PST este gata
My work in Moldova has finally begun. After a week of wrapping up my life and saying goodyes in Costesti, I have sworn in as an official Peace Corps Volunteer and have moved to Mereseni. Tomorrow, Monday, I meet with the director of my school, head to Hincesti to clear my paperwork with the raion (county) police department, and head to the raion's seminar for English teachers. But before I go full-speed ahead with my Mereseni life, let me describe my final week of Pre-Service Training.
Sunday the 14th was the scheduled date of our field day for the children of Costesti, and I woke up to rain outside. So much for using the field. I called the school's gym teacher and asked if we could use the gym. He said that they were still getting the gym ready for the first day of school, so it was unavailable. (When you have to start making phone calls in a foreign language, you revert to being eight years old and planning out everything that you will say. My first phone call to a stranger here, and earlier call to the gym teacher, was accompanied upon completion by congratulations from fellow trainees.)
Unsure of what we would do without a field or a gym, some other trainees and I crowded into Tudor's car with two tubs of homemade chips and salsa for the occasion and drove to the school. In three hours, we set up a completely improvised carnival with five activity rooms and tug-of-war intermissions in the hallway. At 5 p.m., 100 kids were outside the school, and we started our party. After an hour and a half, we took the kids outside to the field--which, because it was made of a mixture of dirt and sand, was not muddy--and played a 70-person game of ultimate frisbee. It was absolute chaos, especially since the kids' total experience with the sport amounted to the four rules which we briefly explained to them in Romanian before the game began. But the kids had fun, and so did we.
The only major downside was that due to some miscommunication and carelessness among some other volunteers, my digital camera was left on a table in an unlocked room. A couple teenage boys saw an easy target, realized that they could sell it on the black market for more than the average monthly Moldovan salary, and stole it. It's an inconvenience for me to have to go through all sorts of insurance and legal paperwork to get a replacement. But the major bummer is that I no longer have the disgusting picture of the semi-poisonous spider bite on Krista's back.
Wednesday, my last day in Costesti, is better off forgotten. I came down with an awful case of food poisoning, probably from the under-cooked chicken I had eaten Tuesday night. My host family, however, said that everyone else had eaten the chicken and felt fine, so according to them, I simply ate too much.
Thursday, Tudor and Valodia drove me and my baggage to a hotel in Chisinau. Or rather, Tudor drove while Valodia got out to push the car when it stalled multiple times in bumper-to-bumper Chisinau traffic. Over the course of 10 weeks, I had never noticed that Tudor's 20-year-old car had an ignition switch that dangled eight inches below the steering column and was started not with a key, but with a screwdriver. My last memory of my PST days in Costesti will be Valodia pushing the car halfway across a busy intersection before the car started, then having to run through traffic to find us as we drove away at 25 miles per hour.
Friday's Swearing-In Ceremony was hard for me to see as a big deal. Is being one-thirteenth of the way through my time here really cause for celebration? But I was pleasantly surprised by the ceremony, and it was very frumos. (Frumos is the word for "beautiful". It is the first word I learned from my Costesti host family, and is used very, very often. There exists in Moldova a pervasive "Frumos Factor," as one volunteer has dubbed it, that I will describe in detail in some future entry.)
The real thrill of the ceremony for me was singing "Buna Seara, Mandro, Buna," with the three other male trainees in Costesti and five men from the town. The song is an old tune that boys would sing to their girlfriends before leaving for the army. I found some relevance to my life, especially in the fifth stanza:
Caci doi ani-e o viata lunga.
Dorul meu-o sa te-ajunga.
Mandro cand ne-om mai vedea eu nu stiu.
All of two years is a long life.
Your longing for me will suffice.
Darling, when we'll see each other again, I don't know.
The Costesti men wore traditional costumes and played the accordion and pan-pipes, while we trainees wore traditional hats and decorative scarf-towels with which the female trainees of Costesti adorned us. For such sad lyrics, the song is inexplicably upbeat, especially with an accordion and lines like, "Write me a postcard, chick." It was a definite crowd-pleaser, with the entire audience of 500 clapping along, and afterward I received a lot of praise at the reception.
The showstopper, though, was the song before ours, a love song from a poem by Mihai Eminescu. For Romanians and Moldovans, Eminescu is somewhere between Shakespeare Times Six and Shakespeare Times Nine. Most raion centers have an Eminescu Street, a school named after Eminescu, and his bust prominently displayed somewhere. I intend to begin reading his work around November, but trainees Samantha and Bob are way ahead of me in that regard. Samantha sang beautifully to Bob's piano accompaniment.
Their performance endeared them to the press, as I watched later on the national news--our ceremony was the third-leading story, behind the massive flooding from the eight-hour storm the night before and the display of 30 new modernly equipped ambulances. Our Costesti performance was shown for a few seconds, but the five-minute segment featured 20 seconds of just Sam and Bob performing, along with interviews with each of them. Bob has been a slow learner of the language, but his sound bite was evidently good enough for the national news.
After the ceremony, the newly sworn-in volunteers went our separate ways, not to be together again until mid-October. This is when the true separation and loneliness begins, but it is also the beginning of our real work.