Monday, March 06, 2006

Meet the Peace Corps

Monday had us out in the world. We ate breakfast at the hotel, and met the Peace Corps class (which was doing some Environmental training) for lunch. Ann physically did ok with lunch... I won't give the details on my malady suffice to say I was never far from a bathroom the rest of the day.

We had lunch with about a dozen peace corps volunteers at a restaurant near the Hotel National where they were having their class on the environment. They were all good kids, and we enjoyed their company (and their tales of ethnic divisions between Russians, Ukranians, and native Romanian-speaking Moldovans). Some volunteers are in Russian-speaking areas of the country, and reported that Romanian-speaking Rutiera drivers had purposely given them wrong directions or not notified them of stops (may seem like a small thing, but imagine it being a 20F windy wintry day, and being told "hey, it's the end of the line... get out and wait for the next bus that will be here in an hour: if you want directions, learn our language." This is all pretty tough for a Peace Corps person first assigned to Uzbekistan, then reassigned to a Russian area of Moldova when the Peace Corps pulled folks out). There were questions of whether Moldova could overcome these ethnic issues, but then they were tempered by the enjoyment of their host families.

We walked back to our hotel, and went through the local department store. It was the "old style" of department store that housed 30-40 independent business on each floor, with each business specializing in an areas as sole proprietors: ribbons, phones, electronics, plastic flowers, watchmakers, etc. It was nothing like a department store in America, and we began to fully appreciate what we have at home.

Monday evening we met up with Peter's close group and had a delightful dinner (nothing for Charlie, thank you) in a private room at a quite good Mexican restaurant (El Paso). As usual, his friends are great and it was so nice to put faces to names (a picture of the group is attached... our waitress suggested that Peter wear the sombrero).

The conversation over dinner was interesting. Some of the topics were:

  • Where one could find Guiness beer in Chisinau (yes, there is an Irish bar, and they are reputed to have been quite pleased when a CD of Irish music arrived in the hands of a volunteer).
  • There was talk of the public "closedness" of Moldovan society. The thesis was that the culture was that you did not trust another person unless they were related to you in some fashion, and then they became quite open. We have not experienced a discussion with any Moldovans other than cab drivers, store clerks and hotel staff, so we have no way to judge. One thing we did learn on Sunday was not to speak English near the police. We didn't get a long explanation, but, simply stated, were told that the police were corrupt, and being non-Moldovan was suspect.
  • Interestingly enough, there was little complaining about life in Moldova. Or, to put it another way, the level of complaint was less than complaints about national or office politics at home. A few people expressed their desire to leave early (TEFL people have it easier, since they run their own classrooms... Public Health education folks have two strikes... they are paired with a Moldovan teacher and they teach more sensitive issues such as food groups and balance and sex education).
  • Food expectations have been set. A few choice comments were "the two major spices are flour and salt," "food in the summer is all vegetables and fruit, and the winter is all meat and some potatoes," and "everything is cooked in oil." Two interesting Mexican variations were deep-fat frying the quesadillas, and putting whipped cream on top of a tostado (it's supposed to be sour cream). I will note that few, if any, of these alleged biases hindered our later enjoyment of the food… in general, once we got to the villages and native houses, I felt like I was back with my grandmother's food (from the Polish side of the family).

Other than that. I have little to report on the day, since we were in our hotel room (sick/ recovering) for the majority. Not the best way to do things, but at least we'll be healthy for Costesti and free-flowing wine tomorrow.


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