Katie in Moldova|
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|Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007|
|Russian faces Litvinenko charge
from the BBC
A Russian former KGB officer should be charged with the murder by poisoning of Alexander Litvinenko, the UK's director of public prosecutions has recommended.
Sir Ken Macdonald said Andrei Lugovoi should be tried for the "grave crime".
Mr Litvinenko, 43, an ex-FSB agent and a critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, died in London last November.
Mr Lugovoi denied any involvement and said the charges against him were "politically motivated"; the Kremlin said he would not be extradited. ( read moreCollapse )
|Sunday, May 20th, 2007|
|Wednesday, September 13th, 2006|
If you have Skype
we can talk for free while I'm in France (when I have internet)!
You can search for me by my gmail address.
|Sunday, September 3rd, 2006|
Will Writers Bow to Government? by Jan Maksymiuk
The Union of Belarusian Writers (SPB) was evicted from its headquarters in Minsk on August 30 because of a dispute over unpaid rent with the presidential administration. The eviction is widely seen as a premeditated measure by Belarusian authorities to limit and marginalize the public significance of an organization still perceived as a rare model of intellectual independence in a country controlled by an authoritarian regime.( readCollapse )
|Thursday, August 31st, 2006|
|Sunday, August 20th, 2006|
|More Readjustment Notes
I went to get ice cream in Clifton with my friend Richard today. We sat at a table inside the tiny shop, and I found myself paralyzed, unable to talk. Everyone around us spoke English!
In Moldova, my American friends and I could talk about anything in public eating establishments with only a slight chance of someone knowing English well enough and eavesdropping successfully enough to understand our conversations. Here I feel so exposed; I miss the privacy of my language cocoon.
I've also been noticing little bits of Russia everywhere. People speaking Russian at the grocery store. People speaking Russian at Walmart. A private party of people dancing to a Russian pop song in the back room of a Thai restaurant. Who are they? Do they all know each other? They're all about the same age, mid-twenties.
I also saw a car with a Romania sticker on the back while I was driving today. I never noticed these things before - or I just never understood them. I feel like I've learned the handshake of a secret society. I hope the next time I see a RO sticker the car is parked.
|Thursday, August 17th, 2006|
|Sunday, August 13th, 2006|
|Readjustment: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
When I boarded my plane home in Chisinau, a little girl walked past me in the aisle, and I avoided eye contact so she wouldn't ask me for money.
There's a reflex I wish I hadn't picked up.
But there are lots of little adjustments I've noticed in myself since I got back that I am proud of. On my trans-Atlantic flight back to the U.S., I sat in the same row with a girl who complained to her mother for hours about how she couldn't stand being in the plane for one more minute. I was totally calm - enjoying myself, even. I was so happy I wasn't in a rutiera.
I'm still a little scared of the phone. Phone conversations in Moldova usually went a little something like this:
Caller: Hello, Nadia?
Me: No, sorry, Nadia is at the store.
Caller: Who is this?
Me: The American. Can I tell Nadia you called?
Caller: Where is Nadia?
And so on until someone hung up. So I still mentally prepare myself for a Russian or Romanian confrontation whenever I hear the phone ring.
Speaking English was a little more nerve-racking at first as well. In conversations with non-native speakers, you can use simple words and phrases that seem a little off (usually due to direct translation), and all is forgiven in the name of getting a point across. In conversations with native speakers, I can't just rely on the other person simply putting all misunderstandings down to language barriers. But that fear faded fast.
The impulse that's taking the longest to go is the urge to throw toilet paper into the trash instead of flushing it. I get a pang of guilt every time I flush, assuming for a second that I have just clogged the plumbing system for the entire building.
My pace has slowed down. In Chisinau, I walked or took public transport almost everywhere. If I had a long list of things to do, I knew I could probably only do three of them per day. And I got to be okay with that.
When I first arrived in Chicago to visit my friend Molly after I got back, I had to stand in a long line of confused people buying subway tickets. Everyone around me was huffing and sighing, but I was just enthralled to stand in an orderly queue instead of having to push through a mass of people to reach my goal.
On the train, a man got up to give a woman a seat, but she refused and looked a little surprised at the gesture. Americans have signs mandating us to give up our seats to the pregnant and the elderly. I wonder if people wouldn't do it otherwise.
The buildings were phenomenal. I've never felt like a gawking tourist around skyscrapers before, but this time I caught myself staring.
I have never appreciated food more. I squealed at every meal Molly and I ate.
