Making Music

For a hard rock trio, you need a guitar, a bass and drums. For a string quartet: two violins, a viola and a cello. But for traditional music here in Moldova, get an accordion, a cobza, a nai and a tobă, as well as some people with great voices. You know what an accordion is. A cobza is a Moldovan lute, with eight strings. A nai is a pan flute, similar to those played in Bolivia. A tobă is a traditional drum.

The musicians you see here play these instruments. They come from Constești, the village where Champa lived during her pre-service training. The lead singer, shown in the larger photo, is Tudor Grigoriţă, a colleague and friend of mine at the Consiliul Raional in Ialoveni. He organizes cultural activities for the entire county, or raion, of which Costești is a part. I usually see him wearing a suit, so it’s fun to watch him perform. That’s him in the video interacting with the nai, or flute, player, who is the music teacher in Costești.

Costești is near Ialoveni, where Champa and I live now. On Saturday, we traveled there to visit Champa’s host family and to meet Mary Pendleton, the first American ambassador to Moldova, from 1992-1995, after Moldova gained its independence from the former Soviet Union.


We expected an informal gathering where Amb. Pendleton, now retired, would share some memories. Since she was a Peace Corps volunteer herself in Tunisia earlier in her career, she also wanted to meet some current volunteers. The mayor of Costești, Natalia Petrea, surprised us with a much grander event — a delicious meal at a beautiful local resort, with entertainment provided by this reknown local musical group. That’s the mayor, or primara, in the purple dress, next to the former ambassador, in pink.

Moldova, which shares many of its musical traditions with Romania, has other instruments, too, such as the bucium (a long alphorn), the kaval (an end-blown flute) and the cimbalom (a kind of dulcimer). But as you can see and hear for yourself, the ones shown here are quite enough to produce beautiful music together.

Ask a Question

img_1749What have you wondered about what Champa and I are doing in the Peace Corps? What questions do you have about Moldova, our service, our fellow volunteers, etc., or about what it’s been like for us to walk away from our American lives to do something so different? Ask us — either with a comment here or in a private message ( We’ll try to answer your questions in an upcoming post!

Hearing Voices

I gave a talk here recently about black holes and “singularities within the framework of general relativity.”

No, not because I used to work as a science writer. I was just reading aloud a passage about Stephen Hawking, the famous British physicist, that appears in Moldova’s national textbook for eighth-grade English classes.


A fellow Peace Corps volunteer, Michelle McNeary, recorded me, as she’s recorded more than 20 other volunteers and, by long distance, her father reciting all 99 passages in this nation’s textbooks for grades five through nine. That’s Michelle in the top photo. She’s compiled the readings on a website called English for Moldova. It’s a great new resource for local students trying to improve their listening comprehension and pronunciation skills.

“The site features a huge variety of American voices and pronunciation,” says Michelle, an English education volunteer from California.


Peace Corps volunteers have been teaching English ever since they came to Moldova in 1993. Michelle and other English teachers, including Champa, work daily alongside local teachers. Many of the volunteers in the three other Peace Corps programs here — health education, small business and community development — teach English informally through clubs and community classes. I teach two groups myself, as well as a weekly computer club for teenagers.

Two previous volunteers, Tim Schneider and Sarah Ewell, worked with the Ministry of Education to rewrite the country’s English textbooks a few years ago. They also tried to produce accompanying audio recordings but weren’t able to finish that part of the project.


Michelle stepped into the gap initially to help a Moldovan partner teacher who’d been foregoing listening exercises with her students because she had no way for them to hear the sentences spoken correctly. Michelle developed a friendlier website structure and added features such as audio downloading. As a result, teachers and students can now go to the site or use their own device, click and listen easily while they read along.

“Part of our role here as English educators is to create resources that teachers and students can use,” Michelle says. “This project shows how much we want to provide assistance in whatever way we can.” The project has been a “highlight” of her service, she says, “and not one person hesitated when I asked them to read for it.”

Michelle, who graduated from the University of California, Riverside, will complete her Peace Corps tour this summer and return to her graduate studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterrey. I’m pretty sure she won’t be studying cosmology or quantum gravity there. I’ve already covered that for her.

