Saturday, March 22, 2008

Things I'll Miss

I have so many things that are happening in life now, and so many little stories that I want to tell, that I end up just being intimidated about posting. I am going to try and warm back up into the process by making short and quick posts rather than the sweeping epics that I always plan out in my head. Hope somebody out there is still reading....
I say "things I'll miss" because it is pretty definite that I will be leaving Moldova this summer. I could stay if I wanted, but the jokes about being the old man here are getting a bit...old, and if I stay another year I may end up being a naturalized citizen. That and one can only survive so long on zero salary. I thus am planning on being back in the states sometime in July, and I hope to start grad school in the fall. More on all that at some other time, for now I want to talk about today.
One of the things that I think I will miss the most is the "piata" (pronounced pee-ahts-uh), which is the Romanian word for market, and is something like the conception of an American farmer's market and an outdoor Wal-mart all mixed into one. Our office is not far from the city's central market, and there is a smaller market just down the road from my house. Actually, just about anywhere in the country you can find a market full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and all sorts of random household necessities.
I feel I am one of the few volunteers that has truly embraced the central piata here in Chisinua, and I know I am one of the very few that actually enjoys going there. Today I was reminded of why it makes me smile rather than stress.
First of all, you can get just about anything you could ever want (well, if it is available in country). It takes a while to get to know where everything is, and even then the place is in constant flux, so each trip is a bit of an adventure. I go so frequently though, and have been here long enough, that I feel I know exactly where to find just about whatever I want. I even have favorite vendors who know me and smile whenever I show up. My "butter lady" for example probably survives off of my baking addiction. She has to be completely baffled by the fact that the skinny, blond, America shows up to buy a kilo of butter on almost a weekly basis. She always greets me with a smile though and a few cordial words. She finally asked today if I was married, to which I explained that I did not have a wife who I kept chained to the stove, but rather I was the one using her homemade butter for banana bread and brownies (two food items that all but don't exist here). This baffled her enough for me to make my escape and finish my errands, but I will be back. Guess I will just have to bring her a sample of my wares.

I realized today how much I will miss her, and all the other folks who bid me health and wellness when I go shopping there...just for the simple fact that I am an American volunteer working in Moldova. I'll also miss the fact that I can buy a kilo of butter, a kilo of cheese, and an additional kilo each of onions, eggplant, tomatoes, yellow and red peppers, and three types of salad greens... all for under $30 (oh and zucchini and lemons too). Maybe that isn't quite the bargain I think it is, but it seemed pretty great to me.

The piata has definitely been my friend over these past three years, so I hope wherever I end up has a great farmer's market, or that I end up in a house with a few hectares behind it. So, fellow volunteers, get to know and love the paitas of Moldova, and you few stalwart Americans who still read this blog...head on down to the local farmer's market this weekend.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


I know I have been away from blogging for a bit, but I just had a surreal experience, and since I am not going to get anything substantial accomplished tonight anyway, I thought I would quickly put up a post and let you all know I am still alive.
Anyway, I just finished chatting online with my host brother. (In case I forgot to mention this previously....I left my village after extending my service and I am now working in the capitol city). This may seem fairly pedestrian (chatting online that is), but to me it is an incredible symbol of time flying by. When I arrived in my village 2.5 years ago they didn't even have touch tone phone service. I spent many a night there patiently waiting for my emails to eke through on a dial-up connection at 36k. My laptop was probably the only one in the village at that point.
Now, they are on the cusp of having DSL access (though they have been "almost ready" for almost 8 months now), the town has it's own computer lab, and there are at least 6 laptops sprinkled throughout the community due to grants and donations. Having a computer at home has become a somewhat normal, though still not a commonplace thing.
None of these are glacial changes, but it still struck me as odd as I was typing away. Part of it I think is the realization that technology is starting to catch on here while many other parts of the society and infrastructure are continuing to stagnate or are even falling behind. It is encouraging that the Moldovans will have access to high speed internet, even in the rural areas. Why though are there schools still without decent bathrooms, and hospitals that can't afford to buy rubber gloves? My current job here is focused on promoting technology usage and education, so these kind of things give me pause. Is giving them computer skills what we really should be doing?
On a brighter note, the conversation boosted my ego a bit. My host brother's skill in English has progressed to the point that he actively tries to avoid Romanian when we talk face to face or on the phone. That leaves me one less chance though to keep my language skills fresh. I don't get to use them much here in the capitol because of the large Russian influence, and the fact that I am always around English speakers. Anyway, he still feels shy about writing, and doesn't know how to type yet, so to save time we stuck to writing in Romanian....and he understood me! It is nice to know I can still write even after six months of being a city slicker.
Finally, I think our conversation made me realize how little time there is that I have left here. I delayed the inevitable goodbyes by extending for 10 months, but come summer I will be on a plane back home. I have communicated with my family and friends via the internet almost exclusively since I left the US, either with email or VOIP (skype, googletalk). The fact that communication with my host family has now migrated to the web seems like an omen, like I have already partly left Moldova.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Ce? Nu poti gasi lucru in America?

Literally translated my title means...What? You can't find work in America?

