I was organizing my computer files the other day when I came across the site history report that I had to prepare before leaving Moldova. Basically, these site history reports are used by Peace Corps staff in deciding whether to continue placing volunteers in a given community and with a given partner or host family.
Clearly, a site history report will reflect the opinions of whomever wrote it, and a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) who has a bad experience in a given town or village will write a different story than a PCV who had a better experience in the same place. More importantly, however, the site history ideally should reflect a given PCV’s truthful opinions about his or her site, opinions unfettered by concerns about who might read it. The report is only useful if it’s honest and tells the whole truth.
I was never dishonest about what I wrote about my service on this site, but I was certainly selective about what I chose to write. Being a PCV with a blog can be a bit tricky, because anyone can read what you write, and for obvious reasons we are supposed to shy away from saying negative things about where we live or whom we work with.
After enough time passes after a breakup, we all tend to remember the better things about our exes; and so it is with me and Moldova (though it wasn’t a nasty break-up, and the good always outweighed the bad by far). Looking back, I found it interesting to read my site history and to be reminded of the difficult parts eight months later. And so do I present my site history report for your reading (n.b.: names have been redacted):
Site History Report - Anenii Noi
Anenii Noi is a raion center with a population of less than 10000 and about an hour by bus from Chisinau. The town and its nearby villages have been host to a number PCVs in the past, and it is in general a community that is welcoming to PCVs.
My primary partner organization was Liceul Teoretic Hyperion, a secondary school located in the town center. Hyperion has a student body of about 400 children in grades 10, 11, and 12. Students come to Hyperion from all over the district, and some live in an adjacent dormitory while classes are in session. The current director, Mr. E— M—, was installed as director at the end of the 2009-2010 academic year, following a sort of coup against the previous director, Ms. G— B—. Ms. B— herself was only director for the fall term in 2009, having just been elevated to the position following the retirement of the long-serving previous director. Ms. B—, a French teacher who I believe is no longer a faculty member at all, was anonymously accused of impropriety and denounced in a letter that was sent to national corruption investigators. She was hospitalized for stress when she was informed of the investigation, and did not return to the school for some weeks; she was replaced on an interim basis by the then-adjunct director, S— M— (who has since left for Italy).
From what I was able to find out, it was not clear that Ms. B— had done anything improper, and instead was the victim of the ambition of Mr. M—, who apparently had long coveted the directorship of the school. Mr. M— has outwardly never been anything but friendly and supportive of my presence, but I got the sense from my former host mother (who works at the district education office and knows these issues well) and my partner teachers that such machinations on his part (as in, the type that he may have committed in the lead-up to Ms. B—‘s departure) are not out of character. In short, Mr. M— is an excellent resource and takes his job seriously but is not to be trusted unequivocally. As for Mr. P—, the present adjunct director: he was always suspicious of me and I am not convinced that he is very good in his present position; I often overheard students gossiping about his awkward, forced attempts at flirtation with his female students. Other teachers at the school are generally open to the presence of a volunteer, though some more so than others. The gym teacher, N— V—, was especially supportive and helpful.
At Hyperion I worked with three partner teachers: J— P—, H— S—, and P— L—. Mr. L— is very bright, speaks the best English of the three, and is very Westernized (he has been to Iowa and Great Britain for extended trips), but has some health problems due to his age and does not prefer to dedicate much of his energy to his efforts in the classroom; he is more interested in raion politics that go on across the street from the school than teaching. He has also been known to miss school for weeks at a time, ostensibly for health issues but possibly for drinking binges. He is, however, a valuable partner in after-school undertakings such as Odyssey of the Mind, has useful connections throughout the town, and is a veteran grant proposal writer. He has some connections with other NGOs in town, and should be a point man for any community development projects.
