Wednesday, August 31, 2016

25 Years of Democracy/Why we're in Moldova

On Saturday, Moldova celebrated Independence Day (good timing for us to arrive here, huh?)! There were lots of festivities, including a parade, music, and fireworks.

It was also interesting to see Moldovan flags hanging up beside EU flags (which Moldova is not a part of but wants to be):


It also happened to be the 25th anniversary of Moldova declaring independence from the Soviet Union, making this country (this iteration of it, at least) younger than I am. They had all sorts of banners saying "25 years of Democracy!" (in Romanian, obviously), and seeing them gave me the chills. 


A little context: Moldova has been a country off and on since 1359, and has intermittently been part of Romania, Bessarabia, the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Soviet Union (not the same thing). It's people are essentially of the same origin as those of Romania, but during the Soviet period (during which it was part of the USSR, not just a Soviet bloc state like Romania was), many Russians and Ukrainians emigrated here. 

After the break up of the USSR, Moldova declared independence, and initially showed interest in becoming part of Romania. I don't understand the country well enough to say why it didn't rejoin Romania, but I can say that seeing how intermingled the Romanian and Russian populace is, it's not entirely surprising that they eventually did not decide to reunify. There has been some push for that in recent years, but I don't know how much (if any) traction that movement is getting. 

An unfortunate legacy of the USSR is a government that (despite 25 years of democracy) remains fairly corrupt (old habits, and all that). In 2014, a politician (and chairman of a major Moldovan bank) headed a scheme to embezzle the equivalent of 1 billion dollars, which was then covered up by the Prime Minister, adding up to a deficit of about 1/8th of Moldovan GDP.  

That kind of scandal only increases the importance of the work the Leavitt Institute (TLI) is doing here. They teach courses on the Rule of Law (basically legal ethics) to students at 6 different universities in Moldova. Many of these students are the future leaders of the country, and the hope is that, for some of them at least, the lesson in anti-corruption sticks. 

Jesse is going to get to help organize and teach those classes during the year that we're here. It's an incredibly opportunity, and seeing how much promise this vibrant country has makes it even more valuable. 

video

We all liked the music at the festival, but Miriam liked it best of all. 

In short, we're happy to be here!


Or, in shorter, Te iubesc Moldova (I love Moldova)!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Apartment

Guess what?? I am writing this from our new apartment! 

Do you know what that means? We're no longer living out of suitcases!!! (Living out of suitcases day count total: 30) I cannot even explain how good it felt to unpack. Knowing that all our suitcases are empty and I don't have to rifle through them to find Tylenol/church socks/stuffed animals is SUPERB. 

We also lucked out and got a great apartment for an excellent price in the perfect location. Big thanks to Mihai and Vlada for all of their hard work!!! We are also conveniently located on Nikolai street (spelled the Romanian way), which is delightful because when we lived in Germany, we lived on Catherine Street. Fun coincidence! 


We signed the contract Saturday, which was a fairly lengthy process, during which the kids and I sat outside in the courtyard (to avoid having them bouncing off the walls inside and freaking out the landlady). There were a couple of stray cats out there, all of which Miriam had a hard time not petting (she kept waving hi at them and trying to give them kisses).



It took quite awhile but at the end we were very excited to have our own apartment!!


We moved in the next day (we needed time to get some furnishings for the apartment) and are basically completely settled now. 

So here's the tour! (also, please excuse the poor lighting--the camera on my new phone isn't great, and I didn't feel like messing with the settings)

This is the entry hall with the front door there in the center. Fun fact: that mirrored cabinet is for shoes and coats, but also doubles as our dresser (because our bedroom has no storage!)


The toilet room (not to be confused with the bathroom, which you'll see later):


The kitchen (oddly enough, you can't see the fridge and oven in this picture but you CAN see the washing machine. It's a strange layout!):


While we're there, check out the crazy settings on this washer:


p.s. Since it's Europe, we don't have a dryer and are air drying all of our clothes. If anyone has tips about how to make them not come out all stiff and crunchy, let me know!

Our room (I forgot to take a picture of the incredible view out our window, but I will soon! We are on the 6th floor, so the view is awesome):


The kids room:


The bathroom:


Interesting shower hose gizmo, meaning no lengthy showers for us this year (because who wants to take a long shower when you aren't standing under your own personal waterfall?):


And the living room:


It's a good apartment, and while the building is old (probably 50 years or so, if we're any good at guessing), it's been well cared for. It's actually really interesting to be living in a building this old in this part of the world--it was likely built in the Khrushchev era during the time when Moldova was part of the Soviet Union. It's hard not to think about people living here then, when these buildings were new (possibly several families living in this one apartment, if it was a communal one) and people living here 25 years ago, when Moldova finally gained independence. There's a lot of history here, and the people in this apartment lived through it.

