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Different Kinds Of Lessons In Moldova

April Simun

It's not every year you get a goat for Valentine's Day. My 73-year-old host mom misunderstood a radio broadcast that meant to relay that Americans often give gifts to their animals to show their love.

And it's not every day that someone stops you on the road and asks if, by the way, you happen to have any of your hair for sale. I chose to take it as a compliment. And I wondered if she would really want some of my hair if I washed it more often.

But then, this isn't every day.

Gifted goats and hair hustlers are the kinds of things that make life in my 2,000-person Moldovan village zany, crazy, and altogether interesting. (And that's not even to mention the fact that I think the majority of people back home don't really know exactly where I am living these two years. They know I'm in the Peace Corps. And most of them know the name of the country begins with an "M"- Morocco? Malaysia? Mongolia, anyone? But the correct name of Moldova, the little former Soviet state tucked in between Ukraine and Romania, may or may not make their Top 10.)

Honestly, I can't say that I grew up my whole life dreaming of someday becoming a Peace Corps Volunteer, and in Moldova, no less. The Peace Corps made me think of places like West Africa or South America. Exotic places with grass huts and sand and excessive heat-even way more humid than in my native South Carolina.

But not Moldova. Not a place with unheated, concrete block buildings in the midst of snowy winters.

Still, here I am.

And am I glad I came? You bet.

Because the truth of it is that I can't really imagine any other experience that could teach me the lessons that Peace Corps/Moldova has.

There are the countless buses that never show up-lessons in patience.

There are the many times I make Romanian mistakes in front of classes of laughing children-lessons in humility.

And there are the scrawny bodies of hungry children who don't have mittens to wear in winter-perhaps the hardest lessons, the ones in gratitude and compassion, that still leave me unable to answer the question, “why?”

In all these lessons, I'm the student. Yet, according to my job description, I'm supposed to be the teacher. The lines get blurry sometimes.

My official job here is to teach English at my village school of 400 students. I teach lessons there five or six days a week to grades 5 to 12. My students are mostly native Romanian speakers, who also speak Russian. But they see English as a key to finding better jobs and better futures.

My unofficial job spans far beyond just teaching English. It in-volves teaching health-giving information about AIDS, and why patients should demand clean needles at hospitals. It involves teaching about the environment-why littering is bad, why clean water is good, and why Moldovans need to protect their large forests. It involves teaching job skills-how to interview, how to give presentations, and even how to type on our school's old computers on days when the school has electricity.

Yes, the working conditions are tough. The school is old and concrete and not heated. Water is drawn from wells. Electricity may or may not work on any given day.

But with time, you can almost forget all of that. The children are children, after all. And the people are people.

Their stories, for the most part, aren't the kind of stories that make headlines, or that make Moldova known back home. Their stories aren't the stories of revolutions or of loud-mouthed, sign-carrying protests. On the contrary, Moldovans often laugh at their own hardworking acceptance of tough conditions.

But their stories are the stories of another type of heroism. Stories of quiet, unrelenting battles for survival, testimony to man's ability to keep on keeping on-through wars, famines, deportations, and economic collapses.

And from time to time, these people with their hardworking, persistent histories stop me on the road as I walk from home to school and from school to home. They stop me to tell me thanks.

They thank me for being here and for teaching their children.

And I thank them for the lessons they have taught me in return.

April Simun (Moldova)

April Simun served as a Volunteer in Moldova from 2003-2005, teaching English as a foreign language. Prior to the Peace Corps, April worked as a newspaper reporter. April says among her interests in joining the Peace Corps was the opportunity to learn about another culture by experiencing it firsthand, which in turn would expand her worldview and enhance her reporting skills.

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