Saturday, August 13, 2011

Moscow—It’s like Texas, but communist.

Moscow—It’s like Texas, but communist

The saying goes that everything is big in Texas.  If everything is big in Texas, everything is epic in the former soviet Russia.  Moscow takes the epic cake if you will and builds a giant statue of Lenin on top of it, then eats it all and has the nerve to ask if you liked the cake.  

Best Baba dolls ever:

First off, the hostel situation was not nearly as good as in Peter. Maybe that is because we had such a good time at the last one that the next was bound to fail.  The main problem with this one was getting that all too common guy that has a problem with Americans without actually knowing any.  Everybody is guilty of this at some point. Luckily for us we met a group of the French in St. Peter and had been hanging out with them in Peter and Moscow. So France’s image wasn’t ruined by the one douche.

Pretty horses statue:

Initial highlights have been the Stalin Skyscrapers, seven or eight different buildings done in similar styles as the Empire State Building. They are placed throughout the city and are beautiful communist relics. Gorky park was a strong highlight as well. We rented go kart type of bikes, fulfilling a strong desire of Chris’s, with our French friends and rode all throughout the park, which is quite large. It is a cool park that runs along side of the river.

It rained and that is one of Stalin's skyscrapers:
 KGB building:

Like I was saying before Russia is a pretty epic place and if there was a heart connecting to that epic pulse it would be Moscow, specifically Red Square.  Red Square has a powerful presence for many, many reasons: There is only one size in the Square and that is immense; all of the buildings are beautiful; the many statues always depict a powerful man giving a stern stare and/or crushing something like the Nazis under his heel. The most epic part of Red Square is Lenin’s Mausoleum. The room is stone silent, with dim lighting barely lighting the crimson and black walls.  In the middle of the room is a well-lit plexiglass box with Lenin’s embalmed body laying in it. He just seemingly rests there with his hands to his sides as thousands of visitors come to look at him four times a week.   It has a bit of a haunting feeling to it, but that is well worth and incredibly fascinating.

A bad ass:
 Typical Russia:

Both St. Peter and Moscow have great metro systems. Both of which you ride a 3-minute escalator deep under the cities. St. Peter seemed to have a bit better quality trains and was a bit more English friendly but Moscow wins by having essentially museums as metro stations. Moscow, if you look at the map below, consists of concentric circles that become huge as you go away from the center. One of the rings is known as the golden ring and each of its stations make for great poor man’s museum.  On paper Moscow has 10 million people, but the locals say that there are about 7-8 million people living there illegally and 2-3 million visiting or doing the tourist thing. So at any given moment the city has 20 million people there.  During out four days there, we saw the central ring only. It is surrounded by 8 or 9 other district of the same size.  Remember that if you travel there.


 Bill 6:
 More typical stuff:

Engrish.  We realized that this trip will become increasingly difficult as it goes on.  Starting in Petersburg was  easy. It seemed that almost every sign had the English translation below, and lots of people spoke English. Moscow seemed to have lost most English translations, but we still seemed to find some English speakers as we went.  The farther into Russia we get, we are assuming that English will probably become a bit rare.  Finally crossing over into Mongolia, the Russian will become less useful to us, although signs will still be written in the Cyrillic alphabet. Finally in China, we just won’t understand anything.  I am excited.

Anyhow, I need to get back to looking out the window of my train. The next stop in Yekaterinburg.



St. Peter— Who would have thought that we would find a pickled one?

St. Peter— Who would have thought that we would find a pickled one?

Ol’ St. Peter was awesome.  We had 5 days time there to take in the sites. Not nearly enough if you measure successful tourism by the percentage of museums seen.  Every day consisted of seeing a museum or two, a very long walk or two, a siesta and cervasas on the river beach and a good long night with other hostel folk.

 Good hostel folk:
 Us and Rasputin out on the town:

The Hermitage stands out, obviously, as a huge highlight. It awesomeness is only surpassed by its grandiosity.  Each subsequent room gives you another reason to say the word opulent. Whereas most of the art wouldn’t go well with the garden gnomes and flamingos of America there were plenty of beautiful art pieces/ rooms to keep a person occupied for a day or more.  Even if you sprinted through the museum you would still spend a couple hours of your life.  We suggest it.

