Summer Camps

Many Peace Corps Volunteers in Moldova enjoyed summer camp recently — not as campers, but as counselors and mentors.

Some participated in Wave Week Moldova, an intensive residential leadership and community service program that empowers young people to become volunteers and leaders. Two of them, Morgan and Chris, wrote eloquently about how Wave Week made a big impact on everyone involved — 95 campers, 20 Moldovan youth staff and five Peace Corps Volunteers.

“I have absolutely loved seeing the passion and devotion for serving others come to life in the eyes of my delegates,” Morgan wrote. “Participating in this camp has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my service so far.”

Interacting with the campers “reconnected me to why I applied to become a volunteer in the first place,” wrote Chris. “As I talked with these young people every evening about their day’s activities, they inspired me more than I could possibly motivate them.”

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Other volunteers participated in GLOW TOBE Moldova, shown above, a week-long summer camp where young people learn community leadership skills and expand their own self-awareness and confidence. IMG_6930The program, whose full name is Girls Leading Our World – Teaching Our Boys Excellence, began in Romania in 1995 and has spread around the world with Peace Corps support. Here in Moldova, volunteers work with local counterparts to provide activities ranging from leadership workshops to singing, dancing, making S’Mores and tie-dying T shirts. The program continues throughout the year with activities across Moldova.

Another summer camp was GirlsGoIT, which provides dozens of girls with ten days of intensive training to learn job skills in science, engineering and technology. This year the girls learned about coding, robotics, 3D printing and entrepreneurship, among other things, and also how to serve as advocates to empower other girls to pursue STEM careers. My volunteer friend Susan, who has a long IT background, is shown below teaching some of them.

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Then there are my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers who created their own summer camps in Căușeni, Telenești, Călinești and other communities. I can’t list them all here but it’s impressive to hear what they accomplished, often with little or no external resources.

These camps change lives, and not only for the campers. My fellow volunteers who participated gave all of these young Moldovans a summer to remember.

[Thanks to everyone who took these photos!]

Where Are You, Reader?

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 11.27.18 AMMore than 12,000 readers have visited “Not Exactly Retired” since its launch two years ago. I was curious where all of you are located, so recently ran a search on WordPress, which hosts the site.

Here are the results, in order.

Not surprisingly, the largest group of readers is in the United States, followed by Moldova, where we are serving as Peace Corps Volunteers.

The Top Five also includes Nepal, where Champa was born and we maintain close ties, so that’s not a surprise either. Nor is Romania, which is next to Moldova, especially since I wrote a series of stories in April about our trip to Transylvania, some of which were featured on sites within the country.

Screen Shot 2017-08-12 at 12.02.12 PMSome of the other “Top Dozen,” though, surprised me. Who are all of you reading “Not Exactly” in Ecuador or the Philippines? Are you fellow Peace Corps Volunteers in those countries? How about in India, Germany and Italy? I know at least one loyal reader in Singapore (hi Corinna!), but who are the rest of you? The data provided by WordPress provide only a glimpse.

I’d love to hear from you, even if your country is not on this list. You may be in one of the other countries shown in yellow on the map. I’m so happy to be sharing our journey with you. Please comment here or send me a message at djarmul@gmail.com. Tell me who you are!

Meeting at the Primăria

“This is what democracy looks like!”

For protesters around the world, that’s become a popular chant at rallies. Here in Ialoveni, it’s what I saw Thursday evening at a community meeting, one of whose livelier moments is captured in this brief video clip:

Nearly 50 citizens gathered to discuss a proposed high-rise building project in the center of town that would add residential and commercial space but affect traffic, municipal services and and the environment. It also would disrupt a neighboring park and church. Some residents are concerned about the project’s impact on their own homes and property.

I didn’t understand everything people were saying, and sometimes shouting, in Romanian. I may have missed something essential, not to mention whatever people were saying privately. But the meeting was both impressive and fascinating nonetheless.

