It’s hard to believe I’ve just crossed the half way point of my time in Moldova. In many ways I feel like I’ve been here much longer than two weeks, perhaps because each day has been so full of new and interesting things. Anyway, time to update the blog…
I was exhausted on Friday morning and had to work quite hard to muster up enthusiasm for placement. But I’m so glad I did. The day started with me leading a craft group for the all the attendees at the centre. Like almost every group activity I usually start with a moment of panic and a thought of ‘just HOW am I going to make this happen?’. I think it’s a fairly natural response to the responsibility of enabling 25 people to actually complete the project you’d carefully planned out but weren’t quite sure if you could convey the plan. I had two related activities of making stick and finger puppets and divided my group in two based on my observations of their comprehension of task steps and skills like fine finger manipulations, as the finger puppets were a more complex task. Another moment of panic… “How do I get them started? How do I demonstrate two separate tasks to a mixed group of Russian and Romanian speakers? Who do I work with first? What do I do if they launch into the task and get it ‘wrong’? What if they get bored and fed up?” Fortunately the group, as is typical of people in Moldova generally, were very patient and I soon worked out a way to get everyone ‘doing’ as quickly as possible. I also realised there was no potential for getting it ‘wrong’ as the aim of my session was their participation and creativity, not creating the perfect puppet. Once things were underway I was joined by my supervisor, which helped to have another pair of hands on the more complicated task. I was pretty proud, however, to see everyone engaged and producing a unique puppet. I also felt pretty proud that I had made it happen, despite those ‘eek, HOW will this ever work moments’.
On Friday, Moldova was celebrating ‘Ziua Harbuzului’ ‘The Day of the Watermelon’. The group spent the afternoon engaged in activities about the watermelon; stories, games and even a dance honouring the Sun and the Watermelon that I lead. I got some brilliant photos of the group having fun, overlooked by the King and Queen Watermelon. The King and Queen had been two watermelons entrusted to me to carve faces onto – much like pumpkins but not scary and not damaging the fruit inside. I was slightly nervous about being given the responsibility, given that I’m not a hugely arty person – but the result was satisfactory and hopefully not insulting to the spirit of the day and local culture!
After work I attended another Romanian language lesson. At the end of my class my teacher tool me on a ‘field trip’ to the local shop to ask for and buy ice cream. Unfortunately the girl in the shop only spoke Russian so our efforts were in vain.
On Saturday morning I attended an event arranged for all the volunteers in the region. Unfortunately only one other volunteer arrived, but nevertheless we had a great morning. We ended up at the edge of Chișinău, where two blocks of flats mark the gates of the city. They are really quite impressive and although as is typical for Chișinău, they are a little shabby, I couldn’t help but stand in awe of the huge structures. We were able to take a very long, and somewhat shaky, lift ride to the 25th floor of one of the gates and then climb the remaining steps to the top. The views over Chișinău were fantastic.
We then travelled to the city’s Botanic Gardens and spent some time walking around admiring the plants and trees. The place is full of flowers and trees but as is late in the season many were dying and dried up. The garden was much more natural and ‘real’ than an equivalent attraction would be in the UK and for that reason I loved it. Well, apart from all the insect bites I’ve now gained! I was beginning to think I was going to survive this trip without being bitten, but no such luck.
After the gardens we enjoyed a break from the very hot Sun and had lunch in ‘La Placinte’. This is a chain of Moldovan restaurants, specialising in La Placinte – a type of pie filled with sweet or savoury fillings. As I’ve already tried and enjoyed the pies I went for another Moldovan dish, the name of which I have forgotten. I was pleased that my Romanian language skills served me sufficiently well here to order without my normal ‘point at the menu item’ technique.
I spent the rest of Saturday browsing the shops, taking photos in the big park in the centre and drinking ‘Cvas’ in a shady area of the park. Cvas is a Russian, fermented drink sold by street vendors every hundred yards or so. It’s considered a non-alcoholic drink as it has an alcohol content of about 0.5%.
A much quieter day! I’m a bit exhausted so having today to bank up some energy for a demanding week ahead. I had a quick gym visit and have spent the rest of the day doing washing, reading and trying to revise some of my Romanian lesson phrases.
As I’m at the half way point I thought I’d list my favourite things about Chișinău so far:
1. The Trolleybuses. Even though most are old, hot and rickety I love the opportunity to ‘people watch’ and observe Moldovan life. It’s not uncommon to see people board with a chest of drawers or twelve foot ladder.
2. The people. A very patient nation, and one that is incredibly friendly and welcoming to foreigners, despite not having many tourists here.
3. The opportunity to ‘just do it’, with regard to my occupational therapy. I’ve learned so much about running groups and my capacity to make things happen.
4. The fruit. Fruit is plentiful, fresh and cheap here, due to the country only eating what can be grown locally and is in season. I think I prefer this to the culture in the UK where we can demand all fruits all year around, but they aren’t so fresh and have travelled hundreds/thousands of miles.
There aren’t things I ‘don’t like’ about Moldova as I find their slightly run down apartment blocks and pavements full of cracks and pot holes quite charming. However I do feel sad that the level of poverty is so evident, particularly when there are signs of huge wealth around. I think the poverty side of things dramatically affects the accessibility of Chisinau, also. There is no money to repair pavements that a wheelchair would be unable to use. There is no money to update public transport to allow wheelchair users to board, or provide better ramps/lifts to buildings. There isn’t even enough money to prevent people with disabilities living on the street and begging on the roads for money. It’s all very sad. But, I do see great potential for the country and hopefully one day there will be more money in the pot for state services to provide for those in need.