February 23, 2003 - Personal Web Page: Spring Update from Moldova

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By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, February 23, 2003 - 9:05 am: Edit Post

Spring Update from Moldova

Spring Update from Moldova

Spring Update from Moldova

Sat, 15 May 1999 10:08:47 +0800 (PHT)
From: Frank Swetz <swetz@mathsci.math.admu.edu.ph>
A look at Peace Corps in 1999.

Tamar is a friend of Laura's from Harrisburg. Laura drove across the U.S. with her @ 4 years ago, prior to Tamar's year as a Vista Volunteer in Oregon, where she met her husband. This is LONG, but I think it's quite interesting. Joan

---------- Forwarded message ----------

Date: 10 May 1999 17:03:54 -0500
From: Laura Swetz MS <lswetz@mailserver.peacecorps.gov>

Hi Mom, Dad & friends- This is a very interesting email from two good friends of mine (mom- this is Tamar Krevsky and her husband) who are Peace Corps Volunteers in Moldova (formerly part of the Soviet Union). This is a VERY different "Peace Corps experience" then any of us have experienced! This is very long but it's extremely interesting, so read it when you have time. xox laura


Date: 4/22/99 3:24 AM

From: glenn puckett

April 14, 1999

Hi everyone!

Spring is here...finally! It's like we're taking our first breath in five months. What a relief, and what a difference it makes in our dispositions. The best thing I can say about our Moldovan winter is that it's over. And having survived it, the true arrival of Spring is especially sweet, and a shocking contrast to the bleak winter months. The sun is back, people are preparing for all the Springtime planting, and there's no snow or ice in sight! The parade of heavy fur coats and hats is also over, and we're dusting off our sunglasses. Ultimate frisbee games have resumed. And we're peeling off insulation and opening our windows for the first time in 5 months. I've never been more aware, or more appreciative of a seasonal change in my entire life. In fact, I could happily ramble along with my Springtime euphoria, but it's time to get ya'll caught up with a few things, NOT related to the weather. At least not directly.

When you last heard from us, we had just returned from our trip to Turkey over New Years. Since then, the most significant event was the arrival of our first visitors to Moldova, Jay and Nancy Krevsky, who arrived at the end of February. We had advised against this, due to the likelihood of cold miserable weather. But their determination paid off, as we were blessed with a very unusual warm spell for the 5 days they were here. We were a little worried about how they would handle, or react to the Moldovan environment, physically and socially. And although we normally have running water in our apartment, we usually don't have hot water. And all the little frustrations and challenges of a redeveloping country which we've more or less become accustomed to, could have been tough. However, we were continually impressed with their patience, flexibility and enthusiasm.

Moldovan hospitality is a force to be reckoned with, and when word spread that the Krevskys were coming, all our Moldovan friends wanted to meet them. And try as we might to resist too much socializing, we ended up with three Masas (big Moldovan meals) in five days, which would be an intimidating prospect for even the hardiest volunteer. The same day they arrived in Chisinau, understandably road weary, our landlady showed up at our doorstep with her sister and granddaughter. Before long they had set up a respectable Masa in our kitchen, and we were engaged in our first of several translating challenges. Nancy was very gracious, and conversed actively, even trying to pick up a few Romanian words and phrases. Meanwhile, Jay, perhaps a tad wiser, took a nap. But he emerged a couple hours later, and charmed the ladies in typical Jay Krevsky fashion.

Fortunately, our landlady's family does not share the typical Moldovan passion for wine and cognac. However, this was not the case either with Tamar's boss, or with our host family in Mereseni. We rented a car to take us to the village for a day. Which was a very nice change from the smelly buses we normally take. The Grosus were waiting excitedly for us, and there were hugs and exclamations all around when we arrived. Naturally the first order of business was to take our places at the Masa they had prepared, and drink the obligatory glass of vin de casa (house wine). After a couple more glasses of wine, and some tasty food, we took a break to show the Krevsky's around our summer home, and all it's "charm". It was so funny to see them trudging down the slick muddy path, dodging chickens, past the pigs, the outhouse, the cow, and into the meadow. And we enjoyed a good laugh when I showed Jay how to talk turkey (literally) with the Tom Turkeys in the meadow, who are avid conversationalists, once you get to know them.