Both men and women participated. Everyone was dressed comfortably for the late-summer heat, including the mayor, Sergiu Armașu, who presided at the end of the table in a short-sleeved red shirt.

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People took turns standing to speak around a long table in the meeting room on the second floor of Ialoveni’s Primăria, or town hall. Some held up documents. Some tended to children. Some listened quietly, sipped water or tapped on smart phones. A city expert pointed to one of several maps on the wall, explaining the project in detail. A local journalist recorded everything. A woman from the Primăria’s newspaper snapped photos and took notes.

The meeting began at 5 p.m. and broke up shortly before 7 p.m. The mayor shook hands with citizens as they exited. Several people remained behind to argue about the project. As best I could tell, the situation remained unresolved, with a decision about the project still pending. On this one night in Ialoveni, Moldova, it’s what democracy looked like.

 

Hîncești Farmers Market

Tomatoes are abundant in Moldova right now. So are cucumbers, peppers, grapes, potatoes and many other delicious fruits and vegetables.

On Sunday, Champa and I visited the farmers market in Hîncești, a regional center southwest of Ialoveni. We filled several bags with produce from farmers who gather in the outdoor market three days a week. Our host family invited us to join them on a shopping trip there followed by a visit to the Manuc Bey museum and mansion.

As I wrote recently about my peach pie, one can buy produce from farmers in Ialoveni along the sidewalks, but the Hîncești market offers a wider selection.

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It’s still much smaller, of course, than the central market in the capital, Chișinău, shown above, where vendors gather daily to sell everything from walnuts to watermelons.IMG_6760

In Hîncești, there’s also an indoor pavilion where people sell meats and cheeses. Champa and I bought a big piece of brinza there, similar to Greek feta. It’s in one of the bags she’s holding next to Mihail and Alisa.

Most Moldovan vendors have electronic scales with which they weigh items and calculate prices. They may fill a bag with a bit more than requested, hoping to nudge up the purchase, but they’re ready to trim it back to the specified amount if asked.

My Romanian is now good enough that I often stop to chat after I buy something. The vendors are generally curious about us and enjoy our efforts to converse.

Occasionally, one of them surprises us by speaking English, like the guy you see in the 3-second video clip below. He startled me on Sunday by telling me to “have a nice day!” after I bought some peaches. I couldn’t leave without asking him to do it again for the camera so all of you could enjoy him, too.

A New Way to Rent a Car

We rented a car during our recent trip home but not through a conventional car-rental company like Hertz, Avis or Budget.

IMG_5857Instead, we rented our blue Toyota Camry through a new online company called Turo, which is like an Airbnb for car rentals. It cost us about half of what we would have spent otherwise, including the cost of the insurance. We interacted mainly with the car’s owner — Kim Dinh, shown here — instead of waiting in line at a rental car counter for an overworked agent to upsell me and ask me to write my initials on forms.

I’d planned to rent a car the usual way and was looking forward to it since we are not allowed to drive “in country” while serving as Peace Corps volunteers. Months before we left for our vacation back home, I began checking prices on travel websites and with the rental car companies. We wanted a mid-sized car since we would have several suitcases. We’d begin and end our trip at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C., where we flew from Moldova on Turkish Airlines.

The sites didn’t vary much in their offerings and prices. They also were consistent in failing to provide clear information about what it would cost to buy complete insurance coverage, including liability. Champa and I no longer have a personal auto insurance policy to cover our car rentals, since we got rid of our cars when we joined the Peace Corps.
IMG_5852The car rental companies were generally opaque about what they’d charge for different kinds of insurance at Dulles, and what the policies covered. It seemed like they wanted me to make this decision at the counter, when I was hurrying to get my car and unlikely to read the fine print, especially if people were waiting behind me.

As I studied this online, I came across an article describing new companies trying to bring the “sharing economy” to the rental car market. Just as Uber and Lyft have emerged to challenge the traditional taxi industry, so are companies such as Turo, GetAround and FlightCar providing peer-to-peer options for car rentals.