The view from above:
 Some sort of sea monument that was awesome:

One of the next stops we made, thanks to our favorite little hostel lass, was the Museum of Erotica.  The big (pun intended) tourist attraction is the pickled penis of Rasputin. The museum really wasn’t much to write home about, it was made up of a vast amount of statues related to sex, penises and vaginas—heavy on the penises though.  The best part of the experience was the awkwardness of the museum being not just a museum but also an STD clinic. Throughout the small building there were waiting chairs and nervous looking patients waiting for their big checkup—an odd combination to say the least.

Deep subways, good folk:
 Chris with Rasputin's manhood:

 Propaganda museum:

Peter’s fortress was another highlight of everyday actually because it had a nice beach you could relax at and enjoy the few of numerous monuments like the hermitage.   Also, it proved to be quite humorous with the fact that eastern Europeans seem to love their banana hammocks.

More epic places:

Us and the STD nurse:

The hostel life seemed to be the best part of St. Peter for us though.  One of my favorite parts of doing trips like these is the culture you seem to find throughout all the different hostels in which you stay. It is always a crap shoot whether or not you end up with a good staff and good fellow travelers. St. Peters was one of those moments where the stars aligned and everyone was just awesome.  It is always a crap shoot like I said but we you get a hostel that is great it makes a crappy hostel or two worthwhile.  You find people from all over the world that are cut from the same cloth or from something entirely different that you weren’t expecting. Hotels (old people traveling) are outdated and anti social. They encourage you to hide from the new world around you.  If you want to travel and experience I believe the hostel way is the best.

Dostoevsky crew:
 Get learned time:

Anyhow, on to Moscow,


Last few days in Moldova…

Last few days in Moldova...

Saying goodbye to Moldova was awfully hard.  It consisted of cutting through the roll of red tape that is close of service (peace corps style), stopping by twenty people’s houses to say goodbye consistently thinking of who I have forgotten to say goodbye to and preparing food for my going away party.  My last night was a very special night in which ten of my closest friends/neighbors came over and we sat around and talked way too late for how much I had to do the next day.

 The owner of the gym I worked out at for two years:

Coworkers galore:

 Masha, my partner at the hospice. A great lady.

Natasha, probably talked to her more than anyone over the last two years:

I didn’t realize just how much I had ingratiated myself into a few relationships in my community until I was sitting around a table the following morning minutes before I left with the majority of those present crying and/or speechless. It was one of the most emotionally powerful moments of my time in Moldova. We raised our glasses of champagne to safe travels and said our “goodbyes” not our “farewell forevers”.  After sitting around in an awkward silence for 5 minutes I decided I couldn’t take it anymore.  Gathering my things half of us crammed into a car and soon after I was waiting on the usual hitchhiking corner for my last ride to the capital. It was a long, somber ride with undoubtedly the slowest rutiera driver in all of Moldova—most have a cruising speed of way too fast for the condition the roads are in.  

Hanging out at a winery saying goodbye to folk. Thanks to Daniela for arranging it:

 Last supper with Ryne and Katya:
 Katya and her family. I love them:

The last little bit of time in Moldova felt crazy. The hectic manner prevents you from actually letting the goodbyes sink in  or realizing that the see you soons exchanged between Peace Corps volunteers are mostly going to be light on the ‘soon’.  The moment really still hasn’t hit me that I have left Moldova for good.   I left the same day as two of my good friends Vince and Cailin and we had a small little entourage accompany us to the airport until our flights left at six in the morning. Needless to say, I didn’t get a wink of sleep that night. Nor did I get any on the flight which I assumed I would, of course the contorted position that the airlines ask of me never works out in my sleeping favor.   

 That would be me with her:
 The great neighborhood posse:
 The old lady giving me hell:
 Sailor's day. I stayed in Taraclia an extra day for this. well worth it.

Sitting on the tarmac at the Chisinau airport was a mixture of exhaustion, excitement for the ensuing vacation (Trans-Mongolian Railway if you didn’t get that yet) as well as excitement for the next step in life (mostly likely teaching English in Kiev). More than anything though I could not help but think that this was not goodbye forever to Moldova this was merely a see you soon, maybe slightly prolonged but soon nonetheless.  


Thank you Moldova for a great last two years.