More about all that in the next post, but suffice it to say that we're so pleased to have somewhere to live! 

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Hedgehog

Hello all! Life in Chisinau continues on! We are still sans apartment (meaning we're still somewhat in limbo) but we've been using our time well to explore the neighborhood and feel more settled, at least culturally. We've finally been taking time to study Romanian daily, and while I still don't know how to tell the cashier I want to pay with a credit card, I can now tell a female acquaintance that I would like to drink some wine. So obviously we need to keep at it ;)

School starts for me Monday, though I've just found out my loans are going to take awhile to come in. When filling out my FAFSA this summer, I mistakenly clicked the button that said I was a non-U.S. citizen (WHY???). I've already jumped through lots of hoops trying to get that resolved and thought I had it all taken care of before we moved to Eastern Europe (I literally called someone 3 days before we moved and got a confirmation from them that I was good to go), only to find out this morning that they need additional verification (NOOOOO!!!). 

Long story short: tomorrow I have to take my marriage license to the U.S. Embassy to spend $50 to get a copy of it notarized, after which I need to find somewhere to mail it to the U.S. as fast as possible.

In case you can't tell, I am not amused. 

But I AM amused by this funny incident that happened the other day when we were shopping!

We were out in this giant market full of vendor stalls selling everything from cheese to Crocs to chemises, hoping we could find a few random items. We stopped at a stall selling deodorant and shampoo to see if they had any kids shampoo (somehow I left the kids' shampoo behind in MI, and the kids can't use ours because they get excema). Jesse skillfully used his Russian to find what we needed, and then he thought he'd check to see if they had another random item we needed: a bottle brush. 

Now, I don't know how many of you speak second languages, but when you don't know a word for something in a second language, you have to run circles around the word you don't know, trying to describe it any possible way you can to communicate the thing you don't know how to say. 

So here's Jesse, trying to explain that he needs this weird brush for cleaning bottles (which for all we know is a weird American thing), using every word he knows to try and describe it. "You know, a brush that's bristly all over and you use it for cleaning baby bottles?" The shopkeepers, to their credit, were trying very hard in return to figure out what he was asking for. "Do you mean a shoe brush?" they asked. "What about a toothbrush?"

Jesse, sensing imminent defeat, began to say "Never mind, don't worry about it, don't worry about it." But then one of the shopkeepers finally got it.

"Oh!" she said. "A hedgehog!"  

And off went the other shopkeeper to find one.


The "hedgehog" we bought (and in case you're wondering, the little brush, despite having a hook, does not attach to the large brush in any convenient way).

And that is the story of how we bought a hedgehog, er, bottle brush. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

When in Moldova

After all of that adventure, we were quite ready to sit around and do nothing for the next few days. We did a little of that, but we also tried to balance it by getting some things done and seeing the city a little. Also, it was hard to get too much done when certain small people kept waking up at 1 am thinking it was morning time, making us all extra tired all the time. But we've mostly gotten past that now (cross your fingers!)

We did end up deciding to find a closer apartment (Mihai and Vlada are doing the searching for us, and they've found one so far in the PERFECT  location, but alas! it is furnished with super beautiful and fancy wood furniture that I am terrified our children will destroy over the next year, so I think we are looking for another one that is less fancy) so we've moved temporarily into a house owned by the non-profit (where they normally house visiting professors and such). It is huge and lovely and we're happy to have somewhere safe and nice to stay while we find somewhere to live, but we're also REALLY looking forward to not living out of suitcases anymore (we're going on 3 weeks and counting!!)

Besides looking at potential apartments, we've gotten Nikolai registered for preschool (hooray!) and done a lot of walking around and going to parks (with very little getting lost). Luckily, many (if not most) people speak Russian here in addition to Romanian (the national language), so Jesse's Russian skills have gotten us through all of our necessary transactions (buying groceries, buying ice cream, buying peaches and plums and grapes from a street vendor). We are still learning Romanian so that we can communicate more in peoples' native tongue (and also so I can communicate at all!), but it has been a relief to not have to stress out too much over every little transaction and communication. 

