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.  



Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 13th, 2011—Смерть (Death)

April 13th, 2011—Смерть (Death)

As I heard the all-too-familiar dinner din of the knife on the heating pipes alerting me that dinner was ready.  
Casually walking to the kitchen I notice my baba putting on her nice coat and shoes for something completely aberrant for 8:30 at night.  My baba you must understand is quite active around the house, but when it comes to leaving the house, aside from weekly peregrinations to the church and trips to see her new granddaughter at her son’s house, she doesn’t exactly make it out much—let alone out of the city.

So to my surprise she and her friend were dressed up for approaching bedtime. I asked, “What was up?” to a woeful answer of “Our neighbor died. We are going to visit the family.”  I didn’t know the woman that died but I do know her children who play on the street quite often—quite a sad situation.  I said to pass on my condolences to the family and they departed.

This reminded me that I have yet to participate in anything related to a funeral during my time here. I say that thankfully as a volunteer who has grown close to people here over the last two years and would hate to see anyone pass away that I knew, but I have to say the traditions here are quite interesting and it would be a fascinating aspect of the culture to see (that feels morbid to say, but I mean it in the best way).

I distinctly remember the first time I heard, what sounded like a marching band playing, only to ask the baba about it and realize it was a funeral dirge being played at the cemetery (in my defense, the music was fairly/strangely upbeat and I could not see the source of the music).  I have heard this music quite a few times since and it always tends to bring a certain melancholy with it. 

Many other times I have played witness to the funeral processions going by, transporting bodies to the cemetery.  It is always a bit disconcerting walking through the village, head phones on (guilty pleasure I will never give up), and stumbling into one of these ceremonies. Usually there are a couple of people caring large wreathes of flowers leading a large flatbed truck with an open casket on its back. This casket is surrounded by silent, mourning friends and family. The truck will usually be followed a group of walkers and them by a string of cars waiting patiently to pass.   

The first time I saw this was at 8:00 in the morning on the way to a class in my first months of Peace Corps.  The parade happened to pass by my house precisely when I was leaving. I was immediately accosted by the son of the woman who had died.  He gave me a ring-shaped piece of bread, a candle and shot of wine.  The event itself was quite discombobulating especially seeing how I just woke up.

All of this gives me cause for reflection of my own life.  I haven’t had that much death in my life. Sure all of my grandparents have died, but quite honestly, I wasn’t too close with any of them, product of being the youngest child and living in different states I suppose.  It does make me wonder how I will cope when someone close to me dies.  I listen to my baba here talk about her family. She and her brother are the only two left out of seven children.   I can’t even comprehend what that would be like. 

One of my first two weeks here, I watched my baba receive a troubling phone call. After hanging up the receiver I thought she had told me that her “brother was dead”.  He is one of my favorite people here and also one of the most helpful when it comes to integration.  I didn’t understand this large error in communication until the subsequent morning, after I had already thought about it and the consequences for what that might mean over the next couple of months.  Thankfully I mistranslated what she had said—“my brother is dying” was the intended phrase.  Turns out he had had a heart attack.  I had studied the appropriate words for expressing my condolences, said them, and was immediately rebuffed.  One of those moments of “alright I need to listen better” I have had many times over the last two years.

I am not sure of the reason for this post.  It is interesting and humbling to me that I really haven’t experienced one of the most visceral, penetrating and defining emotional events that can happen and frequently happens in this crazy place we live.  Life happens—all the while we keep on twisting, contorting and doing our best to surmount the obstacles that meet us on our respective paths.  I suppose it is best to deal with the realities as they come, rather than worrying about what could have been.     

My sympathies to you for such a dreary post,


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

April 6th, 2011 Angelus Taraclia Update

Hello all,

Yep half a year has gone by, but I am not giving any excuses.  You try to write a blog for two years.

I wanted to update you all on my project with Angelus Taraclia, the hospice care center.  The last six months have gone by swimmingly.  Using the money that I raised through the project online we have one month of funding left, but that doesn’t count the successes we have had over the last 5 months.

The goal of the project was to give our organization some time to develop some means of subsistence and to figure out a plan for the next couple years.  The time has been used to have long talks about what we want to do in the future, do some in-depth SWOT analysis of the current business practices.  If you work for practically any non-profit organization back in the states this may not seem like any too special, but I do believe it has been an eye-opening experience for the director of the hospice care center here. It has been good to see ideas come to fruition and her excepting new ways of doing a few things. 

From my volunteer perspective is great to understand exactly how she sees the future of the hospice center.  She envisions her role, currently half nurse/half director evolving into a strictly Director/outreach position, which I fully endorse for her. The center currently specializes in palliative care for 4th stage cancer patients, but she wants to attack the other side of the problem facing citizens here by making one of the focus points of Angelus Taraclia information dissemination by; informing the populace in the local district about cancer through a series of public seminars; spreading palliative practices to nurses who are not trained in the specialized care already; and by conducting free seminars for women that inform them how to check for early signs of breast cancer.  Becoming more fluent in Russian has helped greatly with this process; it helps me to understand the problems facing the organization which can seem daunting at times, but are necessary to work on so that the director can keep Angelus Taraclia afloat in the future. 

The strategic planning that we have been working still isn’t done just yet but the progress made on it has been substantial and it should/needs to be finished within the next two months so by go—it will be done. We need it for a governmental accreditation that needs to be passed later in the year. 

Over the last 5-6 months I haven’t worked nearly as much at the hospice center, as much as I like working there with that particular partner. I helped bring in a new volunteer to the organization about 9-10 months ago and am trying to only be there when they need me for bigger translating issues like the strategic planning sessions.  By sending out numerous informative letters and requests for funding to businesses they have recorded a few great successes with local companies of Moldova over the last few months, funding large percentages of our budget over the next year (with possibilities for more).

I do not yet think that our future is completely settled, but the successes over the last few months have provided us a few causes for celebration and a more sobering realization that the work is far from complete and is of the nature that it never truly will be. So best to buckle down and build as much capacity as possible in the time I have left here.