And the service! I was so shocked every time I walked up to a counter and got a smile. Some of the FLEX students who returned from their year abroad said they came to see all those smiles as fake, but everyone I met when I first arrived home was just genuinely nice. I walked into a book store to ask where I could find a photocopier and a place to get passport photos (I was hoping to apply for my French visa at the consulate in Chicago, but it turned out they were only open until 12:30 so I ended up missing my chance). She didn't know where I could xerox my invitation, so she offered to do it for me at the back of the store instead. It turned out to be a Catholic bookstore, so I donated a couple dollars to "the sisters" and followed the girl's directions to the nearest drug store.
At the drug store, the girl at the photo counter took five different photos because she didn't think the first ones she took were good enough. She gave me two copies of the photo she picked, and when I told her I needed three, she said I would have to buy a new set. Then she decided that was silly and just gave me the third for free.
All this time I was still carrying my suitcase. It wasn't too big, but I definitely brushed into everyone I passed. And every single person apologized to me
when I did it! Sometimes I went by them again and they said sorry twice!
Since the backpack in which I had packed all of my summer clothes went missing somewhere in transit from Moldova (but has since been delivered), I needed to buy something to wear. I went to H&M downtown, still carrying my suitcase. In almost any Moldovan store, you walk in and are instantly made to feel like a convicted felon. You check anything larger than a lunchbox at the door and are followed through the aisles by silent workers who peer suspiciously over your shoulder at whatever you're touching. I usually tried to get out of those stores as fast as possible.
I asked the guard at the door where I could leave my suitcase. He glanced at it and said, "Oh, you're okay." What?
So I carried the thing around with me, bringing it into the dressing rooms several times. I was just waiting for someone to snatch it and search me. I know they have cameras and they take shoplifting into consideration when planning their finances, but I couldn't believe the trust they had in me and in their system. I never would have stayed so long in that store if I were being hounded by Moldovan shopkeepers. And nobody would've said "sorry" when I bashed into them in the check-out line.
The apologies continued through the weekend. Molly and I went to Lollapalooza, and every time we edged through the crowd, every time someone walked by without even touching us, we were apologized to. It was astounding. Is this a Chicago thing? A Midwest thing? An American thing?
I loved being outside all day at the concerts. Being inside, however, leaves me shivering. I'm not used to air conditioning at all. Everywhere is so cold! Cars are air conditioned; the hair salon is air conditioned; my parents' house is air conditioned; Molly's apartment is air conditioned. I've been sleeping with all my blankets.
I flew from Chicago to Traverse City, Michigan, where my parents picked me up. I spent the week on Lake Huron, near Cedarville, with my family and a bunch of other families from my family's old church. We didn't have any air conditioning, thank goodness. Even the fan made me cold at night in Michigan weather. I went to the sauna across the lake, and I spent the entire time sitting on the top shelf, barely breaking a sweat. (But that seemed to be common among the women. It was the guys who were suffering.)
I still haven't driven my car. It's very different being back this time. I'm not in such a panic to take in all the things I didn't have since I'm staying... at least for a while.
|Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006|
|Safe & Sound
I made it home with just a three-hour delay in Frankfurt. I sat next to a mother who had just been to Montenegro with her daughter to meet the Montenegrin extended family of her oldest daughter's husband of three years. The couple met at Ohio State. The son-in-law's family spoke very little English, but they seem to have spent a successful week playing chess, drinking vodka, and watching the mountains rise directly from the sea anyway.
The mom asked me where I was coming from. I said, "Chisinau, Moldova." She said, "That doesn't really help, I guess. Why were you there?" I said, "I just finished Peace Corps service. I'm going home." Very strange words to say.
So here's what I'm thinking of next: http://pass-the-brie.livejournal.com/
|Tuesday, August 1st, 2006|
I just turned in my final COS checklist.
If I weren't so woozy from getting my blood drawn for my final HIV test at medical, I'd jump up and down.
For now, I'll just smile and sway. I'll be home at 4 p.m. Cincinnati-time tomorrow afternoon.
|Sunday, July 30th, 2006|
|Another Moldovan Move
I spent Thursday evening packing up my room, separating things I wanted to leave my host family, things I wanted to give to volunteers, things I wanted to keep, things I needed to ship, and four boxes
of books I needed to return to Peace Corps.
Just like the last move, it had that Moldovan flavor. As soon as it got dark outside, the electricity went out. I fumbled my way down the stairs and, together with my host mom, managed to light a church candle on the stove, then passed the flame around to my various box-shaped candles of conflicting scents. I put one next to the sink, one in the kitchen, and brought two up to my room to weakly illuminate the sorting process.
