Archives for category: Curt

We left our village on Monday morning to start our 2 week trek back home to the states. It’s such a bitter sweet time in our lives. On one hand, we are so sad to leave the people who have accepted us as one of their own. On the other hand we are so excited to see our families and friends again. As we are officially leaving Moldova today, we just want to record our goodbye thoughts about this beautiful country.

Curt:

I can’t summarize Moldova in one post, but I can share an experience that contains many pieces of my experience here.

One of my favorite memories in Moldova is from last fall during the corn harvest.  Moldovans harvest corn by hand, or more accurately by many hands.  On the day designated as “corn day” by our host family, eight different workers arrived at our house at 7 AM.  Any Moldovan event, especially harvesting, starts with food and drink.  That morning we had pîrjoale (a sort of fried meatball), mashed potatoes, salad (Moldovan style with cabbage, not lettuce), boiled hotdogs, wine and homemade cognac. After a good meal we headed down the hill to the fields.

The first order of business for the day was for everyone to individually tell Curt that he needed to put a long sleeved shirt on because the corn would irritate his skin.  I politely informed them that I had been dressing myself for nearly 30 years (fine probably more like 25 years…), and that day I had done a satisfactory job that day –as usual.  Once we got that out of the way, everyone went to work. We spaced ourselves such that there was one person in every other row of corn.  While walking down the row we pulled the one or two cobs of corn off of each stock and put them in a basket that we carried in front of us.  Once your basket was full, you would dump it into one of the communal piles that had been formed throughout the field.

Being that young competitive chap I am, I thought “I can keep up with these people.  Other than me, they are all over 50.”  Not a chance.  The ladies particularly took me to school in the corn competition, but they also outworked the other three men helping.  After harvesting a couple of rows each, everyone would take a break.  Being the crazy American, I brought a bottle of water to drink.  For the rest of the crew it was house wine.  When lunch time rolled around our host mother brought down a 15 liter bucket full of borş (traditional Moldovan soup with cabbage and pork), mamaliga (boiled corn meal), placinta (fried cheese pie) and more wine of course.

As 6 pm was rolling around we dumped the last basket of corn on the final pile in the field.  All of us were thinking, “Great – we are done for the day, and tomorrow we will come back and collect all the piles.” Nope, L (our host father) had a different idea.  He rolled up in a large flat-bed truck, and we started picking up all the piles a basket at a time and throwing them in the truck.  By 9:30 pm it had been dark for some time, and corn was spilling over the sides of the truck bed.  We still had three piles to go.  What to do?  Of course we rolled down the passenger’s window in the cab and began filling the cab with corn.  Finally at just after 10 we were done and ready to go home.  Out of habit, one of the ladies opened the truck door to hop on in.  Unfortunately for her and us, she was met by an avalanche of corn.

On the ride home we all sat in the truck bed on the mountain of corn.  The two ladies I was sitting by began “discussing” all that they still had to do that night.  One had a cow out in the field that she needed to bring home and milk, the other a goat.  They both had families that would require their attention as well.  However the main tone of the conversation was life for them is hard, and it is inappropriate to expect someone to work from 7 am to 10:30 pm for a mere 100 Lei (about $8).  I agreed with them.

Susan:

When I arrived in Moldova two years ago, I was so excited to learn all about the people, culture, traditions, food, languages, and history. I think it is such a unique country, and being a former Soviet Union country, especially interesting from a historical and political standpoint. Looking back over my last two years living here, I think what I learned the most were lessons about myself. I have had some wonderful times and some not so wonderful times, but I stuck it out, and I sure am glad I did. I worked with 5 incredible Moldovan women who care so much about their community. I lived with a very traditional family who was more than generous with their time and resources. I taught hundreds of very eager students about important mental and physical health topics. I met some amazing people who will be life-long friends. I’m not sure what my impact here was, but Moldova’s impact on me was great. I learned a lot about myself, and my relationship with my best friend grew so much through each of our challenges and accomplishments. Moldova is a small country, but it will always occupy a very large spot in my heart.

La revedere, prietena noastră, Republica Moldova.

One thing I have learned in Moldova is that we, Americans, cannot possibly imagine what the average person in a former Soviet nation has been through.  One day, a little over 20 years ago, our host family here in Moldova had their lives turned upside down by the destruction of the Soviet Union –something that most in the U.S. laud as a great victory.  At the time our hosts were about 40 years old and working in public service positions.  Suddenly the Rubles they had been putting away in the bank for 20 years were worthless.  They didn’t get paid for over six months.  They along with their newly sovereign nation were thrown into a market economy that they didn’t understand.

Today in the villages, most people still don’t understand the market economy or business, nor do they understand or trust banks.  The school director and I decided to plan and implement a project to address the lack of practical business education in our local school and hopefully improve the situation that Moldova was left in 20 years ago.

With that dramatic introduction, throughout this project we created a business club for high school students and built a greenhouse for them to operate as a business.  The business club gave students a chance to learn how to start a business and then create a business plan.  They then used that business plan to operate the greenhouse as a real business.  The greenhouse further served a second educational purpose in that is has given “technology” students a chance to actually see and practice proper agricultural techniques.

