Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Masa and some Bball

Last night, I went to a birthday party with my site mate Zan. It was for my teaching partner Irina’s baby named Ion who turned 1 year old. There was a huge masa (aka feast) and about 20-25 people came. We all sat at one long table which was covered with food. Most of which was very delicious (but as always a few plates looked a little too interesting to try). Also, we drank wine and champagne all night long, so Zan and I both had a really good time.

Also, my boys basketball team has been steadily improving. They are really enjoying it and coaching them is a pretty cool experience. I heard about a competition coming up in February in my region center that we are going to try to enter. Realistically, I don’t think we will do very well because they are still learning the basics, but it will definitely be good for them to play another team and to see how an actual game flows.

Back to Moldova

School started a few days late because of the gas shortage, which was kinda nice, but now we have to make up the days with Saturday school, which is kinda not nice at all. Anyway, I have become involved in another project at my school since the semester began. A few months ago my site mate won a grant for sports equipment. One of the pieces that was donated is a weight machine. We received the weight machine about three months ago but nothing was done with it. It sat in storage the whole time until they finally found a spot for it last week. It took a bit of motivating, but the gym teacher eventually complied and we constructed the equipment together. The mythical weight machine was finally complete. Now, my goal is to give some seminars on how to use the equipment correctly and to make weight training a popular hobby in my village. More to come...