Every twenty minutes or so the electricity would go on again, powering my rotating fan, which would pleasantly cut through the dense heat in my room and blow the candles' flames dangerously close to a stack of papers. I would quickly extinguish the candles, only to have the power knocked out again in another five minutes, at which point I would have to fumble back down to the stove.
When I finally finished the job at around 2 a.m., I desperately needed a shower. The hot water heater wasn't working, so I dug a coffee mug out of the cupboard and bathed with cold cupfuls of water.
I woke up at 6 a.m. and helped Fedea load my luggage into the back of his dirt and rust-encrusted van. He drove me to the school so I could quickly drop off a few books I had unearthed during the packing process. The only person there was the guard, one of those rare Moldovan workers who is always smiling. I told him I was on my way out and took his hand, which he kissed and wished me the best of luck.
Finally ready to go, my host mom, Nadia, and I squeezed into the bench seat next to Fedea. I waved goodbye to the town as we rolled through it. "But you'll be back to visit, right?" Nadia asked me. "Of course," I said, and revised my farewell to "See you soon."
I let my eyes linger on the hills, the statuesque trees that arch over the road, the lake in Vatra reflecting white sunlight. Eventually I drifted off.
When we got to the Peace Corps office, Fedea and Nadia helped me carry my things to the doorway. So they wouldn't have to sign in and get visitors' passes, I took them up the stairs to the volunteer lounge myself. I returned my Peace Corps heater and my Brita filter and had a nice chat in Romanian with Nicolae, who is in charge of such equipment and whose daughter is living in Ohio for the next few months.
Fedea yelled for me from down the street, and I jogged to where he'd re-parked the van. He begrudgingly stopped to ask for directions to my rented apartment. Once we found it, he and Nadia blocked the elevator door inside with a box of books and completely filled it with all of my luggage and me, leaning under the weight of a heavy pack and clutching various bags of shoes and souvenirs.
"I'll kiss you now," Nadia told me, leaning into the elevator.
"Right now? Won't you come up with me?" I said.
"No, we've got to go." She kissed me on the cheeks. I barely comprehended her goodbye, so shocked that our final farewell was occurring across the threshold of an old Soviet lift.
When she walked away, I moved the box and the elevator strained up to the sixth floor. It took me about ten minutes to figure out how to open the door to the apartment, then I loaded everything through it. I moved the last box and let the elevator doors close behind me.
I didn't get to see my host sister before I left; she's been in Chisinau all week. She told her host mom she would definitely
call me, numai decat
. I hope I get to say goodbye.
In other news, my family got the letter from the school where I'll be teaching in France. Apparently I'll be in Bonneville in the Haute Savoie region. I don't know how I feel about that, seeing as the few pictures I've looked up didn't look nearly as mountainous as I had hoped. But then again, it doesn't seem to be tourist central, either. Vom vedea
, we'll see.
|Thursday, July 27th, 2006|
Last week my partner teacher, Eufrosinia, was roped into working as a resource teacher for the new trainees' practice school. This means that for the past week she's been living with a host family in the village of Susleni, helping a trainee named Ana plan and teach lessons. This also means that she will continue to live in Susleni for the next week, right through my last days in Moldova.
The only day I could meet her was yesterday, and only if I traveled to Orhei to meet her at Pre-Service Training. And only if I postponed my going-away party, which I had planned to hold at 4:00.
Amazingly, it all worked out.
I got a ride in with the Peace Corps van. As soon as I saw my partner teacher, she started crying. I gave her a big hug and felt like I was already home with my mom. I waited around for her lunch hour, then went for pizza with her, followed by a stroll down the shady street.
While I waited for her to finish her final session, I talked to the country director, Jeff, about working for the Foreign Service and how little people tend to actually get out of the office and use their language and make friends.
I also explained to him the reason for my visit.
My partner teacher got out of her session a little bit later and told me she was on her way back to Susleni with the other resource teachers. We hugged goodbye and kept waving until we reached opposite ends of the short street.
When I got back to the school where PST is held, I must have looked like I was about to cry.
Jeff: It's okay, you can cry.
me: No, I can't. I haven't yet. I don't know what's wrong with me.
Jeff: Look at you; you're really fighting it. Who do you go to when you need to cry?
me: I guess my parents. But calling them now would be pretty expensive.
Jeff: Why not cry? It's okay.
me: I'm not going to cry in front of my boss!
Later Jeff told me that when he misses his kids being so far away from them, he feels a little better to have volunteers their age around. He gave me a little shoulder hug.
I made it back to my site at 5:00, took a shower, rushed around my landslide of a room trying to find books I wanted to give to my school, then walked over to the school. I found Natalia and Olga, two of my 11th graders. After I unloaded the bags of books, they walked to the pizza place with me to order some food.