Below I've compiled a conglomeration of photos from outings and icecream at two different parks (ok, we've only had ice cream at a park once, but we did have popsicles the day before as a consolation prize when we got the directions wrong and couldn't find the park). 


Here we are at the Dendrarium with our ice cream. Mine was cantaloupe flavored, and it was the BEST ICE CREAM I'VE EVER TASTED. I am not even joking you. I don't even like cantaloupe that much (it's yummy, but not my favorite fruit) and it was divine. Also, our four scoops of icecream on 3 cones was like 40 Leu, the equivalent of like $2, which makes me want to go back and get it every day (though Jesse continually reminds me that although things are cheaper here, we also have a more limited budget, so we can't go crazy. But Jesse, this icecream makes me insane!! What's a girl to do??)




It was almost bedtime, but we let the kids play on the playground, hoping that they'd sleep well that night.


We've been trying to make Nikolai walk most of the time (we keep telling him his legs need the practice so they can get strong, but it's also because I just cannot carry him on my shoulders for miles every day for a whole year!) but on the way home he got to ride on Jesse's shoulders. 


The sunset here is lovely, and it was even lovelier in the gardens. 


They had lots of varieties of roses, including some that had several color blossoms growing on the same bush!!



We definitely kept a tight grip on Miriam next to these water features (we call her our "water baby" because she can't NOT get in any water she sees!)


On a different day, at a different park: 



There's no sign, but this looked like one of those tiny free libraries. As a librarian-in-training, I was super excited to see it! Hooray for reading and free knowledge!


Looking forward to this week, we hope to find an apartment, celebrate a few Moldovan national holidays, and gear up for the start of my semester! Wish us luck!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Wait (and Catch Up)

For two weeks after moving, we lived in our friends' large basement (after our apartment contract ended because Jesse had graduated). It was very cozy and we eventually got into a good rhythm with two families in one house (surprisingly enough, it was not the bathroom, but the kitchen that ended up with the most traffic jams!) 


Kids in matching Buzz Lightyear jammies!

For us, it was important to have time to see all of our friends and say goodbye. Our summer was so intense and busy that I felt like we never had time to see the people that made living in Michigan so wonderful, and that made me incredibly sad. So we tried to use those two weeks to the fullest.


Also, for catching up from the exhausting summer.

We went to the Arboretum to play in the mighty mighty Huron (very low this year due to poor rainfall) one last time:


Later that night, I joined a group of friends and we went body surfing down some man-made rapids on the same river. Afterwards, we went out for treats and chatted, and had one of the best nights ever.

We celebrated the Olympics:


And we ate a lot of food with friends (friends not pictured, because I am too shy to ask for photos):


Delicious tomatoes from a friends' garden. Seriously, these were SO GOOD. I want some right now!


The Moldovan flag, rendered in fruits and fondant.

And I finally took the kids to play in the North Campus fountain. They loved it and it was great to see so many friends in one place!


We also took time to say goodbye to the Law School. I didn't spend a lot of time there (though I think Jesse spent more time there than he did at home in the last 3 years! ...ok, almost) but it's a place that represents so much to both of us. Here, Jesse put in some of the hardest work of his life. This is also the place where he came home talking about emphasizing in International Law, and where I pushed him to follow his passion (I guess I pushed pretty hard--now we're in Moldova!) 



As we were leaving, Jesse turned to me and said, "I'm bad at saying goodbyes, which means we'll need to come back to visit." 

I hope we do too. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Trollympics

Our pseudo-going away party was something we called the Trollympics, named after our favorite bad movie, Troll 2. We got together with a group of friends that have watched the movie (over and over...) and made up a series of challenges based on some of the ridiculous things that happen in the movie, some of which were: 

Running with milk through the woods
Spear Arnold
Lift weights like Holly
Pull Arnold in his pot
Grandpa Seth smile
Decorate Troll 2 themed cupcakes
Everybody freeze while Joshua walks around for "30 seconds"

Obviously, none of these make sense unless you've watched the movie, but rest assured we are very funny and had a hilarious time. 

Sharon spearing Arnold with her tiny Goblin arm:


Not a great picture, but here's the Arnold we were spearing (with sticks tipped in green paint):


Sarah in the bucket as Arnold, ready to get pulled:


Kevin and Kyra doing the Grandpa Seth smile

video

Cupcakes decorated with "Provocative" and "Appetizing":


All of the appetizing cupcakes:


And finally, everyone froze like the Waits family does in the movie while I walked around as Joshua for "30 seconds" (aka 1 minute 11 seconds):

video

It was really fun to see so many of our good friends one last time (many of the rest we got to see on other occasions, thankfully!) and it was fun to be ridiculous while doing it!