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

I guess this is farewell....

August 2nd, 2011--I guess this farewell....

This last week has flown by with a whirlwind of emotional goodbye and things I did last minute that shouldn't necessarily have been done last minute..... but I just finished them an hour ago with 12 hours to spare.  I just wanted to say that this ending was very bittersweet. It is awesome to think I will be flying on an airplane to St. Petersberg, Russia tomorrow to start my close-of-service trip--The Trans-Mongolian Railway. I intend to keep writing on this blog til the end of the trip. SO, please keep on reading. I will give a little more in-depth account of how my service closed up as well.

Thank you for following this blog for the one-month, 6-month or full two years of my service. I appreciate it and it is nice to know that some is reading this thing somewhere out there.

I hope all is well for all of you.

Peace, love and shot of champagne for a happy ending to all of you,


p.s. this is not прощайте this is до свидания

Friday, May 27, 2011

May 27th, 2011--Hospice Ball 365 event

Hospice Ball 365 event

Sometimes the best advice we get in life is the advice from older brothers and sisters, who have been around the block a few more times than us.  My sitemate (Jeremy) works at an organization called Angelus Taraclia, a hospice care center located in our small town in the south of Moldova.  Since this organization started about a year and a half ago we have consulted and advised the Director on numerous occasions.  As much as Jeremy and I can help the center out, a lot of help comes from our partner organization in Chisinau named Angelus Moldova.  This organization started over 10 years ago from the convictions of the Angelus Moldova Director/Doctor who recognized the need in Moldova from end-of-life care. This organization has been an invaluable partner to hospice care in Taraclia since the beginning.  By giving us advice, giving free training and helping to secure funding they have continued to act as an honest friend and partner of our organization. 

The Princess and I:

Jeremy after eating the Prime minister's cake (princess to his left):
Last Friday Peace Corps volunteers:  Jeremy Taglieri, Laquia Burt, Jessica Kerbo, Derick Tisdale and I had 
the chance to return a little bit of the favor by volunteering at their hospice ball/auction.  The point of this event was not only to raise money but to continue to spread awareness about hospice care which after 10 years is still a relatively inchoate practice, especially in rural areas. The event itself went swimmingly raising four times the amount of money that was originally aimed for, all but cementing this event’s longevity.  Of course such successful fundraising events do not simply become successful all by themselves.  The lion’s share of planning was organized by John McKellar, the event planner at Angelus Moldova.  He definitely deserves hearty congratulations for his efforts and successes.

Laquia showing off her brutish selling skills:

The Scot (lion's share owner) himself:

A few of the volunteers:

Me making jerseys sexy:

The event was sold out and populated by many expats and VIPs from Moldova (including the prime minister) and Romania.  A few people spoke including the former princess of Romania who is a big advocate for causes such as hospice care.  After the champagne was served the volunteers spread throughout the crowd and competed with each other in selling as many raffle tickets as possible.  It was obvious that my group sold the most tickets in our contest, although Laquia wanted the world to know that she actually collected the most money though by getting a 200 euro bill in her collection bowl somehow. Congrats lady J.  This collection was followed by an auction that garnered the most money of the night other than Laquia. It went incredibly well especially when bidders outbid themselves either out of confusion or exorbitant generosity. To close out the night the auction was followed by a concert by a Moldovan band playing American classics.  They played very well and our guests enjoyed themselves thoroughly with a good round of dancing lasting until the end of the night.  All in all the event went by without a hitch, at least only hitches that maybe the organizer himself would notice.

Selling tickets like our life depends on it:

Vanna White showing off an auction item:

Volunteerism at an event like an auction can make a volunteer feel a little insignificant seeing the large amounts of money being thrown around—a single night can and in this case did glean enough money to fund the organization for a considerable amount of time—but it is important to remember that volunteers can and do play a large role in these events.   Non-profit organizations change the way we as a society look at the world.  They draw attention to problems and focus thoughts and wallets toward causes that change our world.  Sometimes they need help to achieve their goals and objectives and that is where volunteers can lend a hand. Although volunteers aren’t the be-all and end-all of progress in the world I would say that they embody an integral piece of the human existence.  In an age where near everything has a price tag on it, it is essential to remember we are a part of a greater community and being there for one another is exceedingly important both in the calm periods and the times of need.  