To my disappointment, the business club was only comprised of boys, but I still hope that some girls will get involved in the fall.  The club met each week and learned about various different parts of a business plan, then prepared their own business.  As part of the grant we won for the project, we were able to buy a computer for the students to use as they researched and prepared their plan.  While the business club was doing their thing, the school principal was directing the construction of our greenhouse.

We planned and built 200 meter² greenhouse on school property.  The greenhouse is located next to the school’s boiler room for ease of tapping into the school’s heating system.  This will allow earlier and later harvests.  We also installed a large water tank to feed the greenhouse’s drip irrigation system.  Because we decided to construct the greenhouse ourselves, the process was much slower than I wanted it to be.  However, the end result is great.  We have a quality greenhouse that will last for many years.

Unfortunately we will not be here to see the full harvest, but currently peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers are doing incredibly well.  I am confident that they will have a good harvest and be profitable this spring.  Finally, one great part about this project is that it is very sustainable.  The school and business club will continue to operate the greenhouse and use profits from it to sustain the business and improve the school.  I am hopeful that students can learn business skills for years to come.

Last week my program manager asked me to write up a short summary of a project that my partner organization completed throughout this spring, summer and fall; so I thought I would throw it up here on the blog as well with a few small changes.

Since the break-up of the Soviet Union Moldova’s small rural farmers have struggled to develop profitable agricultural operations with the limited amount of land available to each farmer.  There continues to be a great need for farmers to work together with pooled resources and knowledge in order to create agricultural enterprises that can support rural communities, achieve economies of scale, and compete for international demand.  Approximately 5 years ago in our village–a community of 2500 people close to the Moldova-Romania border–a group of 9 farmers came together to form a vegetable and table-grape growers cooperative.  Their goal was to produce and collectively market quality products.

Since forming the cooperative, the farmers have found it challenging to successfully put all the pieces of the production and sales processes together.  Three years ago they renovated a refrigerated storage unit and planted 6 hectares of new table-grape vineyards; however as time has progressed, the cooperative’s members realized that consistently producing the quality grapes expected by international markets is difficult. To help address this issue, the cooperative’s manager and I developed a plan to train local farmers on proper methods of vineyard care, procure equipment that would help produce quality grapes, use existing equipment more effectively, and sell the grapes at a more profitable time.  Our plan included holding several seminars throughout the summer with a national expert in growing and exporting table-grapes, purchasing a sprayer to help apply protective compounds (a euphemism for chemicals) to vineyards, preserving grapes in the cooperative’s refrigerator, selling the grapes later in the year when prices are higher, and achieving higher profits for all participating farmers.

Overall the project achieved many of its stated goals.  With the help of a $3000 grant from USAID (your tax dollars at work) the cooperative manager, Victor, and other cooperative members purchased the sprayer shown below.  Shortly thereafter the cooperative held its first seminar which was attended by approximately 25 farmers from our village and a neighboring village.  After several more seminars and caring for the vineyards all spring and summer, the results have been a great harvest of beautiful and marketable table grapes.  Unfortunately most of the grapes have already been sold, while only a small quantity were actually stored until prices are higher.  The most notable success has been with the ‘Moldova’ grape variety which has yielded approximately 20 metric tons per hectare as compared the 2008 and 2009 district averages of 4.2 and 11.7 tons reported by www.statistica.md.  Although all of the grapes have not yet been sold, it is clear that the additional costs incurred to better care for and protect vineyards will easily be offset by increased revenue from higher yields and higher quality products, the ultimatel result being higher profit.

Vasile from the “Grape Growers and Exporters Association of Moldova” leading a seminar on how to properly care for vineyards.

Two of the early table grape varieties (Codreanca and Arcadia) just after being harvested in early September.

What an average bunch of Moldova variety grapes look like when NOT properly cared for.

What Moldova variety grapes look like when properly cared for.

Curt and I just got back from a fabulous vacation to Greece and Turkey with these two awesome ladies, Curt’s cousin and his sister. They even came to Moldova to hang out with us in the village for a day. It was SO much fun seeing them. Thank you x 1,000,00010 for coming out!

More to come on this trip… I am currently sorting through my 3,000 pictures.

I have been accused by some readers of not posting on this blog, and those of you that keep up with what is posted here know very well that those accusations are 100% correct.  Today I am making one small attempt to contribute to the blog in a meaningful way.  I want to share a few stories from Moldova that I find amusing or interesting.  Hopefully you enjoy them and they will provide a little insight into Moldovan culture and Moldovan perceptions of America.

About a month ago I was walking down the road in our village when a guy stopped me.  The conversation went something like this:

Dude: “Hey I heard that in America you guys hit each other with pillows?”

Curt: “Huh?”

Dude: “Yeah, I heard that you have fights with pillows.  Have you ever done that?”

Curt (with a confused look on his face): “I have but not for about 20 years.”