Shortly thereafter, we returned to the table and resumed with the feast. Conversation was active, despite the pauses for translation, and the Krevsky's were very brave in attacking the various Moldovan delicacies, which includs a lot of preserved veggies this time of year. We ate, and ate, and ate some more, in true Moldovan fashion. Then it was off to the Cellar for a special treat, some vin de casa directly from the casks. This is a source of great pride for many Moldovans, and our host father Nick in particular. In fact, I was so worried about his wanting to drink with Jay, that I stupidly decided to play the role of protector, and intercept most of the wine headed Jay's way. It was only later, as we prepared to leave, that I began to realize the folly of this strategy. And it was also at this point that I explored new territory in my in-law relations. Fortunately, as with everything else, they were very patient and understanding. More so in fact than my loving wife, who has wasted no opportunity since, to share this story with anyone who will listen.

The Krevsky's visit was significant for three reasons. Not only were they our first visitors from "outside", but the timing was such that it signaled the passing of winter, at least symbolically. And finally, their visit included a fantastic trip for all of us to Poland, and the Czech Republic!

As with our trip to Turkey, the moment we stepped off the plane in Warsaw, we were amazed by the upgrade in our surroundings. But Warsaw was not our final destination, so we cooled our jets for an hour before boarding a plane for Krakow. Normally, Tamar and I would be looking for the most convenient hostel in Krakow. But as soon as we retrieved our bags we were greeted by a driver, waiting to take us to the Intercontinental. We were beginning to appreciate the significant differences between travelling with the Krevksys, and travelling alone.

I won't bore you with our adoration of the hotel room, but when we got a peek of our bathroom...oh boy. We did about as much sight seeing as we could over three days, including the Jewish quarter, Krakow Castle, and every clothes store in between. We found a great Mexican restaurant, where we drank margaritas, feasted on chips and salsa, and great enchiladas. We also lucked out because Saving Private Ryan was playing nearby, so we enjoyed that as well. Although it had quite a sobering impact on us, particularly after spending a day getting a very personal history lesson from a Polish tour guide who was born during Germany's occupation of Poland in WWII. I will spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say the brutality was severe.

However, severity, and brutality are woefully inadequate to describe the Nazi death camps. I think for us, the most amazing aspect of Aushwitz-Birkenau was how real they are. You know from reading history, and watching Discovery that these places exist, but when you see it in person, it is still quite a shock. It's as if a part of you is shielded from what you know intellectually to be true, because your humanity cannot fathom the degree of the inhumanity these places represent. If you haven't had the opportunity to visit the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C., or see a Nazi concentration camp first hand, you can not imagine the horrors human beings are capable of. And there is nothing I could say to convey the cruelty and suffering people endured in these places.

There was a large group of Israeli students visiting while we were there. And at one point we encountered them in a touching moment. They were all gathered around on the floor of a room, reading names of people who died here, lighting candles for them, and saying prayers. It reminded me of our visit to the Vietnam memorial, where we read many names out loud in a gesture to acknowledge their lives, and sacrifices.

The next day we drove from Krakow to Prague, about six hours. Krakow is beautiful, but Prague is breathtaking. One factor is that Prague was one of the few great European cities to be left untouched by the ravages of 20th century war. The gothic architecture is so extravagant, with statues and gargoyles adorning every building and bridge. And the people, as in Poland, were very hospitable. Of course we find nearly every casual encounter with people outside of Moldova to be a refreshing change of pace. In Prague we spent most of our time walking and gawking. One night we went to a great classical music performance, which are widespread in Prague. People hand out flyers everywhere, invitations to attend these "Best of Mozart", or "Best of the Classics" performances which usually feature a trio of Piano, Violin, and Cello, or some other combination. It's definitely a tourist draw, but why not, in such a magnificent setting.

Returning to Moldova through Bucharesti gave us a chance to prepare for the readjustment from our four star lifestyle of the past 10 days. Alas, when we finally arrived, back in Moldova, it was still cold and depressing. Spring officially started March 1, in Moldova. But it wasn't until the beginning of April a few days ago, that we really noticed the change. The mosquitos are coming back, and the not so pleasant odor of a crowded bus, the lack of which I suppose would be the two redeeming qualities of winter...