Aaron Eisenbarth

Friday, April 29, 2011

April 29, 2011—Easter & Punishment

After last year’s incident with a misunderstood alarm clock I felt like I had missed a large dose of my village’s culture.  This year the stars aligned and they guided me to the church for the Easter service and saw the traditions that I missed the last time around.  I can happily say that I have seen the Russian Orthodox Easter celebration, I do not regret the decision at all but I safely can say I will not be doing that again unless there is some sort of bribe involved or someone is threatening to eat my first-born child. It is not that I have anything against the church but aside from a few interesting minutes and the observation of ‘punishment’ upon the most ardent of believers it was rather taxing and very hard to stand through.

When I say ‘punishment’ I do not mean that church itself is subjecting its believers to Inquisition-esque torture yet they do mean business when it comes to respecting and venerating God (after all every joke has a dose of truth in it right?). The service I attended lasted 6 hours and was accompanied by another hour of standing outside of the church waiting for the Father to bless the people’s premade traditional Jesus-has-risen foods (colored eggs and sweet bread) by throwing holy on their faces and their food. If you do the simple math that is 7 hours which might not be horrible if not for the fact that you are to stand in place practically the entire time—I sat once during the process for a total of 2 minutes—I was more sore from church the day after than I have been from most sports I have played in my life.  The standing also has to be of a certain variety:  There is no putting your hands in your pockets, which I found out after a half an hour of getting mean-mugged by a local. He approached me and said that it was a sin to have my hands in my pockets, I curtsied (in a manly apologetic way) and promptly crossed my arms which also was rebuffed shortly thereafter as sin #2.  I countered with the hands behind the back—sin #3—you would think I would have seen that one coming.  Another show of respect to God/Jesus/Holy Ghost is the sign of the cross which took place almost every 20 seconds with a subsequent reverential bow.

For me personally I saw this as a test of patience and willpower more so than spiritual gratification.  I need to be honest here I may have barely passed the standing test but I failed the patience test  by going through peaks and valleys of anger and impatience at the little things. Call me a product of a modern ADHD society, I would and do. 

The veneration of God is something I feel is respectable here.  I know that the paraphrased Protestant church mantra is simple is better and closer to God, although I can understand the alternative everything-of-gold approach that is the tack of the Orthodox church.  If there truly is a God up there/down there/over there then why don’t we respect him/her/it with the best of the best.  Although if God/history has taught us anything it is that materialism can dilute the soul/moral rectitude of a society faster than the forces of simplicity and austerity can rebuild them—tough choice. If you listened to the preponderance of religions in the world you would think that life is one big A-Z multiple-choice question with catastrophic consequences.

After the service a few people asked me what religion I practice in America and why I didn’t cross myself during the service.  To the first question I usually answer that my parents are Lutherans and that people usually stop after that or ask what the difference between our services are. I usually just say we get to sit.  That truthful joke usually gets a laugh and a dose of envy.  If I was in the business of saving souls I probably would have a shortened service and one where people could sit and not dread Sundays as another day of work.  I think that may be a big reason why the major majority of people at the Easter service were much closer to death’s door than the minority.   If you worked 8-10 hours six days a week like a lot of people do here, do you think you would have the willpower to endure a 4-5 hour service every Sunday.

If there was a broad-stroke generalization that I could make about the Orthodox religion versus Lutheranism (the religion I grew up with). It would be that Orthodox’s focus is on respecting and worshiping God for exactly what He is—GOD—take it or leave it God and Lutheranism (Protestantism) places understanding and fitting Jesus into your life as paramount, surely after hearing or reading enough of the bible you will find a phrase or 10 that speak to you.  In this way people come to find Jesus.

I love to flirt with sacrilegious-ness (maybe that was why I wrote this post) I find that to be a strong part of my life—both in a sincerely interested and humorous way.  Growing up religious made part of me who I am today, scraping that religion and the spirituality in my teenage years developed another part and perhaps now I can safely say that I have no problem with the spirituality aspect of it—an amalgamation for me, if you will, of doubt and respect. I don’t think I could ever develop a belief in one single religion that idea seems absolutely preposterous, but maybe one day I will name one of the ideas in my head God.  Probably not for awhile though.