Video: Christmas Parade and Show

Ialoveni, Moldova, celebrated Christmas on Saturday with a colorful parade and Christmas show. People played accordions, beat drums, sang songs and danced around a big tree — all before moving down the street to the Casa de Cultură for the official performance.


100 Posts

This is my 100th post on Not Exactly Retired, which has attracted more than 7,500 visitors since it began in mid-2015. I’ll be celebrating the milestone with a special series about older volunteers in the Peace Corps, starting with my next post.

First, though, especially during this holiday season, I want to pause to tell all of you how much I love producing this blog and appreciate all of you who read it.

img_2535Before Champa and I began our journey 18 months ago, I spent a career doing communications for nonprofit organizations, much of it ghost-writing articles and speeches for others. For four decades, I largely put my own writing aside.

Only after I started Not Exactly Retired did I realize how much I’d missed speaking in my own voice.

Now I get to report first-hand on issues such as immigration or the devastating 2015 earthquake in Nepal. I can be silly, as with the adventures of our traveling gnome. I can produce videos one week and share recipes the next. Some posts get picked up elsewhere and reach national audiences.


What I’ve enjoyed most is sharing the incredible experiences Champa and I have had since we walked away from our conventional American lives to pursue new lives of adventure and service, most recently as Peace Corps volunteers in eastern Europe. I treasure the many messages I’ve received and posts I’ve seen from people saying the blog is inspiring them to consider changes in their own lives.

I’ve always been a quick writer, so I can produce the blog while remaining active with everything else I am privileged to be doing as a Peace Corps volunteer. Things go even faster because the layers of my institutional vetting process now work as follows:

Me talking to myself: “So, David, do you approve this?”

Me answering myself: “Yes.”

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-11-22-25-amMost blogs fail. A 2009 New York Times article cited a Technorati survey saying 95 percent of blogs were “essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled.”

Not Exacly Retired is going strong thanks to all of you who read it, offer comments and send encouragement. I hope you enjoy the upcoming series and everything that follows. If you have a friend or relative who is pondering how to live the second half of their lives,  or who just has a sense of adventure, I encourage you to share Not Exactly Retired with them, too. Perhaps they will find it useful, or at least entertaining.

As always, I recommend you subscribe directly to the blog. If you’re just linking to it from Facebook, you’re missing out on some of the best stuff.

I also welcome your comments.

And now, on to the series and whatever comes after that. I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly finished yet.

Video: Welcome to Ialoveni

Ialoveni, Moldova is a great place to visit and do business. That’s the message of this short video I produced for the Consiliul Raional, where I serve as a Peace Corps volunteer. The video, now posted on the council’s home page, is in English to help attract foreign visitors and investors. You may recognize the narrator’s voice.

Reading in OverDrive


Before I joined the Peace Corps as a volunteer in May, after working for 14 years at Duke University, I used to borrow books regularly from both the Duke and Durham County libraries.

I still do, although I no longer check out bound books. Instead, I download electronic versions halfway around the world.


I just finished reading Weapons of Math Destruction, Cathy O’Neil’s description of the dangers posed by big data, which I’d seen on the New York Times 100 notable books list for 2016.

I downloaded it for free onto my Kindle Paperwhite using the OverDrive “Digital Library Reserve” system offered by both the Duke and Durham libraries, which I access as a Duke retireee and Durham resident.

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-11-22-25-amMore than 2,000 Duke users will check out more than 10,000 books from OverDrive this year, according to Aaron Welborn at Duke University Libraries. Roughly two-thirds will be audiobooks. I mainly check out ebooks since I prefer to use my “headphone time” for podcasts and music.

“We chose to subscribe to OverDrive precisely because we know that our Duke community extends way beyond the campus, and we want all users, no matter how far-flung, to have access to a wide array of e-books,” Deborah Jakubs, the university librarian and vice provost for library affairs, explained to me in an e-mail message.

Working as a community development volunteer in Moldova, in eastern Europe, together with my wife, I certainly qualify as “far-flung.” It’s difficult to find current American books here and I can buy nearly a week’s groceries for what it costs to download one best-seller from Amazon.

The Duke and Durham libraries each allow me to download up to three books at a time, generally for three weeks. Champa and I don’t have a television or a subscription to Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime, like some other volunteers. Instead, I usually read in the evening before going to sleep.