So now we've settled in again. Last night we wanted to recoup from our increasingly busy schedules, both fighting colds, coughs & sniffles. But when we got home from work the water was off. We checked our water supplies and started distilling what we could right away. We've grown a bit spoiled in the running water department, and groused a bit. But hey, the sun's still out, days are longer, moods are lighter. No problem. Until later in the evening, when the power goes out... as Tamar lamented, "They can't let you forget where you are for a minute!"

On the other hand, Spring does seem to have ushered in more than warmer weather. Both of us are getting busy at work, and are seeing some positive results. Tamar is one of the planners (kind of an oxymoron in Moldova) for a big Earth Day month. They have put together a very ambitious schedule of Earth Day activities, including a tree planting, 5k Eco-thon, Cleanups, Poster contests, and a big Concert at the end of the month. She was (maybe still is) pulling her hair out trying to get a contentious group of Moldovan environmental organizations to work together. Based on the comments from last years volunteers however, the fact that these 3-4 organizations have continued to attend meetings and work cooperatively for the past few months, is a minor miracle. You might wonder why working collaboratively wouldn't be an obvious course for environmental organizations facing the ecological challenges in Moldova. But as we are constantly reminded, they are more interested in competing with each other, and being the "best" environmental organization. Which of course is not measured by any sort of environmental accomplishments, but rather by how many branch offices they have, or who they know in Parliament.

All the more reason to applaud the volunteers success this year in getting these groups to work together, and appreciate the successes they've experienced so far. The tree planting last weekend was great. More than fifty people turned out, and we planted at least 100 trees in a Chisinau park. The next day, the Eco-thon raised over 2,000 lei (~ $240), which is an unqualified success by Moldovan standards. The idea of a local fundraiser is very novel here, not to mention a 5 K Ecothon! Meanwhile, Tamar is moving full steam ahead with her GLOBE environmental awareness project, and has found a good partner in a Moldovan biology professor from the State University. So, while she's a bit pokey due to her cold, I think she is feeling good about what she

I on the other hand, have experienced increasing frustrations at work. My counterpart has been very difficult to work with. Communication, planning, and organization are almost nonexistent, and without simply telling people what to do, it's very tough to get anything done. So for someone like me who much prefers to work in a collaborative environment, it has been very frustrating. They would rather I just tell them what to do than go through a methodical, evaluative decision making process. They claim that given the rate at which things change, and the degree of uncertainty in their lives, it doesn't make sense to plan too much. Naturally we respond that this is exactly why they should invest the time in planning and organization. But it's a constant tug of war between our temptation to advocate our western approach to problem solving, and the need to understand and work within the very complicated economic, social, and cultural environment here.

Last week our Economic and Organizational Development (EOD) group had it's In Service Training (IST). Leading up to this, I had been uncharacteristically vocal in my criticism of the Peace Corps EOD program, for reasons I can't want to get into here. So when Tamar and I received a plea for help from our program director, the week before, I decided to offer my help in planning the training. I figured that if I wanted to earn the right to complain I should be willing to do something about the problems. However, when I discovered nothing had been done at all, and the IST was only 5 days away, I was kicking myself. But after all was said and done, it turned out all right. Certainly much better than it would have been otherwise. The big downer was that my counterpart didn't bother to show up, despite letters, faxes, notes on the calendar, clear conversations, and despite the fact that it was mandatory. I was angry and bitter, because I had designed the training to confront exactly the kind of frustrating working relationship we had. But in the long run, maybe it doesn't matter.

This was the final step in my turning a corner. First, I had already begun to realize I should work more directly with the newspapers in my association, rather than waste time with the association coordinator (another Moldovan oxymoron). And second, I was so angry with my counterpart, (the association coordinator) that I confronted her in a way I normally wouldn't, and might have finally reached her at some level. So we'll see. But I do have some interesting projects coming along with these newspapers, and the more time I spend with them, in their local communities, the more I enjoy myself. We have finally received funding to implement an internet project I've been waiting on. And I'm working with a Fullbright scholar from the U.S. on a project to bring in technical consultants to work one on one with our struggling independent newspapers. They'll focus on areas like advertising strategies, electronic layout, and professional/ethical journalism. I mention this because it's a USIS project. Your tax dollars at work. And hey, if this ethics topic goes over well, maybe we can initiate a similar program for the American media, which it seems from over here lately , could use a refresher course in ethical journalism.