Sunday, January 11, 2009


My Trip to Turkey
So I left Moldova for the first time in over 6 months on Christmas with a couple guys that I’ve become very close friends with since I joined the Peace Corps, Sam Scheurich and Mike Defiglia. We were about to undertake our first big vacation during our two year stay; exploring Turkey. I hoped that it would be the first of several adventures to come. The plan was to go from Istanbul, to Izmir/Ephesus, up the Aegean coast, and back to Istanbul for New Years. We built the trip up pretty big in our minds leading up to the departure by growing amazing beards and sending daily text messages displaying countdowns and depicting projected heroism. Yet we were sure that it would live up to the hype.
We left the puny Moldova airport at about 6:00 and got into Istanbul without much problem. That night we went out in Sultanahmet, the old part of Istanbul, and met some other fun tourists, including two girls that went to Auburn. We went to a little kabob restaurant where the owner called us his nephews and to a hooka bar called “Backbackers”. “Uncle’s” and “Backpackers” would become two of our favorite places to hang out on the trip. We all had a few beers and smoked a hooka (flavored tobacco out of a water pipe). It was a great first night.
The next morning we set off to Izmir, the third-biggest city in Turkey situated on the Aegean Sea. After two comedic hours on a ferry, and a comfortable 7 hour train ride, we made it to Izmir and found a cheap, no-frills hostel and grabbed a bite to eat at a surprisingly delicious little restaurant. Then we went off to try to find somewhere to drink a beer. This was not as easy as expected and the nightlife was pretty dead for a Friday night. Winter is the low season for tourism in Turkey and it was beginning to show why. Eventually we had a beer and went back to our hostels to rest up for a big next day.
Ephesus, the monstrous ancient city of ruins was our next target. After a bus to Selcuk, the nearby town, and getting situated in a nice little pension, we headed to Ephesus. The weather was pretty nasty, cold and rainy, which would show to be a theme for the trip but Ephesus was pretty breath-taking. For about 3 hours, we wandered around the massive ruins (only 20% is said to be excavated so far). We examined the towering library, and imagined ourselves being actors in the massive coliseum. As we were leaving, we were looking for a taxi or bus to take us back and we happened to run into an Argentine named Juan. He grabbed a cab back with us and we ended up hanging out with him for the next 3 days.
That night, Juan and some Turkish guys, Muslim and Tom, who worked at our pension, talked us into completely changing our travel plans to take an overnight bus the next day to a region in the middle of Turkey, called Cappadocia. I had read about it before while planning the trip but kind of disregarded it because it was winter and central Turkey is very cold in winter. However, these guys said that we would be disappointed with our destinations along the Aegean Sea in the winter but not Cappadocia so we took their advice.
That night they showed us how to drink the national drink of Turkey, “Raki” or “Lion’s Milk”. It is a black licorice-flavored liquor that turns white when mixed with water, pretty cool reaction, but it’s some nasty stuff. After that, they tried to show us a good time by taking us to some bars but these bars were weird. The only bars that had any women in them had a policy (enforced by a guy that was either a pimp or the bar manager) that if you wanted to talk to one, you had to pay 10 lira for a small beer for the girl. Then she would sit down and talk with you for about 10-15 minutes. This, if played right, could lead to a late night meeting with that lady. As creepy as that is, the girls were just as unattractive. However, to our disbelief, Tom the Turk still managed to arrange a meeting with one of Selcuk’s finest. Finally, after an awkward while, we left for another normal bar with just men…oh well.
The next day, we wandered around Selcuk for awhile, saw a museum, took a Turkish bath (This involves changing into just a towel, relaxing in a hot room, and getting scrubbed, washed, and massaged by old, bald, fat Turkish men dressed similarly. It was AMAZING), and killed time shopping before leaving on our bus at 8pm. Just before we left, we did manage to meet a trio of Italian girls and though a bit older (30, 30, and 36), and and more accomplished (lawyer, lawyer, and doctor) they were fun to hang out with so we grabbed a beer together.
The bus ride was long. We didn’t get too much sleep and Sam and Mike were starting to feel pretty sick so they were fairly miserable. Plus, we lost the Italian ladies when we had to switch buses, which we were all quite disappointed about. Once we finally got to Cappadocia after a 12-13 hour ride, it was very snowy and cold but the scenery was amazing! The town we stayed in was called Goreme and it looked like something from a fairytale. There were huge rock formations everywhere jutting straight up into spikes and there were cave hotels built into all of the cliffs. While the cold and snow made it more difficult, it made everything look even more magical.
Immediately after we arrive we checked into a little “cave hostel” but the room was just made to feel like a cave from the inside. Still, it was very cheap and it seemed nice enough. Then we quickly went down to a tour agency and hopped on one of the tours of Cappadocia. From about 9am to 5pm, they took us all over the region. We explored an underground city, climbed through a maze of cave dwellings at a monastery built into a cliff, and hiked into a canyon where we were served a very nice lunch. It was cold and difficult without boots, we were all very tired, and my asthma wasn’t cooperating at times, but a lot of the tour was really cool, especially when we were able to wander around on our own at the cave monastery and in the underground city.
After the tour we went back to the hostel, relaxed for awhile, grabbed dinner at a cool Turkish restaurant nearby, and called it a night.
Earlier in the night, we decided that the next day we would have the ceremonial shaving of the sacred beards. To do so, we went to a Turkish barber and asked him to perform the task. He obliged and with a cigarette in one hand and a straight edge razor in the other, he swiftly and unceremoniously removed what took us about 7 weeks to grow. He also burnt our ear hair off and somehow plucked our cheek hairs with a piece of string and a spring. That was just kind of weird. Then we got another Turkish bath and spent the day walking around the village and relaxing before another overnight bus trip back to Istanbul. Before we left, we grabbed dinner at the same nice restaurant and said our goodbyes to our new friend Juan. He was a fun character to hang out with.
The next morning, after our second overnight bus ride in three night, Sam and Mike were exhausted but I felt alright so I took a walk around the area and they took a nap in our hostel. I hopped along the rocks that run along the edge of Bosphorus canal for awhile and around the streets in the neighborhood of our hostel. Finally, the other guys got up and we began preparing for New Years. The big celebration that we had planned on attending at Taksim Square, the Turkish Times Square, had been cancelled to honor the Palestinians that had died in the Israeli air strikes and to make a statement against the Israeli retaliations. This forced us to reconsider, so we decided to stay at our hostel, where they were throwing a New Years party in the upstairs bar. This turned out to be decent. They had plenty of food and a belly dancer (attractive, but I can belly dance better) but it wasn’t quite as crazy as we had hoped for when we envisioned New Years in Istanbul. We still managed to have a very good time though.
