our camp after they ate their lunch.

The second camp was in the small but beautiful village that our friend Emily lives in. The population is around 1,000 (so long as everyone is home at the same time), though it’s likely closer to 3 or 4 thousand if you include cows, goats, chickens, and ducks. We did our camp with students from the local school.

These basic descriptions being said, though our plans were the same, the two camps could have hardly been any different. The first consisted of as many as 50 children aged 6 through 11 while the second was for students ranging from 13 through 17, and our busiest day was perhaps 20 participants.

Aside from the demographic differences, I honestly couldn’t tell you which one was more rewarding to ourselves or to the children. We advertised the camp as an opportunity for the kids to do activities, have fun, and either paint a mural or make a film. What we didn’t tell them was that they would be learning about positive thinking, active listening, giving and receiving effective criticism, and teamwork along the way. At least those were our intended topics to teach, though I’m sure the learning was not limited to those topics.

Most of our teaching at the first camp needed to be though games and activities. This was made much more difficult the second day when it suddenly began pouring rain and we had to entertain 50 kids in a small and hot room for 5 hours. This meant none of our games that involved running and burning out their energy were possible. Fortunately, we all survived.

There’s far too much to tell about from these camps than I could possibly put in a post so I’ll just give some highlights. One game I particularly enjoyed was called Creative Coloring. This game involved the kids being in groups of about seven or eight. Each member is given a marker. Each team only has one marker of each color, and they are told that they can only use their own color and are not allowed to trade. They are given one piece of paper and they must work together to make a complete drawing using every color their team has. This goes against what most of these students are used to in school, where often the most talented student does all the work for the whole team. Instead, the more talented students are instead forced to sit back and either allow their teammates to work on their parts independently or to teach the less artistic teammates how to draw more difficult things. It worked very well and all of the kids liked that game.

Another interesting result from a game came from a game called It Could Be Worse. In this game, we name a scenario, for example: “You woke up late”. It is clearly something negative and unfortunately there is a good deal of pessimism in Moldova. This game, however, improves positive thinking by taking it one step further. You could continue it by saying “It could be worse, you could wake up late and not have breakfast”. It can then be continued further by adding that you are also late for school, that you are late for a test at school, or even that you didn’t study for the test that you are late for. Usually at some point someone inserted some sort of broken limb to make matters even worse. It seems a bit counter-intuitive to improve positive thinking by creating negative situations, but for the rest of the camp, It Could Be Worse became a sort of religion. If anything went wrong there would be at least one person to spit out the phrase “well, it could be worse” and then move right into fixing the problem or finding an alternative.

I have placed the video from the first camp on Youtube so I’ll leave you all with that. The second camp video isn’t on Youtube yet, though I intend to put it up eventually.

Posted by: Tim | July 4, 2011

Catching Up

Well, it is surprisingly easy to get caught up in your service and completely neglect your blog, so please forgive us. For me, it is summer now which means no school to occupy my time. You might think that would give me all sorts of free time to write posts and be social. As much as I love the sound of that, it’s definitely not true. I sometimes seem to be finding myself even busier and pressed to get things finished now. In addition to Bre’s large list of ongoing projects for her work, we also have several camps we are planning and running as well as another project that isn’t quite at a stage for bragging about yet, but could keep me beyond busy for the rest of my time in Moldova.

We do find time to relax however, though our relaxation often involves work as well. Now that we are in our own apartment we find ourselves inviting guests what seems to be quite frequently. Often, however, these visits are spent more as planning sessions than relaxation or leisure.

This past weekend, however, we did spend a bit of time relaxing. We took an overnight bus to Odessa, Ukraine and spent two days on the beach. I got burnt so it officially counts as a Knoll beach vacation. As an added note, I also bought and wore a more European-style bathing suit, which is possibly proven in pictures that hopefully will never see the light of day (or Facebook).

