Tuesday, January 18, 2011

English Club

Today was our first day of English Club. We had 14 participants, including two teachers from the school. I taught with the English Teacher from the school, Roma. We talked about why we were doing an English Club and why the students wanted to be there. We practice common English expressions like 'good morning', 'good evening' and 'nice to meet you'. It was an exciting hour and we are already talking about lessons we can do for American holidays. I just hope we can keep them engaged and motivated to attend every week! More to come........

Moldovan Gingerbread Cookies

Before I left for America for Christmas vacation I helped the teen girls of my center cook Moldovan Gingerbread cookies. I call them Moldovan Gingerbread cookies because we were lacking certain ingredients that allowed them to brown and also lacked any kind of formal kind cookie cutters. So in traditional Moldovan style we improvised and still had a successful and fun time.

One of the main ingredients that we were lacking was corn syrup, which I tried to make myself. But in my attempt to make it I ended up with a jar of hard, hard candy like substance. Needless to say it was not useable and we ended up with very pale gingerbread heads.

The girls reading the directions in Romanian and preparing the ingredients:

The measuring and mixing begins:

The Moldovan Mixmasters:

The girls putting the finishing touches on the cookies with pink and green frosting:

Enjoying the finished product with a cup of tea:

Friday, January 14, 2011

Anul Nou pe Vechi

The other day was Old New Year's Eve, according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar. I had the pleasure of being invited to a celebration at the Concordia Center in my village. Concordia is another NGO in my village that provides housing for elderly in the area, a meals on wheels program and programming for children. Concordia serves over 200 people in the Tudora community and has thirty-six other facilities in Moldova that serve communities in a similar way. I hope to start volunteering soon at the center in my village at least once a week.

The celebration consisted of copious amounts of singing, throwing of dried corn (to wish you luck in the new year), plays depicting a resurrected goat and dancing grandmothers or babushki as they are referred to here. All this was captured in my video, enjoy and Happy New Year! Here is the link to my video, sorry it is somewhere else, for some reason it just would not upload to my blogger page:


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Peace Corps Project

Unity Children and Family Center
Tudora, Moldova

In January of 2010 my partner, Liliana Malancea and I began the process of planning a project that would involve installing running water in the Unity Children and Family Center. The Unity Children and Family Center operates an after-school program for vulnerable children in the small southeastern village of Tudora, Moldova. For the past five years the center has been assisting approximately 20 children and their families per year with homework assistance, social services and cultural activities. Among other services the center provides it also serves one hot meal each day to the children. This hot meal is often the only hot meal the children get during the day. This service was in jeopardy of being taken away due to the conditions of the center not meeting the national sanitation requirements for a facility that served meals to children. One of the major violations was not having running water at the center, a necessity when cooking meals for children. This violation and the jeopardy of losing the meal program for the children was the main reason for applying for funding. Because our ability to provide this service was in jeopardy, we began creating a work plan and searching for funding that would help us remedy the violation.

Before Pictures:

In order for the project to become a reality we needed to obtain funds to purchase the materials and hire the laborers. My partner and I determined that the best possible source of funding could come from the Peace Corps Small Project Assistance (SPA) and USAID Project, so we began the grant writing process. The overall goal was not only for us obtain funds for the project but for my partner to learn transferable, tangible skills that she could use later after my service in Moldova is completed. A few examples of the skills learned during the proposal development were: conducting needs assessments, proposal development, i.e. statement of need, collection of price points for materials and labor needed for project, goals and objective development, budget development, and monitoring and evaluation development. After arguing the need for funding in a public meeting the center was granted full funding of $3000 USD.

And that was when the real work began. My first responsibility was to obtain the funds from Peace Corps, which involved opening up a new bank account and my partner’s first responsibility was to secure the contract for the contractor that was going to be overseeing the installation project. We also had shared responsibilities which included purchasing the materials and confirm the volunteer laborers schedules and to being work on a fundraising project to raise the 20% Community Contribution, which is required when applying for SPA funds. We broke ground on April 22 and completed the bulk of the construction for the project by April 30th.

