Navigating Transitions

Champa and I are among the people featured in a new article from journalist Kim Painter about how Americans are navigating the second half of their lives. There are many possible transitions, she writes, but the “big one” is usually leaving one’s life’s work for whatever comes next. Painter also interviewed my sister Nancy Collamer. Her article for Vested appears below and is online here.

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Three Monasteries

Churches and monasteries across Moldova were destroyed or severely damaged under Soviet rule. Today many are flourishing. We recently visited three of the country’s most famous and beautiful monasteries with a group of Peace Corps volunteer friends.


Orhei Vechi, Curchi and Tipova are quite different from each other but are all powerful illustrations of the importance of faith in Moldova, especially the Orthodox Christianity practiced by most people.

Orhei Vechi, or “Old Orhei,” above, is Moldova’s most famous site. Located less than an hour’s drive from Chisinau, it is both a church and an archaeological complex, with caves, grottos and religious structures that reflect different civilizations. They are situated on promintories overlooking a spectacular view.

The Curchi Monastery was founded in the 1770s and became one of the largest monasteries in Moldova. Foremost among its buildings is the imposing red baroque church you see here, dedicated to the virgin birth. When we visited, we were lucky to hear a priest ring the church’s bells and fill the air with music.

Located along the Dniester River, the Tipova Monastery has a lovely church dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Much older and even more striking are the cave monastery and stone cave cells reached after walking down a steep path. A community of monks worshipping here dates back centuries.

Hiking down to see the cave monastery at Tipova took our breath away. For that matter, so did all three of the monasteries.

Peace Corps Stories

Many of my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers in Moldova have inspiring stories to share.

Katrina Broughman and Bartosz Gawarecki, for instance, guided young people to organize recycling projects and reduce trash, an effort that has begun spreading nationwide.

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Anne Read, a former dancer and choreographer from Harlem, launched an African dance class at her local library, leading to other worthwhile projects in her community.

Chrystal Wilson joined with other volunteers to bring young people and others together to talk about sexual assault and harassment, calling attention to the problem of “blaming the victim” when women suffer abuse.

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Their stories and others have appeared recently on Peace Corps Stories, which highlights the experiences of volunteers worldwide, from an innovative malaria project in Rwanda to an older American who followed in her daughter’s footsteps and became a volunteer herself as an English teacher in Indonesia. I’ve been helping some of my colleagues here to put their stories into words.

For many years, the Peace Corps communications office in Wahington took the lead in reviewing and editing all of these articles, which volunteers submit from more than 60 countries. Volunteers in Moldova have been among the contributors. “HQ” recently arranged for individual country programs to edit and post articles on their own, to appear on their sections of the site — “Moldova Stories,” “Nepal Stories” and so forth. HQ still edits some articles directly but now also oversees the “local articles” and picks some of the best to feature internationally.

Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 3.09.49 PMMy country director asked me earlier this year whether I might want to assist with this editing and other communications initiatives for Peace Corps Moldova, as a secondary project to complement my primary job. I’ve been happy to help, working most closely with Liuba Chitaev on the staff, pictured here.

img_2593Together we helped launch a new Peace Corps Moldova Instagram site and Super Moldovans on Facebook. Earlier this month, Liuba and I gave the first-ever presentation on communications for the newest group of trainees.

Volunteers here are doing other kinds of outreach as well, from blogs and videos to projects such as Jessica Randall describing in 100 Instagram posts and on Peace Corps Stories what she likes about Moldova. Clary Estes has been documenting the stories of Moldovans deported during the Stalinist era. Mark Gilchrist has produced a series of newsletters in English, Romanian and Russian.

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Our new projects complement these and other communications efforts, advancing the Peace Corps goals of sharing our American culture with others and expanding understanding among Americans about life in other parts of the world.

I’ve written some “Peace Corps Stories” myself but, just like back home, I enjoy editing as much as writing, especially when I’m working with someone who has a great story but just needs a little nudge, tweak or feedback. There are many more volunteers here with great stories of their own. I hope we’re just getting started.

‘Frumos’ is Beautiful

Moldovans love all things “frumos.”

The word means “beautiful,” as in a beautiful song or a person’s beautiful soul. A well-behaved child may be “frumos.” Most of all, “frumos” means beautiful as in beautiful — a bouquet of flowers, a majestic sunset, a gorgeous woman.

You hear the word constantly here, which is no surprise in a country where people are usually well-dressed in public. Many women wear makeup whenever they go outside. Men iron their clothes and clean their shoes. Few people are rich but almost everyone shows pride in their appearance.