Anyway, on to my excuse as to why we haven’t posted for two months (exactly, I believe). There comes a point in Peace Corps service, or at least in our service, when everything seems normal. A time when you speak your second language as comfortably as it were your first. A time when you are pretty sure you rode in an automobile with fewer than ten people in it at some point in your life. A time when you think there was a time that you might have found it strange to see a random goat or two on the side of nearly every road to keep the grass short. This time has happened to us and now the things that happen to us don’t seem to be news. Moldova is the normal existence for us. It is commonplace, and it is comfortable. If there was a day where I saw a lawnmower or a dishwasher, I’d probably come running to tell all of you about it. It may not do wonders for our blog, but it is definitely nice on our end.

Posted by: Bre | May 4, 2011

Polonia si Ucraina

We returned last night around 9:30 on Monday night from our (unexpectedly extended) trip to Poland and Ukraine.

The train ride from Chisinau to Warsaw was around 36 hours and left at 8:00 on Friday. Our little car was made up of five passengers (including us and the attendant) as we piggy-backed across Ukraine and Poland. Thus, we of course had a cabin to ourselves and made the best of it by passing the time with Phase 10 and books (Tim has become quite the bookworm, getting anxious for a bookstore when he has nothing to read. Although, he only likes to read in Romanian) Our car was hooked up to several different trains, and we spent four hours in a town in Ukraine where we got to walk around for a kind of short layover. We spent most of that time walking around a cemetery, checking out their market, and trying to figure out what the name of the town was. We eventually figured out we were in Vokzal by walking around the bus station and looking at what city most of the buses had in common. Tim’s ability to read the Cyrillic alphabet helped us greatly in this endeavor and getting around Ukraine in general.

We only spent a day and a half in Warsaw. It was beautiful, but there was not a lot open since it was Easter weekend. Oh my gosh, Polish people love their exact change. One bus driver actually threw up his hands when we tried to give hime 20 zloti for a four zloti bus ride! We saw the only remaining pieces of the wall that surrounded the Jewish ghetto during the Nazi occupation. It was in an apartment complex, but the doorman was nice enough to let us in. How strange to live there! There was also a really beautiful park and park benches that played Chopin.

Monday we took a short train ride from Warsaw to Krakow. We spent most of Monday settling into our hostel, eating kebabs, and checking out the city square. The main square has some amazing architecture and a small market known as the Cloth Hall. Every hour, there is a straggling bugle that is played in honor of a bugle player who was shot in the throat while he was playing. It’s a great place to admire the city and people watch over some street food.

Tuesday, we climbed Wawel hill to check out the castle and the cathedral. In the afternoon, we visited the Galicia museum in Kazimierz, the Jewish district that dates back to the 13th century. This museum was a photography exhibit that traces the Jewish traditions in the Galicia region before, during, and after the Holocaust. I feel like we learned a lot about Jewish culture and how empty Eastern Europe is with just a fraction of this vibrant cultural and ethnic community left. We joined a free walking tour (I know, so touristy, but it’s better than staring at buildings and not understanding their meaning) and our tour guide was so informative. A lot of the scenes from Schindler’s List were filmed in this area. Krakow used to be home to 60,000 – 70,000 Jewish people. 2,000 Krakovian Jews survived the war, and now there are 97 people living in Kazimierz with a median age of 68. I think those numbers really make you think about what a gulf the Nazis created through the Holocaust. From there, our tour walked to Krakow’s Jewish ghetto, and we saw the factory that  Oscar Schindler ran and employed the people forced to live in the ghetto.