The next phase of our project was to make sure that some part of the work we did relating to the project was sustainable, something that had a lasting effect upon the recipients. In order to achieve this, my partner designed several Health Seminars that are offered to the children and parents of the center and also to the people of the community. Some of the topics covered in the seminars include proper Handwashing Techniques, Dental Hygiene and Healthy Cooking Practices. The seminars were designed and conducted by the center staff and will be continue to be offered every year for the beneficiaries and the general public. This phase also includes reporting all the progress and details of the project in a comprehensive report to Peace Corps and USAID.

After Pictures:

I believe that the overall project was truly a success since my partner, the staff, and the children of the center, their parents and other people from the community help in all aspects of the project. Some volunteered their time to dig holes for the new water pipes, some mixed concrete for new floors, and some painted walls of the new kitchen and some donated funds for new fixtures for small sinks that will allow the children to wash their hands. It was truly a community project and an overall achievement.

Second Graders during their Dental Health Seminar

Monday, September 6, 2010

Computer Seminars

Last week I taught two computer seminars to the staff at the Unity Community Center in Moldova. The staff have been asking for these seminars for the past year and our schedule finally permitted us to be all together in the same room so I could teach them. The 1st seminar was on computer basics, which I thought would be review for the 5 staff that were in attendance. Well, what do they say about assumptions? I was wrong, turns out that most of the seminar was not review and proved to be very useful for the staff.

The second seminar was on Word Basics, how to highlight words, change size, font, etc. The seminar also proved to be beneficial. But the highlight of the afternoon was when we were done with the seminars and the staff wanted to continue to practice, I could not tear them away from the keyboards. They requested to know more about how to do this and how to do that in Word and also wanted a seminar for Excel. I also turned them onto a typing practice program called Stamina that can be used for several languages, even Russian. Again, I could not tear them away from the keyboards.

I want to thank my partner Liliana and her husband Roma who helped me with the seminar. They were valuable for translating the presentations and also for assisting the staff that were learning new skills.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Spring Break 2010

This past April I went on a road trip or what one would equate to a road trip when one does not have a car. In an attempt to get out of dodge I indulged myself and went on a Spring Break of sorts to Turkey, Bulgaria & Romania. I met my friend Bridget in Istanbul, where we spent the next three days setting the tone for the rest of my Spring Break 2010. Some of the wonderful things we saw included the stunning Blue Mosque, the beautiful Hagia Sophia, the Asian side of Turkey and the huge Dolmabahce Palace. Istanbul also offered wonderful food, tea and of course shopping. The bazaars were the one of the highlights of the trip. There was the Great Bazaar and the Egyptian Bazaar, the ladder being the most impressive. Heaven for those who cook and love spices, this bazaaror market balances on the edge of sensory overload. The smells of saffron and other exotic spices, coffee and tea mix with vendors shouting at you to join them at their booth.

After 3 days of great food, good company and much walking around, Bridget and I boarded a night train to Varna, Bulgaria. The train ride is only notable since it was in an old Russian Train Car from like the 60s and was very cool to ride in. We were easily impressed, it being the first night train either one of us had ever taken. Varna is a coastal town located on the Black Sea. Being a former Soviet state Bulgaria is very similar to Moldova in many respects, but in some it is not. The city is very old and has lots of character but not much to see as far as sightseeing goes. We visited the aquarium, the old church and even the old Roman Baths, but most of our time was spent drinking Bulgaria Beer and eating good food and good coffee. After not having many options for coffee shops for a year any coffee shop looks and is impressive. I have to also say that the sushi I had in Varna was very good, almost as good as sushi from home. But it was nothing compared to the Chicken Bits with Processed Cheese dish I had at Happy, the Bulgarian version of Applebees. See pictures below and judge for yourself:


After 3 days in Varna we moved onto Romania, via night train again. Arriving in Bucharest or Bucuresti as it is know herein Eastern Europe, at 6:00am we had little options as to what to do. We arrived at our hostel to find that our rooms were not ready so we rested a bit, cleaned up, left our bags and headed back out to see the sights. Even though Bucuresti is only about 8 hours away from Moldova is might as well be 20 hours away, it is so different than Moldova, but do similar. Romania as a whole is what Moldova strives to be, but might never become. Bucuresti is a modern city with a downtown district, a good public transportation system that consists of buses, trolleybuses and underground trains. One of the other great things about Romania is that I can totally understand the language and even speak it! The time we spent in Varna was very frustrating due to the fact that neither one of us spoke Bulgarian andcould not even attempt to read it since it is in the Cyrillic alphabet. Our time in Bucuresti was short since we were trying to fit in a few stops in Romania in the last three days of travel. Some of the things we saw while we were in the capital includes this fountain in the Piata Unirii, which is one of the main plazas in the city. We happen to be in the city during a major religious holiday which meant that the fountains were all dyed red. I have to admit it was kind of a weird sight seeing all this red colored water in the fountains, oddly it reminded me of a scene from the movie The Shining. Judge for yourself:

