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).
Five 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, providing 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’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. Our 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.