Wednesday we traveled to and toured Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau. I was on the fence about whether or not this was appropriate, but we decided it was important to see it for ourselves. If everyone made this trip, I would like to think there would be a lot more compassion in the world and more people would become active against crimes of genocide committed around the world. We decided not to take any pictures because it is considered the largest cemetery in the world based on the ashes scattered there, and it seemed disrespectful. I would suggest that you go there if you have the opportunity, because it really brings the Holocaust into perspective and helps you understand the true gravity of the situation. I know we all realize what a horrible thing it was, but … you just have to go to understand. We were both very quiet the entire time, but there are two things that I think I will always remember. The first is walking into one of the rooms that was part of the museum. One of the walls was a glass case completely filled with two tons of dark brown, human hair. When the Soviets liberated the camp, they found seven tons of this hair in storage. The Nazis were shaving the heads of everyone who came through the camp and using human hair to create fabric for bags and clothing.  The second thing I cannot get out of my head is standing on the platform where the trains were brought in and seeing barracks as far as my eyes could see. Each barrack (it was more like a shed) was packed with 400 people at the time. The number of people that this adds up to is just astonishing, and this is where were workers were held (not the women and children the Nazis murdered immediately). This was a very difficult morning, but I think the experience was very important for both of us.

Thursday, we traveled from Krakow to Lviv, Ukraine. There are only night buses and night trains across the border, so we took a train to the border, walked across, and took a bus the rest of the way to Lviv. Lviv has a deep Polish and Jewish history, and now it is the cultural capital of Ukraine. It also boasts some beautiful architecture and adorable cobblestone streets. We climbed to the top of castle hill and got a great view of the city. We even met some really cool Polish people we were sharing a room with, the hostel staff at the Kosmonaut was really friendly, and there were Peace Corps Ukraine volunteers staying there on their way to running a 10k. It was an interesting city, and our stay was extended a few days because there were no tickets out of the city until Sunday (we had wanted to leave Friday afternoon). So, we tried to make the best of it by taking the time to relax, read, and lay around in the sunshine. When the lady at the ticket booth yells something vaguely similar to “No tickets” and speaks no English, what else can you do? Anyway, it was nice to relax those last few days but we were so ready to be home by Sunday when we got on the train.

We were also excited to return home so that we had a common language with people. I assumed the train attendant on the way home spoke Romanian, but she would just give us a funny look whenever we tried to speak to her. At borders, she would always ask the other passengers to help us if they spoke English. About halfway through the trip, she said something in Russian about my legs being cold because I was wearing a dress. I responded in Romanian that I was fine, but I appreciated her thoughtfulness. She was so impressed with this simple phrase she ran up and down the train telling the other passengers how well I spoke Romanian. Lol. If she was that impressed with my Romanian, I think she would have passed out if she knew how well Tim speaks.

Overall, the trip was informative, interesting, not too expensive, and completely exhausting. Unfortunately, because of our delay getting home, we missed Memorial Easter, which we were looking forward to. We will be sure to stick around for the Easter holidays next year though. I hope you all had an excellent Easter and enjoyed your respective spring breaks or vacations. I don’t have the pictures of the trip uploaded yet, but I’ll have Tim put them up on Facebook and Flickr tomorrow.

Posted by: Bre | April 8, 2011

Interactive Post

Tim and I are working on a project that involves making puppets for a weekly story hour. We have come to an impasse about what kind of puppets these should be. So, we thought we would let you guys decide. We are going for the most interesting and interactive puppets for first and second graders to watch. We will have to make these puppets every week, but they should be sturdy enough to save so librarians can continue the story hour after we leave next year. So, cast your vote! Sock, knit, or stick?


Posted by: Bre | April 4, 2011

The perfect greeting

Another PCV posted this video, and I’ve already cried twice today while watching it. I thought I would share it and let you guys know that you’ve got about one year and four months to get your acts together. Music, choreography, and all. We expect nothing less when we step off that plane in Grand Rapids.

Seriously, there are a few reasons it makes me cry. I think the foremost reason is that I’m genuinely happy here and I don’t want to leave before my service is over, but I miss my family more than I thought I ever would. I think the second reason is that this is someone doing something nice for someone else. I love that, and that’s not something I see a lot here. Anyway, we’re having a great time, but at the same time I love and miss you guys so much. So get to work on your dance moves!

In case you didn’t pick up the link in the post, here it is again:

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