The Pack

Guys, I cannot believe it has been 3 weeks since we packed and I am just now getting around to posting about it! We had a blissful two weeks afterwards during which we stayed with friends and I had PLENTY of time in which I could have recapped, but I did not. I suppose the time was better spent with friends? Anyhow, that post is up next so I'll write about packing first.

ACTUALLY before I write about packing I have to write about my next-to-last day of work, on which I did my last day of storytime (the theme was "Animal Sounds" and featured a retelling of "Duddle Puck the Puddle Duck" with puppets, because I know you were wondering). My coworker surprised me with handmade cards from many of our storytime kids (she had secretly handed them out on previous weeks and had the kids decorate them and bring them back). I was completely surprised and very moved by both her sweet idea as well as the kids' creativity. The one below was my favorite, from a 3 year old girl named Fynlee who was so much fun.


Alright, sorry for the backtracking. Onwards!

Packing was completely nuts and I slept horribly BUT everything we needed to bring to Moldova fit in our suitcases and carryons without being overweight (pictured below in a state of disrepair as I was packing them) and everything we wanted to keep fit in the storage crate. 




Even some things I was sure we wouldn't have space for fit (like the baby swing, double running stroller and picnic table) and I definitely did a happy dance in the parking lot when it all fit :) 


It's interesting--we moved to Michigan with one child, one car and two storage crates, but we left with  two children, no car (oh yeah! we sold it!), and just one crate. More people and more overall belongings but less storage space meant getting rid of a lot of things--the dining room table, our bed and end tables, and most of my hoarded craft supplies. It was hard to get rid of things we've used and loved for years, but in some ways it was also freeing to be able to say goodbye to them. Many things we sent off for free to friends and neighbors (including many families that were new to our neighborhood and in need of furniture). It felt good to put back into the system where we've gotten so much good, while also being able to keep the things we really loved and couldn't replace (like artwork, my mother's antique hutch, and the kids' matching beds).

Also, after getting rid of so much stuff, it's actually pretty relieving to only have brought 6 suitcases of stuff with us to Moldova. Less to make a mess with, right? ;)

The Journey: Moving from Michigan to Moldova

Our journey from Michigan to Moldova was long and emotional (mostly because we were leaving our beloved home, but also because of the length and complexity of the trip). Here's the timeline:

Monday, 9 am: Pack all remaining belongings and try to not sob when saying goodbye to Nycole

Monday, 11:30 am: Put belongings in a friends' van and take a family photo in front of our old home (red, bleary eyes are from the aforementioned attempts not to sob [mostly a failure])



Monday, 12 pm: arrive at airport, check 6 suitcases and a pack and play, make it through security (a difficult proposition with 2 children, 2 laptops, several Kindles, an external hard drive and bottles of milk for Miriam). 

Monday, 2 pm: Fly to Chicago

Monday, 2 pm: Arrive in Chicago (get it? Because it's in Central time??)

Monday, 2:15 pm: Race over to connecting flight, which is supposed to take off in 45 minutes, only to discover it has been delayed by an hour. It's ok though--our third flight doesn't take off until 12:30 am, so we're not worried at all! 

Monday, 2:45 pm: Walk around, get some dinner (because it's 3:45 our time but it'll be past dinner time once we arrive!), and kill time before taking off at 4 pm local time

Monday, 7 pm: Arrive in NYC at LaGuardia airport (there's that tricky time change again!)

Monday, 7:45 pm: Collect all baggage (none of it was lost! Hooray!) and strap it all together with some luggage straps, enabling 2 people to transport 2 children, 6 suitcases, a pack and play, a stroller and 5 backpacks. 

Monday, 7:50 pm: Wander around for awhile (leaving Jesse with the kids and stuff) before finally figuring out that the inter-airport shuttle (yes, we had to switch airports!) we need is located at the end of the terminal. 

Monday, 8:04 pm: Arrive at the bus stop, VERY sweaty and very tired, with one semi-broken luggage strap



 Monday, 9:15 pm: Finally get on the shuttle to take us to JFK (the shuttle that was supposed to run every 20-30 minutes) 

 

The very sleepy baby with her Buppy (how she says 'bunny') that did not sleep for the entire 45 minute ride!