H— S— is also very bright – she likes to read Shakespeare in English and also speaks very good French – and enjoys her job more than most teachers. She is the youngest of Hyperion’s English teachers, but is also very, very conservative, and can make inappropriate (by American standards) comments in class about religion or sexual orientation. She has two very young children, and will unexpectedly miss days at a time to care for them. She has a tendency to ignore weaker students and in general to give the students work that is much too difficult along with a lot of superfluous vocabulary. She is ambitious, and is a bit of an outcast among other faculty for her ambition; she has a tendency to rub people the wrong way. Her teaching skills require the most work, and as she can be stubborn it will take a very strong-willed volunteer to break her of her bad classroom habits.
J— P— is, in short, the best partner a volunteer could ask for. Her English is the weakest of the three, but she is very, very good with students – she effortlessly makes lessons entertaining for students while still ensuring they learn – and she is always open minded about new methods and activities. She understands what is truly important in the classroom. She also is a straight-talker, and is a valuable resource for a volunteer trying to understand goings-on in the school and in the community.
Anenii Noi has a hospital near the middle of town and quite a few people who speak English well who could be potential tutors. Internet, banking services, and mobile phone service are all ubiquitous. There are at least a dozen buses to Chisinau every day that leave from the new, modern bus station; the trip takes an hour and buses generally leave every twenty-five minutes. The train stops outside of town near the road to Bulboaca and Cobusca.
Anenii Noi is generally safe. I did hear one unsubstantiated story of a teenage girl being raped and possibly murdered behind the outhouses at the local discotheque this summer. Having been to that disco myself, I can say that the fact that this might have happened at this spot is not surprising. I’ve also heard a story about a string of unresolved murders a decade or more ago, and another story about local mafia meeting in the woods on the edge of town.
In general, people in Anenii Noi are receptive to the Peace Corps. The Russian school, unfortunately, has had a string of bad luck with volunteers who terminated their service early under less-than-ideal circumstances, and one female volunteer there in particular established quite a negative reputation for herself in the town. The two Romanian schools, on the other hand, remember their volunteers fondly. A recent agribusiness volunteer was quickly forgotten; I did not meet anyone who knew him during my time in town. In my experience, it is not made clear to town members that volunteers are not paid a teacher’s salary and are in fact volunteers; advertising this fact better would go along way for increasing public opinion in the town. Romanian speakers will have some difficulty, as most people speak Russian on the street, and I would estimate that 80% of conversations I hear are in Russian. People working at local restaurants and shops often will only speak Russian and do not understand Romanian at all.
A— and V— D— were my hosts for the first six months at site. They are supportive, wonderful hosts, and I had no complaints. After that, I moved into a house in the nearby village of Bulboaca. The house is owned by a man named V— who owns the AutoService next to the gas station in Bulboaca. The house is old, has a sink with running water, but no refrigerator, bath, or indoor toilet. During the winter there was a serious rodent problem. V— wants to sell the house, and will overcharge you if he thinks he can get away with it. I cannot recommend that a volunteer stay in this house again. For more housing possibilities, I would recommend calling J— P— and would avoid asking teachers at the Russian school for recommendations. Another possibility is A— D—; she is a American high school exchange program alumna and may have housing suggestions.
In addition to teaching at Hyperion, I also was involved with the local basketball team and coached an Odyssey of the Mind team at my school. I can strongly recommend that subsequent volunteers get involved with Odyssey of the Mind; there are a number of local kids with experience in the program, and its goals align well with the goals of the EE program. Before I left, I was set to begin a new civic education project with P— L—, and this is something he is still interested in; I still feel that such a project has great potential and would recommend following up on it. V— S— is a good contact for local athletics and youth programming. He has been to the United States and enjoys working with volunteers, and is interested in working with future PCVs on sports camps and the like.
I can strongly recommend that another PCV be assigned to Anenii Noi, and in particular to Hyperion. My students and partners all expressed to me that they would like another volunteer. I would recommend that any future volunteer at Hyperion be particularly good with older students and be much more than just an English teacher, as the high quality of both the English teachers and the students demands a volunteer who can share other skills and experience with them.
Anenii Noi would also be a good site for a community development volunteer. There are opportunities for work in both civic education and in general youth development. I would strongly recommend, however, that any community development volunteer be trained in Russian rather than Romanian.