So yes, as many of you now know, yet my blog has failed to reflect over the past few months is that I am still living and working in Moldova. Still with Peace Corps, still cranking away. Why you ask (everybody else has)? Hopefully to try and open a new "branch/program/sector" of PC Moldova. Sounds kinda lofty in a way, and the more I dig into it, the more I realize that... yup, it is.

While most of the Moldovan's I talk with can't possibly imagine why I would chose to stay here and work for no money...I do actually kind of like it here. Plus it was very exciting to propose an idea and have the higher ups give you the go ahead to run with it and find out what can be done.

Some friends and I noticed that the Information Technology sector is somewhat undeveloped here, especially in rural areas. While there are some NGOs and governments giving away hardware to schools and communities, there aren't many folks out there teaching the recipients of these gifts how to actually use them. I watched this process happen in my village (along with a great many more technical abominations), and decided that perhaps we could do something about it. That and the realization that a lot of volunteers (myself included) were dabbling in technology assistance programs anyway, so why not make it something more formal.

My job, as I have understood it when I signed on, was to do a needs assessment and pilot project for a technology assistance program here in the old RM. Sometime when I have more patience I will outline how things are going so far. For now lets just say it is not what I expected, but there is hope for the future.

Just a quick update now to let folks know that I am still alive and doing well. I have moved into the capitol city, and have a quaint little pad on the outskirts. A flushing toilet and automatic heating are some of the niceties that make it seem like I am no longer a real volunteer. I feel spoiled by having my own kitchen too. (I hosted a small brunch at my place today just to celebrate the fact that such a thing is possible now)

The plan at this point is to head back to the states in early summer of 08 unless something drastic happens (ex: I get appointed ambassador). Hoping to take a month or so off and then head to grad school in the fall. I may end up coming back for interviews sometime this winter, but I haven't heard from anyone yet, so who knows. I will actually, truly, really be updating my blog from now on though, so I will be sure to let everyone know once I decide if/when I will be crossing the pond.

Hope all is well back in the states. I'll try and post something more interesting soon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Blog to a blog

An interesting blog link for those who just can't get enough of Eastern Europe.
International reporter with writings on issues in Romania, Moldova, Ukraine...etc.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

la sfirsit

Yup, still alive.
Been busy as of late due to a conference I was helping with in Albania, but I have returned safely and will do my best to get some posts up about the experience there. While I was gone though, my fellow Volunteers that entered Moldova with me had their close of service contract as yes indeed we have been here for almost 2 years now and most folks will be headed back to the states very soon.
As with any good graduation ceremony there were some superlatives. Mine was read in my absence, but was delivered to my cubby at the office for my perusal.
The consensus here was that it fit me to a T, so I figured I would let the rest of you who have been inflicted with my presence over the years in on the author's creative observations.
And I quote:
Ian Spain - Most likely to---
"Sail around the world while removing his own appendix, building a motherboard out of driftwood, and reforming juvenile delinquents; serving them a 7-course meal made from scratch (lit by candles rendered from the blubber of a whale he harpooned himself) featuring fish he caught with his hands while SCUBA diving. He will then write a how-to manual describing his experiences and translate it into Romanian."

All the best to all of you out there still hanging with me on the blog. I will make no promises as to when my next post will be, but I will do my best to get some pictures up at least. I have about 15 posts in waiting.
Pakah, toate cele bun.....Ian

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Ocupot dar bine

Hey folks, thought I would test out the email submission version of blogging, as I never seem to get the time to actually log into blogger's bogged down servers to do a post. I will be in the capitol this weekend so I promise I will do a photo posting and an update on life. Until then, to satisfy your insatiable curiosity about Moldova, I want to let you know about a neat little online project . This is a directory of PC blogs worldwide, with quite a respectable showing from the crew here in Moldova. Thus, should you want to know a little bit more about a place from a grass roots perspective, check out one of the couple hundred blogs listed. Will write again soon. I promise.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Banana (it's the same in any language, kind of)

Life has been wicked busy as of late, and I have opted to sleep during the precious free hours I have rather than do blog postings....please forgive me.

I am trying to get my feet wet again with blogging, so I thought I would do a quick and dirty cultural observation that a Moldovan brought to my attention.

“Americans eat bananas backwards”.

This has been confirmed by independent Moldovan sources who observed our apparent weirdness. In my nearly two years here I had never really noticed it, but Moldovan's typically use a fingernail to pierce the skin on the opposite end of the stem, and just go from there. Nothing radical, they don't eat the peel or anything, but they have a completely different viewpoint on opening a banana. When I tried to explain that it was much easier to open it with the stem end I was greeted with head shaking and a face full of consternation from my Moldovan cultural guide. He felt that it was much more difficult with the stem end, that the stem would break off most of the time, and that it bruised the fruit.

In my eyes of course it seems as if the stem was there just for the opening, as if by divine command a natural pull-tab had been placed there for our convenience. Nothing could dissuade him from his current method though.

I guess my thought is though, if we have such different and unchangeable ideas about how to unwrap a fruit, just imagine how the cultures differ on more complex issues.

My partner teacher and I are doing a class on abortion for our 9th graders this week. Should be interesting.