I didn't want to have a party for myself; I wanted someone else to offer. But that's not the way it's done in Moldova. When there's a celebration, you set up the food and the music yourself, and your neighbors show up when they feel like it.
I expected to find my 11th grade girls, a couple younger students, and a few teachers when I got back to the school. Instead I found about 15 teachers and a few of my students hiding out around the corner. They didn't follow the teachers in; they gave me chocolates, flowers, and a few stuffed animals in the hallway, kissed my cheeks, and said goodbye. Suddenly my party was tea break in the teachers' lounge.
Luckily, Rodica, one of my favorite 7th graders, stayed with her mother, one of the teachers, along with her friend and another
of my favorite students, Violina. I spoke to them in English when the teachers started telling a joke with vocabulary I didn't understand.
The teachers asked me to give another speech.
"But I didn't prepare anything!" I said. "I just want you to eat and be happy."
"Be happy that you're leaving?"
"No, just be happy!"
They were somewhat satisfied by this response, and I knew I was off the hook when the director stood up to give a speech about me.
He described the day he and my partner teacher came to Hincesti to meet me for the first time. It seemed a little like getting a first sonogram - would it be a girl or a boy? How big would it be? What would it look like?
He said they had been delighted with me then, and that their first impression had proved not to be false over the past two years.
Then he untied the rolled-up rug he had on the table to reveal the image of Moldova's great hero, the king who adorns all Moldovan banknotes, Stefan cel Mare
"Katie walked in the door of the school every day to see the bust of Stefan cel Mare, and now she can hang this rug on her wall in her home and be reminded of her time here in Moldova. And maybe of Moldovan money, as well."
Everyone clapped and I took a few pictures with the director and my new rug.
We sat around for a while, with a few teachers filtering out while people talked. I said goodbye to my Russian tutor, whose book of poems I returned, and my French tutor, who gave me a book in French. The music teacher told racist jokes.
Finally, I stood up and collected the cups. Violina left; Rodica helped me carry my presents, and we moved the shrunken party to the store down the street, where we ate ice cream and shared a two-liter of Noroc
beer. I spent most of the time speaking in English with Rodica.
At the end of the night, the director, his wife, and one of the young teachers who started work this year walked me home. Fedea said he'd move my things to Chisinau tomorrow morning at 7 a.m.
I cried in my dreams last night, and a little this morning, so I guess my tear ducts aren't completely broken.
This morning I met with Natalia, Olga, Xenia, and Alina, some of the 11th graders who had bailed the night before. I was glad to have a little get-together with them as well; they've been my real friends. We walked to the park and drank Fanta while we talked about English Camp and which teachers would be coming back the following year. I'll miss those girls.
|Friday, July 21st, 2006|
|Tuesday, July 18th, 2006|
|GAD at English Camp
English Camp was a teacher's dream... aside from the swarming mosquitoes absolutely everywhere and the almost unbearably dirty outhouses, of course.
The campers were chosen by three organizations: Peace Corps, whose volunteers offered the names of their best students; FLEX, who held an essay contest, and APLE, who invited the winners of English Olympiads. We also had students from breakaway zone Transnistria, who were chosen by the schools.
I had a big group of girls from Tiraspol (in Transnistria) in my cabin. I was so curious about their lives, but I didn't want to make things political at camp, so perhaps I'll just ask them more questions over e-mail now that it's over.
In general, we taught classes full of extremely intelligent, active students who wanted to be there. Even though each class had about 30 students, there were barely any discipline problems. It was the perfect way to end my two years.
There were four mandatory classes: Sports & Games, Democracy, Gender & Development, and Ecology. The students could choose two electives from: Journalism, Leadership, Arts & Crafts, Music & Drama, and Business.
Counselors all were part of teaching teams for two classes. I taught Gender & Development and Journalism. I had something like six partners for GAD, but only two for Journalism, and before camp, both of them quit.
Their replacements were Alexei, a Moldovan college kid who will actually be attending Harvard next year, and Diana, also Moldovan, younger than Alexei, and the friend of one of the directors whose father is a journalist.
Neither of them had any teaching experience, but at least their English was wonderful and they were generally cool to hang out with.
Since there were so many GAD teachers, we divided the work, so I only was head teacher one day. The rest of the time I got to stimulate discussion and work in small groups with the kids.
My lesson was Gender in Leadership. I divided the class in two and gave each side a poster with adjectives written across it like forceful
... I had one group circle in pink pen the adjectives stereotypically associated with women and in blue those stereotypically associated with men. I had the other group circle in green the adjectives they associated with a good leader.