“We selected OverDrive to serve Durham residents who prefer to read books electronically or can’t come easily to one of our branches,” Tammy Baggett, director of the Durham County Library, wrote me. “We didn’t have Peace Corps volunteers in mind but it makes our hearts happy to know they are benefitting, too.”


Since I arrived, I’ve read popular current novels such as Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, Chris Pavone’s The Expats and Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, as well as more harrowing tales such as Delicious Foods by James Hannaham and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I’ve enjoyed short stories by Alice Munro, history from Erik Larson, science from Malcolm Gladwell, humor from Kurt Vonnegut, inspiration from Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn and thrillers from John Grisham, David Baldacci and Gillian Flynn.

I loved Patti Smith’s book about her friendship with artist Robert Mapplethorpe, Just Kids, which led me to borrow a copy of Bob Dylan’s Chronicles from the Peace Corps library here, shortly before he won the Nobel Prize. One of the few other “hard copies” I’ve read was a terrific short-story collection from George Saunders that one of my former academic advisees and favorite Duke students gave me as a farewell present. (Shout out, Katie Fernelius!)

I’m now finishing up Chaos Monkeys, a book about Silicon Valley, and starting soon on Jeffrey Toobin’s book about Patty Hearst.

Separate from the OverDrive system, I downloaded free copies of more than a dozen classics from Project Gutenberg. So far, I’ve only skimmed a few of them. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was a treat since the castle that inspired the book is near where I now live. I keep meaning to read the others, especially while I am in Peace Corps, but I return again and again to OverDrive.


I told OverDrive’s David Burleigh about my favorable experience and he said, “Yours is a great example of libraries serving their readers even when they’re traveling or working abroad. We’re happy to play a role and make it easy for you.”

OverDrive also allows me to recommend books for my libraries to add and to reserve books currently checked out. As you can see in the photo above, I’m currently waiting on four books from the Durham library, all of which I’m excited to read.

Of course, Amazon and other online retailers would prefer that I buy books, which I did recently with Bessarabian Nights, a new novel by Stela Brinzeanu about trafficking and other problems in Moldova. It’s not in the OverDrive system and I was happy to give some business to the author, who fondly remembers being taught here by Peace Corps volunteers.

If you want to try OverDrive yourself, their home page lets you check whether your local library participates. I hope it does. For me, an active reader living far from home with a limited budget, it’s been a godsend. (I do, however, miss drinking coffee in Duke’s Perkins Library.)

Mail Time

img_1822-2I did something retro on Monday morning: I mailed a letter at the local post office instead of communicating electronically.

Two letters, in fact, with Moldovan holiday cards for our sons and their families. You can see the colorful stamps, which totaled about 75 cents for each letter.

img_1825Our post office is in the center of Ialoveni, a block away from the Consiliul Raional, or county center, where I work. That’s typical in Moldova, where almost every town has a government office, a post office and a casa de cultura, or cultural center, along with at least one church, school and market.

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-11-22-25-amI waited in line behind two elderly customers who were collecting their monthly pensions. The man in front of me was at least 75 years old, possibly much older.

Moldovans use their local post office for much more than mail. It’s also where they can pay utility bills, transfer money, send a fax or collect their pension. In Bardar, where we had our training, there was even a hair salon downstairs.


Moldova’s post offices do not offer as many services as some others in Europe, which sell everything from toys to umbrellas. As the New York Times reported a few years ago, “With mail volumes decreasing 1 to 2 percent annually in many countries, European postal services from Germany to Sweden to Switzerland have reinvented themselves over the past decade as multifaceted delivery and information companies tailored to the virtual age.”


That’s an interesting contrast with post offices in the United States, which are restricted legislatively from entering businesses unrelated to mail delivery. In that respect, what I thought was a retro visit actually got me thinking about the future of our own system back home, in our supposedly more advanced country.

Peace Corps surprises you like that. Feel free to ponder it while you’re waiting in line to mail your own cards and gifts in time for the holidays.

Trip to Soroca

Nice fortress, no?

It’s in Soroca, in northern Moldova, just across the Nistru River from Ukraine. One of the country’s most famous sights, it was built in the 1540s to replace a wooden fortress established by the great leader Ştefan cel Mare.

Champa and I visited it on Sunday with our host family, who arranged a road trip to Soroca that included not one but two picnics en route.