While recovering the next day, one of the only sunny days of our trip, we all walked down to the water together and continued on up the coast. At one point, Mike and I climbed the hill on the other side of the road and sat down on the top of what looked like an ancient wall overlooking the Bosphorus. It was a beautiful view. Then we proceeded down a path behind the wall that didn’t look too popular. After awhile of wondering if we were getting lost, we finally started coming back down toward the street. Just before we made it back out of this junkyard area, a shoeless man with a very deformed ear stopped us to ask if we wanted to buy marijuana. After playing along for awhile, we finally told him no and continued on our way. We laughed about this for awhile as we continued to walk around the area, staying on more well-traveled paths from then on.
For some reason I can’t remember anything about what we did during the day on the 2nd, apparently nothing too productive, but that night we met a group of girls (one from Louisville, KY) and hung out with them at “Backpackers”.
On Saturday, the 3rd, we went to the Grand Bazaar with two of the girls that we had met the night before. This place is just a HUGE maze of broad hallways full of aggressive salesmen in crowded shops, most of which selling Turkish rugs, scarves, jewelry, or souvenirs. It’s a good place to find great deals on cool stuff though and it’s kind of fun to haggle with the salesmen once you get the hang of it. We spent most of the day there and we were too tired and the weather was too crappy afterwards to do any other sightseeing afterward so we went back to the hostel to take a nap. That night we went out to a very nice restaurant near our hostel with our two friends and coincidentally ran into the same Italian ladies that we had seen earlier in our trip too.
The next day we saw Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque. The Palace was unbelievable. The treasury had pieces from the Ottoman Empire that were incredible. There were thrones and water flasks made of pure gold and studded with thousands of diamonds, rubies, and gems. It was absurd. Then the 86 carat diamond with hundreds more small diamonds around it (as if it needed more) was just mind-blowing. (At one time someone found the diamond and sold it for three spoons, not knowing that it was a huge diamond.) None of us had ever seen such a ridiculous display of wealth. After the treasury we saw a museum full of old religious relics like (allegedly) Moses’s staff and the actual arm and skull of another Muslim prophet (John?). Some of the artifacts were really cool and others were just a little too unbelievable. After the palace and lunch, we went to the Blue Mosque. It wasn’t too complicated, just one huge room, but it was a very impressive huge room. It was also very interesting to see the Islamic men in the Mosque praying to Mecca and to hear the “Call to Prayer” go off five times every day from every Mosque in the city. After the sightseeing was finally over, we went out to dinner with the Italians and to a bar afterward where everyone, awkward or not, put on their dancing shoes for awhile and cut a Turkish rug.
On our last full day in Turkey we finally decided that we needed to be a little more productive so we took off and visited the Basilica Cistern, a huge underground water tank from several hundred years ago. Then we made it to the Galata Tower, one of the oldest towers in the world that overlooks all of Istanbul. For lunch we ate at an open air fish market along the Golden Horn, where we told them what type of fish we wanted and they bought it from a vendor and cooked it right in front of us. That was amazing. After obtaining full stomachs we visited another huge mosque, and the aqueduct. Getting to the aqueduct took forever to walk to and find but it was definitely an interesting walk through poorer parts of the city that we would have never seen otherwise.
Finally we went back to the hostel, cleaned up, and went out for our last night in Turkey. We went to dinner under the Galata bridge and then to the bars around Taksim Square. We found a hard rock bar called “Old School” and Mike was in his element when they started blasting the heavy metal. Then on the way home we bought stuffed mussels from a street vendor (very safe, I’m sure) who insisted on feeding us himself. It would have been an amazing night had it not been for the disappearance of my camera. I know I either left it at the restaurant or in the taxi and the restaurant said they didn’t find it, so obviously, I never got it back. I was kind of bummed for the rest of the trip after that, but I still attempted to have fun.
On our final day of vacation we managed to make it to the spice bazaar, a long hallway full of vendors selling all kinds of spices, teas, candies, etc. I think Sam “The Chef” Scheurich enjoyed that one the most but I thought it was pretty cool too. The only thing that we didn’t make it to, that we wanted to see was the Aya Sofia, which ironically was the closest thing to our hostel. However, Turkey is definitely worth coming back to in the spring or summer, so hopefully I’ll get to see the Aya Sofia and take a boat up and down the Bosphorus next time. Everything would be soooo beautiful if the weather had been nicer. I’d also really like to get to visit Antalya and Olympus. My favorite part of the trip was either Cappadocia or the day that we walked all over Istanbul.
Getting back into Moldova was actually pretty depressing. It’s not that I dislike it here; mainly just getting down off that vacation high… I guess I was kind of missing home and family a little though… and mad at myself for losing my camera for a couple days too… Plus I was hoping to get that package when I got back and it wasn’t there yet… Also, UK lost to Louisville… OSU lost their bowl game… and I had to spend the Moldovan Christmas alone… In addition to all that, the girl I’ve been dating won’t be back from the US for a couple more weeks… But anyway, I’m feeling better now =). Back to life in Moldova!
If you read all of this, congratulations, get a life. Just kidding, thanks! I hope it was at least a little interesting. I had a great time on the trip!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wtf is Moldova???

Wow. I'm not sure where to start, so many things to share and I've only been here for about a week. I guess I'll just start with a brief description of what I'm doing and where I'm at.

For those of you who haven't been paying attention, I joined the Peace Corps and they sent me to MOLDOVA! Wtf is Moldova, you say? Well my friends, this small nation (about the size of Maryland) has a population of about 4 million and is situated between Ukraine and Romania in Eastern Europe. It used to be a part of the Soviet Union until it gained it's independence after the Soviet collapse.

I will be living here for a total of 27 months. Yes, i said 27 months. While I'm here, I'll be learning the Romanian language, and teaching the English language. For the first 10 weeks, I'll be in PST, Pre-service training, in Costesti (Cos-tesht) with a host family. I am studying Romanian and learning how to teach English in the Moldovan school systems. After PST, I'll get assigned a location where I'll live and teach for 2 years. Sound fun? I think so!