I have also started doing participatory presentations on the role of Mass Media in a Democratic society, to Moldovan students. These kids are part of a program started by a Moldovan friend of ours which does civic education and sends students to the U.S. for a few weeks. It's an interesting subject, and something we definitely take for granted in America. And this is a great program, even if it relies on someone like me as a Mass Media "expert". It astounds all of us volunteers how often we are put in the position of being the "expert" in something we know little more about than most Americans. But in this situation, the objective is to get the students thinking and discussing the issues. And to challenge them to think critically and creatively.

Speaking of creative thinking, some of you may have heard of a program for students called Odyssey of the Mind. This is a creative problem solving contest which is held all over the world at local and national levels, for kids of different ages. I coached a Moldovan team, and it was the highlight of my winter. These kids were given very tough problems involving Shakespeare plays, which they solved very creatively, and entirely in English. They are only 12-14 yrs old. And I am very proud.

Let's see, what else is going on.... Our Romanian has really improved, and I think we already take for granted how much easier we communicate. Although some days are better than others.

Oh, the news here has been Kosovo, and specifically the Russian reaction to NATO strikes there. It has been interesting to discuss this situation with Moldovans. In fact, when I spoke to a group of students about Mass Media last week, I mentioned Kosovo as an example where the state now controls the press, and it was very interesting to get their reactions. Those who had access to independent newspapers, radio, or television, which isn't many, were more or less supportive of the NATO action. But those who relied more on Russian newspapers or gossip, were typically supportive of the Russian position, which provided a wonderful example of the role of the independent mass media. As for the direct impact of Kosovo on Moldova, for those of you worry warts out there, there has been very little. Outside of a pitiful demonstration at the American Embassy, and a warning to volunteers to be even more wary of becoming a target than we already are, there has been little impact here. No worries.

We have been writing less and less, and I think it's because life has fully normalized for us. Meaning that where we used to find something remarkable, we now see only something Moldovan, and don't think much about it. Not sure how to express this. It's not as if there's nothing to talk about, but we don't see things so much as an outsider anymore. I expect when we return to America in June, after a year away, this will be almost as remarkable an experience as our first months in Moldova. It will be interesting to see to what extent we have "gone Moldovan". I read a post card from a returned Peace Corps volunteer, who said he couldn't get over how weird it was to hear English spoken everywhere he went. It rarely occurs to me anymore how much easier life would be, if we could speak English with people. We've adjusted to the fact that we can't.

It's hard to believe it will soon be a full year we've been away. For those of you on the west coast, it already is. And we couldn't imagine a better event to bring us home, than to celebrate Solomon Krevsky and Katie Gassners wedding, June 6. Although Tod's blossoming music career would be a close second. I doubt there is a sole left in America who Mom (Joan Roth) hasn't shared this news with. But just in case she overlooked someone, my brother has recently taken the pursuit of personal life goals to another level, with his first live performance of his original songs. He drew five hundred people in his first performance, and sold out his second. Now he's being asked to headline. He is absolutely THE MAN!

Everyone at home is missed terribly. That continues to be the hardest part of our life. There are so many times we'll say to each other, "Man, I wish so and so was here to see that!". I stand and look out our living room window, watching the kids play in the park behind our apartment, and I can almost imagine I'm watching kids playing in America. This is one of the best neighborhoods in Moldova. But to Americans I suppose it would look more like a ghetto. That's a good example of normalizing. I would have been scared to walk into an apartment building like ours if I was in America. But no matter how used to our surroundings we get, the fact that you all are not here is a regular reminder that we are far from home.

This is where our letter originally left off, but since I was delayed in sending it, I might as well add a little tidbit of news. I woke up a couple days ago with some stomach pain, which I attributed to all the rich Moldovan food we had eaten the past weekend we spent in the village. But when the pain began to localize, I called the Peace Corps Medical Officer, who insisted I come in. And it was a good thing I did, because it turned out I had an acute appendicitis. The doc took me to a Moldovan hospital and went under the knife that afternoon. I returned home yesterday, after an overnight stay to recover from the anesthesia, and now I'm just laying low and healing. The Moldovan medical staff was very kind and attentive. And our Peace Corps Medical Officer stayed with me every minute, even spending the night with me at my bedside, to be sure everything went well. So no need to worry. I could not have received better care, and should now have a handsome scar to show off.

That's it from here. Miss you all, and wish you the best. We think of everyone at home all the time, and send our love. G&T

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