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.





 

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.

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.🙂

https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=261-220

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.