The Big Box of Books


These kids have a good reason to look so happy. On Monday afternoon, they were among the first students at Champa’s school to enjoy a big box of English-language books that just arrived.

img_2785The two older students in the second photo enjoyed the books, too. The box included everything from illustrated children’s books to short story collections.

img_2781The school got them all for free. Champa requested them from Darien Book Aid, a nonprofit organization in Connecticut that’s been sending free books to developing communities since 1949. Its volunteers currently ship 20-30 boxes each week, or nearly 20 tons annually, to 190 countries and across the United States.

Maureen Shanley, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Colombia, picked out and packed the books for Champa’s box, along with a personal note. Maureen is also active in Connecticut Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. She and others work with the Darien Book Aid’s Peggy Minnis to send shipments to Peace Corps volunteers worldwide. img_1077They also send free books elsewhere in the developing world, and to libraries, prisons, hospitals and Native American and Appalachian groups in the United States.

Until now, Liceul Teoretic Andrei Vartic in Ialoveni has had only a single small shelf of English books, few of them appealing, as you can see in the photo. Many of the students study English, so it’s no wonder the school librarian, Doamna Zinaida, was excited as she helped Champa open the box and pull out the treasures inside.

I’m so impressed by this organization. They’re doing something simple and meaningful, year after year, to improve people’s lives and make friends for our country.


Darien Book Aid depends on donations to help cover their shipping costs so, if you’re moved by the photos you see here, I encourage you to support them. That’s what we plan to do after we return home.

Super Moldovans


Has someone ever inspired you? Inspirational people exist not only in America but here in Moldova, too. A few weeks ago, Peace Corps launched a social media campaign on Facebook to honor some of them as Super Moldovans.

Celia Joyce, a Peace Corps volunteer from Ohio, selected Ruslan Bistrița, a science teacher from her school with whom she’s posing in the top-left photo. Celia said all of the students and teachers “admire his dedication, kindness and willingness to help. I feel the same way and am lucky to work with him.”

screen-shot-2017-02-10-at-8-52-03-amIn the middle photo on top is Donna Barnes, formerly a professor at Howard University, who called her school director, Eudochia Babalici, a Super Moldovan for working “so long, with so little. She is a true inspiration to me.”

Champa is posing with our host family grandmother, or “bunica.” She wrote: “Nadejda Ciornea is my ‘Super Moldovan.’ She inspires me with her hard work and cheerful spirit. She is 86 years old and travels on public transportation every day to Chișinău, where she sells goods in the outdoor market, even during the winter. It is amazing how much energy she has. ‘Bunica’ is a caring person who makes me feel like a member of her own family. I am so lucky to know her.”

As you can see in the example from Haley Bader, volunteers are posting these salutes in both Romanian and English, with Peace Corps staff providing some translation help. Then the volunteers share the posts within their communities. Facebook is popular in Moldova, so local people see the nice things being said about their neighbors.


The response has been gratifying. Donna wrote: “When I showed the Super Moldovan page to my director with a picture of the two of us, her face lit up as though I had given her a pot of gold. I swear I made her day. She began sharing it with friends and family. She recently lost her husband and this is the first time in weeks I have seen her grin from ear to ear.”

Chris Flowers, in the maroon shirt above, got a similar reaction from his Super Moldovan, Ana Mirza, one of the leaders of Diamond Challenge in Moldova. Chris said Ana’s “face absolutely lit up. We often tell each other how much we appreciate the work we both do on the project but this gesture seemed very important to her and I’m very happy to have acknowledged her publicly.”

In the middle photo above is Peace Corps volunteer Alex Bostian, with his host mom, Valentina Efticov. On the right is Katrina Broughman with Nadejda Stoica, an English teacher and community leader.screen-shot-2017-02-05-at-4-47-00-pm

One of the first posters was Michelle McNeary from California. She’s honoring Rodica Novak, in the striped shirt, a senior in her high school whose “enthusiasm never ceases to amaze me.”

The Super Moldovans project began after our Peace Corps country director, Tracey Hébert-Seck, challenged Liuba Chitaev and me to think of a way to attract moreimg_2593 attention not only for volunteers but also for the great work being done by some of our Moldovan partners. Liuba manages communications for Peace Corps Moldova and, at Tracey’s request, I recently began working with her and others on communications projects, drawing on my own background in the field.