Monday, 9:50 pm: arrive at Terminal 8 of JFK, drag all belongings inside, only to realize...we're in the wrong terminal. Weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth may or may not have ensued. 

Monday, 9:55: Drag all belongings and very tired children through a series of elevators and inter-terminal trams to Terminal 7, where we finally checked in to our trans-Atlantic (Air Ukraine) flight. 


Monday, 10:30 pm: Go through security again, get more expensive airport food (in a really slow line) because it has been 6 hours since we've eaten anything but peanuts and crackers, and settle down at our gate. 

Monday, 11 pm: Discuss putting the kids in pjs, filling up water bottles, and wondering when our flight would board (it wasn't posted) when suddenly realizing: the pjs are in the duffel bag, which isn't with us, which must mean we left it at security!

Monday, 11:05 pm: Race back to security, explain that we left a bag and try to not look like a terrorist  for having left a bag behind (and feel sorry for any people of color that accidentally leave their bags), and wait while they search it again 

Monday, 11:07 pm: Look up to see Jesse frantically gesturing at me from the top of the escalator, saying that our flight is boarding!

Monday, 11:09 pm: Grab the re-searched bag, race up the stairs, help Jesse grab the kids and the bags and jump the boarding line...only to be stuck waiting for 15 more minutes (oh airports, you wily beasts!) before boarding.

Here's where things get hazy, because we were flying forwards across time zones. Instead of an exact time, let's do this:

Monday, 11:45 pm-Tuesday, 4:30 pm (only just shy of 10 physical hours because of the 7 hour time difference): Get kids and bags settled in, take off from America, start to get sleepy when they turn off all of the lights...and wake up when they turn them on 30 minutes into the flight, the flight attendants going around and serving dinner (in case you're wondering, all of the commotion kept a certain very tired baby from sleeping, and I am still irate about it). Fall asleep at some point, and spend the next 3 hours resting fitfully as the 4 year old next to you tosses and turns in his sleep. Take turns for the next few hours with Jesse staying awake next to the baby, who is sleeping on the floor, before eventually giving up on sleep when Niko wakes up. Give him his brand new kids Kindle Fire to play with (purchased specifically for this very moment) before getting a few more moments (minutes? hours?) of sleep.  


They gave us those blue socks to wear on the plane, and Nikolai may or may not have worn them for the next 12 hours, all through the airport in Ukraine and into Chisinau. I thought them hideous and embarrassing, but it is a testament to how exhausted I was that I didn't even bother trying to make him take them off!

...

...
...

Some time later: land in Ukraine! 

Tuesday, 5-7 pm: Gather belongings, go through security again (oh please not again!!!), find our gate, walk the kids around so they start to think it is 6 pm instead of 11 am, and eat a chocolate croissant and some juice (because who knows what meal time it is anymore?!??!)


But hey, at least this kid stayed happy!!!

Tuesday, 8 pm: Board 4th and final flight to Chisinau, Moldova. 


The sunset in Ukraine was incredible! Also, it was my second sunset in 16 hours so that was cool. 

Tuesday, 8:15 pm: Chat with Jesse for the 1 hour flight because both children were completely asleep (does this bode well for sleeping later? No sir, it doesn't!) 


Tuesday, 9 pm: Arrive in Moldova, de-plane, collect all baggage (none of it got lost again! Glory hallelujah!), and head out to the entrance, where we met two people from TLI (the non-profit Jesse is working with), Mihai and Vlada. They immediately took us under their wing, ordering taxis for us and all of our stuff (the apartment rental company was supposed to meet us there and do all of this but they got the time wrong) and helping us get to our apartment, before immediately heading back out to get us some food to eat. 

Tuesday, 10:30 pm: Realize with Mihai and Vlada's help that the apartment we've chosen is not only quite far from Jesse's work and Nikolai's preschool but also a considerable walk to the nearest bus stop to get to both. Resolve to think about looking for a closer apartment (with their help) in the morning (what time is it anyways??)

Tuesday, 11:30 pm: Put the kids to bed, wait for them to fall asleep (quite some time), and head to bed ourselves, trying not to think about how many times they're going to wake up in the middle of the night because they think this is just a nap and it's actually afternoon. 

...

And that was the journey! You'll have to wait until tomorrow to hear allll about how we settled in, whether we switched apartments, and most importantly, just how many days it took all of us to recover from jet lag! 

But wait! If you order now, you'll also find out how much ice cream and yummy yogurt we've eaten over the past week, as well as how we've been able to communicate without knowing Romanian! 

Act now, before it's too late!