For an American like me who never paid much attention to clothes, Frumos poses a challenge. I’ve made a point to always dress neatly here. Fortunately I generally don’t need to wear a tie.


I felt the Power of Frumos as I walked near our main traffic circle in Ialoveni on Thursday afternoon. Within one block I saw a hair salon (or Frizeria), a beauty salon, a cosmetics store, two flower shops, a shop displaying beautiful foods, even fancy lingerie.

Frumos is only skin deep and in the eye of the beholder, of course, but there really is no avoiding its importance here in Moldova. It’s a beautiful thing.

Guguță’s Children

Do you know “The Cat in the Hat” and “Good Night Moon”? If you’re an American, especially if you’re a parent like me, of course you do.

Here in Moldova, an equivalent question might be: “Do you know Guguță?”


He’s the beloved character created by Spiridon Vangheli, one of Moldova’s most famous writers. Wearing a distinctive hat, Guguță faces adventures in a series of books that children and their parents have enjoyed for decades. Vangheli has also written other books, poems and translations. His work has been translated into many languages, been performed on stage and received numerous honors.

Ialoveni named its children’s library after him a few years ago, as you can see on the sign near the door. On Thursday, many of the city’s children turned out to honor the great author, now 85, at a charming ceremony.

Little kids dressed in traditional costumes presented Vangheli with flowers and serenaded him with songs and dances. That’ s him in the purple shirt. The kids shouted “la mulți ani!” — or long life! — and stepped forward to recite short speeches they’d memorized with their parents and teachers, some of whom mouthed the words as they watched. The mayor, Sergiu Armașu, extolled the writer, who then thanked everyone, signed books and posed for photos. Television crews captured it all for news reports and a future documentary.

IMG_5495The library has interesting exhibits and memorabilia about Vangheli. It is marking its own 25th anniversary this year, so Ialoveni has been celebrating both the facility and its namesake, who lives nearby in Chișinău. The Vangheli library is tucked away on a small street near the heart of Ialoveni, not far from the city’s main library, which also has a nice collection and programs for children, including a weekly English class taught by Champa.

I recently began trying to read one of the Guguță books myself. The Romanian is still a bit difficult for me but I’m making progress. Now that I’ve met the famous author, I’m even more motivated to finish it.

[The short video clip of the kids at the top of this post is also viewable on YouTube.]

Body Language

Do you know that person who comes to your staff meetings, pretends to participate but keeps checking his or her smartphone?

Or the two people who whisper to each other during meetings? Or the curmudgeon who rolls his eyes when someone makes a comment?

We have those people in Moldova, too, although they are generally more discreet than back home, at least in the meetings I’ve attended.


As someone who attended several meetings a day for many years, with a reputation for keeping my own meetings short and sweet, I’m a connoisseur of meeting behavior. I’ve continued taking mental notes since I came to Moldova, at meetings I’ve attended in Ialoveni, Chișinău and elsewhere.

Even though I can’t understand everything people say in Romanian, some of their body language is familiar, although generally more formal and polite. In both countries, a meeting may include someone bemused (or irritated)  by everything. One person may speak with a rhetorical flourish, while another mumbles or reads in a monotone from a notebook and never looks up. Some people address the entire room while others speak only to the person leading the meeting.

Similarly, if a meeting drags on too long, people may start staring ahead, flipping through papers or glancing at their watches, regardless of whether the conversation is in English or Romanian.


If someone’s cell phone begins ringing, especially if it has a distinctive ring tone, others in the room will quietly chuckle.  The phone’s owner will probably look chagrined and race to turn it off, although sometimes only after whispering “I’m in a meeting” to whoever is calling.

img_0106One big difference in Moldova, though, is that everyone is addressed as “Domnul” or “Doamna” — Sir or Madam. And when it comes time to schedule the next meeting, they’re more likely to check their paper daybooks instead of the electronic calendar on their smartphone.

Here’s one of the best things about meetings in Moldova: There are far fewer Powerpoint presentations. That alone is a good reason to leave America and come here.

Oh, and if you’re reading this on Facebook, rest assured they sneak peeks at that, too. Every meeting I’ve attended has also included an American guy from North Carolina who glances frequently at the Google Translate app on his iPhone. Discreetly, of course.

Children’s Day

Love. Happiness. Fun. Health.

Those are some of the things people wrote on Thursday when Champa asked them to describe in one word the meaning of International Children’s Day, which people celebrated in Ialoveni and across Moldova. The mayor, Sergiu Armașu, in the shirt and tie, helped her gather responses in front of the Casa de Cultură.

Click on the photo of the chart to see all of the responses. American readers may especially enjoy two in the top-right of the photo: “Best Friend Forever” and “iPhone 7.”

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

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