That’s Liuba at her desk in the photo. She helped to initiate the Super Moldovans campaign and has been doing a great job of managing it. She’s also planning some other new ways for Peace Corps Moldova to reach out to  various audiences.

It’s been a lot of fun to work with Liuba, who is full of energy and good ideas. She’s Moldovan, of course. Come to think of it, she’s pretty super, too.

Carolina du Nord


Duke and UNC will compete again on Thursday evening in college basketball’s greatest rivalry, so it’s a good day to share my answer to anyone in Moldova who asks where Champa and I live in the United States: “Carolina du Nord” (Cair-o-LEE-na du nord).

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-7-51-52-amFive other members of my Peace Corps group also call North Carolina home. As you can see in the top photo, we hail from Asheville, Boone, Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Durham and Raleigh. From the left, we’re Tim Crowley, Alex Bostian, Tom Harvey, Reggie Gravely, myself, Champa and Jim Fletcher. The six of us are now working as volunteers across Moldova.


To give you a sense of scale, North Carolina (one of 50 U.S. states) is four times larger than Moldova, with roughly three times as many people.

North Carolina is famous for its barbecue; Moldova is known for its wine; North Carolina had Andy Griffith. Moldova has Andy’s Pizza. North Carolina produced the basketball star Stephen Curry;  Moldova’s national hero is Stephan cel Mare. On and on it goes.

It’s no wonder Moldovans and Tarheels have formed close ties. For more than 20 years, the N.C. Army National Guard has been helping to modernize Moldova’s military and police, screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-10-10-13-amproviding training in anti-terrorism, cyber defense, emergency medicine and other areas. In 1999, North Carolina established an official partnership with Moldova, which now includes the efforts of numerous private firms, civic organizations and nonprofit agencies. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who oversees the partnership, has visited Moldova at least 10 times.

North Carolinians have built playgrounds and a medical clinic, trained medical personnel and provided computers in Moldova. They’ve hosted more than 250 Moldovan farmers and hundreds of students at Southeastern Community College. UNC-Chapel Hill offers online education assistance. NC State pairs grade-school classrooms with Moldovan counterparts.

A personal story: When I contacted the NC State agricultural extension service  to see if they had any information that might help wine growers in my district, they responded by telling me about one of their professors who had just returned from Moldova to provide workshops on the subject.

North Carolina members of our Peace Corps Moldova group gathered at our swearing-in ceremony last summer. From left, Tom Harvey (Charlotte), Alex Bostian (Boone), Tim Crowley (Asheville), Reggie Gravely (Winston-Salem), Champa Jarmul (Durham), Jim Fletcher (Raleigh) and David Jarmul (Durham)

North Carolina’s most visible presence in Moldova is its Peace Corps volunteers, who are teaching in schools, working with local governments and libraries and promoting small business efforts. screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-7-57-52-amOur ranks also include Mark Gilchrist, left, a volunteer in the group ahead of us. An article by Mark, who previously worked for the News Reporter in Columbus County, describes the collaboration in greater detail. Mark also produces an excellent blog and newsletter.

Another fellow volunteer and blogger, Rebecca Lehman, recently hosted a program that featured the many ties between North Carolina and Moldova. She produced the chart at the top of this post. Curiously, Rebecca herself came to Moldova from Cincinnati. She’s a remarkably nice person for someone who hails from a state with the audacity to call itself the birthplace of aviation just because the Wright Brothers came from Dayton.

The true home of aviation, of course, is Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, where the Wright Brothers first rose into the sky. Here in Moldova, regardless of which team we’re cheering for tonight, and despite all of the political turmoil of the past couple of years, we’re proud to call it our home, too.




It’s Homecoming Weekend in Moldova. On Saturday, schools across the country welcomed alumni at their annual “Întâlnirea cu absolvenții” celebrations. Here in Ialoveni, Champa and I attended the festivities at her school, Liceul Teoretic ”Andrei Vartic.” Just like back home, there was a special welcome for alumni from graduation years divisible by five. There was singing, dancing, drama, speeches, flowers and hugs. Here are some photos and a video clip.


Diamond Challenge Finals

Aspiring young entrepreneurs from across Moldova competed in the final round of Diamond Challenge. They pitched their ideas, hoping to win $1,000 and a trip to America. The team I mentored, buk, finished second in the business category. You can see them in the video below (on YouTube at Who finished first? Watch and be inspired.