After one day in the big city we headed to the Carpathian Mountains, more specifically Brasov, Romania. Brasov is comparable to Vail, CO during the winter season, plenty of snow covered mountains, skiing and other winter sports. But during the other seasons it is a quiet little town where one can look upon the scenery and enjoy a beer or two. Right outside of Brasov is a small town called Bran, better known as the home of Dracula's Castle. Many tourists flock here to see the castle where Dracula was supposedly birthed in a fictional manner. This idea of the castle being home to the Dracula legend is up for debate, but worth seeing none the less. The castle is a small castle with deep history in the Romanian royalty, serving as a summer home to many queens. The only connection to Dracula that I could surmise was that Vald Tepes once, maybe, spent time there at the castle. And by spending time at the castle I mean he killed many people there and more than likely staked them outside the castle to make a point. For those of you that are unfamiliar with the connection between Vald and Dracula, Vald is supposed to be the basis of the Dracula legend. Regardless of the validity of the legend the castle is worth seeing in my opinion.

Well, that brings me to the end of the trip, I have to say that I had a great time and enjoyed traveling with my friend Bridget and seeing my friend Murat in Istanbul, thanks for the good times guys!

If your interested in seeing the rest of my pictures please visit:

Until next time! O Zi Buna!


Saturday, March 20, 2010

Girl Scout Cookies, Potato Planting and California Rolls

A wonderful thing happened the other day. A box of Girl Scout Cookies arrived from America. A box not just with a obligatory box of Peanut Butter Cookies and Thin Mints, but a box of every kind of cookie that the Girl Scouts sell. These marvelous
cookies were a gift from my lovely Aunt Pat from Wisconsin. I must publicly thank her for the cookies and also thank her on behalf of my host family and my co-workers who have tasted a little bit of America. The picture to the left is evidence of the cookies being eaten by someone else besides me. This is my host nephew Ion, who is 4 years old and enjoying every cookie he could get his hands on.

Today is the first spring like day we have had this year and the locals are taking advantage of it. This day marks the start of the potato season for the year and it all begins with planting potato spuds. Below is a picture of the spuds my host family and a small army of people are planting today. The process at my house is an all day event that includes starting work at 5:30 am and preparing food for the small army the day before. I asked my host mom over and over if I could help her cook or help out in the garden, which is more like a field. But she insisted that she needed no help with any of it, but requested that I take plenty of pictures to document the day. Which I was happy to do.

At this very moment the small army of helpers and my host family are eating a small feast and celebrating their day of hard work. It is amazing how neighbors and family come together to help each other, to ensure that one family can sustain itself with food for the upcoming year. The sense of community is very strong in this country.

About a month ago I had the honor of hosting three fellow volunteers at my house. It was a great weekend filled with lots of food, lots of wine and lots of laughs. It was my first opportunity to make meals for other than myself at my host family's house. I had the pleasure of making homemade White Bean & Ham Soup and Corn Bread for the gals. Together we had fun making California Rolls, tempura and sweet & sour sauce. It was almost like being back at my favorite sushi place in Chicago. I am beginning to see now that there is a pattern with my blog post today and the theme is food. To say that PCVs are obsessed with food is an understatement. We take every opportunity to make the things we miss from back home and maybe that is why we talk about it all the time. For me it is the enjoyment of cooking for others. Back in the states I cooked all the time, but for one person, which is kind of a drag. But here I have found a new found love for cooking for others. Mind you these are not lavish meals that include exotic ingredients but simple ones that focus more on making other happy. And on that note I bid you adieu and go make some wonderful curry that my parents sent me!
Take care everyone! JJ