Dude:  “Okay here’s what we are going to do – you go home, get a pillow, then come back and meet me here at my gate.  I will go inside and get a pillow, then we can beat each other right here in the street.”

Curt: “Okay – sounds good.”

Unfortunately the pillow fight never actually happened.

After we had been in Moldova for several months Susan and I were at a dinner party and a lady whom we had met several times admitted that she was surpised we were both white.  Apparently she thought all Americans are black.  When we asked why she thought that, someone answered for her by saying, “Well your president is black.”

Yesterday I went for a run, and when I got back I began stretching my calf on a pole in the street.  Two guys, whom I don’t know, came around the corner and immediatly began staring at me.  (As a side note, getting stared at is part of life in our village.  Maybe it is the fact that they don’t know me.  Or maybe it is my sexy mullet they are staring at – can’t tell for sure.)  When I began staring back one of the guys asked, “Are you drunk?”

“No.”

“You are leaning against the pole so I thought you must be drunk.”

“Nope, I just went running.”  In response to this comment I received two very confused looks.  As they walked away shaking their heads I am sure they were wondering why in the world anyone would run.

For the past several days a couple from Romania have been staying at our house as they are friends with our host family.  They are very nice people and we enjoyed talking to them.  I found them very well read and knowledgeable.  This morning as they were packing their car to leave he said to me, “It was a pleasure getting to know you guys.  You changed my impressions of Americans.  You’re very civilized.”  I enjoyed the compliment but can’t help wonder what his previous impressions of Americans were given that he finds me of all people civilized…

This story comes second hand via our host.   Several years ago there was an earthquake which was felt in our village.  Rather than staying inside everyone in our neighborhood ran outside until it was over.  After the shaking stopped one lady went back in her house before other neighbors and found that some of her dishes had fallen and were broken.  When she came back out into the street and told everyone, one guy immediately sprinted through his gate and down into his cellar.  After a few second he emerged saying, “Don’t worry the rachiu (homemade brandy) is fine.”  He had several 15 liter glass bottles of rachiu on the shelf in his cellar, and his first thought upon hearing of the broken dishes was that it had been lost.

And of course, people have all sorts of perceptions of American celebrities. Susan has been asked on numerous occasions by mobs of swooning teenage girls if she personally knows Justin Beiber. Unfortunately she doesn’t.

Every spring one of the major tasks that most rural Moldovans must accomplish is the pruning of their vineyards.  Although it is not a physically difficult task, it is tedious when you are taking about pruning even one hectare (~2.5 acres).  In our case, our host family only has 8 rows of grapes approximately 25 meters long behind their house; so it wasn’t a great deal of work.

There are apparently a significant number of different ways to prune a vineyard.  The method used depends on the age of the vines, the climate and individual preference.  In our case the plants are mature and have well established trunks.  The larger woody trunks are important as they help prevent loss to freezing during harsh winters.  During the previous years’ growth each trunk sprouted many branches or individual vines which we trimmed this spring.  Grape vines have “eyes” which, much like potatoes, are the beginnings of a new stem.  For each woody trunk we pruned all but two branches – one with two eyes and one with five or six eyes.  The logic is that the shorter branch will continue the development of the larger woody trunk while the longer vine will produce smaller vines where the grapes will develop.

Once all of the old and unwanted growth has been removed, each of the remaining vines is tied to the wires running above each row of plants using young pliable willows.  As a side note, one great thing about Moldova is the amount of natural materials they use versus buying something synthetic – case in point, using willows as string.  Once the vines are secured to the wire, the work is done until early summer.

**Disclaimer: I am by no means an expert, and the information presented here is according to my very limited understanding.

Over 30 underground cities have been discovered throughout Cappadocia. They were used as hiding places for the first Christians to escape religious persecution from the Roman empire. Most of these underground cities are connected with tunnels. The underground cities in Kaymalki and Derinkuyu are the most visited due to their size and depth.

Kaymalki is 8 levels deep (only 4 levels being open to the public) with about 100 tunnels connecting the different rooms and levels. There is lighting throughout most of the tunnels and rooms, although we did find a few downward tunnels without lighting that just kept going and going. There were stalls, a kitchen, a winery, storage areas, a church and baptistery, a huge ventilation shaft, and several large millstone doors.

Pictures don’t do justice to the vastness of this underground city. It  was absolutely incredible.

Cavușin is a little village at the base of a massive church carved out of the rock. It is a quaint little town connecting Rose and Red Valleys with the historic fairy chimney city of Pasabaj.

Uçhisar can be seen from most towns in the Cappadocia region as it is the highest point in the region. A castle was carved out of the massive rock structure that can still be entered today. From the top, you can get a great birds-eye view of the whole region.

Mt. Erciyes is a volcano that erupted over 2,000 years ago accounting for all the unique and unusual rock formations in the area.

Love and White Valleys are located west of Göreme. While there are not many churches to explore in these valleys, they are still picturesque. We started down canyon in Love Valley, hiked up through White Valley, and exited in Uçhisar.