In every class, the adjectives the students chose to describe a good leader were about half "feminine" and half "masculine." I asked the students to think of men and women leaders in their lives, for example, teachers.
I asked them to think of the differences between their male and female teachers. They mentioned that their female teachers talked to them more and seemed to care about them and their jobs more than the male teachers. They said their male teachers were more strict, and usually had less discipline problems. Of course each class offered examples of teachers who broke those stereotypes as well.
I asked them to think about their reactions to those teachers, then asked them if they had any names for female teachers who acted more masculine. Then I said, "You can agree with me or not on this, but here's an observation some people have made: Sometimes women who act feminine are seen as bad leaders, and sometimes women who act masculine are seen as bad women."
I gave them a situation: You are in an organization which has men and women working for it, but in general, women only occupy the lower positions and men are the leaders
I put them into groups, then passed out cards that explained four different theories. Each group had to look at their theory, understand it, and decide, according to their theory and not
their own opinion, what the cause of this situation was and how it could be changed.
The first group had "FIX THE WOMEN." According to this theory, the problem is that women are taught from birth to be feminine, and that feminine people cannot be good leaders. The solution is that women should be taught from an early age to be more masculine. They should be treated like boys, should be given more masculine role models, and do more masculine activities with men.
The second group had "VALUE THE FEMININE." According to this theory, the problem is that everyone is taught to believe that a feminine style of leadership, more collaborative, more sympathetic, more flexible, is innately inferior to a masculine style of leadership, but that this is incorrect. Different situations call for different leadership styles, and in fact, men could benefit from being more like women sometimes. The solution is that society needs to be changed, and people need to be taught to appreciate a diversity of leadership styles.
The third group had something like "COUNTERACT THE BIAS." According to this theory, the problem is that the organization is subconsciously sexist in its recruiting, promoting, and retaining practices. Because this attitude is so ingrained, the solution is creating laws and programs to counteract the bias such as affirmative action, mentoring, and better support for new parents.
The fourth group had "FIX THE ORGANIZATION." According to this theory, the problem is that leaders are expected to be larger-than-life, in charge of every little detail, and always, always working. They cannot have a life of their own, because they are seen as uncommitted if they are unavailable to rush in at a moment's notice or to work from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Because women have more responsibilities at home (i.e. child-raising), they cannot occupy such a position. The solution is to change the way the organization is run, to allow more delegation of responsibilities and organize so that there aren't so many crisis situations that can only be solved by the boss. This solution also proposed adding childcare services.
It was a challenge to get the students to consider another point of view rather than jumping the gun and presenting only their own opinions on the topic. But by the second class, my fellow teachers and I were more adept at preparing the groups to present only the theory they were supposed to present to the class.
After the presentations, we went through and talked about the pros and cons of each solution. Perhaps women could learn something from men, but perhaps men could also learn something from women. Perhaps affirmative action would double an organization's possibilities, but perhaps it would also hurt them by requiring them to choose unqualified workers.
Perhaps offering childcare services would support mothers and fathers who worked for organizations, but perhaps they would be expensive. Perhaps reorganizing would make the working environment better for everyone, but perhaps it depends what kind of organization it is. Perhaps it would be better to change society so that men had a more equal share in raising the children.
I wished I had more time to discuss with the kids.
Sometimes GAD topics seem too obvious, but you'd be surprised how limited girls still are in Moldova. On soccer day for Sports & Games, we asked kids to raise their hands if they had played soccer for the first time that day, and almost all of the girls did. They hadn't even been taught in gym class. I was proud of our Sports & Games leaders, who refused to start the Camper-Counselor tournament later until the teams had enough girls. (The campers won.)
For their homework on the first day, which Samantha spent explaining the differences between sex and gender, we told the kids to break one gender stereotype that week.
It made for interesting discussions on the last day. Several boys felt like rebels for making bracelets in Arts & Crafts. One of them said he played soccer with girls... and liked
it. He said the other boys had told him to vote for a boy for camp president, but that he had voted for a girl instead, since he considered her to be the best candidate.
The girls talked about letting themselves get dirty during Capture the Flag by continuing to play when it started to rain. They tried new sports; they let boys go through doors ahead of them; they carried benches to set up for evening activities.
On the final Camper Evaluations, many people said their favorite class was GAD (and some mentioned me
). But we didn't quite reach everyone: someone wrote it was their least favorite mandatory class because "they tried to change the human being which was made by God and Nature."
|Saturday, July 15th, 2006|
I'm back safely from English Camp, which was a perfect teaching experience to finish up my Peace Corps service with. All I have left to do is fill out forms and figure out how to get everything home by August 2nd.
Expect photos and anecdotes soon.