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I might have considered this approach too risky or exotic. However, our experience with Airbnb made us comfortable with it. For instance, we stayed in the lovely Airbnb apartment shown above in the historic city of Sibiu during our trip to Transylvania this past April. It had two bedrooms — one for us, one for our guide — and cost less than a single hotel room. We also used a ride-sharing service, Bla Bla Car, to travel from Ialoveni to Transylvania, and had a great experience with that, too.

After reading several favorable articles about Turo, I visited its website and found lots of cars we could rent at Dulles Airport, everything from a Chevy or a Honda Civic to a BMW or a Porsche. I could have even rented a Tesla, a Bentley or, for a mere $899 per day, a Lamborghini Gallardo. (I don’t think the latter includes a Peace Corps sticker.) There was also a clear description of the insurance options offered through Liberty Mutual.

We chose the Camry and the most extensive insurance coverage. Once we reserved this with our credit card, Turo put us in touch with Kim-Dinh, with whom we then worked directly. When we arrived at Dulles, I called Kim-Dinh after we picked up our bags, and he arrived at the terminal curbside a few minutes later. He drove us to a nearby gas station, topped off the tank and inspected the car with me, posting photos to the Turo site. He also lent me his EZPass so I could pay tolls automatically and a magnet to attach my iPhone to his dashboard, so I could see GPS directions more easily. I reimbursed him for the tolls later.

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When we returned at the end of our trip, Kim-Dinh was out of town, so his friend met us at a gas station near a Metro station, shown here. He inspected the car and then gave us a lift to the aiport.

I can’t speak about this service generally or how Turo compares with its competitiors, and I don’t intend this post as an endorsement. However, now that I am back in Moldova, I expect I will recall our experience fondly the next time I am riding a crowded minibus.

 

Back to America – II

There were at least a dozen reasons why we enjoyed returning to the States earlier this month on vacation from our service in Peace Corps Moldova. I posted six last time; here are six more:

American Food

We’ve eaten well in Moldova but missed American foods. We wasted no time back home in enjoying goodies like those shown above: North Carolina barbecue, New York breakfast treats and Vietnamese pho.

Shenandoahs

We rented a lodge in Virginia’s mountains with our sons and their families. Together we went river rafting, visited Luray Caverns, made S’mores and played games.

Friends

We’ve missed a year with our friends in Durham and Washington, D.C. This was our chance to catch up with them.

Our dog

We also had a joyful reunion with Bailey, our dog. She is doing great with the family taking care of her. Good dog, Bailey!

Sightseeing

In Washington, we visited the new National Museum of African American History and Culture and other sites.

Perspective

Finally, our time away gave us a chance to reflect on our Peace Corps service and then return to Moldova with a renewed sense of commitment.

Now we’re back and gearing up for our second year. I have two important meetings on Tuesday, Champa is starting a grant project and we’re looking forward to all of it. Before long, we’ll need another vacation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to America – I

We just returned to Moldova after visiting our family and friends in the States. It was a great vacation for at least a dozen reasons. Let’s start with six:

Grandchildren

We’ve been dreaming for more than a year about the hugs we’d receive from these six children. We weren’t disappointed.

Family

We saw other family members, too, especially at a big party organized by our son and daughter-in-law in Philadelphia.

Parade

We marched in Philadelphia’s annual Fourth of July parade with returned Peace Corps volunteers from the area. It was great to hear so many people cheering for the Peace Corps, as you can see in this video. (Don’t miss Champa’s flag!)

Nature

We were reminded of America’s natural beauty in places such as Luray Caverns and the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens.

Changes

America has changed since we left. We wanted to see it with our own eyes.

Peace Corps

We remained engaged with our jobs, giving two talks about the Peace Corps in Durham and meeting with the leaders of the National Peace Corps Association in Washington, D.C.

In my next post, I’ll share six more reasons why we treasured our vacation back home.

 

 

 

 

We're still working — but now as Peace Corps volunteers. Join us on the journey.

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