Here we are in the family van with our host mother, Nina, who is in the white coat with her friend Tamara. Nina’s husband, Mihail, is driving.  We stopped just before Soroca to eat our first meal, which Nina set up in the van because it was too cold to dine outside.

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-43-56-amMoldova is so small that we were able to drive from our home in Ialoveni, near the capital city Chisinau, to Soroca in well under three hours, not including stops.

screen-shot-2016-12-03-at-11-22-25-amMore than 35,000 people live in Soroca, making it one of Moldova’s larger cities and an important industrial and administrative center. It once had a large Jewish population, now almost entirely gone, and still has a sizable Roma population. Many Roma people live in the neighborhood known as Gypsy Hill, where majestic homes mimic St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, even the U.S. Capitol. Like many visitors, we drove through the neighborhood to see for ourselves. (I can report there are no signs yet of a Trump Tower.)

On the outskirts of Soroca we climbed 662 steps to Lumânarea Recunoştinţei, or Candle of Gratitude Monument. Opened in 2004, it’s a 97-foot tall tower honoring heroes who have preserved Moldova’s language and culture. That’s our host sister, Alisa, jumping in front of the monument and the two of us posing with the Nistru River behind us, Moldova on the left and Ukraine on the right.

After visiting the monument, the fortress and other sites, we stopped for lattes and tea at the local Andy’s Pizza, a popular restaurant chain in Moldova. There we met several Peace Corps friends posted in the area, including Annelise, a health educator from Minnesota pictured here. Then we drove back to Ialoveni, stopping along the way for a second picnic, this one featuring turkey and rabbit, cheese, stuffed cabbage, cake and small cups of homemade wine.

We are so lucky to live with the Bordei family, who treated us to this unforgettable excursion. We saw one of the most beautiful places in Moldova and many interesting sights along the way. Even if we’d had only one picnic, it was a great day.

Time for a Drink


What’s a good time for a drink?

Here in Moldova, it’s not only at at parties with family and friends. Alcohol is also prominent at some business functions, as I was reminded on Friday when I joined my colleagues at an event to honor local farmers, winemakers and food manufacturers — our district’s most important industries.


National officials joined our district’s president in handing out awards at the gleaming local conference center. Music played. A woman recited a poem, Everyone applauded. Then they all moved to a room where tables were overflowing with traditional foods and glasses of local wine and other alcoholic beverages.

I joined my friends at a table where they brought not only filled glasses but also bottles of cognac and plum wine. The toasts began: “Noroc!” (Good luck.)  “La mulți ans!” (Long life.) Sănătate! (Good health.) “Succes!” (You can guess that one.)

Others at the event were toasting each other, too. A DJ played old American songs such as “Feelings” and “I Just Called to Say I Loved You,” mixed with “Besame Mucho,” Moldovan tunes and a sort of East European Muzak.

Mind you, this was all happening a day after Champa and I hosted a large Thanksgiving party, which featured homemade wine along with the turkey. I did my best to drink moderately and resist most of the invitations to join more rounds.

As the party wound down, one friend took over the sound system to replace the outdated music with Ne Bucuram In Ciuda Lor, a song by the popular Moldovan band Carla’s Dreams (see the video below). People took home flowers and leftovers, just as they might at an American party. I got a ride back to our office with a farmer who gave me a bag of delicious dried plums from his trunk.


Alcohol is enjoyed not only in our city but across Moldova. During our Peace Corps training, my group visited a village where the mayor and her staff welcomed us with a fabulous masa, or feast, which you see here. It included carafes of local wine along with bottles of mineral water.

Wine is offered routinely at meals and in abundance at weddings or birthday parties. Champa and I have enjoyed it regularly while managing to keep it under control. So do most of my Moldovan friends.

That’s not always the case here in Moldova.  According to a 2014 report from the World Health Organization, Moldovans drink nearly three times the global average of 6.1 litres per person per year, a per capita total second only to Belarus worldwide.

As I’ve described previously, you can buy a bottle of delicious wine for two dollars in the local market or refill a bottle for less than a dollar — assuming your host family doesn’t have its own wine, which it probably does.

Throughout our training, the Peace Corps medical and security officers urged everyone to exercise good judgment with alcohol. We’ve tried to take their advice to heart (and to mouth). After all, when you’re in wine country — Napa Valley, Bordeaux or Moldova — the temptations are everywhere.

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

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