Tag Archives: Ialoveni

Painting the Playground

These “Before” and “After” photos tell the story of what Peace Corps can accomplish with a local community, sometimes within a couple of hours.

All three photos above show a playground in central Ialoveni. The left photo, which I shot on Tuesday morning, shows how faded and dingy the equipment looked. The middle and right photos show some of the same equipment on Tuesday evening after a Peace Corps group joined with local residents to give the playground a paint job and makeover. (“Vopsit” means “painted.” The sign on the left says: Help us put the “love” in Ialoveni.)IMG_6873

Nine Peace Corps trainees who’ve been living in Ialoveni for the past two months organized the event, which included ice cream and games for children. They’ve been staying with host families and studying every day at Liceul Teoretic “Petre Ştefănucă,” a school near the library where I work. IMG_6852

Next week they will swear in as volunteers and begin serving in the community and organizational development (COD) program for Peace Corps Moldova. They’ll serve with a companion COD group of trainees who’ve been living and taking language classes in the nearby village of Sociteni.IMG_6849 Those trainees held their community service event last week, a clean-up of Sociteni’s main street.

Both groups of COD trainees are looking forward to finally finishing their preparation and moving to their permanent posts to begin assisting local governments, libraries, nongovernmental organizations and others across Moldova. IMG_6847Two other groups of trainees— in English education and health education — will also swear in next week. IMG_6858Altogether, more than 50 trainees are expected to join Peace Corps Moldova’s current volunteers, most of whom swore in a year ago and will continue serving until next summer, Champa and me among them.

You can see the Ialoveni trainees posing here at the end of Tuesday’s event with Mayor Sergiu Armașu and a couple of local girls, Champa and me. We participated along with two other current volunteers (Reggie and Beth) and an impressive number of community members.

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For both of us, it was gratifying to watch our two communities — Peace Corps and Ialoveni — come together for such a worthwhile cause. Ialovei is our home for another year and this playground next to the main piața, or shopping area, looks so much better now. If the kids loved it before, they’re going to love it even more after the makeover.

Hîncești Farmers Market

Tomatoes are abundant in Moldova right now. So are cucumbers, peppers, grapes, potatoes and many other delicious fruits and vegetables.

On Sunday, Champa and I visited the farmers market in Hîncești, a regional center southwest of Ialoveni. We filled several bags with produce from farmers who gather in the outdoor market three days a week. Our host family invited us to join them on a shopping trip there followed by a visit to the Manuc Bey museum and mansion.

As I wrote recently about my peach pie, one can buy produce from farmers in Ialoveni along the sidewalks, but the Hîncești market offers a wider selection.

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It’s still much smaller, of course, than the central market in the capital, Chișinău, shown above, where vendors gather daily to sell everything from walnuts to watermelons.IMG_6760

In Hîncești, there’s also an indoor pavilion where people sell meats and cheeses. Champa and I bought a big piece of brinza there, similar to Greek feta. It’s in one of the bags she’s holding next to Mihail and Alisa.

Most Moldovan vendors have electronic scales with which they weigh items and calculate prices. They may fill a bag with a bit more than requested, hoping to nudge up the purchase, but they’re ready to trim it back to the specified amount if asked.

My Romanian is now good enough that I often stop to chat after I buy something. The vendors are generally curious about us and enjoy our efforts to converse.

Occasionally, one of them surprises us by speaking English, like the guy you see in the 3-second video clip below. He startled me on Sunday by telling me to “have a nice day!” after I bought some peaches. I couldn’t leave without asking him to do it again for the camera so all of you could enjoy him, too.

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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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.

My Two Homes

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On Monday, the library where I work in Ialoveni, Moldova unveiled an exhibit about North Carolina — the home state of “Domnul David” and “Doamna Champa.”

The exhibit features brochures about the Wright Brothers monument in Kitty Hawk, the Biltmore mansion in Asheville, the NASCAR museum in Charlotte and attractions across the Triangle. It also offers information about where to taste wine, go fishing or ride a hot-air balloon in North Carolina.

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Before we came to Moldova with the Peace Corps, I gathered these brochures at the North Carolina tourism office on Route 85, just south of the Virginia border. I brought them with me and now finally put them to good use. As I described in an earlier post, Champa and I have also shared souvenir postcards about Durham.

My library colleague, Doamna Stella, and her daughter did a great job of arranging the new exhibit, which is in the center of the library. It’s the latest example of the close ties between Moldova and Carolina du Nord, two places I’m proud to call home.

 

 

‘Frumos’ is Beautiful

Moldovans love all things “frumos.”

The word means “beautiful,” as in a beautiful song or a person’s beautiful soul. A well-behaved child may be “frumos.” Most of all, “frumos” means beautiful as in beautiful — a bouquet of flowers, a majestic sunset, a gorgeous woman.

You hear the word constantly here, which is no surprise in a country where people are usually well-dressed in public. Many women wear makeup whenever they go outside. Men iron their clothes and clean their shoes. Few people are rich but almost everyone shows pride in their appearance.

For an American like me who never paid much attention to clothes, Frumos poses a challenge. I’ve made a point to always dress neatly here. Fortunately I generally don’t need to wear a tie.

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I felt the Power of Frumos as I walked near our main traffic circle in Ialoveni on Thursday afternoon. Within one block I saw a hair salon (or Frizeria), a beauty salon, a cosmetics store, two flower shops, a shop displaying beautiful foods, even fancy lingerie.

Frumos is only skin deep and in the eye of the beholder, of course, but there really is no avoiding its importance here in Moldova. It’s a beautiful thing.

Guguță’s Children

Do you know “The Cat in the Hat” and “Good Night Moon”? If you’re an American, especially if you’re a parent like me, of course you do.

Here in Moldova, an equivalent question might be: “Do you know Guguță?”

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He’s the beloved character created by Spiridon Vangheli, one of Moldova’s most famous writers. Wearing a distinctive hat, Guguță faces adventures in a series of books that children and their parents have enjoyed for decades. Vangheli has also written other books, poems and translations. His work has been translated into many languages, been performed on stage and received numerous honors.

Ialoveni named its children’s library after him a few years ago, as you can see on the sign near the door. On Thursday, many of the city’s children turned out to honor the great author, now 85, at a charming ceremony.

Little kids dressed in traditional costumes presented Vangheli with flowers and serenaded him with songs and dances. That’ s him in the purple shirt. The kids shouted “la mulți ani!” — or long life! — and stepped forward to recite short speeches they’d memorized with their parents and teachers, some of whom mouthed the words as they watched. The mayor, Sergiu Armașu, extolled the writer, who then thanked everyone, signed books and posed for photos. Television crews captured it all for news reports and a future documentary.

IMG_5495The library has interesting exhibits and memorabilia about Vangheli. It is marking its own 25th anniversary this year, so Ialoveni has been celebrating both the facility and its namesake, who lives nearby in Chișinău. The Vangheli library is tucked away on a small street near the heart of Ialoveni, not far from the city’s main library, which also has a nice collection and programs for children, including a weekly English class taught by Champa.

I recently began trying to read one of the Guguță books myself. The Romanian is still a bit difficult for me but I’m making progress. Now that I’ve met the famous author, I’m even more motivated to finish it.

[The short video clip of the kids at the top of this post is also viewable on YouTube.]