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Ethno Jazz Festival

Which is more remarkable: (a) a flamenco band whose musicians are all Polish, or (b) someone in their audience who stared at her cell phone the entire time they and two other bands played?

To help you decide, here’s a snippet of the band, Viva Flamenco!

Pretty great, right? I’d like to now show you my photo of the woman who sat in front of me chewing gum and flipping nonstop through Facebook as her phone illuminated the darkness. I won’t, though, since Champa says I may sound like an angry old man screaming at kids to “get off my lawn!”

 

So I’ll just say I loved the Polish flamenco band, and also really liked the act before them, the Antonio Silva Quartet, whose members came from Portugal, Ireland and Sweden. Both groups played on Saturday evening at Chișinău’s national philharmonic hall in an “Ethno Jazz Festival.” We went to the second of three concerts there, with the series also organizing events in Cahul, Soroca and Tiraspol.

As you can see, the theater itself is magnificent, its wooden walls lined with the portraits of famous composers and a giant chandelier shimmering overhead.

 

There was also an opening act: a Norwegian pianist playing with a Russian accordionist who wailed, chirped and otherwise vocalized in ways that seemed to elude most of the audience, including us. Nonetheless, she played her accordion with enthusiasm, advancing the concert’s theme of international harmony, if not necessarily musical harmony.

So we had a great time. Now, get off my lawn. 😃 Happy face!

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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 Reid, 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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.