Peach Season

You don’t need to go to a special farmers market to buy fresh produce from local farmers here in Ialoveni, Moldova. You just stroll down the street.

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I bought some delicious peaches on Saturday from the woman you see on the left, who harvested them in the nearby village of Mileștii Mici. She was displaying them on the sidewalk near the center of town along with two older women also selling produce. Her husband is behind her next to the car.

I bought three kilos of peaches from her, which she weighed with a hand-held scale. They cost 8 Moldovan lei per kilo, or 24 lei total. That’s roughly $1.30, or about 20 cents per pound. As I picked out my peaches, I chatted with all of them about how I planned to bake an American-style pie, showing them a picture of a peach pie on my phone.IMG_6656 The husband, who spoke some English, encouraged his wife to try saying “peach pie.” They also asked me several questions about what Champa and I are doing with the Peace Corps.

After I placed the peaches in my daypack, I walked to the nearby market to buy some vanilla ice cream and other items, then headed home to start baking. I listened to podcasts while I prepared the dough, peeled the peaches and finally put the finished pie in the oven.IMG_6654

You can see below how it turned out. It was still hot by the time we finished our dinner but we didn’t care; the ice cream cooled it off and we cleaned our plates. We also shared much of it with our host family. By tomorrow, we’ll probably polish off the rest. Then it will be time to see what other fruits our local farmers are selling.

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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.

 

More Than Pretty Pictures

If you’re an American, you see infographics everywhere these days— on television and websites, in magazines, even with academic articles or corporate sales reports.

Not if you live in Moldova. Many institutions in this small former Soviet state are still learning to share information with their stakeholders, much less to present it attractively to engage ther interest.

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On Tuesday, the library in Ialoveni where I work as a Peace Corps volunteer held a workshop to train more than a dozen colleagues from area libraries in using infographics. Within a few hours, they all learned the basics of producing colorful posters or web posts to highlight their activities and community outreach.

IMG_6615My library colleague, Lidia Rusu (shown left, pointing at the computer), led the training with enthusiasm and patience. By the end of the session almost all of the participants, even those with limited computer skills, were producing infographics more than nice enough to use immediately.

They used the free version of Piktochart, an online software platform popular in the United States and elsewhere. Lidia also recently began using PowToon, a platform for making simple animated videos. Even though she doesn’t speak English, she’s able to figure out software packages quickly, apply them effectively and explain them to others.

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Ialoveni’s library, Biblioteca Publică Orășenească “Petre Ștefănucă,” hosted the workshop after being selected as one of the winners of a national infographic contest organized by Novateca, a nonprofit organization working to modernize libraries across Moldova. Ialoveni’s winning infographics, which I helped produce, are the two images on the left shown above.

Artiom Maister, an impact specialist with Novateca, shown below with Lidia, assisted her at the workshop, guiding the participants in how to modify templates, use icons, insert data and transfer their work to their websites, blogs or printed posters.

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The session was just the latest way Novateca has been encouraging this country’s  libraries — still viewed by some as dusty repositories of old Russian books — to embrace a new role as modern information centers and community resources. Through its five-year program, Novateca has provided hundreds of libraries here with thousands of computers and Internet access. It’s trained librarians on everything from how to find new funding sources to organizing robotics clubs or hackathons.IMG_6593

I’ve seen Novateca’s impact not only in Ialoveni but also in Bardar, where I lived during my Peace Corps training, and in other libraries. My best description is a word I don’t use lightly: transformative. As it approaches the end of its generous funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Novateca is now working to empower both local librarians and national institutions to carry on its mission. A representative from one of those institutions, Victoria Popa from the National Library, participated actively in Tuesday’s infographic session.

This kind of training is important not only to the libraries themselves, but also to the emergence of an open civil society in Moldova.  By learning to use infographics and other modern communications techniques, libraries and other public institutions become more able to explain to citizens what they are doing and how they can serve them. Infographics here have the potential to be so much more than pretty pictures.

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.