Sunday, July 17, 2011

Land of the Rolling Hill: Puhoi

This is a long one, so grab yourself some good coffee and dig in... :)

Site announcements (where we'd be living for 2 years of service) take 2 happened a week ago Tuesday in Chişinău. At the end of a day of "enthralling" sessions, during which all 54 trainees were focused solely on the prospect of the upcoming site announcements, we were finally shuffled outside of the school and onto the paved parking lot where a large chalk outline of Moldova and many current volunteers were waiting. 

Inside the outline of the country, the volunteers and staff had taped pieces of paper representing different towns and villages in their approximate geographical location (mind you definitely not to scale, nor really that accurate). One by one Jeffrey, the Country Director, called out our names at random, giving us the name of our permanent site. At this point, unless the site was Chişinău or one of the other two large cities, no one had a clue where to go, so we were guided to stand on our respective pieces of paper and handed packets of information about our towns and future work partners (Moldovans with whom we'll be working with most of the time), and organizations.

Puhoi (to get the full effect of this name, one needs to inhale deeply, say "poo" at normal decibel levels, then sharply flex their diaphragm while saying "hoy!" thereby ending the word a few octaves higher). That will be our home for the next 2 years (hopefully for real this time!). Opening our packets, Ash found she'd be teaching 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th graders in the school, as well as the names of who she would be potentially working with in the local health clinic. According to my packet, I would be working with the mayor's office, but then there was another partner's name next to a company's name and yet another letter from an "Economic Council", so I had no idea what was going on (a theme to be carried on through the present time apparently...). It turned out I would be pioneering a new type of set-up for Peace Corps. The director of a very prosperous winery (Asconi: - you will be blown away..) wanted a volunteer to help him start community development projects in Puhoi, sort of social responsibility projects if you will. Since PC won't place volunteers with private companies, my official partner was supposed to be the mayor's office. Yes, I was (and still am) confused by it all...

Although our piece of paper taped to the pavement implied Puhoi is situated SouthWest of Chişinău, after scouring an actual map we learned it is actually SouthEast of the capitol city by 35 or 40 kilometers.

Fast forward a few days and Ash and I were walking toward the central market and bus station in Chişinău with her medical and school supervisors (who had been in town for Ash's site team conference where partners come in from our sites to learn more about what it means to have a Peace Corps volunteer working with them in their school/clinic.). The minibus to Puhoi was only 12 lei (about $1.05), and after an hour of jostling back and forth over the sub-par roads and sweating through our clothes in the heat, we stepped off into the sun in Puhoi! The husband of Ash's medical supervisor was waiting for us and we all piled in for the drive up the steep hill to our future home. 

A quick side-note. Unfortunately, investment in public infrastructure here is sorely lacking, as is a general attitude towards caring for common property (otherwise known as 'tragedy of the commons', stemming mostly from their Soviet Union history), so not only does that mean there are many paradoxes, such as no or definitely unclean running water in the same house as high-speed wireless internet, but it also means 90% of the roads are not paved and therefore hilly roads (like ours...) get extremely rutted out and take on the appearance of and feel more akin to high-mountain 4-wheel drive roads than village streets.

Back to our future host family...

Near the top of the hill we pull to the side of the street and the diesel engine sends small shutters through the car as it shuts down in front of a black metal gate. Ash and I are nervous and immediately are thrown off when we walk through the gate and see an absolutely gorgeous brick paver driveway - on which an inflatable kiddie pool is being blown up by our bunic gazdă (host grandfather), Mihiel, and our soră (sister), Adriana. Our host 'mother', Tania met us holding our other soră, Alecsandra on the front porch and our jaws continued to drop as we walked into the most beautiful house we'd seen yet in Moldova. Large room, trendy recesses in the ceiling with cool lighting, hot and cold running water, and indoor shower and toilet, complete with stainless steel appliances in the kitchen. This couldn't be right, could it? 

We sat down for a masă (literally 'table', but used to say a meal) with our whole family (grandpa and grandma, who lived a ways down the hill, Tania, Andriana, Alecsandra, and Ash's supervisors). Everyone was so nice, talking to each other and trying to talk to us (ha, definitely comical..). We spent the rest of the day hanging out with our host family until Andrei, our host father, came home from work in Chişinău. We had a relaxing dinner, trying to garner as much information as we could about them, and soon we retired to our room for the night.

Monday morning Ash left with Adriana just before 8 to go to the school to meet her partners. I was under the impression I would be going at 9 with Tania into the wine factory to meet the director. Turns out that Tania was on vacation, so she had arranged for other employees of the factory to pick me up and take me there. Once there, the employees didn't know where I was supposed to go, so they pointed me to the admin offices and walking through the office I thought I had stepped into a plush attorney's firm in Denver. Stuffed leather chairs, espresso machine, artwork on the walls... wow. 

Long story shortened, I ended up finding out the director was also on vacation and had told a couple of his staff an American was coming, but had left out why and what to do with him. So I (and later that afternoon, Ash and I returned so she also) got a walking tour around the factory grounds, and then sat at 'my desk' and tried to look enthralled with agricultural books written in Romanian.

Ash, meanwhile, really enjoyed meeting her teaching partner, Ana, along with other staff, at the school but then had a bit of a rushed and frustrating experience trying to meet anyone at the clinic and the mayor's office. 

The afternoon passed slowly as we just hung out around the house with Tania and the little ones. We picked some vişine (sour cherries) and turned some of them into compot, basically just boiling them in water with sugar to make a sweet juice. The rest we set aside and asked if we could make vişine pancakes in the morning. That night we went to grandpa and grandma's house for a masă, which was amazing. We ate outside under the apricot trees and with the sound of 30 newly born chics and ducklings running free through their garden in the background. We toasted to long lives and health with homemade red wine and laughed together while trying to teach them some words in English and trying to understand them in Romanian.

Tuesday morning we indeed woke up and set about making pancakes from scratch with sour cherries as well as a sour cherry syrup (AMAZING!!!!). The night before, grandma Vera had told us about a group of Americans that were in town offering free basic medical services. Vera needed to go to get her blood sugar checked so we decided to go with her at 9am to see if we could meet the group and see what had brought them here. Turned out they were a church group from Birmingham, Alabama that was partnering with a local pastor to help him start a church and to kick things off they were offering a VBS for kids and medical checkups for adults. We got to meet the local pastor and he invited us to his house for a masă when we came back in August. It also sounds like he might be starting a wrestling club with the youth, which I would love to get involved in.

All in all, it was a crazy site visit. Not necessarily crazy busy, just crazy in that we have so much to process through and think about. We're both excited for what lies ahead even though what lies ahead is definitely not all that clear. 

Noroc (cheers/luck/hello) to Puhoi (and to those who made it all the way through this blog!)!

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